Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy New Year

"The fairies go visiting from house to house with sweet gifts"

These four fairy revellers (plus fairy dog) first alit on the drawing board as little procession across a two page spread titled "Festive Fairy Fare", all about fairy kitchens, cookery and feasting. Along the top of the original layout are the pencilled words "The fairies go visiting from house to house with sweet gifts" , and to either side are roughed-in notes and sketched vignettes - a tray of individual cherry dumplings, gingerbread cut-outs, litle spoons. When creating a world on paper words speak to pictures, pictures to words, and multiply each other - a pencilled fairy cook hovers over a rectangle labelled "recipes" and the scribbled words "G-bread here". The next level of sketching provides more shape and details and the final painting brings them to life.

Wishing you all a very happy and blessed New Year, with feasting and merriment with friends and dear ones.

Christmas Interlude

"And as the hunter braves drew nigh
The angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born
Jesus is born
In excelsis gloria!"

In the peaceful interlude between Christmas and New Year's Eve I am completing existing projects and planning the new ones. I finished painting a page of little dragons last night, very lively ones, which must stay under wraps for now. New portfolio pages are being prepared for the website, and next year's card designs are under way. There is also the annual duty of finishing up the Christmas chocolate, which is going very smoothly with the benefit of boosted creative energy.

This is the twenthieth year since the winter that I worked on my first book contract, The Huron Carol. It was an tremendous opportunity and also a great responsibility to represent the faith, cultures and history. I usually painted late into the night and sometimes through to morning, absorbed in the details of stars, snow, animals, trees, dwellings and clothing as well as the subtleties of the faces, working to bring together Father Brebeuf's vision and the dignity and history of the Huron people, all against the backdrop of ancient forests and deep winter. Of everything that I have painted before and since then, Huron Carol was a rare, privileged experience.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime

"Twas in the moon of wintertime
when all the birds had fled,
That Mighty Gitchi Manitou
sent angel choirs instead:
Before their light the stars grew dim
And wond'ring hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In Excelsis gloria!"

Wishing you all a merry and blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

"Every year it is the same. First the tree and the box of lights are taken to the living room, where the furniture has been moved to leave a space by the front window...". Thus begins our book Grandmother's Tree, and it is still true. I have just put up the Christmas tree and unravelled the lights to wind and drape about the branches, as we do every year.

The ornaments are next. "Rustle, rustle through blankets of tissue paper as the inhabitants wake from their year-long sleep" .. the elf whispers "Wake up, wake up, it's time."

The inhabitants of my box of ornaments include paper birds, feather birds, Santas, an orchestra of plastic angels, the Hasbro "Dolly Darlings" of my childhood, tiny crochet Amigurumi dolls from Chinatown, and more.

Grandmother's Tree, written by Avril, celebrates 55 years of decorating our family's tree in all its lovely disarray, with its bent tinsel star, homemade ornaments and other family memorablia. The book can be ordered from my Etsy shop at a Christmas special price of $15 Can.

At the last watercolour classes before Christmas I have been teaching wet-into-wet techniques with Christmas ornaments for subject matter. In just two hours the results were merry and bright as well as reasonably proficient. So to all my watercolour students, Well Done and Merry Christmas!

Lesley at sea blue sky abstracts has a delightful giveaway this week, so hop over and have a stroll through her virtual gallery too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Miscellany

Many thanks to Claire for saving my files and restoring my computer after a virus got into the system. Going through my rescued files I am happily finding everything still there, including all the images. I love hand lettering and inventing fonts and have this week compiled the resulting alphabet of interchangeable letters. My website is being added to and will include these in a page of lettering samples.

My kind computer friend has loaned me a Wacom computer tablet to play with, my first efforts in direct drawing are below. The stylus responds almost but not quite like a pencil or brush, and after the initial loop-and-scrolls scribbling (reminiscent of playing with my first rapidograph pen) I began to get the feel of it.

The tremendous crop from my pear tree led to some serious jam-making this fall. The first batch didn't set but the next lot did and was delicious as well. It can can become addictive once you taste successful jam in the making and view with satisfaction the row of full and warmly gleaming jars. There was more than enough to give away, which naturally led to the fun of designing and hand-painting the labels. I cut out rondels of textured watercolour paper, set atop circles of fabric cut from a favorite faded denim.

I was invited to a local Brownie troup recently to introduce them to watercolour painting. This was a highly enjoyable evening - I have only been to Scout meets over the last decade! Our subject matter was fairies, of course. I took along some of my samples and demonstrated my method for painting simple figures. After some initial experimentation the results were charming, a host of Christmas card fairies.

With Advent beginning this weekend the outdoor Christmas decorations went up and I brought my big Santa's List painting out of its storage place.

I painted this in 1997 and have put it outside by the front door to endure the early winter Advent weather every year. Successsive coats of protective glaze have all given way to cracks and flaking.

If I put it out this year Santa will literally disappear, flakes of colour flying away in the wind, and we can't have that. (But it would make an interesting story if he was reassembling somewhere else)

I have sketched an angel for a new panel, with a good coat of wood primer to go on before the paint this time. Santa will stay indoors and perhaps the angel will be ready in time for Christmas.

Happy Advent to all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rubber Stamps and Morning Glory Fairies

In the rediscovered box of rubber stamps are several of my images that were reproduced by Graphistamp some years ago. Here is one of them, the Morning Glory Fairies, a 3" by 3" wood mounted rubber stamp. I haven't played with these in a long time.

Tools assembled: the stamp, an ink pad and a brayer
for even application of ink.
The first impression, stamp to paper,
followed by more prints, more fairies.
Scissors and coloured pencils: working with two prints of the same
image I cut the central part out of the first to make a window and
slipped the second print of the image underneath, for depth.
I started colouring with my finest pencils, gently applying the colour in layers for glowing tones.

The first results, fairies seen through a ring of flowers.

In the next version I reversed the assembly, with the fairies
standing out against a backdrop of clouds and flowers.

As a final touch I carefully inked just the corner of the stamp
and made a floral corner decoration for the envelopes, also coloured in.

These cards and envelopes will shortly be up on the Etsy shop, along with stamp itself.

Stamping is a beguiling activity and strolling around the Creativ Festival yesterday we saw the latest innovations in stamping techniques and embellishments. There are more stamps in the box to be rediscovered and some nice new tools to try out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"I wish I lived in a Caravan"

"Rainbows in the daytime and shooting stars at night gave notice that the gypsies were in our galaxy. So we were not surprised to wake up early one morning to the neigh of their little winged horses rejoicing in the rich pasture of Skylark Meadow by the stream. The smoke from their camp fires drifted across the orchard and we all abandoned our daily routine and flew to meet them." The Illustrated Fairy Gazette, Gypsy Visitors.
The fairy caravan paintings for Gypsy Visitors are among my favorite pieces, ones that beckoned me into the magic as I painted, with the lure of romance and adventure that was captured in the old poem "I wish I lived in a caravan". With original edition of Gypsy Visitors now sold out we are making the cover art available as a card, the newest item on the Etsy shop.

A short story of travel and discovery: On this beautiful autumn day Avril and I set out early to attend the Creativ Festival at the Convention Centre downtown. Michaelmas daisies and goldenrod made splashes of colour on the grassy edges of the highway as we left the suburbs. We eventually came off the expressway, into the city and past the CN Tower, consulting our downloaded tickets and discussing the best parking options and the booths we would visit. Having parked we made our way along the halls and up the multiple escalators of the Toronto Convention Centre, finally nearing the South Convention Hall and encountering the first trickle of crowds. We had both expected the other attendees to be more casually dressed for the occasion than they were - more casually chic with smart hand-made items and embellishments, more hats for example - but of course it was us.
We were as out of place as the giant woodpecker on the steel sculpture outside.
The Creativ Festival is next
weekend, and all those serious and tired-looking people with their suits and messenger bags were on their way to the The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) 2010 Annual Meeting and to lectures on bone and skeletal health.

We made our way back to the car and went to Queen Street instead, finding an excellent bead shop and other stores that cater to the creative passion. I doubt that any of the ASBMR attendees had noticed us or wondered if they were overdressed for their own event. They were probably thinking only of the convention schedule and their part in its important work. (And reminded of the importance of dietary calcium, we both ordered salmon at lunch, and a glass of milk.) We'll go back next week, in creative company.

Home again some hours later and inspired by the thought of the many crafts that will be represented at the show, I went looking in the basement for a certain box that I put away years ago.
Found it!
It was all still there, my beautiful stamps.
To be continued....

"We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend."

Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trumpets from the Steep

I love the intense, glorious, fleeting blue of morning glories. From pale green spears they lengthen to creamy white spiral buds striped with blush pink, then the blossoms unfurl rich blue pleats that are heavy with inky colour.

Fully open, the trumpets
seem to shimmer with a dazzling haze of blue, reflecting the sky for one glorious day.

By late afternoon
the colour shifts, the blue
gives way to lilac....

and lilac gives
way to intense and deepening
pink, the blossoms infolding to buds
like furled parasols.

For the brilliant blue trumpets I must buy annual seeds, but the wild bindweeds (weeds indeed, yet welcome) come back readily and are equally fascinating to watch as the colour changes through the day, a glimpse of magic in the garden.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Banbury Cross"

"Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse..."

New on the Etsy shop are prints of one of my favorite pieces, the pen and ink rendition of Banbury Cross. It is one of a series of black and white illustrations of nursery rhymes, all on a large scale and all of them luxuriant in detail.

In my first year of art studies our required course materials included a set of Staedtler or Ko-Hi-Noor Rapidograph pens. There were four in the box, the nibs ranging in size from 1.0mm to 0.13mm, along with little ink cartridges and a spare bottle of india ink for refills. I remember the transformative delight of trying them out for the first time - the glossy, silky flow of ink as I styled fine leaves, flowers, feathers, curlicues and twisting vines, smaller and smaller with the increasingly finer nibs. It seemed one could approach infinity with fine enough tools. The white of the paper behind the ink sparked like silver filigree and I fell in love with black and white work for quite some time. I still begin paintings by visualizing them in black and white values, and in every series of watercolour classes that I teach there is a lesson in grisaille painting.

The fall term for art classes (two courses at least, possibly four) begins next week so it is well and truly autumn at last. From my one pear tree I have picked bags and basketfuls of fruit to give away. I took one large and overflowing basket to church this week and left it on the narthex table - all gone in minutes at the end of service. The last batch, below, represents one more afternoon of baking and jam making before classes and other painterly obligations resume.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dragons on the drawing board

Our summer adventures brought us safely home again and I am back to work with pencil and paint. The pleasant task at hand is the art for the sequel to The Dragon's Egg, cover art above. I was well into it before we left on holiday and the dragons were waiting for me on our return.

Written by Alison Baird, The Dragon's Egg (a national bestseller and Regional Winner of the Silver Birch Award) was first published in 1994. My young model for the girl has since grown up but fortunately I still have some of the photos of her. The dragon has stayed in my mind, endlessly striking poses to be captured on paper, so I am very glad that the sequel is coming together at last. It is as charming as the original, with wit and adventure, and (not to give too much away) more dragons and magic.

The new cover art is complete, under wraps for now, and some black and white chapter headings are next.

I took my paints and brushes with me on holiday (a fully loaded palette, with fresh blues than softened and ran under the palette cover and combined to make interesting new tones), but it turns out that I am a good sailor only as long as I do not try to draw or paint at sea, so I enjoyed the rest from work and took photos instead. When the dragons are taken care of I'll get back to painting those beautiful blue waters and pink sands.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Gon Out, Backson, Bisy"

In other words, we're going on holiday. After busy weeks of painting, art show, and classes (the above picture is of Sovereign House, where I have been teaching painting en plein air) we are taking off to visit pink sands and coral caves. A house sitter is coming to mind our four-footed ones. The garden will mostly take care of itself.
The pear tree is again heavy with sweet-scented fruit. Twelve years ago it was a spindly little orphan from a local garden nursery, and now it is a towering tree that produces an embarrassment of riches every year. Sometimes a branch breaks under the weight, like the one sketched here.

They will be closer to ripe when we come back, in good time for pear tart and pear jam making. Meanwhile we are going down the shouting sea (taking my palette and brushes with me), or as Christopher Robin put it,
Gon Out

Monday, July 12, 2010

After the ball is over... and a new Give Away

The show as Sovereign House is over and the visiting fairies have flown away. The "How Many Fairies" contest drew many entries and last week a winner was declared and the prize presented. The contest is this simple: How many fairies can you count in the picture above? (Hint: they all have wings)

The prize is a fairy-tale princess on a gilt ladder, as seen here, from the Princess and the Pea collection that I had the pleasure of designing.

Count carefully and post your entry in the comments section, and next Sunday, August 1, the winner will be announced.

To quote from A Midsummer Nights Dream, "Fairies away!"
(or my favourite, "Give me your hands, if we be friends...")

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fairy Finds

Along with the fairy paintings currently on display at Sovereign House are other fairy finds. There are the fairy purses of course, and now another one of Avril's crochet inventions, a little blue-finned mermaid with cascading golden hair. Like the fairy purses she is made of the finest, silkiest cotton thread, very beguiling to the touch. She fits charmingly into the palm of one's hand.

Some weeks ago I found a pair of child-sized chairs in my favourite charity shop and brought them home to sand down and repaint with a fairy motif. The weeks have slipped by with so many things to have ready in time for the show, but this weekend I finally finished the chairs and brought them into the gallery.

Here is the signature motif under the seat,

and here are the chairs, with daisy seats and winged back rests.
One of our young visitors pulled up a chair to sit and paint with me for a while. Working on scraps of watercolour paper we came up with these (fairy with a flower vine, fairy flying over a golden ship) and other miniatures, making up stories to go with each one.

On a table in the middle of the room are books, cards and ornaments. In recent years I did some designs for a giftware company and have a small stock of the resulting product. The Frost Fairy collection included these little cherubs,
and another group of ornaments was designed around my "Princess and the Pea" illustration,
with the Princess on her ladder, sets of Princess slippers,
and a trinket box of the Princess in her tall bed with (what else) a small golden pea inside, under all those mattresses.
The show continues until later this week, concluding another magical interlude at Sovereign House.