Oval dragonfly mirror

A friend of mine commissioned this mirror for her hallway. Years ago, I painted a really trippy elephant for her, and by a strange dint of association she decided that the elephant needed some dragonflies to go with it. This kind of surreal logic appeals to me.

full mirror web

Oval Mirror sketch

My friend asked for brown, blue and a bit of yellow, so this was the original sketch – with the curlicues to be figured out later

On the other hand, the request for an oval-shaped mirror didn’t appeal to me at all. Not after the mysterious trouble that plagued my last attempt to have a circle mirror cut to size, when the glass-cutting place had to redo it three times because there was always a tiny chip in the edge. I figured if circles were that troublesome, then ovals will surely be worse.

But since this is my very old friend and she asked very nicely, I relented after I found a frameless IKEA mirror of about the right size, which meant I could buy the mirror pre-made and just have to cut the plywood for the frame. This I could do myself with a jigsaw.

But you know what? Ovals are troublesome regardless of the material out of which you’re trying to cut them. Next time I’m asked to make an oval-shaped something, I will run away. (No, I won’t, I’ll just take the plywood to a laser-cutting place.)

edges in progress

And tiling the edges of an oval? It has to be balanced on its side and rotated in sections as the glue dries so that tiles don’t slide off. I rigged this up for the job.

To draw an oval of a specific size by hand, you use two pushpins and a piece of string. Pretty cool in terms of math, but pretty lousy in terms of precision drafting.

And then to center the smaller oval of the mirror inside the larger oval of the frame, a ruler’s no help at all. The only hope is to break out the pushpins and piece of string again. And let me tell you: IKEA has trouble with their ovals too. Their mirror wasn’t totally symmetrical either.

Fuck ovals.

On the other hand, the dragonflies I’m quite happy with.

progress 1 web
detail
taping off detail

If you’re wondering what’s required to make a thin curvy line of light-colored grout while everything else is grouted in dark brown: an obsessive tendency towards precision and a boatload of painter’s tape

Canadian Visual Artists: Laura Stitzel

Laura Stitzel is a layout designer for an animation studio, and an exhibiting artist specializing in pen-and-ink illustration and hand-lettered vintage-style posters. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she is now living in Toronto.

Acrobadger ink transfer on woodI chatted with Laura over a pint in a pub in the Annex – the neighbourhood which is about to host one of Toronto’s more unconventional outdoor exhibits, where she’ll be showing her new series of works on wood.

In the Annex Patio Art Show, art is displayed on the outside of storefronts and restaurant windows along Bloor St. West while artists hang out on the sidewalk. It’s an unusual setup, but Laura enjoyed the experience of exhibiting there last year:

“I really liked it. It’s strange because you can’t sell the work there, but I actually got a lot of publicity out of it, a lot of people contacting me after the show. It’s good because people are just walking around and they’re not expecting to see art, so it takes them by surprise and you get to see really honest reactions.

Mer-pig ink transfer on wood“And it’s a nice neighbourhood – the kind of people who like my art.”

Laura’s latest series of works on wood, created using an ink transfer process that gives them a weathered vintage look, was inspired by classic circus posters.

“It’s taking an existing style of poster – the circus poster – and putting a twist on in, which is that it’s animals as circus freaks, and they have personalities.

“Because I really like animals, they are in my work all the time. I’m really fascinated by how animals fit into our day-to-day life.

A Day in the Park

A Day in the Park
Illustration for this 24″ x 36″ print was drawn in ink on paper, then painted in Photoshop.

Ducks

A print from Fear the Birds series

“My Fear the Birds series was about how birds are around everywhere and they’re wild animals but they live in the city among people and it’s really interesting and it’s something that we don’t really take notice of.”

Laura’s technique is to do all the line work on paper first, using a fine tip pen or pen and ink. Only the colorful illustrations (like A Day in the Park, above) are painted digitally. The lettering on her posters is also drawn by hand, assisted by nothing more advanced than a ruler.

“I like to try to find a balance between wonky lines, things that are a little bit off and not computerized-looking, and also having it really neat.

“It’s very time-consuming. I love doing it though – it’s very meticulous and I just have the right kind of personality to not get sick of doing that.”

Hand-lettering in progress

Hand-lettering in progress

“The way I got into doing hand-lettering is I did an illustration course in New York a couple of summers ago and we were asked to bring a draft of something we were going to work on. I did just pencil and paper, and the lettering I copied by hand off the computer, fairly roughly. I brought it to class and the teacher loved it. Then I went to do the final draft, and I did the lettering on the computer, because I thought, “This is the good one now”. And when I brought in the final draft, she said, “What are you doing? Your lettering was so nice. You should just do it by hand.”

“I didn’t know that lettering was a thing – which I guess it is. And I really enjoy doing it. That summer has shaped my life quite a bit. It’s one of those little mistakes.”

Very Cheeky Monster series by Laura Stitzel

A print from the Very Cheeky Monster series

For someone with obvious drawing talent and eye for design, Laura arrived at her current profession in a curiously roundabout way:

“I used to be a dancer and a choreographer, and I started playing around with projections for dance shows. I started playing with Flash – this is when the animation stuff was pretty new – and I was using it as a tool to create almost specific lighting for dance shows. But then as I was playing with the software, I found that I really liked it, and I enjoyed drawing. So then I went to university to study animation to help with the dance side of things. But once I began to study it, I really loved it and started working in it straight away.

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A. Shay Hahn’s murals at the Cameron House

If you’re in Toronto, do yourself a favour and visit the Cameron House at least once this summer to check out A. Shay Hahn‘s gorgeous murals in the front room. They are only there till October.

Cameron House mural by A. Shay Hahn Cameron House mural by A. Shay Hahn

That stunning lady surrounded by records is The Royal Ant Mother, by the way. You’re welcome.

Photos are © A. Shay Hahn. There are also a bunch of great in-process pictures of the murals on his blog.

Fragments of books: Infinite Jest

Inifinte JestIf you enjoy books that run to over a thousand pages of mind-boggling literary showmanship, then there comes a day when someone recommends David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest to you as the great 1990s equivalent of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, or Joyce’s Ulysses, or something similarly dense and critically acclaimed. Heed these people.

Let me clear the room first: this novel is rambling and circuitous and there are plotlines that start and don’t go anywhere, and it could do with a lot more editing. I can make a case for why all these qualities are integral to the themes of the book, but I won’t. There are some conventional cliffhanger-type storytelling moments near the beginning that lure you in with the promise of a plot, but if plot is something that matters to you above all else in a book – run away from this one.

There’s also the matter of the slightly surreal projected-near-future setting, in which corporate sponsors get to name calendar years (so most of the action takes place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment), Organization of North American Nations has turned most of southeastern Canada and northeastern US into a toxic waste dump (with all the associated birth defects, feral packs of mutant animals, and large-scale weather pattern disruptions) and there’s a far-reaching Quebecois-separatist organization of ruthless wheelchair-bound assassins. All these things are peripheral and – disappointingly, to a Sci-Fi fan – only meagerly fleshed out.

Mainly, this book is about addiction. Also depression, despair, disillusionment and tennis.

Most of the action takes place in a tennis academy and in an addicts’ halfway house in Boston, where seemingly disparate and unrelated characters and storylines come together.

And if, like me, you start reading this book, you go, “It’s very literary and well written and there’s the whole Hamlet allusion thing going on, but does it all have to be so terribly depressing, and I really can’t empathise with this miserable lot of junkies and I just don’t give a rat’s ass about tennis,” – stick with it a bit longer. There’s some genuinely funny parts coming up. New neural connections – along pathways twisted and dark – will be mapped for all your future tennis associations. As for the junkies – you do begin to Identify with them.

Some of my favorite passages in the novel deal with the Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and twelve-step recovery program. There are wonderful scenes in which newly recovering addicts incredulously realize that the program works. Despite their intellectual objections to its corny platitudes, and their atheistic objections to its daily prayer requirements, and their overall feeling that it’s all a load of BS – as long as they stick with it and go through the required motions, it works. No one can explain how it works, but after months of barely hanging in, they wake up to find that they no longer crave the Substance.

Like the AA program, Infinite Jest – if you stick with it – works. If you hang in despite its jarring nature, it draws you in and takes hold of you and shows you insightful and non-trivial things about the world. I can’t explain how it does this, but it does.

On the other hand, I have been reading this book for nearly three frigging months, so this might just be Stockholm Syndrome talking.

Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2013

The TOAE was off to a very slow start today due to a combination of rain, construction on Queen Street and unspecified forces of evil. But it’s all settled in now, so go check it out tomorrow and Sunday.

Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Bronze by Ai Weiwei in the reflecting pool in Nathan Phillips Square

Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei in the reflecting pool in Nathan Phillips Square

The good news is that this year the show is noticeably smaller and more manageable – you can definitely go around the whole thing in one visit.

The other great thing is that there are twelve bronze sculptures by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on display in Nathan Phillips Square right now – the only Canadian stop on this exhibition’s North American tour – so that’s a world-class art experience bonus to your TOAE visit.

A couple of mixed media student artists whose work caught my eye: Becky Gaber, who makes what I can only describe as creepy mutant babies and Michael Rennick, whose media is seriously mixed – it’s got moss, and wood, and painting, and taxidermied baby ducks swimming in pools of resin. It’s awesome.

Becky Gaber at TOAE 2013

Becky Gaber

Michael Rennick

Michael Rennick

I basically geeked out on the sculpture and mixed media work – as usual – but there’s a lot of great painting and photography as well. I only really saw one or two drearily unremarkable painters that I totally thought could’ve been bumped to make way for my mosaics. How’s that for an overall quality recommendation?

Here are a couple more of the strange and wonderful – Janet Macpherson‘s ceramics and Julie Roch-Cuerrier‘s photographic collages:

Janet Macpherson

Janet Macpherson

Julie Roch-Cuerrier

Julie Roch-Cuerrier

Canadian Visual Artists: Charlie Easton

Charlie Easton is a Vancouver-based landscape painter who moved to B.C. from Britain, where he grew up in a family of artists.

Killarney Rocks After Sunset by Charlie Easton

Killarney Rocks After Sunset

What draws me most to your paintings are the vibrantly warm colours – your landscapes are rich in incandescent oranges and blues that give these scenes the feel of being bathed in late afternoon sunlight. Can you talk a bit about why this particular palette? It seems full of joy – is that the intended effect?

Well, I paint as much as I can on location as I firmly believe that photographs are so limiting. They are amazing for detail, but they tend to flatten colours, blending them instead of layering them. When you are sitting in a field, or on a mountain, or by a river you see more colours – transparencies, hints and colour changes. I work in acrylic so you can apply glazes and scumbled layers really quickly to capture the colours without too much fussing.

Street in snow by Charlie Easton

Street in snow

It’s interesting that you pick up on the joy in the colour choice, I’m pleased you do. I often find that an artist’s work reflects his or her mood, and I’ve got to say that right now I’m an incredibly lucky guy. I’m doing what I love, and I’m glad that comes through in the work.

What prompted you to make the move from England to British Columbia? What differences did you notice in the artistic environment/community once you settled in?

I was working in advertising in London, and when the company I was working for was bought by a Canadian company the opportunity to transfer was too good to refuse. I initially thought I was going to be in Canada for just a year, but I soon fell in love with the country (and a fine Canadian girl!) so it is now my home. Seven years on my love for the place, for its amazing beauty and for the openness of the people, continues to grow.

Hot feet by Charlie Easton

Hot feet

In comparison with the UK, I find the art community here is more open to sharing ideas and techniques. I have painted with some phenomenal artists here and in the States – and that is far more difficult to do in the UK, where people are a little more guarded in their professional outlook.

When it comes to your process – what proportion of your paintings do you complete on site versus in your studio? Where do you enjoy painting most?

I start it ALL on site. Whether that is getting the piece 95% done in the field, or 5%, I think it’s really important to understand colour relationships on site. Sometimes I might paint a full 36”x48” piece on site, other times I might use a photo and a colour sketch I had done previously. Either way, I need to have an understanding of the colour complexities that I’m going to use in any piece, and you can’t beat it when you have worked those out first hand. In this way I guess I subscribe to the old traditions of the classic plein air painters.

Yonge morning by Charlie Easton

Yonge morning

I have just had the best painting experience of my life so far – I’m currently in Alberta, preparing for an exhibition in Calgary, and I have driven through the Rockies painting as I go. A few nights back I painted the sun going down at Moraine Lake near Lake Louise and was absolutely blown away by the beauty of it. I like the painting I did there, but there’s just no way you could ever capture the scale, the grandeur and the beauty of such a sight on canvas. But hey, what an experience.

What is it like growing up in a family of painters? Did you always know you were going to be an artist? Or did you go through a rebellious teen phase where you threaten to run away and join an investment firm?

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Playlist Friday: Drinking songs

It’s another Friday! This calls for a celebration. Cheers!

“If You Don’t Start Drinkin’ (I’m Gonna Leave) ” – George Thorogood

George Thorogood’s problem is that he’s got too many good drinking songs. Oh, and also, he’s a really bad influence on his sober friends.

“Salt of the Earth” – The Rolling Stones

So you’ve succumbed to peer pressure and the evening’s first brew is in your hand – let’s toast to something worthwhile. Here’s to the hardworking people, the salt of the earth. The two (now seven) thousand million. Hopefully not to each one individually.

“Drinking Song” – Jason Webley

Your typical drinking song tends to sound like a sea chanty because the same rhythm that helps a bunch of people keep a cohesive pace while oaring also helps them keep a cohesive swaying and glass-thumping pace while boozing. I’m just guessing here.

Jason Webley, by the way, also collaborates with Amanda Palmer on Evelyn Evelyn – a conjoined twins act. Yeah. But I mostly like him because he sounds like Kevin Quain.

“Catch You in the Rye” – Kevin Quain

Who’s Kevin Quain, you ask? This guy. He kicks ass.

At this point in the evening, it’s time to dance.

“Jockey Full of Bourbon” – Tom Waits

Still dancing, but starting to trip up now.

“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” – John Lee Hooker

I like bourbon, so let’s stick with that. It’s last call anyway.

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Canadian Visual Artists: Rob Croxford

Rob Croxford is a Toronto artist whose paintings and mixed-media works playfully combine elements of graphic design and vintage 1950’s aesthetics with thought-provoking messages.

The In Crowd by Rob CroxfordRob’s personality, like his art, projects such optimism, that the first question I ask when we meet up for coffee near his Queen East studio is about what helps him to stay so upbeat.

“I’m just grateful that I get to do this. I worked some terrible jobs over the years. I’ve got so much going for me already – I get to do what I love every single day. Even if things are not always as financially rewarding as I might like them to be, I get to do something that I’m passionate about and that’s amazing.

“It really helps when you love what you do. My paintings are really upbeat and positive, and I try to really be playful – and when you have that around you all day you can’t help but feel that way.”

But the consequences of the recent economic downturn can be disheartening for a professional artist, and focusing on the positives requires an occasional self-reminder, especially after a disappointing show:

Things 2 by Rob Croxford“I have to say to myself,  ‘It’s ok, Rob. People are really responsive to the work, and it’s really good work, and remember you love to do it. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process.'”

Speaking of the process, how does he choose the phrases that make up are such an integral part of many of his works?

“I sit on some of them – there’s a few that I’ve been sitting on for some time, I can’t think of how to make them.  I don’t want to be too preachy, and I don’t want to be too ‘cat of the month calendar’ either.  So I sit on a lot of them until I find the right inspiration, the right imagery.”

One Answer by Rob Croxford

One Answer quotes Neil Gaiman:
“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Rob admires many of the authors of the clever, funny and thought-provoking quotes that accompany his paintings: “They come from people who are the person I would like to be […]  I’d like to have the knowledge and experience it takes to say those smart things.”

He says it’s very exciting and rewarding when all the pieces of an artwork finally come together.

“I’m just finishing one right now. I’d started it one way and thought, ‘It’s a bit preachy, but ok, I’ll try that.’ Then I thought, ‘It’s not nearly funny enough,’ so I went back to the drawing board and made it a little bit funnier, a little bit sillier.”

Wanting to make his work more humorous, to “turn up the heat a little bit” sometimes makes Rob doubt its marketability: “Every now and again I get that voice in my head, ‘Don’t say that, Rob. No one’s going to hang that up in their house.'”

Free&Easy by Rob CroxfordBut his main concerns about turning up the humour in his work are not commercial. He worries that because his paintings are fun, they are sometimes dismissed as not being Art.

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