Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hemlock Glade – coloured pencil


Hemlock Glade, York Regional Forest, Hollidge Tract, 9”x12” watercolour paper, watersoluble coloured pencils, Prismacolor pencils.

This one has been percolating for many weeks, on the back of the couch, the mantelpiece, my workspace, stashed in the dark out of sight, instinct said ‘finished’ but it was not what I set out to do. I had planned a piece that would be dense with colour, texture, technique but instead, early on it seemed to be saying all the things I wanted to say, in a ‘less is more’ sort of way.  So, I put it aside, in sight, and out of sight, to make time to decide. Well, I have, and it’s done.  I’ll leave the white spaces to tell the tale, and let your minds eye do the job of filling in the details, make the leaps of colour, etc.. I may later indulge in the time honoured tradition of multiple ‘studies’, and this will be #1, and do another much darker version.  But this one, I declare finished.

And, RE: NEW LOOK ON THE BLOG: Comments welcome. Here’s the scoop. My blog is, and always will be a personal journal with room for roughs, snapshots and banter, but as I do not plan on creating a seperate Artist Website, this will have to do as a ‘go to’ url on my cards. That said, I’m trying for a more professional 1st impression. Is this it? Is the old deep blue version better? My husband thinks I need to add more colour, but I can’t think how without things looking cluttered, and or clashing with the art/photo of an individual post. Just asking….

Friday, July 23, 2010

Let’s Talk about the Weather


Image: 4”x6” coloured pencil on watercolour paper.  This is an example of heavy burnishing, with the colour literally mashed into the textured paper.  This was from a moment at 7:15 AM driving east on Denison Road, Markham. Flash…memorize, pay attention to the traffic, memorize, memorize, pay attention to the traffic light…hold that thought…park, take out art kit, pull off a quick aceo, get on with day…the coloured pencil here is based on the memory with the aceo as a reference.


Image: photography, bumped up the contrast to match what the eye so easily perceives.  These streamers with their lacy fractal swirls preceded a large storm front flowing in from the west, taken from the vantage of my lawn chair while I lay prone and fascinated beneath these harbingers of chaos.  While others may enjoy their lawn chairs under the blazing sun, or perhaps on a hot day, recline beneath a tree, nothing could match the experience of lying flat, face up staring into this complex roiling sky.  These streamers swept across the entire sky in continuous motion, broadly from west to east and minutely, with every trailing wisp curling and tumbling within the greater forms.  I stayed out for an hour and never got bored—more hits per minute than the latest reality tv. I only went indoors when it was too dark to see.  Thunderstorms followed shortly after.

And the moral of this story:  Keep your eyes open to the world around you—look up.  Some of the best entertainments require no electronic gadgets, although this one provided its own electricity.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010




Another thing keeping me busy, as anyone following me through twitter knows, is the bumper crop of raspberries this year. I’m finding the everywhere. Well, actually, I changed my cycling route and found some lovely untouched roadside bushes, mostly of the black variety which are both more delicious and vicious. They sport hooks for thorns, and regularly draw blood (a worthy sacrifice), as opposed to the wimpy hairy raspy things the red ones brandish (which scratch and tickle). Kind of like tigers vs kittens of the fruit world.

Now above, you see a most delicious mixed handful, and trust me, the berries in this photograph were not long for this world, and disappeared in, well, one gulp. Yum. The inky stains on my fingers are from the black raspberries, and yes, they are black raspberries, as blackberries are a different, but related fruit, flashing neon green ‘coming soon’ colours all over the woods at this moment.

Speaking of inky fingers, I don’t blog much about letterboxing (shhhh…it’s a secret) but then I thought it might be good to add a few good folks to our ranks so I agreed to do an interview about it.  Here you can read a beautifully written and well-researched article by Toronto Star reporter, Francine Kopun. I never realized how much hard work and creative sweat goes into a newspaper article until I found myself a part of the process.  She did an amazing job of it; tramped through woods with me, shared space with my german shepherd dog, and sat on the rug so as not to dislodge three imperial cats (yes, of course I offered to toss them off the couch).  If you don’t already know what letterboxing is, this will give you a comprehensive and delightful overview.

Letterboxing-A Different Kind of Treasure Hunt

And you’ll get to see me again too, ha ha.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Work in Progress-coloured pencil


So here is the 2.5x3.5 (atc/aceo) that I’m using as a reference, and the my chosen ‘palette’ of pencils. I always begin with a limited palette, preferring mixed colours over the 256 pencils thing. I expand my palette later as necessary, but in this case, no green pencils will be used.


After a brief sketch to get things down, I rough in with water colour on 9x12 Arches Watercolour Paper (thanks Anonymous, for your gift). My rough is using 3 colours only, gamboges yellow, burnt sienna and prussian blue.


Now I’ve started scribbling in with pencil. Sounds easy, but I work in brief bursts with a lot of head scratching in between. Painting is much quicker, but there is something about the glow and the line of coloured pencil that I can’t resist. Above, though, we are far from glow, as I’m still being quite ‘tentative’.


The colour is saturated now in most sections: the lower right has what I call ‘glow’. I’m using a pencil called electric blue—it is a bright blue but extremely transparent and I hope it never gets discontinued. Now I get to decide if I want to add a layer of acrylic gel and sand, or continue on as is. I also plan to scrape back some colour and paper to lay in some pure colour, there is one experimental yellow dot in the middle tree trunk.  Currently this work is ‘percolating’ on my table. Meaning that I have it propped up to glance at now and again while I contemplate how I should proceed.

So now I’m off to work on the next Issue V of my Itty Bitty Books. Scanning, writing, fiddling with the Gimp, and, I’m sure, a lot more head scratching. Does anything ever get easier???

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Have a Peanut


This is the image I tried but failed to find for “Funeral for a Grackle”. It showed up this weekend, go figure. I did it last year and never got around to posting it. It’s 4x6 sketch pad paper and coloured pencil, inspired by my observations of the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)..

Grackles, I confess, are far from my favourite bird. They are numerous, ravenous, and crowd out other birds at the feeder. While in sunlight, there is something of beauty in their oil-slick colours (blue-black heads, and bronze black bodies) compared to orioles, gold finches and blue jays they are downright dull. And while they are a native species, their appearance at the feeder is a sure sign that you live in a degraded neighbourhood that lacks the cover of the original pre-settlement Carolingian forest.

But, all of that out of the way, there is much to admire about this bird, not the least of which is intelligence and adaptability (and those two often do go together). And while their sheer numbers annoy me, when they do take over the bird feeders, they are fascinating to watch.

They are highly social birds, and spend much of their time in communication. Far beyond their squawking (which I confess not to understand) the strut, prance, preen and fluff. The latter is what I call the ‘exploding bird’, where they squawk , crouch, and !POW! expand to twice their size by fluffing their feathers. It’s quite impressive, and obviously it’s meant to be as they direct this behaviour to one another. The other form of ‘one-up-man-ship’ is the “I have a peanut” where they find a large choice morsel (in this case a peanut half) and parade about ensure that everyone about can see what a fine catch he has.

When large flocks come calling all the other birds stay away, giving me plenty of time to observe these grackle conferences, and once in a while I can’t help but draw these sleek flying machines.

Just because a species is numerous and common, don’t dismiss them as uninteresting, think of homo-sapiens, for instance…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Funeral for a Grackle


For the longest time, I thought we were alone in the universe, as sentient creatures go. I watched Star Trek, and other sci-fi searching the hypothetic skies for intelligent life.

It turns out that, under keen observation, especially in natural settings, the list of ‘self aware’ animals just keeps on growing. They are among us.

Some of them flock to our bird feeders.

Today I heard a thump on my window, followed by a raucous clamour of birds. I had the curtains shut to keep the heat out, and had to go outside to investigate. When a bird hits the window (and it does, thankfully rarely, happen) I look in see if there is anything I can or should do about it. In winter, I’ve brought in injured birds, to see them revive hours later. With the temperature at 34C, warming is not necessary, but still, I did check.

Indeed, there was a grackle, face down on the lawn, but surrounded by its shrieking flock. They were gathered about, on my deck and the trees. Of course my presence disturbed them, and fled the veranda, but only as far as the nearest tree, where settled and continued their shrieking lament, eyes on the injured bird.

As warmth was there in plenty, and the flock was their to keep guard, I went inside, still listening, hearing, all that avian distress. When it finally subsided, I went out again, to discover what I already knew. This bird had died, watched over by its own kind.

Image: 5x7 planographic & relief gelatin print, using found natural objects and linocuts; this one features ravens, but it seemed oddly apt for this post.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hollidge Tract and Ravens


Hollidge Tract-planographic & relief print, using linocut (brand new), and gelatin plate planographic printing.

I thought it about time I posted some new art. I have been working; just not showing. Some things just haven’t come together, other things are percolating (my new favourite word to describe the in-between stage of art, from just thinking about it to a work in progress) and some are looking fabulous but unfinished and I’ve put them aside (to keep the bad metaphor running, could we call it ‘steeping’?).

Luckily, an image that has been percolating in my mind since last year finally appeared in the form of a linocut. I walk past a little glade several times per week and have always been mesmerized by the young trees growing up in front of a backdrop of mature forest. And while I’ve taken reference photos in the past, nothing made it to the page until, this week, all at once, there it was in a rough sketch just about ready for carving. Here it is, done up as a single, gelatin plate & hand pressed relief.

Haven’t yet thought of a spectacular name, so Hollidge Tract it is. The raven overhead is apt. I failed to mention a two significant sightings this. The first in May, when I saw five ravens in Eldred King Woodlands. We, that is husband, dog and I, were on a side trail winding through a plantation of red pine, and I spotted two ravens fly overhead. They chattered back and forth in their distinctive raven voices, and I easily tracked down a nest high in the pines, a short distance off the the trail. I had binoculars, and had a very good look at raven construction, being a messy mass of large sticks, occupied by three more ravens.

Then, just last month in June, while walking in Hollidge Tract, once again, I heard the raven. This time, it was doing that common raven screech and not much else. Once again, binoculars out, I got a great look at a raven perched high on a dead tree, GRawk! Grawk!

Not thrilled to be stared out (and how do they always know), he made a quick and noisy exit.

For those who don’t know, my 1980’s Field Guide shows raven territory ends at the border of the Canadian Shield, and does not extend into the southern realms of Ontario where I reside. They have since moved south, and seeing them here at all is a very big deal. Seeing a nest and five ravens is SUPER excitement. Also, heard but not seen, ravens in Uxbridge, Walker Woods. Great comeback: hoping they are here for the long run.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Am I Beautiful?


Six-Spotted Fishing Spider, dolomedes triton

Thank you to my friend Rike, who identified this spider for me from one of her numerous BIG BOOKS, and sent me the following:

“Our big book tells us it is a Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton). 9-20 mm, it is a common and distinctively marked fishing spider. Fishing spiders use the whole water surface as a web, picking up on the vibrations made by insects on the surface just as many other spiders detect insects struggling in their webs.

Fishing spiders carry their huge egg sacs up front, under the head and cephalothorax, unlike similar wolf spiders (Lycosidae), which carry their egg sacs behind the body.

Fishing spider females can have a leg span of over 80 mm.”

Found and photographed at Kakakise Lake, Killarney Provincial Park.

PS. had MUCH more to say on the nature of beauty, etc.. but somehow managed to accidentally delete the post; all attempts to reconstruct such musings ended on a cul de sac of frustration, so perhaps in the comments section, you can lead the discussion on beauty, and answer the spiders question of Am I Beautiful?


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