Monday, August 30, 2010

A different sort of blank canvas

The other day I was at the junction of Oxford Circus and Regent Street. Anyone who has been to London will know that this particular meeting of two roads is always heaving. Taxi's, buses, cars, and tourists pack the road and walkways. This is because Oxford and Regent are where people go to shop. There are massive stores that make this part of London seem like a giant strip mall.

I'm not a big fan of 'stuff'. I know well enough that any sense of well-being I may get from a purchase is very temporary. I have little rules for myself, like I would never pay more than £20 for a pair of trousers or more than £15 for a shirt. The calibre of shop that graces Oxford Circus and Regent Street just doesn't drop down to my price range, but I had some time to wander and this was what was available for me to explore. I chose a store at random, planning to people-watch over shopping.

I was feeling a bit crushed by the throngs of people so once inside I made my way up, knowing fewer people would be inclined to go all the way to the third floor. I'm ever-so glad I did as this floor was the sale floor. In moments my shoe-dar had gone off and I found myself standing by a table spread with an assortment of canvas shoes. There were some lovely blue ones and an oddly patterned green and rose one, but it was the stark white ones which appealed to me the most.

I've not had my own pair of custom shoes in ages. I walked out of my last pair of rainbow glories about a year and a half ago. Unable to find white canvas sneakers that fell into my price range, I've let it be. I believe that, when the time is right, you'll know.

I picked up a pair of these white sneakers and checked the price tag, prepared to see some astronomical price.


I almost squealed I was so happy!

So, I have a new pair of shoes...but not just shoes. I have a new blank canvas, awaiting an idea yet to occur to me. I've sat them on a shelf where I see them everyday. Ideas come and go but nothing has stuck just yet. I'll give it time though because I know something will come and when it does I'll be ready with brush in hand.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

London Journal - The V & A Museum

This is a photo of the V & A Museum (Victoria & Albert), one of three museums accessible from the South Kensington tube station, where I arrived at ten to five yesterday. I have been planning to attend the monthly 'Adults Only' Science Museum late night opening since I went last month, but knowing that the museum wouldn't open its doors for this event until seven, I had some time to kill. What better way to do so than to pop into the V & A, checking off yet another museum from my list.
I only had an hour to explore so I grabbed the museum map and scanned it to see what would be of most interest. I decided to head straight for the back wing, where all the sculptures were kept. They have a varied collection of British owned sculptures spanning 1600 - 1900. With my Mighty Women eye on I made a point of noting how many of the pieces were of women. To be honest there were quite a few female busts, if not as many male, but most of the female sculptures were of mythological women.

I scanned the names of the sculptors, hoping for a woman and finding none. I did make note of those pieces that caught my eye and discovered that I have a love of Auguste Rodin and Eric Gill. I was standing amongst several of their sculptures, taking notes with my eyes, when I glanced a new name on the plaque before me.

Winifred Turner
(1903 - 1983), a female sculptor. Apparently she is such an obscure artist that she doesn't even warrant a wikipedia page. But her piece Crouching Youth is in the V & A, one of the most famous museums in the UK if not the world.

Feeling quite pleased to have discovered this little known female artist, I wandered away from the main hall towards the Asian Sculptures wing. Of course the feature was Buddha and how sculptures of him have evolved over time. The collection included several prolific Bodhisattvas as well, most notably, the White Tara.

A female Bodhisattva.

It is often said that Buddhism is sexist because Buddha didn't believe that women had the ability to become enlightened. Of course it is also believe that he said:

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

Maybe he said it, maybe he didn't. Maybe he was sexist, maybe he wasn't.

Regardless, the White Tara is there and she has substantial clout. She represents compassion and freedom from fear and she is currently my research project. I want to know so much more about her, where and when she lived, who she taught, how she was able to become a Goddess in a world where women were considered objects or too emotional to become enlightened.

Needless to say, my self-directed women's studies class is full of interesting developments.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

London Journal - Musicals, musicals, musicals

Because of Broadway and because of Hollywood, I think everyone instantly thinks 'New York' and 'L.A.' when it comes to celebrities, theatre and the stage. London is known for it's historical buildings like Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery and the houses of Parliament. It's got tourist attractions like double-decker red buses, furry hatted guards and the Royal family. Steeped in history, this is a city full of museums.

But it has it's theatres.

When emerging from Leicester Square tube station it's impossible not to notice the glittering, flashing signs advertising The Lion King, Oliver!, The Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys, Grease, Thriller, Le Miserables, Avenue Q and so, so much more. when I first arrived I knew going to the theatre was something to put on my list. I was lucky enough to be included in the attendance of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice but this wasn't a play of my choosing. When it came down to it I honestly couldn't think of what single show was to get top ranking. I can tell you that any time I saw Sister Act advertised it just didn't catch my eye. I adored the film, but the musical just didn't have any appeal, until a few weeks ago.

I was reading the Metro and caught sight of an article in the celebrity section. Trying to keep track of which celebrities are in London seems a bit silly as they've all been here, they all come here and they're all probably going to be here again. I'm not the star-struck kind of gal (I swoon and babble incoherently for Canadian celebs like Tegan and Sara, Esthero or Rick Mercer.) and most celebrity to'ing and fro'ing is of very little interest to me unless they are a particularly iconic person in my memory.

As a child I was raised by women who were crafty, boisterous, fun and a little bit mad in the most delightful way. I used to think that, if the women in my childhood life were going to hang out with famous people they would get on like a house on fire with Bette Midler, Rosie O'Donnel, Goldie Hawn and Whoopi Goldberg.

Whoopi is in town and Whoopi is, for a very limited time, performing as the Mother Superior in the stage play of Sister Act in London. Last night I was in attendance and I gotta say, it was brilliant. Whoopi really was a star although a very humble one. The costumes were magnificent and the sets were unbelievable. I was stunned at their complex beauty and it did, in a little way, make me want to do set-design. Or costuming. Or both.

Either way, the entire thing was inspiring and I'm utterly chuffed that I saw it. I'm sure there will be other musicals and this one wasn't even the first I've seen in London, but this definitely felt like it was a once in a lifetime sort of show.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Abstract and out of focus...

I ordered several canvases a few weeks ago. It was an incredibly fantastic deal and I was eager about having ten assorted canvases delivered to my door. As it was, they arrived and one of the boxes was damaged.Upon opening it I discovered that two of the canvases had been damaged as well. One had a puncture in it whilst the other has a small hole along the side. Nothing too major, but definitely worth ringing the company up about. They were hugely accommodating, even offering to hold off on delivering replacement canvases until the following week when I knew I'd be home to exchange the damaged ones.

In the end I didn't have to return the damaged ones. The delivery guy told me he wasn't doing a pick-up, handed off a fresh box, turned and left. I quickly opened the new ones, which had been packed with extra care to avoid the same damage happening this time around. I took them upstairs to add to my stash, pure potential sat in the corner.

Then it was a question of what to do with the other two canvases. They weren't useless. The damage was actually so minimal on one that it could be recovered enough as is. I considered taking the torn one and re-stretching it on a smaller frame. I was discussing this with my partner, who suggested I just use it as is see where the torn canvas takes me art.

A brilliant idea, if you ask me.

The result is slowly unfolding. Each time I pick up a brush and work on it I feel almost as if there is no thought to my actions. I just do and the growing colours and pattern laves m feeling satisfied. No picture to share for this one. I'm just going to let it reveal itself in time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mighty Women - Hazel Dooney

The term 'mental illness' is a very interesting one. I've been writing a book about my personal experience with it, a book I hope to share with you soon enough. It just requires a lot of editing at the moment.

But I digress...

One of the key things I have contemplated again and again is the stigma that goes along with the term and where that stigma comes from. Thing is, we've all been there. Take the word 'mental' out and drop-in 'physical' instead. There are a lot of physical illnesses and they can range from the common cold and minor aches and pains to something as severe as cancer or AIDS. Physical illnesses certainly do have their own stigma's, but there is a certain sense of acceptance about getting sick.

We all get sick.

Well, same thing goes for our brains. Pay attention to your thoughts and the tangents they can go on. You brain has a mind of it's own, as funny as that sounds. If we don't take care of it, just like if we don't take care of our bodies, we're inclined to get ill.

And just like a cold is telling us we're run-down and maybe not getting enough sleep or eating the right foods, a burst of anxiety or a bout of depression can be a clear signal that something needs to change. Some of us experience it more often than others,but we all know the signs and symptoms. This is why it's so important we remember the role we play in our own lives.

We are the manufacturers of our own happiness and our own misery. It is not enough to accept the ailments that afflict us as a fact of life. We have the responsibility to ourselves to be as compassionate, wise and capable as we know we can be.

Hazel Dooney is an incredible example of this. Here is a woman who knows quite intimately the strain that can come from feeling as if your mind is in a battle against you. She blogs about it, she shares it in her work, sometimes she even needs to take some time to focus on just fighting that fight.

But she never lets it stop her.

She knows who she is and she knows that whatever little pauses she may encounter on the way, she is an artist and she will create her art.

She is more than worthy of the Mighty Woman status and I am grateful for her encouragement on a both professional and a personal level. I honestly don't believe this sketch is particularly good, but it's not shit either and reading Hazel's blog has taught me that sharing all aspects of yourself is a good way to grow.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to Make a Mask

Step 1 (Supplies):
Get some plaster cast and some Vaseline.

Step 2 (Prep):
Cut the plaster cast into strips of different sizes and widths.
Apply Vaseline to the face of your model.
(You will also require a bowl of water, preferably warm for the model's sake.)

Step 3:
Soak the strips of plaster and build them up on the face of your model. No need to do a lot of layers. This is just to make a nice mold to work from.
Let dry for about twenty minutes or until the plaster cast no longer feels like it can bend.
Remove from your model and leave to one side for at least 24 hours to harden completely.

Step 4:
Determine what animal you will be creating. A good way is to ask the model/customer what they want. If they really don't know then ask a few probing questions to determine what animal would suit them best. Build on the mask as appropriate.

Step 5:
Problem solving
Ears can be a challenge. There are many options. You can build them off of the mask you just made, but this poses the risk of making the mask too heavy or difficult to wear.
You could make faux-fur ones, which are usually easy to rig up as head gear. But faux-fur can be expensive, difficult to find and require a sewing machine for assembly.
The other option is to improvise. Dig around and see what you can find. In this case, an old top hat will do.

Step 6:
A solid frame is essential to well developed costume ears. In this case I used wire and some card stock...

This is messy work. Doing it indoors or out, make sure you lay something down on your workspace to minimise the mess. Unless you have a studio space, in which case have fun, be liberated and make as much of a mess as you like knowing you can shut the door on it when the day is done.

Step 7:
Build up the ears using strips of plaster. Make sure to minimise the amount of plaster cast you're using. It's a lovely durable and easy to use medium, but it can get hefty and if someone is going to be wearing it for a prolonged period you want them to be comfortable.

Step 8:
In this case the mask is that of a hare so I used a stiff bristled brush to help create a furry look on the face and back of the ears.

Step 9:
Attach the ears to the hat and viola! Finished product! A lovely hare mask suitable for a tea party.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


In the Tarot deck the sixth card is usually called 'The Lovers' but, halfway through painting this one, I found some history on it. Originally it was just love, which I think still suits it best. This card isn't about two people. This card is about passion. It's about a passion for life, knowing what you love and going after it. It can be love for another person, but it can also be love for a place, a career, a memory...anything. Pure, genuine, true love.

When I started painting these cards it was because I love tarot and I wanted to explore all the symbolic meanings in the cards whilst giving them my own twist. As I worked on these lovely dolphins, and reflected on how each card has suited where I currently seem to be on a personal level, it occurred to me that they all have a strong Buddhist undercurrent. As I've studied them more and more I've realised this entire project has become an exploration of parallels in different belief systems. No matter how you package it, the way to live a good life is universal.

I've come to realise that tarot cards don't tell you anything you don't already know. They just make it obvious. Buddhism is based on mindfulness, self awareness, being in the moment and accepting what is simply as it is, without conditioning it. Tarot cards don't tell us that something will or won't happen. They just show us exactly where we are. Meditation is about being exactly where we are, in the present moment.

I have eight cards left in the major arcana. I will finish them when I finish them. I will learn what they have to teach me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mighty Women - Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser

Waiting for paint to dry...seems like the perfect time to update my blog.

Continuing on my journey to learn as much as possible about influential women throughout history, I was pleased as punch that the last artist-led drop-in sketch class at the National Portrait Gallery was held in the same room as portraits of these two women.

Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser were the two female founders of the Royal Academy when it was established in 1768. There is a famous painting depicting the founders of the Royal Academy which, at first glance, would appear not to have any women in it. This was because it was considered improper for a woman to be in the room with a nude model, however, the two are included. Look closely and see if you can find them.

And remember them the next time someone asks you to name five famous female artist.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why Molly Gordon is on my list of Mighty Women

My psychologist has been more than just a mental health practitioner. She's also been a business coach. She almost always ends our sessions with a flurry of links, names and book titles that may or may not help me to market my work, find inspiration and lead the life I want. I haven't always followed the links right off or been motivated to get to the library and take out a specific title, but eventually, if I was meant to, I've taken the time to see just what she was going on about.

One such recommendation was for Molly Gordon, who keeps a marvellous blog, which she also sends out as a regular online newsletter. I'm not usually a fan of the e-newsletter since they generally have too much going on in them and ultimately they only serve to clog my inbox.

But this one is different. It's thought provoking, quick to read but also hugely helpful. Her last one was all about shining.

It was apt as lately I've not been feeling particularly shiny or full of *glee*. In fact, I've been feeling anything but confident, which tends to scare the crap out of me.
But her newsletter tends to serve as a reminder and it almost always seems to coincide with where I'm at and what current 'swift kick' I require. The funny thing about this most recent one, which is about finding one little thing to do to remind you of your role, to build your confidence and remember who you are, is I didn't read it until today but I did the 'homework' this week.

Typically we are our own worst critic. I think that when it comes to creativity people assume this means that, as an artist, we are most critical of our own work. I have occasionally thought something I'd done has been absolute rubbish, but I'd say 85% of the time I am extremely satisfied with the outcome of my art. I love my paintings and I love sharing them with the world.

Where I become critical is in my ability to prioritise. I tend to beat myself up for little things like not updating my blog frequently enough, not finishing a painting in the timeline I thought it would take, not going on twitter often enough to promote links to my available prints. I could keep listing all the reasons I sometimes feel that I'm just not doing 'enough' but I know it doesn't help anything. The idea of 'enough' is relative anyway and I've yet to meet someone who wasn't surprised at how quickly I get things done. Most of the time I'm surprised at how quickly I get things done, which might be why I'm disappointed if this doesn't happen.

What it all boils down to is learning to let go of that attachment to a specific, pre-determined timeline and lowering my expectations so when I look back on a week, instead of seeing everything I didn't do, everything I did stands out proudly.

Like this week:
I painted for three hours, starting and nearly finishing a single tarot card.
I began sketching another tarot card.
I updated my blog.
I attended the Queer Perspectives talk at the NPG
I went to the sketch class at the NPG

So I would say I shone quite a lot this past week. I shine quite a lot most days, even if I find it difficult to see. I think we can all find it challenging to see what we accomplish in our day to day lives when we focus too much on how we didn't do something we'd wanted to do. So please remember that you are a brilliant star in your own universe and remember the ever so clever Oscar Wilde quote below, which is credited to another mighty woman, the talented Maggi Hambling.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mary Beale

I know I keep saying it but it's true:

Who needs art school when you have London?

Last Friday I attended the free artist led drop-in sketch class at the National Portrait Gallery.

Yes, you read that right.

I didn't get the name of the artist as she didn't introduce herself. She just launched right into things, handing out paper, charcoal, pencils and erasers.
"We're going to do perspective," she said, "So I want you to set yourself up looking down one of these corridors."

I chose the one everyone else didn't, leaning against the wall, my sketchbook on my lap.

I'm not adverse to perspective. It's actually something that's never really bothered me. I've just not seen it as difficult. This was, though. Probably because I've not done it for such a long time, and definitely not on this scale. I was drawing the doorways as they stretched out, stacked inside each other. I gave it four solid attempts, my lines becoming more free and loose with each new start. Eventually I got a desirable sketch and I flipped to a fresh page to sketch Mary Beale.

I felt I'd earned it.

Mary Beale, one of the first female artists on record. Her mother died when she was very young and her father, who was a painter, raised her to follow in his footsteps. It was an opportunity not granted to women in the 1600's and so she is one of very few. She is also largely unheard of and in the spirit of Sadie Lee's project to educate people of the famous women in art history, I ask you to remember her name.

London Journal - Tate Britain revisited

I temp at an office based in Vauxhall, which is just across the river and up a bit from Tate Britain. As my only other visit to this Tate was brief (albeit very enjoyable) I decided to return. The walk was pleasant and it was neat to come round to the front of the building this time around.

To the left and right of the entrance were two large, black, metal sculptures which immediately caught my eye. I climbed the stairs and went round to the right. Here was a magnificent sculpture of Hermes in an intense battle with a dragon. He was poised, a blade in one hand, severed head in the other. Entwined under his winged sandals, the dragon held a struggling maiden.

The sculpture to the left was along the similar theme of 'distressed maiden'. A rearing bull with a nude girl upon it's back was caught in a battle with two men. It was all quite dramatic.

Inside, though, I discovered something even more wonderful. I don't have a sketch of her for you but Fiona Banner is joining the ranks of my Mighty Women to be studied and recognised for their incredible talent. Her piece, titled 'Harrier and Jaguar' uses two decommissioned fighter planes to represent the fragility of the animals they represent. I was most delighted by the incredible brush work of fragile feathers on the wings of the Harrier.

I think it's fantastic that a female artist has such a prominent display at Tate Britain. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone reading this blog. If you get the chance, please go see it. It's absolutely stunning.

London Journal - SMLates

Early this month I discovered an online invitation to some special late night opening at the London Science Museum. A lot of the museums in London stay open late one night a week, but this was a monthly thing and it has a twist. Rather than being open to the public at large, it's adults only.
I'm not adverse to the company of children. I have a solid background of babysitting and I find these little people who are growing into themselves wonderful conversationalists with bright imaginations. But in a museum setting it can all get to be a bit much. Especially at a science museum. I know I had been warned about visiting Calgary's science museum once I'd left the realm of childhood. I was told it was very kid-orientated, and it really is. Most of them are. And whilst it's lovely to share the enthusiasm and joy of children discovering the world around them, sometimes it's nice to be in such a space with a more 'relaxed' crowd.
Anyway, it seemed worth checking out so I booked it into my agenda for July and on the 28th, I went. My lovely archaeologist accompanied me and as we stood in line together we perused the evening's schedule. It was food themed, which always bodes well in my books. There were many different food themed things going on all night long but there were two back-to-back talks on peppers that sounded particularly good.
Upon entering the building the seemingly long line dispersed and any sense of a crowd disappeared. This was a museum I had not yet been to. It was reminiscent of my early days in London, when I would go to museums during the weekdays, arriving when they first opened and the buildings echoed with their emptiness.
As we had half an hour before the first talk would begin, A little wander seemed in order.
What I managed to see in that half an hour was a mere taste of what the museum has to offer. I oogled over the clocks and pocket watches; ancient tools and instruments used for astronomy; the cars, planes and trains mounted on the ceilings and walls.
It was hardly enough time to see all the exhibits that I wanted, but I was eager to hear the pepper talks.
As it was the DJ's music nearly drowned out the first speaker (Yes they have a DJas well as wine and beer and apparently there was also a food table somewhere.) but even to watch his enthusiastic arm gestures was a delight. The second speaker was a mad botanist and she expressed her enthusiasm with a quivering of her right hand. I soaked up the stories of peppers throughout history (Did you know they're a New World thing and before Columbus they didn't exist in the Old World at all?) and delighted in the absolute joy our speaker had for her work.
It was almost a shame I was so tired by the end of it. I would have delighted to stay longer, to explore the exhibits and see the floors I only knew about by the map alone.
But there will be more last Wednesdays and I can't think of a good reason not to go as it didn't cost a thing.