Sunday, July 30, 2006

An Experiment

After a weekend spent working on my website, I really needed to play in my process journal. I couldn’t seem to take a decent picture of these two pages though. Scanning them was also a flop, but at least this photo gets the idea across...somewhat.
I used aluminum tape – great stuff – as a background. Then I put on drops of Adirondack ink and let them run around. I did the same thing with the metal “dream” Mary had given me a while ago. This didn’t work out as well, but it was fun playing with something different. Anything to make me forget about my website.

A couple of days ago, John had an intervention with me. He says I must get my website done, and that it should be enjoyable. Fat chance. I find the combination of designing and organizing it simply overwhelming.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Freshening Up

I don’t always recognize when I’m going stale. I was fed up with my process journal, but tonight I’m back into the groove. Spending two days in Toronto really got my creative juices going again. Sometimes a change of scene will do it. But the best catalyst is always the company of someone who inspires me…someone like Mary.
Last night Mary took me out to dinner for my birthday. Beforehand we engaged in a little retail therapy. First, we went to Aboveground Art Supplies. We spent our time there looking for interesting stuff, and talking about our upcoming projects like the Holly Jolly craft sale. Mary will be selling her jewelry, and I want to offer some small paintings in addition to my digital prints.
Then we went to Active Surplus which is Junk Heaven for both of us. We grazed up and down the aisles rifling through the vast array of cheap gizmos…and filling up our shopping baskets, of course. Mary got all sorts of neat bits and pieces for her jewelry making. Watching her in action is fascinating. It’s almost as if she sees each potential bracelet and necklace as a story in itself; the beads and embellishments are her characters, and the way she puts them together, the plot.
Mary gave me some nifty presents for my birthday: a small banana leaf journal from Cuba, some paint (like food to me), stick-on letters and an atlas. Yes, my mind is buzzing with possibilities. Now all I have to do is to get control of it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Shorn for a Good Cause

David hadn’t had his hair cut since November 2003. I really liked his 70s hippy/Italian soccer star look, but he recently decided to donate thirteen inches of his hair to a charity that makes wigs for children undergoing chemotherapy.
The photo on the left is a self-portrait David took of himself the morning before his haircut. I took the one on the right last night. Salon magazine – a publication Pam writes for – did a photo shoot on David’s transformation, and he’s going to be featured in their upcoming men’s issue.
Right after the haircut, David looked like a preppy New Englander. It was a shock. Then he washed his hair and turned into a member of A Flock of Seagulls, circa 1982. (Who would have guessed that lead vocalist Mike Score started out as a hair stylist?)
David took to wearing a hat for a few days to tame the surge, but now his hair has settled down some and he’s starting to look like himself again.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Normal Day

Today was my “burfday,” as Emma used to call it. Bev phoned me this afternoon and told me that when she was working, she used to take a day’s holiday on her birthday because it was the one day of the year that was hers. An interesting notion.
I’d already decided when I got up this morning that I would do exactly what I wanted to do all day. The funny thing is that it ended up being a normal day. I worked in my process journal, did some new layouts for my book, talked to family and friends, groomed Lily, cooked dinner and so on. Next year I think I’m going to plan something exciting like skydiving or horseback riding. But I can’t really complain about things being low key. In a way every day is like my birthday because I’m never bored.
I am starting to get bored with this process journal though. The part I like best is painting the backgrounds and I haven’t done any of that for a while. I still have a few finished backgrounds left to “fill in,” but the thought occurs to me that it might be fun to do a book of just painted pages instead – no embellishments. Maybe that would be too much like looking at paint or wallpaper samples. Then again, who cares? In any case I’m going to take a break from processing until I get my groove back.

Monday, July 24, 2006

One of Those Days

Our router went kaput yesterday and we’ve been Net-less until now. It’s ridiculous how dependent we are on the Internet. You feel exiled and overwhelmed when something goes wrong. And this afternoon the power went out for a while too.
Last night John, Emma, Robin and I went to Mum and Dad’s for dinner. I can’t believe that my 87-year old mother is still throwing dinner parties. She made delicious lasagna from scratch, and tried out a new recipe – a blueberry/lemon coffee cake.
We had a lot of laughs. I polled everyone on the words they love and hate. Mum hates the word obese and Emma: shunt, panties and porcine. The word I loath most is yummy, while Dad can’t stand the word vomit.

Favorite words included: orchard, vineyard and aspen (Dad), cube (Emma) and luminescent (Yours Truly).
Emma had amassed a huge pile of laundry that needed hand washing, so I brought it all home and did it for her today. It was the perfect day to do it – warm, sunny and blowy, plus we saw a baby woodpecker this morning.
Yesterday I finished the first 60 pages of my book, and tonight I reformatted everything because I wasn’t happy with the page size. I can’t believe I’m halfway there (I think), and that I actually made my deadline.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I could use more of this

This has nothing to do with “focus,” but there’s an exhibition on in New York I wish I could see. It’s called Teaching America to draw: Instruction Manuals & Ephemera, 1794 to 1925.
Between 1820 and 1860, there were over 140,000 drawing manuals in circulation south of the border. Learning to draw was something people took seriously way back then. Now everyone thinks they have to draw like Leonardo (or at least have the potential) before they’ll pick up a pencil. This is a shame. I’ve been doing mediocre drawings for years and really enjoy it.
Betty Edwards says that most of us stop drawing in elementary school if we don’t think we’re doing it well. I think she’s right because I was better at drawing than my friends and classmates, and they’d all lost interest by junior high.
I’ve never had much interest in being a draftsperson though – life drawing bores me – but it’s useful for sketching out ideas, explaining things I can’t put into words, and just because it’s fun to draw. But I’ll admit I’m more of a cartoonist at heart than anything else. I’d rather look at a book of Saul Steinberg drawings any day than admire sketches done by the Old Masters – aside from Leonardo of course.
I think people underestimate their ability to learn to draw. Edwards believes that if you can write your name, you can draw. And why not? Before David started art college his skills were tentative. But it’s amazing how he’s developed his style and confidence by sketching ideas in his notebooks over the last three years. He only took one drawing class, so it’s necessity and practice that have propelled him forward. You can’t help improving if you keep on doing it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

You’ll Need Sunglasses

I’ve been working so much in black and white lately it’s a relief to splash around with some color. Kind of over the top for me though. I don’t normally go for orange, but I couldn’t resist it. And I do like lace. This piece was snagged from Carmi’s clear out pile when she moved her studio.
After I finished these two pages, I read a story in the New York Times about Donny Johnson, a prisoner in California who uses the dye from M and M’s to paint with. (Skittles work too, but he likes to eat them). Apparently Donny’s been in solitary confinement for 17 years, and isn’t allowed art supplies – hence his M and M palette of colors which he sometimes mixes with coffee or Kool-Aid for more range. His brush is made from tin foil and strands of his own hair, and he paints on blank postcards.
This just goes to show you that the art urge can’t be held down despite the sordidness of one’s past or one’s circumstances. Still, you can’t work up much sympathy for Donny otherwise, since he’s in jail for murder and slashing a prison guard’s throat.
Much sadder in my opinion was the situation of someone like Katharina Detzel. Katharina was put in a mental institution in 1907 after supposedly sabotaging a railway line as a political protest. Before the Nazis murdered her in 1941, she wrote a play, tried to establish a home for babies, protested against the way the inmates were treated, and created miniature figures out of bread dough she probably chewed herself. Katharina also made a life-sized male doll out of the mattress ticking and straw from her bed, which she’d pummel when she was angry.

Mental institutions used to be a convenient place to put women who wouldn’t tow the line, so you can’t help wondering whether or not Katharina was really deranged – or what she would have become if she hadn’t been committed.

Friday, July 21, 2006


I like cribbage boards because they remind me of playing the game with my grandfather when I was a child. Grandad was a very laid back kind of guy. The only time I remember him giving any advice was when he said, “Now Sue, I want you to promise me that you won’t keep company with a guy who carries a hip flask.” I thought it was funny at the time, but then again I must have taken him seriously because I married a teetotaler.
Thinking about Grandad tonight, I realize he reminds me of David: same dark eyes, easy-going nature, and an interest in glass and in playing games.
Aside from the personal association though, I find the shape of a cribbage board very appealing because it’s an arch. Years ago I was really into doing paintings of arches, and Emma, who was probably three at the time, painted right along with me.
And while I’m on the subject of arches, I’ve just remembered that I have quite a few of them in my basement. During my arch phase, one of my neighbors (a window framer by trade) would often bring me large, curved pieces of wood that weren’t good enough for him to use. But aside from painting one black, I never did anything with them because their size intimidated me. Now that I’ve had them for over twenty years without tossing them out, I’m wondering if those arches know something I don’t.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Process Continues

These two pages annoyed me no end because I just couldn’t get them right. To begin, with I had the bright idea – or so I thought – of using the shadow layer of a napkin as the background. Once I had it glued down it really looked raunchy and needed first aid in the form of Luna Lights and other acrylic paints. While I was doing this, I wrecked the right side. Who knew a napkin could bubble when the glue was already dry?
I could go on, but now I’m even boring myself, so I’ll skip right to the part about how difficult the layout was to do. I tried all sorts of different things, and finally decided I just had to finish it. This was a triumph of sorts because I just let it be.
To my way of thinking, composition is paramount. The individual pieces have to look right in themselves and then harmonize with each other in terms of size, color and texture. I admire people who can spontaneously fire things at a page and then come up with something great.
I’ve always been good at looking at other people’s work and pinpointing what could be done to make it better. But I feel like a novice when it comes to putting something together myself. Thinking about this reminds me of the painting classes I took with Canadian icon Joyce Weiland back in the 80s.

Joyce liked my observations about art so every week she would drag me around with her to comment on everyone’s work. But she never said a thing about mine. I finally grabbed the bull by the horns (she liked bulls) and said: “Now Joyce, what do you think of my work?” She just smiled at me and replied: “Darling, I think you’d make a wonderful art critic.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

About Shapes

I was disappointed in the way these two pages turned out, but I’m trying not to be picky because it’s a process journal after all. I do like the heart though. In one of my other journals I sketched several heart designs thinking that I’d like to turn them into a series. While I haven’t done this yet, hopefully I’ll do it in the future.
There’s something very satisfying about the shape of a heart. To me it’s a symbol of warmth, courage and feeling. It reminds me of an embrace.
I’m also drawn to triangles. If you take a photo of an ordinary scene and cut a triangle out of it (especially one with steep sides) – everything changes. The triangular scene becomes a doorway you look through to catch a glimpse of something higher.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


When I get to the point where I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, my homies appear and rein me back into the fold. First, Robin called me this morning and we had a long talk about everything under the sun. Having a sibling that’s so close to me in age is really a blessing. Aside from our common interest in writing and art, there’s always a feeling of closeness and understanding when we talk about our childhood.
Next I received some wonderful emails. Roberta and I are planning to do a book on angels and she has some great ideas about how to proceed. I also heard from Wendy. It’s hard to condense the magic of Wendy into just a few words, so I’ll leave it at that.
Later on when John was packaging a couple of things for me to send to Mary, I checked my email and lo and behold, there she was!
Mary has been “making jewelry like crazy” because she’s getting ready to set up her Ebay store. Oh, oh! Now I’m feeling the urge to add more to my Mary Ambrose collection. I have seven of her necklaces, and I always head for the fleet when I need to get gussied up – and sometimes for no reason at all.
Tonight it looked like there was going to be a blackout, so John and I turned off our computers, and got into a long discussion about life and spirituality. Actually, we do this nearly every day. I’m so grateful I’m married to a man, who in his own words “gets me.”
P.S. When I tried to apply a napkin to this two-page spread on dreams in my process journal, I blew it. But when I started thinking about how indistinct our dreams often are, I realized it worked. Adding some of the Pittman Shorthand Mary gave me seemed to fit in too. Then I stuck in the triangle because…well, just because.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Looking Inward

This is one of the cards Beth Barany ordered from me recently. I don’t often use these colors in my work, but a piece of rust spoke to me, and I had to listen.
I’m really enjoying my new process journal, but I feel guilty I spent so much time playing in it this weekend when I could have been writing my book. Come to think of it, I should have been making mixed media pieces to sell too. But quite honestly, I’m fed up with thinking of ways to make money, mainly because I’ve never been very good at it.
In the latest issue of Art & Life, Teesha Moore mentions that she’s always had the knack of being able to spot trends. I wish I had it! Instead, I’m often surprised at what appeals to people. This is not a value judgment, of course, but an observation that highlights my almost complete lack of understanding about what drives the marketplace. But even if I did have a sense of what people want, I know I’d probably continue on doing what I’m doing anyway.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Art & Life

I received the fourth installment of Teesha Moore’s Art & Life magazine this morning, and I finally got a chance to read it tonight.
What I liked about this particular issue was the focus on spirituality and art. While I’m always interested in new techniques, they’re never what draw me to a publication; I’m more interested in the people and the philosophy behind it all. (I also find when I switch into technique junkie mode, my artwork suffers because I’m more focused on how things are done rather than what they are saying).
Another good thing about receiving Art & Life was seeing that some of the designs I’d sent Teesha made it to the magazine’s latest rubber stamp sheet. Brenda Shackleford also had a couple of very cool designs chosen too.
I interviewed Brenda last year for RubberStampMadness, and we finally face-to-face at Artfest. She’s a total dynamo, creative at the drop of a hat, and so much fun to be around. We laughed and yakked non-stop on the shuttle to SeaTac.
Brenda has done five covers for RubberStampMadness, and I’m sure there are more lurking in the wings. I’ve heard it said that stamping is a phase some people go through, but I can only think of one ex-stamper I know. In my opinion, once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Using “Old” Stuff

I’ve always loved star maps (now there’s a surprise), and this blue one is a favorite. I think it dates from my teen years, but I’m not sure exactly when I got it. The little collage was assembled from some oil paint monoprints I made back in the late 90s. Because I have so many rubber stamp alphabets, I decided to use letters on this spread as well. The only problem is that my Moleskine is small – 3.5” x 5.5” – so I can’t use anything long. I am fond of the word “is” though because it’s in-the-present and full of possibilities.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Process Journal 2

Ever since I finished the process journal of painting techniques that I put in a CD case, I’ve been thinking of doing another. I decided I’d like to use a small Moleskine notebook because if I work in a larger format, I’ll have too many decisions to make. The plan is to have a background and no more than three added elements – the minimalist approach in other words. (One of those elements will be a stamped image, since I haven’t been stamping much for the last few months and I miss it).
When Carmi set herself the task of doing an altered book spread in 20 minutes every day back in June, I was itching to try this myself, but couldn’t. Now that I know my going-away spree is over, I could try it, but I honestly don’t think I could keep up – not to mention finishing two pages in such a short time.
Working on my book has to take precedence. If I don’t do this, I’ll just keep starting other interesting projects and I’ve promised myself I’m going to be a finisher as well as a starter.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lake Mazinaw

I can understand why The Group of Seven liked painting up here. If you get past the individual trees, rocks, ripples, clouds, etc. and see the shapes as a whole, there’s something thrillingly elemental about it all. But drawings and photographs just don’t do the scenery justice because you can’t incorporate your peripheral vision.
Last summer I took this picture of “Old Walt,” which is part of a mile-long granite cliff on Lake Mazinaw. It was dedicated to Walt Whitman in 1910 on the centenary of his birth. There was an artists’ colony on the opposite side of the lake then – everyone from poets to filmmakers stayed there…along with several members of The Group of Seven, of course.
Andrea’s cottage is about ten minutes past Old Walt and you have to take a boat to get there because there’s no road access. Sadly, the artists’ colony, which was called The Bon Echo Inn, burned down in 1936.
Yesterday we had a Group of Two watercolor session. Andrea painted a Lake Mazinaw sunset from a photo taken by one of her daughters. I did a woman with a purple head, and a Cy Twombly-ish spread in my process journal. I wasn’t happy with what I accomplished, and either was Andrea, so we sublimated by cooking a huge dinner.
Personally, I find watercolor extremely annoying. When I took a class years ago, the instructor advised me forget it and try acrylics instead. Why? Because he felt I was “too intense and heavy-handed for watercolor.” Enough said.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

My Great-Great Grandmother

While I was trying to organize stuff for my altered books this afternoon, I found this cabinet card my grandmother gave me years ago. It’s a picture of my great-great grandmother who ran an academy for young ladies in London, England with her two daughters. She’s holding a magnifying glass and a book, so presumably she viewed herself as an educated woman, not just an instructor of deportment and tea pouring.
I found this out from Dad tonight who is all excited about seeing this picture. He didn’t even know it existed, and he loves working on the family genealogy. Apparently my great-great grandfather was an autocrat, so her son James immigrated to Canada where my grandfather Edwin was born in 1888.
It’s hard to know just when this picture was taken. After looking at Victorian costumes on the Internet, my guess is that it’s sometime in the 1870s. But I’ll have a better idea when my dad digs out the family tree. I’ll also find out her name. The sad thing is that that my great-great grandmother probably never saw her son again because she writes on the back: “To my son James…wishing him a Happy New Year. May we in heaven meet.”
I spent quite a bit of time repairing great-great grandmother’s face in PhotoShop. The rest of the picture is damaged too, but I don’t have time to fix it now because I’m going away to Andrea’s cottage for our annual get-together. Because the cottage is on Lake Mazinaw where the Group of Seven liked to paint, we’re taking our watercolors. Talk to you Wednesday.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

John's Photos

John took these photos at the glass studio where David is working this summer because he thought I’d like to play with them in PhotoShop. He’s always had this innate ability to compose photos on the spot, while I tend to do my cropping after the fact.
I didn’t do much to John’s pictures except to enhance the color – although I did take out the chute that feeds the glass grinder in the upper right hand photo. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but it was much easier to accomplish than I expected.
Playing around with John’s photos started me thinking about my Uncle Ken who loved taking pictures. When Emma was about a year old, he came over for lunch one day. I’d taken several rolls of film of her playing in the kitchen a few days before, and couldn’t wait to show him my pictures.
Uncle Ken spread all the photos out on the kitchen table and looked at them for quite a while. Finally he turned to me and said: “Well, Sue, you’ve got some really great shots of your fridge.” It was really funny and so apt. Doting mother that I was, Emma only took up about twenty per cent of each photo I’d taken. Needless to say, my pictures really improved after that. I just wish Uncle Ken was still around. He would have loved going digital.

Friday, July 07, 2006

My Obsession with Alphabets

I must have at least 50 sets of rubber stamp alphabets, many of which I’ve never even used. But I like looking at them and thinking about how I’d like to incorporate them into my work. In a way, the collecting of alphabets is my main hobby. But one day I actually will do something with them. In the meantime, I sublimate by downloading free fonts from the Internet and playing with them in Photoshop.
My friend Betty gave me a book on Ed Ruscha, an American artist who has done many word paintings, and I like the idea of doing this myself and giving it my own spin. So little time, and so many plans…

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Burn Out

I did so much yesterday that I wasn’t good for much today, although I did do four new layouts for my book and played around with different typefaces.
I know pacing yourself is a really important part of doing creative work, but it’s something I find difficult to do. Once I’m on a roll, I want to finish. Even though I always seem to be working on projects that can’t be done in a day, a week, or whatever, I still push like mad to get them done anyway.
I know some writers and artists will deliberately stop when things are going well so they can pick up the momentum the next day. But I never really seem to need that. I’m always in a state of momentum. This time I’ve overdone it though. I’m going to crawl into bed now and look at art books

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Book Notes

I’ve been hard at work on my book all day so I don’t know whether or not I have enough energy left to paint, which is what I’m planning to do next. How do people go to bed at eleven ‘o clock at night when there are so many interesting things to do? Then again, they probably get up at six in the morning, which I certainly don’t.
I have the graphics and writing done for 51 pages so far, although I’m sure I’ll have to go back and shift things around…plus do some rewriting. But I’m happy I’m now in the groove and that things are progressing.

I got an email from Cherri the other day to say she has finished her book. How does she work so quickly? I’m in awe of her speedboat energy. Me? I know for a fact that I’m a canoe girl at heart. I have to explore every bay and inlet along the way. And sometimes when I stop for a picnic, I end up wandering off into the bush and going walkabout.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Holiday Monday

Emma came to Brampton yesterday to celebrate John’s birthday and then stayed over night. I’ve really missed her seeing her every day since she’s been living in Toronto. At the end of August she’s going to Amsterdam to do a semester of law school. I’m sure I’ll be sobbing at the airport when we see her off. Lily will miss her too.
Tonight Emma and I went to see The Devil Wears Prada. It wasn’t as hard-core as the book, but wow, the clothes! Really makes me want to be a candidate on What Not to Wear (British version).
Mary is back from holidays and called me this afternoon. We had a good gab about everything under the sun, and now I’m all fired up to do some painting tomorrow.
I resisted the impulse to catch up on my email during the day so I could stay on track with my book. I’m one page short writing-wise but ahead on my layouts, so things are progressing. Writing this book is like running a magnet through a pile of iron filings. But I’m getting used to the non-linear approach and it seems to be working.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

We're Back

David and I had a great time up north together. He read, sketched and listened to music. I got a lot of writing done on my book – plus some painting and reading of trashy novels.
We watched movies, had some pretty intense talks about creativity, and went down to the beach every night to look at the sky. On a couple of nights in particular, there were spectacular stars. But even though it was overcast on Thursday night, David and I still thought we saw a shooting star. Turned out to be a firefly.
Of course we had to go beach combing too. David found these two pieces of an old cup, and I did the conceptual art work shown above: a row of artist’s palettes. David seemed to think this was funny. I brought the stone palettes home with me (planning to paint them) but now I think I might display them in the window of my studio as is.