LIVE from the Forest

So, this is my first painting since the Winter – one Solstice to another.

Summer Lights

The Summer Lights of British Columbia. Painted live.

This painting is of a regular stretch of forest off the edge of a trail somewhere near McFall Creek – directly behind where I live and where I painted it. I could try and show you exactly where it is, but the light would have to be just right to recognize it.

There are a great deal many more colours out there in this forest than occur to my memory. They are things that live only in the eye. What sits in my mind as being a gray tree amid a shadowy wood will to the eye burn with gold, cinnabar, and cobalt like jewel-beetles in the sun. Trails light up at your feet like pools of honey poured through stained glass, and each stick of wood stands like a vertical rainbow.

That’s what I see on the best of days, anyway, and it’s what I was out in the forest looking for like an entomologist with a butterfly net.

I’ll admit it: I was feeling a bit unsteady before I got started on this one. Out of tune, maybe – but I wanted to see it made more than I feared to make it.

A good sign for fair weather.

As mentioned before, Winter had left me feeling a little frostbitten, and though I was thawing out, I wasn’t sure yet how many fingers and toes I had left to work with.

All of them, as it turns out.

Fear isn’t just a liar, it’s a drama-queen.

Real tricks and trades: When I dread painting something, I sort of trick myself into production mode by getting started, and then posting infrequent “work-in-progress” pictures to social media as I go.

From composition to about mid-way through, I’ll post little sneak-peaks of things that may not survive to the end, but please me enough that I want to share them. Things change dramatically during the broad-strokes, and that’s fun for me to see in other painters – so I do the same. Closer to the final stages, I’ll hold back and let the final piece fill in whatever blanks are left.

Doing it that way, I feel like I’m walking through shorter milestones and I get to benefit from a little back-slapping encouragement along the way.

On the less fuzzy-wuzzy flip-side of that coin is the equally motivating factor of public accountability.

Once I’ve started something in the public, I tend to feel strongly obligated to complete it for anyone who’s interested in seeing it finished. Even if I myself lose interest, I want to make sure you don’t, and weird as it sounds, it sort of puts me on the clock to get the job done. Knowing I left it out there hanging around all messy and under-cooked encourages me to fight it through to the end instead of privately balling it up and bank-shotting it into the recycling bin.

Why do you think so many people post weekly fitness pictures instead of just one at the end?

I knew these methods well, and I knew they’d serve me in the coming days, but it wasn’t following through from one marker to the next that was giving me trouble at this point. It was getting started on something at all.

Be bold: At a certain point, you have to say yes in the places where you’ve been saying no. Courage is called for, yes, and action required before discovering that risk is simpler and more energizing than the perpetual anticipation of defeat.

I had a gorgeous piece of scenery to work with, my equipment was functional, and though I hadn’t painted for a while, my sketchbooks were full of interesting new work (all about trees and plants, no less). All I had to do was stop thinking and get started.

Burnt out on being burnt out, the idea of listening to myself continue the debate between nihilistic paralysis and the red hot urgency to get a grip was nauseating. Rather than let it wind to a pitch, I hit the breaks like a frustrated parent and threatened to raise the stakes.

I’d paint it live.

No safety nets. No buffer. Just an internet audience of followers, friends, colleagues, and anonymous randoms watching every naked move I make on the canvas with as much power of scrutiny as I myself get.

No negotiating. No thinking about it. No more whining about your delicate introverted workarounds. Just shut the fuck up and do it.

So I just shut up and did it.

I’d done a few live painting sessions before at festivals, but this would be different. I wouldn’t just be one dude with a colourful whatever in a playground of other spectacles; I’d be working directly from my screen to yours – however many of you happened to tune in during broadcast. I’ve never been good with crowds, and I don’t like being the center of attention, but the time for hand-wringing was past. If I didn’t stop, I never would. The key, like it is on stage, would lay in not becoming overly self-conscious; which is about as challenging as it is for you to not imagine an octopus in a top-hat now that I’ve said the words octopus in a top-hat.

I’d never let anyone in that close to my processes before. I wasn’t giving myself anywhere to hide, and as I realized that, I kind of freed myself from any fear about it at all. Any of it. I mean, who cares if it’s boring? or full of mistakes nobody else notices? or if nobody shows up to watch? or if everybody does?

What, was I afraid of showing how much care I put into a painting? Like that’s a bad thing?

Sometimes the big scary thing is the best option just because it’s different. The devil you don’t know can be a lot more fun than the boring old threadbare one you’re stuck with.

All told, there were about three or four sessions at three to six hours a piece to produce the above painting. I think the end of the final broadcast on this one ended sometime after two AM on a Sunday.

Practice vs. Product: I don’t view the individual paintings, drawings, or scraps of writing that I dribble out as being particularly important. It’s just noise. I view the practice as important. It’s the practice, and the making of that practice as frequent as possible that is my highest priority.

The product is secondary. That said, whatever it happens to be held in the eyes of other people is important to me, but if I focus on the practice instead, there’s more product for more eyes to behold anyway.

In the case of this painting, I’d fallen away from the practice of painting long enough that I got my priorities backward. I’d put way too much importance on the anticipated quality of the work and not on the quantity of the practice. I’m lucky that this forest turned out in a way that I’m happy with, but it shouldn’t ever really matter that much.

No matter what you’re working on, even if what you work on never sees the light of day, keep picking away at it. The practice of practice itself might be the most important skill to have, and it applies to every discipline I could name.

In any case, I think that maybe I’ve got it figured out again for a while, and it’s my intention to keep painting live and posting new work as often as I can – even if, or perhaps especially if it doesn’t rise to my expectations or make a lot of sense.

I’m also slowly working on opening up a few more pipelines to my work where I can publish segments of other projects in progress.

If you’re interested in tuning in to watch me work on my next painting, follow me on twitter or instagram so you can see me drop the link when I’m about to get started. Or you can go here to my twitch channel and wait. As it is today, I’m nearing the end of a live painting of the Helix Nebula. Feel free to show up and bother me with messages, tweets, and comments.

Or pizzas. I’m open to being hassled by pizzas.

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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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Adventure: Trail Running 04

001

This is supposed to be an art blog – so I’d better do some art. Here’s a cougar.

I’ve been running the trails behind my house with some serious dedication, but with the increasing rain toward the end of Winter, the trails have become really quite treacherous. Like, dirty waterslide type treacherous. I suppose if I ran in heavy hiking boots (which I’ve done before), I could make it work – but when I do that I end up with boots that die well before their time (after which I continue to wear their zombies).

So, that said, I’ve gotten out a bit less lately than I’ve intended.

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Adventure: Trail Running 02

I’m still running the trails as I told myself (and you, dear invisible readership) that I would. I knew my luck wouldn’t hold out with all the dry sunny weather I’d been getting, and I so I’d inevitably face the choice of skipping days where the trails were muddy, or just embracing the sludge and going with its flow.

After a couple of stormy nights chased the sunny weather away, I decided it was time to become Luke Skywalker training on Dagobah, and damn the mud.

But in all seriousness, my physical training has indeed taken on a decidedly more Dagobah feel to it regardless of the environment. Here’s why.

Fungusssss

Fungusssss

Y’see, a number of my friends are yoga enthusiasts, and they’d been telling me how all it takes is a quick session on the mat and they’re instantly back to being grounded, centred, happy, and stress free. In some cases, all they need to do is picture being on the mat and they’re instantly more at peace when they can’t get away from a stressful, even life-threatening situation.

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Adventure: Trail Running 01

I’m really quite lucky to live where I live. My house sits right on the edge of a forest that runs through the heart of the city, and I can sneak out the back at any time – unseen by human eyes – and make it almost anywhere through the spiderweb of trails that cross it.

No roads, no buildings, no cars – just the ancient peace of the forest all the way from my door to wherever I need to go.

Day 1: Back on the Trails

Day 1: Back on the Trails

Over the years that I’ve lived here, I’ve made regular use of these trails to go shopping, to deliver art, to visit restaurants, or to get to an event. Why? Well, not only are the trails often the fastest footpath from A to B, but they’re fantastically, wildly, gorgeously scenic. I mean, who’d seriously want to walk around on boring old sidewalks near cars full of people when you could slip into the cool, dark forest, have an adventure, and pop up somewhere else in town like a woodland ninja?

If your answer is “I prefer sidewalks”, then you’re doing something disastrously incorrect with your life.

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