Archive for July, 2007

Color

July 27, 2007

My friend, Mrs. Stepford writes a blog on suburbanlife.wordpress.com and today it’s about colour. I answered her with this and thought I’d like to share it with you here as well.

I met an elderly widowed Chinese man at one of the art workshops I gave up in the Okanagan some 20 years ago who had taken up art as a vocation. He became inordinately fond of me and inveigled his art club friends into arranging some events – picnics, dinners,  paint outs in Kalamalka Lake park, et cetera – with me as the fourth, or the sixth, and he fawned on me. He came to class one day with a drawing to show me from his weekly life drawing class. It was a very pink nude, the kind of pink one gets straight out of a Holbein oil pastel basic package, reclining in a provocative way, very pale yellow (straight out of Holbein) hair being lifted off the face by the upper arm, and a face that looked somewhat like a Maxwell Bates disfiguration. He was very proud of his accomplishment and showed it to me, glowing, himself, as he said rather proudly, “I was thinking of you when I did this!”
I had to laugh. What else was there to do?
It reminded me that we call the oriental people “yellow” when, actually, they are nowhere near yellow at all in skin colour. Here he was thinking of Caucasians as “pink” skinned people. A good example of how culturally we assign meanings to colours. Of course, olive skinned and black are two misnomers as well. What would you think of green olive coloured people running around. Martians, maybe?
The “black” designation really covers the most wonderful range of warm browns to a dark almost deep, blue-brown colour and if one is used to drawing or painting Caucasian skin colours, it’s a toughie to get something representational  for a Negroid colouration.

This gentleman, for despite his laviscious leanings he really was a lovely, lively old gentleman, told me one time we had dinner out, that if I would paint all my paintings in vermillion red and accent it with gold leaf, I could sell every one of them and for a bundle. He had Chinese friends who would just gobble them up.
I, not being of the commercially literate sort, never got around to doing a single painting in red and gold leaf.
It just goes to show that there is a lot of culturally influenced penchant for one colour over another.

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Painting vicariously

July 26, 2007

I’m in the midst of major house moving activity. Have you ever moved a studio before?
It seems as if there are hundreds of non-standard sized things to move. All the framed things weigh a ton, have to be protected because of the enormous investment in proper framing, and all the works on paper are fragile and so easy to damage.

Every time I go out to the new house/studio, I take out a pile of these things that I don’t want the movers to be responsible for. I wouldn’t forgive them for trashing a favourite drawing or damaging a frame. Insurance is only a small part of the equation. Even if one got money for the replacement value, there would still be the need to take the time to get the right framing.

On Sunday past, I looked at the place where I was going to house my huge collection of my own works that have accumulated over a 40 year period (“Yes, I started when I was two. Can I sell you a bridge?”) I realized that I was not going to be satisfied with the space if I didn’t paint the walls in the basement white to lighten up the grime of the last thirty years without paint. There’s no point in putting away the work if it’s not clean to start with. So I painted walls and ceiling all Sunday afternoon until I thought that my arm would drop off.

It doesn’t leave much time for painting of the thoughtful variety nor for writing about it, but that will come once I am settled. I’ve taken some memory photos so that I will be able to work on what I want to paint later and to paint it with some honor to the detail.

In busy times, I am absolutely grateful for photography and how it helps me with my painting work. In the mean time, when I look out into the garden I start painting vicariously in my mind. It never even gets to the paint-to-canvas-stage. I just work in my mind on cropping the image that I am trying to construct or enhancing it. I may think about how I can compose a painting, working my way around the negative shapes, determining where center of interest should be, thinking about how the pigments will mix. It’s a vicarious process that keeps sanity in my life while unpacking or toting boxes of goods.

I will leave you with a picture I took in the back garden where I go from time to time to have a break and renew my soul. I may use this one for a painting.

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Blog Stats

July 24, 2007

I’m in the middle of a slow move from one house to another. Blog stats are at an all time low. That’s what happens if you don’t write!

I stood looking out my new back window for a long time as the rain poured down constantly on my lovely new garden. There are lots of paintings waiting to be done and a fine open sunny place to do them in. Whoopee. Lots of ventilation.  I can do oils again!

Tag – you’re it! Facts without figures

July 14, 2007

Mrs. Stepford asked me to write 8 facts about myself. Now, there’s a task!

After all, when you are talking about a person, what is a fact?

I could start with height, weight, age and hair colour, but I suspect that is not what she is looking for. Besides, sometimes that’s just too much information. Like any self-respecting woman, we can’t discuss two of those; and my hair is ash blond and my height is five foot six.

I could add details about jobs I have had, but that doesn’t really tell you who I am, just what I’ve done to earn money. I’ve taught art in high school and at college level. I’ve dealt in antiques. I’ve sold shoes; counted widgets in a parts store – screws, nails, door handles, gaskets, you name it – very boring. My first paying job besides babysitting (oh! when I think of the responsibility I had and what I knew then about tending children, I blush in horror at the possibilities of ill that could have occurred. But they didn’t, and everyone is still safe and sound) was working in a deli for Mr. and Mrs Lyons for seventy five cents an hour, and we had to come in early to set up, unpaid, and stay after to sweep up and wash the counters, also unpaid.

I’ve just retired in the past 6 months. Where did the time go? I’ve been so busy! How did I find time to work? I am very glad to have finished with that highly professional administrative job that I worked at, that gave me a pension finally, but if I hadn’t finished with the job, the job would have finished me, with its high pressure and insane expectations of responsibility. I’m glad that’s done.

I could tell you that my Gran gave my mother to send me to Art in the Park when I was ten, but that tells you more about my grandmother than about me. The fact that I remember it always and that I am a visual artist attests both to my love for my grandmother and I learned to love messing with paint.

I could tell you that I got a grade of C in Phys Ed. and that is a fact. But it doesn’t tell you whether it was because I was just lazy or shy about joining in, or because I was from a family that didn’t emphasize exercise as part of daily requirements. We were an academic family and we studied in our family but did not run around the block for fresh air and aerobic health.

I would rather tell you about me through some things that don’t fit into the fact category or information, but rather are soft and fuzzy, touchy feely things or emotional things, or goals and aspirations.

1. I’m blessed in my strong friendships with women who have supported me through my growing up and my continual growing, through my teeter totter marriages and my successes and failures. They encourage me. They envourage me to get up when I’m falling down; they share their lives in idle chatter and in profound ideas.

2. I’m not so good at marriage. That’s one of my life lessons to work on.

3. I’m passionate about art – both viewing other people’s art and making my own. I don’t like commercial art, the common stuff you see in galleries; I like thought provoking and emotional art. I look for the essence in things and try to express that in a simplified and austere way. Art is a meditation for me as well as a solace. In the making of images, I find it a constant challenge and therein lies my continuing passion because there is always something to learn.

4. I’m passionate about music. More often than not, you would find me in the classical section of the record store, although I like some jazz and some cool smooth songs. In different eras of my life, I’ve concentrated on different composers, matching, perhaps, my general state of being. Early on, I liked Beethoven and played it on the piano too. It was regular in tempo and easy to understand the form of it.

I moved on to Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, then to the French Impressionists, Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Saint-Saëns and others. I just looked up Saint-Saens in Wikipdeia and his life is amazing. If you want a depressing Google experience, just see what that kid could do before he was ten.

When I went teaching up in the Slocan Valley in the Seventies, I listened to the Russian composers daily – Prokofiev was my favorite, but there was Stravinsky, Borodin and Rimsky Korsakov. But I was also listening to the Beatles, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Jose Feliciano and a whole gamut of different music styles. There were people in the area creating music also, in jazz, blues and Kentucky blue grass styles. All that was very enriching.

After I left Franc, I listened to Chopin and I remember coming home from work trying to sing along or whistle with a tape cassette that I had on repetitively. It’s hard to sing his Etudes, but there are simple tunes hidden in between his complicated chording. His work was so different in his day, I think of him as the jazz pianist of his era. Perhaps he was the founder of jazz improvisations! Or was that Bach. And yes, I’ve always loved Bach.

Lately, I’ve been listening to Rachmaninoff, some of his Etudes and Preludes. I like listening to it while I write and when I drive on long journeys.

5. I can tell you that when I went to Europe in my late twenties and stayed for seven years in France, that I was a spoiled brat, but also a naive one. I grew up during that time on my own. I was lonely and found friends. I learned to speak French fluently. I saw more art in those seven years than I can tell you and I miss the opportunity to see such huge exhibitions of major artists’ works. I’ll have to go back to France.

I travelled through several European countries before I came home. I learned to be independent and to appreciate what I have. I learned that Canadians are rich and don’t know it. I learned that we won the lottery being born with a Canadian Passport in our mouths. We have a great security net in our social contract with our citizenry.

I met wonderful people and correspond with a few of them to this day. I was welcomed into homes with warmth and generosity in France. Twice, I was so lucky to attend the “Pierre, le Canadien” day in Clermont-Ferrand, in memory of a Saskatchewan boy who joined the French Resistance and was killed by the Germans as he fled through territory he was unfamiliar with. The French of that area have not forgotten his bravery and his sacrifice. They paired their city with one in Saskatchewan and exchange visits every year. I find that endearing.

6. I’m half way between a Luddite, those early nineteenth century rebels against progress who smashed machinery because they thought the changes the industrial revolution brought were ruining a fine way of life, and those pioneers of advanced knowledge who are reaching for new discoveries and revelations.

In other words, I’m still struggling with my computer which I would like to boot with my foot some days instead of rebooting with the on-off switch. The advance in technology allowed me to take 264 pictures at a conference this afternoon and evening without changing film once! And they all fit in a memory stick that is smaller than my hand. On the other hand, I love to draw. The physical activity of having a charcoal stick in my hand and manipulating it over the surface of a good piece of paper is very satisfying, just as it must have been to a man or woman drawing beasts in the Lascaux caves.

I love to write on the computer which allows for all kinds of editing changes with ease that a typewriter could not perform. Yet, I love to have a hand written letter; I’d rather short one of these than a long, garrulous one that’s been composed for fifty friends on the computer and sent out in a mass distribution e-mail. And I’d rather receive this latter, than none at all.

7. I love to cook. Take one look at me, and you know I like to eat, too. La joie de vivre!

But don’t ask me to do baking. The limit, in this category, is pies. Franc taught me a relatively painless way to make pastry and the French method of apple pie. I don’t do cookies and squares. I much prefer the savory.

8. I’m running down, here.

I love gardening because I’m awed by God’s creation of flowers and plants. Truth be told, I like watching some bugs too, as long as they stay outside, though. I’ve just bought a new house with a big garden. I’ll see how maintaining it goes. I’m not getting any younger.

There are large beds of phlox, irises, poppies and other stuff in between. There is a sweet smelling rose that just keeps pumping out beautiful blooms and several other kinds of flowering shrubs. I’m going to be able to have lots of cut flowers in the house.

Whoopee!

And that’s my eight facts.

Mentors – Les Weisbrich – a lesson in perspective

July 13, 2007

I had a number of mentors during my young art days who pushed me to attain more refinement in my work than I had before.One was Les Weisbrich, a wonderful illustrator and watercolorist of the realism school. He taught me some things that still awe me and they are so simple. When he said them, I wondered why I had missed observing them on my own. For example, when things are nearer to you, they are more detailed, the colours more discernible in their nuances; when they are further away, the details blur, the colours diminish in intensity.

One example he cited was the clear blue sky. At the horizon, it was pale and hazy; looking up above, it was darker in tone, more saturated in blue. The corollary was that the top of the picture plane would be darker and fade evenly towards the horizon to provide an illusion of depth.

Les Weisbrich did paintings of stands of birch with every detail of the branches,and leaves and bark rendered with a delicacy of colour and a fidelity of form. He illustrated his observation of how distance works in an incredibly detailed painting of a bird’s nest. If you hadn’t seen him paint it, you might think that it was photographed.

He achieved the feeling of space by just this same observation, that the colour in things close to oneself is more saturated and stronger in hue; and those that are farther away are lighter, less saturated in colour. In this instance, since the subject was all so close, in the painting as it would be in real life (from one side of a bird’s nest to the other) the far side of the nest was still very detailed. There was no blurring or softening of the forms. The entire illusion of distance was established by the gentle graduation of the saturation of colour.

Les Weisbrich passed away last year. He was a dear friend and mentor, and his spirit carries on through those so fortunate to have had the gift of his time and knowledge.

http://www.lesweisbrich.com/index.html

Experimenting – where are we going, why are we painting

July 12, 2007

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In the mid Eighties, I worked with Tom Hudson, the Director of Instruction, at Emily Carr College of Art and Design (it’s ECInstitute of Art and Design now) in a Masters Class, prior to his filming of the Drawing portion of the Foundation classes that were to be used for distance education on the Knowledge Network.

There were several of us instructors who would eventually be the tutors for the courses.

I happened to be suffering artists’ block at the time and felt my work was going nowhere. There didn’t seem to be any personality to it, or it felt like I had run my previous work to death and there was no reviving it. Where could I go next?

Other times, when I got in this state of stalled creation, I seemed to follow a pattern that , funny enough, an humanitarian astrologist described to me. She had described a twenty-eight year cycle of four seven year periods. The first one was sowing, the second growing, the third reaping, and the last was laying fallow. It followed a natural earth cycle of birth to death and started all over again with a rebirth of the sowing cycle.

Both my personal and my artistic development related to this concept and I tried to remember it in regard to any contretemps that I came up against. What stage was I in? Was that why I was struggling? If so, what could I do about it?

The sowing or birthing stage relates to the preparation of skills and ideas, the learning side of things. Learning occurs in the other stages, too, but it is a different kind of learning. At this stage, one is filling up the tank, preparing for actual creation. One might be going to museums and looking intensely at work that echos with the soul, or reading about artists’ lives or their intentions. One might be going to school, absorbing new concepts and having a first go at them. One might be wandering the beaches or the local farmlands or back alleys or exploring an industrial setting, according to one’s preferences, looking and absorbing the visual aspects of it all; trying to memorize what one sees and making mental note of how that fits with other elements one is bringing to the final work, such as the artisanal skills that one needs to put the idea into form and function.

In the growing stage, one is working with what has been absorbed in the previous stage. There may be clumsy attempts to put down a new thought. There may result some competent work (damned with faint praise). That which is missing from the panoply of skills and ideas is sought out and added to the mix. There are some minor frustrations as one realizes that there is something indefinable missing; there is something to be improved, but it needs thinking about. There is learning in this stage also, but it is accumulating on a base from the first era.

In the third era, everything comes together. There is no hesitation in one’s skills. They need to be kept up, certainly, but one has a solid hand, a solid understanding of one’s chosen materials, and a clear idea of what the image is.

In this stage, the experimenting finds fruit. The work develops on its own. It starts and grows. At night, or in a restful state, ideas keep building upon the original concept. The outcome is sure and mature. People are awed at how you got there. They remark on the spareness and fluidity of your lines. There is no hesitation. Like a Olympic skater, it looks so easy, but they know that when they try it, it never has the same presence. The work sings!

And then the spring mechanism winds down. It was so easy, but now, one is searching for how it can be expressed one more time. It is becoming like commercial wallpaper. Repetitive. The marks less free; the idea a bit forced.

Then of a sudden, in the fourth stage, one just doesn’t want to do that anymore. It’s all been said. It’s time for something new but the piggy bank is empty. This doesn’t need to be a negative time. It can be a time of taking stock. Remove the things that are not worthwhile. Use them to draw or paint over, leaving something of the underbelly to show. Maybe it will go into another direction. Take the worthwhile ones and see if there is a series that fits together. And just rest.

Like a field that has been left fallow, it is being allowed to recuperate. The field has produced a fine crop for several years. It’s given up its nutrients and strength to produce something different from itself. Now it needs to gain that back. Perhaps it needs a totally different crop to nourish it. It needs time. And so one might start going back to museums. Take a trip.Visit with other artists. Complain a little about one’s lack of progress. Get some well deserved sympathy all the while being open to some ideas someone else may plant in one’s toolbox of ideas and skills.

In this latter state of mind, I was working with Tom Hudson. He spent one session asking the students to work with circle, square and triangle to produce something. Each student chose their drawing materials, all in black and white, and went about working with that idea.

Not much of an idea, you might think, but each student came back at the end of the three hour session, each with completely original works radically different from one another. As I was suffering from a hiatus in my idea making, I took up the challenge. Every day, I drew one or more grids of dots on a blank piece of paper and connected them with a square, a circle or a triangle. I worked small in a sketchbook and did one after another. It was a perfect way to keep me alert in corporate meetings. People chose to sit beside me so they could see what I was doodling at.

At first they were mundane. I didn’t know where I was going with it, but I kept on going regardless. This road had to lead somewhere! At work, I used a disposable technical pen . At home, I could experiment the same kind of thing with willow charcoal or fusain, paint or collage. After a while, I must have gotten bored with doing the same thing over and over. I started to connect them together, to add feet to some, or fill in the blocks with one colour, the triangles with another, the circles with another. I refused to edit my responses. I simply piled them up in a corner and let them percolate. By the time I came back to them months later, I found there were some that I really enjoyed; many more than I had expected to.

I was surprised at the sequence that had developed. I was surprised at the content that I had bit by bit added to the mix. There was a definite progression even though I had rigorously stuck to my original rules of square, triangle, circle. I ended up with some fine abstract work on full sheets of Arches watercolour paper and some representational work that looked like modern housing complexes.

None of that could have occurred if I had not let my mind wander freely, unedited, in a new direction not worrying about the outcome.

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I remember some wonderful series of Henry Moore – his sheep. He had a wonderful time drawing these wooly creatures with different textures and materials. David Hockney did a similar thing with multiple photos of the same scene, collaging them together into a unified image that was comprehensible but fractured at the same time.

I liken this “method”, if you will, to a scientist going looking for a lost gene and finding something else entirely.

Do you get stuck in your ideas? Do you have a method of kick starting the creative machine? Please share your thoughtswe-three-small.jpg.

At the dentist

July 6, 2007

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I spent three hours in the dentist’s chair today, one for cleaning by the lovely Asmeet, a young Sikh woman who is about to be married just next week. “A big traditional Sikh wedding,” she beamed, and she blathered on about it and her fiancée and her honeymoon while she dug her sharp cleaning tool into my gums.

“Oh, does that hurt? she says, a bit concerned.

“It would hurt you too,” I replied, “if someone was poking a sharp instrument into your gums who hadn’t been poked at so vigourously for a year.” I said it kindly but I really wished she would pay just a bit more attention and not poke into the soft tissue so pointedly.

I don’t like going to the dentist much. It usually involves pain. So I set my mind to looking actively at my environment. Since my visual memory isn’t very good at all, I think about how I could get a picture of the dental hygienist from that angle that the patient sees her. I try to think how I might crop the image so that I had a good painting. It would have to be a realistic painting or nobody would understand what they were looking at.

The dentist offers an even more space age image with his magnifying glasses perched above his regular glasses, his mask covering his face. His mask was baby blue coloured; his assistant was sporting a baby pink one. I can remember these details, including the very interesting hand positions the dentist makes to proceed through the various stages of his work. I remember them in words, but if I wanted to paint them I’d be missing all the details that make it “readable” – the texture of the mask, the angle of the goggle like shapes viewed from head on.

When the going got rough, I closed my eyes and started looking at the colours that are behind my eyelids. It’s mostly red generously speckled with greens and magenta, but there are floaters in a stong purple ground that swirl around like lava lights. Just close your eyes and look at your colours behind the eyelids and you will see! When one does this over a two hour dental appointment, the time goes faster, one can ignore the more constant pain that the dentist knows how to maintain.

So here’s a question. If I could get the perfect photo of the dentist peering over his patient, and then I use this photo as reference material for a painting, then is this considered “cheating”? I think using photos, as long as it’s not slavishly copying the image exactly, is simply a good tool as an aide memoire. I would expect to work along with the image, altering the composition to draw in the viewer, finding textures, rhythms and forms to enhance to make the picture.

Contrast this with the artist who takes the pictures from National Geographic (NG) and tries to reproduce it. What I find wrong with this approach for a serious visual artist, is that the painter has no experience whatsoever with the NG reproduction. He has no feel for the landscape, situation or the people involved, and is not bringing a personal perspective to the artwork.

So the question is, what is your opinion on the use of photographs upon which an art image is being created? What do you consider is a valid use of photographs in art, if any?

Art thought

July 4, 2007

Memory of Moon through treesAre the pictures that you paint in your mind while driving down the highway, that you never get to paint, that you forget by the time you get home, are they still valid paintings? Do they serve a purpose?

Eventually, after a million commutes through various times of day and various kinds of atmospheric changes and the effects of the four seasons, does some eternal truth imprint itself on the mind and give you the quintessential image that you might paint by memory or imagination?

And then, in the flash of a brush, you create a painting that describes one of these memory imprints? Is that valid?

‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’

July 3, 2007

I sometimes think it would be lovely if the idea one has for a piece of art simply made it self, manifested in solid form,  once one thought of it. I get what I think are brilliant ideas, get out my paints or drawing materials and then about ten minutes into the execution of said idea am grumbling to myself, “what on earth did I start this for”.

I find myself labouring over some pointless or pointillist detail that is going to take hours to do and there I am making dots. Or texturing a large space on a painting that has gone wrong and “needs something”. I decide on a way to cover over or integrate an unsightly blurp in the paint surface, to merge it with the rest – really it’s a technical challenge, often work intensive – to save the painting.

In the end, it’s the process that has made the painting as well as my idea and the limitations of my abilities.

Sometimes there are happy accidents that occur, you leave them and the resulting work is brilliant. Everyone loves it. But can you do it again? Or is it a one-off? Is it valid for your work? And if so, can you reproduce it, play with it, learn from it, take off in a new direction? Add it to your repertoire?

Sometimes the idea just paints itself, in a sense. It goes well. It looks great and I’ve only spent an hour on it. I don’t have to go back into it except to give it a good coat of picture varnish once it’s thoroughly dry. There’s no struggle to it.

I remember doing a wonderful portrait of a little girl from memory, after the style of Eugene Carriere while studying in France. It was sweet but not saccharine. It felt as if the painting had been given to me and executed through me by an external power. I was awed at myself. I was only a student and my skills were not so great or sure then and to have succeeded so easily, so well, was a surprise, a delight and a breakthrough for me.

But I got to thinking that the painting didn’t represent my work, was outside of the theme I was currently working on and it would be false to present it the world as if it were mine. I stewed over the ethics of presenting it as part of my work. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to reproduce the style. Maybe it was, after all, a bit too sweet. Certainly it was sellable, but was that the point in doing art? Or was the meaning for me, conveying a message about something more profound than making portraits of people that were somehow like rubber stamps.

For example, I could do a “template” face over and over again. It was easy. Put a coloured  ground on a canvas, paint in a beginning sketch of where the eyes, nose and mouth should be, sketch out the volume of the hair or hat or whatever went on top, then come back in with sufficient tone to firm up the semblance of a face, any face, that would pleasingly occupy the middle of the picture plane. But how vapid that was! There was no substance. The interesting thing about portraits and figure drawings was the particularity of a certain person, the lift of their eyebrow when they were animated, the curl of their mouth that differed on one side from the other side, the way the person held their head, or the way the shadow fell across their brow, like when a straw hat leaves little points of light where the sun gets through. If only I could maintain that particularity and maintain the effortlessness of that oil paint sketch that  somehow, gratuitously, was painted through my hand.

I decided that substance was important to me in paintings. There has to be something deeper, more meaningful for me.

So in a pique of moral indignation at this lovely painting that had come to me gratuitously, and in a pique of poverty, where I didn’t have enough money to go out to buy supplies, I covered over this little ochre face of a dreamy girl that was more handed to me as a gift than done by my own volition. It’s somewhere under another “masterpiece” of student art.

Wait till the conservationists one hundred years from now get hold of my work and scan it, finding this lovely little head of a girl. That’s the only way anyone is going to see it now or hereafter. I can’t even tell you which of my subsequent oils it’s under!  “Dream on, my lovely painteress,” I say to myself.  The subsequent work wasn’t worth keeping, much, though I have a hard time throwing things out.  And from time to time I remember that lovely little oil paint drawing that succeeded.

I’m hoping with this new blog of mine, to share my experience in painting and to generate discussion, so if you wish to comment, I’m hoping for something a little more substantial than “good post” or “nice”. Please share your stories with me. Give me your opinions. Add substance to the discussion.  And I promise to provoke, question and share my  ideas

That’s all for today folks.