Thursday, December 31, 2009

Walking At Night

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This is a thing I was taught to do long ago by mother. Without fail, after supper, summer, spring, fall and winter, out she would go for a walk when we were at the cottage. Now that I make that statement, it sounds like I was raised in privilege, and it was one. But it was the privilege of the common working class household of the 1970’s when a working Dad could raise a family of three, support a homemaking wife and own a beautiful second property on the rocky shore of a Canadian lake.

So while it was only on weekends, I still feel like I did most of my growing and learning in the woods and walking at night was one of those special things that I did that made my family different from all others. Other kids didn’t do this, and I knew that, because, when I walked with them, they always had their flashlights on, but I learned to walk in the dark, the absolute dark, navigating by the stars and in their absence by the silent black fingers of treetops stretching into a slate black sky. Sometimes there was moonlight, gleaming through like sunlight reflected off pearls underwater. And sometimes, when wind tore holes in the cloth of the clouds, the moon would shine so bright I could see the colours in my coat and the world looked like high noon in fairy land. Walking at night is one of those transgressive activities, a thing that most people do not do. It is considered risky and odd although, in the woods, not much actually changes. I was always aware of that, even after almost colliding a few times with strangers who were also walking at night it is still one of those activities that ‘make me feel special’. Maybe this is why, I keep coming back to the theme in my art over and over again. This is yet another version, of many (some of you saw a digitally altered version in a Christmas card, and some may have seen another one entirely on Etsy & Facebook). This one is just another kick at the can. One day, maybe, I’ll get it just right.

Happy New Year! Good health, good cheer, live well and rightly. See you next year…

PS. Oooh oooh oooh! In case you missed my tweet. I heard wolves howling a few nights back. While I know that most coyotes in this area are half wolf hybrids, and have heard plenty of evidence thereof, the howling I heard last had the pure long notes of the wolf. It was spine tingly shock and awe and of course I howled back and only received a sore throat for my trouble (I suppose answering a stupid human was beneath them). On all of my camping trips I always hope against hope to hear the wolf howl, and instead, I get to hear it on one of my regular jaunts through the York Regional Forest. If the raven is back, it’s perfectly feasible that wolf has wandered south also.

Image: 8”x10” mixed media, coloured pencil on watercolour, fine sand, and acrylic gel medium.

Below, Left, & Middle: ACEO’s in inks, and watersoluble pencils, Right: mixed media sand, watercolour, & pencils (this one was digitized into the christmas card). All scenes from Hollidge Tract.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree

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“This One”, ACEO, 2.5”x3.5” bristol, Inktense watersoluble pencil, permanent ink.

Here we are, re-enacting some fairly ancient stuff.  How quaint, man, wife and dog out to cut a Christmas Tree—very Currier and Ives. Victorian, etc.. But while reading my latest tomes on mythology I stumbled up the following description.

In Phrygia, for example, in honor of the crucified and resurrected saviour Attis, a pine tree was cut on the twenty-second of March, and brought into the sanctuary of the mother-goddess, Cybele.  There it was swathed like a corpse with woolen bands and decked with wreathes of violets…from Joseph Campbell’s, Hero of a Thousand Faces.

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Now, hmmm…doesn’t all that sound familiar, albeit in a less sanitized way?  All that imagery, of birth, sacrifice and rebirth.  Even the colours red and green have had symbolic importance for an awfully long time, although we may have forgotten. Green being the life blood of plant world and red the life blood of our own.

When I was a child, one of my favourite traditions was the Advent Calendar.  Of course it had sparkles and the baby Jesus in the middle, with the heavenly Mary and Joseph hovering about the crib.  But this so biblical scene was invariably set in the heart of the winter forest, with blazing stars above and frost laden trees surrounding, with worshipful wild animals, wolves and foxes, deer and rabbits, creeping closer to see the symbol of the return of light and the hope of spring.

I will leave you with that, to contemplate your traditions, their origins and the meaning they hold in your heart.

And of course, once you are done celebrating, I would love to hear about your traditions, what they are, and how they hold you.

A very Merry Christmas! Or whatever festive greeting you wish to insert here.

PS. Some of you may know, that I am very frugal, and normally buy my trees last minute and on sale for less the $20.  This year, no such thing happened.  Given a choice between a $60 stale pre-cut tree, and fetching my own (more fun) for $45, we spent the money.  What a pleasure.  It was a fine sunny day at the tree farm (Magic Hill) just down the road from us, and it felt like being in a picture postcard with the dog cavorting beside us.  Of course, I left the camera at home…

Friday, December 18, 2009

Olympic Torch Run – Stouffville Main Street

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School Groups awaiting the torch.

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Stouffville’s Town Crier.

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And a close up: I love 10 megapixels.

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The glowing man. Tempting to photoshop the flame in. It truly was visible in a spectacular way, but you’ll have to use your imagination. I don’t doctor photos beyond adjustments and crops. Nope.

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The celebration continued at 19 on the Park, the renovated Municipal Offices where I do life drawing. This photo views to the North and shows the Clock Tower, and the people heading inside. I had Dynamo with me, so it was time to depart.

Hope you enjoyed the Picture Diary.

And because I’m a blabber mouth, here’s the text version:

While being completely uninterested in organized sports; I’m glad I went. Not unlike Christmas, the Olympics has been politicized, corporatized, and indelibly tarnished. Quite like Christmas, there is still much to be valued in participation of public traditions. Reading Joseph Campbell’s, Hero of a Thousand Faces gave me a richer perspective of the proceeding; here is the hero myth rewritten and re-enacted for our modern times. Completely secular and cross-cultural, a modern product of blatant propaganda and corporate sponsorship it appropriately reflects the mores of our society. The fact that the torch run is a (relatively) recent invention, and lets not get into by whom, is perfectly in keeping with the theory that every society must rewrite their myths anew in terms relevant to the times. While most of us may be unaware of the monomyth theory, a deep primitive part of us recognizes and responds.

And so, armed with both cynicism and knowledge, the sight of of the glow of pride on the torch bearer’s face brought quick tears to my eyes. The story, the ancient story that has been told and retold, adjusted, rewritten and discovered anew was written there. The pride shown was of a special kind, lacking in personal ego, full of communal duty, showing an instinctive knowledge that he was an integral and special part of some great story, a story that spans the history of mankind, and he was the bringer of fire, of glory to be shared with all.

Hope you enjoyed my small town pictures. I forgot how quaint Main Street Stouffville can be until I began editing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Phaeton—and the wilderness of the mind

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Phaeton extracted from his father, Sun God Apollo a misguided promise to grant any wish. Phaeton demanded to drive the chariot of the sun for one day. Honour bound by his promise, Apollo was obligated to comply, and with great trepidation dispensed sage advice to handle the horses with care, to follow the set path and, well, drive carefully. You can well guess it all ended in a fiery crash.

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Involving the gods, it also included burning stars, boiling seas and a deadly bolt of thunder.

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This story crept into my 365 Art Card project, 3 shown, more to come (boiling seas is still a pencil sketch). Last on Yupo, two above on bristol, colours are Inktense Watersoluble pencil, plus my trusty Pentel Pocket brush, and a waterbrush (brush with water reservoir in the barrel). All these tools work great in bed—now stop sniggering.

And to revive last weeks question “is it cheating”, this is the sort of story that can’t be told with a traced photo!

Mostly, in art, I explore wilderness, or near wilderness and wild things like the managed forest I visit daily. Today, the Phaeton story, is an exploration of the wilderness of the mind through myth and folk tales. I’m reading Joseph Campbell’s, Hero of a Thousand Faces; an exploration of the ‘monomyth’, the hero myth that recurs throughout all cultures. There is much to be learned from these stories of the way our minds work, in the background, below the conscious (the running commentary part of our mind) level. Universal needs, fears, and desire is all revealed in the commonalities seen in myth, folk tales and religions.

Why I found the Phaeton story so compelling that I had to illustrate it, though, I do not know. (well, okay, it does sort of remind me that regardless of technology, the driving habits of teenaged boys remains the same—the universality of the myth reveals the truths of today)

ps. colours are a bit dull as I just couldn’t be bothered with firing up the old beast (Pentium III computer) to do a scan & so did a quick flash snapshot. Santa can’t stuff a new scanner down the chimney too soon!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dreaming of Mice and all things Nice

091211001dreaming_cats Subtitle: is it cheating.

Recently a read a debate about the use of photoshop in art (I use GIMP, same thing). Specifically, it revolved around enlarging a photo reference in photoshop, then tracing it onto paper or canvas to skip the chore of sketching free-hand. Given my style, expression and goals, this would never be a useful technique, so I’ll decline to comment on that specific technique. My answer, in the debate, was that as long as it was a technique that you would proudly share with others, buyers, viewers, and other artists, it’s not cheating.

It did get the gears turning on my own ethics in art. I grew up with the idea that copying (using reference images) of anything anytime, was cheating. While I managed to learn to draw horses from memory pretty well, there wasn’t much progress beyond that, and while I still spend plenty of time drawing with no photo reference (sketches) I find a little goes along way, and I take lots of snaps to help me along.

Which brings me to “Dreaming of Mice…” This is from a small graphite ‘bed sketch’ I did quite some time ago (literally, sketched while in bed). It was, by necessity, drawn from the imagination (nope, there are no mirrors on my ceiling) and is a self-portrait of a cuddly companiable night with the cats. Because I found it evocative of companionship, I used it for my static page, Casual Connections, but I could, through GIMP, never manage to bump the pale graphite into a good contrasting black. So today, I decided to use technology differently. I took the scanned image and printed onto 8x10 paper. I made transfer paper with a graphite stick scribbled onto tracing paper, and transferred the image onto a fresh sheet of sketch paper, redid the lines in coloured pencil, Inktense watersoluble pencils and Pentel pocket brush, while trying to maintain the spontaneity and mood of the original. Now, I’ll have an enhanced version of the original using both high tech and low tech to get there.

I will leave the original version on casual connections for a day or so so that you can compare.

PS. Those cards I promised are going out tonight, lurkers included (actually, only lurker came forward, for the remainder, “Happy Lurking and Enjoy the Holiday Season” (and hopefully, this blog where lurkers are always welcome!))

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Life Drawing Tuesday

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Life Drawing Club is over for now, in future (until February) I will have to rely on photo reference if I want to get some figure drawing practice; a dismal prospect, completely lacking in human dynamics, not to mention sociability, chit chat, and a night out. I love being in the presence of other artists the way goose loves the company of geese. Since I’m terrible in social situations, nope, haven’t actually made friends there, just enjoyed their company.

Here’s last weeks effort. It was a long tall pose, and I had great difficulty deciding on composition. This is a crop for delicate eyes. See the entire pose here. As I like what I’ve done with pencil and ink, I’m still undecided on messing with the background to get the composition working or just accept it as it is. Yep, I’m asking.

Image: 11”x14” (cropped out the extra on scan) cream Stonehenge paper, pentel pocket brush, graphite, coloured pencil

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Transformations, and an invitation

You might notice the new banner: it’s not finished yet, but for now, good enough.  I used to be a perfectionist, and when I was, nothing ever got done.  Okay, that’s a lie—I was classic underachiever.  At every step of the way, including the first step I would assess my ability to achieve perfection.  If the answer was ‘no’, there ends the action.  So for me, learning to live with ‘good enough’ is a fairly major accomplishment.  So here’s my banner, and while I have not yet solved all the mysteries of GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program, like Photoshop but free) and thereby have stray pixels scattered about the text, I do declare my banner ‘good enough—for now’.

It all began with an ACEO I did as study for a slightly larger work.

Which I photographed, plugged into GIMP, and then started fiddling with the intriguing options one of which was fractals, whooo.

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It was a fascinating effect, but unlovely on it’s own, until I peered at it sidewise and remembered I was still looking for a decent banner image.  Well, you see the result above.

And now, if you’ve actually stayed with me thus far: The Invitation.

It’s that time of year again, rapidly rolling towards Yuletide, Christmas, XMas, Winter Solstice or whatever moniker floats your boat to mark a momentous turning point of the season.  In fact, whether you ascribe to the Christian story, or the pagan version, or, as I do, the bare scientific fact of the turning of the seasons and the changing of the light, it truly is a time of transformations, and an event to be celebrated.  And in so doing, I wish to send all loyal bloggers an um, seasonal, yule, Xmas, whatever card.  If you were in on it last year, please assume that I’ve misplaced your address and send it to me anew.  I’m big on organization, but not very good at it.  If you’ve only come on board lately, include yourself if you please; Anna, Jenny and Missy Rocco, the invitation extends to you.

This year I would include another category, if you are willing to briefly come out of the woodwork.  Dedicated lurkers, I’d love to send you a card too.  Mystery person who hails from Sudbury and secretly surfs in from Atlasquest, that would be you (yep, I have a hidden stat-counter). 

Everybody, my email is now out and plain to see on the banner (though hoping it still gives the spam bots trouble) and please feel free to use it for secret and not so secret messaging.  I’m not into blog awards or contests, etc. etc. ; this one is freely given, no strings attached.  Basically, blogging is a lonely undertaking; one flings thoughts, feelings, hard work and images off into the ether in hopes that someone somewhere will get the connection.  Anyone who takes the time to read this has my many thanks (especially in this particularly long-winded and scatter-brained posting).

‘Nuff said.  Seasonal Greetings and all that.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lost, the Discovery Zone

09111403handofman Hand of Man, Yupo, Pentel Pocket Brush, my left thumb.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been been lost in the woods; I know all the local haunts too well, and know enough to bring a compass or be very careful without if I ever venture into strange territory.  And yet, I miss the sense of being lost.  I remember the very first day I learned to ride my bicycle.  This was long before the age of helicopter parents, when children were free and forgotten between the hours of sunrise and sunset.  I set out, un-helmeted (not even sure bike helmets existed back then) on my own, wobbling along a small paved web of suburban sprawl.  Back in those days, even government housing was built with personality, and while the home designs did repeat, they at least varied in design, materials and orientation. All of this lent a sense of adventure as I took random turns to the right, then left and left again, wheeling myself to destinations unknown.  For a moment, as I realized that I had no idea which street I’d come from, I teetered on the edge of the realm of ‘here be dragons’, until, much too soon, I pedalled myself onto a familiar street, thus ending the experiment. 

My woodland walks were once like that too. York Regional Forests are all, by their location, flanked with ‘main streets’, east and west, north and south.  Some of them busy highways with a drone and hum that echoes across the soundboard of the sky, and others are wide strips of gravel flanked by the type of estate home I can’t even begin to dream about.  Either way, while it’s possible, in fact, easy, to become disoriented, it’s pretty much impossible to become dangerously lost (although at least once, a dog walker used her cell-phone to call in a emergency rescue—personally, I think she was just too lazy to puzzle things out on her own).  Knowing my margin of safety, I made a game of taking random trails, just for the thrill of sensation, tame and bordered as it was, of being ‘lost’ if only for a moment, and the joy to be have in the discovery of territories heretofore unknown.

By now, I’ve explored the local forest trails to the point of redundancy; not even the faintest deer path takes me to parts unknown, so it’s refreshing to find that a new art project I’ve undertaken recreates that lost joy of discovery.

I had, while slogging through a bigger project (which turned out, btw, to be an unmitigated disaster) the strong need to ‘finish’ something.  The diminutive format of the ACEO (exactly 2.5”x3.5”)  provided a level of frugality in both time and materials that exactly reproduces the safety of the ‘bounded forest’. It allows me to explore, experiment, even get a little lost without taking any real risk in investment. It is a format where I can allow a free flow of ideas, and follow them through to multiple conclusions in the course of minutes to hours, but never days on end. By allowing myself the luxury of exploration, I have, in so doing, managed to surprise myself.

Hand of Man is one of those surprises.  I had no idea where I was going with this one, except as a graphic black and white study.  That day, I had been hiking in the North Tract, York Regional Forest.  It is not the prettiest tract by far; whenever I go there, there is something of a disturbing feel imposed on me by the landscape.  It still very much bears the stamp of it’s origins as a disturbed ecosystem, reforested land.  The blow sand exposed by 19th century deforestation lies exposed on every wide trail, trees grow sparsely, neatly planted in rows.  I went there to catch the last of the golden tamaracks, but they’d already shed their needles.  So it’s no surprise that in the evening (yep, I do most of them from the comfort of my bed with a good book at my side) I began penning the stark barren tamaracks.  Being on yupo, a slippery, shiny ‘paper’, I knew it was prone to smearing and set it aside to dry.  When next I picked it up, twenty minutes later, I left a large an obvious thumbprint.  After a moment of dismay, I gleefully began ‘thumb-painting’ the card with the still tacky ink.  The result was both disturbing in tone, and wonderful in success.  Will I do a series, or a larger work, or will I abandon this as a ‘one off’?  I don’t know, and I don’t presume to know.  In my 365 Art Card Project I am only committed to further discovery, as I have once again found my way into terra incognito, the land of ‘here there be dragons, and parts unknown.

PS. so far I’ve been dumping my 365 Art Card Project into a Picassa Album.  I’m not sure if I want to continue that, or just display selections as they arrive here, with text, or, well, anything else.  Here’s the first few on Picassa; as I go on I’m seeing themes, techniques, styles develop, but in the meantime, by the nature of the project, it’s a really mixed bag.

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