Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another Kick at the [Paint] Can

When I was little I used to dream of having an art studio in my house. One similar to the sunroom at my Grandmother's where the piano sat, and Grandpa's medical supplies rested in a white cupboard long after he passed away. A quiet space filled with light that inspired the imagination. That dream morphed over the years into a desire for a writing space in a small cottage, a boathouse, or even just a boat. The bottom line of that dream was to have a space of my own to create in. Last year I enjoyed a spurt of creativity where I started writing a novel that I felt was truly going places. I wrote about 14 chapters in various locations - the kitchen table, the bed, the car when Aidan was sleeping in the back, once even at the gym. It felt amazing - like I was becoming a real writer. Then summer holidays came, and the big boys were home 24/7, and I lost momentum and stopped writing. Now my creative energy has turned back to the canvas and I'm taking another kick at the paint can.

In high school I took all the art classes offered. I really wasn't as good as the others in my class, but I kept with it because it felt good, meditative almost, to go into the art room and create stuff. I watched as my friend Hethr (yes, she spells her name that way) did beautifully detailed work that I didn't have the patience for. Or Andy who did the most amazing shading, making his sketches jumped off the page. Andy's talents were so far above me that I went out and bought him a set of good pencils and left them in his locker as a gift from an anonymous donor (he was putting a portfolio together at the time to get into an art program in college). My art teacher said my work was too cutesy, and that I needed to expand into more realistic stuff. Still, she gave me an award at my Grade 13 graduation for creative arts. I didn't think I deserved it for my talent, but definitely for my appreciation of it!

During my first year at Trent University I painted t-shirts for my friends. Little cartoon-like paintings of them with speech bubbles containing their catch phrase of the month. I made cards too, and gave them away. But I never thought of doing it as a career.

At the end of that university year I sat in my friend's living room and we talked about what the heck we were going to do for summer jobs. That's when Glenn piped up and said, "you and Ally should paint t-shirts and sell them." Then Johnny (whose real name was Steve) said, "set up shop at the Peterborough Marina because there's a lot of foot traffic and your work will get noticed." Ally and I couldn't think of anything better to do with our summer, so we started planning. We applied for a Young Entrepreneur's loan through the royal bank. Found a paint supplier (Marylou, my Mom's kind and generous boss at the wool shop) who let us buy fabric paint at cost. We sketched, doodled, and dreamed, then we approached the new managers at the marina about setting up shop there. Rick and Mary were very supportive of our ideas. We pulled a picnic table to the edge of the walkway, and got to work. Rick and Mary even gave us other jobs to help supplement our income (we were slow painters). I cleaned houseboats,  public washrooms and showers, rented paddleboats, and worked a hotdog and balloon stand on Festival of Lights nights. It was a good summer in many ways. I got a great tan (I usually burn) and lost weight (from biking to and from work with Ally riding double on the back carrying a tackle box full of paints).  I talked to a lot of interesting people, both locals and tourists who were enjoying the area (and appreciating the clean showers).  And,  I almost quit school to become a crew member on a boat called The Ivanhoe (this was unknown to the handsome owner of the boat, but was a delicious little side-dream alternative to finishing my English degree).

That summer at the marina ended over twenty years ago. I went on to work at an insurance office uploading automobile policies and browsing the shelves at the local library on my lunch hours for books of poetry to engage my creative brain. Ally graduated the next year, and we never kept in touch.  I believe she moved back to Toronto, but I have no idea if she continued on with her artistic streak.  I like to think that she did.  I also hope she looks back on that summer with a little fondness for the adventure we took on.

For the past year I have been longing to experiment with Acrylics. My mother gave me $50 for Christmas, and I knew exactly what I wanted. A paint set. James, the boys and I took a trip to the art supply store that I liked, and I found a basic kit that came in a plain black box. The first thing I did was paint a little self-portrait (cartoon style), on the front:

The first picture I painted was of my Grandmother's cottage on Lake Huron.  I've tried drawing it repeatedly over the years, but can never quite capture it right.  This was my first attempt:

I realized that drawing the perspective on the cottage is very to create depth in the center showing that there was a flagstone patio?  And trees - good God, how does one paint trees so they don't look like big green triangles? 

Second attempt:

I liked the trees, but not the cottage as much. The rock garden was still horrible, I needed to work on that.

Third attempt:

I used more black to give definition, and I liked the effect, but not on the tire tracks on the grass.  That just didn't turn out at all.  The garden itself was much better.

I've put the cottage aside now - I like different bits from each piece, and maybe one day I'll get all of those pieces to fit together.

My next project was a painting of my favourite poem, The Owl and the Pussycat:

There are many things I like about this painting - the bold colours, the outlining, the subject, the pea-green boat, the tree and the daisies.  What I don't like, and need to rework when I get the time is the fan that the cat is holding.  James says it looks like an oversized paw, and I have to agree.  I think I'll repaint it yellow to match her hat.

Then I made an attempt at a miniature....the lighthouse is one of my favourite images, so it seemed right to attempt it here:

My current project is an attempt to learn from Tom Thomson, who just so happens to be from my hometown area in Ontario.  This is how the painting is at the beginning of the process:

I'm happy with the trees along the far bank, but I'm really not happy with the sky or the canoe. Thomson's colours are so interesting, I have a difficult time trusting myself to do what he did.  In the end, I think this painting will need to be a marriage of his style and mine. I might even make the canoe red, as homage to my husband's old Clipper Canoe that brought us together in the first place (but that's a whole other story for another time).

Now, I"ve tweaked my dream of being an artist or a writer. Life shouldn't be about either/or.  I'm more than a black and white caricature, I realize that now.  I've finally decided on a dream that makes me happy.  My dream is this: to live an interesting life. That is a big umbrella to fit under, and it pretty much covers any whim I follow.  I'm hopeful that it will continue to lead me and my family towards a happy life.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Grey Areas

I've been thinking a lot about the Olympics and how I feel about them.  If you read Olympics for Poets, you will remember that I was contemplating why we privilege sports over other activities - I wondered if we ever put that kind of effort into celebrating our poets, surgeons, or teachers. 

It's not that I'm against the Olympics - it's just that my mind looks at grey areas of life - not the black and white.  So, while I can say, "yes the Olympics seem to be about more than sports - it's an opportunity to put our best foot forward.  To celebrate our national identity, while at the same time honouring all of the other nations involved. The Olympics are a wonderful event that bring together our musicians, poets, fashion designers, artists, reporters and photo journalists, etc. and blah, blah, blah..."I still wonder at how the Province of British Columbia can bounce back from such enormous output of cash.  Will we be feeling the economic repercussions for years to come?  Our schools and classrooms are pretty much stripped down to the bare bones (music programs, teacher-librarian's, reading specialists....gone. I notice this lack of richness when I compare the schools in Manitoba to those in BC.)

Only time will tell what the outcome will be.  For now, I'll try to enjoy the Olympics for what they are, and push these questions to the back of my mind.  I'll try to feel the joy through the eyes of my boys, and the kids at their school. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Owl and the Pussycat

Have I ever told you how much the poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat" means to me? 
No?  Really?  Okay then, here goes...

I memorized this poem when the big boys were babies, and I'd rock them and I'd whisper it to them as they fell asleep.  I love the pea-green boat (did I mention my father was a sailor?).  I love the owl looking at the stars, playing a small guitar and singing about his love for the pussycat (I taught myself how to play guitar very badly, but it still was fun).  I love the idea of the owl and the pussycat sailing away for a year and a day to the land where the bong tree grows (some days I wish I could do that too).  And I love that at the end of the poem, the unlikely couple danced by the light of the moon (I have yet to do that). 

Then Aidan came along, and the poem helped me cope through the first five terrifying months of his life.  The times when the doctors had us thinking he had liver failure - and they put us on a transplant ward overlooking the crematoriam. Or when they said he probably had necrotizing entero colitis, and he was put in the NICU ward where we had to watch families grieving when their tiny babies did not make it. And then there was the news that he had three holes in his heart, and that we would have to watch him slowly go into heart failure before his surgery could be done. 

I started whispering or singing the poem softly to him during our hospital stays, heart clinic visits, and while he was recovering from his surgery.  When they poked him repeatedly (and on several occasions) trying to find a vein, I pulled the poem out from deep inside me and it gave me strength to hold him. 

The other thing that helped me tremendously had nothing to do with the poem exactly.  Or maybe it does.  Anyhow, I was sitting in the emergency room, completely stressed out.  Aidan in my arms while doctors came and went and scratched out one anothers orders and I couldn't think straight, and I couldn't breath deep enough I finally closed my eyes and imagined my deceased family members standing behind me with their hands on my shoulders. My two grandmothers, my grandfathers, my father, one by one putting their hands on my shoulder.  Each one giving me strength. 

And I felt immediately calm again. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Olympics for poets?

The Olympics are coming, and all the expense and effort that goes into it made me wonder why we privilege sports over everything else (including education funding, it seems! Aarghh, I'd better not get started.)

Still though, when was the last time that sort of effort was made to show off our nation's poets?
Our top surgeons?
Our greatest Kindergarten teachers?
Our Scrabble champions?

Is there much of a difference between Scrabble and Bob Sledding?  Do they not both require specialized skills?  (please note, this is meant to be a ligth-heart questioning, nothing more.)

A while ago I saw a battered truck in the library parking lot with a sign on it that read:  "2010 Olympics, a disgraceful waste of your tax dollars."  Someone I know and respect very well said that people like that would complain about anything.  She also remarked that the money that is spent on the Olympics would not be used for other causes anyway.  But, I'm not so sure.  I don't know how these things work, and life is too busy to go there right now anyway. 

So, the Olympics are coming.  I think I'll go write a poem about it.   :o)