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.

Magazines 1

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.

Petunia 1

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.

Petunia 2

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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Art: Bear Season

Guys.

There’s bears everywheres.

Point of fact, as I write this, a black bear is ascending the stairs in someone’s front yard across the street from the cafe I’m sitting in. Broad daylight, bold as you like.

With all the bears creeping around this season and being needlessly destroyed by the ignorant and trigger-happy, I thought I’d offer a few words of advice on how to avoid harming or being harmed by bears.

Who am I? Well, I’m a pedestrian that lives in bear country, and I encounter bears on an almost daily basis in peak season. I’m still alive, have all my limbs, and I’ve never had cause to do anything above yelling at one to get it to go merrily on its way.

Be warned, though: this is just my opinion drawn from my experience with black bears in my part of the world. Don’t blame me if you get eaten by a polar bear or sexually harassed by a panda. Not my intention, and also not my problem.

Oh, and here’s a painting I did.

"Bear Season" or "I say... are you sure we've been eating Chanterelles?"

“Bear Season” or “I say… are you sure we’ve been eating Chanterelles?”

1. Make noise. All sorts of noise.

In my experience, bears are only potentially dangerous when you surprise them, or if you find yourself standing between a mother and its cubs. The trouble is, if you’re just rambling around on your own in the dark listening to headphones, you might just find yourself unwittingly walking right into one of those situations.

I certainly have.

The solution is simple: don’t be quiet. Be noisy.

Also, don’t listen to headphones.

Making noise gives the bear a chance to hear you coming so it can clear off and get the kids to safety before you get anywhere near it. No surprises, no cubs, no danger.

I didn’t want to wear big jingle bells wherever I went, so I started taking around portable instruments. Ukulele, accordion, or whatever else fit in my bag. That way, I could make noise, practice an instrument, have fun, and look only slightly less ridiculous than a person wearing jingle bells.

If you don’t feel like doing that, carry an air horn. Or french horn even (I’m still looking for a trumpet).

Unless you expect to encounter more dangerous species of bear (grizzly, polar, or care bear), defensive measures are completely unnecessary. Guns and pepper spray will wound, terrify, and antagonize a bear unnecessarily, and that will make them much more dangerous and unpredictable than simply clapping or yelling at them would.

2. Bears don’t actually want to eat you. You’re too much effort.

Some people new to living in bear country make the ridiculous assumption that they are being hunted by bears everywhere they go. They imagine that making noise is just making the whole predator/prey exchange a little easier for the bear, or that it’s best to slip by unnoticed as though they were lost out in Jurassic Park.

Not so.

Bears aren’t out to hunt you. They’re out to find the most caloric bang for their effort buck, and humans are just WAY too much of a workout. Berries, mushrooms, apples, dying fish, and garbage are more their speed.

I mean, look at them. They’re chubby bastards for a reason. They don’t like to break sweat, and even though they’re well equipped for battle, they, like us, would rather our food didn’t fight back.

Their priority is to fatten up, not expose themselves to combat.

When I’m out foraging for side dishes, I don’t see a bear and say “Whoah! Hey! Jackpot! Who needs mushrooms or apples or crawfish when I can eat this bear?” and just go straight to work trying to kill it with my pocket knife.

Waaaaay too much effort. Way too much danger.

It’s the same for the bear. They’re just not that ambitious.

And bears have learned quickly that people carry guns, explosives, caustic sprays, and keep big scary dogs with them. We’re basically wizards to them; big unpredictable Gandalfs with deep bags full of lethal trickery-fuckery.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to tangle with a scary forest warlock for a snack – especially when there’s some perfectly good, less animate stuff just lying around.

3. Don’t carry around backpacks full of refuse. Don’t keep salmon in your pockets.

Should be obvious, but hey, don’t be a walking dumpster.

This rule applies to many things in life.

Ask your friends and family: “Do I smell like rotting horse meat sitting in a hot waste receptacle?”

If the answer is yes, you may be at greater risk of bear encounters. You might also be a zombie, at which point, you may need more help than I can give you here.

If you smell normal, make sure that your house does, too.

One encounter I had involved a bear trying to get into my kitchen because a house-guest of mine left a big tray of bacon fat sitting in my sink to congeal. I heard the beast climb into my back yard over the fence, and I got upstairs just in time to close my sliding glass door before it wandered in. True story. Had I been listening to music that night and missed the sound of it breaking fence-boards as it climbed in, there’s a good chance I’d find the bastard poking around my studio looking for secret deposits of breakfast meats (of which there are many).

What’s more, make sure to pick your fruit.

Or don’t.

Either way, just remember that bears love a good untended fruit tree. If you pick your trees clean, you can make all sorts of wonderful preserves, pies, and desserts with it. If you fail to pick your fruit trees, not only do you lose out on making delicious food from it, you also lose your right to complain about the bears that come by to feast on what you leave on the ground for them.

4. Respect

Bears, like people, don’t respond well to being pushed around, kicked, spit on, or suplexed. If you insist on being a dick to a bear, things may suddenly go sideways for you.

Under no circumstances should you attempt to punch, flick, lasso, french kiss, circumcise, tickle or ride a bear. Do not hit on a bear’s significant other. Do not invite bears to play candy crush on facebook. Do not go to their lairs and attempt to recruit them into your religion whilst they’re still hibernating.

Do not snap wet towels at them.

Basically, just think of all the things that would upset you, and then don’t do those things to others. Including bears. If you’ve made it this far in life without grasping that concept, then by all means, go forth and wet-willy some bears with my blessing.

5. If you don’t feel safe, don’t go!

There’s plenty of times around this part of the year that I feel like going out somewhere at night, but have to consider that I might discover a bear in my path. Or a cougar.

If I don’t feel safe, I don’t go. I trust my gut.

Remember, we’re animals too. We’re equipped with all sorts of great instincts and senses that tell us when we’re in danger, and I’ve always paid attention to them.

When I feel like I’m being watched, I realize that I probably am being watched. No big deal. I just acknowledge it and behave appropriately.

In sum, remember these points and your local bear population should get along just fine:

– Don’t surprise a bear. Make some noise.
– Pick your fruit and keep your garbage/compost stored away somewhere secure.
– Don’t be a dick.
– Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe, don’t go.

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Art: Summer’s End

I’m a pedestrian, so I’m perpetually on the slow path wherever I may choose to go. I often stick to forest trails in my home neighbourhood, but the further afield I get, especially toward the ocean, the skies open up into spectacular cloudscapes that drift and float above the islands and the sea.

Summer's End

I’m never able to capture it by photograph, but as I walk, I try to lock the colours and figures in my mind as best as I can so I might attempt a painting later at home. If I’m lucky, or if I don’t mind being late, my path gives me time to watch it change like a rolling mountain range, or a second ocean above the other. It’s an experience I just don’t think I’d have if I was driving everywhere.

One day while walking down to play soccer in the late Summer, I saw the clouds take shape into something like a ship sailing by the moon on a sea of other clouds. My team-mates poked fun at me for staring at the sky instead of keeping my eye on the ball when I arrived, and I said “See if I don’t go home and paint it.”

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Art: In Repair

So, as I may have mentioned in my previous post, my work station has been acting funny. Not “ha ha” funny. The other kind.

My diagnosis is that one of the fans on the video card has seized, and without that extra cooling, the machine reboots and collapses under the heat. It faints, essentially. Every five minutes.

Now, I’ve fixed many computers in my day. In fact, my first job was working as a computer technician for the school district – and though technology has advanced significantly, it hasn’t really changed. If anything, it’s only gotten more user friendly, intuitive, and ultimately easy to fix.

Armed with this knowledge and confidence, I cracked open my case and set about trying to get my cooling systems back up on line.

A commissioned piece I produced for a friend of mine of her lovely family. I painted most of it at my local cafe haunt in lieu of fixing my workstation.

A commissioned piece I produced for a friend of mine of her lovely family. I painted most of it at my local cafe haunt in lieu of fixing my workstation.

On my first attempt – things were much, much more stable, and I thought I might have actually come close to fixing it. Fainting spells came at 15 minutes apart now instead of 5, and under a heavier graphical load, but it wasn’t perfect yet. Emboldened, I went back in and tried again, reconnecting what looked like a loose fan cable. On next boot up, a tell-tale puff of electrical smoke fizzled out from the power supply, and I realized then that I’d killed it but good.

Penniless, with two commissions on the go – one with a deadline fast approaching – and no means of finishing them, I felt like a pitcher that just lost his throwing arm, and with it, his job. The actual straw that broke the camel’s back. Much to my surprise, I didn’t freak out, torch the house, and run into the hills to join the elk. No. Rather, I spent the next day with my record collection strategizing.

Both commissions were already started, but they were sitting on a hard-drive I could no longer access, so I just started the most urgent one from scratch on my laptop. It’s an awkward set up, but it functions – so I just got busy sketching until my subject started taking shape. After I got the foundation laid out, I started taking advantage of the mobility the laptop offered and took my equipment to the local diner to slowly dab out the detail work while drinking coffee. I even picked up some work for another commission from an onlooker.

If I’ve lost an arm, I’ve got a good hook to replace it for now. I’m not going to be at full production speed again until my main workstation is fixed, but in the mean-time, I’ll enjoy the awkward glory of mobility and do some painting in diners and cafes.

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Art: Imperator Furiosa

Growing up, the Mad Max trilogy was in regular rotation at my house (mixed in with your various Goonies, Indianas Jones, and Wars of the Star variety). When I heard that George Miller was trying to get a new Mad Max film made, I started combing around for all the evidence of such a thing that I could find.

Yes. There it was. Mad Max: Fury Road – possibly starring Mel Gibson, or maybe Heath Ledger. Maybe both.

There were rumours aplenty, but serious word was scant, so I let it go and waited for something more substantial to come up. Whatever level of development it was at, it seemed like it was a long, long way down the road, and I didn’t want to hang around and wait for a trickle of minute details when I could be patient and just get a whole, fully realized film sometime later.

A couple of years ago photos emerged of Tom Hardy in the desert, and I knew principal photography had begun. That was it. It was coming now, and all I had to do was wait.

I saw Fury Road last week at the theatre for the first time, and was not at all disappointed. Totally batshit crazy, but in just the right way – served massive, bold, and colourful. When I got home, I knew I’d be painting at least one of the main characters, and I decided I’d begin at least with the principal hero of the story: Imperator Furiosa.

Furiosa

On my main screen I started painting, and on the other, I had Road Warrior, Thunderdome, and an ugly pirate copy of Fury Road playing in succession until the work was done. It took me a little longer than I had expected, but I finished it over the course of two nights.

Which now brings me to my current state of affairs. I had planned on doing something with Immortan Joe soon, but I have a couple of commissions I need to finish first. Sadly, as of this morning, my work station crashes every few minutes after booting up. I’m doing what I can to fix it, but if I can’t, I’m shit out of luck being a painter until I can afford to get it fixed.

The only paid work I have coming in right now are commissions, which I can’t do until I fix my computer – which I can’t fix without the money from the commissions. Fun, right?

Blah. Anyway. Back to trying to fix it. I’m dead on the road without it.

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Art: Honey in the Sun

I started this piece because, hey, I hadn’t painted anything in a while. I’d been doing good work in my sketchbook for most of the last month, but I’d been fearful of doing anything more than that.

Why? Who knows? I certainly don’t.

I battle with huge, ugly, blue demons on a daily basis right now, and since I’m clobbering them good today with cunning and big iron hammers, I thought I’d take the opportunity to publish a little something.

Stage 2

Stage 2

I had saved a very early stage of this painting to help show the process of how I get started, but unfortunately I saved over it with stage 2 by accident. Oops.

It was pretty much just the outline of her hair, guitar, and the first green patches that would become her face.

As you can see with stage 2, it’s still sketchy, blocky, and messy – but I have the colours laid out, the basic proportions locked in, and most of TracyAnne’s face finished. Initially I had everything painted in that same dark blue, but I saw the opportunity to give the piece some extra depth, and create a more delightful contrast with the light around her head by making her hair the darkest segment of the work.

Tracyanne Campbell

Tracyanne Campbell

And here’s the finished piece – signature and all. I think it took me about 6 hours from beginning to end (with a break or two in between).

I was having something of a bad day when I started. I could explain what a bad day is like, but it’s pretty much exactly the same as a good day, except that my skull feels like it’s been smoked over a fire, then filled up with cold rainwater and sad music. It sloshes around, spills over the brim, and I can’t see through the blur to the sparkle behind the trees anymore.

Nothing really causes it, and nothing really fixes it. It just is, and I have to do what I can to wait it out.

Rather than riding the descent any further, I decided I’d focus on something positive. Painting will often give me the zen-like space I need to let the storms blow away, and so even though I very much didn’t want to, I made that my day’s mission. I felt rusty and out of practice, and it seemed like a mountain of effort to climb in front of me, but I ignored that sensation. I knew it would pass once I got into the work, and it did.

I didn’t want to give myself any time to back out, so I simply grabbed the first song that came to mind and painted a still from the video. In this case, Camera Obscura’s “Honey in the Sun”. They’re one of my favourite bands, and for whatever reason I’m kind of stuck in the very pleasurable rut of listening to them a lot these days.

In any case, there it is. If you enjoy what I do, feel free to follow my on my various social media and send me a word or two. I’m also for hire if you know anyone who needs a commercial illustrator, writer, or fool.

Until next time.

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