Archive for April, 2009

Get Going

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Sometimes being creative everyday is difficult. It’s a lot like running, the trick is just tying on those runners and going. Once I’m running I feel fabulous. Same with painting. So, here are my top 5 (at the moment) favourite things to get me going in the studio.


A series of ink on paper heads by Marlene Dumas

A series of ink on paper heads by Marlene Dumas


1. The first one is a negative, actually. NO EMAIL in the morning. It works great. I learned it from my organization guru of choice, Julie Morgenstern, who wrote about it in her book here. All her books are excellent and have helped me become more efficient and less bamboozled. Though I still went to the dressmaker this morning without my photos. Damn.

2. Music. This one is obvious for many reasons, but I have to have something that matches what I’m about to do. I have a morning playlist that never fails to elevate my mood and make me want to shake paint around the room. (that Daft Punk song One More Time works every time, as does Mika’s Relax, Take it Easy and of course, the classic running song Call on Me that Eric Prydz ‘borrowed’ from Steve Winwood’s Valerie). Yes, it’s all disco, all the time round these parts. Not really though. I love all music, from the Chocolat soundtrack to Eminem to good ole butt-rock like Kansas, it’s all got it’s moment.


One of Rembrandt's delicious self portraits.

One of Rembrandt's delicious self portraits.


3. A good cup of Tetley tea, brewed strong, splash of milk.

4. A flip through one of my favourite artists’ monographs. My envy of their work always lights a fire under me. I admire: Rembrandt, Marlene Dumas, Jenny Saville, Francis Bacon, Zak Smith


A very different self portrait by Jenny Saville.

A very different self portrait by Jenny Saville.


5. When I’m not in a music mood, I’m guaranteed to stay focused if I listen to a book on CD. Fiction, non-fiction, what have you. I often find them at the library and give them a shot, or if there’s something I’ve been dying to read and I have no time I find buy it off  iTunes. I highly recommend this. The narrative voice keeps one half of my brain busy while the creative side takes over. Time whips by and all of a sudden I’m standing in front of a nearly completed painting. Brilliant!


Yet another self portrait by Francis Bacon.

Yet another self portrait by Francis Bacon.

Australian Design Mags, Sibella Court & Albertus Seba

Friday, April 24th, 2009

I’m not trying to jump on Holly‘s bandwagon about this. But when I flew to Brisbane last March, I was stuck at the Sydney airport for 2 hours (after a 15 hour flight from Vancouver) and I don’t sleep on flights, even 15 hour ones. I’m cursed that way. So, I gawked at the design magazine racks in the departure lounge, and after being in the country for 30 minutes I managed to add 5 pounds of magazines to my luggage. Real Living and Inside Out are my favourites. Here are some snippets from Inside Out: (the photos are so small, sorry, just click twice and you get to see them extra big!)





The above photos are from an article about Sibella Court, Sydney/NYC stylist who recently moved back to her native Australia. There’s a great interview with Sibella Court on The Design Files, here.  Her seashell and butterfly collections remind me of this beautiful and ubiquitous book, Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Curiosities. I love the botanical drawings that fill this book. I’ve noticed a lot of design stylists sneak it into photo shoots because of the punchy graphic spine and cover.






Blossoms & Spring!

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Summer used to be my favourite season, and now I’m realising my heart lies with Spring. I’m a new gardener, so this year I’m even more amazed that the scrubby, squitty little trees of last month are bursting with eager little buds and laden with fluffy pink blossoms. It’s all so girly and pretty and great. I was meaning to take out my camera and record this explosion of happiness, and then I found this photographer on Etsy, MK McKenna. Her images capture this time of year so beautifully, I thought they should take centre stage.






Africa Diaries Continued

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009


It’s been a while since I added an Africa Diary post (snippets from the dog-eared rice paper journal I shlepped around East and Southern Africa in 1997), so I will pick up where I left off:


February 27, 1997  Mark’s house, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have”
~Susan Sontag 

We’re staying here at Mum’s cousin Lani’s husband’s house outside Dar. It’s very different from the hostels we’ve been staying in. The house is very beautiful, and the dog, Ratfink, likes to jump into the pool and swim with me. We don’t quite know what to do with ourselves here. Lots of reading and exploring, I guess.

There’s a large group of people standing a ways out in the sea, all looking at something.  I want to know what they’re looking at, and what I really want to do is hurl myself in the water like Ratfink. I’ll just stay here for now.


The deck at Mark's house in Dar es Salaam. An oasis for two weary backpackers!

The deck at Mark's house in Dar es Salaam. An oasis for two weary backpackers!


Feb 28

I think I’d enjoy going romantically insane, and Zanzibar would be the perfect place to do it. Though perhaps not remote enough: too many fishermen to bring me out of my passionate, wordless madness. I guess I’m just sick of small talk. It should be banned in all cultures. A ban on banality! And the word nice.

As I washed my face in the small bathroom upstairs, fabricating a letter-form speech to an ex-boyfriend, an open book on the top of the toilet caught my eye: The Fifth Penguin Book of Sunday Times Crosswords, on the back of which was written the following:

The Contemporary Rubayat

Waste not your hour, nor the in the vain pursuit
Of this and that endeavour and dispute
Better by Merry with this joyous book
Than sadden after base, or worldly, goods.
A Book of Puzzles underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now! 

~with apologies to Omar Khayyam and Edward Fitzgerald

I love how someone’s little funny can transport me from here to Pearrygin Lake in an instant, sitting on a blanket under a willow tree with a bottle of orange pop, a Daphne duMaurier novel and my sister.

We wandered around the neighbourhood, found a little shopping plaza and an art gallery full of Tinga Tinga paintings which made me really happy.





Sunday, April 19th, 2009

I have several theories about work. I think every job has a “yay!” and “boo!” factor. 


This was a sad, sad painting day. I was not happy with this painting. This is the 'before'. The 'after' is later...

This was a sad, sad painting day. I was not happy with this painting. This is the 'before'. The 'after' is later...


You may look at Drew Barrymore and think her job is pretty great. She is a successful actress, beautiful, rich, and now a successful producer with the most fabulous office EVER, as documented by the sadly now-defunct Domino magazine (sniff) and reproduced here on thedrewseum. {she’s also starring in the upcoming Gray Gardens, which I’m rather excited about purely for its stunning visuals. But I digress}

My guess is, Miss Drew has to get up really really early a lot of the time. She probably has to talk to people she’d rather not talk to, go places she’d rather not go, and dress up and stand in front of a camera so people can criticize everything about her, even when she’s pms-ing and would rather crash on the sofa with her cat and an ice cream bucket like the rest of us. And she has to do it all with that sweet smile on her face. I’m not saying “oh, poor her”, but there are things on that list I’d rather not do on a regular basis. Hence the Boo factor of Drew’s work life.


Isn't she pretty?

Isn't she pretty?


Drew Gray Gardens 2


Grey Gardens Drew Jessica

God, look at that rust velvet dress…the costumes might steal the show.

So my original point is what? Oh yes. The Yay and Boo of being an artist. When I tell people I’m an artist there are usually two reactions — often in rapid succession — that go something like this: “wow! how fun!” followed by a very skeptical, “do you actually make money?”

Now. Some days are amazing: there is no high quite like a positively productive day painting. It’s up there with a day spent walking around Florence or playing in the snow. Those days are Yay-factor days. And they are ultimately what keeps most of us going through the heartache and rejection that come part & parcel with our career choice.

While I acknowledge that making art has been my dream since I was a wee thing, it isn’t always fun. Days like today, where it’s gorgeous, sunny and warm, I’m not happy to be in my stinky studio staring at a canvas, occasionally tickling it with a haft-heartedly loaded brush and generally making one nasty-looking painting. Boo! It’s also quite lonely, and a challenge to strike a balance in one’s life and not become a paint-smeared hermit.

The second question “do you actually make money?” is a tricky one. I think a lot of people are genuinely curious about this, as the myth of the starving artist conditions us to think of artists as, well, starving. I understand the curiosity. But I am asked this question about three times a week. Honestly, it’s a somewhat hurtful question. Truthfully, I do make money from my painting. Not millions, but my income increases year to year and I like having control over how much (or little) I make. But I don’t always want to talk about that, and sometimes want to respond with “Yes, I do. Do you make money as an accountant/politician/lawyer?” But I don’t.  So, this is just a gently informative (I hope) diatribe on how this makes me feel. And I’m sure I’m not alone. 

Having this blog to blather on is actually very motivating on those Boo Days. And often the case with ugly-ass paintings is that they turn a corner and become favourites, which brings me back to the wee nasty face at the beginning of the post. (Please keep in mind that I don’t usually show people this stuff–eek)

So the painting at the top of this post is how she started. Sad, sad painting. I hated it. So, one night I took a shot of Fireball — yes, it’s indeed a Yay factor when done in extreme moderation and only when clearly necessary — and went to town, and this is the result. Yay!

I've blogged this one several times, as she's one of my all-time favourite pieces I've done. I thought the transition would be interesting.

I've blogged this one several times, as she's one of my all-time favourite pieces I've done. I thought the transition would be interesting.

My Top 5 Films About Art

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

For a dancer, there’s nothing like watching dance to make your legs jittery. As a painter, watching a film about painting makes me want to run into my studio and throw paint around to a rousing soundtrack (and hopefully not a sticky end). These are my top 5 movies about artists making art.


frida basquiat


  • Frida    The brilliantly visual Julie Taymor made me snivel at the Lion King on Broadway. Yes, I’m a sap, but her love letter to Frida Kahlo is as textured and rich as the late artist’s paintings themselves. Each scene is so rich and fulfilling and screaming with colour. Now I want to watch it again.
  • Basquiat   Directed by painter Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly made me shudder it was so beautiful), Basquiat features David Bowie as Andy Warhol (how fab!) who delivers one of the films many great lines: “you’re painting out everything I do. I can’t even see what’s good anymore”.
  • Klimt    This one is actually a bit painful to get through, but it’s such a feast for the eyes it’s worth the Vaseline-slow plot. How does Saffron Burrows live with herself? She’s a walking painting.
  • Pollock    Harsh, but marvellous. I  love the homage to Pollock’s own suggestion to a documentary-filmmaker to film him from below through the pane of glass Pollock is dripping paint onto. 
  • Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus      This one’s not about a painter, but the inimitable photographer Diane Arbus and her fascination with people on the fringe of society. Though this film focuses less on her art-making and more on the imaginary love story, it’s just so haunting and delicious it could be real.





Budget Living

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Brooding on the loss of my favourite decorating magazine, Domino, puts me in mind of the also-defunct Budget Living. This was a great resource for cheap design ideas until it disappeared on Valentine’s Day about 5 years ago. I managed to find one at my local library and was particularly taken with this  NYC loft. I especially fancied the leopard print carpet. If I recall, the owner found a remnant in a warehouse and had it cut and bound into this organic ‘pond’ shape. The sunglasses image (at right) is a poster she pulled out of a magazine. Cheap is good, free is better!

The book, Home Cheap Home, covers a few other great spaces, like this one below. I love the pops of orange and that stunning Murano chandelier.



This toile sofa (below) is sweet without being precious. The artwork on the fireplace is a layering of a thrift shop floral still life, and a drawing done by the owner’s toddler.


Waterlilies = Happiness

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009


More Lilies


Lilies! I loved painting these. I’ve always wanted to do a waterlilies series. I fell in love with Monet when I was a teenager, and I’ve never really recovered. This series came out of a visit to the Botanical Gardens in Brisbane, Australia last March/April. I had a whack of time in Brisbane so I spent a few different days in the gardens staring at the huge lily ponds. Ah, happiness. I got blisters but I didn’t care. These paintings are still available through my email at There are bigger pictures of them on my website, too.