Archive for the ‘living’ Category

Plein air

July 28, 2009

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I was invited to join the local art club’s plein air paint-out today and I accepted. It was in Florence’s back yard – the two acre parcel of the total seven that has been developed with house, Florence’s studio. a green house,  and orchard. It’s very beautiful; very out-in-the country-like. It’s what I remember of my great-aunt’s place before they totally redeveloped White Rock. The house is 1960’s modern, though. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright type of house, close to the ground, single level blending into the landscape as if it had always been there.

The sad thing is that Florence is now in her eighties; her husband died last year. Her adult children are convinced she must move.  She admits that she can’t manage a seven acre place herself. Her offspring are building her a new place in West Vancouver.

She sighed with little-accepted resignation. “It’s not just the house. It’s thirty years of memories and more. It’s all of my studio, the paintings, the books, the materials. It all has to go.”

I got thinking on the fragility of life, the fugitivity. What is left after a lifetime of work, of raising children, of keeping house and keeping family history alive, of painting and creating?  In the end, you can’t take it with you. But in the meantime, when you are trying to clear it up, what do you do with it? It becomes a problem.

It strikes home. I’ve been working in the last month or so, giving a concerted effort to recycling various things that I’ve inherited that I don’t particularly want to keep. Last week, I found a box of father’s writings. I can’t read them. They’re all in Engineering language. I don’t understand it’s content nor do I have any sense of the importance of it. I think I will call the University and ask them if they want to keep them. The other members of the family aren’t interested; and amongst the younger generation, there is no one likely to develop an interest for them, even later in life.

The thing with plein air or outdoors painting, is that you have to bring everything with you – paints, palette, table, chair, drawing or watercolour pads. I had forgotten a table but I had a cooler in the car which I up-ended and used for one.  The lid of it I used to set my art bag and camera on since the grass was heavily laced with dew still.

I picked a landscape to transfer to my watercolour paper and then  settled myself into my transportable folding chair. The landscape photo, above, is what I chose to paint. Here’s what resulted from my endeavours:

Chez Florence Arches small

While I waited for the first wash to dry, I got out that pad of Yupo “paper” that I experimented with some months back. It’s a slippery paper and if it doesn’t sit absolutely straight as it dries, then the paint goes southwards and loses all its definition. Control-oriented as I am, this is not a comfortable thing for me, but I”m not going to waste the paper, so this was a good opportunity to see if I could get anything with it today.

Here’s the Yupo solution:

Chez Florence Yupo  small

I tried some photoshop adjustments that were not successful. It’s not quite as garish as it looks here.  The blue is less metallic looking, but the yellow is as yellow as what the finished work looks like.

I felt that in neither drawing had I got the branch arrangements right so I went back and did a pen drawing. There was an implied heart shape to it that I felt I did not capture in the watercolour paintings.

Here’s the pen drawings”

chez florence ink drawing

And here I’ve pinked in the implied heart shape:

chez florence ink drawing w colour

In all, I must have had two hours to do all this . Shortly after two, I headed back for home. When I went to get in the car, I burnt my hand on the metal, it was so hot out. Heat gathered all day and in the end I believe I heard 37 degrees was the highest it got.

It’s cooler out now, at half past midnight. It’s so hot nobody wants to do anything. I have the fan on and have reduced the heat in the house by one degree, but it’s not going any lower. Tomorrow will be another scorcher.


Drawing with Robert Landry

November 24, 2008


Had I left five minutes earlier, I would not have been caught in the hail storm that tumbled out of a rapidly darkening sky.  The hail was followed by a gust of driving rain, pelting, melting the ice crystals on the tarmac. It pounded unmercifully as I packed the car with folding easel, drawing board, a few drawing supplies and my evening garb for the musical concert which came after the drawing workshop. I slammed down the trunk lid, lifted my coat jacket over my head and dashed for the drivers’ seat, then sat and waited until the squall had lost its fury.

It only took ten minutes, but when you don’t know that the force of nature is just teasing, it seems like it will go on forever.  “Ha, ha! Could’ve drowned you with all this if I wanted!” Mother nature seems to say, a little maliciously. But I’m just reminding you. You’d better be good. Remember Noah?”

So I turned on the wipers and drove down a perfectly slick, black road – black like dark evening – but it was early afternoon. The wipers flapping furiously at full speed just managed to provide a driving visibility. The traffic lights ahead shone in the pavement in long streaks of colour, red or green accordingly, but peppered, textured with lighter rain sparkles shooting back up from the road.

When I arrived at destination in the underground parking of the community centre, the rain suddenly stopped – I was inside, after all – and the wipers flapped frenetically with nothing to do until they grimaced with the wiper-on-dry-glass, nail-on-black-board grinding sound and I hastened to shut them off.

My destination was the 2-D studio on the third floor where Robert Landry, a sculptor from Detroit, Michigan was about to deliver a six hour drawing workshop. Kathleen Tonnesen, an artist and actress who lives in our community, organizes art events from time to time to bring established artists to our small community. She has high praises for Landry, so it became our privilege to meet him, discover his work and spend an afternoon being inspired by his drawing and teaching skills.


The participant group was a diverse one – several in the late teen, early twenties age group, a few in their mid adult years and four of us old geezers – active retirees ready to draw. Myself having previously taught, I was curious to see how he would bridge the years of experience sitting expectantly before him; and he did this effortlessly. Art is, after all, eternal, and the infectious quality of it knows no boundaries of age, race or gender. Those who get it are held by it for life.

Landry was a young student on an athletic scholarship when he discovered his affinity for art and sculpture. He studied under a classic Italian master, was mentored by him over a number of years as Landry worked for him and now he is a Master sculptor in his own right. In his home page message, he offers his guiding philosophy this way: ” Ultimately I strive for the point where the physical, the mental, and the emotional converge to project the life of the spirit through the beauty of human anatomy.”

His work is grounded in the Classic discipline of anatomy. He uses his highly developed technical skills, whether in drawing, painting or sculpture, to elicit images of life and beauty. In counter-reaction to the commercially advertised ideal, he seeks beauty in aging and emotive faces, in figures living real-life dramas and in events that challenge the human spirit.
One body of the sculptural work has roots in the manner of Rodin. The portraits and figures in this genre carry the imprint of his hands modelling clay, roughly, directly, energetically into anatomically readable forms. It’s realism with a deep dose of spirit. In a more recent mode, he has turned to semi abstraction. If you take the time to look, you will see that his underpinnings of classical anatomy are still there, but the forms are elongated, polished, shiny. The thumbprint may be gone in these, but the spirit has taken solid form, as if the body is less important now than pure spirit made visible.

robert-l-landry-addressing-the-public-bronze robert-l-landry-strength-of-perserverance-bronze

Addressing the Public; and Strength of Perserverance – two classic bronzes by Robert L. Landry

Immediately below, : The Joy of Selflessness by Robert L. Landry – polished bronze


In this workshop, he demonstrated how he takes a waxen clay mix carved into his desired figure, molds it in a plaster cast and prepares it for the lost wax process of casting in bronze. Then it was our turn to draw. We explored the anatomy of human face, following along in vine charcoal with his method to explain classical proportions. This was not new to me, so I did one to follow on and enjoy the process and then did a second on one fine paper that looked more like some of the psychological characters that I’ve been working on lately.

These drawings are ones I did in the workshop:

276-small1 275-small

Later on in the session, a live model posed and we had several stances to work on. I’ve not been figure drawing now for over seven years. I must say I was thoroughly rusty, but on the third try,  I got something quite reasonable, but it’s out of proportion and the legs – well, I don’t think anyone could walk on them.  It is good encouragement for me to get back at it. Life drawing is really the “scales”, the technical work-out for artists. I’d just rather not publish the result!

It was a long afternoon for me. I haven’t stood so long for such a long time that I packed up a little early and headed home. The storm had passed. The sky was opening wide and the last light of day was colouring the clouds with a faint warm grey that contrasted with the deep, deep blue of coming night. The streets were still slick with rain, but the sky was promising better weather for tomorrow; which is now today.

It’s brilliant outside my window. Carpe diem. I must go and seize the day –

I encourage you to take a look at Robert L. Landry’s his sculpture on his web-site at

And many thanks to Robert Landry for his willingness to share his vision, to teach and to spread the beauty of art.

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.


July 16, 2008

I’ve been away from the act of creation for some long time now, fault of many things. My house is not in order and without that, I find it impossible to tackle new works of art creatively.

An invitation arrived in my e-mail this morning from a fellow blogger who, it seems, is having an exhibition of his work.

Now, I haven’t been blogging nor reading blogs either, so I thought I would stroll through his posts and refresh my acquaintance with his work. I found this lively one on sculpture where a professor has taken his students out onto a farm area and had the students create installation type work within the landscape using materials from the landscape or inspired by it. The sheer inventiveness of the art is stunning.

It always amazes me that, given the same instructions and limited by the same parameters of materials and  site, each individual will come up with astoundingly different imagery. “Bravo!” I say. This is what art is meant to be.

Here’s the site address:


Installation Art – again

May 9, 2008


I’ve been exceedingly happy as my garden reveals itself for the first time to me. I took possession of the house in July last year. The spring flowering was over. Much of the summer flowering was gone too!.

I knew that the family that had it previously had cared for the garden to the extent their time allowed, but it was overgrown and I had no idea what kind of perennials were lurking just below the soil waiting for the sun and rain to nourish them into exuberant plants in spring.

Well here we are, and already I have a profusion of colours, shapes and forms.

For the past three weeks, this lovely Camellia shown above has been producing exquisite flowers. The tree is rather messy – it deposits flowers on the ground without hesitation. They don’t seem to have an attachment to the stem that works. I was out cleaning up the resulting mess two days ago, gathering up these brilliant blooms and discovered that it wasn’t just the ones that were tired, weak and brown edged from relative old age that were falling. Some perfectly good , flawless blooms were falling too. I hated to waste them.

Since no one is here to tell me that my playfulness is silly or stupid, I started to play with them on the lawn, racking them up in a grid on the fresh and lusty grass; and eventually I tried out some changes in the grid; and then I made a face with them.

It’s impermanent. The only thing that will last is the photo recording my half hour of playing with the fresh blooms. The next day there was a whole new crop of fresh and exquisite blooms delivered to the asphalt driveway. Each day, I’ve been picking them up and adding them to my grid of flowers. I figure, I might as well enjoy them as long as I can. There’s no use in packaging up this soft pink fragile beauty in a clear plastic garbage bag for disposal. They haven’t had their time yet.

And so I’ve laid them out on the lawn for a second go at enjoyment of the. I’ve also taken a hint from Fiji where I vacationed lately. There’s no need for a vase. The weather is cool enough and very wet. They’ll last without further coddling. And when they are done, well, they are done. Then I will rake them up and put them in the compost. Do you think my worms would like the festival of flowers?
Here are some of the things I’ve done with them:


This is day 3 and they are still and I place the fallen ones each day. Wouldn’t it be something to cover the entire lawn with this expanded grid?

White rock photo

April 15, 2008

I took this photo in White Rock. The sun was glaring and I could hardly see the screen display to know what I was getting. When finally I got it home, it was one that I felt really quite thrilled with for a number of reasons. A happy accident. I didn’t even have to crop it.

First of all, I love subtlety and for that reason, I rather like the reduced palette of greys with only small amounts of subdued blues to heighten it. The balance between light and dark is sufficient to make the picture work. And then, despite many of the compositional rules that I generally go by, this one defies them or plays with them in an elliptical way (in the sense of omitting parts while still providing the meaning – I hope that Elliptical is the adverbial form of elide – to abridge, to omit ).

If you use the rule of thirds, the vertical left hand third and the vertical right hand third have activity going on in them but the center one has none. Already that trangresses the geometric compositional rule of putting something in the critical centre square.

Horizontally, the top two bands form a third; the middle, the major sandbar, forms the second and is enhanced by the small sandbar the two right hand figures are standing on. The bottom third is composed of the pool of water broken up by reflections echoing the figures.

If you follow the compositional rule of reading the picture like you would read a book, there is a strong entry point on the left hand side that is just, and only very minutely so, interrupted by the camera man’s head so that the eye can connect to the downward force to take its journey into the picture and thence again to the right. All the other horizontal lines are interrupted with vertical images, helping the viewer stay in the picture. Even if the directional force is strongly moving to the right, it’s always comfortable to shift down into the image and work your eye around the various figures.

Each of the figures acts as a vertical force that stops the eye from going out of the picture, and yet, because the reflection elides the figure shape, there is no continuous line, just one that is constructed by the eye of the viewer; and yet it reads as a continuous vertical “stopper” in the picture. That is, the viewer has to do some work to connect things together and this is a good thing – the image becomes interactive.

The small sandbar on the right edge acts as an arrow that is a strong counterweight to all the horizontal lines driving rightwards. It volleys the eye back to the left of the image. So, although there is nothing going on in the center, the eye comfortably can undertake a tennis match in the image, going back and forth, back and forth.

There are good contrasts – light and dark; texture and smooth; and activity and stasis. That being said, this might not be as captivating a photo without the adult form on the left who is taking photographs. His posture with the camera and his flapping coat make him the most interesting figure and his activity assists in pushing your eye to the right; and yet, your eye wants to keep going back to him. In this way he is perfectly positioned as a counterweight.

II superimposed a geometric grid on the picture plane and discovered it is not a Golden Rectangle. To my surprise, I realized that digital cameras have a new standard – it’s the 8.5 x 11 inch format that is standard to computer office paper. It’s not the 4 x 6 inches of standard non-digital photography. If it were, the closest would be 8 x12. It’s not far off, but it makes a difference. Of course, with the programs we have now for modifying digital photos, it would be very easy to stretch out or squish the picture to fit a Golden Rectangle proportion and hardly anyone would ever notice the difference

Using the geometric principle of composition, I drew a square on the left using the smaller side as the length of the square and then did the same on the other; then proceeded to make some critical center lines, major diagonals and then connected intersecting points. I came with this:


It’s a photo not a drawing. You get what you get, although when you zoom, when you frame things up before taking the photo, you have some control over composition of your image. So was it by hazard that I got a good approximation of a geometric composition? I think not. I think that the amount of time I’ve spent analyzing this kind of composition helps me to select and frame up images that are already approximately fitting the Geometric composition grid.

There is some good correspondence with the grid to the image – water meeting sand lines in the horizontal direction. a good diagonal on the right side; the figures hovering around a principal vertical on the left side and the figures on the right contained in a major right hand rectangle. The reflections are pretty close to being in the lower third. If I were to plan a painting using the geometric method of composition, it would take very little to adapt this picture to the grid to reinforce its geometric harmony.

Now look at this image again from the Spatial Relationship theory of composition:

The figures act as focal points. I’ve simplified the picture to show how they draw your eye around the image. I’ve traded the denim, (the mid-tone blue) for orange for illustration purposes only; and black as the dark tone. If you cover over the left hand figures you will see that your eye no longer is interested in travelling back and forth over the image. Or vice versa, cover over the right hand figures, the same thing happens. The picture becomes boring and ill-balanced. Also note here that when I modified the picture to make the principal focal points stand out, I lost the horizontal lines of the sea meeting the sand. This modified version of the photo now lacks any horizontal driving force except those lines from the grid itself!

Mostly only artists and photographers are interested in the underpinnings of the picture. They are like the compulsory figures of the figure skater. When they are doing their long skate, you’d never know they spent hours on the compulsories, practicing, practicing, practicing. If I were doing a painting from this picture, I would be searching out the harmonies and balances all the time, at the same time as I was painting the figures with some degree of representational form. Both need to be there – the form and the composition. I would move figures over a bit to make the composition work even better. I might even cut out a shape of one of the figures in paper of approximately the right colour or tone, then move it around the picture and consider where it would best be placed in order to give harmony to the whole.

Good artists understand these rules and regs. They are conscious of what’s going on in their drawings and how they are keeping the eye of the viewer engaged, seemingly effortlessly.

My last comment on this picture has nothing to do with composition. It has to do with subject.

I like this picture because it caught people doing what they like to do, not posed, not stiff. They are enjoying themselves. It’s idyllic.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

If some of this seems esoteric to you and it’s the first time you’ve visited the site, then go back through some of my recent posts. I’ve been writing about composition.

Happy painting!

Edward Abbey commenting on art

April 7, 2008

I’ve been reading a chronicle by Edward Abbey (1927 – 1989) who wrote about his experiences in the Arches country or southeastern Utah while he was a park ranger. He lived a very solitary life while there and shared his reflections on his time in Desert Solitaire, A season in the Wilderness. It’s a very powerful, sparely written book. I’m enjoying it immensely.

If you are looking for it in the Library or the Book store, it’s a Touchstone book published by Simon & Schuster in 1968.

I was especially interested in this passage which discusses petroglyphs and pictograms. The first are carved into rock (petro- Greek for rock, glyph – a drawing) and pictograms are painted on rock. The discussion in the book is a few pages long, but it was this item that I thought worthy of sharing with you:

Whether crude or elegant , representational or abstract, very old or relatively new, all of the work was done in a manner pleasing to contemporary taste, with its vogue for the stylized and primitive. The ancient canyon art of Utah belongs in that same international museum without walls which makes African sculpture, Melanesian masks, and the junkyards of New Jersey equally interesting – those voices of silence which speak to us in the first world language. As for the technical competence of the artists, its measure is apparent in the fact that these pictographs and petroglyphs though exposed to the attack of wind, sand, rain, heat, cold and sunlight for centuries still survive vivid and clear. How much of the painting and sculpture being done in America today will last – in the physical sense – for even half a century.

His commentary on the durability of art is an idea to spend some good time thinking about.

He goes on to say.

The pictures (to substitute one term for the petroglyph-pictogram combination) are found on flat surfaces along the canyon walls, often at heights now inaccessible to a man on foot. (Because of erosion.) They usually appear in crowded clusters, with figures of a later date sometimes superimposed on those of an earlier time. There is no indication that the men who carved and painted the figures made any attempt to compose them into coherent murals; the endless variety of style, subject and scale suggests the work of many individuals from different times and places who for one reason or another came by, stopped, camped for days or weeks and left a sign of their passing on the rock….

They could be the merest doodling – that is an easy first impression. Yet there’s quite a difference between scribbling on paper and on sandstone. As anyone know who has tried to carve his name in rock, the task requires persistence, patience,determination and skill. Imagine the effort required to inscribe, say, the figure of a dancer, with no tool but a flint chisel and in such a way as to make it last five hundred years.

It’s on page 101 in the chapter called Cowboys and Indians Part II in the copy I’m reading if you should wish to look up the book and read more. I don’t know if I’ve properly credited him in this blog to avoid copyright issues, but I don’t think any publisher would complain about such a short excerpt being reprinted in an laudatory manner to encourage others to read his work.

The passage made me think about the longevity of some art forms. Various types of stone and metals seem to offer centuries, even millenniums worth of durability. Fresco seems more durable than other painting mediums although works in fresco often run into difficulty if there is a problem of humidity. Oil paintings are quite durable in smaller forms, and on wooden, especially mahogany, panels. Oils on canvas are more fragile both to the elements and to damaging. The jury is still out on acrylics. By some, it’s hailed as the miracle discovery for painting of this century; but only time will tell. Anyway, some of the problems of acrylic on canvas are the same as for oils by reason of the support – the canvas is affected by humidity levels and is easily torn. Watercolour and pastels are fragile, only being supported by paper grounds.

Since much of art production throughout the ages has not been cast in stone, I’m very grateful for the museums of the world. They provide an optimal environmental condition with controlled humidity and temperature to preserve the collection of all ages of art work. I’ve spent countless hours of my spare time haunting their halls and absorbing art work that was produced before (and after) I was born.

There are petroglyphs and pictograms in many regions of the world. I’ve never seen any in real life, just through books, but I marvel at the ability of the artists to produce such interesting imagery. It reminds me of Rhoda Kellog’s research on children teaching themselves to draw (without the interference of adults telling them what to do). The similarity of man’s drawing, of man’s need to draw, of the archetypal patternings we use are all subjects of interest to me. It is, I have decided, one of the main things that distinguishes man from the other animals in the Animal Kingdom. We feel compelled to draw. As far as I know, there is no other animal that does that.

What do you think?


April 1, 2008

The little blighters got me! Arghhh!


While in Fiji just a week ago, I was approached by the manager of the resort about my paintings. I gave him my business card and invited him to look at my web site so that he would have a feel for the larger work that I did and he would be able to look at my qualifications while he was at it.

Next day, he came back to me with a doleful face.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, ” he said,”but your web site has been hacked . There’s nothing there.”

Later on, with his permission, I went up into his office and he showed me. There’s nothing there. Nothing except a nasty and gloating message from some silly hacker who found it delightful to put my whole website to waste.

There was nothing I could do from Fiji. I reverted to Fiji Time and went back to vacationing.

One of the first calls I made when I arrived back home on Friday was to Hugh, my nerd Nephew. As I told him my woeful tale, he was already looking up my site and trying to see if anything could be saved. He’s in the middle of exams and final papers for his first year of his Master’s studies, so I forbade him to go down that path. He’ll get to it when he’s finished at the end of April. In the meantime, I can no longer refer people to my site so that they can see what my work looks like.

“Can’t they catch the people who do this?” I complained.

“What are you going to do when you find out it is some brilliant Russian living in Vladivostok? The hacker could live anywhere in the world.”

He had a point there. What could you do, even if it was someone in mid-America?

And so I must wait for a while to reconstruct the site. Or maybe when rebuilding, I can make some changes to it!.

When one door closes, another one opens.

At the altar of art – a visit to the art gallery

February 7, 2008

Did I ever tell you about my esteemed colleague at work (not in the art business) whom I took to the Art Gallery to see the Fred Varley show?

This man is brilliant. He has a steel trap memory; he’s tremendously smart; but he doesn’t have a diplomatic bone in his body. My other colleagues have often wondered about this person because he is penurious to the nth degree. At the end of all conferences, he will pick up any pop or juice cans and keep them so he can return them for the money.

I understand from others that he is a millionaire a few times over from his day trading which he did from the office – on his own time, I should hope. We all had travel allowances when we were away on company business. He was no exception. We never had to account for our per diem for meals. It was a lump sum we were entitled to, around fifty dollars a day.

It was rumoured that he always took his own lunch rather than buy one so that he could put the extra money aside for his investing hobby. He was equally frugal about dinner, and critical of others who were not so economically minded. The accumulation of this careful husbanding of coin was what started him on his way to wealth.

This man, besides not being particularly diplomatic, had a voice that would do honour to any theatre. You could hear him from afar and he could often be heard in dispute with someone.

Now, you may think I am criticising, but really, I spend my life in observation. That was what I was trained to do as an artist; it overlaps into my penchant for writing, and I make no judgments. I assume that others make critical observations (critical, not in the negative sense, in the sharp observation sense) of me. I may not agree with others, but they are entitled to their opinion.

His colleagues were very thankful for his prodigious memory. If you wanted to know a policy or a rule or a standard of practice, not only did he know it off the top of his head, but he also could find the reference for you and give it to you within minutes if not within seconds. It was most helpful for a person like me who was so overloaded in my job that my brain acted like a sieve. It was a real boon to young new members of staff whom he was only to delighted to train in the norms of our work.

I rarely saw him at my office door since he was confident that all he did was correct. He occasionally, very occasionally, reported something I would need to know – a form of keeping me in the loop. More often, he would inform me of things through e-mail. It saved any messy discussions. It also helped one’s case if your point of view was in print. It made things somehow more official.

One day, Herman was standing at my office door hopping from foot to foot, waiting for me to finish with a phone call. When he did, he said in his characteristic strong voice, “I’ve come to ask a favor of you. I’ve come to pick your brain.”
If ever there was an expression I hated, it was that one! I could see my brain being extracted fluffy bit of feathers by fluffy bit. One day there would be no more stuffing up there and I wouldn’t remember anything!

“There’s something I don’t understand and I think you can answer it for me. When you need help with something, you should go to an expert, and you are it!” He grinned broadly as if he had caught me in a net and I couldn’t get out of it. It put me on the spot.

That a bit of buttering up made me very nervous. What possibly could be coming?

He was claiming that I was clever in something and that if I couldn’t explain it to him, somehow I was letting down my own self image. I squirmed as I waited for the ending to his plea.

Normally we were somewhat leery of each other; we were often at loggerheads when I would ask him to complete something for me and he had an altogether too slippery a way of delegating the task back up to me or refusing to do it. What possibly could be next?

“What’s on your mind, Herman? ” I asked rather too assertively, all the invisible shields going on red alert.

“It’s about art.” There was a pause.
“You’ve seen my picture of Vera at my workstation. I really am attracted to her, but I don’t understand about art. ” Another pause laden with I didn’t know what. I wasn’t quite sure who Vera was until he went back to his desk and returned with an eleven by fourteen coloured laser print that he’d downloaded from the Vancouver Art Gallery web site. Later I noticed that he had co-opted the same image for his screen saver.

“I was down at the library and took out every book about Varley that I could find. I’ve read them all and I don’t understand what makes his work Art. I don’t understand why one painting becomes identified by a gallery as a work of art and another piece doesn’t.”

Truly, he had come to the right person. I think of my real purpose in life as being an art missionary. His plea struck an addicted chord in me that I couldn’t resist. Here was a man asking for help and I could provide it. Perhaps I could open up his eyes to the marvels of Art. Perhaps I could convert this crusty individual into an avid appreciator of Art. Who knew, with a suspected millionaire like this, maybe I could push him over the brink into an Investing in Art mode! Miracles could happen if you only had faith.

I asked him if he had seen the Varley show at the Art Gallery. The answer was negative. It cost twenty dollars to get in. Rather, he had tried to absorb the show through his (free) library research.

Like the Salvation Army seeing a soul to be rescued, Art Missionary moved in for the rescue.

“I’ve got free tickets to the Gallery, ” I proposed, all caution to the wind.”I’ll go with you on a lunch hour.” I had calculated that a free ticket would be far too tempting an offer for Herman’s frugal sensitivities to refuse.

On Thursday, we left the office about eleven thirty to miss the lunch time crowd. He brought me up to date on his readings as we walked the two blocks to the Gallery.

With my membership card and his free entry ticket, we barreled into the Gallery without even having to stand in line and made straight for the Varley exhibit. In theory, we were only supposed to be away for half an hour at lunchtime; but we both worked diligently and often did unpaid overtime. If we went over limit today, neither one of us would feel very guilty.

The exhibition was ordered somewhat chronologically. Beside each painting was a blurb explanation of what the picture represented. It gave the artist’s name, the medium that the work was created in, the dimensions of the painting and some background information that would help explain the image.

So what’s so good about this painting,” he said in his theatrical voice; and we looked at an early Varley painting with a simple image of a wide open window looking far down from the escarpment to the beach below. It wasn’t one of Varley’s most pleasant pictures, but it represented a beginning of his departure from the established norms of the day.

I explained about the context of the work; the composition; the choice of colours. I explained that sometimes good art was not necessarily pretty work; rather it described a reality, an essence of a location; and sometimes the gallery was more interested in exhibiting the sequence in the development of the artist than in necessarily showing their final and quintessential production. In other words, how the artist arrived at his imagery was as important as the imagery itself.

Herman continued, “And how did his life in 1905 influence the kind of work that is represented in this painting?

I looked around me to see how many people were trying to absorb the exhibition. Fortunately, I thought, there are only a few. I wondered if a guard would come and tell us to shut up. I wasn’t going to whisper in reply to his loud voice, but I wasn’t going to match it either.

But this question had given me a whole new insight into this man. He really had absorbed what he had read out of the various tomes he had been able to find at the library. As if by photographic transfer, he had memorized Varley’s major life events – his marriage to Maud, his children, his marriage break-up leaving his wife for Vera; his teaching at the Vancouver School of Art; his eventual poverty; his death in Ontario.

But with all the items of life he might have remembered, he could not correlate them to the paintings; did not know what made something Art or not.

I answered that I hadn’t memorized his chronology. Perhaps if he knew, he could remind me and I might be able to bring some insights to the work? He did so for every painting until we had to go.

Bit by bit, there were hangers on following after us until we had twenty people following, listening as he provided some of Varley’s life context and some very pertinent questions for those uninitiated in Art theory and practice. They were interested too, as I grappled with answers that I hoped would illuminate for him what he was looking at.

I remember telling him that you don’t have to like every painting you see in an art gallery; that all art is not just pretty pictures. You enhance the appreciation of the work if you know the context of it and if you know the artist’s intentions.

I remember telling him very briefly about the Group of Seven and his place in that illustrious group. I remember telling him that the work that Varley was doing was in many ways a breakthrough from traditional ways of painting and that in itself was a special thing.

What I never had the courage to tell him, neither there while we were in the gallery nor when we got out of it, was that an Art Gallery, these mausoleums of paintings past, are somewhat like Cathedrals, like churches. That there is a hush and quietness as each visitor is careful to speak quietly, if at all, not to disturb the essentially visual experience of their fellow art worshipers.

I have no idea if I helped him on his way to his own art epiphany. I do know that he spoke more kindly to me, in general, in our day to day work relations and we had no more office rows. Until the day I retired from those corporate halls of industry, he remained faithful to his Vera by Varley, not only the paper photocopy pinned to his work station cloth divider but also on his screen saver.

I wonder if he has ever bought an original piece of art work.

Reflections on Self

January 9, 2008


I had my passport photo taken day before yesterday. The woman looking back at me from the two small photos did not seem to be me. One is not allowed to smile. The photo tech looked at the image with a magnifying glass, could see my teeth, and made me have the picture taken again. I can’t think what would happen to a Customs Agent if they saw teeth, but it’s strictly taboo.

The first photos had a hint of a smile, but this too is verboten. The poor Customs agents of other nations must think we are a dour lot north of the 49th parallel. The picture had to have a white background; there could be no glare. Since my glasses offended the rules in this matter, I took them off. Bon Dieu! but I am looking old.

Mr. Stepford next door said, “We’re all getting old, m’dear. Suck it up. You can’t change it.” So dutifully, with this pair of grumpy looking pictures to offer into the Passport Office, I applied for my passport renewal today. It’s a much easier process than before. I handed in the renewal form only signed by me (no guarantor needed) and the photos that purported to match my physiognomy, and that was it.

“Is that it?” I asked the agent in disbelief. A friend had waited in line over five hours earlier in 2007 before they had conceived of this fast track method. I wasn’t in line for five minutes and the exchange of money and the verification of documents only took another five. I didn’t exactly feel cheated but I wouldn’t have any stories to tell about my Passport Office martyrdom.

“You seem pretty straightforward and honest to me,” he replied.

Huh!” I thought. This innocent face has got me through a few scrapes that I was involved in, with impunity. I wasn’t going to set him straight. No one needs to know about my youthful indiscretions.

Then I came home to a very nice comment from Forestrat. about my blog on the use of abstraction in realist photography. He’s got some pretty wonderful pictures of racing winter waters that are worth taking a look at; and his trekking through the forest makes for a good story.

His comment got me thinking about self.

I don’t like being captured in photo. I’ve grown heavy with age. I’d rather not be reminded of it. My face is not that youthful anymore. There are wrinkles. The two sides of my face don’t match. Sometimes I look like an elderly Simone Signoret, crusty and not to be messed with; or with a lapelled business blazer, I feel like a sergeant-major.

I’d rather be able to capture my image myself so I can control what happens to all those images that don’t work out. Like delete them for posterity. I like to edit what goes out there that is supposed to be me. I’ve seen some dreadful self-portraits (of myself) in my time.

Forest Rat had mentioned that he liked to take pictures of a reflective surface but then the camera always showed in the picture. There is a way of avoiding that, however. If you don’t want the camera to show, you can position the camera above or below the reflective surface and tilt the camera up or down as required. It may take a couple of shots before you get the right framing or the right zoom focus. Equally, you can position the camera to one side. You may get some distortion in the perspective, but sometimes that adds to the interest in the final image. It can be harder to keep the camera still when working at such an angle.

With a digital camera, there’s no problem. You can crop the picture to suit yourself after the picture has been taken. With an SLR, you might need to spend a bit of film before you get it right. And don’t use flash. It’s sure to ruin your picture.

I rather enjoyed what happened with this image that follows: sp-nw-bungalow-2-small.jpg

It has several layers of reflection and you don’t really see too many of my aging characteristics. It’s crisp and indistinct at the same time. It also gives rise to a question of what is inside and what is out. The boundaries are blurred.
And here’s another favourite:


…although I must have had a large coat on.

The photo at the top of this post was photographed in a mirror. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a polished mirror. There were spots everywhere that I didn’t think to remove. I’m not a stellar house cleaner, especially when there is a camera around to divert me.

All that to say that I’ve cleaned up that photo and this next one in Adobe Photo, but I’ve included them even though not perfect because I like the composition.