Archive for October, 2008

The man with two faces – working imaginatively

October 29, 2008

I was half-sleeping, watching the colours moving behind my eyes, eyes completely covered, when an idea formed from one of the shapes. It looked like a head but there was a face on either side, in profile (see last post).

Now I will tell you how I painted it in ink and watercolour, along with some of the visual decision making I made as I went along.

First, I choose my paper. I use almost exclusively Arches 300 lb rough, cotton  rag (acid free) paper, but when I’m doing these smaller paintings, I often use Arches 140 blocks in various sizes because I can just go to work. I don’t need to stretch the paper onto a board.

Since I had already started a few others on the 7 x 10 inch blocks, I continued on with this size. If one does a series of paintings, which I seem bent on doing, it’s helpful in many ways to make the images the same format.  When framing, they can usually be adapted to a standard size frame by matting them accordingly; and if you need the frames for a different exhibition of work, then you can unmount them and put new work in. This is economical and they hang together and present well in a group setting.

I lightly dampen the paper with a damp sponge and then put a light coloured-wash over the entire paper. Quite often, for these whimsical images, I clean my palette of stray bits of paint. For instance, if there is only a little bit of Gamboge (a yellow pigment) or Ochre, I’ll pick these up on the brush, blend them together and use them up in a thin wash over the whole paper. This serves to remove the surface glue from the paper which is necessary if one wants to obtain an even wash.

This is one of the chief reasons I choose Arches paper. It handles well, doesn’t buckle unevenly, and gives gloriously even washes. There are other papers that do this, but beware the student quality papers – they are notorious for not handling well, having uneven glue distribution which results in areas where the pigment absorbs more than in others, creating unwanted blotches; or, buckling unevenly which results in pooling in some places and not in others. After much experimentation, I can trust Arches and so I stick with it.

The first wash is important. I’ve chosen a light grey tone, the blend of several trace colours left on my watercolour pan palette.  This first wash must be very light so that other colours can be place over it without risk of making those colours muddy. For instance, if I put down a blue colour, I couldn’t put yellow on it afterwards. It would just look green; and if I put down an orange colour, I could never get a crisp clean looking blue if it was washed on top of the orange. A grey does nicely.

Drying the first wash is critical. If you paint into a wet wash with either clear water or a new colour, the paint will “bloom” into the first, still-too-damp wash. This is alright in some instances, but if you want to control your work and have the colour where you want it, then you don’t want this to happen.

When the paper is just slightly damp (and knowing how damp is something you need to experiment with) and no water is left on the surface, I draw my image freehand onto the paper.  In this instance, I use a permanent ink pen, preferably a .5 extra fine but a .7 fine will do. My favorite is the Pilot Hi-liner, but I’ve used a Staedler one as well and it’s just as good – just harder to find in most stationery stores.

I don’t worry about if the drawing is complete. I get the essentials in, in this case, the face with the two profiles. But….

I’d only thought about the face. I found that it was sitting like a circle right in the middle of the page and needed something to give the image a better composition. I let the image sit and then drew a neck and a shoulder.  I was still not feeling like the composition was complete, so I thought about a hand and drew it in. The composition was still lacking and somehow the idea of a flower in his hand came about and I drew that in too. Now the composition was alright but lacked a bit of horizontal quality.

I thought about what a two faced person did (which was not part of my original vision) and included words on both sides. There are charming icons on both sides coming out of the mouth as if in a breath.

The first thing I painted in was the parts that were skin. I chose a wash of mixed colour – a Cadmium red light with some Opera pink and let it dry thoroughly. Then I painted the background in a wash of Cerulean blue and let it dry. I wanted to keep the colours generally harmonious with the other paintings I had done in the series, so I chose a Sap Green for the shirt.

The star on the face was meant to be an ear for each of the profiles of the head, though it doesn’t look like one. If it were not there, the two eyes appear to look forward and then the face reads as if there were three faces – two sides and face-on.  I tried the light Sap Green wash in this area, but it wasn’t strong enough and I went back into it while the paper was still wet, putting more pigment in each of the tips of the star and gently encouraging them to run to the centre. It gives a bit of texture and form to the star – it’s not completely flat. Next I washed a halo of the red mixture around the head and one shoulder. In the end, I didn’t like this and I may go back and do the image again to get the effect that I want to get, not just the one that happened.

I realized that the little icons needed to be more prominent and filled them with bright colours. I realized that the collar without the studs on it was boring. The picture needed some enlivening; so I added the studs to it. It wasn’t enough. I painted them red and I was much happier about it.

I put the watch on, because it helps make the wrist look round. There’s nothing like a watch to bring form to an otherwise flat shape of an arm.

I was happy with the image when I finished. I’ve a few things I would change if I could, but I can’t on this drawing.

If I want to try for perfection, I could just start over again and maybe I will. I realized that there is a dark spot over the right hand eye. It didn’t bother me at first but it does now. It was particularly evident when I scanned the painting for my records.  In doing it a second time, I may lose some of the spontanaity in the drawing, but I will have clearer, fresher coours.

Another thing I might do is start to overlay the area with pattern, but again, my painting will lose its freshness since another layer will have to be darker than what is there now. Once it’s down, it’s down. Watercolours are relatively unforgiving in this manner.

Doesn’t all that talk make you curious?
Here’s the image that resulted:

If I hadn’t shown you my version of a two-faced man, then how might you have drawn one? And even if you did, how do you see it now?

The curious thing, I think, is that the image is not a bit like the image I conceived in my demi-dream state. I can’t even remember, at this point, what it looked like. I can remember it being dark and molten; and that it had a face on either side of the blob.  Nevertheless, it triggered an idea which I was able to shape into a different image with the same meaning.

As I was adding detail, I was adding meaning. The two faced man, by himself, is interesting but not extraordinary. The symbolism of the peace lily, though, speaks of the insincerity of a two-face person. He brings a sign of peace but is actually undermining it.  The icons near the mouth symbolize the surface charm of a two-faced person.

This painting, then, is a mixture of techniques – ink line drawing and then watercolour; and contains symbolism that was built onto the original image, the original idea.

Sometime when you want to break away from realism, from painting the things or the models you see in front of you, take a bit of time to go fishing in your own creative soup.


Inspiration, migraine, and colour

October 26, 2008

I wrote recently about my method of painting a representational painting of hibiscus flowers. That was the traditional method of painting.

Now that I’ve gotten into painting regularly a bit more, I was happy to throw over that representational way of working for something a bit more creative. I dug into the Creative Soup and came up with something pretty scary, elating and healing all in one fell swoop.  Since then, I’ve been puttering at this latter kind of painting, drawing on some former imagery that has stayed, stored in the far reaches of my mind.

Yesterday, as I felt a migraine coming on, I took one of my anti-migraine pills that takes them away. There are side effects to these pills – they make me very sleepy, so about twenty minutes after ingestion, as usual for this medicine, I was feeling a great lassitude that overwhelmed me. I needed a nap in my big comfy chair until the feeling went away. I wrapped up with a big green afghan over my knees and pulled it up under my chin until I started to nod off, or sort of.

A feature of this condition is that I don’t go to sleep, but I do go under into a semi-conscious state where, with a migraine, I seem to focus on my eyes.  Light coming in is uncomfortable. It irritates. Now I pull the blanket right up over my eyes and put my hands over my eyes too. Anything to block the light.

Try it sometime. Not the migraine, but covering your eyes, blacking out the light as much as possible.

The beauty of this state is that, number one, I’m not going anywhere until I’ve recovered so I’m completely still and not thinking about anything but my state of being (is this meditation?) and number two, I’m quite aware of my eyes, those portals of vision, those avenues of inspiration, those passageways to creativity. This concentration is necessary for the process because one needs time to dig into the creative soup. The answers seem to come in a flash of inspiration, but you have to be there ready to capture them and set them down.

It’s like turning on a radio and moving along the dial looking for a station that only comes in faintly until you can catch the signal. Once you’ve got it, you might have to listen intently before you can really hear what is being transmitted. Or you might compare it to fly fishing, where you cast out for fish for a long, long time, being acutely aware of your surroundings and the slightest ripple on the surface before you snag a thought and pull it in.  Oops! That is, you snag a fish and reel it in!

So here is an aside that needs to be stated before I continue on with my explanation of dishing up creative soup.

I am going to tell you about three kinds of colour. One is called additive colour, one is subtractive and the third is the colour you perceive when you cover over your eyes so that no light is coming in to them. That’s quite a simplification of all the theory about colour which no doubt has exponentially changed with the technology of our times, but it’s a simple enough categorization for my purposes.  The first two I encourage you to read about in very interesting detail in Wikipedia. Basically, additive light is the kind of light you use in projecting images through a slide projector, or the kind you use in theatres to project onto an object. It’s primary colours are magenta, cyan and yellow.

The understanding of this kind of light use is completely different from subtractive colour which is the kind of colour you use to mix dyes and pigments. Here the primaries are red, yellow and blue.

A third kind of colour occurs that you can see when you completely cover your eyes and no light can get in. It’s not based on the external world and what your eyes see. I don’t know the scientific basis for it, nor even a name for it, and anyone who would like to enlighten me on this phenomonen is most welcome to add to my understanding.

Since scientifically, I don’t know where to research this kind of colour, I can only say that the colours, for me,  are more like the additive colours  – magenta, cyan and yellow. They dance around in a dark pixellated soup that most often seems a good emulsive mix, no one colour predominating another.

If you look at something quite bright for a long time, then cover over your eyes, there is an after image, usually the opposite colour from what you saw. For example if you look at a green traffic light for a minute or so, then when you close your eyes, you will see a reddish after image. If you look at yellow lamp light, concentratedly, then close your eyes, the after image will be purple/violet.

So when I have a migraine or otherwise, when my eyes are stressed, I find that the colours start to move around in different patterns. They lump into batches of colour and move around much like the motion of lava lamps or, sometimes, a bit like kaleidescopes although not so geometric or organized. It’s quite entertaining.

Yesterday while undergoing this internal light show, I could sometimes see images like those imaginary cartoon-like figures that I had begun to paint in ink and watercolour.  The process is much like looking at clouds and finding imagery – dogs, cats, donkeys, carts, and whatever else your imagination will let you see.

I had a pen with me but not a notebook. I was feeling too zonked to want to get up and change that situation so I just noted down a few of the good ideas I found in that dark and colourful pixelated soup onto the Saturday newspaper.

One interesting image that I captured was of a person’s head that, as it move and morphed ended up with a face on either side of the general round head shape (see the image at the top of this post). Harking back to a certain legal situation with which I am being taxed these days, my punning self named this image the two faced man. Once noted, I no longer had to think about that image and I continued on watching this internal light show. I could have done with a good hug, the rest of me was not feeling so hot, and so, having identified that feeling, I was looking for some huggable image but only came up with a pair of luscious lips in that visual soup, so conceived how that might look with a face that was largely lips and little more. I noted down a little sketch and returned to my internal television program.

That process lasted about an hour before I drifted on into a productive sleep and like many who watch a late night TV program, found that the program had changed by the time I resurfaced. I got up, got a cup of coffee and started a small seven by ten painting.

I think I’ll tell you about that in the next post.  In the meantime, until we meet here again, I suggest that you don’t need to go to the trouble of having a migraine in order to profit from this kind of search for personal imagery. You simply have to take a quarter of an hour to sit quietly and think. Close your eyes and cover them over. Watch your internal television. Look for those images that remind you of something. This process doesn’t have to be for painting alone. It works for creativity in many domains.

Just go fly fishing in the creative pond and see what kind of fish you come up with.

Creative soup

October 20, 2008

I finally have my art station set up on the main floor. This time, I have mostly watercolour palettes spread out on it and a table easel that allows me to work standing, with a slight slant for the paper. The slant helps me get even washes. The size of it, though, only allows me to work on small sized blocks. If I want to work big, on a full size sheet, I’d have to clear the easel away because it’s not big enough to support a full sheet.

After an evening cup of tea together and a shared task of rolling pennies into fifty cent bundles for the bank, I left Mrs. Stepford , my parting words, as I went out her door and home to mine was – “I’m going to paint tonight.”

I’ve been struggling with getting back into a routine with my painting after a long, far too long, hiatus as first I cared for my aging and dying mom. Then, after she passed away, I was occupied with looking after the Estate. Somehow, with two moves, all the sorting, packing and unpacking of things, the legal obligations that dogged me, I didn’t see two years pass by. I can hardly believe it. But that’s mostly past now.

I spent July sorting out the basement, trying to find where my art supplies were so that I could put my hand on what I wanted when I wanted it; sorted out storage for the framed work and for the empty frames. Now it’s time to get back into holding the brush or whatever I’m working with,  and making it work for me.

In the last seven years, I’ve just done too much of painting pretty pictures. Now I want to reach into the creative soup and bring out things from my own source of inspiration. I want to marry the feelings and their intent into images that speak not only to me but to my viewer.

I realized tonight that I was carrying a lot of resentment for the time I have been away from my vocation of painting. I realized that I was irritated beyond my ability to contain it and decided to see what that looked like on paper.

It’s a bit like brainstorming exercise where one lets just any thought come out and it’s not edited at all in the beginning run. I am drawing on something that I learned from Susan Ruebsaat from whom I took a series of art workshops a few years back. Her teachings helped me to change direction, to start searching my subconscious for imagery, by letting it ooze out of the creative soup that lives within us.

Susan Ruebsaat is an Art Therapist. I found her workshops very informative about the ideas of Carl Jung. Her methods of helping us understand how to reach the subconscious and use it to understand ourselves brought me out of my lethargic pattern of using photographs to paint imagery albeit pretty but rather….

Well, let me explain it this way.  When I am painting an image of, say, a bouquet and trying to make it look like the bouquet I’m looking at; that is, when I am trying to reproduce an image as I see it before me; that is, when I’m attempting my best at a photographic representation of that bouquet, I essentially am testing my hand to eye coordination. I’m testing my ability to mix colours and I’m testing my skill in working with the medium. But, I’m not creating. I’m essentially copying.

What’s here that I see is    What’s here on my painted page.

Given little time, which is exactly the position I’ve been in for the past seven years, I’ve been happy to have at least this much connection to the arts. But my brain had been taken over by obligations and full time work. There was no creativity going on, and if perchance, there was a glimmer that occurred from time to time, the best I could do was note it in a sketch book or the margin of an office paper, or write it on a napkin for later. I certainly didn’t have time to explore, or comment or experiment with the idea.

Given lots of time, that process is relatively boring to me. It doesn’t say anything more than “This is pretty.”

Given lots of time, I prefer to experiment. I might start with a recognizable image, but then I want to play with it. I want to see if it can be expressed another way. I want to see if I can shift the colours and still make it understandable. I want to see if I just play with the composition of it in different ways, if I come up with something more interesting. I want to play with the shapes. In short I want to unleash the dogs of artdom and play with them in a glorious romp through the vast green pastures of creativity.

First leaf                                                                 Second leaf

Two nights ago, I painted a leaf. I was  doing process number one, trying to represent the interesting leave with paint on paper. Last night, I tackled the same leaf, now slightly drier and curled up, with a looser brush, a more liquid paint and a damper paper. It turned out…. something, (I hesitate to describe it in words) but it felt loose and unsatisfactory to me – essentially boring.

Tonight when I looked for good paper to work on, I found I had already started a painting on my watercolour block and so I started that with a background wash and then when it dried sufficiently, the second steps of it – blocking in the shadows and then some detail.  Still, this was just like dealing with a colouring book. Once the colours were mixed, it was just filling in between the lines on a ready made drawing.

I decided to go back to a fanciful, whimsical style of painting and got out another  block of watercolour paper. I placed a light, warm coloured wash on the background and then when it was dry, drew an ink line drawing on top of it. It’s a goofy figure with numbers flying out of his head. I read the expression in a book recently and had been pondering how funny that really was. The expression was “Don’t quote me on numbers. I can remember names, but the numbers just keep flying out of my head.” I tried to visualize that.

I started to draw in pen, just like a child, not worrying if my lines met up, not worrying if my numbers looked like properly designed numbers, not worrying if the head I had drawn looked like Uncle Jimbo or not. I just drew, and the creative force and the pen and my brain made up something as I went along. I made creative decisions about where to add pattern and how big to make the numbers in nano seconds as the pen was working, as if by its own accord, although I knew it was me pushing that pen and my subconscious finally being stirred up.

Well, it’s not a perfect drawing and I will add some colour and decoration before I will find it satisfactory, but “Oh! the thrill of it!” It was so much fun.

And then, while I was all fired up and having fun, all I could find on short notice waiting for the numberless guy to dry, and before I would be able  tostart adding some colour to it,  were some kids’ metallic coloured wax crayons.

I decided to tackle how I felt about the last two days events while I waited for my goofy character to dry.

There is a dispute in the family over a legal matter and I just hate conflict. My anger from it has been seething underneath, has boiled close to the surface a couple of times, but mostly I’ve been trying to put the whole thing in perspective.

I drew a circular image of a head and put two popping big eyes in it to represent how my eyes feel from thinking about the problem. Then there are two feet-like things attached to the bottom of this. The character that was developing looked a bit unstable, as if  it could roll away if pushed from one side or the other. I had a dark green chalk stick that I used to colour it in and a charcoal black that I used to grey the large eyes. I used the metallic blue to give irises to the eyes, and filled in the background with both blue and green metallic inks.

They weren’t very satisfactory for giving a solid -ish dark background for my little ghoulish figure but they served to darken around it. The only problem was that too much white still shone through. I used a vermillion red colour to go over this. The charcoal started to loosen and mix, just like another watercolour pigment. The new colour – black mixed with vermillion became a blood red. But the blue and green provided a resist and the red filled in between all the interstices. There was no white background left at all.

At the bottom of the figure, weighed down and sinking, is a small blue heart.

Now, Mr. Psychologist, I invite you to have a heyday with that!

Anyone looking at it might think I was depressed and needed help. But I wasn’t depressed at all. The meer act of letting out my anger and frustration over a current incident left me feeling elated. I had put my finger on what was bottled up in me, sitting under a very thin slick of calming oil, through the process. In that process I have created an image that no one else would ever create. It was truly personal; and I knew that I was back on the road to recovery. I’ll be doing some serious painting soon. Painting that has personal meaning. Painting that is deeply steeped in truly creative juices.

Digging into the creative soup and pulling out images is a sacred thing.
There is a feeling of elation when the hand, one’s material and the brain are working in tandem and the results are profound and from the heart.

I’ve done a good night’s work and I’m happy!

Maple Keys

October 19, 2008

Despite having a week to catch up on myself, it still feels like my house is filled with clutter. I have visitors coming on Sunday. I am very thankful for this because I know what it is like to not have visitors. Besides, it’s my reason for cleaning.

Since I retired almost two years ago – and yes, will someone please tell me where that time went – a major part of my life has been putting things away. I moved twice. I’m trying to downsize. Hah!

Yesterday was a rotten day, a low cloud, grey, depressing day. Wet. Rainy. Today the sun forgave us and came out in it’s autumn dress, casting orange over the trees.

Yesterday, I took Mrs. Stepford up to the hairdresser and we had time to look into the second hand furniture shop across the street. Then we parted ways – she to the hairdresser, I to the gym. When I saw her firmly ensconced in her hair dressing chair, the beautician clipping away at her curly hair, I went back to the car to drive away to the gym. R_R_R_R_R_R


On the third try, I shook my head, took the key out of the ignition and went back into the hair salon.

“The car’s not starting. It did this once before. I waited for half an hour and the next time it just started up.  I’ll walk to the bank and do a couple of things and then I’ll try it again in half an hour. I’m not going to go to the gym.” I said to Mrs. Stepford as the scissors snipped at at steady pace at the back of her neck.

“Where will I meet you, then?” she asked a bit anxiously. We have our routines. Stepping outside of routines is upsetting.

‘The car’s not going anywhere. I’ll meet you at the car. I’ll be back before you are done. If I can’t get it started I’ll have to call the towing company. I’m sure your hairdresser will let me use the phone….” The hairdresser paused for a half second, looked up at me and nodded.

Half an hour later, when I got back to the car, it started as if nothing were ever the matter. Blasted vehicles! They are supposed to be dependable. But this one was beginning to be finicky. I had no choice but to fix it. You couldn’t sell a car that was not working unless it was greatly discounted. I wasn’t brave enough to drive the car far away without knowing it would start back up again to come back home.

But now I had a dilemma. I couldn’t leave the car running and go get Mrs. Stepford too. So I stayed in the car, got out my book selection that I would have used as a companion to my mindless aerobic cycling at the gym. It was Gabrielle Roy’s short stories about her grandmother – a charming recollection of childhood.  Eventually I saw the hairdresser stick her head out the door and I got out and waved Mrs. Stepford towards me.

The whole day was beginning to be a bummer.  One. It was pouring with rain. It was grey and wet out. Two. The car was broken.Three. I hadn’t been to the gym.

I’d lolligagged around the house all day on Tuesday as my first day alone in the house since early July. Then I’d done it again on Wednesday, only going out to put the recycling and garbage by the sidewalk for collection at six a.m.  and then, much later,  to bring it back in when the rain abated. I had a cup of coffee, looked at my e-mail and then went back up to sleep. I didn’t get up until ten and then didn’t leave the house all day. On Thursday, I stayed in and worked in the studio trying to get it operational. I did a bit of laundry. I didn’t go out at all. Not one bit. I was beginning to feel the effects of sitting too long. Sitting at the computer. Sitting to paint. Sitting to have dinner. Sitting to watch TV. I hadn’t seen anyone in three days and by Friday, had needed this outing.

I was looking forward to exercise on Friday, but that did not happen. Instead, I came home to call the dealership service department to get an appointment to fix my car and to call my friend who was going to meet me at the Langley Bead Show on Saturday. I wouldn’t be able to go.

All that grumpy stuff to say that, today I wasn’t going to take the car out, so I took the bus instead. I had to go take my paintings to the 1 for 1 show, a pre-Christmas, yearly exhibition at the local municipal art gallery. The title means that you can buy one painting for one hundred dollars, All paintings had to be priced between one and two hundred to be eligible for the show.

I found a cardboard box and put in the three paintings that had been accepted. There was lots of room left so I found an old feather pillow and put it in too, to keep the paintings from rubbing against each other. Then I sealed the box with packing tape and used a little black folding trolley with bungie cords to secure the box to it. I was ready to go.

It being Saturday, I waited half an hour at the bus stop before the bus came. It only took five minutes from my house to Haney Place, and it stopped only a short block from the gallery. I left my paintings, signed the contract then left my box and “wheels” in the curator’s office while I went over to the gym.

I had to be back before the new assistant left in an hour, so I upped the ante on all the machines and did half as much, time wise. I had another deadline. I could go back home on the same ticket if I was within the prescribed time limit and I was aiming to take advantage of that. For two measley dollars, for one Canadian Toonie, I could go up to Haney Place and come back too!

So there I was, waiting for the bus to come. On Saturdays, the buses are only scheduled every half hour. I got to the bus loop early, I thought, to be sure to be able to reuse my ticket for the return. The sun was shining, for which I was very, very grateful. I couldn’t imagine dragging around the paintings in the wet and trying to balance an umbrella at the same time.

While I waited, I looked about and took a few photos of electrical wires.

I have this thing about electrical wires. I find they act as  very interesting compositional breaks on a cloudless sky.  Then I took out my sketch book and drew a lad who was hunched over, sitting on the brand new black-enameled benches that had been installed at the bus loop. As time drew nearer, I put those things away. It would be too difficult to manage my largish box on wheels, a loose camera, a carry all and a sketch book if the bus came. But the bus did not come. And just in case, I fished out two dollars and fifty cents in case the bus came too late for my ticket. I let it jangle in my otherwise empty coat pocket.

There were buses, surely, but not mine. “Meadowbrook.” the driver had said.  when I asked him what the return bus was called. Now, there was the  big 701 that came from Coquitlam. There were several smaller ones, for Ruskin, Albion and Whonnock, but no Meadowbrook. Time began to be long. Buses came that were marked, “Not in Service”. It was getting late. I’d waited forty minutes, standing with my cumbersome bundle.

Finally the C43 Meadowbrook came. I got in lugging my parcel, punched in my return ticket and it spit back out rejected. The driver looked at it, turned it over and sympathetically asked, “Are you a senior?”

I confessed I wasn’t. ‘Never mind, it’s only five minutes out. The buses don’t go so often on Saturdays” and he let me get on. The ticket went into a trash bin by his right hand.

I settled at the first seat behind the driver. I knew there was a stop just before Mrs. Stepford’s door, so I checked. Did this bus stop there?
“No,” said the bus driver. “The closest stop is at Laity Street.”

“Laity Street!”
“Well, is there a bus that does stop there?” I asked. “Laity Street is much too far for me to walk.”

“You need the C44 Meadowbrook,” he answered. ”

I sighed. I had been waiting for the wrong bus. I’d just missed it when I first came. I thought it was just the bus coming up and that there was different number going back. Moreover, there wasn’t a loading station for it. I got off the bus and started to look for the place it would stop. I’d been standing at the wrong bus bay. I never did find the little bus schedule on a standard for the C44 – those little grey  displays that look like modernized  Tibetan prayer wheels waiting to be spun as people pass.  I never did find a bus schedule or sign for my bus. I saw the bus coming and had to run after it, box and chariot bumbling and clattering behind me as I ran like the aging penguin that I am.

When I got home, I was glad to have a cup of tea and a biscuit. Then, for pleasure, I went out into the garden and trimmed branches for the Maple Ridge chipping program that comes and looks after tree yard waste once a year. It was relatively warm and sunny. I didn’t need a jacket. It was therapeutic after my bumbling afternoon, to cut masterfully into branches and stack them into the three by three by nine pile of branches that we are allowed to have chipped. I cut back the lower branches of the Magnolia. I kept the boxwood hedge at bay – it’s really aggressive  in it’s growth. I downsized the limbs of the Japanese Maple that Whistler had sawn off while he was here cutting them into regulation lengths.

I brought in a beautiful branch of maple with little red keys of an exquisite colour. I photographed some leaves with light pouring through them. I wrapped up the soaker hose and put it away for the winter.

Sunshine does wonders for a day. Especially an autumn day with the lengthening light in the late afternoon.

When I went in, there was a message from Mrs. Stepford and I phoned her back.

“Well,” she demanded, ” how was your first bus ride. Did everything go alright? It’s easy, isn’t it? It just takes five minutes either way.”

“Easy as pie,” I lied, brightly.

“What took you so long? I thought you were just going to go there, give in your paintings and come back.”

“Oh, I went to the gym. I had a chat with the curator. I took some time to get a good look at Christine Christie’s paintings that are up. You know….”  I trailed off.  I wasn’t going to let her know that I could barely manage a first bus trip on the easiest route in town.

“Why don’t you come for dinner? I’ve made my turkey soup now.”

And she did. She’s on her own for a few days while Mr. Stepford is away. And that was dinner, a fine end to a busy day – a glass of wine and turkey soup.

Drawing with paint

October 17, 2008

I found two leaves on the front steps in the past few days, full of autumn colours – Burnt Siena, Gamboge, Hookers Green, Sap Green and yellows.
I laid out my watercolour palettes and began to draw in paint. First, I defined the shape in a light yellow, then added greens and rusty browns in a loose wash. When the painting dried, I took up my paintbrush again and I brought in detail, added the fascinating green spots and veins, serrated the leaf edge, all the while keeping the colours fresh.
When I came back an hour later when the paint should have been dry, I saw that the two leaves were popping out of the white page and needed a background.
If I had used the colour of the front steps, the leaves would not have been visually understandable – it was the wrong colour. So I mixed a lovely grey from burnt sienna, magnesium blue and added some other colours that needed to be used up from my palette – in sufficient quantity to paint a large area.
On the first go round, with a large brush, the grey wash looked flat. It needed texture. I painted some wet indigo into the damp background.
Then I brought out the kitchen salt shaker and sprinkled into the wet wash.
It’s a fascinating process. The colours settle and separate. Unexpectedly, some reds became visible. The colour pools.
I believe that an artist must constantly challenge her/himself to paint directly from objects, to challenge one’s observation, to test one’s motor control and to work at mixing and choosing colours. It’s what keeps paintings fresh and lively.

More Still Wives

October 10, 2008

Kristin Krimmel Photo, Still wife – butter (all images in this post are copyrighted)

In the late ‘Seventies, I was at the Ecole de Beaux Arts de Reims. After the first year of study, I knew I had to continue on. I’m a slow learner. I just hadn’t gotten it yet.  In the second year, things were beginning to click into place. I realized that the artist made the object beautiful.

Sometimes one started with a beautiful object – it made a person drop their jaw in awe at the beauty contained in that object. More often than not, though, I realized that it was how it was drawn or painted or sculpted that lifted ordinary objects out of context and into a realm of beauty. An artist could paint a scruffy old workboot that was really ugly in itself, but with the magic of excellent drawing techniques and the vision of the artist, a beautiful image could be created that made the boots beautiful – or rather, made the image of the boots beautiful.

A rather talented Japanese artist in our atelier at the Ecole often made scathing comments to the first year students in painting. These comments crushed the poor struggling artists, leaving them awash in self doubts as to their suitability for the world of art.

Joji attacked my work one day, saying that women should never be painters since all they ever painted was sickly sweet landscapes and flowers. Of course I was offended. I went home, steam coming out of both ears. How could he dismiss all women painters in one swell foop like that? My fury lasted a few days.

He had done me a favour. I had to think through why I was painting. It wasn’t good enough to go through life painting any object placed before me onto canvas –  a ritual of copying what was over here onto a canvas over there. There had to be some reason for doing it. Painting one more artificially composed still life, time after time, had no real meaning to it.

Oh yes, if a gallery really liked your vase of flowers and wanted six more, then perhaps you could paint those six and keep on going with variations on the theme, until you had done hundreds of them. But what was it all for? The repetition might improve one’s techniques, but eventually the subject and the art would reflect the ennui that resulted. Boring.

And so I asked myself the question – What were women supposed to paint, if these other subjects were offensive? Then I rememberd an adage that had been taught to us in Creative Writing many years back. Write about what you know.

What did women know that men didn’t – laundry, household domestic chores, ironing, dish washing…. these were traditionally women’s tasks. I began looking for beauty in common household tasks. After all, it was how you painted it that made it beautiful.

I began by making drawings of clothes pegs, measuring them to get the proportion right, making visual jokes with them, painting them or drawing them in various different styles. When I had run out of ideas on the clothes pegs which I aptly called “My hang-ups”, I started on ironing equipment. These I called “Still Wives” since, having polled my female acquaintances, I found women were still the prime ironers and launderers in their homes.

I still look for ordinary items to make into art work. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sayeth ancient wisdom; and I’ve cnosen to see beauty in the common items that we use from day to day as a reason for my imagery.

In Art Missionary mode, I would say that I want the viewer to become aware of their immediate surroundings and to appreciate the visual beauty that there is in the so-called ordinary object. I can’t go art preaching all the time; and I’m not always there when someone views my art work. I have to depend on the work to resonate with the viewer.

In the following photo, I really like the composition here, created by the two towers of spice – salt and pepper shakers – with their shadows coming towards us. For me, it’s as interesting as a landscape with a reflection in water. Each shaker casts a shadow, repeating the shape of it, but not so symmetrically as to become boring.  The light casts other shadows that allow the eye to travel freely in the image. There is pattern both in the glass lid and on the table cloth. For me, it’s a meditative image, with yin and yang, balance and imbalance, shapes with pattern and those with no pattern; the light and the dark.

Photo by Kristin Krimmel – Salt and Pepper shaker

It’s late. More tomorrow, hopefully,


Which came first (And let there be light)

October 9, 2008

Whistler and I were breakfasting the other day when a shaft of glorious sunshine came through the semi-sheer drapes and joined us. Whereas we had eaten all the eggs for breakfast and there was nothing left to eat, Sunshine decided to light up the shells.

My theory in art has long been this”

It’s not what you paint, but how you paint it. You can make a composition from the most mundane things. It’s the underlying beauty of forms, texture and especially light, that make things sing. Capturing the effects of light as it happens is my favorite thing in photography.

So here it is. The “getting-in-the door” present of Sol, our breakfast visitor – magnificent light. And who would have thought that a broken egg shell could be beautiful?

Sheila Allen, Elizabeth Harris-Nichols, Jean Garnett

October 9, 2008

Coral and hematite necklace by Sheila Allen

I was at the University Women’s Club of Vancouver to attend  the opening show of two artists Elizabeth Harris-Nichols and Jean Garnett. In addition, Sheila Allen showed a selection of her elegant jewelry made from precious, semi-precious stones and silver. The gallery is in the upstairs hallway of Hycroft mansion that has been beautifully restored by the members of the UWCV. It’s an gracious setting for intimate showings.

E. Harris-Nichols “Cherry Blossom Tree

Elizabeth Harris-Nichols grew up in the Peace River District, studied art at Grand Prairie College and later, at Emily Carr College of Art and Design. In the selection for this exhibition, she shows several portraits in oil on canvas and life drawings with graphite on paper heightened with chalk pastel. “Ruth”, “Alley” and “Lidia” are painted in a direct manner with lively colour. “Lidia”. a portrait of a child, head only, is my favorite amongst them with a palette of blues and greys and a composition that crops the head closely.

Her graphite studies of heads done at the Downtown East Side Carnegie Centre show attention to detail. “Nude Study #1” is a fresh line drawing of a seated figure. It has good proportions and a composition that works well, thanks to the crisp blocked in areas of chalk pastel.

J. Garnett “Net Shed” Paper collage with mixed media

Jean Garnett began late in her business career to dabble in the arts and found it so enriching that it became a main focus of her activities. While she has worked in several media, this show is about collage with an oriental flavour. She uses delicate Japanese printed papers cut very precisely to weave patterns and adding bits of beads, gold paint and other decorative elements to her designs. Several of the images are created in the form of stylized Kimonos. Other works are totally abstract with a strong design flavor. Two were more illustrative, one a picture depicting a Japanese Lantern, the other, an Oriental sailing boat.

These works need to be taken in the ensemble of collaged image plus frame, the latter being an essential to the display of these exquisitely crafted images.

Sheila Allen designs make the most of the natural qualities of the stones. Her work has a quiet elegance, which was much appreciated by the opening show crowd. Twenty pieces, an assortment of necklaces, bracelets and earrings, remain on display during the current month.

Hycroft – home of the University Women’s club, 1489 McRae Avenue, Vancouver, houses the gallery upstairs in long corridor.

J. Garnett’s web page is at:

E. Harris-Nichols web page is at:

A treasure chest of images.

October 7, 2008

Family Portrait Tryptich

Paintings by Rick Mobbs (images copyrighted by the artist)

I stumbled upon this painter while looking at some writing – you know how it goes. Someone comments on your work, you look at what they are writing. You notice a comment on their work that is interesting. They post a picture that has inspired their writing. You seek that out and all of a sudden you have opened up a marvelous treasure chest of images that sing, that need infinite looking. Pearls of images. Diamonds. Intricate turquoises. Lapis and garnets. It’s all there tumbling out in a rich jumble. Have a look!

Congratulations Rick.

and post script.

I contacted Rick Mobbs and he kindly allewed me to lift some images from his web site which I have now posted above. I had a difficult time choosing. He’s so talented that anything he draws is beautifully done. I thoroughly admired his drawings of boots, boxers and calves. He makes a mundane object sing with life just in the lively way in which he draws/paints it.  But it was his illustrative, fantasy, childlike images that I became absorbed in. He has such an imagination. But there is nothing childish about his work. His visual vocabulary is rich in colour, texture and rhythms. His compositions artfully draw you around the image as if you were effortlessly flying in a dream world.

And by the way, he writes as well. His web site will lead you to that, if you are interested in going in exploring his written word.


Copyright? Orphan Bill?

October 3, 2008

I was startled by this comment that I got from an artist whose work I posted recently. I asked her permission fo copy her work as an illustration to a critique I had posted.

She said ” I only ask that you put “Copyright (name of artist).  All Rights Reserved.  Reproduced By Permission of the Artist” beneath the picture in some form as the US is primed to pass the Orphan bill which would allow anyone who found the picture on your blog without reference to the copyright to use the image as they wish on the grounds that it is “orphaned.”

Have you heard of this proposal? Can anyone add to this information?

The change of legislation would make the posting of other people’s work on one’s blog an onerous thing, to have to put all that on in order to acknowledge a photo and/or an art work.

If one forgets….         does that mean that anytime one forgets to acknowledge a person’s work when they “borrow” it to illustrate the work or to illustrate some story, that the original creator of that work risks losing their copyright on their own work? That’s outrageous! If so, it would be better to remove all artwork, photos and illustrations from the ‘Net!

It’s especially dangerous, because anyone can lift one’s work from a Web site.

Here are some web postings that may clarify the issue for you:

These were the first few that I started to look at, then I realized there were over a million posts on the subject. I suggest, if you are interested in informing yourself about this American proposed bill, that you Google the term “Orphan Bill” and you will find many, many sites that have posted comments about it.

I downloaded an interview and it’s really worth listening to. You can pick it up at this site