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.