Saturday, January 31, 2009

Musical brains, and Flora's face

Tonight Steven and I watched a wonderful special,
The Musical Brain that revealed how the brain uses and
processes music. Research scientists studied the brain
of musicians, babies, and people listening to music to
draw exciting conclusions about how music influences all of us.

Neurologists did an MRI scan of Sting's brain, and discovered that
he moves easily between his left and right hemispheres,
a sign that he's a gifted musician. I have always been
crazy about Sting's music, and I really like him -- so I
enjoyed watching how willing he was to work with the
Montreal researchers. He was somewhat unnerved at
seeing the scans of his brain. He just wants to play his music,
but at the end of the show he and the neurologist jammed together.

Flora thinking,
willow charcoal on watercolour paper
12 x 9 inches

It was a good day. We played cards tonight with friends
and I came home to draw this picture of Flora's face
based on last night's Skype picture. I may have gone
too far because I was listening to Martin Scorsese's
movie Shine a Light on Mick Jagger and the Stones while I drew it.
I always tell my friends that I give out the energy
of Jagger in one of his concerts when I'm teaching,
which is why I'm tired afterwards. Then I add that
I even look like him. But after seeing bits of his
performance while I drew, I realized that I have a
way to go to command that kind of energy.

Flora has a perfect face, just lovely features, and
there's a sweetness about her that's indefinable --
a wonderful laugh, and fierce compassion for
others. She's a delight to draw.

Have a toe tapping, foot snapping, knee slapping day.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Into the charcoal

I am not a charcoal artist. I use it to draw on acrylic, mostly
because you can take it off when the paint is dry, and not
see the lines you didn't want to last. I like that. It's more
of a map for me, than an expression. But tonight I had
a great talk via Skype with my friend Flora in Nova Scotia
who is one of the best artists I know.
Currently she's renovating a huge (by Toronto standards)
very old, house in Bear River, and is still painting between
cleaning up and cleaning up after the renovating tasks.

Flora wanted to know what got into me? Why was I running
on yesterday about how people paint? She worried that I was saying
"why aren't you painting?," especially to her, when that was
the complete opposite of what I meant. It was a good lesson
for me. Stay positive. That's what I teach and what I believe
in. Susan Jeffers, who wrote Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,
and recovered from cancer by being positive, says that airplanes
are off course most of the time, but when they go off they correct.
So like the pilots I try and stay on course --stay positive, and I come
back when I go off.

Flora tonight
Skype image drawing
charcoal on watercolour paper
12 x 9 inches

Here's a little sketch I did from a Capture photo I took while
I was talking to Flora on Skype. I decided to try charcoal
because I didn't have time to paint, or time to draw with
markers. So wham -- here it is. Flora is much prettier than
this, but it was my first charcoal attempt ever -- so forgive me.
At art school we used conté, not charcoal.

Have a loving-your-medium day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Real painters paint

I get nervous when I read platitudes on
what "real" painters do. But what are the
rules? There's only one truth we know for sure
about painters -- they paint. Other than that
I think how they paint, what they paint, when they paint,
what their studios look like will be as different
as the colours of birds are from region to region.

What's so cool about this blogging artist community
is that we can learn what other painters are doing,
and change the parts of our process that we aren't
satisfied with. But we can't lay down laws for one

It amused me so much at a famous watercolour
painter's workshop when the people in the class
kept changing the water in the master's giant
water tin can. He'd be right in the middle of
dipping his brush during a demo and a woman
would dart in and take that dirty water away
again to change it. The artist was oblivious except
for the fact that the water had disappeared,
and then he'd laugh.

Turns out "real" painters in his books don't change
their watercolour water every five minutes, and
maybe not every day. Were his watercolours clean,
majestic, pure in colour, beloved by everyone? --

My standard for real painting, is someone who
paints. Sure some people are more amateur
than others, but watch out. I've seen students
zoom ahead of their teachers in less than a year.
Another rule shot.

One of my friends frequently repeats this maxim,
and I think it applies nicely to rules: Take the best,
leave the rest.

Kitchen study
acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
(the blues in the photo read as the same,
but they aren't. But seeing the image
I see that I need to change that.)

I am working on a little painting, I showed you
awhile ago. I'm not quite done, but I might
change the things that need it tomorrow.

Have a guess-who-rules?-I-do day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Birds and beads

Steven is big on feeding the birds. Maybe
growing up on a farm he finds that feeding
two cats and a dogs isn't enough. There's
nothing like feeding birds if you want to
feel like you're part of the bounty of the

This year he's got two feeders going, plus
peanuts for the Blue Jays, and sunflower seeds
for the Jays and Cardinals. So on a snowy day
like the one we've had today Steve's Cherrywood
bird diner is busy. Then there's the former
Christmas tree, now rammed in a snow bank
and sprinkled each day with seed. Eeehah --
watch out birdies.

The Birds in the backyard at the feeders
The Fraser fir, is a Christmas tree
doing double duty -- it looks like it lives there

As a departure from the birds, tonight I went
out to an event with the ladies who bead.
Mimi + You, a company run by sisters Mina
and Mitra, were hosting an event called
Celebrate Courage, and a group of women
got together in a downtown club to make
necklaces, which will be auctioned off to
support shelters for abused women.

Making necklaces requires a level of vision
far more hawk-like than what I possess, but we all
created very unique pieces. Most
of the women were involved in the
performing arts -- a lively,
witty, and vibrantly intelligent group.
There's not much that can pull me away
from my book on a snowy night, but my
friend Lyn, who is an actor, and writer,
is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
She is hilarious, kind to a fault, and so
engaging that when she suggests something,
I think I ought to comply. I'm glad I did

I teach tomorrow and I'm tired tonight. I'm
working on a painting, but it isn't ready for
you yet.

Have a feeding-your-local-birds day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ahhhh my drawing group

I always want to call the group I paint with on Tuesday
night a class, out of habit maybe -- but there is no class,
just a group of artists who belong to the same art
club, who meet at the club's fancy, renovated studio,
and paint from a model. Tonight the model looked
like a Land's End shirt advertisement to me. I just
got the latest Land's End catalogue of "paintbrush"
shirts in the mail, and the men could have been our
model's brothers.

I do love the look of men in great shirts, so I settled in
and enjoyed the painting -- thinking only of light, dark
and texture.

Painting "class" Sketch
acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches

On Tuesdays I teach all day -- and am at school for
just over eight hours. For six of those hours I'm on
my feet -- a one woman cheering section for the
kids I teach. Getting them to change their thinking,
attitude, work practices -- "Yes We Can!!!"

So when I hit art class they almost always tell me I "look
tired." Tonight I told them not to say that because it's
discouraging to the wearer of the face. I'm sure I actually
look wrecked, but as I'm there to paint, and not to
fall down in a heap, I don't need to know what I look
like, or think about it.

I find my friends at the club inspiring -- and
absolutely love seeing what they do with paint.
The man beside me tonight, Frank paints with the
biggest oil brushes you have ever seen.
His slaps acrylic on, and is suspicious of anything using
small brushes or definition -- and his work is
powerful, strong and magnificent. There are quite a
few painters of that caliber in the group -- so it's
always worth going.

Have an everything-I-make-works-just-the-way-I-want-it-to day

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happiness is the new warm

As much as the media loved to knock Obama before he
was president, articles on "the new cool" abound now,
connected with Obama. Brainy is now the new cool --
whew!!! That's a pleasant change, and now happiness
is also the new cool, or optimism, which in my books
is pretty much the same thing.

I've been spending time today studying research on
happiness for my courses at school. It turns out that I am a
wildly happy person according to some tests I took
online this afternoon. But then I could have told
you that!!! Why though? Why am I happy? I'm not
rich at all by Canadian standards. I'm not tall,
I don't drive a Cadillac car -- what gives me the right?

You do. You make me happy, by coming to my site,
by showing me your great work on your site, by teaching me
new ways of thinking about art and life every day.
And my family does, by being committed to having
a good time, even when illness, sorrow, and hardship
strike, as they do from time to time. And my
friends just love to laugh, but are all there in a
second if I falter, if I feel overwhelmed, or unable
to take the next step. I have a cheering section,
and now it's loud and clear all across the planet.
And you can count me as part of your happiness
team too. It's coming right back at you across
the miles.

That's so exciting it's almost hard to sleep at night
when I contemplate it. It reminds me of how I
used to lie awake at night when I was 12 thinking
about the universe. Now I lie awake at night thinking
of all of you, wondering when I will make that big
trip to visit my blog friends, have a coffee and
settle down somewhere together to draw, or

So I am really lucky and really blessed, and
overwhelmingly happy with my lot.

Fast Skype sketch of Terry

The pictures tonight are the last in the series
of drawings I drew for the Skype party at the
CES event in Las Vegas. Check out the earlier
entries from the past week to find out more.

Terry Brock, Achievement Systems

The fellow I'm featuring tonight definitely knows
how to be happy. I only talked to him while I
was drawing him at the Skype party, from the
image I could see on my computer. He was
funny, witty, and having a wonderful time
joking with me on Skype chat while I drew.

Have an I-choose-happy day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Soporific Sunday

When I was a little girl I used to dread Sunday. It
was as though the whole day had a hush placed
over it like the giant nets they used to catch bears.
The good part was that if I made it past church,
and my father's insistence on "serious" music,
there might be a ride in the country so my Dad
could take photos of my little brother and me
-- usually a pleasure, and ice cream cones in the summer.
And although I'm not a big fan of red meat,
the Sunday roast was not some cheap cut
my mother cooked in the pressure cooker with
so much gristle that the dog kept banking on our
kid-sensitive gag reflexes.

Sunday dinner was opulent. My father carved
the roast, or turkey, there were fresh baby potatoes, or
generous baked potatoes melting large dollops
of butter, and the whole menu was topped off
by one of my mother's fancy desserts, which
got better and more sophisticated in scope
with every passing year. Ultimately
she could throw together a glorious glazed raspberry
French tart, and her own home made ice cream,
or raspberry sherbet at short notice.

These days as I know I've said before I bask in
the nothingness of Sundays. Today it is even
sunny -- although frighteningly cold. I am
going to try and go for a walk with the dog.
That may not sound that impressive, but
because of my broken ankle, I've been leery
of walking in the snow, and I fell on Friday,
which makes me doubly edgy.

If that's not successful there's the Globe and Mail
which I devour from Focus (world issues) to Fashion
(Karen von Hahn is one of my favorite writers in the
paper). Then there's visits with friends, talking to my
mother on the phone, Skyping Christopher who's
in Taiwan for Chinese New Year, talking to Sam at university.

After all is said and done, Steven and I will have a
modest dinner -- nothing like the feasts my Mother
used to serve -- but the main thing is it's his night to
cook. So I get to paint, prepare my notes, and revel
in nobody needing me today.

black marker on watercolour paper
12 x 9 inches

Here's a picture of Cisco Cheng from the Skype party.

Have an I-can-so-sleep-if-I-want-to day.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Goodbye to the Christmas tree (inside)

Every year we get a Fraser Fir, because we keep our Christmas
tree a long time. These trees hardly shed at all -- and are a snap
to clean up when they do. Today even before I woke up,
Steven had packed away all of the decorations and while
I was drinking my coffee he was pulling the large, still green
tree out the front door. Is it on the curb? Nope.

Instead it's mounted in a snow bank in the backyard, and
the birds are having a party in it. (Steven sprinkled it
with birdseed.) So it looks almost like a Christmas tree
again, only this time it's decorated with live birds.

What's next? For however long the snow and cold last,
the tree will stay there, shedding its needles, sheltering
the birds, and eventually it will turn brown, the snow will
melt, and Steven will chop it up and put it out at the curb
as yard waste.

the finished drawing done from Skype reference
black marker on watercolour paper
12 x 9 inches

Here's another picture from the set of drawings I did
for Skype.

Have an isn't-the-weekend-just-the-best? day.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Catching the sparkle

When someone commissions a portrait with me
I usually go to the client's house, and take in as
much information as I can. I look at the colours
they like, I notice their taste in objects, if music
is playing I pay attention to what they listen to.
All of this is preparation for me so I can
understand my subjects and get to know enough
to put them at ease when they come to my house
and I start to paint.

By contrast with the Skype drawings I'm featuring
this week, I was introduced to the subjects over
the computer. Each person would sit down and
start talking to me, and I had to grab an image
and an idea of who the person was instantly.
When I paint a portrait I'm hoping to
get more than a likeness. It may sound corny,
but in addition to making a painting I can be
proud of, I want the person's soul to shine through.

Original quick sketch of Nicole at the Consumer Electronics Show
as she was seen through Skype

When the woman in the drawing I'm showing you
tonight sat down, we made an instant connection.
She was surrounded by a group of friends who watched
me draw her, and laughed and joked with her while
she sat and I drew. She was having a wonderful
time at the show and enjoying the process of
having her portrait done, and I think that shows.

A more polished drawing
black marker on watercolour paper
12 x 9 inches

One of the lessons my blog has taught me is that
talented and kind people all over the world
can unite through this medium. I think I was
supremely lucky to meet the people I met through
Skype at the Consumer Electronics Show too.
(The entries of the past two days will tell you the
rest of the story.)

Have a being-delighted-by-the-artists-you-know day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Skype art

When I got my IMac for my birthday just over a year
ago, I had no concept of how this one computer would
revolutionize my life. I am minimally technologically
savvy, but slowly becoming more so with the help
of friends and family.

I knew it would be a good computer for my art but couldn't
have imagined in my wildest dreams that it would be
changing the ways I actually produce art. How wrong
could I be.

Enter Skype -- the online video phone system -- that's
free!!! Wow. With a program called "Capture" on my
Mac I can photograph the people I'm talking to on Skype.
So when I talk to my son in Korea, I can take his picture
as often as I want. And I have been. Some interesting
drawings have resulted from the casual, intimacy of
the Skype visual image on his laptop, and even some
paintings of Christopher and of my friend Flora in
Nova Scotia.

black marker on watercolour paper
12 x 9 inches
But the most exciting thing I've done with this medium
yet had to be drawing people I'd never met, who I
met on Skype as they attended a Skype party at the
Consumer Electronics Show. I talked to you about this
a bit yesterday. But here's the scenario. I'm in my
upstairs bedroom in my little semi in Toronto, Canada.
They are at a loud, exciting party at one of the biggest
electronic shows in the world. There's a live band,
plenty of camaraderie, and a fascinating atmosphere,
and I am in on it, and recording it visually through
the medium of pen and ink. They are in low
lighting, a little bit nervous, and the music is so
loud that they can't hear what I say. So we start
to Skype chat, another cool feature of Skype, and we
talk that way.

It's hard to imagine isn't it? But in a way Howard
Wolinsky, the U.S. Skype blogger is right that it was
like an age old practice artists have frequently tried.
Many French Impressionists drew in cafés, to get the
feeling of the day. Last year one of my sons
worked in a restaurant/pub here and we'd go
out for dinner there every Friday night. There
was loud music, and lots of fun, and I'd take
my sketchbook, or draw on a napkin.

I have always had a practice of drawing any time
I'm waiting, in a doctor's office, airport, or
restaurant. Skype makes that experience more
intimate. The faces I drew who were guests
at the Skype party at the CES were in close range,
and aware, intensely aware that I was drawing

I drew rough sketches during the event, and
more polished sketches afterwards. I
sincerely hope the sitters are happy with the results.

Those of us who blog are already plugged into
a community of art bloggers. We know we are very
lucky to have this community. My experience
was just a vibrant extension of that connection
we value so highly.

Have a welcoming-new-experiences day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Big fun with Skype

On November 22nd, talking to my friend Flora on Skype
I decided to draw her. I had a sketchbook and pens on
my desk, and whipped off a little marker drawing while
we talked, which I posted.

A Chicago journalist, Howard Wolinsky, saw that drawing
and contacted me. On December 5th he did a video
interview with me over Skype and you can find that
on YouTube.
The Public Relations company for Skype,
Kaplow in New York, saw that interview, and decided
to hire me for an event they were doing at the
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.
So on January 9, from 11 p.m. Toronto time, to 1:30
a.m. on January 10, I drew five portraits of people
attending a Skype party. This whole project would
have been impossible without the wonders of Skype,
and wouldn't have happened at all if it weren't for
the blog, and Howard.

Everyone I worked with was a complete delight,
helpful and understanding of my requirements
for more light than you standardly find at a
cocktail party, patience on the part of the people
I was drawing, and all of the other small details.

black marker on watercolour paper
12 x 9 inches
This week I'm going to start showing you these
drawings on my blog. As I have six, I can show you
one a day for six days. Enjoy.

I know I enjoyed making them -- a complete departure from
my painting work.

Have a ready-for-great-good-to-come-your-way day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A beautiful day for Barack

People everywhere I went today were smiling like
they shared some huge secret. Some Canadians
are reserved about saying what's going on, but
instead people just smiled like crazy. It's really
cold here -- Toronto at its prettiest. A snowy
wedding cake of a city, decorated by a cake
artist who likes a bit of a Group of Seven winter
pine tree thrown in for an added dimension.

The drive to school was so glorious. At lunch I
listened to the inauguration address in the office
I share with two other teachers. I was alone, and
enjoyed every word. At the end one of my students
came in and sat respectfully listening, and nodding
her head with me at each point we agreed with.
Obama! Obama!

Tonight I went to paint with my art group, after
a long, long day of teaching north of the city,
and I am tired now, but happy, completely

Portrait sketch
acrylic on canvas
14 x 16 inches

The painting I'm including is the little portrait
I did in class. The model was almost too pretty,
if there's such a thing. I have not done her
beauty justice, but I did have fun. I tried
painting on a white ground, but won't do that
again. The coloured ground gives a painting
some oomph right of the bat. Back to that
method tomorrow.

Have a world-let's-be-proud-of-ourselves day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Men in Hats

Class sketch of a man wearing a hat
acrylic on bond paper
My apologies to all the men out there who absolutely
love their hats. For me one of the unattractive parts
of winter is that men and women, but especially men,
are forced to wear hats. I'm probably alone in this, but
because I like to see men's hair, or even lack of hair,
more than a hat, I dislike the toque. No don't pile
on the examples of great hats on men, I'm sure they're
out there, I am simply not fond of them.

I'm only writing about this because I found an image
from one of our art group evenings. This poor
man had on a black fedora. The light was so dim in
our room that I could barely see his face, hidden in
the shadow under the hat. As I am particularly fond
of painting faces, that was not ideal. However,
when I go to work with the group, I try to paint
what's been arranged by all the people who get there
before me. So this night it was a man in a hat.

Beneath the hat he had a lovely face, but perhaps
he didn't like wearing it either, because he looked
glum. Now don't get me started on baseball caps,
especially backwards baseball caps. Where's the
positive? I love looking at the man I live with
without a hat, and yes when he has to wear one
I can't wait until he takes it off.

Have a wearing-your-hat-proudly day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eyes on Obama

This afternoon we watched the live coverage of the Obama
concert for a little while, and then ate our dinner in front
of the TV watching the entire show later. Like millions
of people around the world we were deeply moved,
deeply hopeful, and like the crowds in Washington
we were in thrall to Obama. It was a teary supper,
and a magical show.

Obama was graceful, clearly moved himself by the
tribute, and as always a compelling speaker. Canadians
who admit that they admire him wish fervently that
we could get a leader we cared about that much.

I don't have much to show you today. In a couple of
days I'll be able to show you the drawings I've been
working on all day today, (except for during the breaks to
watch history happen).

Class painting
acrylic and oil pastel on bond paper

Here's a close up of a painting I did with my art
group at the Don Valley Art Club. When I look
at work like this I'm always surprised at the
number of colours I used. I'm sure that was my
rebellion against a teacher I'd had who boasted
about only using three colours all the time. I was
cured of that as any kind of virtue when I took a
course with people in California who must have
owned every watercolour ever made.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"It's too cold to paint"

I was at the art store this morning picking up supplies
and asked one of the young women at the counter if
she'd been painting lately. She usually talks to me about
what she's working on, but not today. With an entirely joyful
and mischievous look on her face, and a lovely pink crochet
scarf around her neck over her black sweater and jeans she said,
"nothing much. It's just too cold to paint -- I mean who wants
to? I'm hibernating." I laughed because a lot of my friends
lately have either said that they want to be like the bears and
hibernate, or that they simply are hibernating whenever the
opportunity arises.

The beach where Christopher and Megan stayed
decorated for New Year's Eve

So for all of you out there who need an escape, here are
some photos of my son and his girlfriend's Christmas vacation
in Thailand. I've told you before that Christopher is
working in Korea, so he and Megan
wanted to take in the local sights while they were there.
Thailand is much closer to Korea, than Toronto. And
we are currently deep in the cold, white stuff --snow.

A Thai temple
decorated in gold

Christopher says I would
love the gold everywhere
Here's a sample

Some of the temple cats are Siamese
because Thailand used to be Siam.
The one on the left looks like our Fiona.

Have a we-can-dream-can't we? day

Friday, January 16, 2009

What's on your desk?

Last week when I was working at school a parent came
into the office and started reading the spines of the
books on the bookshelf. "I'm always curious about
what people are reading," she said. When I worked
for a big oil and gas company I was interested in what
people had on their desks. One sign of a higher position
in the hierarchy was a completely empty desk. So an
executive's desk would typically be an expanse of mahogany
with an elegant (never used) pen set, and perhaps a small
wrought iron sculpture of a bull, or a man on horse back.
I'd walk in across the broadloom with my notebook and briefcase,
and that was always more clutter than the V.P. could bare
-- me + notebook (oh and pen) + briefcase. It was standard
practice to ask the secretary (always a woman) to take the
briefcase (no matter how slim and classy) away. She almost
always hid the offensive item in a cupboard until I emerged
from my interview.

In that circumstance status = empty desk. By that
gauge I am lowly indeed. My desk seems to grow its own
new conceptual art piece daily. Here's a random sample from
today's: coffee mug (a must), scissors, soggy cat toy (a fake mouse
taken away because the cat was eating it). Three glass jars of pens,
and one antique glass cream jug of pens, a Mavis Cheek novel,
a butter knife (used to separate pieces of watercolour paper
from the block), a journal, wooden triangles to go into canvas
corners, my course timetable from school, a roll of Scotch tape,
a coloured print of a painting, and The Book of Fruits, The
Complete "Pomona Britannica" by George Brookshaw.
The book is absolutely lovely and was on sale for $2.00
at Indigo.
Of course that's more or less the surface level --
the upper surface of the pile.

But I'm curious. What's on your desk? My desk doesn't have
any drawers, but I know that's not enough of a reason for
its clutter. On TED TV I saw a software invention that would
make your computer desktop look as crowded as my desk, and
I couldn't completely grasp the advantages of extending the
clutter to one of the predictably orderly places in my life.

Winter in Toronto

On a side note, it's bitterly cold here today, and a huge section
of the city was without power for 24 hours. So if you live
in a southern area, enjoy your warmth.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In the beginning there was feeling, form and light

I have a hard time drawing or painting in Nova Scotia
when we're on holiday, but I usually give it a try.
The days are so long and languid, the nights filled with
cribbage and P.E.I. oldies stations. The slow days
eventually make me miss my art, and as I've usually
hauled along most of my studio, I take out some
supplies and start.

Gesture painting
acrylic and oil pastel on watercolour
16 x 20 inches

This is a fast painting sketch I did of Steven when we
were out there a couple of summers ago. I like the
strength of both the colour and the beginning, and
I like the fact that it can't go anywhere from here,
because even the way Steven sits on vacation is
completely different than this gesture at home.
Funny -- isn't it, how radically different we are
when we have no commitments, nothing more pressing
than whether to eat now or later, and where -- run
by the tides, waiting for the late afternoon low tide
at the beach. I miss you Nova Scotia, and my little

Have a loving every gesture day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Attention Span

I've been thinking all day about the differences in the way
artists work. When I was a student my art teachers
encouraged me to sit, sometimes for as much as half
an hour just looking at the model. It was great advice,
but it isn't the way I work anymore. Now I take in my
information in 10 to 15 minute sessions, and that seems
to be how I work the best. That doesn't mean that I never
sit, or stand for an hour or two at the easel, or at a table
drawing. It just means getting away from the work gives
me a space, to both think about the next step, and consider
my direction.

The training probably started when I worked with art
models in a group. They are smart enough to take a break
every 20 minutes or so. This forces the passionate artists
to stand back and consider what's happening, then everyone
goes and gets a cup of tea, talks about something else, and
comes back at the end of the break with renewed vigour.

I did some work on my little painting today.
The light parts will change and become
more interesting. It is still in the
blocking in stage.
acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches

Many artists need long, private hours to produce their
work. Perhaps because raising a family I have always
had distractions, and other obligations, I've learned
not just to work around them, but to need the escape
from what I'm doing, so I can get back to it.

Speaking of which -- thanks for being here, and teaching
me so much.

Have a getting-back-to-it-happily day

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Into the paint

I'm working on a series of drawings, but for a break I needed
to get into the paint. The kitchen at the moment is just
at its best and was graced the other day by a wonderful
young woman who works for me sometimes when she's
back from university. She's heading out to England soon
to study, so I have been delighted to see her again, and
inspired by the sight of her sitting working at the kitchen
table in a setting of spectacular roses, and behind her a row
of tulips in pots and large glass bowls of fruit.

So I started a little painting to rest my hands from drawing,
and today from teaching too.

First I painted a 12 x 12 inch canvas
with a peachy ground

Then I did a light sketch in charcoal
It shows up here as red,
but is really black on the colour shown above

Then I began putting in some colour
I started with the darks,
because the roses are a light peach colour
and so is the model's face

Here I started putting in some of the lighter
colour. It could all be underpainting at this point.
And that's as far as it's gone.

Rationale? I started with a peachy pink ground, because the darker colour
in the roses will be that colour. So will the shadow on the face perhaps.
I wanted that warm colour to infuse the painting. Plus it feels spring like.

Speaking of spring -today when I started for home at 5:30 the sun was just
setting. The light is really returning. My heart lifted again. When I left for the
Christmas break, I'd leave my last class and walk to my car under
the stars and the moon, and today the light was the colour of
this canvas ground.

It's time for bed now. I have a whole roster of new young people
to teach, lots of work to do, and today felt all day like one of
the luckiest people on the planet. I guess that's true isn't it.

Have a reading-the-signs day.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Crazy busy

A week or so ago, I began painting the
plain book with acrylic paint

Today among other things I worked on my datebook.
I teach a psychology course on school success
tomorrow and we start with the agenda. As
an artist I need to bump the standard issue
8 1/2 x 11 datebook up a notch, so I paint mine,
and put on the letters with gold sign painter's
plastic. I still have more to do, but I'm getting there.

Today I cut out and applied the
letters (I know they're a bit awkward)
and lined the inside covers.
I'm not quite finished that part,
but the book is operable and a
wonderful girl who works
for me entered all my
classes. Ready to roll.

I promise to be more interesting tomorrow. No deep
thoughts today, except -- goodbye George Bush.
That's plenty deep enough.

Have an enjoying-every-second day.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The tulips are back!

I must live very moment to moment, because each
small change in my life seems enormous. Today
we took down the last of the pine/spruce/cedar and
other evergreens I don't know/ garlands. The Fraser
Fir tree is still green and the needles aren't falling,
so we'll keep it for another week -- but I am just
about ready to let that season go. In the day if I'm
not home I close up the studio doors so the cats
can't decide to rampage through my canvasses.
While the pine garlands were there, over the entrance
to the living room, and decorating the fireplace,
I'd open the door, and all that greenery gave off a
strong smell of the woods. It was like opening the
door to the forest. But the time to clean up had come.

The next phase, of decoration, which I'd completely
forgotten is wonderful tulips in pots from the
Avenue Road flower shops. Three pots full cost
something like $9.00 and last for about two weeks.
So I bought them today, and Steven bought me
sweet smelling, soft peach coloured roses, and
the place is starting to turn itself toward spring.

I've been drawing. Soon I'll be able to show you
a lot of drawing, but for now here is one I did
of myself. I am thinking about line -- not in the
totally conventional sense, but as in -- where would
a pop of dark line be expected, or a surprise. Still
working on that. But I like the expression on my
face in this one.

Self portrait
marker on watercolour paper
9 x 12 inches

Why do artists paint themselves? 1. For practice,
2. Because they are ready models. 3. Because they
either like or hate themselves. 4. Why do artists
paint anything that they paint? -- because that is what
they do. or just because.

In a day or two my tulips will be tall, and bending
like ballerinas, and if I'm lucky they'll let me
paint them.

Have an I've-got-lots-of-plans day.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A full house

Fiona and Timbah watch the birds
-- their idea of entertainment

The people who run my house tell me they want more
"quality time". That's what they used to call the half
hour I spent reading my children stories before bed
on weeknights when I was working at a full time job.
Those snatched moments after a long working day
were supposed to be quality time, not a mad dash
through pick up at daycare or school, whipping home
(luckily across the street), rushing through dinner
which we always ate together at the table with
flowers and candlelight even when the menu was
beans and rice, then bed for the children,
and maybe an hour before sleep, and the whole
whir of it began again. Whew! I really feel for

Timbah, Zoey and Fiona wait for supper

Well now that we've got our babies
out the door for the moment, the cats and dog
demand the same "Q" time. So as I've been
working quite a bit for the past few days --
got to go.

Have a life-is-fun-and-easy day.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The light returning

Someone on the radio today was asking when do
we stop saying Happy New Year? That probably
depends on how you view the year. The rule
the host offered was 11 days. I think we should
be able to say it for as long as we want to.
According to the experts we have to stop though
-- because we're getting ready for Valentine's Day
I guess. I love this period between the festivities
of the holidays, and New Year's Eve, and the
incredible newness of the year. It feels like we
are all awash in promise. And in the middle
of all that feeling of possibility up in the northern
part of the continent where I live the light starts
extending. Later and later each afternoon.

For an artist this is probably the greatest
gift -- more time to see what's out there, more
colour, more. In some ways whether we put on
airs about our talents, or our sophisticated
methods, underneath it all we are little kids.
And more to see is exciting to us. We are
just like the seven-year-olds who want to
stay up later when the days get longer --
we are soooo happy.

The light hits the lilies
Those huge fruits are
oranges and lemons!
I have never seen lemons bigger
than baseballs before.

I don't have a drawing for you today yet,
but here's how the light struck my kitchen
a couple of days ago. Yippee.

Stay happy.

Have a you-are-the-light-of-my-life-sweetheart day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The body blue

For awhile a little over a year ago I was occasionally
determined to try a new background colour. Blue --
which as a primary is certainly one of my favorite
colours -- was for the most part unsuccessful as a
background colour. It seemed to deaden skin.
I know many classical portrait painters recommend
going for blue in the shadows on a face, and I've
tried it for sure. But all blue?

Picasso did it, and it worked. Me not so much.
Still this one drawing (I don't think I've shown it
to you before) that I did in art class is a happy
Blue figure study. The model had a lovely body,
great composure (that is she didn't complain
or twitch, an undeniable temptation in the
sometimes chilly studio our art group inhabits.)
She was what wonderful models always are --
an inspiration.

Figure study
acrylic and oil pastel on watercolour paper
24 x 36 inches

So I'm putting this one on the blog.

Big day tomorrow, I have got to go and rest
my interviewing voice, and my drawing arm.

Have a hey-the-light's-coming-back day!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Surprise packages

It's funny how you forget about whole sections of your
life when you don't do an activity for awhile. I was
going through my files and found this little journal
that I did on watercolour paper for a workshop I
designed and taught a couple of years ago
called Art Bypass: how to get creating again
when you've stopped.

The Workshop journal
Watercolour paper bound in red
satin ribbon

I also teach journal writing in my English classes,
and a course called Writing to Vision for artists.
But Art Bypass combines everything from all my
other courses with the simple idea of having fun,
and starting small when you haven't done
any art over a period of months and years for
whatever reason.

Close up of the journal cover
Watercolour base,
black and white xeroxes painted
cut out images
watercolour crayons
gold sign maker's plastic (one of
my all time favorite things)

It's so easy to get into the Michelangelo, Bernini,
trap -- look at their work, and decide "there's no
hope for me." I'm not really a collage artist, but
I thought it would be a fun way to combine
journal writing and art. So I painted pages of
watercolour paper on both sides, xeroxed some
family photos, cut images out of the newspaper
and started my little journal. It's a terribly
time consuming job -- collaging, so I didn't get
far -- but I like how far I did get, and I thought
you deserved some colour.

Inside the theme continues
collage of a mix of images
coloured stars
sign maker's plastic gold
watercolour crayon

The total queen of this art is Teesha Moore.
Her attention to detail, humour and playfulness are
a great cure for a case of art depression.

How it all begins:
watercolour pages folded and held together with
small photo collaged on of my niece, Quincy

Meanwhile I hope you never suffer that disease.
I have been talking to students all day today,
and it's time for bed.

Have a wow-look-what-I-did-I'm-great! day

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Those run around days

Tomorrow we are expecting ice, and snow. Knowing I'd be
out in that I was desperate to get snow tires today. I've never
put them on before, but every winter when I drive to class
it's a nail biting, hair raising experience in bad weather.
So I did it.

I also took back the beautiful art book Steven gave me for
my birthday, which is so heavy I actually hurt my arm
carrying it. It's a book about Canadian women artists
who are certainly not given enough space, either in
Canadian art books, or art galleries. But I've told you
that before. Independent Spirit is a huge book filled with
gorgeous work by Canadian women artists, and I was determined
to get an excellent copy. Steven was not well at the time
of my birthday, and didn't notice that the book was
damaged all the way through. I felt great about
getting a perfect copy because it was such a deeply
thoughtful gift.

I know I am so lucky to have a partner who respects my
work, and helps and encourages me any way he

Quick sketch of my son Christopher
trying for minimal line
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

I've been reading essays for school -- so many essays
and as I was getting them by email, I printed them
off before I read them -- and I also ran out of ink
today, so had to go out and buy cartridges. Not the
most riveting news -- but vital to my life all the same.

Mary Talking
more detailed sketch
in black and orange marker on Bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

All in all it has been a productive day.
I'm including a very quick sketch tonight, and
another more in-depth drawing.
I did the sketch of Christopher talking to him on
Skype, and started the sketch of Mary while talking to
her on Skype. I like the way she looks mid-conversation.
I couldn't see her husband Peter very well, so he's far
less defined. Mary is the friend I've known longest in
the world. I love her, and miss her. She lives in
Vancouver, at the other side of the country. Whenever
we get together it feels like there's just been a short
break in the conversation.

Have a keeping-your-mind-joyous day!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Joyous News!

We are over the moon excited here by the news
that my son is back in Korea, safe after his
vacation in Thailand. And most wonderful
of all he proposed to his girlfriend on a beach
under the stars and they are now engaged.

Christopher and Megan

I've been working on a bunch of drawings today.
If I get them finished in time I'll show them to
you. Meanwhile, I wish Christopher and Megan
were home so that we could toast them with a
glass of Veuve Cliquot and have a special
meal together. We could not be happier.
Megan is just a fantastic person and the two
have been in love for years.

A Visual Celebration for the happy pair

My son decided to propose at least a month before
they left for Korea in June, so he has kept his
plans a secret for a long time. That must have been
very hard for a completely direct person like him.
Their homecoming sometime in the late summer will
be cause for a party for sure! So that's my news.

Have a falling-in-love day!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The long drive out of the holiday

Some of my friends have already written about how
much they love their children, and how the time
spent with them on holiday means so much. Sam
has been home from school since December 20, and
we've had a lot of fun together. The nice thing about
a long visit, is that you get to just hang out
together. We had so much fun one afternoon just watching
Robin Williams videos on You Tube. My family
loves funny above all, and Robin Williams is extremely

Today we spent 10 hours driving Sam back to
university, which ended our very happy holiday
with him. It was a beautiful drive. Cramped up
in the city, I forget how inspiring the countryside
is all the way along the route. We listened to a
long and complicated novel on CD, The Painted
Drum by Louise Erdrich. And though I fell
asleep a few times on the long drive home,
I can't wait to hear the rest of the story.

Sam and Steven in front of Sam's university residence in October

In Windsor we had dinner at a Lebanese restaurant.
The food was excellent and I wished I had my
sketchbook because the place was jumping. The
music was amazing, children of all ages ran and
danced, and slept in their parents arms. And I
saw something I've only seen in paintings before,
people gathered around tables smoking a herbal
mix through hookahs. (No not what you're
thinking -- something like cigar tobacco, but
milder). The meal was an exotic
break between the two long drives.

There's always a clutch in my throat and the threat
of tears, even some actual tears when I say goodbye
to one of my children. The truth is I just love being with
them. But our lives are so busy, I know that work
and friends will fold around the space Sam leaves
until he comes home again.

Have a wow-what-a-great-day! day.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Managing time for art

I listened to the Art Biz podcast
on thinking about what to improve on for the
new year, and I thought I have to figure out a way
to spend more time on my art. I don't want to achieve
this by losing any other part of my life. I just want
analyze what I do each day, and carve out half an hour here,
and 20 minutes there to spend more time painting.

Man talking
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
I'm not alone in thinking this way today. Apparently
January 3rd is the day when everyone starts to regret not
living up to their New Year's resolutions. I
actually don't make them. But I like the idea of
thinking about goals for the year.

It's been a whirlwind year in my art life in the
past year, and I realize that in some ways I'm
just on the very edge of that whirlwind now.
This year -- all I can say is watch out!!! I have
plans. As Mike Dooley of says -- "Are
you thinking big -- I mean really big!!! Good
because that's exactly how much of it you're
going to get."
Well I'm thinking big. Big
paintings, big sales, big joy, big satisfaction,
and big help to anyone I can help along the
way. Plus I wish you big plans, big success,
big love, big joy too. Really, really big.

Once again I do say thank you to everyone who's
been a great help to me this year, to all my
clients, to all my friends, and family. I don't
think I can say thank you enough.

Man in sunlight
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

I've been working on thinking about line for
the past few days. So today's offerings are a
couple of drawings I've done of my brother
from images in very different light. He is
certainly one of my favorite people, and
drawing him makes me feel like I'm in a
conversation -- even when he's not in it.
These were started when I was talking to him
on Skype.

Have a thinking really big day!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Keeping it simple

I did get out the paints today, to paint my date book cover red.
But more on that another day. I also painted a canvas red
as an underpainting and may start a little portrait tomorrow.

Today I drew. Working on David Lobenberg's idea of less
is more,
I worked on simple ink sketches done with a brush
marker for the most part. The drawings are all done on white
paper, with black ink, but I'm having a hard time getting
the camera to see that reality.

A fast sketch of my friend Lyn
marker on bond paper
81/2 x 11 inches

I went to a great movie, which I highly recommend yesterday --
Slumdog Millionaire.
Steven and I and Sam sat riveted at the
story of a young uneducated Indian man winning at the Who
Wants to be a Millionaire game. It was terrifying, funny,
moving -- the whole gamut of emotions and sensations.
But watching it clarifies how far we have to go to make the
world equal for all -- to give every child a chance. That's
also true right here in Toronto. It's estimated that one child
in 6 in Canada lives in poverty. My students write about this
every year, and are shocked at the facts they uncover.

Back to drawing. This couple of weeks of drawing
instead of painting has been good for me. For one thing
the discipline of drawing is always important to a painter
trying to capture something like an accurate image.
Skip Lawrence is right when he says -- "it's not what
you see, it's what you make".
But what you see determines what you make in a portrait.

My brother Andrew
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

I know I went a bit overboard with the line on the dog, but I still
like this sketch of my brother's dog Tao. He is without a doubt
one of the cutest dogs I've ever met. I'm not taking anything away
from Zoey when I say this, she knows Tao is cute, and would
agree with me 100%.

marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
I hope you've had a happy day, and are back to the drawing
board or easel and liking the results.

Have a -what-do-you-know-it's-the-weekend-again! day.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I wish you the happiest of years

For the last couple of years I've asked our friends to write their
wishes for the coming year on pieces of paper that we
put up on a ribbon strung across the dining room. At the
height of the festivities they are funny and interesting,
but today they set the ideal tone for the year to come.
One friend asked for an end to greed, and an
end to war. She also asked for prosperity for all -- a
concept that would be a great driving purpose for this

I certainly wish you all prosperity. To me that means
something that a few of us asked for -- good health.
With health you have the energy to make the rest
of your dreams happen. Without it, the going gets
tough. Another friend asked for satisfaction -- saying
that that summed it up nicely. And I think she's right
too. I wish you satisfaction in all that you do.
Satisfaction denotes purpose, and everyone who
paints certainly has that. Satisfaction implies that
your purpose is fulfilled -- our wish in everything we
do. $10 million dollars would make one of my friends
happy, and I hope she gets it. That would be wonderful. She
would definitely use that money well.

The middle of the night crew
with me in the picture on the left where I belong

So Happy New Year. It's been a slow day, recovering
from last night's late finish -- a complete joy as usual.
We took the pictures a bit late, long after the midnight
toast. We distributed those glow in the dark rings
at midnight, and they make everyone look like they're
wearing psychedelic halos or neon art.

Our friends with Steven (wearing the neck sculpture)

Have a quietly glowing day.

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!