Monday, December 27, 2010

Sharks' Cap

Ian's Favourite Cap
Plain ol' pencil on paper

This portrait of Ian in his favourite cap came together easily probably because his happy face is so familiar. Ian's smile brings to mind some of the childhood stories he has told me.  When he was a wee boy in his birthplace, Arusha, now part of Tanzania, he had a male nanny who taught him to speak Swahili and gave him the nickname Chaloo, meaning "happy one".  Indeed, his pre-school years were happy ones spent playing on the edge of the jungle with his brothers (his sister came along later). As adults, Ian and his brother Mike have an ongoing rivalry about their chosen South African rugby teams: Ian backs the Sharks, Mike, the Bulls. The Sharks cap is part of that whole thing.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Friend

Summer Evening Fun
Pencil on Paper, about 8 x 10

Clarissa, the subject of this drawing is the same friend I painted over a year ago. My main concern this time was getting the likeness. That is the toughest part. I do see improvement on that score, although not yet perfect.  She is a pleasure to draw, such an unassuming beauty.

Best wishes to all of you for a peaceful Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

SAM and Pablo

Ellie on the Train

Last Sunday I travelled on the Amtrak train from Vancouver to Seattle with seven creative companions to see the Picasso exhibit at SAM (the Seattle Art Museum). We met at Terminal Station at 6:15 AM, coffee in hand, sleep in our eyes, but anticipation in our hearts. Once through customs and onboard, we snuggled into our adjacent seats, two sets of four, armed with sketchbooks, cameras, and art magazines. I was so excited to be amongst this company of fellow 'seers' that at one point I burst out to my immediate foursome "I think I'm over stimulated!".  I was trying to look out the window at the Pacific Coast rolling by, share the discoveries in International Artist magazine with Mauro, sketch Ellie, and chat with Catherine. On top of that I wanted to take out my camera and capture everything "on film". Like a kid at Christmas.

I managed to find my adult reasoning and calm myself to enjoy each experience one at a time. The four hour trip felt like an hour, we piled off the train and walked through the deserted Sunday streets of downtown Seattle. A quick lunch at the gallery cafe and we headed into the exhibit. Aaaah, the exhibit. Dozens of Picasso's paintings, drawings and sculptures from the artist's personal collection and on loan from the Musée Picasso in Paris. We explored separately and then together, talking about some of the pieces, sketching others, choosing our favourites. We stayed for hours sharing our awe.

After a stop in the SAM gift shop for Picasso books and show catalogues, we stuffed ourselves with enchiladas and quesadillas, washed down with beer and Marguerita's, then dawdled back along the streets, now dark, but festively lit with white strings of lights wrapped round tree trucks along the boulevard.

The ride home was no anticlimax - it was equally fulfilling - the camaraderie unmatched. Once again, our laughter dominated the car, but no one else complained. My guess is they would have joined us if there had been room. Many thanks to our art teacher, James, for organizing the trip and to all my fellow travelers for a day I am still savouring.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Grateful to Be Fortunate

Picasso and Friends, 6th Floor, Museum of Modern Art

I've been very fortunate this year - lots of travelling, inspiring work, healthy family.  In October, I visted New York City with my daughters. Sharing that adventure with them was priceless. And I love that city, I am quite sure that I could live there. Knishes and borscht at the deli. Theatre, dancing, music. I would spend alternate Sundays at the MOMA and the Met (excuse the name dropping but both were dreamy). Imagine having great art and culture nearby all the time.

A peak experience such as that trip reinforces how blessed I am and reminds me of the importance of helping out people who are less fortunate. This Christmas, we (the staff at my office) are putting together a hamper for a needy family: a single father, who cannot work because of significant health issues, and his two teenage sons whose mother passed away on the rough streets of East Vancouver. One of the boys has FAS. Their home is bare bones, hardly any furniture. They have to visit the foodbank weekly. Despite the hardships, the father works hard to be involved in the boys' school and to teach them about being good members of their community. My heart goes out to them.

Why am I telling you? As a reminder that there is a lot of poverty and pain in our local communities and if we can, we should help. Those two boys are at risk, they have little opportunity for advanced education and will be challenged to find meaningful work that provides a decent living. Life will be an uphill battle for them.

Do forgive me if I'm preaching to the converted. Many of you likely give back to your community already. For today, I'll be a little bird on your shoulder reminding you that there are many people in our country who need a hand to get by.

If you are part of a group that can put together a hamper, you can read here about the Surrogate Santa Project: 
If you can help a little with our hamper, please contact me

We still need a six foot Christmas tree, (we found a tree) lights and decorations
Contributions for a big Christmas dinner (we'll buy a grocery store gift card with any money we receive).
Gift cards for Future Shop, Movies, Pizza Hut, Safeway, Superstore.
The family also needs towels and blankets or comforters.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Tree Next Door

Oil on Panel
9 x 12

Midday autumn sun was coming through the leaves of the maple trees beside our home, creating dancing shadows on the white stucco walls. Painted using my pochade box.

Best wishes to all you Canadians celebrating Thanksgiving.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Three Minute Tour of Kruger National Park

Take three minutes and join me on a lively tour of a special place.
These are all my own photos taken on an August trip.
I hope you enjoy the break.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Ellen Reading
Pencil on Paper in my Sketchbook 9"x12"

Ellen, my youngest, sat quietly reading a book* that she is reviewing. I was aware that she was aware of me drawing and, accordingly, she sat far more still than she would have otherwise. Normally, she is on the move, an adult version of the child. Even in the womb she was a squirmy, bouncy bundle of energy. None of that showed during the evening drawing session.

*Above the Pavement - The Farm! Architecture and Agriculture at PF1
by Amale Andraos & Dan Wood (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010)
.....Now do you understand why I didn't include the title on the book cover in my drawing?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Selective Memory

Self Portrait from Memory
2B Pencil and Blending Stick in Sketchbook
About 8" x 10"

On one of my commutes last week, when there was no one in close vicinity for me to draw, I decided to draw myself from memory. This is a pretty good likeness but when I got home and checked in the mirror to compare my drawing with my reflection, it appeared to me that my memory is a bit selective. For example, I didn't draw wrinkles or sags. Maybe, I was simply remembering how I looked 10 years back.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

More Training

2B Pencil amd Blending Stick in Sketchbook
About 5" x 7"

This commuter was so completely focused on reading her book that she did not notice me drawing directly in front of her. I became bolder and was blatantly staring as I drew. She did not look up once in our twenty minute train trip. Worked for me.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Train-ing My Hand

Friday Commuter
Pencil in My Sketchbook 5.5" x 8.5"
Because I was feeling the strain of my busy life recently, I decided to get back on board with my surreptitious commuter-train sketches. Drawing provides me with the daily perk I need. This fellow above seemed suspicious of my actions but he said nothing.

One sweet young thing gave me permission to draw her, and in return, I gave her the completed work. She seemed delighted so I signed the work and gave her my blog address. She repeated my name out loud and showed nearby passengers the drawing. It was my stop and as I scurried from the train, I could hear a minor stir amongst the folks. It made me smile all the way home.

Standing offer - if you recognize yourself in one of my train sketches, you can have the drawing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Word of the Day - Plein Air

Evening in the Park
Oil on Canvas 9 x 12

I packed supper into a bag, some wine into a thermos and we headed out to Barnet Marine Park again on Friday evening. Most importantly I took my new pochade box. After a quick supper, I scouted out a painting spot and got started. Several curious onlookers stopped by. I didn't mind as long as they did not stop for too long - I had to keep painting as the light was changing fast.

This painting took me about 4 hours - 2 hours in the park, another hour in Picard's studio where I benefited from exactly the tips I needed and then an hour dabbing on the leaves. This is the first of many plein air paintings that I hope to do this summer. 

En plein air is a French expression which means "in the open air", and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.  Thanks to Wikipedia for that definition.  

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Word of the Day - Pochade

We recently had a picnic supper at Barnet Marine Park on Burrard Inlet about a ten minute drive from home. I was on the hunt for potential views to paint and I found at least one hundred. The image here is a photo, not a painting, so don't get too excited.

The next day I tried out my new pochade box. Pochade - pronounced pe-shod - is the French word for a sketch, generally used to refer to an outdoor sketch painted to catch the atmosphere and colours of a landscape. A pochade box is designed to carry the tools and supplies required to make such sketches and it has a built-in easel.  I can report that I felt trés French and definitively painterly using my pochade box, even though I was indoors at the time!  At least I was looking out the window to capture the feeling of the landscape.  
It was a test run on the new equipment. I learned to adjust the levers and wing nuts, used the sliding palette tray and I found the secret compartments. I am sure it will improve my paintings.
The photo here shows the pochade box sitting in my studio. The painted sketch is sitting in place snugly slid into the holder in the lid of the box. You can see my scene outside the studio window. In the background, top left corner, sits an unfinished still life on my easel.

The photo on the right shows the pochade sitting in my studio.
The painted sketch is sitting snugly in place in the lid of the box. Outside the window is the scene I painted.

The photo below shows the sturdy tripod with a 'rock skirt' in the centre of the legs. On windy days you can place a few rocks or a boulder in the skirt to hold the whole contraption down. My next steps: cut an inch off the tops of my long brushes so they fit into the brush tray and head out to a building supply store to buy a sheet of masonite and have it cut up into 9 x 12 panels to paint on.
More here on pochade boxes. I purchased mine online at Dick Blick. It arrived by Fedex in less than a week, a remarkable feat on shipments from the US to Canada. Now I'm getting really excited about the summer weather and painting outdoors.

Thanks Elsa for your tips on the pochade box.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Mixed Tapes and a Mixed-Bag Week

Pencil drawing,
(copied from an image provided in Picard's drawing class)

My first draft of this posting included a fair amount of whining about the letdown we can experience after a big event. I admit, I was in a blue state for a couple of days, but then finally had enough of it. There really is nothing for me to whine about when I look back over my last seven days.

I attended an art conference in Alabama where the air is warm and the vowels are long. Veeeery long.... try this in a somewhat high pitched, sing-songy voice "Thaaaang Keeew." 

I ate grits while there. It is just cornmeal! Who knew? Well, who north of the 49th parallel knew.

I heard inspiring words from Mark Carder, originator of The Carder Method especially his shoot-for-the-sky attitude embodied in his phrase to "paint like Rembrandt".

I found great kinship with like-minded artists who transformed from online forum buddies to in-person friends. And I had three paintings in my first art show.

Back in Vancouver ...I learned to use Camtasia to edit sound files for a YouTube video we are creating to publicize The Book. That is the start of fulfilling a long held desire I've had to learn to edit (beyond mixed tapes, which I used to tinker with endlessly for perfect transitions between songs).

What was that whining about anyway?

Web Finds
Interested in Vermeer? Check out this rich site

Can't sleep at night? Enrich your mind here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Be Here Now

Nell with Lipstick
Pencil on Paper 5 x 8 (from my sketchbook)

I was on the road for work for the past seven days. Coming home to Vancouver in April smells like heaven. I'll confirm that for you when I get there, but I'm sure that heaven must smell like budding poplars and blossoming cherry trees.

One of my stops on my travels was Calgary, Alberta where I visited my mother, Nell.  She is 87, has Alzheimers and stays in a care facility as she needs 24 hour care. She knows I am family, although it is not always clear to her just which family member I might be - sometimes her aunt, sometimes her other daughter. I'm just happy that she has comfort in my presence.

Nell has become the person I imagine she was as a child. She lives in the moment, aware of her immediate surroundings and her physical sensations far more than any outside expectations. As sad as it has been to see my mom lose her memory, there is something quite moving that comes from being with her now. Her life held many struggles that caused her depression, tension, and stress. All of that is gone and now she simply "is." She could be a model for the old seventies book Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass. 

Nell goes from moment to moment, breath to breath, meal to meal. Her attention is on what she sees in front of her. She still has language skills, but not much logic, no cunning, no ability to hide anything, no chance to trick herself or those around her, no need to pretend she is something she is not, no attempt to live up to someone elses' expectations, no worry about money or the future or the past.  Like a child, she is aware of hunger, fatigue, pain, heat, cold. She watches the people around her and seeks company when she needs it, but otherwise is content with the smallest of activities. She puts on lipstick. Her dresser drawers are tidy. She eats until she is full.

I see some lessons in there.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Portrait of Nikki
pencil on paper 18 x 24

Nikki is new to modelling, but has a good understanding of what is needed based on her experiences as an art student. She knows how to sit perfectly still and not change her expression despite the sometimes silly chatter going on around her.  We had a three hour pose with her. Portait painting is my next class.Yikes.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Long View

Oil on Canvas 16" x 20"

The pastoral Irish-like landscape in this painting is based on several photos I found browsing Google Images. Keywords: thatch-roof cottages, lush green hills, and grazing sheep.

As I painted this scene, I wanted to instill my feelings and impressions of another coastal view from a glorious evening walk with my daughter, Anna, in Nunavut last August. The summer sunsets in the Canadian Arctic last for hours and that is no exaggeration. That evening, our magical route from Apex into Iqaluit was along a coastline path looking out across Frobisher Bay. Peace seeps into my veins as I recall those hours. This photo of Anna shows where we walked. Although it falls short of capturing the reality it gives a taste to help trigger the mind's eye. 

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oh What a Feeling

Can I tell you about my joy? It comes to me when I finish creating something: a painting, a drawing, a perfect paragraph. The feeling is so pronounced that I recognize the moment it starts and I notice when it is missing.

This joy is not only a state of mind, it also brings physical sensations. As I write this, the joy permeates my body. I have tingling in my head, up and down my spine, in my torso, hips and shoulders. My chest feels as though it is expanding. The sensations can continue for hours. I feel like dancing - think whirling dervish. When the feeling is missing for too long, I start searching for what to do next to bring it back. I'm getting good at chasing and catching it.

The wave I'm riding today comes from completing a tough writing assignment yesterday. Good forward movement was made on The Biography.  Once again, doubts have given way to optimism.

Yes, I've found my groove, I've located my sweet spot. Whatever words we use for it, that feeling is worth chasing. And the way I can get the feeling is to be creative daily. Do you experience it?  I wonder if others have the same physical sensations from joy.
The drawing here was done in a portrait class at Picard Studios. My main focus was to get a likeness and I'm quite sure if the model's friends stumbled on this blog, they would recognize her face.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Bicycle

Watercolour on Paper 8 1/2"  x 11"
After FOTOSIMILE photograph*

A belated birthday present for Ed's mom. And I can tell you that Ed, my coworker, is a patient person. He waited weeks for me to get this painting done. Sometimes the creative muse chooses her projects on her own time. 

The painting is gone now from my studio and living a life of its own. I yearn to have it back to fix up things I see lacking. Ah, the curse of an artist.

* Based on a shot from FOTOSIMILE, thank you to the photographer, beeveedee, for permission to use her photo as a source for my painting. Take a look at her clean, inspiring work. I enjoy the gallery-type setup of her blog that displays all her photos at once. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

With Glowing Heart: An Olympic Comment from Vancouver

Morning Sun on Silver Lake
Acrylic on Canvas 11" x 14"

I've missed connecting with you this month.  Writing is filling much of my creative time, however, I am still painting and drawing - that keeps me grounded. Here is a sweet memory from a camping trip last summer at Silver Lake, Washington. I'll have some new art to post soon, a few pieces are in the works.

Things are coming along at Olympic speed. I feel that a gold medal may be in the offing for me. My main event is Writing the Book.

I am over the moon about learning how to complete a book and prepare a proposal for a publisher. Two things that I love about this project are the steep learning curve and the opportunity to amalgamate information into a cohesive result. That all sounds a bit nerdy but it is sincere. I feel elated, energized and optimistic. That is my own gold medal.

The steep learning is coming at me from two sources:

First, from a UBC Continuing Ed course, Non-Fiction Book Writing, taught by Angela Murrills. She is an accomplished Canadian journalist and author with reams of relevant information about book proposals and the publishing industry. Her feedback has been invaluable and encouraging. Hearing praise from someone other than family and friends is significant to me as a newbie, no offence to those of you that are my family and friends.

Second, from the Vancouver Public Library. Three weeks ago, I checked out all the books I could carry about writing and publishing. I stumbled on a gem: Write to Publish: Essentials for the Modern Fiction and Memoir Market by Christopher Klim.  He delivers the goods in a short and sweet way that gives me more knowledge and confidence to proceed.

Progress so far: I've gathered much of the content, I've written the back cover blurb, I've laid out the chapters, and identified about 75% of the scenes. I'm starting sections of the proposal for the publisher. I can't sleep for my excitement.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful  Oil on Linen 6" x 6"

This weekend I switched back to a smaller format to renew my spark. It helps me feel the exhilaration of painting when I complete something sooner. I expect that I'll calm down soon and try a larger format, but for now, this is working for me. That is another wonder of painting - I get to do whatever I choose, and that can be a metaphor for life. Rather than doing what I think I should, I can do what works best for me and this week small works best for me. Small is beautiful.

P.S. The apple is not real.  It is amazing how great fake fruit can look these days.  The bowl is real.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Golden Pot

The Golden Pot
Oil on Linen  11"x14"

Just a short note tonight as I post my painting - I think this one is complete now. The composition has changed a bit from the initial setup which I posted earlier. The wine cork is new and the thread and dried rose branch are gone. It was the pleasing shape of the pot inspired me to paint this. I hope you enjoy the it!

Here is the same painting I posted as a WIP (work in progress):

Friday, January 29, 2010

Are You Moved by Art?

Anna's Eyes, Pencil on Paper 3"x6"

Ellen's Eyes, Pencil on Paper 3"x6"

These drawings of my daughters' eyes were done after I attended two portrait drawing in Picard's studio. In the class, we focused on individual features: eyes, lips, noses, and ears.  I found those achievable to a moderately satisfactory degree. But, oh, when we tackled complete faces, I soon realized that lots and lots of practice is required. Slow down and observe is the rule.

Continuing on with my theme from last week about my discoveries on the purpose of art.....
I recently visited the Vancouver Art Gallery to view the show: Expanding Horizons: Painting and Photography of American and Canadian Landscape 1860-1918.

The viewing experience was so delicious that I returned the next day. On both visits, I was moved by some of the paintings to such an extent that I had to blink back tears of joy.  My chest expanded and I wanted to yell out something. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I'm too well-behaved to do that in the gallery. 

It made me wonder how that happens. How can I feel so good by looking at a painting?  Is something happening between the artist and me? Is there a scientific explanation to this?  How did the artist convey something wonderful in what he saw and put it into paint  so 100 years later I feel something  from that? 

Great music does the same thing for many people. For others, it might be a poem, a play or wonderful book that moves them. This deep feeling happens for me when I stand in front of a painting that I love, in the subdued quiet of a gallery space and let myself be. I might step in closer to see the brush strokes or to observe the thickness of the paint, trying to figure out how the magic happens. I might move back further to get the full effect. I want to absorb it, be one with it. The sense is overwhelming.  

I'd like to do that for you, my audience, with my painting and my writing - connect with you, move you. And that is one truly fine purpose of art.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No Small Topic - The Purpose of Art

Cottage on Corsica
Watercolour - 8" x 11"

This watercolour is a scene from the island of Corsica, France. My inspiration came as I 'virtually' toured the island in Google Street View. I painted it for Bill Guffey’s monthly Virtual Paintout.

The past week has been wonderful for my brain – my head is swimming with concepts about art and its value and about the creative process. What immense topics! Let me explain, at least in part.

Climbing into my WayBack Machine*, I recall a younger, slimmer Shelley, a Fine Arts Major, an earnest idealist about to graduate and puzzled about the value of art. “Perhaps” she said to herself, “my time is better spent on something more tangibly meaningful?” Before she found the answer to that question, her search was usurped by the birth of her first dear daughter and then, awhile later, another one, just as dear. Those babies were certainly tangibly meaningful, no questions there. Her life was busy, raising kids, helping run a family business, and so on (“so on” means divorce). Art was set aside and so was the question about its value.

Cut to today. 

This is the Me now, the older and wiser person and questions are arising again. Based on my past two years of painting workshops, regular drawing, and voracious reading about art and artists, I feel enough grasp on technique that I am freed up to consider the content and meaning of my paintings. My questions are: “Now that I know how to paint, what should I paint? Are beautiful pictures enough? Do I have something to say? What is the purpose? Is there value?”

Hooray for maturity, this time I am able to find the answers. You know that expression “Nothing has power like an idea whose time has come”. I am living that. Since I made the decision to paint and to write, I found that all the information that I need comes to me from all directions. I wonder if the answers were there all along and I just wasn’t listening. No matter, I am listening now. This path of discovery is enthralling.  It will take more posts to tell you about the answers I've found.  Stay tuned.

* The WayBack Machine is a term borrowed from the Internet Archive website.

PS... the Golden Pot is coming along. Still on the easel. I'll post it when finished.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Golden Pot for Thirty-Three

Golden Pot  Oil on Linen 11 x 14

Most of my creative energy has gone into writing for the past ten days. I'm continuing to work on Picard's biography, but I still manage to fit in some painting because I love it. Perhaps you'd be interested to see a work in progress. I think it is fun to see a half-grown painting. Here is the painting so far. The Golden Pot is not yet golden, but you can see a hint of it in the reflection on the bottle.

On the left is a photo of my still life setup.  Credit for this method of painting goes to The Carder Method.  See link on the right.

As of today, my faithful blog readership is at thirty-three regular subscribers and growing, slowly but surely. A couple of you add comments here on the blog and several of you send me email directly. Whatever means you use to reach me is fine.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Tarnished Pot, Blushing Apple, Drying Lemon

Oil on Linen Panel  6" x 8"

One small and insignificant reason that I am glad for this new year is because twenty ten is so easy to say after nine years of tongue twisters. I never did hear a good nickname for the years 2001 to 2009.  The Oh-ohs was about the best but I just read that one somewhere last week. 

Oh Nine was a superbly creative year for me.  Over coffee this morning, my better half listened while I reviewed my year. He tried to chime in a few times, but I dug in my heels and held the floor until I was done. That is tough for me to do in the morning because I take a couple of hours to wake up and he is like a chirpy robin from the moment his feet hit the floor.

Well, I won't put you through the same review; that would be just too self-indulgent. I'll just say that I know I am a better painter and a better writer than I was one year ago. I am thankful to all the artists and writers who share their knowledge in books and workshops and blogs. I will always do the same.

And yes, finally after six weeks of home improvements, ta da, my studio is once again operational.  I am painting again!  But, gosh, I forgot how. I eased back into it with this small painting that feels a bit tight and cramped (the painting, not the studio). I am trying to loosen up, sometimes it is just so hard to stop touching up.  I had to quit because I needed the lemon for our salmon at dinner.

Thanks for taking a look, thanks for reading my blog these past few months. Best wishes to each of you for a fulfilling year in 2010 - that is Twenty Ten.  Give your loved ones a hug.