Friday, February 29, 2008

Painting like mad

Today I've been painting since I finished my first coffee. I've been working
with a wonderful model and I'm greatly inspired. Guess what? Yes. It's snowing
again. My client this afternoon couldn't stay because it was snowing -- she
broke her leg four months ago, and is afraid of falling on the ice that still
gilds our streets. This is one of my paint egg cartons
(that's acrylic). I work with three of these plus about 100 tubes
at the moment. The abstract is a test piece of paper I
use to see if the colour is what I need. The little painting
is a later version of the fruit study from last week, and there's
a detail of a figure I'm working on.

Have an ingenious day.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Apologies in order

My brother, who lives down a country lane in Ottawa, in defense of my mother who lives down another country lane in Ottawa, thinks I was a bit harsh about winter in the country the other day. I'm sorry. I wouldn't enjoy living in the country in winter full time. But I know many people who do happily, and for them whatever the difficulties, the view, clean air and lifestyle are worth it. I guess I'm unusually lucky, because four days a week in winter I get to work on a 700 acre nature reserve north of Toronto, and it is undeniably in the country. I love seeing osprey (gone now for the winter) and crows, geese, ducks, and birds of every variety just walking to the building I work in at Seneca College's King Campus. So I get my country hit.

And I know it isn't the same at all as living the country life.
Forgive me Andrew (my brother from the same mother).

These pictures were taken in a little slice of country -- the huge park
near my house. Have a delightful day!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Universal Notes

Today when I walked in the door from a trip to Ikea, a package was waiting on the hall table: a CD of the Notes from the Universe. Mike Dooley is one of the people associated with The Secret. I don't know if you're a fan or not, but I've been interested in the concept of affirmations for years, so I think it's great if more people learn how to think positively. Anyway, Mike Dooley sends out a message free every week day called Notes from the Universe. Go to to subscribe. These cheery, funny, wonderful notes are in my email every morning, and make a great start to the day. I also discovered that Mike has a fine voice, and an appealing unassuming manner.

One of the things he suggests you do is make a dream board of things you would like to be, do, or have. This house on Lake Ontario in Toronto's beach area is a "thing" I would love to own.
I could see the lake every day, and it looks like I'd have lots of room for a studio. I'm painting all day, so have to go now to pick up my model. Have a creative day!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snow again

Once again it's snowing. It's become a wry joke here --"Oh--what do you know -- it's snowing!" Exhausted chuckle all round, and then back to the shovels, or snowblowers.

Here's a picture I took the other day, of an abandoned bike. Ironically the high icy snowbank imprisoning the bike is in front of a luxurious wall of Ivy.
It reminds me of one winter semester when I was going to the University of Guelph that I decided to live in the country. I rented a farm with five guys just outside of town. The plan was pitched, I remember as a romantic, Utopian idyll -- back to nature. The guys resembled the men in the movie Knocked Up, only not quite as funny -- a collection of lonely, nerdy guys. Entertainment -- none.
The bedroom I slept in had a thick layer of living cluster flies sandwiched between the ceiling drywall and the rafters. The only heat came from a kerosene heater in the living room, which smelled and smoked. The snow plough failed to arrive on time to clear the long, picturesque lane every other day when we were all trying to get to class, and I was the only cook -- and not a good one. After about a month of freezing to the hum of an orchestra of one million flies, I fled the farm, with a clear resolve never to return.

Say what you want about the city. I do. Complain about city drivers. I do. But I would much rather spend the winter in this town, than down any country lane.

Have a cozy day wherever you are.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Valentine's revisited

I'm sitting at my desk next to the most luscious white roses in a glass vase.
For Valentine's Day Steven promised to buy me flowers every week for
the whole year. Some puritan, practical voice inside me said, "No -- that's way too much."

But when the voice jumped out into the super decorated kitchen
at our Valentine's dinner with Steven and Sam (our youngest),
Steven pretended his heart was broken. Under the dollar store strings of shiny red cupids, and the looping shiny red hearts over the kitchen cabinets, I faux pas -ed. So...this week he kept his promise and bought me a bouquet of Ontario grown white roses. My flower store friend, Lyn assured him the local flowers were better than those flown across the world from Paraguay --"fresher," she said.

What a treat. Have a beautiful day!
Pictures -- 1. In the Avenue Road flower shop. 2. The flowers on my desk (there are more in the kitchen).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

To see the sea

Hi there,

Today we went down to the sea -- well Lake Ontario to be exact, but the high waves rolled in and burst in sparkling spray on the rocks, just like they do at the sea. It was absolutely lovely. We took the dogs, Zoey, and Josephine's Ziggy (Zoey's sister) and Brody, (Ziggy's stepsister). What fun! Cold -- but fun. That's Zoey in the blue coat, with Brody.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Take a break

This picture of our friend Phil with Deby and Phil's baby dogs sums up relaxation.

One more image

Here's what I'm working on today -- part of it. I can't seem to put in more than one image at a time. Still learning. See what I mean -- one of the apples is rotten. Not in the painting. Have fun!

I love Saturday

On Saturday, even if I have to work -- I need a couple of hours following Fiona's example.
Here's our newest baby in her basket. This weekend I have a collection of magazines and the Globe for entertainment. I read while I drink two coffees (my morning ritual every day),
then continue reading until the cats start crying outside my door, and I realize they're right; it's time to move it. Now I've washed the bathroom floor, tidied a bit, read Karen von Hahn in the
Globe Style section, read the March Oprah magazine's great articles on happiness and feel ready to paint.

Happiness seems to be the whole point in some ways -- our own and everyone else's. Apparently I'm not wrong that you can learn how to be happy. (Good because I try to
incorporate that into every lesson at school and it seems to work -- the kids learn and get
happier at the same time). My brother says that he's adopted the Philosophy of Dogs,
a book I've long thought about writing. Unless a dog is maltreated, hungry, in a thunder storm,
or separated from its people, it's happy. Dogs wake up happy, and pretty much love everything.
My brother says he's like that. No angst. Can't say that's me, but I'm working on it bit by bit.
Have a happy day.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Early work

This is an image of the view from our backyard, and a shot of a painting I did of Claudia, that goes with today's theme. Claudia is a magnificent model because she changes her entire look every couple of months. I was reading Bob Burridge's thoughts on painting (check out yesterday's copy for his web address). I love how he gives you permission to have fun and enjoy painting -- not to aim for results, or think about who wants your work, or pleasing others when you paint.

That made me think about the first painting I can remember doing. I think my kindergarten teacher kept it to show my mother to give her a laugh. I don't think it showed artistic promise -- my six-year-old nephew Jack has the jump up on early talent. It did show some basic truths about my perceptions and enthusiasms at five,
and a clear predictor of my future.

The painting was of my mother and father at their wedding. My mother was sitting on a chair
eating a big piece of chocolate cake, holding me, and the blurry stick figure of my father looked on. * Of course at five I couldn't imagine their world without me, but I already knew that weddings were parties, and I knew I liked festivity and celebration. Still do. Check. Plus
although I paint in the usual jeans and paint smeared aprons, and torn sweaters -- I like to
paint the opulent fabrics which my mother had, and still has a great fondness for.
I have a particular penchant for white dresses, although white is a no-no in the painting world. The kindergarten painting also said something about my mother -- a woman who could easily have managed the act of balancing a swaddled infant, elegant clothing and eating cake with aplomb. She was and is the inveterate multi-tasker, talking on the phone while reading a magazine, looking at the birds, and popping home made loaves of bread and trays of cookies in and out of the oven as the timer bings.

I'm glad Bob Burridge decries rules. Lately I've been trying really hard to dampen down any white in my paintings with some other colour -- yellow, blue, mauve red. I'm painting a whole cabinet full of white antique china now and trying to make sure that the white isn't too white,
but at the same time I have to do what I do.

My favorite palette is bright almost primary-- red, yellow, blue (lots of turquoise), orange, white, purple and sometimes green. Canadian decor lately has been married to beige. We
love beige rooms, beige houses -- I'm thrilled that the American design world is returning to opulence -- because opulence means fabric, jewels, and colour. How can people live in
the landscape you see above and not want colour? We don't want to ever be offensive,
live in bad taste, take a risk. We'd rather live and die neutral. As a foreign policy strategy I think that's a brilliant concept. But couldn't we take on some of the internal and external vibrant colour in our decor, used so tastefully and joyfully in England, Sweden, France and Italy? I think we could.

I think Toronto is going through a maritime shift. The first time I visited P.E.I. a trucker driving a flatbed of massive logs said, "if you don't like the weather -- wait five minutes. It's bound to change." Five minutes ago I took the picture of my backyard swathed in mid-afternoon gloom, and now the sun is out again.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

First strokes

Here's one of the paintings I'm working on today -- following the Bob Burridge idea of beginning with small paintings to get warmed up for the big thing. The big thing is a view of a slice of the kitchen. When I'm painting and I don't have a human subject I paint whatever's around -- a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter for instance. The slice of kitchen, may or may not be working. This is the first rush at the fruit. It's always better for me to paint from the real thing. So I have the photo for reference, and to show you, but I will only use it for a light reference when the light is all gone. The trouble with still life is that the fruit rots, the flowers wilt, the subject won't come back day after day like a person. The tulips in the pot grow -- actually I'm waiting for that. The great thing about still life is that I have to move fairly fast to pick the fruit, and smell the flowers, say "yes" to those brave tulips on this cold day.

More images to come. Check out Bob Burridge at

Living for visual pleasure

These are the crocuses on my kitchen table. This is an image of the park near my home.
Today it's incredibly cold - 5 Celsius, but sunny -- and sun has been a rarity this winter.
One of my survival techniques is flowers. Whenever I can afford it, I fill the house with roses, tulips, whatever is available in abundance -- flowers seem especially vital in the kitchen, where we eat our dinner every night by candlelight. The flowers add an extra level of pleasure, and help us get through the dark months. Right now we have tulips, and for a few weeks now I've been planting a lovely old antique dish my sister gave me with crocuses topped with shells. They last about a week, and for about $6 (Canadian) that's a great deal. Candles on the kitchen table make the early winter evenings seem intentional. The moment even a breath of warm weather comes we eat every meal on our back porch. The roof protects us from most of the elements, and we've been known to eat outside in November wearing ski jackets.

The clouds today are magnificent again. I was teaching at Seneca this morning. Outside the window in our classroom a high, sunlit snow bank drew a brilliant line of light against the blue sky. When I'm teaching, I am always in a rush . There's so much to do to prepare, and plan. Each student needs attention, and I usually think about who needs extra help, and my lesson plan while I'm walking from the parking lot to my office, or to class. I run through a long checklist in my head, rehearsing how to keep the class interested -- how to teach and engage them at the same time.

But when I do let myself notice the landscape at King Campus, it is so magnificent. Today the trees on the far horizon were a deep mauve, blue against the snow. Stands of willow preparing for spring are turning a vivid ochre, the perfect compliment to the indigo backdrop. Along the highway near the campus, plantings of trees made curved, striped lush sapphire blue patterns on the sloping snow drifts. There is always more to see than I can hold in my mind. I think that's what separates artists and people who "see" from those who don't. The word "bored" is a word we barely register. We are not bored. Tired, sad sometimes, overwhelmed, but here on earth with a mission -- at least one clear mission among others -- to see, and be ecstatic about what we see, and to try and produce work that in some way captures that ecstasy.

I once read that when Vermeer was alive being an "artist" was a humble trade -- not something rare, but an important job, like baker, or construction worker. I'm sure that was true, but looking at Vermeer's work it's hard to deny the incredible joy he must have felt portraying his world. His colour is so rich, his lighting vibrant -- each gesture perfectly described.

That's what I'm trying to do with my paintings I think, aside from just loving the feel of paint on canvas.

Today I'm hoping to finish a still life for our upcoming show opening March 9 at the Northern District Library. I'll tell you more about that later.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Universe in the Ravine

Yesterday in the late afternoon I walked in the nearby ravine with my dog Zoey, trying to latch onto some inspiration. We haven't had many sunny days, and all of the snow and ice has made walking a bit treacherous. Yesterday was no exception, but the stalwart Zoey showed me the way, navigating up hills through the icy footprints of earlier walkers.

It was worth it because the sky was magnificent. I had to remind myself to look up every couple of minutes and take in the view. In icy conditions it makes sense to watch each footstep, but you lose sight of the big picture.

Across the wide bowl of the park when we arrived I could see a massive cloud formation -- puffy and higher than anything I've seen in a long time. Then in front of that a purple grey fog of snow came in. My friend Gill Cameron is a great painter of clouds. Her clouds are abstract and fantastic and completely true.

Every time it snows in Toronto we get a "Winter storm warning." It sounds funny to someone raised in Ottawa with snow banks that once came up to the level of my mother's roof. But snow does cripple the city. Toronto drivers aren't used to it, and there are always accidents.

I forgot all that as I watched the huge weather system come through. Down in the ravine if I stand really still in a certain spot where there's a tangle of thorny bushes I get to see hundreds of chickadees quietly flitting through the screen of branches. The occasional gortexed runner ploughs by and stares at me thickly covered in my old yellow man's down jacket. But other than that it is lushly still.

Today is Zoey's birthday. She's eight years old and looking great. Have an artistic day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dreaming of Nova Scotia

I haven't found out yet how to post more than one picture at a time. (Correction -- I seem to have figured it out today.) Here I am working on my current painting of the kitchen, in the kitchen. Last night I had trouble getting to sleep because we had coffee late at dinner. Thinking about my friends in Nova Scotia, I kept seeing the view as we drive out of Sackville, New Brunswick to the wide flat lands where CBC has a vast field of aerials. When we reach this point we are almost in Nova Scotia, and at the end of our long drive from Toronto.

We cross through the flags of New Brunswick into the corridor of Nova Scotia flags and start singing "Farewell to Nova Scotia", which doesn't make any sense, but it's the only purely Nova Scotian song we know, and we are filled with an incredible sense of arrival and happiness.

Meanwhile, here's what we're really looking at -- the wonder of winter.

More later... A big, warm Toronto hello to my Nova Scotia friends, and friends everywhere.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Kitchen companions

Here's another picture of the kitchen crew.

Our new Siamese kitten, Fiona, will soon no doubt dominate our three-year-old cat Timbah, and Zoey the dog.

Currently all three prefer to have their afternoon naps in front of the heat vent under the kitchen cabinets.

First Blog

Art Moving Into 2008

I know it's February -- almost March, but it still feels like the beginning of the year. Today is Family Day, an official holiday in Ontario, and we were lucky enough to have our whole family together at dinner.

My son Christopher helped me start this blog. The pull of technology as a way of talking about art is huge, and the blog seems a natural extension of my journal writing courses.

My friends Flora, in Bear River and Greg and Norene in Pugwash, Nova Scotia all have blogs on art and all things Nova Scotian. My friend Lina in Ottawa has a wonderful cooking blog. I don't have a website yet, but that's coming.

In the meantime, some thoughts on art. It's been a fantastic winter visually in Toronto. Apparently we've had 70 centimeters of snow in February so far. The driving is hell, but the look of this city landscape iced in a deep sculptural coating of snow is amazing. I think artists are especially blessed with a keen delight in all things visual. As a painter I try to convey joy, and the happiness I get from looking at the world through what Monet called "the artist's eye." Only Monet said it in French, and I am not certain of the quote.

I believe that the universe presents us with pivotal moments whenever we need inspiration, or a push forward, and that's why this blog is happening. Christopher just started it -- poof, and here it is. On the way home from taking Christopher and Megan back to their apartment, driving through the icy streets we passed a huge Forest Hill House. As we drove past my husband Steven said, "look at that portrait!" He backed up so I could see a stunning huge painting of a woman's head on the wall, and I thought that's what I want to get back to -- the large portrait paintings of faces series that I started with Megan.

This is my first Dance Series painting, Before The Dance. It is 6' x 4' and not at all imposing in the large space it occupies now at Seneca College, King Campus, north of the city. I love painting with a huge brush and sweeping the colour on. It feels almost like conducting or dance, and the big canvas makes a noise like a drum when you start to paint. It's so kinetic, musical and absorbing. This painting is the painting that shot me into the life I have today -- with many dance series paintings behind me, I've been working as a successful portrait painter,
and encouraging people to dress up a bit for the work -- step out of the jeans and T-shirts and into their good clothes. Which is funny because I paint in my tiny little living room and dining room, and they sit in a big chair my two cats have practically clawed to pieces, or another little elegant chair I bought last year for the purpose.

In between sittings, which I keep very short (10 minutes) we go into the kitchen for tea.
I teach writing and motivational psychology (school success is another term for it) at Seneca,
and last year every time I arrived home from school in the late afternoon there were clients waiting. I'm an energetic teacher and pretty tired when I get home, but we'd settle in the kitchen for a few minutes with tea, then I'd begin the painting and whammo all my energy returned.

As I figure out how I'll connnect to more blogs. Happy blogging Flora, Lina, Norene and Greg.
(This is my dog Zoey and the new kitten Fiona -- companions to those tea and cookie breaks in the kitchen)

More coming. I hope everyone had a great family day.

I hope you were painting Flora and Norene.

Portrait Artist

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I paint and draw on commission and for shows. To commission a portrait, or purchase one of my paintings please contact me at:
A major highlight in my career? Drawing Oprah Winfrey live via Skype for her show "Where in the Skype are you? Galleries: Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Canada. The Amsterdam Whitney Gallery, New York City. Gallery at the Porch Door, Kingston, Canada. Your positive comments on this blog mean the world to me. I'd love to hear from you!