Friday, January 30, 2009

How to become Royalty

Those dropdown menus where you have to click on your title always irk me because I don’t feel like a Ms, a Miss or even a Mrs., so I don’t see why I have to choose one of them before I can continue on.
However, if you’re ordering tickets from the Royal Opera House in London, England there’s a lot more flexibility when it comes to describing yourself. Under “title,” you have a choice of over 125. You could be a Countess, a Baroness, a Marchioness, a Princess or even a Queen ...not to mention their male equivalents. My one quibble with this fabulous list is that there is no Empress included. I mean, if you can be a queen, why not an empress?

I also couldn’t help wondering whether or not people enter in fake titles just for the fun of it. I’ve always loved “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” a line from one of Wallace Steven’s poems, and I’d be tempted to go that route if I was booking opera seats myself. I know the Emperor would be too busy taste testing the sweet stuff to be bothered with a mundane task like ordering tickets, so the Empress would have to do it for him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moo Challenge #42

When I was looking through my photos to find buildings—this week’s Make a Moo or Two theme—I thought about something Jean Luc Goddard once said. He believed that great movies wouldn’t be made until film was as cheap as paper and pen. That’s kind of the way photography is today. When you have a digital camera, you can just keep taking photos until your card fills up. Sooner or later you’re bound to get something you like, and occasionally you may even come up with a great photo.
What I found from looking through my files is that most of the pictures I’ve taken are of my family, my dog, my friends and nature. But I did come across one of the Boston skyline (top) and another of some buildings in Seattle. Both photos were taken in 2006 when I happened to take separate trips to the U.S. I remember at the time being excited about seeing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans within a few short weeks of each other. Next time I do this I want to bring home water in jars from both places and use it to paint with.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

True Vision

My friend Brenda Shackleford has several pages featured in L.K. Ludwig’s True Vision: Authentic Art Journaling, so I just knew I had to read it. Whether you keep a journal or not, you’ll be inspired by this fascinating book.
It’s packed with wonderful art, great quotes, and exercises you’ll want to try right away. I particularly liked the sections on incorporating automatic writing into your work and how to use patina on paper.

But the best thing about True Vision is that it makes you believe your journal can be anything you want it to be. Since journaling is something you do for yourself, it’s a voyage of self-discovery, and there’s not much point to the process if you’re pressuring yourself to produce pretty and finished-looking pages. If you feel this has been holding you back from exploring your real self, Ludwig’s book will give you an enthusiastic push in the right direction. (And you might want to check out her blog too).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Creative Plateau

I feel like I’m stranded on a plateau lately with my work and I don’t like it one bit. This is partly to do with what is going on in my life right now. Because I’m pulled in so many directions, it’s difficult to settle down and think clearly.
But there’s more to it than that. For a while now I’ve been feeling I need to stretch myself creatively, and I’m really not sure where to go next.
Take Photoshop for instance. I haven’t been able to spend much time on it recently, so I made an attempt last night to do something different. This basically involved using the blur tool to smooth out the banding in the Leonardo drawing above. I could feel myself resisting the process though. Quite frankly, I’m fed up with effort, I just want results.

P.S. John came into the room as I was finishing this post and read it over my shoulder. His advice? To get off the damn plateau, just jump.

Friday, January 23, 2009

May I?

Do you feel you need permission from something or someone to do your art? I think I must unconsciously believe this because there always seem to be a number of hurtles to clear before I finish a piece. This is probably a mixture of wanting it to turn out right, and thinking that the more I play around with it, the more likely this is to happen.
John finds my creative process amusing and decided that he wanted to shoot a video of me putting this assemblage together. Aside from the fact I need a manicure and sound like I’m on helium, it was kind of fun talking about how I put May I? together—mainly because it sounded straightforward and was anything but. I know I’ve said this before, but I'll say it again: if we really knew how long things were going to take us, we probably wouldn’t bother.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Moo Challenge #41

Last week at Make a Moo or Two the theme was frost. I know all about that because the weather here has been cold and frosty for weeks (not to mention all the snow). I didn’t have time to rise to the challenge, though, because I was too busy. Fortunately I seem to be back on track now with the latest Make a Moo theme: circles.
The first thing I thought of was a color wheel, so I used one that I’d scanned from a 19th century book on color. My original plan was to incorporate an artist into the image. That effect didn’t quite work out, so it looks more like a target than anything else. But at least I managed to come up with something circle-ish.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What happens when you organize...

You know you lead an exciting life when your idea of fun is watching a Mac and Cheese bake off on the Food Network while sorting all your paint into categories. That’s what I did late Friday night, and I must say I found it extremely satisfying. I love organizing and reorganizing my art supplies. It’s become a ritual before I actually get down to producing something. (And I love anything to do with food—just as long as I’m not the one who is actually cooking it.)
While I was looking through my paints, I came across these two drawings David had done as a little boy. Before he was two, I gave him a set of Crayola markers and a stack of blank business cards that he drew on endlessly—when he wasn’t busy decorating the walls inside and out, that is.

I wish I’d put a date on the back of these drawings because I don’t know when they were done. I do know he was writing his name before he turned four, so I’m guessing that he did them sometime around then. Since drawing was only one of David’s many interests, I was surprised when he told me a couple of years ago that he always knew he was going to be an artist. I think if I’d known that was where he was headed, I might have tried to “educate” him about art. In retrospect, it’s probably a good idea that I didn’t because David naturally found his own way and blossomed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Before and After

My friend Andrea loves this print and asked me if I could do something to brighten it up because it had faded over time. Her husband really dislikes the picture and I have to admit that I’m not that crazy about it myself. But Andrea is a sentimental soul. It used to hang in her parents’ front hall, and now she has it in hers.
At first I wasn’t sure whether or not I could do anything with the print in Photoshop. Not only was it faded, but it also had water damage and a greenish cast. Because of the size, I had to scan it in sections and then piece them together. After that, it wasn’t that difficult to fix up.
To correct the damaged areas, I used the Clone and Spot Healing Tools. To enhance the color, I used Hue/Saturation, and gave the print more light with Levels and Brightness/Contrast. To remove the greenish cast, I played with the Color Balance, and then finally applied Curves.
There’s something satisfying about giving an old photo or print new life simply by using Photoshop. It’s an intuitive process really. You just keep playing with different things until it all comes together.
Next I’m going to fix the wood frame. It’s had some rough handling over the years and will be a bigger challenge for me than refreshing the print. Because there’s no “undo” command with hands-on stuff, there’s no room for mistakes. (Wish me luck).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I’ve always been drawn to boats of any kind, particularly ocean liners. My mother’s father was the captain of the Lizzie May, one of the last sailing ships in Britain, so I guess it’s in my genes. My mother told me about her sea trips with him to Ireland and France, and how he once brought her back a dog that she christened “Dandy.”
I never knew my grandfather because he died long before I was born. But we spent several months in his hometown of Connahs Quay in Wales when I was a little girl. I vividly remember the overnight train ride to Québec City, and then boarding the ship for Liverpool.
The Franconia II was a Cunard passenger ship (see postcard below) that was built in 1922 and retrofitted during the Second World War to transport troops. I think we were on one of the last trips the ship made before it was scrapped in 1955. Because of engine trouble, it took the Franconia twelve days to cross the Atlantic instead of the usual six, and a lot of people got seasick including myself.
Nana (my father’s mother) immigrated to Canada with her family over a hundred years ago, and I wished I’d asked her about their voyage while she was still alive. However, what I did discover by doing an Internet search of passenger lists was that Nana arrived via the Virginian on May 31st, 1907 as a fourteen year old. Apparently the Virginian was one of the ships that heard the distress signals from the Titanic but being 170 miles away was too far away to offer any assistance.
I can see now why people get hooked on history and genealogy. I’m sure I would too, if I just had more time. Maybe one of these days...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking the day off

Even though I had spent most of the weekend working, I still had an extensive to do list for today. But when I woke up this morning, I felt completely burned out. My mind refused to do anything and informed me that I must take a break. In my opinion, Monday isn’t the right day to do this, but no matter how hard I tried to push myself, I didn’t seem to have a scrap of motivation left. I finally gave up and spent the day resting in the nest of myself.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Teapot Queen

The theme for tonight’s ATC meeting in Toronto is beverages, and I immediately thought of “tea” because I drink so much of it. I also have a great set of teapot stickers, and this seemed like the ideal opportunity to use them. After all, they’ve only been sitting around in a drawer for the last eight years or so.
To make my ATCs, I started with a Limited Edition stamp and drew in the face and hair with a black marker. Then I scanned my lady and colored her in Photoshop. The last step was printing out the ladies and adding a sticker to each one as a teapot crown.

It’s actually quite easy to get a cartoon-ish effect in Photoshop. Just start with a scan of a black and white drawing. Using the Brush Tool, put each color on separate layer that’s in Multiply blending mode. When you’re using a lot of colors, this may seem complicated, but if you do everything on one layer, then it’s harder to fix your mistakes or to change colors. Just give each layer the name of the color you’re using to make it easier on yourself.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A New Journal

On January 1st I started my tenth 3 x 5” Moleskine journal. I usually choose the unlined notebook rather than the sketchbook since my pen seems to work better on thinner paper. But this kind of paper is not as good for doing art because the images tend to show through on the other side.
Not that this bothers me. My journals are just for myself and I don’t often show anything in them to other people. I like the fact that I don’t have to produce something finished or “good.”
Recently one of my friends asked me if I was afraid to let her look at my journals because she might read something unflattering about herself. But I said no, and explained that I mostly focus on creative ideas I want to explore, and running on endlessly about things in my life that trouble me. While I don’t mind sharing my ideas, problems are another thing entirely. I prefer to keep them to myself.

I always start with the art though. So far in my new journal, I’ve stamped 40 pages and expanded on these images with my own drawing. Here are three illustrations from pages I haven’t written on yet. I have no idea what entries they will end up “illustrating” and it really doesn’t matter. I just like the fact that they’re already there.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Moo Challenge #40

This week at Make a Moo or Two, the theme is angels, a subject close to my heart. Emma and I are in the tenth month of our mother/daughter writing pod, and my ongoing project is a novel about angels. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on them and have collected plenty of images, so I remembered Gustave Courbet’s words when I read about this challenge. He said: Show me an angel and I will paint you one.
Like hands, wings are surprisingly difficult to draw, and in the end I borrowed two angels from a fragment of a 15th century altarpiece (displayed in Basle’s Kunstmuseum), and then engaged in some Photoshop-ing.

Even though it took quite a bit of time, these angels just would not be transformed into something new. They seemed to like themselves just the way they were, but since they are angels they did allow me to add a little decoration.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Sandy and I are both celebrating the start of 2009 today. When you have young children like Sandy does, it makes good sense to begin the New Year on the first day back to school after Christmas. But I can no longer use that reasoning myself since my children are adults, and have been for a while now. However, because I’ve been feeling apprehensive and anxious about 2009, I needed an excuse to put it off until I felt like it. (Thanks Sandy!)Normally I’m gung ho about making a fresh start, but I feel like I’m dragging a lot of unresolved issues into 2009 …things that should have been sorted out last year and weren’t. There’s no getting past it, though, I must apply myself—and pronto. Still, I can’t help regretting that January is such a serious month, especially when I’m in the mood for fun and games, not work.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


I was searching for an image to represent a fresh start for my first ATC of 2009, and I immediately thought of an open door. But on my way to find one I came across this picture of Lola L. Jackson I’d scanned from Mary’s vintage photo collection and used it instead.
I loved the way Lola is all spiffed up and ready to play with her blocks. Then I began to wonder whether or not Lola might have started tossing them around when the photo shoot was over. She looks a little testy about having her picture taken to me.

Sometimes I feel that way about a new year. I have the feeling I should be motivated, gung ho and organized, when what I really want to do is putter around for a few days, and not think about anything at all.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Color for 2009

The Pantone Color Institute has chosen Mimosa as its color of the year. Considered to be the global authority on professional color standards, Pantone says: The color yellow exemplifies the warmth and nurturing quality of the sun, properties we as humans are naturally drawn to for reassurance. Mimosa also speaks to enlightenment, as it is a hue that sparks imagination and innovation. Best illustrated by the abundant flowers of the Mimosa tree and the sparkle of the brilliantly hued cocktail, the 2009 color of the year represents the hopeful and radiant characteristics associated with the color yellow.
Whew! I’ll bet some poor copywriter had to go through several rewrites to come up with that! But Mimosa looks like a great color, doesn’t it? And I couldn’t help thinking of my friend Sylvia when I read those words. Sylvia told me the only thing that has stayed in her mind after the art classes she’s taken over the years is: you can always fix a problem piece by adding some yellow. Whether I use this advice or not, I always remember yellow whenever I hit the wall with something I’m working on, and I thought I’d pass it on to you.