Art/Author Blog

For the Birds: A Story

Blair's MagpieSM
Bird, acrylic on paper, Painted by my husband, Blair Barbeau

Now don’t get me wrong. I like birds. I liked them a lot, but I also have a bit of a phobia about them flying near me, and to be honest, to hold a bird in my hand, warm, and frantic with its heart nearly knocking through its chest, well, that freaks me out too. I try not to give in to fears and phobias, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not still there.

Tuesday last, I’d went for my usual early morning walk. Nearing home, I heard a persistent knocking. I stopped and looked around. I saw no one about. Doors were closed, no hum of lawn mowers. Nothing. But there it was again the knocking. I glanced at an elm near by and almost missed it. Man, Spiderman has nothing on the Downy Woodpecker. It walked vertically up the trunk of the tree dispatching bugs as it found them. No, I wasn’t afraid. I was thrilled to see this incredible little bird so close up.

Breakfast done and cleared away I headed to my downstairs studio. I’d started a painting–yeah, me–and it was going well. I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

In a moment I was immersed. I had some podcast going, or perhaps an audio book by Peter Grainger, I can’t remember which. I heard something, but it came to me distantly as sound sometimes does when I’m in the midst of creating.

Again, louder, insistent, a scuffling noise, something banging on metal, Then silence.

My studio is off the family room. In the family room we have a Franklin stove type of fireplace. When we bought this house we were told that the installation of the fireplace was not up to code, meaning that the house insurance company said it’ll cost you big time if you plan to use that fireplace. So we stuffed the stovepipe with that pink fibre glass insulation to keep out the cold of winter and put an electric fireplace insert into the firebox. You know the sort of thing. Fake logs, fake flames created by some kind of light doing some kind of thing, and behind it all a heater to throw some warmth at you.

There is was again. The loud scuffling noise. Some knocking. It was coming from the fireplace stove pipe.

No, no, no! I can’t deal with this. It’s a bird. I know it’s a bird, and I have to get it out, but it’ll fly all over the house and I can’t. I just can’t.

I call my husband at work. He pretty much said, “You’ll have to get it out. Put the dog and the cat into a bedroom. Close the door on them, then open all the outside doors, and remove the fireplace insert.”

Sometimes husbands aren’t as useful as you’d expect. I thought maybe he’d drop everything, rush on home, to take care of things while I cowered in the bedroom with the dog and the cat.

Big breath. I screwed up my courage, did as my husband suggest and pulled out the fireplace insert.

And nothing. No bird. A little pile of dirty pink fibreglas insulation lay at the bottom of the firebox along with–was that bird crap? Maybe it wasn’t a bird. Maybe it was a bat. Ha try again. I knew it was a bird. Somehow, there was a bird in the stove pipe and it was above the fibreglass stuffing. I got a flash light and tried to figure out a way to solve this. maybe I could pull out the insulation, but if I did that, I’d pull the bird down on me. I stuck my head in the firebox and craned to see what I could see. Nothing. I could see nothing at all. Nothing save a black hole. I needed help for this job, and that poor bird would have to wait until my husband came home. He’d put the insulation into the pipes and he surely knew where he’d put it.

I took the dog for a walk. I couldn’t bear to stay in the studio and listen to that it try to knock it’s way out of it’s sheet metal prison.

About mid afternoon, I heard a ruckus downstairs. Not the bird surely, this was more noise even that it could make.

Oh my God! The cat was in a panic. The dog started to bark. A large–I mean not your wren or your sparrow, not even a robin sized bird, but a BIG bird was fluttering around in the firebox, stopping now and then pausing to cling to the mesh firescreen.

I called off the dog, grabbed the cat and put them both into a bedroom, closing the door on them. I ran around closing the doors to every room that had a door. I opened all the outside doors. Then cautiously I went back down the stairs. Yes, it was till there, it’s yellow tail feathers spread, its chest heaving. I took a small blanket from the couch. My intentions were to throw the blanket over the bird, pick it up and put it outside. Cautiously I pulled back the fireplace screen. In flash the bird was past its edge and in the air.

Stupid, stupid me. I should have closed the window shutters. It slammed hard into the window. Its poor beak was seriously bent out of shape. Again I tried with the blanket, and this time I caught it. Darn good thing, because I don’t think either of us could have taken much more.

Holding it as gently as I could, still in the blanket, It carried it outside. My intention was to set it on the lawn. Its feet never touched the ground. Zoom! It was gone.

So okay, I guess it wasn’t a HUGE bird, but it was pretty big. It turned out to be a Hairy Woodpecker and I’m happy to report that before it zoomed away, it’s beak looked okay again. I guess they’re used to hammering it against things.

220px-Picoides-villosus-001

Phew! Two close encounters in one day. I may yet get over this phobia.

 

Walking with a Camera

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For a while now I’ve been taking a walk early every morning. I do it because it’s beautiful outside and because I think it’s good for my mental health. And who knows, it might just keep my hippocampus strong for longer.

I’ve been writing and drawing, but nothing exciting is happening on that front. I’m in the learning stage of things. I realized I needed to get a better handle on light and value and it occurred to me that taking my camera walking might help with that. You look with a whole other attention if you carry a camera. It was wonderful to find that all those boring things, I walk by in alleys, are quite beautiful with the right kind of attention.

Hope you enjoy them too.

Continue to Learn, Learning to Continue

Freckled Girl
Freckled Girl, digital, photo reference from Pinterest

A few weeks ago I wailed about not being able to paint. I’m not going to tell you that it’s all come back to me and I’m flying. But I am painting, and I’ve been completely immersed in it all week long. Everything is different, the medium, the style, the type of painting, but I’m learning, and I’m old enough to know that learning is one of life’s most important things for me. If I’m not learning, I lose interest and everything is washed over in blues.

Above is a digital piece worked in a painterly realistic style.

My whole art education was about abstraction with elements of either the sublime and/or expressionistic. I feel like a traitor to my education,  and my mentors, but man, there’s a whole other world of art out there.

I’ts Canada Day here. Au Canada!!

canada-flag-8x5

Magic Carpet

Magic Carpet

There was a period of time in my art life that I worked almost exclusively in collage. In the early stages it was partly because I couldn’t afford a  lot of art materials, and partly because I was having trouble with acrylic on canvas, which is what everyone else was using. Of course that isn’t what I told people. I told them I was doing the ecologically decent thing, and recycling.

The early collages were built entirely of bits of paper and pours of diluted acrylic paint, ink and whatever other medium came to hand. I would stick the bits of paper–newspaper, flyers, phonebook–onto a sheet of polyvinyl, and when the painting was dry, I peeled it away, creating a work that was one piece without a backing. Some of these works were very large–8′ x 12′. The problem was how to display them. As time went by I used canvas as a backing, allowing me to stretch the work on a stretcher.

Magic Carpet is approximately 3′ x 3.5′ and has a canvas backing. Funny how I like it so much better now than I did when I created it.

I hope you like it too.

Digital Studio Setup

Digital Studio Setup

After years of creating art, usually with my head bent over a panel placed on a table or on the floor, I have succumbed to serious neck and shoulder pain.

As mentioned in my last post, I’m not painting in the traditional way right now, though what I was doing wasn’t exactly traditional either.

For years I’ve worked in encaustic. Encaustic is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and pigment, which is heated and applied in various methods on a panel. I preferred to use regular bristle brushes to apply my wax, but because it solidifies very quickly I found that the best way for me to work was to have my panel flat on a table. A slight angle was fine too, but a vertical panel didn’t work well.

Hence, my 7 pound head was hanging over a table at a degree that made it feel more like 35 pounds and hey, I’ve got one of those nerdy, long, skinny necks, which means I was creating a lot of trouble for myself.

Now, I’m mostly working digitally and I’ve been striving to find a way to keep my posture neutral. No slumping shoulders, no out-stretched neck, no reaching arm and bent wrist.

To that end I modified a small computer table I bought at Staples. In the picture above you see it as it would be if I use it for my drawing tablet, but I took off the side panel (where the mouse would normall go) so that I could put a drawing board in this same table and use it for analog drawing too. This little table-top tilts to a 45 degree angle, and because the whole thing is small and on wheels I can easily move it out of my way when I need to use my computer for writing.

It’s early days, but I think this might do the trick. Now if I could just figure out how to get the lighting right.

In the mean time, as you can see, I’ve decided to practice. I may not have anything to say in paint right now, but drawing for me is meditative, so for now, I’m doing the equivalent of scales: drawing hands, feet, gestures, contours, and so on.

Oh and I made this very strange lady. I stole some bits of her from a drawing by Wylie Beckert.

White Hair3

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

But Painting JacksonYou know that optimistic post last week? And the excitement about trying comics the week before?

Bleh! Crashed and burned.

Something has happened in my studio practise. Something I haven’t been able to talk about because I keep thinking ‘don’t be such a baby’. It’s been going on for months and months now. For more than a year.

I can’t paint.

This week I tried again. As before my efforts ended in disaster with me in terror, sure that finally it’s gone forever, this thing that has sustained me my whole life. Gone in waffley washes, in screeching colours that subside in mud and wander like zombies across my panel.

“Alright,” I say, “You can still draw. So draw. You can write…well, you can sorta write.”

And all the dominoes fall.

So last week ended on a way down note.

I don’t mean for this new week to follow its path. This morning I wrote my morning pages, I went for a walk and I hit reset.  I will remember to breathe. I will go gently and be kind to myself. And I’ll do it all again tomorrow and the day after, and the one after that…

We often admonish each other to be kind to others. Life is hard. Remember to be kind to yourselves too.

Creativity: How it Works

Globe atop the Turler Cosmos Clock
Globe atop the Turler Cosmos Clock

 

 

 

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have a partial manuscript I call The Chronos Project that I plan to revise.

The story is about Anna Wassar, a young ethics enforcer who works at a time-shifting facility, where historians of all sort shift to other time periods to do research in their particular field of interest.

Anna becomes aware that someone is bringing treasures from the past into the future, and that if she doesn’t stop them, the Temporal Ethics Commission will shut down the Chronos Project.

Anna shifts to 1940s Germany in pursuit of her suspect, and things do not go well.

Okay, not a bad premise. Maybe a bit Timecop, but the theme is different and I like it.

A number of years have past since I wrote the first version. Hey, I even tried a second version, and one hundred and twenty thousand words into it I still couldn’t make it work. Time has passed and I am ready to give it another try.

I printed the whole thing and  began to read it back to front. To my surprised I have many excellent scenes, and surely I can…but Anna, Anna doesn’t have enough agency, and what about the murder bus and the children at Görden at Brandenburg an der Havel? How am I going to make that all fit?

Never mind. I’ll be systematic. I will separate the story into point of view sections (there are five–OMG, way to many?) and then I will read each section and see if I have a decent character arc for that character and we’ll go from there. Right. That’s a plan.

Days pass and I don’t work. “Nope, will not,” says that recalcitrant brat in my head. “Can’t, can’t, can’t. Won’t! You know what? I don’t really like writing. I don’t want to write, anymore. Heck, I’m retired. I don’t have to do hard work and I won’t. Done. I’m done.”

Except that I begin to wake up dreaming writing. Yes, thoughts in another characters head, third person.

Then this morning in my journal:

Sunday, 3 June, 2018

(ping)

It was the third of June another sleepy, dusty, delta day

I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was bailin’ hay*

And I’m there. Yes, in the Mississippi delta, but no, not only there, but where ever the work is hard, where the air smells of fresh-mown hay, where dust lifts off a roadway and hangs in the air, where heat shimmers in the distance of—my daddy’s farm. I’m home.

(ping)

In an instant I remember others who catch me like that. Stephen King is one. Always, his words make me feel as though I’ve lived them myself. I’m two-hundred and eighty pound, gay Julianne Vernon,  in my pickup truck, horse trailer behind, driving down a quiet highway. In the distance I see a car stopped on the roadside, and I know what to do. I’ll stop and lend a hand. It’s what I do, what I’ve always done. It will be my undoing, but I don’t know it yet.

Synchronicity

I look over my Facebook feed and I see a post by a printing company. It’s a link to a blog post by Meribeth Deen. Meribeth talks about writing mentors and how we all need one, and maybe if we copy their words they’ll bring us to our words, and—ding, ding, ding.

I know what to do: Read Stephen King’s words, write Stephen’s words, and then write Anna Wassar, just a little, not much, not a great long thesis, just as much as I can see in a one inch frame.

That’s how it works, creativity. One small thing leads to another thing, and still another and these things spiral and gather, swarm, swoop and excite and suddenly you can’t wait to write, to paint, to dance your dance and sing your song.

 

*In 1967 Bobby Gentry wrote and performed Ode to Billy Joe and I loved that song. Bobby sang it beautifully, but what I loved most was the story. A whole and complete story in the lyrics of a 4 minutes song (it was longer in the original writing). It had everything necessary for story, including a mystery. What were Billy Joe and that girl throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge?