The Roadhouse Glow

The Return of Twin Peaks has been a spectacular feat of television in the midst of what is quite rightly called “the golden age” of TV. How, in the age of the “binge”, when almost any piece of recorded film is a few keystrokes away, do you hold the rapt attention of the most sophisticated audience in history from week to week?

Keep them guessing, maybe. Or in some cases, scratching their head.

According to what I’ve seen on social media, it’s Twin Peaks and Game of Thrones delivering on that classic “tune in next week” experience on TV; where cliffhangers and upheavals keep audiences on the edge of their seats and in circles around water coolers. It used to be sort of standard, but now it’s a rarity of anticipation that I’m savouring.

The Walking Dead, too – but I left that show somewhere back in the Prison.

Bang Bang

Bang Bang

Twin Peaks continues to fascinate in this regard because it’s not a Shakespearian tragedy full of war and politics and zombies (take your pick as to which of the other two shows I’m referring to); it’s more like a dream and a soap opera. A painting and a music video.

I’ve painted four illustrations in tribute to the show’s aesthetics already, and with the return, there’s been so much gorgeous Lynchian imagery to go swimming in I couldn’t resist doing another. As it stands now (part twelve only having aired a couple of days ago), Dale Cooper is still lost in the periphery – tangled in the curtains between worlds. Apparitions are part of the fabric of the show, and seeing Agent Cooper approaching the roadhouse alone while simultaneously walking the floor of the Black Lodge was where my heart was after watching him sleepwalking through memories of black coffee and cherry pie for so many episodes now.

This was the third of my live paintings; broadcast over the intertubes over the course of a few days. The soundtrack to the broadcasts were provided by Roy Orbison, Dave Brubeck, Booker T and the MGs, and Nine Inch Nails among others.

I should point out that the above image is reduced in size by quite a lot in order to economically put it online, and also to avoid image piracy. The source files, and the image as printed to giclee are much richer in colour and in painterly detail.

I  tried to paint it fat and juicy with colour and contrasting lights and darks from the outset. If you dig in, even the shadows are full of purples and greens set against each-other in balance.

The whole scene is not only lit, but transformed by the light of the neon sign. If you let your eye rest in different places, it has the effect of a hologram; the wood of the building becoming lit from within. Inspired by painters like Edward Hopper, I wanted it to feel as much like a dream as the show itself does.

Do I overexplain this stuff or what?

I can’t wait to see what’s coming next Sunday. There’s only a few episodes left, but I’m not expecting any kind of closure on this story.

If you like the image, feel free to pick up a print or a card or a sticker. You can read about some of my other adventures in Twin peaks here, and here.

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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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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.

trees28

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: Trees

trees5

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.

trees12

“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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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: 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: Virtual Plein Air

I’d been to Oregon a couple of Summers ago and loved every inch of the place (and I know I barely scratched the surface). While there, we stopped in at all sorts truly wonderful places – but right at the tip-top of the list for jaw dropping grandeur was Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach. I knew I’d be painting that stone monument before long, and I was right.

This, however, is not a painting from that trip.

No. This is a painting I produced as part of a sketchbook group exercise on Facebook. The group was called “Virtual Plein Air” and the objective was to drive Google street view to any random spot on earth, park, and paint what you found as though you were really standing there. It was a fascinating idea. I had to try it.

The majority of the group were digital artists from all over the world, so the whole concept of the exercise sounded like the kind of thing that would be pure science-fiction to anyone from before the 90s – or possibly witchcraft to anyone before that. I mean, go find ANY view on earth picked up by robot cameras, then paint it using a pen-board onto a machine that will share it to a group of other people spread around the globe. Instantly.

Try explaining that to Turner, or Monet.

I chose Haystack Rock as my subject because of how impressive it was standing over me in person, and because I hadn’t gotten around to painting it from my own source photography yet. I’m sure I’ll do that eventually, but in the mean-time Google Street View would be my muse.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach - Oregon

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach – Oregon

And here’s the B-Side:

Why a B-Side?

Because I like spending hours on stupid jokes. Also – I love the goonies, which was filmed in nearby Astoria (along with Short Circuit and a few others). Part of the road-trip that took me to Oregon was spent exploring the film sets and backdrops where these rad childhood favourites were filmed. I guess while I was in that frame of mind, I decided to watch the Goonies again, and this was the result.

Heyyyy you guyyyysss

Heyyyy you guyyyysss

And now for the cherry on this slice of cake. I would call this song a guilty pleasure, but I don’t have those.

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