Cranberry Lake Ice / Slump Resistance

Aha! Look at this! A painting!

It’s been a while, right? Yes, I detoured into strange dungeons for a time drawing trees in my sketchbooks, but I’m back to painting once again and there’s things to be said about it.

Before I do that, however, let’s have a look at the thing I painted last.

Cranberry Lake

This was something I put together over the course of a week back in the Winter – I can’t remember exactly when. I had been wandering around the edge of Cranberry lake one afternoon and saw children skating and playing hockey on it under the crown of a fiery hillside. An old rowboat stood poised on the shore as though ready to be launched by ghostly fishermen onto the ice, while across the way, purple and blue shade had begun to creep up out of the lake and over the houses like a tide.

I snapped a few reference photos and committed the rest to memory, then walked back to my studio to get started.

This one was a big struggle to work on, and to my eye, I can see the scratches of unnecessarily added labour all over it. Beset with more equipment failures, I had to go further than usual for each brush-stroke. I had to wait constantly for the software to catch up on every move, and often had to stop to chase down and eliminate unintended lines generated from skipping across the screen like a needle on a record. Reboots and battery failures at random intervals set me hours behind when they rolled through.

I think because of the technical challenges presented by this piece, I was left feeling like it was a bit of a mess when I was done. I didn’t like it, and because I didn’t like it, I sort of pushed it into the digital equivalent of the attic and hadn’t given it so much as a glance since.

I was also kind of terrified that I might be facing a final equipment failure which might take me out of painting altogether for months. These glitches were getting more frequent, and I could tell my operation was hanging by a thread.

The value of this painting and everything associated with it was steadily decreasing in my mind the longer I didn’t look at it, and the longer I put that off, the longer I put off wanting to try painting another landscape.

Or anything, come to think of it.

Why bother, right? Fighting with a dying computer to produce an ugly painting which might also result in losing my ability to paint at all? And Winter sucks and blahblahblahblahself-loathingblaaahhh.

Oh yes, the Winter had me now. All solitude, self doubt, and elaborate procrastination spirals piled onto the melancholy compost with the rest. Expenses carried on being expenses, but there were no art sales for Christmas after I went deep out of pocket for stock; my paintings weren’t generating much interest; and my funding was just coming to an end.

These are not conditions I historically tend to thrive under. I don’t think anyone does.

Welcome to the bottom curve of the slump; where all thy dread chickens come home to roost.

Spin ahead a few months, and I’ve climbed out and picked up my brush once again (with a nicely filled sketchbook of new, original work to boot). I’ve given this icy painting a second look, and it is not at all the boring outhouse deposit I thought it was. It’s messy, sure – but in a fun way; like weeds that look like flowers anyway. I’ve painted a new landscape since, and I feel confident in my abilities and where I’m going next with my projects – something unimaginable to myself a few months ago.

Which brings me to why I chose to write about it. This was a pretty major slump, and I really, reaaaallly don’t want to fall into it again. Now that it’s passed, I’ll be better prepared to react to the conditions that might cause another.  There’s reefs here worth marking down on the chart; for myself and for anyone else in the pursuit of making stuff. If you’re feeling stuck, blocked, or otherwise underwater, give these a try:

Read the signs: If you’re feeling defeated in your pursuit, have a look around at your circumstances and see what little adjustments you can make.

A sense of being shipwrecked might just due in part to your environment – physically, mentally, and socially. If Winter’s closing in, make sure you’re getting the nutrition, light, and positive social contact you need to balance out the difference. Get out in public spaces. Make sure you’re sleeping well and keeping hours that maximize daylight. Don’t let the household clutter of Winter gather too deep.

It’s the little things, and they add up in both directions.

Money isn’t everything (even though it kind of is): Unless you’re a retiree or have some kind of patron, you’re likely working directly toward a financial goal, or at least keeping a weather-eye on money with your creative pursuit.

While it’s important to pay your bills however you can, it’s not absolutely everything.

I mean it is. But it isn’t.

In times when the work isn’t there, make sure you are. Stay busy. Stay active. Stay loud. Keep making improvements to your craft and keep producing work. Do it in front of other people and make sure they see you do it.

If you bail out on making new things, you’ll only get rusty, lose confidence, and ultimately take yourself out of the spotlight.

Can’t get hired? Hire yourself.

No really. Go ahead and write yourself a contract to produce that dream idea you’ve been keeping on the back-burner. You can’t just spend your day looking for work and being mad and yourself that you can’t find it. It’s bad for you.

Just do that for part of the day, then go to work for yourself.

Even if you’re self employed with playing cards and Japanese pocket change (I paid myself with the King of Diamonds and a 500 yen piece) you’re still getting better at what you do, your portfolio is increasing, and you’re giving someone who may love your work the opportunity to find you.

Looking back over a month, you’ll feel much happier and more accomplished for working on that pet project during the hours you might otherwise have spent banging your head against the wall. Where there might have been a string of solid defeats, you can carve out your own victories and rise a little higher each time.

Get a second opinion: You may think you’ve got it all figured out. You know your situation. You know your habits, your mind, the particular quirks of your process. You’re the expert, right? You know it all, and you’re certain that this is how it is, and how it must be.

Yeah, no. Not even.

You might pride yourself on keeping a healthy, balanced view of the world and of yourself, but that’s something that’s going to be challenged with some regularity – particularly in stressful times. It might erode quicker than you think when adversity’s been hanging around long enough.

If you find yourself full of self doubt and anxiety about your situation, your work, or who you are, your opinion is probably already compromised. Get an outside view from people you trust. Chances are, half the worries circling over your head will be shot right out of the sky, freeing up room for the positive activity you want to get back to. If you leave it only to yourself – particularly when you’re not at your best – you’ll end up with only the most cynical, limited, and prejudiced version of the truth.

Nobody has ever agreed with Eeyore except Eeyore.

Analysis is good; action is better: Once you’ve got your second opinions and you’ve straightened out all the tendrils of the problem, the next part is doing something about it. The trouble is that this can be an incredibly difficult thing to do if you’ve been wrestling with it for a while. You might feel burnt out, or fear that you’ve become dull or incapable.

The solution that I’ve found in these instances is to set up a practice of something related to your craft; one that involves being in a particular place outside of your usual routine and includes a specific, limited set of supplies. A sketchbook in at the beach, say, or a pad of writing paper in the garden. Once you’ve put yourself bodily in the space you’ve set out with the supplies you’ve brought, you might find it much easier to dip your toe back into the water than you think.

I mean, you’re already there. Just inches away.

Put yourself there without any expectation and eventually, you’ll start to associate that place and those tools with a positive, productive task. Over time, these practices become habits that stay with you regardless of what your head-space is. Repeated use brings confidence and diminishes fear regardless of the size of the thing you’re doing. You might find paintings less terrifying, for example, if you keep drawing weird trees in your sketchbook every day.

 

The conditions that produce a bad slump time in dump town are common and easy to see coming. It’s when they start hunting in packs over the winter that you’ve got to watch out. Once they pile on together, they’re harder than ever to shake.

Take them on one at a time, and go on the offensive. Go look at the work you’re proud of; go see another human from time to time (my apologies if you’re not human – go see a wolf or an eel); go take a long, long walk; keep your media diet positive (skip the Smiths and cable news); and stay busy doing the next thing – even if it’s tinier than anything you’ve ever done.

Make it small and simple. Stay busy with it.

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Flowers in my Books

Much of my recent sketchbook work has been done whilst out at the neighbourhood diner, or hanging out with friends at their house in the midst of pre-sale, pre-travel renovations (something you can read more about over here at Jill’s travel blog).

At least two of these drawing sessions took place in their epic gardenscape since the days have grown longer and warmer. Rather than turning inward, I tried to capture what I saw in front of me using a limited palette of coloured pencils.

blueberries

The strange orange/blue/green frosting of unripe blueberries.

Instead of finding the specific colour I’m looking for, I dash straight at it with the building blocks of that colour; the primaries that build others. I don’t even think as I’m doing it. It’s autonomic.

I haven’t done much in the way of major paintings since diving into my sketchbooks, but I’m confident that my next painted work will carry the strengths I’ve discovered in this medium.

Pot

These are original works on large sketchbook paper, suitable for framing and display should the urge strike you to buy one. In lieu of that, if you enjoy reading my writes and seeing my scratchings, feel free to throw me a coin or two. My hat’s just over there.

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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.

—-

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: Summers of Beaches

I’m not much of a beach person. I’m a huge everywhere person, but not a beach person in particular. Forests, lawns, libraries, cafes, gardens, busy streets, alleys, blanket forts, pirate ships, beaches – all great – but if I’m going to really enjoy a beach, I’m going to want shade, and a place to set up with something to draw with or read.

Come to think of it, that might be true of any place I go.

With the onset of an early Summer, I’ve been out touring the beaches with my canvas bag full of drawings and favourite books. Isn’t that how a Summer should be? Of course it is. That and lots of other things.

Here are the results of my adventures so far this year.

Donkersley Beach - June 2015

Donkersley Beach – June 2015

Hulk Beach - June 2015

Hulk Beach – June 2015

Willingdon Beach - June 2015

Willingdon Beach – June 2015

As I started this last drawing yesterday, a group of young violinists from PRISMA showed up and played a full performance for the public. I got to draw this while listening to them play. It was marvellous.

And here’s a couple of others from past years.

Palm Beach - 2013

Palm Beach – 2013

Hulk Beach - 2013

Hulk Beach – 2013

Oh, and here’s a bonus bird wearing a top-hat and smoking a long cigarette.

Birds can also be fancy gentlemen.

Birds can also be fancy gentlemen. Drawn at Donkersley Beach. 

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Art: Petunia

There’s a community hall right in my neighbourhood that’s always booking travelling musicians from all over Canada to stop in for an evening and play. With a steady parade of folk and bluegrass touring through, the doors to the Cranberry Hall are most often like a time-machine to an era I’d only ever experienced through books and old recordings (or possibly the Cohen Brothers’ “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”).

The performers are young, and yet they look and sound as though they’d stepped out of old vinyl and the family photos of our great grandparents. Often unplugged, and sometimes lit by candles, sitting in the small, church shaped hall and listening to the hushed and natural sound of voices and strings is completely transporting. I never miss a show there if I can help it.

One of my all-time favourite performances there was by a guy called Petunia. I hadn’t heard of him prior to seeing him play, but afterward I became a huge fan. He opened as a yodelling cowboy singer in the vein of Jimmy Rogers (listen here), then carried on through a range of hill-billy and ragtime to early rock and calypso. It was astonishing.

Afterwards I bought his record, shook his hand, and made sure to see him play whenever I could. The last time was at Slickety Jim’s in Vancouver for my birthday, in which the whole restaurant joined in for a sing-along of “Minnie the Moocher“.

Now, and for the past couple of years, I’ve been painting portraits of musicians that I’ve seen perform live, or that I otherwise find inspiring. I’d hit a bit of a creative drought during the Winter, but I had just finished a quick Tom Waits, and decided to keep my momentum and follow it up immediately with a painting of Petunia. No real reason. I just felt like doing it.

Petunia and some Petunias

Petunia and some Petunias

Now this is where things get a little spooky.

As soon as I had finished – like within the next 10 minutes – I was told he had been booked to play that same community hall just down the road from me.

How weird is that? A guy that plays all over the world is playing in my neighbourhood, and I find out about it just minutes after I finish painting his portrait.

Coincidences are funny things.

In any case, I figured it might be in my best interests to paint a huge bag of money and a sail boat. Y’know. Just in case. For now, I’ll just be satisfied to know that I get to see Petunia play at the Cranberry Hall again in just a few weeks.

And hey, if you’re interested in having a print of this painting of mine, you can grab one here, or here. If you do get one, I’d be curious to know if having it magically summons the musician himself to your town for a gig.

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