Sunday, February 10, 2008

Still Snowing

Although February is the shortest month, even in a Leap Year, it always feels to me like the longest. It's almost six weeks since the Christmas holidays, and it will be six more weeks until Easter. Post holiday dieting and economy have lost their novelty value but not yet produced results to brag about. Although hours of daylight increase, they tend to be overcast, and my God, when was the last time I saw some colour outside of a grocery store?

Yes, I've got that most Canadian of disorders, the February Blahs. I often wonder if people in warmer climates are afflicted with this annual visitation of ennui, or is it purely for the enjoyment of northern peoples?

As far as I know, there is no escape from the Blahs unless you actually get on an airplane and go south. All the little dodges people try, like making Margaritas at home and pretending you're in Mexico, offer only the most temporary relief. You just wake up the next morning, all blah again, and with a headache too. Years ago there was an article in the Ottawa Citizen about a family that made an elaborate plan to beat the Blahs, involving an all-day drive with stops at all their favourite places, but of course everything went wrong and in the end they were the beaten ones.

But we're Canadian, eh? We know that if you just keep waking up, day after day, spring has to come in the end, and will be all the sweeter for the wait.

I'm trying to work out a composition for my snowblower picture, and thought this vertical format might be good.

And I'm working on getting lights shining through falling snow. So far I haven't got close.

There are always trees. Some of them are even green.

This isn't a sunset, just the reflection of one from the south facing window.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More Fun In The Snow

I've been having some fun with this little folded-paper sketchbook I made by following the instructions given on Nina Johansson's blog. (Thank you, Nina! I tried to link to you but couldn't get it to work for me. Still the techno-dummy on the block.)

It was really easy to do with just a ruler, scissors, a few minutes of measuring and cutting, and a sheet of BFK Rives printmaking paper that I got for Christmas. It folds easily and is heavy enough to take watercolour washes without buckling too much. The soft, almost fuzzy texture absorbs the paint in interesting ways, giving slightly blurred edges, which work well for me since that's how I view the world through my thick bifocals. I think the off-white colour works surprisingly well with these little snow scenes. There's no gouache used on the tree branch; the whitest areas are the natural colour of the paper.

I definitely want to try to make a more permanent sketchbook with this paper. The only fault I find with the little quickie book is that it has no firm cover, so it's hard to use the double spread. A somewhat larger book with a sturdy cardboard cover would be great.

I've been dabbling in watercolour for decades, using it frequently for sketching but always growling, "I'm not a watercolour painter", because for me the famous "happy accidents" never seemed to happen. There were lots of accidents, but none of them were happy. Results were almost always disappointing. I wasn't using cheap paper, either, although many of the images posted here such as the one below, were just scrawled in my Robert Bateman sketchbook.

Now, strangely enough, I have found two good papers in one month. The other one is handmade by a company with an Italian name - Rossini? Rossellini? - I've foolishly gone and lost the label. It was a sample pack of about five small sheets that I bought somewhere, sometime, probably at Wallack's in Kingston a year ago last September, which was the last time I was in a bricks-and-mortar art supply store. I seriously need me some more of this stuff. I have only one sheet left.

The paint seems to take on a life of its own on this paper, but in a good way this time. It does not race around in puddles and go splat. It looks for a good place to settle, and a good colour to settle with. It's so cool to just float the colours on and watch what happens. An expensive entertainment, I suppose, but worth at least the price of a good box of chocolates, and it isn't fattening. Oh, yes, this paper did curl a little, but I never did stretch it. The need to stretch paper is another reason I've never prospered with watercolour.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Stage

One good thing about recent events at our house is that I finally got the junk room cleaned out. Once it was all painted and clutter-free, we set it up as a sewing room, with the machine sitting invitingly on the table in front of the window. This was only for looks, of course; I haven't even sewn a button on in the last six months. But it is lovely to be able to leave the door open and see the sun streaming in whenever we pass by. It makes the whole house look bigger and brighter.

When this was my daughter's bedroom, I never spent much time looking out these particular windows, which face east and south. I'd forgotten that they give a pretty good glimpse of the river if you can ignore the big Mac's Milk sign stretched across it. Not good enough to put "view of the water" in the real estate ad, but good enough to lift the heart when the rising sun turns the water a peachy gold. I've always been able to spend hours at a time looking out a window, whether there was a view or not. It's one of those talents that don't just exactly fit on a resume.

As I started to sneak my art supplies out of the closet, a few at a time, it occurred to me that I could set the sewing machine aside, use the tabletop to rest my palette (and a bottle of water, and some brushes) and put it all away at the end of session, and the room would stay pretty neat. This has worked pretty well, except for the putting away and staying neat part.

So the sewing room is gradually morphing into a studio. Since lots of bloggers are posting pictures of their studios lately, this is temporarily mine.

Directly across the street in front of the south-facing window is a vacant lot with a storage shed on it. I've come to think of this empty field as a stage, with the storage shed on stage left and a little white house on stage right, and a backdrop of evergreen trees planted in the back yards of the next street.

Usually the stage is empty, but occasionally someone walks past with a dog. Or a garbage truck passes by. Or a school bus rolls up and ejects a bunch of children. That's about it for activity on Maple Street, until people start arriving home from work at the end of the day, and it's dark by then.

One day when I was sitting there, three children in snowsuits galloped onto the stage, which was covered with untouched snow. They ran around making trails of footprints, and flopped on their bellies, and threw sprays of snow at each other and tried to stomp out an area big enough for a rink.

Then they ran back to their house. When they grow up, they will probably tell their children that they played outside all day long in winter, but the whole event only took five minutes.

The next day a man appeared with a snowblower.

He cut random paths through the snow, more or less following the paths made by the children. I wondered if he was going to clear the space for a rink for them, but he didn't go near the little oval they had stomped. Perhaps he was just testing the snowblower. He also only stayed five minutes, which disappointed me because I want to make a picture of someone using a snowblower and it's hard to see most of the neighbours at work because of trees and other obstacles blocking the view. (Well, you don't expect me to go out in that cold to sketch, do you?) But the winter is young, and it's a year of heavy snow, so I hope to get it yet.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Breaking the Ice

Hello out there. I haven't checked my comments in a while, and didn't realize people were inquiring about me. I sincerely apologize for seeming to ignore you all. I am truly touched by your interest. Believe me, reading your blogs every day has been a lifeline for me during the past few months.

It's hard to talk about painful events. Everyone has enough pain in their own lives and I figure nobody needs a play-by-play commentary on mine. Nevertheless, here's a little background to explain my long absence.

My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April, at the end of the school year. She has been battling depression since her last year of high school, with baffling recurrences every spring and fall. We thought that for some reason she just couldn't stand the pressure of exams, never suspecting bipolar disorder because we never saw her in a manic phase. Until now. Lithium makes her sick. They're still trying to find the right medication.

As she was in no condition to take on a summer job, she couldn't renew the lease on her apartment in Kingston. She has moved back home, putting her furniture in storage and her education plans on hold. This arrangement is far from ideal. The quiet lifestyle that we enjoy here has limited appeal to a young woman in her twenties. Besides, living with her father's health issues is stressful in itself, and that's not a level of stress that she's well equipped to handle at the moment.

Her psychiatrist is in Kingston. You can imagine the awkwardness of that in a family with no driver's license and a $50 taxi ride from the nearest bus or train station. Let's just say life has gotten expensive, but we have been blessed with great friends who help as much as they can.

This has kick-started us into a decision we've been putting off for years: to sell our house and move to a city that has better transportation and medical facilities.

We've known for a long time that we would have to move one day. At the very least, we need a more handicapped-friendly house for my husband. He's no longer able to manage stairs, and he's not able to tolerate extreme temperatures, so air conditioning is becoming a must-have for summer. He also needs to be closer to a good hospital. However, he's always resisted change of any kind, even little changes like switching the furniture around. Up to now he has refused to consider even the possibility of moving. The seriousness of Alex's condition has finally convinced him to make the effort. Having made up his mind to it, he's become enthusiastic and is looking forward to it now, so that's one huge obstacle out of the way. As a Queen's graduate, he knows and likes Kingston. Ottawa would have been an equally acceptable choice, but the price of housing there is far beyond our budget, so Kingston is where we will be house hunting once we get to that.

We decided on this way back in early May, and hoped to have the house on the market sometime in June, after doing a thorough house cleaning and a few repairs, aiming to be out by early fall. It's all taking a lot longer than expected.

So many little home repair jobs were postponed over the last couple of years while we lurched from one crisis to the next. Now they all had to be done at once. Summer being the the peak busy season for workmen, getting professional help for some of the jobs proved impossible. I still have two doors that need hanging, and a loose stair railing that needs securing. I seem to have spent the entire summer on a ladder, with a paint roller or a screw driver, a drill or a staple gun; or else on my hands and knees with a scrubbing brush, or hauling huge loads of garbage to the curb.

I must say, the house has never looked so nice. We've finally reached the stage where we enjoy it, between sweepings and moppings. The windows are clean, the floors are clean, we are clutter-free. My pictures are hung on the walls instead of being stuck behind the furniture.

The cats are not so pleased - they are locked out of the bedrooms for fear of getting the new bedspreads all haired up.

The downside for me is that all my art supplies were stuffed into a closet, and there's no corner of the house that I dare to mess up enough to get into anything interesting. I'm looking forward to getting settled again, but have no idea when that will be. We haven't had any offers on the house yet. Of course, fall wasn't the ideal best season for selling, but there was no way to get the work done any sooner. We're now expecting to be here all winter at least. At some point we'll probably slip back into normal living, which will mean another big clean-up effort next spring... I know, it's useless to try to look that far ahead.

I did try to keep up my daily sketching, and succeeded (at least sporadically) into July, but then lapsed for a couple of months. In December I started dabbling again. The watercolour above is an attempt to capture a snowy day. I think it looks more like rain.

It feels good to get this posted. When you've neglected a blog as long as I have, you wonder what you can possibly say to start off again. If anyone is reading, Happy New Year.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I've Been Tagged!

Imagine my surprise, while reading Casey Klahn's blog,"The Colorist", to find myself in the list of blogs being tagged. Why, I had no idea that Casey knew I read his blog daily. Apparently, there are ways of knowing who's reading you. One of these days I really have to sit down and find out how to do all these things. Anyway, I'm totally flattered and also have a huge case of stage-fright. What's everybody looking at me for?

Hmm, seven little-known things about me. There are a lot of things I hope are not known, but seven little things I wouldn't be embarrassed to have known...


1. Most of my gainful employment has been as a secretary. I started in my home town in a lawyer's office. After moving to Ottawa I worked for five years at RCMP Headquarters as the secretary to the Officer in Charge of Criminal History Files.
The main thing I took away from that experience was the determination never to name a child of mine Wayne or Wade, since that was what all the criminals were named.

2. Some years later, I had a few temporary and part-time jobs that sometimes overlapped. I worked for the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, and at the same time for the Ottawa Torah Institute, a Jewish yeshiva. They were both very nice work-places, but working two part-time jobs sucks. There's a lot of travel time involved, and you don't get paid for that. I finally got a permanent job with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary order of Catholic priests and brothers. For a week I went around asking, "Did you hear the one about the priest, the minister, and the rabbi who needed a secretary?" The Anglicans and the Catholics laughed, but the rabbis only looked puzzled. I think they were waiting for the punch line. Unfortunately, I never did think of one.

3. I have a phantom child. My daughter Alex is an only child, but some people don't believe that. When she was little, she had one of those dolls that looks like a real baby, a girl doll named Jenny, but she wore a blue sleeper because we didn't believe in colour-stereotyping girl dolls. Alex took it everywhere, but she would get tired of carrying it and hand her over to me. I would walk around with this doll on my shoulder and go into automatic-mother-mode, absently patting it as if it needed to be burped. Apparently quite a few people thought it was a real baby. To this day, I run into old acquaintances from Ottawa who, after being updated on family news, ask, "And your son? How is he doing? He must be big now!" When I tell them I don't have a son, never did have one, no second child at all, they stare suspiciously at me. Clearly, they think I'm lying. Maybe they think I named him Wade and he ended up in prison.

4. I have one near-sighted eye and one far-sighted eye. I may have mentioned this before; it's one of the excuses I trot out regularly to explain blurry detail and bad perspective in my pictures. It's supposed to be quite a rare condition, but in my family of four siblings, three of us have it, and I've met a surprising number of other people who have it as well. Maybe the doctor who told us this was just trying to make us feel special.

5. I won a prize for shooting at targets with a pellet gun. That's the only kind of gun I've ever handled, and I was nagged into trying it by my husband, who likes guns of all kinds, but to my surprise I enjoyed it and did well in the gun club competitions. I was only in the beginner's category, but I got the top score. Seldom in my life have I been able to brag about anything requiring eye-hand coordination, so I'm making the most of it here. My sister, the one with the 20-20 vision, could hardly believe her ears when she heard. "You????!!!" she exclaimed. Yes, me!

6. In the past year or so, I've taught myself a small bit of Scottish Gaelic, and hope to learn more. It was the first language of both of my MacNeil grandparents, he a MacNeil from Christmas Island in Cape Breton and she another MacNeil from the Codroy Valley in Newfoundland. It wasn't passed down, except for a few snatches of song. A few years ago I was reading a novel by Jane Langdon in which a character remarks that most of us, if we met one of our own ancestors, would be so separated from them by barriers of language, education, culture and custom that we would have practically nothing to say to each other. In other words, we would be strangers, foreigners, to each other. For some reason that bothered me, and reignited an old desire to learn Gaelic. If I meet my ancestors in the hereafter, at least I'll be able to say Hello.

7. I don't have a driver's license. Well, this one really is embarrassing, and something I've avoided mentioning in blogland. Furthermore, I live in a rural village with no buses or taxis. Yes, it is a horrible inconvenience. No, I don't intend to get my license. I actually did learn to drive, and would be all right if the roads were kept clear for me, preferably with no other car within sight, but the Ministry of Transport is strangely unwilling to do that for me. Consequently, I'm a great walker.

Whew! That was hard. I don't think I could find another seven facts about myself to save my soul. As it was, I had to dip into the dodgy stuff for the last one. Now to put the arm on...I mean, graciously nominate - seven more bloggers to be tagged. I hope I'm not committing some terrible faux pas here. I have a long list of favourites that I visit frequently, quite apart from the daily reads s listed in my sidebar. Some of them are so illustrious that I would feel presumptuous tagging them, and others are just so popular that they must have been tagged many times before. However, here are seven that I enjoy hugely, and I would love to hear seven facts about them.

Some of these links aren't working right. I will try to correct them, but it's quite late at night and I really need to leave it for now. I think the names are right, though.

1. Doreyme. Edith Dora Rey, a vibrant and prolific professional artist who lives in Montreal. There's almost always something new here, and it's always fresh and original. I loved her tree series all winter. For some reason she gets very few comments. I don't understand why that's so. I myself have never commented there, because I'm intimidated by the lack of other people's comments. They must know something I don't.

2. Hashi at Hashiworks is always making something interesting. She has recently taken on the "One Mile from Home" challenge since Julie finished her 365 days and retired. I'd love to join her, but my life is too chaotic right now to commit to anything like that. I'd have to call it "ten feet from home".

3. African Tapestry. A recent discovery for me, but a very impressive blog, mind-blowing in fact, full of wonderful paintings and equally wonderful writing.

4. Carol Marine's Painting a Day. Very good quality paintings produced with great regularity.

5. Dawn Breeze Daily Paintings Beautiful and inspiring work.

6. Christopher Stott. Beautiful paintings in lovely, cool, Canadian light.

7. Dee Farnsworth at Check out her remarkable pictures of fires.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Crocus, Finally

As everyone knows, April has been unusually cold this year. The crocuses (croci?) in our yard got snowed on twice after first rearing their brave little heads, but here they are at last, none the worse for it. It was such a beautiful day that I was comfortable in short sleeves as I toured the yard for the first time this season. The recent wind storms did a lot of minor damage, leaving a litter of small broken branches all over the ground, but no large ones. My vegetable garden is almost dry enough to start working the soil. I tied up a new clothesline and hung the wash out to dry in the sun. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy hanging out the clothes in summer, and working in the garden. After being housebound all winter, being able to get outdoors is like a whole new life opening up.

Cranberry Glass

Another piece of family history, at the opposite end of the scale from the homely horn cup. This pretty little glass, about the right size for juice, was brought over from Ireland and treasured through what must have been very rough-living decades. Perhaps it was once part of a set. My husband remembers being allowed to drink milk out of it when he was a small boy visiting his grandmother, but since its gilt and paint trim is starting to wear off, we never use it now, except for the times when I take it out of the china cabinet and try to capture it in paint.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Horn Cup

This little charred cup made out of a cow's horn has been passed down through my husband's family, who were early settlers in what is now Stittsville, Ontario.

One day their log cabin burnt to the ground, and the horn cup was the only thing recovered from the ashes.

It probably was never very pretty on its best day. After its trip through the flames it was charred, scarred, and ugly, but for a hundred years it has spoken about endurance and survival.