Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Make a Bad Drawing (become a better artist)

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

I find sometimes drawing is like running. I’m fine once I’m doing it, but getting set up to go seems painful. To be frank, I’m worried my drawing will suck. Especially a portrait. But recently, I’ve been brave and given myself permission to make a crappy drawing. I can make a whole book of them if I want to, as no one has to see them. We get so tied up in trying to make something great, we forget how great it feels just to make something, anything at all. And you know what? I feel exhilarated after these drawings. Elated, even. So just go for it, using a dull pencil or a tiny little brush, whatever is at hand. A ball point pen. I’m so pleased with my pretty book of dodgy drawings. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Edinburgh Castle from a pub window, your cat sleeping in a slice of sunlight, or the broken eggshells from Sunday breakfast. Enjoy, I say! It will make you a better artist, I promise.

A Tender Balance

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I’ve been listening to a lot of books-on-CD in the studio lately. The most recent was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I loved her novels, and had read this book before, but there was something magical about listening to her soft, slow drawl. It suited the words themselves so well. The book reads like a memoir of a year in her young family’s life, where they try to eat locally for 12 months by growing their own food and buying food grown by their neighbours. Her two daughters, Camille (then 18) and Lily (six), helped by raising chickens and cooking. It was this passage that caused me to pause and listen again:

“Our holiday food splurge was a small crate of tangerines, which we found ridiculously thrilling after an eight month abstinence from citrus. No matter where I was in the house, that vividly resinous orangey scent woke up my nose whenever anyone peeled one in the kitchen. Lily hugged each one to her chest before undressing it gently as a doll. Watching her do that, as she sat cross-legged one morning in pink pajamas, with bliss lighting her cheeks, I thought Lucky is the world to receive this grateful child. Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing.”


New York + Art = Happiness

Monday, February 13th, 2012

I was lucky enough to go back to New York this last December for a couple of weeks of wandering around, gawking at buildings, people, art galleries, everything. When in Rome…

The scale is just breathtaking.

The scale is just breathtaking.

I was so excited to see that the Met has acquired a piece by one of my favourite painters, Jenny Saville. I fell in love with her work in 2001, when I found a few paintings in a book while I was attending NSCAD. Though some of the pieces are a bit grisly in subject matter (my sister said “Ugh, I don’t like looking at that at all!”), it’s all that luscious paint and fleshiness that drew me in. I’d never seen one in person until the Met, though. The piece is titled Still, from 2003. It reminded me of Willem De Kooning saying “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” Absolutely.

These are just so meltingly beautiful.

Monet's waterlilies are just so meltingly beautiful, it's impossible to avoid gushing.

I know how long it takes to build up a surface like that. Again, gush.

I know how long it takes to build up a surface like that. Again, gush.

...and an old studio friend. Almost ten years later. Thanks for the date, Jane!

...and an old studio friend. Almost ten years later. Thanks for the date, Jane!

Argentina ~ Part Two: Gallery Art

Friday, February 10th, 2012

In Buenos Aires, we went to the Malba, Museo de Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires, a ten year old gallery filled with contemporary South American art.

Great hall at the Malba

Great hall at the Malba

Loved this crazy wooden bench. You can see the tendrils climbing down the walls in the previous photos.

Loved this crazy wooden bench by Pablo Reinoso. You can see the tendrils climbing down the walls in the previous photos.



Nelson Leirner (worth getting 'spoken to' for sneaking a photo!)

Antonio Berni

Antonio Berni

Dos hombres de pie con zapatillas rojas, by Ricardo Garabito

Dos hombres de pie con zapatillas rojas, by Ricardo Garabito

I kind of fell for Senor Garabito’s work. They are strange paintings, to be sure, but the drawing is so gorgeous, and I love the awkwardness of them. Why this skiddy guy, repeated, with no pants on? Why not, I guess.

and of course, Ms Frida.

and of course, Frida Kahlo's Self Portrait with Monkey and Parrot.

Some gorgeous drawings by Leon Ferrari

Some gorgeous drawings by Leon Ferrari

Remedio Varo, Icono 1945

Remedio Varo, Icono 1945

What a lovely little world he created here. I stood and looked at this one for a while.

Studio Tyranny

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

When I was at art school, my professor told our class about what his wife called “studio tyranny”, or that nagging persistent voice that tells us that, no matter what we are doing, we should be in the studio. Now, I have a strong feeling about the word should. I call it the other S word. However, I do succumb to Studio Tyranny rather a lot. But, dear creative types, what I’ve started to see is that even when we’re not in the studio, we’re working. By just looking around us, we are absorbing the visual clues that will inform us when we make something tangible.


I’ve started to pay attention to the times when I think I’m slacking off (lying on an air mattress in the middle of a lake hardly constitutes ‘work’ in its dictionary definition). I thought of five new paintings while floating on that lake. My friend was wearing a turquoise bikini, and it was impossible not to note the three turquoise dragonflies that landed on her all at once. Sometimes the smallest moments can impact our work. In discounting those moments, we do ourselves and our work a disservice. So, off you go! There will be plenty of studio time when the rain comes.

On Inspiration

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

My lovely friend Caite and I have had a dialogue going back and forth on the topic of inspiration. She sent me this article, written by artist Alison Jardine, called Inspiration is Irrelevant. To paraphrase, Alison was asked by a college student, “Where to you get your inspiration?” and she answered immediately, without thought, “Inspiration is irrelevant.”


A candy study I did back in 2000

A candy study I did back in 2000


I know what she means. Every single time I arrive in my studio, plunk down my bag, and stand in front of a series of partially made or blank (eek!) canvases, I freeze. I don’t want to be there. I want to organise drawers, prime door casings, sort tools, file clippings, anything but face those canvases. If I’m perfectly honest, I’d say I’m inspired 10% of the time I plunk down that bag. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for my career, or a sour little brat. That’s not what I’m getting at.

The thing is, once I start doing anything to those white squares, they take on a life of their own. In Alison’s words, inspiration becomes irrelevant.

The hand is moving, the critic shuts up, the hand takes over.

The versatility of acrylics and oils are such that one can just muck about and allow something good to happen (or not), and to be perfectly honest, something good happens 90% of the time. You really do just have to show up for it, and not wait for that elusive Inspiration. I find I feel more “inspired” after a good productive day in the studio than I ever do before it. Especially if I’m not particularly inspired when I arrived! It’s like being dragged to see a film you have no interest in, and loving it.




The word inspiration should really be subsituted for commitment.

Do I feel inspired today?
{Music swells}

{Music dies down, like a broken record, a la Monty Python.}

But do I feel committed today?
Yep. I’m here, aren’t I? 

Okay then.
{cue sounds of CBC Radio 2, a kettle boiling, and the swiff swiff of something, anything, being applied to canvas.)

Off I go, y’all.


Thursday, February 25th, 2010

For optimal happytime listening, try these babies:

Fidelity ~ Regina Spektor
Here in Your Arms ~ Hellogoodbye 
Feeling Good ~ Nina Simone
Just Breathe ~ Pearl Jam
Navy Taxi ~ Kate Nash
Cloudbusting ~ Kate Bush
Take My Hand ~ Dido 
Fistful of Love ~ Anthony & the Johnsons
Shine ~ Cyndi Lauper 
Marry Me ~ Dolly Parton
One More Time ~ Daft Punk

She’s an eclectic mix, for sure, but funfunfun!


Lovely Apartment

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

This is the apartment of a friend who lives in Vancouver’s West End. I’ve always enjoyed how she inserts her sense of humour into her home. It’s a daily reminder to look on the lighter side of things, and have a laugh at yourself. I find inspiration everywhere I look, and there’s something about her place that gets me every time.

This is a woman who knows her way around a thrift shop, and fills her home with a well-edited collection of fun things that are bright, cheerful and cheeky—just like her.



A print of one of my favourite Rembrandt paintings gets a makeover courtesy of a silver Sharpie and a bottle of wine!



A wayward roadside torso shares an Ikea pot with a large aloe vera.


That’s one of my sepia paintings in the background, based on a birthday card she once sent me.




One of her prized possessions passed down from her Mum, this flamingo mirror reflects the gorgeous view across English Bay.

Small Pleasures

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

I bought a new sketchbook the other day. It was such fun to choose the right one, and to come back to the studio and open up the packaging and flip through all the perfect white pages that are for me alone to wreck. I was giddy all day. It really is the simple joys in life, and I think we tend to forget to revisit the things we loved as children.






I used to work at an art supply shop. The other staff members were the best comrades for geeking out over art supplies. When this travel-sized watercolour set came in, two of us snapped them up. I’m not a watercolourist, so I wondered if I’d just gotten jazzed about the packaging. It’s become one of my absolute treasures, and has been with me to New York, Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong.


Here’s a tip for customising your watercolour set. Pull out the pans of colours you don’t use and squeeze in another colour from Daniel Smith, Holbein or Winsor Newton and let it dry. This also works for cheap & cheerful sets. Customising it gives you higher quality paint.




A note on pigments.  If you’re working with a budget (who isn’t these days?), I recommend skimping on the earthy colours like:

Burnt/Raw Umber
Vert de Terre, Sap Green
Burnt/Raw Sienna

And splurging on one of each of the primaries:

Magenta/Rose Madder
Cobalt Blue
Lemon Yellow

Teach yourself to mix these colours to make almost any other colour. There are many books on the subject of colour mixing, but what it comes down to is a whole lot of trial and error. And that’s half the fun, no?

~ By the way…~
Rose Madder is made from actual roses and smells wonderful. Next time you’re in an art shop, open a tube and have a sniff! You won’t regret it.

Sunshiny Day

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Yesterday was the first day the sun has shone here in a while, so I will honour that by posting some lovely shots of my honeymoon in Kauai back in September. A gorgeous place, especially for artists inclined to beachy things…



























I found an artist at Amy Lauren’s Gallery in Hanapepe whose work made me swoon just a little, Melinda Morey. I swear I did my Beach Paintings before I saw these!


Dawn Patrol by Melinda Morey

Dawn Patrol by Melinda Morey



Floating by Melinda Morey

Floating by Melinda Morey



Keeping it Afloat II by Melinda Morey

Keeping it Afloat II by Melinda Morey



Local Girl in Sand by Melinda Morey

Local Girl in Sand by Melinda Morey



Momentum by Melinda Morey

Momentum by Melinda Morey