Maybe I titled that too soon. It's currently raining outside, washing away the layers of grit and snow mold from the bare lawns of our small town. It smells wonderful! Meanwhile, over in England, spring has been happening for a few weeks now. Lucky jerks. In anticipation of spring finally arriving here and in celebration of spring over there, I made two illustrations from photos my friend Sam sent me of the Walled Garden in Mells.
It takes a bit of time to process a trip. I find that I reach a saturation point where I can't really take anymore in, I'm tired of living out of a bag, and I look forward to getting back into my normal daily routine. It's a weird balance between being present, dealing with traveling fatigue and preparing to pick up where you left off before the trip. Then of course you get home and immediately the experience you just had while away seems distant. Did I even go on a trip? Did that really happen? Then comes the odd stress of what do I paint about this experience first?
I went with my gut for that last question. I thought about the things we had seen and experienced in Japan that stuck out to me the most:
-the color orange. So many of the shrines and temples were painted this bright happy color which also happens to be one of my favorite colors of paint (cadmium red light).
-the water features in all the gardens we saw. This wondrous green/grey when the sky is overcast, with deeper blue/green reflections when the water was still, which it was unless it was raining.
-the peacefulness of the gardens. We didn't visit many remote places. We spent all of our time in cities, but surprisingly the gardens and shrines were very quiet.
-the patterns of the traditional kimonos! And the colors! Everything goes; stripes with flowers, red with electric blue, yellow with pink, solids and stripes. The attention to detail was astonishing as well. Some of the hair pieces I saw in shops or adorning the lovely hairstyles of women we passed were stunning. So intricate! I did a lot of gawking, and most likely open-mouthed.
-the shapes of the trees. Every tree in a city is heavily manicured, be it the ones lining a busy street in the middle of downtown, or growing along the wall of the Imperial Palace (Tokyo or Kyoto). I had so many moments of oh! THAT'S why they draw or paint trees to look like that because they actually do! I am usually late to the party.
-the old architecture. I saw not one but three five story pagodas! In real life! I did not think that would happen because Japan was not on our travel radar. Foolish us! We even got to stay in a ryokan-style hostel. Our room had tatami mats on the floor and a little private deck that overlooked the river in Ito. The room was very light and spacious and the building was over 100 years old.
-the lanterns hanging outside of bars and restaurants along the narrow streets in the old neighborhoods. I couldn't read what was on them, but it was an easy way to spot a place to eat or drink when out wandering, especially at night.
-the blossoms! There were so many advertisements in train stations, on trains and on and inside buses showing the lovely places you could go all around Japan and participate in 'hanami' or blossom viewing. We were too early this visit for the real spectacle though.
Of course there are many other things that I loved about Japan, but these were the visual cues that immediately come to mind when I think back about our trip. So here are the paintings I've done so far:
Drunkard's alley; just off the main path by the infamous Shibuya crossing. We walked from a literal sea of people and glaring light to a rather dark, very narrow set of streets lined with shops and small 'izakaja' or bars, which had only 6-10 seats inside. Very small and very intimate. And overhead in the narrow streets between the little pubs hung so many beautiful red, white and yellow lanterns advertising what was available inside.
We were definitely in the shoulder season of blossoming activity. The winter blossoms (plum) were just petering out and the spring blossoms (cherry) were just making their debut. The fragrance from the few flowering trees we did get to enjoy was so lovely. I can't imagine what the air in Japan smells like when all the spring blossoms are out in full force! It was a most delicate and refreshing fragrance, not sickly and overpowering like, say a cluster of hyacinths up close can be.
Water features! I fully intend on painting a piece (maybe two) with the golden temple in them, but this glassy pond with it's little islands of perfectly manicured tree and perfect reflection was a must paint NOW. I chided myself for how many photos I took of tree reflections in various ponds, but now that I'm home I wish I had take more of them for painting and drawing purposes. Oh well.
Speaking of open-mouthed gawking, seeing men and women enjoy an evening out wearing traditional dress was quite a highlight for me during our time in Kyoto. I snapped as many unobtrusive photos as I could. I even contemplated renting a kimono so I could get all gussied up for an evening, but upon observing the footwear and the narrowness of the kimono and how the women had to walk in them, I decided against this as I have a hard enough time keeping up with the long, fast stride of the BD at the best of times, and I would definitely loose him in a crowd wearing that somewhat confining get up. Instead, I settled for gawking and picture-taking.
Surprise! Another water feature. This time with koi. Many of the ponds in gardens or near shrines had koi in them. If you stood by the embankment long enough, they would gather near you in a quiet, flowing group, peeking their noses just out of the surface of the water, opening and closing their large mouths slowly, requesting food. The majority of the koi I saw were darker in color, almost a reddish-purple. We even spotted koi from our little deck in Ito in the Matsu river. There were some gold ones, but the majority were darker.
More cherry blossoms. I can't get enough of their color and shape. This piece is from a photo taken on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. There were in a small courtyard, only two of them, beside one of the buildings in the main part of the grounds just after the gardens. One pink flowering tree and one pale yellow. I'm planning a triptych of cherry blossoms, to mimic some of the painted screens I saw inside the palace through the windows. That and I just really want to paint a larger piece about cherry blossoms because why not?
This isn't it for paintings from our trip, just what I've gotten done so far. I hope to have some ready for Artwalk in Edmonton in July, and perhaps a few for my installation at the Vermilion Public Library in September. Early next week these pieces will be making their way down to Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond, Alberta, just in case you happen to be in the area and would like to see them in person.
As a kid growing up in Red Deer, I loved being on stage. I took dance as a little kid. In elementary school I was part of the choir. In junior high I started taking drama as an option and then became involved with Treehouse Youth Theater. I was in 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves' and 'L'il Abner', and both productions of 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' that Red Deer College put on, once in 1993 and again in 1995. I was in numerous plays in High School and became interested in the backstage stuff; sound, lighting, sets and props. In college I registered for the Technical Theater program at Red Deer College. I saw a few of Andrew Lloyd Webber's touring productions; The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (with Donny Osmond as Joseph), Jesus Christ Superstar (with freakin' Ted Neeley from the 1974 rock-opera movie!) and Evita.
The thing I grew to really love and hate about being involved in theater was the time involved. You spent months working on a production, either rehearsing for it or building it. It was all you thought about. You didn't get to do things with your other friends, and sometimes you'd practice the same things over and over. If you weren't performing, the hours could be late, or long, or both. And once the show was up, depending on your roll backstage, there could be long stretches of time where you were merely waiting for your cue to hand someone something, or move something. What I loved about theater was the single minded focus on the project. It brought this group of random people together, with various skills and talents, and we were all working on the same thing. And opening night!! The butterflies in your stomach! Never mind closing night and the tears or the constant 'this is the last time we do this (scene, song, cue, dance, what-have-you)'. Then the production would be over, struck and you tried to fill the time in with other things that were...a little less interesting and all consuming.
It was a fucking roller coaster of emotions, energy and effort. But what a rush!
A friend of the BD's he met through work happens to be a Ukranian dancer and invited us to Malanka or Ukranian New Year at the Regional Center here in Vermilion back in January. It was a fun night of music, dance, visiting and carbs...uh.....delicious Ukranian food. I was excited to go and see our friend dance especially since I had never seen any Ukranian dancing. I thought it might provide some interesting opportunities for sketching and photographing. It did! Watching the some of the adult dancers backstage helping get the little kids ready for their performances brought back so many wonderful memories of all the times I was backstage waiting for my turn to perform. The excitement of getting costumes and having to put on make-up. The tension of waiting for the right cue in the music before you start a piece of choreography, and the stress of missing that cue by juuuuuust a second or two. And the weird dichotomy of giving it your all for the audience while simultaneously pretending there is no audience so you don't get freaked out and trip over your own feet.
I tried to convey those emotions in these pieces about the dancers. There are three distinct vantage points. The dance, backstage preparation, and waiting to go onstage to perform. Three of my most distinct memories of performing.
The movement of the dancers in the first piece is my favorite. Dancing with other people who know the same routine is so much fun. The casualness of the second piece as the woman adjusts the garment on the young man brings me right back to time spent in dressing rooms, putting on heavy make up and the clothing that made your character or performance really come alive...it's that funny limbo space; still yourself but nearly transformed for the performance. Then the third piece! I loved the bright yellow skirts and green vests this group of girls was wearing, and also how closely they watched the adult group perform. Most of the girls were either doing something with their hands or pacing a few steps. You have to do something with all that nervous energy before you go on stage!
My goal in this little series was to convey how these moments felt instead of just concentrating on how they looked. I think I was successful in both.
I made only one goal on this trip. OK, more like three goals for this trip; to take more photos, write more notes and make more sketches than on any previous trip.
Here they are. This post is probably best viewed on a laptop screen so you can actually read the notes. Happy perusing!
Sending mail is one of my favorite things, especially postcards. It feels like a more thoughtful act. You need to find a place to sit, put down your things, dig out a pen and something to write on and then write a note to that person. Then you need to find a post office or mail box so you can send what you wrote. It takes a bit more effort than just firing off a text. Of course, you could be a real keener and bring blank watercolor postcards with you that you can draw and paint on yourself, flip it over, write the note and then send it. I happen to be that keener.
Only, that didn't happen on this trip. The sending part, I mean. I ran out of time to both color in the postcards and find a post office to send them through. It happens. I got too distracted filling the pages of my sketchbook, exploring shrines and eating tasty things on sticks with sticks! I did draw these postcards on location, but then I brought them home, colored them in and sent them off from the post office here in Vermilion.
The postcard shown above is the one we ended up giving to a sweet old man who the BD attempted to chat with while I was drawing at the Kiyosumi Botanical Garden on our last morning in Tokyo. I say attempted to chat with because the man didn't speak any English and the BD and I don't speak any Japanese. I shared this story already on my Instagram feed, but didn't have a photo of the postcard I gave him. My phone was full of photos and I had run out of film for my Instax camera as well, but fortunately the BD had his camera and was able to snap a quick photo of the drawing for my archive.
The recipients of these don't know who they are yet, as I just sent these babies out on Friday, so they are just arriving at some of their destinations now. That is also part of the fun; sending random shit that you drew to your friends to make checking for mail a little more interesting.
The BD and I aren't very good trip planners I confess. It's not that we miss flights or can't find places to stay; we're quite good at that part. What I mean is, we are not very good at planning out all the things we hope to experience and see when we are traveling. We're more like the let's-go-and-see-what-happens kind of travelers. Since we have to adhere to more of a schedule in normal working life, why the hell do we want to continue that when we're out exploring a new place?
Thus, when we were in England last fall and visiting Weymouth-by-the-sea, we decided to take the bus to the Isle of Portland and see what that was like. Plus, we thought it would funny to say 'hey, we finally made it to Portland!' only to then explain we didn't mean the hipster mecca in Oregon. Well, we thought it was funny.
What it actually was, was fucking breathtaking. The bus ride to the isle was quite lovely. We drove along a causeway with the backside of Weymouth on our left and the glittering Atlantic lapping onto Chesil Beach on our right. Then the road meandered up and through the town, and I do mean up. It seemed as though most of the road that went through the town was angled at around 45 degrees! We were told by a polite local man who overheard us wondering aloud where we should get off to get to the lighthouse, to get off in one of the small residential subdivisions at the top of the island and from there we could walk along the road past some of the open quarries to Portland Bill, the lighthouse. Several weather systems had passed over us throughout the day. It would be sunny and lightly breezy for a few hours, and then dark and raining sideways for a few minutes, and then back to sunny and lightly breezy for a few hours. It was all glorious sun on the bus ride there and for the first half hour of our walk from the town along a bit of the coastline. We followed a path between two fenced fields to one of the quarries. Then the weather turned so we put away our cameras and drawing things, donned the rain gear and continued on the path to the lighthouse. The weather got darker and wetter and windier and seemed like it was determined to stay so. We came across a smattering of small holiday cabins which were all closed up for the season, but the wind was such that even standing close to the wall of one of the cabins kept the rain and wind off. As quickly as the weather system came, it left, leaving clear skies and a warmer wind to dry our wet pants, which it did rather quickly. When we sat down to have tea by the lighthouse we were dry.
Our day in Portland is exactly what we hoped it would be; a day spent on a rugged coast being tussled by the salty wind. I only got part way through one drawing on that day, as it was too windy for drawing. I got thinking about the sea quite a bit the past few weeks, probably because we'll be flying over one next week, so I scrolled through the photos on my phone from our time in Portland until I came across these and painted this piece from one of the photos I took.
The color of the water there was really surprising. After the storm passed it went from a steely-blue to this lovely, deep teal color. I love watching the water crash onto the rock below and seeing it swell and heave like something breathing. It kind of reminds me of the hills around Vermilion when the crops have gained a few inches and the wind ripples through them; it's a very similar motion when you think about it. It has a similar sound too, albeit the ocean can be much louder. I can almost feel the rhythm of the Atlantic that day when I look at this painting. That was a very good day.
There are some things I shy away from painting, because I can't really envision how I would go about it; things that I love to photograph but how the hell would I paint that? It's that annoying thing about getting too comfortable with one's craft, that you just know certain subject matter are going to turn out well, so why bother with the others? There are definitely some subjects I like to paint more than others, but those preferences change over time. It's not that I want to be awesome at painting all of the things, but I do like to challenge myself and fiddle about with new subjects. The badlands near Drumheller happens to be the very subject in this case.
I think the main reason I've shied away from painting or drawing pictures of the badlands were the colors. So many neutrals. Some of the accounts on Instagram that annoy me the most are ones where all the bloody photos are comprised of shit that is 90% neutral in tone. I mean come on!! There are so many amazing colors out there! I think that's the thing I love most about the east coast, Yellowknife and Mexico. They are not afraid to have colorful exteriors on their buildings, and it seems the unwritten rule is: the louder, the better. The interior of our little house is starting to emulate that. Our living room is a wondrous blue and our kitchen is a startling bright teal color. I love using bright colors when I paint and dress. I'm not opposed to neutral color schemes, but it's very tiring (to me) to seem them consistently flaunted in fashionable business and home interiors. Oh look, another grey and white kitchen. How nice! The tile in your cafe is white with pale wood accents and pastel colored dishes. So fresh! Ah, this spring the beige cardigans are a little more pink than the ones in the fall. What a nice change! For a culture that complains loudly about winter and it's coldness and lack of color, we sure do like to tote these wintry, neutral color schemes. So here is this fantastic landscape in the middle of the Alberta prairie with all these interesting shapes and textures and a very neutral palette.
Pass. I need more snap and color.
But then I figured why the hell not try my hand at painting it? I had some nice photos I took while passing through Drumheller last summer. I enjoyed sitting by the hoodoos and sketching for a few hours. Don't knock it 'til you try it, right? On my first attempt, I didn't paint the hoodoos. I painted a nice picture of the side of a hill with all it's strata exposed and some dead trees in the foreground. (Wow, that's a description that would sell a painting, but that is what the painting is about. See below.)
Then after Christmas I was flipping through some of my sketchbooks looking for particular instax photos I had a mind to put to canvas, and I came across some photos of the hoodoos and decided to try again.
The color scheme was neutralish. But those shapes and textures of the formations! So here are three more versions:
This next one is a particular favorite because the hoodoos are front and center but not super easy to spot because of the color and texture of the hill serving as a backdrop to them.
The sky in this painting is lovely. It was a hot, dry and breezy summer afternoon that day. I can almost feel that wind in my hair when I look at it.
As you can see I'm not that great with a very neutral palette. I made the shadows a lovely purplish blue to help offset all the hues of beige and orangy-browns in these pieces, and then added a few flecks of cadmium red light to different areas just because I can.
Same simple reason I make an effort to try subject matter I am not familiar or comfortable with; because I can.
I know it's only February but I feel like things are waking up a bit. The days are getting noticeably longer, we're filling in our calendar for the year of where we are going. Time off is being booked, accommodations being researched. Spring is still a few weeks away in these parts, but the hunkering down bit is coming to an end. I'm starting to feel a bit restless and a little overwhelmed at the growing list of to-do's for this year. Typical February.
This morning however, I had a little project for a friend that I was working on that reminded me that this feeling of restlessness creeping in is normal for this time of year. My own inner wild thing is starting to wake up and is itching to get out and explore and see new places.
I love the photo my friend took of her son that this illustration is based off of. She took a series of photos with him as he wandered around dressed like Max, exploring things in the park where they were walking. I was very excited when she asked me to illustrate this for her. What a fantastic thing for him to have when he's older; proof that he was once a small wild thing for those mundane days when he needs reminding. Making this drawing was a good reminder for me too, to nurture my inner wild thing for the coming season of new adventures in travel, art making and teaching. That season begins for us in 21 days, with our trip to Japan.
Until then, it's time to work and behave so I don't get sent to bed without any supper.
We've been across Canada now a few times, and it's still pleasant and slightly bewildering to come across someone that has been to where you are from, or has family there still. We've chatted with them on planes, in pubs on either coast, on benches in parks. I like the look people get in their eye when they share memories of a place they loved living in. I especially love it when people get that look in their eye when they talk about Alberta. The comment I've heard the most when folks reminisce about their time here is 'the winters are so bright. Damn cold, but really really pretty.' Maybe that's why I'm such a fan of winter; maybe it's the light.
The BD and I took an afternoon stroll back in November at around 2 or 3 in the afternoon when the snow was fresh and the sky was clear. It wasn't a very cold day, perfect for taking photos. Already gorgeous houses were bathed in bright gold light making the shadows caused by trees and other buildings startlingly blue.
I really love how shapes are more crisp, especially shadows. Without all those leaves in the way you can see the shape the tree projects onto the house behind it.
The way the light illuminates this house and almost nothing else is what I was drawn to most in this little painting. That and the border of darkened mountain ash berries acting as a canopy over the snow-covered path to the back door. The bohemian waxwings made short work of said canopy. What's left of it is currently littering the alley like confetti strewn at a party.
It was almost too late to take the photo for this piece. The really good light play across the front face of the house was already gone, but the bit of dappled light on the right of the house and on the structures in the background made the scene 'pop' enough to catch my eye.
This small series of paintings are making their way to the Galerie du Vieux Saint-Jean in Richelieu, Quebec this week. I'm excited to be sending them some new work.
I am very much a creature of habit. Once I find a place I like, whether it be a coffee shop, a pub, a neighborhood with interesting old houses to admire from the sidewalk, or a park to walk the dogs in, I keep going back. I especially love parks with lots of trees. My favorite place to walk the dogs in Edmonton was the Terwillegar dog park. There were so many different trails to wander in and easy access to the river for the dogs to cool off in on warmer days. When I wanted a break from the bustle of Edmonton, it was my go-to spot. If I wanted to feel like I was in the middle of nowhere, but didn't have the time to actually venture to the middle of nowhere, it was the next best thing. I was flipping through some of my sketch journals a few weeks ago, looking for photos of winter scenes to paint, and I came across a photo I took of the branch teepee that someone constructed in a small stand of trees in the dog park. If you got down on hands and knees you could crouch inside, or if you were a kid or a dog, you could easily get inside the little structure, though in summer I am sure it would be very fragrant to say the least. Still, it was a neat thing to walk by on our daily jaunt. I was glad to finally put it to canvas.
Then while flipping through the current sketchbook that I am filling up (one that I nearly lost in Toronto in December, but my aunt insisted on contacting the Art Gallery of Ontario where I figured I had left it in the coat check area. It was found by one of the attendants who looked through it, but I foolishly hadn't put my name in it yet so they had no idea who to contact about it. Whoops!!), I came across a nice little instax photo of the stand of pinkish birch we came across during our stay on High Lake in Manitoba last autumn. I'd already sketched it in oil, so I thought I'd revisit it in acrylic.
Perhaps it's the meandering lines of the branches or the way that light seeps between the trees at certain times of day that makes painting pictures of forests so enjoyable. I'm not totally sure but I don't see the point in analyzing the shit out of the 'why'. I'd rather just paint.
Happy belated New Year to you.
Last year I had the great privilege of being the first participant in the artist-in-residence program at Falcon Trails Resort. But, as with all gateway drugs (cabins, quiet, lakeside dwelling, long forest walks, afternoon wine by the wood burning stove, etc...) I was hooked and needed another fix. So, as you do when jonesing for another fix, you figure out ways to get back to that happy place. Emily wanted drawings of the eco cabins on High Lake, and the Bearded Dude and I wanted another taste of forest seclusion in the wilderness of Manitoba.
So I made drawings...
...and then we got to go and hide in the woods with High Lake all to ourselves for four gloriously snowy days! There was no snow in Alberta when we left, and as we drove east the temperature kept dropping and the snow started coming. By the time we arrived at Falcon Lake, it was definitely winter. I brought along my oil paints and sketching supplies, but I put no pressure on myself to be productive. This was supposed to be a vacation. The BD had been in Calgary all week and I had been hard at work in the studio working on PETraits for the SCARS fundraiser, prepping a new series of drawings to send of to the Bluerock Gallery, distributing Christmas cards to various clients and venues and gearing up to teach my last set of workshops at the Paint Spot in Edmonton for the year.
We napped by the wood burning stove, took long walks in the snow covered pine woods with the dogs, drank copious amounts of strong tea and whiskey in the afternoon, sipped wine in the evenings, ate incredibly well, put together a puzzle, read books, took photos, and just rested.
But of course I always find things to paint and draw...
This was the view of High Lake from the kitchen table where I set up to make some sketches in oil, so I made this...
...and I left it behind on the kitchen table of the cabin as an additional show of gratitude.
On a walk with the dogs along the road leading back to Falcon Lake one snowy afternoon I came upon this wonderful stand of birches in the loveliest ranges of pink I've ever seen on this species of tree...
...and sketched out this the following afternoon when I needed a break from that damn puzzle we'd been working on for a day and a half...
My goal is to make a yearly pilgrimage to Falcon Trails Resort to rest, make new friends and create art in the woods. What they have going on there is so great, and the Christie family and their friends that run the resort and ski hill are just the nicest folks. Plus, MANITOBA! How fucking gorgeous is your province? Seriously! And to spend time with folks that are excited about winter and embrace all that the season has to offer both indoors and out is really intoxicating. Check out their website and if you can, plan a visit. Any time of year. You won't be sorry for a minute!
Thanks again to Emily Christie for inviting me out last year, and asking me to make cabin illustrations this year. Thank you to the Christie Family and all the other staff we met that were so helpful during our stay this time, and to Emily again, for trusting me to take over the Falcon Trails Resort Instagram account for the few days we were there. I kept my promise and kept the swears to my own IG account, even though she blatantly said I could post whatever the fuck I wanted. Falcon Trails Resort is a family run business with a ski resort in winter and cabins open year round for your wilderness enjoyment in the beautiful Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba. I posted most of the pictures from our trip on my Instagram account (justinabsmith) and on the Falcon Trails Resort Instagram account (falcontrails) during my three day take over, so you can view them there if you haven't seen them already.
i am very late with this post, but better late than never. My second visit to England was probably more enjoyable than my first. This time I was less nervous, and I had the BD with me, which is always a bonus. It was his first time over in the U.K. and I am certain he enjoyed it as much as I did. Maybe more. For every photo I took, he snapped about 10-15 photos. But for every drawing I made on the trip, he made zero drawings so it's hard to say who had the better time I think.
We only spent two days and one evening in Mells. This was mostly due to weather. It was pretty wet and blustery during our trip, which is the kind of weather we love, but isn't that conducive to drawing outside. I did as much drawing as I could though, and took quite a few photos to paint from later.
Keeping a travel journal can be a tricky thing when the weather and time are not co-operating with you. But a few drawings is always better than no drawings, even though it might not feel like it at the time.
I've completed one acrylic painting from our England trip so far. It's currently hanging in Transcend Garneau in Edmonton along with eight other new paintings by me.
I hope you had a marvellous Thanksgiving weekend!
Or at least around here. More accurately, it'll go to the dogs in about two weeks. The response from my PETraits fundraiser for SCARS has been very good, so following along in the vein of our furry companions I completed 5 illustrations for this year's batch of Christmas cards. The cards should arrive by the end of the month and then will be available for purchase at Transcend Garneau in Edmonton, Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond, and by contacting me directly (in sets of 5, but you can purchase individual cards at the other two aforementioned locations.)
The original illustrations are for sale. Proceeds from the sale of Christmas cards are not included in the PETraits fundraiser, for those curious.
Enough with the 'C' word already, right?
I've been fortunate enough to have dogs in my life from a very early age. Lindsay and Shortstop were the two smaller dogs I grew up with. I'm not sure what their mixes were, but Shortstop was a small,white-ish, wire haired little dog whose head was constantly orange due to me dropping sphagetti-O's on it from my high chair, and Lindsay was a patient little black dog of undetermined mix who used to fetch my toys and bring them back to me, so I needn't learn to walk right away and get them myself. When I was about five (maybe?) there was Stella, a lovely German shepherd who used to try to accompany me up the steep ladder of the metal twisty-slide at the playground close to our house, and then quickly change her mind and race to the bottom of the slide to make sure I was OK at the end of my ride. She also used to come on the merry-go-round with me, and then I'd hop off and she would just sit there until it had slowed down enough for her to get off. After that came the short haired dachshunds, Max and Odie and after them the pomeranian poodles, Ariel and Lacey. Then when I was out on my own I got my own dog, a lovely golden retriever that I named Gershwin. Him and I adventured around for 10 years and two years before he died I decided I really did want a second dog and so I adopted Luke from the Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS). I heard about SCARS from the manager at the cafe I worked at. He had just adopted a lovely dog from there and had nothing but good things to say about the organization. Then another co-worked adopted from there as well, so I decided to visit their website and see if I could find a new canine addition to our little family.
It costs money to run an animal rescue shelter, and the more animals that are rescued, the more funds are needed to pay for accommodation for the rescued animals, gas to transport the animals, vet visits, food, leashes, collars and other accoutrements that might be needed or replaced when they get damaged by stressed out animals or everyday use. So I'd like to help. Since I love to paint and that's how I make my living, and I love painting PETraits, I thought it might be a neat idea as a fundraiser for SCARS to split half the proceeds from PETrait commissions I paint from October to November 30th with SCARS. I start getting requests for commissions for Christmas Presents starting in September, but as I am away for a good portion of next month, and then using the other part of the month to prep the garden for winter and get pieces ready for a show in Edmonton and teaching a few workshops at the Paint Spot, I figured it would be better schedule wise for myself to begin this endeavor in October.
There are a few logistical things. I am limiting the size options of the commissions to minimize trips back and forth between Edmonton and Vermilion as I still get my art supplies in Edmonton. The cut-off date for accepting these commissions is November 30th because I will be mailing the paintings out and if they are a gift for someone for Christmas, I need to leave extra time for Canada Post to deliver the paintings because Christmas time is an insane time for mail.
The size options for the PETraits are as follows:
8x8 $135 + GST
10x10 $210 + GST
12x12 $300 + GST
14x14 $410 + GST
16x16 $540 + GST
There will be a flat rate of $15 for shipping.
The PETraits will be painted on wood panel. You can get a colored background or I can leave the wood grain visible. It's up to you.
I usually anthropomorphize the PETraits (put the animal in an article of clothing like a shirt, jacket, etc., something that is easily visible from around the chest up). PETraits are usually a 'bust portrait', but if you have a full body photo of your pet that you are super keen on, I can make that work too.
If you have trouble deciding which photo you want painted, you can send me up to 3 photos and I will pick my favorite.
A 30% non-refundable deposit is needed for me to start your PETrait. Payment in full is required before I will package your PETrait and send it to you.
I'm hoping to get inundated with PETraits during October and November. Please share this with anyone you think might be interested in having a rad portrait of their pet painted and who would like to contribute to the running costs of SCARS.
If you would like to see other examples of PETraits I've done, there is a specific gallery titled 'PETraits' on this website.
There are some things you just can't shake in life. Some likes and dislikes that are so ingrained into your way of thinking for one reason or another, that they accompany you wherever you go, whatever you do. Sometimes they need to be checked, challenged and dealt with, but sometimes they are rather benign things that bring with them fond memories and just make your heart glad. I'm not talking about anything too deep. This is really a post about things I've been observing in my garden, a very small, idyllic part of my little world. One thing I can't get over: spiders. I fucking hate spiders. Too many legs. They look creepy. Yes, I understand they help with pest control and they really don't mean me any harm, but they are fucking creepy. I still scream if I get surprised by one. I've tried to get over it, but I can't. I found two giant spiders living under the railing of our deck at both entrances...lurking like creepy fucks in the corners. Their webs are beautiful and I refrained from getting out the broom and evicting them with Gusto. Fall is coming. They are getting ready for cooler weather like we'll be doing soon. I can live with them being there although I certainly don't touch the railing at the moment. If I find them in the house however, that will be the end of them.
I am proud to report however that I no longer run away from bees and wasps. I've really enjoyed watching the bees enjoy the flowers this summer, and have learned to control my desire to run far and fast when a wasp decides to investigate me and an area where I am weeding. So I am making some small progress in life.
As for the love of things I can't shake, and that are in their prime in the garden at this exact moment, sunflowers! I've loved them since I was a kid and I love them just as much now. We have some accidental ones growing in a thick forest under the bird feeder from the oil seed the birds left behind in the spring, and some other ones towering over the carrots and dill in the garden that haven't even bloomed yet. They are taller than me. Of course I need to draw and paint them!
I need to start photographing paintings in the living room. The BD painted it 'rock mountain sky blue' back in July and it is so lovely! Everything looks amazing with that color as a backdrop! Our kitchen is now teal which also makes a delicious background.
They are lovely at all times of the day, but I especially love them when the late afternoon sunlight paints a lovely highlight on their petals and the tops of their large leaves, or how when you stand at the back of the yard and they are in full sun while the rest of the yard is shadowed, as shown in the painting. I haven't been out exploring as much of the area as I thought I might be earlier this summer because there has been so much to record and enjoy in my own backyard. Next year I will be more disciplined and get out into the surrounding area. Or maybe not.
Some of my inspiration (and plagues) at the moment. Happy Monday.
How is it the twenty-fourth of August already? I tried to be more careful with my time, not to fill the summer too full of travel and shows, so that I had could savor it, work in the garden, work slowly and steadily and not be in a rush to go anywhere or get anything done. It's been a lovely summer out here in Vermilion. I'm caught up on past due projects and ahead in some new ones. The flower garden is dwindling down, most the the showy flowers are done for the season but there is still a nice assortment of interesting colors and textures in the foliage. The late summer garden has a different loveliness than the grandeur of the flowers and birds that lived there in June and July. The wrens have left along with their little ones, and the blue jays and chickadees have taken over the garden and the bird bath. It's been nice to bear witness to the transition of the season on a more intimate scale. But there is still good weather for painting outside. The summer isn't over yet. I've been meaning to write more, but I keep getting distracted by things in and out of the studio.
This week I worked on a small series of east coast themed paintings to send off to Details Past & Present Gallery in Charlottetown, PEI. I was hoping to make it back to the east coast this summer but it didn't work out. Instead, I happily revisited photos from the two trips I got to take there back in 2015.
If I remember correctly, the BD and my visit to Black Marsh was kind of an accident. We had rented a car and had determined to explore as much of PEI as we could. We drove from tip to tip, along the south shore and the north. We found the North Cape Hiking Trail and decided to go for a walk while the sun was beginning to set. We started along a gravel road and then continued onto a boardwalk that skirted along the sandy cliff above the shore. Part of the cliff had given way underneath the boardwalk where I snapped the photo for this painting. The boardwalk was suspended in mid-air, held up by it's own rigid structure. Erosion due to wind and rain is a powerful force on the North Cape. I wonder how much the shoreline has changed since our visit?
Much like the beaches on PEI, Inverness Beach in Cape Breton is also heavily populated with sedge grass. I remember the water being very clean and very cold here, even in July. I was not brave enough to go for a chilly swim. Maybe next time.
This is a very iconic image of one of the most popular beaches on PEI, hemmed in with sand dunes covered in sedge grass. I love those little red & white lifeguard cabins. They must look so out-of-place there in the winter.
I don't remember exactly where on the island this house was, and it is certainly not the only yellow house on PEI. The simple style of their houses, and the bright colors they tend to be painted with are one of my favorite things about the Maritimes and Newfoundland. It also happens to be one of the main sources of inspiration when it came to deciding what color the paint the walls in various rooms in our house here in Vermilion. Our living room is 'rocky mountain sky blue' and our kitchen is now 'bermuda teal'. We may not have moved to the east coast, but we've tried to emulate some of the brightly colored houses we saw there on our walls.
The fall workshop schedule at the Paint Spot is up. If you go over to the 'show & tell' tab, the links to register for the different classes are all there. I think there are still spots left.
I'm now working on a series of Edmonton themed pieces which will hang Transcend Garneau starting in October. Then the BD and I head to England for two weeks starting September 4th, so there will be more England drawings and paintings in the next few months to be sure.
The canvases I prepped this morning should be dry, so I'd better get back to it. Happy Thursday.
Back in May the Bearded Dude and I packed the car and took a road trip to Vancouver Island. It seems to be our spring ritual to head to the west coast for a dose of early spring blooms and fragrant ocean air. Also, I was teaching a two day mixed media workshop at the Coast Collective Studio in Colwood.
Before we we got to Victoria we spent a few days in the resort municipality of Harrison Hotsprings on the mainland.
We hiked the Sandy Cove Trail while we were there; a very narrow, eroded path that led through some old growth forest and a very lush fern filled meadow and down to a secluded little public beach. This painting is based off a photo I took of the fern-filled meadow:
This is one of two paintings I made during the workshop that I taught in Colwood. The first piece sold, and I had forgotten to photograph this piece for my archive and just noticed that today when I was updating my website and Facebook page.
If you've never been to the town of Harrison Hotsprings, you should check it out. In the off season it's a sleepy little lakeside resort town nestled in a quiet and picturesque valley. The public hotsprings are indoors and you can get a daily rate so you can traipse in and out of the pool as you please. On a recent antiquing adventure in Kitscotty, I came across several old postcards from Harrison Hotsprings. I'm not certain of the era, but I thought the interior shot of the original public pool might make an interesting painting in the very near future.
You never know where the creative trail might lead...
Everything is unpacked from Artwalk in Edmonton this past weekend. Laundry is done. Dog nails are trimmed. The house is vacuumed. I am a bit of a zombie, but it's OK. There really isn't anything to accomplish in the next few days, thankfully. I am in full Artwalk hangover mode. In truth, I am probably still hungover from this past spring of relocating from Edmonton to Vermilion, and all the planning that entailed, prepping for a group show and delivering the pieces to Akokiniskway Gallery in Rosebud, working in our new garden, getting the new house settled, setting up a studio in the new place only to move it two weeks later from a small upstairs bedroom to the more appropriately sized basement shop, teaching a workshop in Victoria and then another one at Leduc Composite High School and then taking a trip to Saskatchewan to go camping and partake in a kite festival. Now I'm gearing up for the groupshow opening on Saturday (an all day, two part affair) and then two days of painting in Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond. Then home again. Details on events happening this weekend are in the 'exhibits' section of this website.
It's been a whirlwind of constant adventure these past few months.
Oh yea, we moved. We left Edmonton and FINALLY headed east...just not as far east as we planned. The short version is that Vermilion ended up checking all the little ticky-boxes of major reasons why we wanted to leave Edmonton and move to the east coast...with the exception of it not being the east coast. But it's alright. We love it here. We may yet make the east coast our home, but for now we are happy and content and way more fucking chill.
These are a few of the pieces I had with me at Artwalk last weekend. They can still be viewed in their own gallery (artwalk 2017) on this website and on my Facebook page until early next week. Then they will be dispersed among the various galleries that carry my work.
I'm taking the summer off from teaching, but I will be teaching some workshops at The Paint Spot again in the fall. Registration isn't open yet, but as soon as it is, I will post the links in the 'exhibits' section and on my Facebook page. I'll keep you in the loop, don't worry.
I hope your summer is off to an amazing start. Behave yourselves!
My new make work project this week has been practicing my portraiture in watercolour and adding other media such as soft pencil crayons and paint marker. It's gotten very silly very quickly. I didn't see the point in painting serious portraits, so I worked from goofy photos instead, and the results have been quite amusing.
We live in an old house. The oldest house I have lived in was a lovely two story sandstone brick house on 5th street southeast in Medicine Hat when I was in grade 11. I think it was built in 1890 or very early 1900's, I can't remember. But it was old! The floor was tilted and the walls had plaster spackle on them, and someone at one point decided it would be cool to have close to 25 large mirrors throughout the house, including two mirrored walls opposite each other in the upstairs bathroom that looked creepy as fuck when you were having a bath. Just you and a zillion naked duplicates of yerself disappearing off in the distance in either direction, all taking a bath. How relaxing!
The first house I lived in when I moved to Edmonton seven years ago was knocked down after I moved out. The lot was purchased as an infill project. I haven't been by to see it, but it's odd to think that it doesn't exist anymore. My studio there looked out into the front yard, which was substantial as the house was situated at the very back of the lot from the street. There was a wonderful flowering crabapple tree, a nice bed of lilly-of-the-valley planted between the walkway at the side of the house and the fence, and a good crop of tiger lilies lining the front of the house. It had a partly excavated basement with a dirt crawl space, and a steep set of stairs to get down to do laundry. It was tiny and drafty, but cozy as well.
Our current place was built in about the 50's. The floor isn't slanted but the doorways are arched. It has a dining room just off the living room and kitchen (and is the space my studio occupies), wooden doors, door frames and cupboards and plaster walls that make hanging pictures without a drill, unpleasant. I like living in older houses, with all their quirks and weird history. I've lived in a few brand new places, and it's just not the same.
But sometimes these old places are costly to upgrade or fix, or are too far gone to do anything with and so they get knocked down and something new gets built in it's place. I understand this is the natural progression of things, but it's still a little sad, especially when you see some of the things that get put in their place. WTF?! Is what I think about half the time when I see some of these infill projects. Some of them are nice, but the majority of them have multiple levels. Lots of stairs. Is no one taking into account the aging population that might not want to, or can't get up all those stairs comfortably? What ever happened to a nice thousand-or-so square foot one level house? I get the reason for the multiple levels; smaller footprint for a larger dwelling divided by three levels, but it does make me wonder about how a lot of these places will hamper some people's ability to downsize and relocate to more established, walkable, neighbourhoods with a major obstacle like too many fucking stairs to climb.
Anyhow, this is not a post to rail against infill or gentrification. I was headed to the farmer's market a few weeks ago, and along 81 ave where there is free angle parking, some properties there were rezoned and demolished to make way for a new condo development. An old church, a small pay parking lot and two old houses have been engulfed by this project. I don't think anyone had been living in the houses for some time. My favourite one was the blue one with the striped awnings. It's gone now. There is just a hole in the ground behind a temporary orange wire construction fence with a flashy sign depicting the young and trendy folks who may occupy this new development once it's complete.
The little blue house quickly became a part of Edmonton we forgot about.
So I painted a picture of that little sentinel, so it doesn't get forgotten completely.