Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Gift That Lasts

Harsh words, gentle words, careful or careless, just a few short words can have a lasting impact. A lifetime loop, some words repeat in my head, over and over again, never forgotten, cropping up again and again with the least little trigger. Just a few short words can have lasting impact.
And it was just such a moment that jumps into my head just about every time I draw a tree, any tree anywhere, I hear Ed telling me, gently, 'trees are not symmetrical'.
Ed was an artist (maybe is, we lost touch). I don't recall his last name, as he was always Ed, as in 'Bob & Ed', to me. Bob and Ed owned the cottage next to my parents cottage, and I liked them pretty much. After all, Ed was an Artist, which was pretty darned cool, and an Architect too, even cooler, and neither of them ever complained to my parents about us raiding their blue-berry patch, and Bob was a really good cook, and their very long driveway was great fun to ski down in winter. My dad, like any good dad, thought I was the next Van Gogh, so he arranged to have Ed look over my art and give me a critique. I have no idea of my age at the time, but I do recall taking great pains to draw my very best ever rendition of a pine tree in preparation for my very first ever professional critique. With this accomplished, I took my paper in hand and shyly, all by myself, walked across the driveway and crept up their porch. I remember waiting very quietly behind their door before I got up the nerve to knock. I remember very formally being invited in for my 'critique' wherein he perused my drawing with a practiced eye for some excruciatingly long and respectful moments--then he very very carefully told me that while this tree was pretty good, or some other such neutral to nice terminology, I needed to keep in mind that trees are not symmetrical. Even if at first they appear to be, there are always subtle variations. While I never again imposed upon him for his free professional advice, that lesson repeats itself in my head each and every time I render a tree onto paper.
Thank you Ed, wherever you are. Lesson well learned, I hope.

Image: Graphite on 5" x 7" acid free sketch paper. This is another bed sketch, yes, rendered from start to finish whilst curled up beneath a nice crinkly feather duvet. This is the first time I tried the impressed line technique. This involves using a blunt round ended object, such as a wooden stylus to indent the paper in such a way that application of pencils will reveal the indents as white line (easier done than said). I used the handle of a tea spoon. There are much better tools for this, but finding one would have required abandoning the warmth of the duvet not to mention the spillage of two heat-seeking felines. It seemed simpler to reach for the spoon. The scene is a part of Eldred King Forest Tract, York Regional Forest, a view from an open field into a stand of pale poplars growing against a backdrop of planted pines. I've seen it many times, taken a series of really bad snapshots that never do it justice and often try to memorize with my eyes. I think I've finally got it. Again, Thank You Ed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This is our Christmas Tree. It came from Canadian Tire, on sale for $11.00. That's not seen as it's still fresh and thirsty. When I was a little girl, I remember crawling under the big (they are huge when you are three) spruce tree and looking up at all those gorgeous lights and ornaments. I believe this is a memory shared by many who celebrate Christmas. The choice of tree-spruce, decorated with blown-glass ornaments was a tradition carried over from my parents native Germany. When they were growing up, trees were lit by candles. My mother still had a set, tiny aluminum candle holders that clipped horizontally on the branch of the tree with equally diminutive white candles. My mother would also fondly reminisce of the times (yes, plural) when her mother's tree would catch fire and get thrown through the living room window.
I'm using LED's. I choose warm white in some effort to recreate the soft glow of a tree lit by candles alone, a sight I've never myself seen and probably never will as I have no desire to toss a burning tree through a window. I do, however, have the candle clips stored carefully away. Some day I may get brave, and light a few for a few nerve-wracking minutes--a thing my mother did for me a handful of times in my life.
Also gathering dust is a sixty year old plaster nativity set, also from Germany. My reasons for setting these aside is somewhat more complex. I was raised a catholic, and as child was devout (I actually sent myself to Sunday school) but too many questions and contradictions remained unanswered. I say this not to argue religion but to explain why I leave an heirloom gathering dust, when attached to it are the most beautiful memories. Sometime in early December, my father would take me on a drive North. This was directly North of my childhood home (Pickering) and not just coincidentally much closer to place I live now. He'd stop by the side of the road and we would nip in to the woods to gather green moss. This became green grass and bedding for the nativity stable, a creche built by my father with finger width logs of birch. My mother would then assemble all together, and attach lights, (not candles!) under the 'roof' of the barn. There was always extra attention given to the proper illumination of the infant and the angel as if it was some fantastic theatre. The adoring cow and mule where my favourites, but not by far, as there was so much else to look at. I also was completely fascinated by the three kings, done up in great detail and representing three races of humanity. Every figurine was sculpted and painted with the kind of talent and detail no longer available, each figurine a work of art. When I think back to this nativity scene, one of the major themes was one of acceptance. The animals given a place of honour, women respected, children adored, the human race in harmony. I hope on Christmas day that I can hold this message honestly in my heart.
So for those who've wondered, you can wish me a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyful Eid, or Winter Soltice and I will be more than happy. In fact, anything but the banality of Season's Greetings will do.
Have a wonderful Yuletide All!

And in keeping with this being an art blog; the cardinal is acrylic paint on chicken egg. It is twenty years old.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Two Artful (I hope) Nudes

Okay, the honest answer, is that I've been working on my linocuts & my etsy store and have nothing new to post. I'm in the middle of a few projects but a gigantic snowfall set me back some. I have my priorities, and one of them included the sheer novelty of skiing down the road (yes, I do mean that literally) to deliver mail to the box and 'walk' my dog. This was quite fun as road conditions where absolutely perfect for x-country skiing, albeit not so good for driving. I'm not sure if the sight of me gliding joyously along brought smiles or grimaces to peoples faces. I was having so much fun but it certainly put a punctuation mark on the poor driving conditions. I had my come-uppance on the return trip when I ended up skiing behind a snowplow/sander (they're equipped to do both at once). The snow was thick enough that I could continue skiing but I had to slow up and watch out for bare spots. Then, as I rounded the west side of Musselman's Lake I came to understand the true meaning of 'wind-chill factor'. I dress lightly for outdoor exercise as I figure I do more than enough sweating throughout the summer time, so I avoid the condition as much as possible in the winter. I hadn't bothered with a hat or scarf and on my way out this was only a minor inconvenience. But the wind was whipping in from a north-east and it's bite was bitter and full of icy teeth. After 2 minutes of skiing left cheek to the wind I became seriously worried about frost-bite. The pain ramped up to a level ten complete with vocalizations and facial distortions (nursing students will know what I mean). I finally put both ski poles in my right hand and held my left hand up against my cheek to complete the trip without mishap.
By the time I got back, of course I had a driveway full of snow. The ski tracks from the porch, through the gate and out to the road looked mighty cute but they had to go to make room for a homecoming husband (they let him leave work early too!). Snow shovelling took me an hour, and then there were desperate birds to feed, and then of course more skiing to do (how could I resist all that snow!). Artistically, Friday was not my most productive day.

I'm saving up the Christmas Tree pics & stories for December 24th, of course. So, here are two practices with oil pastel. In February I'll be joining a Life Drawing Club at the Latcham Gallery in Stouffville. This means I'll get to sketch/draw/paint a real nude person (1 per week) without any snotty art teacher breathing down my neck saying 'make it bigger' (in college 18"x24" was the minimum working size). These nudes are on small scraps (approx. 6"x8")of questionable coloured paper (left over from my college days, brand unknown) and the models are from an artists photo reference book. I used a black conte pencil, some yellow coloured pencil (the woman) and oil pastels. I'm considering using the oil pastel for the life drawing club as coloured pencil is too time-consuming for live work. If you want to discuss opinions on nudity, do check out Jennifer's longish post in the comments on Poseidon's Daughter. Some interesting things said there. I'm pretty well spent on the topic as I brought it up in an Etsy forum and the discussion was something like 10 pages long. People have a lot to say regarding such little bits. That said, would love to here more opinions, I'm just talked out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Poseidon's Daughter WIP

Just a WIP today. This is a carving for a new ACEO and she's almost there. I've only inked her in red office stamping ink onto office paper, so I still need to ink her up in proper printers ink with a roller to see whether the carving is done or needs tweaking. The corners sticking out are register marks in case I want to do a second colour or image overlay (probably not, but leaving the option open). This is done with 'softoleum'-- I went shopping and now I know for certain. It is perfect for stamping and hand-pulled printing. The sketches are two of many that I abandoned altogether. Hoping nobody is offended by some minor female anatomy. I think not but you never know these days.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My First Fish

I've been doing numerous fish motifs of late, and so thought to go back to the beginning. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the crayola crayon plein air pickerel portrait circa 1975 so I had to whip up something entirely new for this entry. I sure miss the newsprint pickerel image, but I tore the house upside down and couldn't find it. In my minds eye it was far superior to anything I've done since. I was only about ten years old, and I can still see every detail, all the green gold scales in place, and it 's tortured fishy eye staring up at me. You see, I did the portrait on the boat, with a freshly caught, live, and hoping to live longer fish. The memory is oddly crisp.
It was my first and last fishing trip with my Dad. It was boring! I had begged, wheedled and whined to be allowed on board, and finally had my way. My parents boat was a large aluminum rowboat with an eggshell blue interior. The outboard motor was Johnson Seahorse, 12 horsepower. This left me with plenty of imaginative fodder as I would sit up front and visualize 12 foaming amphibious equines frothing and straining at their traces. In my mind I wrestled and guided their power, holding invisible reins (a rough rope). But the fishing trip was not like the evening sunset tours I'd been on before. Then I would sit up front and daydream myself Poseidon's daughter. The relentless drone of the outboard engine, loud as it was, only heightened the experience with its mesmerizing monotony that drowned out the ordinary sounds of summer. The shoreline would power by, ribbons of brown cabins, green trees and pink granite. I would perch up front staring down into the black deeps of Horseshoe Lake seeing endless darkness interspersed with white and yellow lilies and jade green weeds.
But the ride to the fishing hole afforded little time for daydreams. It was less than two minutes before the anchor (a concrete filled javex bottle) was tossed down into the water. It was a hot bright day and the air was still. Nothing moved excepting my young restless self to the great annoyance of the avid fishermen (my father and uncle). My attempt to alleviate the tedium with conversation was immediately shushed. When I squirmed in my seat I was told to be still. However, I was well armed with a block of newsprint paper and box of crayons. The first fish caught was my subject--alive and destined for dinner. I can't quite remember if I was thinking, as I drew, of how soon this life would be cut short. I do remember carefully attempting to capture every ribbon of colour and glitter of scale, knowing how brief the opportunity was. Supposedly children have no real understanding of the finality of death, but I don't recall having any illusions of a piscine heaven awaiting the gasping pickerel fish. I was all too aware that it was here today and gone forever tomorrow. Whatever I failed to capture in crayon would be reduced to scales and scraps and fillets by nightfall and gone from the world forever.
The irony of my lost artwork does not escape me either.

Image: watercolour, oil pastel & coloured pencil on 10" x 6" Strathmore bristol.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thin Ice; Part II

The firefighters were kind enough to send me some photos that better illustrate the procedure. As these were taken from the ice, I couldn't have gotten such photos even if I had my camera at the time. If you didn't understand my description of the procedure, these pics should help. On the last picture, you'll see the 'rescuers' in position to haul backwards and pull the 'victim' into the boat.

Many thanks to Whitchurch Stouffville Fire Department for the pictures, and for all their service to the community.

And, a chance to answer Doug's request for a mini-tutorial of the salty wash, specifically the 'thin ice' picture.

An Informal Tutorial for Thin Ice for Dougie:
I used Strathmore 300 Series Bristol, soaked, stretched and dried. I made up a wash of paynes grey ready, then rewet the paper lightly with a damp sponge. I used a large fan brush and worked the paint in very fast. I always feel like I'm racing time and usually losing when I do a wash. As soon as the paint hit the paper, I lost interest in the plan (it was supposed to be a patterned background for a print-making project) and just watched the way the paint spread. I added a light wash of cadmium red, and then started flicking it in with a toothbrush. It still didn't look much like ice, so I mixed a very dark paynes grey and put this in with a lovely brand-new #8 squirrel hair brush. Never take your spouse shopping on the day you buy such things, as he nearly lost his eyeballs on the shop floor. It was worth every one of the 4000 pennies I paid for it. This brush, when wet turns to a hair point yet holds plenty of pigment, so I'm not sure how much credit should be given to it. It certainly dropped paint into the wet paper beautifully. I just thought 'rotten ice' and kept going. Sprinkle on LOTS of salt, and I also strategically place epsom salt crystal down in some spots. Then walk away, cross your fingers and hope it doesn't turn to fog.


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