Wooden

Three pencils, a blank sheet of paper; my hands and mind. This is what comes about in the span of a pot of coffee.

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It kind of feels like exploration – which is good for me. I’ve often felt quite bound to material subjects when I paint; trying to capture a likeness to something already known. This isn’t that.

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Sketchdrop: More or Less

I’m still exploring the organic, maze-like surfaces of trees – and in the process I’ve gone further in the direction of abstraction.

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In one case, I tried turning stumps into moons. There was something about the way the knots and layers of bark were coming together that reminded me of craters.

Some of these drawings were done in a group setting with friends. Others done while swilling coffee at the neighbourhood diner.

Oh, and here’s a bonus drawing of Rodin’s great sculpture in red pencil. As perhaps my last post might explain, I’ve been lost in thought, and this seemed – at the time – to be the best way to express heat and the muscular struggle and weight of thought without actually admitting anything.

I’ve really got to stop being so oblique. It’s one of my most frustrating qualities.

The collection of these grows steadily, and again, I find myself with the material for a legitimate show in the works. Once I have a venue, I’ll put them on display and make them available for sale.

Vancouver Island from Willingdon Beach

If the title and the image don’t speak for themselves on this one, I don’t think I can help you. That said, this is a blog – not twitter or instagram, so I feel compelled to put in a paragraph or two.

What do I have to say for myself?

Beach

I’m not feeling very well these days. I have to admit, though I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, these last few months have been much heavier and harder than I’m used to.

At first I thought it was the Winter, but that’s well over – and though my employment hasn’t been steady lately, I’ve managed to make it through this year so far. That said, each month feels like a gamble now – and I’m getting used to living with less and less.

I don’t like that I’m getting used to it.

I’d fight battles and win them, but now they’re coming up as draws; and though battles are being won, I think I’m losing the war here. It’s dawning on me now that I’ve spent so many of my years fighting  that I’ve missed out on a great many other things in life while I was busy surviving behind a shield.

Today I think I won something. I woke up at the bottom of the ocean, but I stood up and went out into the sunlit forest, down through the trails to the beach and came back with the above drawing.

I’ve also admitted all of this in public air; which feels shameful even as I write it. It’s still a win.

What perhaps were funny quirks in my twenties are now threatening to strangle me right out in my thirties. I don’t know how help is sought, but I’m working myself up to seek it out now. Meanwhile, I’ll keep drawing, painting, writing, and trying to make an honest dollar out of all of it somehow.

Next time I won’t be so maudlin. Unless I am; but if I am, I’m going to make art out of it.

How?

There are a great many metaphors and images that I’ve collected over time in attempts to describe what this feels like. I’ve thought about drawing them one by one until I have enough to fill a book.

Meanwhile, though, I’ve got this island mountainscape. It took the scorch out of my brain for a couple of hours to draw it, and soon, I’ll return to bigger, more elaborate works.

 

 

Sketchdrop: More Trees

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Trees and tree-bark continue to interest me, but I haven’t been trying to draw them directly since moving to colored pencil. Most of these had been drawn indoors somewhere, and often at night.

They’ve been an intuitive exercise in rendering without reference.

Stumps are a simple volume to fill, basically; a solid, three-dimensional object with a textured surface. They’re just big jagged cylinders made up of organic forms: rings, scales, chunks, grain, and fiber; all with an organic language of its own. I enjoy both the free imitation and rejection of its grammar while I draw.

It’s fun and produces interesting results. I’m considering putting a show together out of them, or selling them privately. Contact me if you’re interested.

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Sketchdrop: Trees

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With the weather growing ever less garbagesome, I’ve been taking my sketchbooks with me on adventures into the forest and up the side of cliffs; also to cafes, diners, and spontaneous drawing clubs in basements (the first and second rules forbid me from elaborating. Sorry).

I’ve been drawing trees a lot lately, and the more I draw them, the more I find myself getting lost in fabricating three-dimensional bodies with a flow of lines. What started with fairly ordinary landscapes in pencil went into outer-space once I stepped away from trying to represent a true object and instead started playing with its visual DNA.

Pencil crayons are mama-hecking fun, too.

Some of my friends and neighbours are fallers (lumberjacks if you’re not from around here). Regardless of how abstract the stumps were, they’d look at it and see only a bad cut. From the moment I opened the page to get their opinion, out would come a chorus of “Aww, that’s a terrible stump” from anyone who’s looked at a chainsaw twice.

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“What!?”

“Well, any BC boy ought to know a good undercut.”

Fair point, I suppose, but I didn’t realize I’d be graded on my saw-craft of purely theoretical stumps.

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Comfort and Joy

A few months ago I was commissioned to put together a cover for the holiday edition of my hometown’s events and culture magazine (a publication I infrequently contribute to with an editorial column on the arts *ahem ahem ahem*).

When I got the e-mail from the editor explaining their intentions, my first instinct was to paint a big impressionistic wonderland of holiday lights in the snow and trees. Maybe something chasing after a Van Gogh nightscape; or like a postcard from the 60s full of lights just hovering on the edge of camera focus to widen the glow.

I was hoping to come up with something magical. Instead I produced a couple of head-scratchingly abstract drafts unsuitable for print (which formed the basis for my next landscape painting anyway).

With a deadline looming, I was faced with trying to put my back into this bigger concept or narrowing my focus to something more intimate. I’d already had a backup concept in mind, it was just a matter of switching my footing to go after it.

Indoors, not outdoors.

To me, Winter has two faces. One face is the oppressive, dark, and cold face; the rainy, snowy, wind-bitten face that keeps people bundled up inside popping vitamin D pills to save their souls.

The other face is the face hidden inside the bundles; curled up by the fire with a book watching the snow come down through a frosted pane.

The warm flicker of flames; the smell of wood smoke and baked goods; the noise of human conversation. It’s a turning inward we do as the days shorten, and it can have all the sense of that last languid turn in bed under the quilts before finally getting up to face the morning. That was something I wanted to capture.

Fire

Is that steam coming off the top? Or is that a burning marshmallow?

I’m a firm believer, too, that the greatest joys are those shared with others. The simplest way to convey that here without including a cast of human figures was to paint a couple of mugs. No solitary scrooge-like hump of a person would pour out two mugs of hot whatever for themselves, would they? No! And certainly not with hearts on them.

As a technical aside, I also spent some time leaning into popping the greens and reds arguing for prominence. Not just in the flames and on the ground – but in the shadow and silhouette of the wood and metal. It’s something our eyes naturally do, and I enjoy emphasizing that.

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I’ve gotcha covered.

I don’t know if it’s safe to put your mugs directly in the fireplace like that, but it sure looks cozy.

Music: Petunia and the Vipers

Petunia and the Vipers have come through Powell River twice in the last few months, taking the stage at the Red Lion Pub in Wildwood for both performances. Packed out and sold out both times, I was there roaming around the edges taking it all in.

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That one time Petunia had a beard and sang Lou Lou at the Red Lion in Powell River.

Some of you may be wondering what a guy named after a flower and a bunch of snakes might sound like on stage anyway. It’s not a question that’s quickly answered, but I’ll try.

Seeing Petunia and the Vipers play, to me, answers the question “I wonder what it would be like to be in a dance hall back in the day tapping toes to the likes of Hank Williams, Wanda Jackson, or even Harry Belafonte?”.

That’s the answer right there. It’s happening in front of you. Right now.

And that’s not to say that Petunia and the Vipers are a nostalgia act. These guys are just continuing a still vital tradition of musicianship going back to a time most often glimpsed in the photographs of our grandparents on the mantle, or heard warbling out of old records on the turntable. It’s still there, it’s just out on the road far away from the noise and pomp of what came after and because.

But I didn’t really spend my nights with the Vipers analyzing the music. In truth, I was busy cutting rugs.

The energy was high, and the band was as tireless as it was deft. Through roots country, through calypso, through darkest ragtime – the Vipers brought two nights and several encores of their best home-grown from all over the musical map. And when the night downshifted into something like the Cricket Song or Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, it gave us a dreamy, sunset dappled respite before diving back into the breathless, almost acrobatic pieces like Baby Amy and Lou Lou.

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Jimmy Roy plays.

Any time Petunia’s in town, whether by himself with the Vipers behind him, I try my best to make it to every show, and I end up seeing the same group of die-hards in the crowd each time. It’s almost like a club that mobilizes only for them, gathering only in their presence. Their battle-cry is Jimmy Roy’s name.

If you’ve been sitting around on the fence wondering whether this band is worth the babysitter money, take it from one of the die-hards: go see Petunia and the Vipers.

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For more information on Petunia and the Vipers, visit their official website here.

If you want to check out the sound and character of the band, check out the videos for Mercy and Chained right here.

And click here to read what I wrote about Petunia a couple of years ago when he passed through and played for us at the Cranberry Hall.

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