Tuesday, November 30, 2010

London Journal - Snow

An interesting observation about flash in the dark across a wide open space.
First photo: With Flash

Second Photo: Without Flash

The snow which had been predicted for days finally fell today. The flakes are fat, sticky clumps of ice drifting down in a mad dance. It's the sort of snow Calgary rarely gets because the climate is so dry. It's the very best sort of snow though because it's the sort that can be used to make snowmen and forts. It can be sculpted and played with and when it dumps on Calgary it usually means a snow day.

Despite falling almost constantly today in London, the snow has barely stuck. All day I watched it twirling down. Sometimes it would be a mad flurry of flakes, so thick they obscured the Thames from view. Other times it was lighter, sometimes so light that one could only see it by pausing and staring at a single spot for a moment or two.

As I walked to the tube the flakes came down in a billowing cloud. They stuck to my glasses and cheeks, leaving cold droplets of water as they melted. For the first time this year the familiar warm glow of Christmas began to fill me, starting in my chilly toes. I emerged from the tube and as I turned up the road leading to my home I had to walk stiff legged. Here the snow had definitely stuck and the slush under foot made the pavement treacherous. The whirling fat flakes kept falling and I tilted my head back, catching them on my tongue.

There is so much beauty in a London snowfall.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Excerpt - Youth Group

The title 'Youth Group' is merely a working title. I'm hit or miss with titles for my own work. Sometimes the title comes to me at the initial stages when I'm plotting out the character and storyline. Sometimes I just title it with something so when I save the document it's got a decent file name. In this instance I hadn't really given it any thought because the entire book was unplanned. Initially I wanted to write a specific character. I just had this girl in my head and she needed to get out. One thing led to another and 'Youth Group' unfolded as a collection of short stories with each chapter following a different teenager. Their connecting factor is the youth group they attend.

I began writing the piece when I was a facilitator at such a youth group. I have always written for the Young Adult genre, primarily because reading such books was an important escape for me. As a victim of bullying I sought out friendships in the literature I consumed and it became clear to me that a lot of what is out there is written by adults who have forgotten what it's like to be a teenager. I feel that credit should be given to the reader and talking down to them through your characters accomplishes nothing. The best books I've read for young adults have been the ones written with the understanding that the reader, whilst confused and probably struggling with an array of emotions they find overwhelming, does have a brain. They are capable of making decisions and often have to make more adult decisions than their parents and teachers give them credit for. The most difficult challenge for teenagers is finding and expressing their identity. When your identity is seen as 'abnormal' or 'different' the challenges can be all the more difficult. Standing up for who you are, what you believe in and how you want to live your life is a great challenge and one we start in adolescence and, in the world as we know it, continues until the day we die.

This collection is a testimony to the bravery of young people who not only have to struggle with their inner emotions, but also face a world that tells them how they should act or who they should be.

This excerpt is from the chapter that follows Cynthia, a young girl not yet comfortable labelling her own sexual orientation despite her peer's decision to do so.


Of course, there was Prism. Cynthia discovered the rainbow postcard while waiting to be seated at a restaurant. She slipped it into her pocket while her parents weren’t paying attention, which was easy since they barely seemed to notice her. She hadn’t been yet, only looked at the number and thought of going. She didn’t know if she would be able to do it. How could she explain to her parents? She would need a ride, which was hard to get, and then she’d need some explanation as to why she was going there. She thought of saying it was a social justice club or something, but she knew that her mother wouldn’t understand. She would probably wonder why Cynthia would go to this group outside of school, but wouldn’t join any clubs that the school offered. So she kept putting it off, waiting for the right moment, and pondering if it was even worth it. She avoided thinking about it until one Thursday after school. She stepped out into the snowy weather. It was cold and bitter. The snow came down slowly, mere ice crystals dancing in the light.

She hadn’t gone more than three steps when a snarky voice called out from behind her, “Hey Cynthia, where’re you going dyke?”

Cynthia flinched at the hateful words. She didn’t turn around, but her step faltered. The owner of the voice obviously noticed because there was laughter and then, “Going to meet your girlfriend?”

Cynthia stopped and slowly turned around. It was a girl in her grade who took two classes with her. Two other girls stood nearby. Her boyfriend stood with his arm slung across her shoulder. Cynthia didn’t know the girl's name, or who the other girls were, but she knew the boyfriend. His name was Joel and he had lived on her block when they were little. She remembered they used to play together sometimes, but then he’d moved away and she hadn’t seen much of him after that. When she’d started high school she’d seen him walking down the hall and had gone to talk to him. It had been brief and he’d seemed in a hurry to get away. That was before anyone had started rumors about her. He simply didn’t have time. Now he leered nastily as the girls giggled and his girlfriend said, “Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer and then I wouldn’t have to endure you stripping me with your eyes.”

Cynthia blinked back tears. Her throat ached and she wanted so badly to scream at them to shut up and leave her alone. She knew she wouldn't though because she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She knew whatever she said would come out wrong and only give them ammunition. Instead she turned and walked away, their screeching giggles following after her.

“She just needs to get laid,” she heard Joel say before she was out of ear shot.

She hated it and wanted to make them shut up. Her stomach hurt from thinking about it. She didn’t know if she was a lesbian, or whatever, but she hated that everyone else had decided she was and that it was so completely wrong. But it couldn’t be wrong because it felt so normal to her. Unless she was abnormal, which she questioned every day.


Do use the comments below to let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taking a big step

When I began my blog it was with the intention of focusing on my creativity and all the things that feed my soul. I hope that one day these things can also provide me with enough income that I needn't work for other people any longer. More importantly I hoped to use it to motivate me to make my very important dreams a reality, as cliched as that sounds.

I'm happy to say I identify very strongly as an artist now and painting has become a great joy which fills my days more often than it ever did before I began blogging. I'm also pleased that I have finally had a manuscript edited in full by a fresh pair of eyes. All of these things do so much to lift me up. It's the knowledge that I'm not quite there yet which keeps me going forward. As long as thirty to forty hours of my week is spent filling a job out of necessity rather than out of passion, I will be dissatisfied enough to push forward.

One suggestion given to me for my blog when I first started it was to use it to publish excerpts from the five novels and multiple short stories I have written. These tasters would be similar to the progressive photos I share of my artwork.

I balked at the idea for a few reasons. First of all, I thought the writing in my blog would be writing enough. It's true that people do seem to enjoy what I have to share and the most frequent and flattering comment is that when they read my account of a place I've been they feel like they're actually there too. This doesn't expose my true writing nature, however, as this just shows I'm good at journalling. The thirty plus journals I have kept since I was six are testimony to that.

Another reason I held back is because I'm a bit nervous to share my work. Until that manuscript was edited no one had actually taken any of my fictional pieces and read them all the way through. I'd read bits to different people but not shared an entire body of work. The result was amazing. The editing was impeccable and the comments that went along with it spurred me to start researching publisher again.

Something has slowed me down, though. My primary excuse is a lack of time, which in its way is a legitimate argument. As my mum always said you have as much time as you're willing to make. I don't have a really significant excuse. I'm tired. I'm worn down and find it difficult to motivate myself after putting in a seven or eight hour day that starts at 7:30. This isn't really reason enough not to do the single thing I've had my heart set on since I can remember.

When I was five and six I would take large chunks of paper and fold them over, stapling them along the spine and then filling the pages with illustrations and words. As I became proficient with a computer I began typing my thoughts out, as well as scribbling them on the pages of my journals. I invented new characters every week. I was writing novels by the time I was fifteen and there was never a question in my mind that one day I would hold a book, bound and beautiful, of my own creation. It would be a proper publication, unlike the folded chunks of paper from my childhood. It would sit on shelves next to Terry Pratchett, Judy Blume, Anne McAffrey, Irvine Welsh, Kurt Vonnegut and Beverly Cleary.

Sharing the progress of my paintings did give me a sense of timeline. I didn't feel rushed into completing them, but knowing that they had been seen and that people wanted to see them finished added to my own passion for creating them. I make them as much for the audience as I make them for me.

I think it's about time I took the same approach with my writing. I've not worked out just yet which excerpt I'm going to share but I promise it will be my next blog entry. The only thing I ask of you is your honesty. I want feedback. I want to know if it makes sense, if it flows and most importantly, if you want to read more. There's an option to add comments at the bottom of each post so please do.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sneak peek at Pema

Her eyes aren't quite right. This has been the thing I've struggled with since I began sketching her out weeks ago. First they were too big. I adjusted this and on the weekend I thought I'd paint them in properly. Now her irises are different sizes. I still like the piece but it is frustrating me. What's frustrating me most is that I don't feel like I have enough time to work on it. I like painting in the cool light of day and by the time I get home the sun has set and the yellow light of my room is all I have to work with.

My intention with this piece? Well, besides doing it out of pure enjoyment as a tribute to a woman for whom I have great admiration, I plan to submit it to the BP Portrait Awards. When I arrived here in January they were accepting submissions for the 2010 awards. It was this competition that Sadie Lee was entered into so many years ago, which is how she has come to be an artist for hire through the National Portrait Gallery.

I don't know that the painting will get anywhere with this particular competition, but I figure it never hurts to have something to work towards. Either way it's challenging me to do a proper portrait and because of my respect and love for Pema Chodron I want to accurately capture her spirit with this work.

I long for a whole day of painting. A day when I know everyone else will be in their offices and my office can be wherever my easel is set up. I long for days where I can set up my paints, brushes and pallet and spend hours without a break, just creating.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

London Journal - Bethnal Green to Holburn

On Friday I dropped off The Hermit, Love and The Devil to be imaged by George. It was a gloriously warm afternoon, as it always seems to be when I take my work in. I said as such to George when he opened the door to his studio. Once inside I revealed the paintings, which I'd wrapped in two large plastic garden trash bags for safe transportation. Together we looked them over. Before leaving we agreed upon a rough idea of when I'd be able to come by and pick them up, along with the CDs that would contain the images. I bade him farewell, returning to the street.

The single other task on my list was to go around the corner to a quaint bookshop I'd discovered on my first visit to George's studio. There I procured 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog', a book I've thought about since I first saw it in the very same shop. The book has surfaced again and again in various shops since and I'd made up my mind that it needed reading.
The newly purchased book tucked snuggly in my rucksack, next to my journal, I had the rest of the stunning autumn afternoon stretched ahead of me. The already setting sun was warm and lovely and it seemed a shame to disappear into the underground. I'd spotted the Gherkin in the distance and figured I could start walking in that general direction to make my way into central London.

I've not done such an exploratory walk in ages and as I'd not really intended to do one when I'd left home that morning, I didn't have my camera on me. This struck me as I rounded a corner and discovered a sign which is also the title of one of my favourite songs (And a song I've done in drag).

Fortunately I did have my phone handy and whilst the photos aren't at their sharpest, they're still relatively decent. It did the trick and came in handy throughout the entire jaunt as I discovered a large quantity of graffiti, a few more interesting signs and a marvellous old graveyard.

Today the walking bug seems to have stuck. After a delicious breakfast I packed my bag with a journal and my camera and headed out to find an orange church I've passed many times by car. After a slightly nippy but very refreshing walk, which only took twenty minutes, I arrived at my destination. I wandered amongst the gravestones that filled the church yard, snapping photos and jotting thoughts down in my journal.

All this walking has been doing me a world of good. My chest feels less tight with worry, my head more clear and quiet. A walk will do you good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maslow again

A little sketch I did on a whim after a sudden burst of inspiration that, like most of my sudden burst of inspiration lately, was fleeting. I was reading a blog entry by a fellow artist when I was struck with the idea. This is one of many blog entries written by artists who don't make quite enough with their art to sustain themselves day to day. Contrary to popular belief, artists do like to eat and as a result many of us who should be out taking photographs or playing an instrument on stage or tapping away on a keyboard, compiling a manuscript, are going into offices or shops and helping other people make money.

I'm really good at administration. I'm organised and efficient and I have a strong enough work ethic that even if I really, really don't care about what I'm doing, whilst I'm getting paid for it, I will do it to the best of my ability.

This aptitude I have for administration has landed me a relatively well-paid position in a charity. Everyone working there is lovely and the job itself is decent in that I'm making a contribution and not just pushing paper for some huge company. Whilst my hard work has lead to me making enough dosh that I can purchase canvases, get art imaged and stock up on other supplies, it leaves me with very little time to actually do the things I want do. And honestly, it's still not like I'm making some glorious sum which allows me the freedom to spend willy-nilly. I'm on a tight budget with time and money and it's all making me feel a bit robotic.

I get up early and on the walk down to the tube I usually find myself buzzing with ideas. Thoughts on looking up publishers, sending out manuscripts, seeking a gallery space, starting my next Tarot painting, starting an entirely new project, updating my blog and visiting museums whirl through my brain and add a spring to my step. The first few hours in the office I'm running on this feeling. I'm feeling zippy, full of ideas, full of creativity. I'm alone for the most part and I can tackle my to do list without interruption or distraction. I get emails and phone messages out of the way and delve into something creative. Something I've been storing up, like designing a pamphlet or certificate. My lovely co-workers trickle in, the rest of the country wakes up and the phone begins to ring. My inbox begins to fill.

Suddenly I'm pulled away from my creative task. It's shut and put aside whilst I stuff envelopes, write letters, prints documents and do data entry. My day becomes filled with these tasks, seemingly without end, until it's four o'clock and I'm free to go.

Its only a twenty minute tube ride home but when I get there the sun is already setting and my energy wanes with the disappearing light. This paints a bleak picture (pardon the pun) but I'm trying my best to remember that this is a spring board for other things. CS5 is on it's way and my line manager appreciates that I'm a creative soul.

I've got food, water, shelter, warmth. I feel safe and secure where I live. I'm loved both here and afar. For the most part, I feel pretty spiffy about myself. But I'm finding it extremely difficult at the moment (just at the moment, mind you) to get to the plateau where true self-fulfillment is found. Where I don't have to worry about making enough money to have all those lower levels met whilst also meeting that top level.

One day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Sun

Outside the rain is pouring down. Thunder rumbles, rattling the window I sit next to when I paint. I have just completed the nineteenth card of the Tarot deck.

The Sun is traditionally depicted with the face of a lion and it was difficult for me to deviate from this as the basis of my cards is to choose animals to represent each one and a lion just seemed to fit. The meaning of the card is a glorious sense of contentment and good will. It is the bright, beautiful sun breaking through the clouds and filling our day with warmth, growth and happiness. Or, to look at it from a Buddhist perspective, this card represents enlightenment. It is clear consciousness of ourselves and the world around us, how everything is connected and the sense of well-being we have when we just let things be.
I have always been fond of bees and this is the first time I've incorporated an insect into one of my cards. I believe insects are as much a part of the animal world as anything I've painted before and their industrious nature and the fact that a bee knows it's purpose in life made them feel like a suitable choice The sunflower just fit as a symbol to represent the Sun itself.

I'm quite pleased with how this one has turned out. So much so that I have removed The Hierophant from its usual place on my wall so The Sun can hang there instead.

In four days time I will be taking three more of my cards to be imaged. I am at a loss because I can only afford to get three done but there are seven that need doing. So I extend a request to you, of the following seven cards, which would you most like to be able to purchase as a print, card or poster sooner rather than later?

The Sun

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Wheel of Fortune

This card represents good fortune. This is the accumulation of all the good we do coming back to us. It's serendipity.

Initially I wanted to do something using rodents to play on the wheel aspect of the card. I mulled this idea over and did a few rough sketches of different layouts, but nothing has piqued my interest enough for me to carry it through and start the painting.

I now have all the canvases I need for the final five cards I have to do to complete my depiction of the Major Arcana. The Chariot is just barely started and The Sun is nearing completion. Justice and Judgement are sketched out in my journal, taking shape nicely and starting to settle enough in my imagination to be something I can soon produce. The Wheel of Fourtune, however, is a blank canvas to me.

I am unsure which animal or animals can represent this incredibly sought after card. As a Buddhist I am able to see it as a representation of the balance of Karma. It's about putting good energy out into the universe, removing the Karma against us, and the energy we will receive in return. It's also a card of change, from a path of struggle to a path of well-being.

Traditionally the card will have a Sphinx in it but in doing this project I have avoided using the traditional animal representations for the sake of making the card designs more my own. I am struggling with this one. It's an important card with many symbols. The animal I choose will be just as important.

Once again I ask you, my readers, followers and fans, to tell me what you think. What is an animal (or animals) that represents good fortune, positive change and an uplift to the spirits?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Coping Mechanism

Happiness is not measured by possessions, experiences, friends or money. Happiness is loving the life you're leading as you lead it, regardless of the circumstances.

When it comes to art, there really aren't any rules.

Wisdom is the result of lessons learned, not years lived.

Envy is the result of the belief that there is only so much happiness to go around. Happiness is not something you can measure in a cup. It is as boundless as ideas, as endless as the Universe and as ceaseless as the passing of time.

May you be happy, may you be satisfied with your life and may you never stop learning.
A lovely autumn rainbow

Sunday, November 7, 2010

London Journal - Ten Months and seven Tarot Cards

I arrived here on January 7th. It's now November 7th, ten months since that wintry day when the tubes were shut due to a dusting of snow.

When I first arrived I was without a job and with very few funds. What little money I had saved was practically halved due to the exchange and so my days needed to be spent frugally. I filled my time by visiting museums and job hunting.

About two weeks in I was unhinged. I had no art supplies and no money to buy art supplies. I awaited a delivery from Canada and felt myself going slowly bonkers.

When my supplies finally arrived (The case beaten up but the contents safe and ready for use.) it was as though a floodgate had opened. I bought a few canvases, deciding the expense was worth it for the sake of my sanity, and set to work on my Tarot Cards.

The last Tarot Card I'd completed before leaving Canada was Temperance, which I did for a friend.

The first card I did when I got to London was The Hierophant, which I did just for me. It continues to hang in one of the four spaces I have for my paintings, even though I've done seven more since.The Hanged Bat was my second piece completed and then there were a few weeks where I worked on other projects, taking a break from my cards. When I picked up the brush again it was to do The Magician.
I was already mulling my next card over when The Magician was just a pencil sketch. I often get the idea of the animal and a general image of the layout I want a few weeks before I start a card. I knew The Devil would be next because I could picture it so clearly.
Despite having such a clear idea of The Devil, this card has taken the longest for me to complete of any I've done thus far. It wasn't that the actually painting took any longer (I spend about eight to twelve hours per card.) but I found myself unable to work on it for weeks at a time. At one point I even feared it wouldn't be finished as I repeatedly laboured to get the horns just right.

Of course the feeling of being stuck didn't last and in one afternoon of solid painting I completed it and found the energy to start my next one.

But alas, I was without canvases for a time and had to put that energy into other projects until the time when I could afford some new ones.

The next batch of canvases arrived and I proceeded to complete Love, The Moon and The Hermit rapidly. Each of these carried through to the next and I found myself coming home and painting almost every evening. One of the canvases was damaged and so it could not be used for my Tarot Cards. Instead it was used for a self portrait and a replacement was ordered.
When I began The Tower I was nervous. I do not like this card and each card I've done has managed to reflect the energy and current experience of my life. I did not feel like I had the energy for a tear down and re-build but The Tower was sticking in my head. It was the only one of the remaining few I had to do that I had a clear idea for and so I began it.

I did seem to find myself wavering. Things seemed to be coming to a head and in an effort to remedy the personal difficulties I was struggling with I rushed to complete the piece.

It is the last one I've done but not the last Tarot Card I've worked on. I have two more from that last order of canvases. They're both started, both waiting for my time and attention.

Last week my final five 24X36 inch canvases arrived. The final five canvases for a project begun in January 2009 when I still lived in Calgary and moving to London was merely an idea in a long list of ideas.

From The High Priestess to The Tower, I have now explored and created seventeen of the twenty-two cards that make up the Major Arcana of a Tarot deck. I have spent nearly two years on this project which is now nearing the end. Last year I did nine cards in twelve months. This year I've done eight in ten, so far.

It's amazing what you can accomplish in a year. Amazing to ponder, if this is what you can do in a year, what will you do in a lifetime?

I look forward to finding out.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ingrid Michaelson - Kait's Mixtape

Music fuels a lot of my artwork. Actually, it fuels me in general. It is very rare when putting music on won't help me to focus, breathe and centre. There are some songs which are particularly good at giving me a lift and occasionally I'll find an artist who's able to do this with almost all their songs.

I'm not actually sure how I found Ingrid Michaelson. I think I heard it whilst I was working at the big blue box, or perhaps the song just happened to find its way onto my iPod like Natalie Merchant's My Hands. Regardless of how the song got there, Be O.K. just stuck and soon it found its way onto my OCD playlist.

To qualify for my OCD playlist a song will have one of three things:
1. It never fails to lift me up.
2. I can (and will) listen to it several times in a row without growing tired of it or wanting to hear it less.
3. It inspires me to do something new or renews energy for old projects.

Be O.K. is about remembering that everything, even when it feels absolutely awful, will be O.K. Life is ups and downs but neither lasts forever and that in itself is O.K.

I love it, and as a result I decided I should just go ahead and get a whole album of her stuff. I've not had loads of time to listen to music during the past month as so much of my time is taken up with work, school and the seemingly never-ending commute.

My course finished up on Thursday, Hallowe'en has come and gone and despite the few fireworks popping and crackling outside, Bonfire Night has come to an end. I've got no obligations, no entertaining to do, no errands to run. I came up to my room to sit and try to update this blog with something substantial. I opened up a window and stared at the blank space. Next to me I have some canvases displaying current works. Nothing I want to share yet.

I began to feel itchy, a bit off. What to write about?

I opened up my iTunes and put on the mixed play list of my most recent musical purchases. The xx, old school Tegan & Sara, Hot Chip, David Byrne with assorted other artists, 10,000 Maniacs and Ingrid Michaelson.

I never know what song is going to stick out to me on any given day. I like it because it makes my iPod a mix bag of fun surprises. A song that's been on my OCD playlist for ages will suddenly fall flat whilst a song I've often skipped suddenly becomes unbelievably addictive. In this case, however, a song I've never heard before suddenly becomes the best song I've heard in weeks.

I don't know what it is exactly, but You and I has become one of these songs. It's light, it's simple, it has a moment of silence followed by clap-stomp clap-stomp. It makes me want to twirl in a field of yellow flowers. It makes me want to skip on my toes, bouncing lightly. It makes me want to share the feeling it gives me with everyone I know and everyone I don't. I offer the feeling, the wonderful light, warm, happy glow, to every being on the planet.

Then a little further down, past The xx and Hot Chip comes another one of Ingrid's incredible pieces, Oh What a Day. One of those perfect break-up songs that isn't bitter and isn't spiteful but speaks with great truth of the pain of heartache and the consequential growth it inspires. It serves as a reminder and it makes me smile.

Then Keep Breathing starts, reflecting much of the same wisdom to be found in Be O.K.

All we can do is keep breathing...

All we can do is keep breathing...
All we can do is keep breathing...
All we can do is keep breathing...

I still feel a bit fidgety and a bit...stuck. But it's not pressing into me with urgency. It's just how I feel at the moment and this is but a moment and then there will be another one and another one and another one.

I'm going to sketch for a bit, perhaps prepare one of the new canvases that arrived last week, maybe work on some character sketches. And I'll remember that everything will be O.K. be O.K. be O.K.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And thus it was done

I made so many neat things and learned so much. It's late now and I'm going to bed. I'll let the images do the talking.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Remember, remember...

Outside the occasional firework goes off with a thunderous, echoing boom. There are crackling ones and wizzy ones. These sounds means the fifth of November is approaching and here I've not made a single blog entry yet this month. I can explain, of course. This is the last week of my course so I'm a bit swamped with getting as much of my project done as I can. That is to say, I have accepted that it won't be finished. Not yet. Not with how much I've chosen to do. But the course is an introduction and I cannot argue that it has introduced me to something brilliant, which I intend to use over and over.

For now though I'm using this at an opportunity to change my measure of what is 'enough'. In this case I have managed to use the basic skills of InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop to begin a sketch of a catalogue of my art. I've also begun looking at how I can incorporate more technological things into the art I create and I really do believe that this will only give me more options moving forward.

Growth is good.