Monday, 29 December 2014

A week of Christmas drawings

My Old Year's Resolution: Do a drawing a day for the rest of the year.  Which shouldn't be so difficult, starting as I did on December 22.  

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Beer and pretzels

Continued development of my alternative career as a beer illustrator.  And, because man cannot live on beer alone, pretzels.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Nine ladies dancing

Well, three ladies, but multiple drawings of each.  And they weren't really dancing, they were posing.  But there was music involved.  Two from Dr Sketchy's - Lola Frost in "Frost Bite" and Sweet Virginia in "The Gibson Girl" (Dr Sketchy regulars will be able to figure out what the competition was in the second picture, involving a Victorian hairbrush) - and a flamenco dancer at Basic Inquiry.  Coming next, 10 lords a'leaping.  Or maybe 5 golden rings, that would be easier.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

December in Edmonton and Vancouver

I met fellow urbansketcher Fei at the Chapters on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, a good refuge for winter sketching.  The main challenge is that it is dark so early.  I tried to capture the contrast between the late afternoon cold outside the window and the warmly lit interior - not totally successfully, but I like the yellow-purple combination.

The Edmonton airport is mostly quite awful, but there were a few nice things to draw, including an impressive two-story green wall.

Back in Vancouver, the meet-up group went to the Santa Claus parade.  It was a strange event.  The crowd - all dressed in black - was surly when I tried to pass through to get to the meetup; the "floats" seemed to be dominated by various police, fire and military vehicles, which didn't really seem festive; there was a cacophony of sirens, horns, bagpipes, and some kind of mournful wailing (a good thing was that the noise drowned out any Christmas carols - we've already had a month of those).  Or maybe I was just being a scrooge...

Fortunately, being Vancouver, there also happened to be an anime convention nearby, which attracted a large group of cosplay people.  They were cheerful, friendly, and, best of all, colourful.  The drawing reminds me of elves I used to draw on Christmas cards 40 years ago.

Friday, 28 November 2014


The Vancouver Urbansketchers accomplished a remarkable feat - they got me out of the house on a dark rainy Wednesday night in November.  The event was flamenco at the Kino Cafe on Cambie.  As always, I was thankful I went.  The rain pouring down in the street outside just made the cafe all the more warm and energetic.  Drawing a flamenco dancer in action was a challenge - one-minute gestures just don't quite prepare you for "poses" that last one beat of 12/8 time.  I used my "eyelid photography" technique of closing my eyes quickly, like a camera shutter, to freeze a pose.  I try to get down the few main elements of the gesture before the image fades away, then add whatever bits are needed to make it look like a human.  It's also fun just to scribble to the rhythm with a dip pen, then make it look like a person with a quick brush of paint.  Although I do think that some of the results say "disco" more than "flamenco"...

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Eastside Culture Crawl

It was a warm sunny day at the Eastside Culture Crawl.  I finally thawed the last of the bones that I froze at last year's event.  Surprisingly, the building at 1000 Parker Street is still standing, so I drew it again, this time from the sunny south side, with its awesome graffiti. I grabbed lunch from one of the food trucks - traditional Canadian fare of kim-chee tacos (though the Szechuan perogies were also tempting).  I ended up giving an impromptu demonstration and lecture on lunch-drawing to about 15 culture-crawlers, expounding on my thesis that you appreciate food three times as much if you draw it first - in the drawing, in the extended anticipation, and finally in the eating.  You also learn to draw faster if you're hungry.  Then I went inside, and did an architecturally exact drawing of the busy interior.  As I heard one couple say: "How many floors are there?" "Nobody knows."  

Monday, 17 November 2014

Skating on First Lake

It was a first for me this morning - skating on a frozen lake in Vancouver.  It's certainly cold enough up the mountains most of the winter, but usually the lakes are filled or covered with snow.  But this year we've had over a week of cold clear weather before any snow has fallen, so there was at least the minimum 4 inches of clear ice on First Lake at Hollyburn.  I went this morning before the low sun got above the trees - fortunately, because an inversion had set up over night and it was 10 degrees C up there, even though it was below freezing at home.  So, an even rarer event - skating on a frozen lake in a t-shirt.  The ice was still solid and fast, and I had the whole place to myself.  As the sun finally hit it at about 10 o'clock, the ice started to make spectacular booming cracking sounds, so I retired to a warm sunny spot on shore to paint the lake and my melting skate tracks.  Maybe I'll go back for a swim tomorrow.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Looking Back

No, not a retrospective navel-gazey post. "Looking Back" is the title of the one drawing I managed to get done in time for the Basic Inquiry members' show "Being Human" (running through Nov 28 at 901 Main Street, Vancouver, if you happen to be in that neighbourhood).  I don't usually need titles for my pictures, so it was a struggle, but I'm quite proud of the one I came up with.  As the eminent critic wrote:

"'Looking Back' is, at first glance, a gratuitously simple behavioural descriptive.  We are, it appears needless to declare, Looking (at a) Back. But as we look, we perceive ourselves to be looked upon, as the back itself is Looking Back - the prominent pelvic concavities become ocular, the sacral terminus and inter-gluteal cleft become nasal-buccal, and, dare we say?, ursine.  Unnerved by the threat of imminent predation, we are drawn upward by the subtle dorsal rotation to a threat of even greater peril, the transgression of our privileged post as anonymous observer: is the model Looking Back at us?   The unresolved nihilistic potential disorients us, and we are forced to face the most profoundly ontological Looking Back - the simple segmented spinal column, the gill-like costal ridges, the primitive sinistral appendage, what could these be but echoes, resonating in the rippled aqua pedestal and primordial darkness, ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, of our distant piscine ancestry, revealing that Being Human is, ultimately, Being a Fish."

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Toronto, Kingston, reunions

I went to my 30th high school reunion in Toronto last week - only a couple years, it seems, after my 25th.  It's very congenial hanging out with people you've known basically forever, especially the interesting group that I went to school with.  The next day, I met up with some Toronto UrbanSketchers at a tea shop and it was also remarkably agreeable, even though I'd never met any of them before.  There's something immediately bonding about the struggle to make meaningful marks on a little piece of paper in a public place.  That and my summer visit to the Portland sketchers is inspiring me to travel more far flung urbansketching locales.

I also went to Kingston to visit my sister and family, and attend a concert by the renowned reverberationalist Liam Fenton.  Before the big event, I went with my brother-in-law to Fort Henry, on a grey late-autumn late afternoon with a bitter wind blowing off the lake.  He ran around like a maniac - a graceful one - in shorts and bare feet, while I sketched frantically to ward off hypothermia.  The water-soluble black ink helped capture the feel of the day.

On the way back to Toronto the next day - a reversion to warm sunny early autumn - I stopped at Lake on the Mountain, which is just that (if you make allowances for what qualifies as a "mountain" in Ontario).  It's a bit baffling how a big lake found its way to the top of a substantial hill.  I drew the view of Lake Ontario, the Glenora ferry and as-far-as-the-eye-can-see of autumn colours.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

New Mexico: Georgia on my mind

We spent a weekend in and around Abiquiu, long-time home of Georgia O'Keefe.  It was wonderful to stay at the Old Abiquiu B&B on the Rio Chama, with the entertaining hostess and a well-known Taos artist as the other guest.  Both had one-step removed stories about their famous compatriot, told by people who worked for her when they were young.  She was, perhaps, not the most easy-going person.  It was equally wonderful to be able to paint, in my limited way, in the same places she painted, including the White Place (Plaza Blanca) and Ghost Ranch.  Her legacy continues, not just in the way that people see landscapes (and skulls, and flowers, and views from planes), but also more directly: Abiquiu has a population of almost nobody, 39 of whom are artists who had their studios open that weekend.  A place you don't have to feel the least bit self-conscious pulling out a sketchbook.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Mexico: Churches and earth ships

The adobe church at Ranchos de Taos is one of the most photographed and painted buildings in the US.  At least, that's what the sign outside says.  The big blocky rear end of the church is the most common subject, for the abstract geometry of light and shade.  But it also backs right onto a parking lot for an adjacent very good and very popular New Mexican restaurant, so you have to ignore all the pickup trucks.  I drew the front instead, with the traditional double bell towers and huge bulging walls.

The church in Chamayo on the Taos high road is a smaller, charming building and a major pilgrimage site.  The soil in the chapel cures all ills - so much so that they have to truck in new dirt as the original gets depleted (fortunately the effect is contagious and transfers from the old soil to the new).  Sadly, our main pilgrimage site in Chimayo, Leona's tamale restaurant next door to the church, was closed that day.  It must have been punishment for some sin we committed.

And lastly, a secular church for the environmentally conscious - an earth ship, part of a growing community of these near Taos.  Despite the new-agey name, earth ships are well thought-out super-efficient houses.  The main structure has tires packed with dirt and covered in a mound on the north side, with large windows on the south.  Sun shines in in the winter and warms the big thermal mass of dirt and tires keeping the house warm, while the higher summer sun stays out allowing the mound to keep the building cool.  Power is generated by solar cells and wind, while rain is collected from the roofs.  The community in the high desert is completely off-grid, with no need for electrical wires, water pipes or heating.  The adobe-style building allows all kinds of funky shapes, highlighted by bottles that are embedded in the walls to provide coloured daylight throughout the building.  In other parts of the region, we saw earth ships in everything from high-end neighbourhoods to otherwise derelict trailer parks.

Monday, 20 October 2014

New Mexico: Landscapes I

Four landscape views from northern New Mexico.  1) From Los Poblanos, a guest house on a lavender farm along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque.  We also stayed there 8 years ago, and a white peacock (the same one?) roosted in the same cottonwood, as the moon (the same one) rose behind him.  2) A patch of golden aspens on Mount Baldy, above Santa Fe.  We were there at the peak of fall colour, a very popular event, but managed to find a trail on the edge of the Pecos wilderness area with no other people (and not quite as much oxygen as a coastal-dweller might like).  3) A quick sketch of the view on the Turquoise Trail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  4) The Rio Grande rift valley near Taos, drawn after soaking in a hot spring along the edge of the river.