Art/Author Blog

It’s been a while

A Dan and his Horse

I haven’t done much writing of late, and that includes blogs. I’m not sure if I’m suffering from writers block or just tired of trying to sort out a recalcitrant time travel novel.

But I’ve been busy. My daughter and I are doing Inktober19. Check out our work at @Michelification and @evebarbeau on Instagram. Our styles are quite different, and somehow similar.

Above is a painted version of a digital drawing I did some time ago. A Dane and his Horse, is digital art made in Krita, an opensource software that is excellent! Check it out too, if you’re interested. By the way, I used a still from The Last Kingdom as my source for this image, and followed it fairly slavishly because this was a practice in digital painting more than anything else. Check out The Last Kingdom Twitter feed and watch the series on Netflix. Or better yet, read the book by Bernard Cornwell.

Buckle-down Time

Summer hasn’t been all fun and games, though happily there was enough of that to make it feel like summer, but now it’s time to push forward on the creative front. 

Above are two digital pieces, the top not yet complete. I found some movie stills as reference material because they help me think about the whole scene, rather than just the characters. And figures in movie stills do more natural looking things than when you are working from a model, or from most photographs. 

Happy autumn everyone. Another time for growth, but of a different kind.

Better Than You Thought

Time distance makes such a difference to your perception!


When I received a gift of a new laptop for my birthday, I was left with a perfectly usable but older laptop with some USB issues. That laptop made me feel guilty because though I love new tech, I hate rampant materialism. I wanted to give that laptop to someone who would be happy to have it.


I found that someone, but it required me to mail it to another city. Okay, no problem. But how to protect it while Canada Post had their way with it. Surely, I had some bubble-wrap somewhere.
I found some, wrapped around a roll of old paintings. (In my house, almost every bedroom closet and all available spaces are filled with paintings.)


I unwrapped the roll of paintings labelled Lilith series part II and found the above works. I created them circa 1995-97. Two of them each measure 31″ by 96″ and the other is 31″ x 108″. All are acrylic and collage on canvas.


I’m surprised to find that they’re quite good. Amazing what a little time and emotional distance can do. I’ve had a couple of experience like that lately. Not long ago I read an old story and thought. Wow! That’s pretty good.


So, don’t be hating the stuff you made. It isn’t fair to you and to the creations. Keep working, it’s the only thing you never run out of, the work. And the work is really where it’s at.


Mind you it’s nice to be a little surprised, now and again, at how you nailed it.

A Story for You

I came across a piece of short fiction I wrote in 2012, that I think is kind of fun. In 2012 we still talked about global warming. This is a term I use in the story. I could have changed ‘global warming’ to ‘climate crisis’, but it didn’t fit as well in the story. Here you are, the story in its entirety.

Pixies of Zarfyn

by Eve Barbeau

In Zarfyn, near Toss, the pixies wore no clothes. This was fine in the summertime when the sun lay over them like molten honey, but come the autumn the Pixies began to tremble, and by mid-winter, they’d all gone mad with frost. Something had to be done.

       You may know that pixies can vanish from sight in an instant and reappear somewhere else. What you may not know is that they can’t just pop off to Tahiti where it is warm all the time and the problem of clothes or no clothes would not come up. Some of you may know that a great painter, Gauguin, popped off to Tahiti and you may wonder if he wore clothes. The pixies are sure that he didn’t bother, but people mostly think he did, because what self-respecting European would walk about with no clothes. I mean what would you look at when you talked to them. No, it just couldn’t happen.

       There was no doubt that the Pixies in Zarfyn needed clothes. They weren’t born with clothes on their backs and it wasn’t given them to make their own. They had to earn them. In Toss, a very cultured town, the Pixies had no trouble earning their dress, though they had their own problems. Delicate silk tutus were hardly warmer than no clothes at all. In Zarfyn the trouble was not an effete culture. No, here were sturdy church-going stock who worked hard at industry. The trouble was that the folk could not imagine what they’d have for lunch let alone a pixie. And as you know, Pixies not imagined can’t be seen.

       No respectable human being will imagine a naked pixie if they imagine one at all. The moment you see a pixie you imagine them with at least a pair of trousers or a house dress. That is how pixies get their clothes. They had to get the attention of the humans and once imagined they would surely be dressed. It explained why the things in Toss wore delicate tutus, or artist’s smocks so heavy with daubs of paint that the poor wee pixies were lost in the folds. Painters always wear thick heavy clothes. They suffered in cold drafty garrets for their art and need something to keep them warm enough to move.

       But it is not the pixies in Toss that we are worried about. We know they have their own problems.

       In Zarfyn, which is where our pixies reside, the problem is that no one can imagine a pixie. You and I know that just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. In Zarfyn there existed a large population of pixies and they were cold. Something had to be done.

       On a late afternoon on a Tuesday–it took that long for the poor pixies to thaw enough for them to move–Grandma Pansy called a town council. All the pixies in Zarfyn were to be there or be square. (It is truly frightening what imagination can do. Please, whatever you do, don’t imagine a square pixie). Everyone came though there were some late stragglers who had somehow found themselves in the shade, so their thawing process was slowed.

       “Pixies of Zarfyn,” said Grandma Pansy, “something has to be done.”

       All the pixies groaned. They had heard this speech many times before. Most of the time they were all frozen up before the speech ended and nothing at all got done.

       “Shush,” said Grandma Pansy, “I know you have had enough of, “something has to be done”, speeches. We hear far too many of them. Remember the Biguns have them too. You’ve heard the speeches coming from the boxes they watch all day long. Something must be done about greenhouse gases. Something must be done about global warming…” Grandma Pansy digressed.

       “I dearly hope the global warming comes soon,” muttered Purslane, whose fingers were still tingling from the retreating frost.

       Purslane’s usual luck held, and Grandma Pansy heard him. “Purslane come on up here. You have a brave mouth. Maybe we can match the rest of you up to the mouth of yours.”

       “Ah, Granny. I was just saying it would be a fine thing if the global warming came to Zarfyn.”

       Grandma Pansy nodded. “It would seem to be an answer to our prayers son, but the Biguns are awfully worried about the warming. It sounds like a fearsome thing.  No, Purslane, what we want to be doing is to get the attention of the Biguns, any one of them at all and get them to imagine a pixie in warm woolen underwear-red maybe, with long sleeves and a trap door…” Here Grandma Pansy got side-tracked in a Rhapsody too long underwear. She shook her head. Pixies had no trouble imagining, but imagination would not warm them. “So, I was thinking. You know the mill owner’s boy, the pale skinny one, not the other with a head as thick as an oak tree. I’ve seen that little Bigun sitting by himself with a dreaming look on his face. Could be that boy has the imagination we need.”

       Purslane groaned.

       “That boy is half daft,” said Parsley who was standing beside Purslane. “If he’s dreaming anything at all, it is about how to get rid of his knot-head brother.”

       “Shh,” whispered Purslane, “not so loud. Granny’s, sure enough, gonna make us stand guard outside if we keep testing her.”

       “Parsley,” said Grandma Pansy, “have you got something to get off your chest?”

       “No, ma’am.” Parsley stepped behind Purslane.

       “Why don’t you and Purslane come-on up beside me here. I have a plan and you can help me.”

       Purslane grimaced and marched forward to stand beside Grandma Pansy. Granny might have a plan, but if it included that milk faced Bigun boy it was doomed to failure. He’d seen that boy staring off into space many times. He doubted that boy was contemplating anything much, whether in the world or behind his eyes. Purslane was wrong.

       Parsley shuffled up to stand beside him. Damn Parsley, his retiring nature was a pain. Always the last to offer, always so little to offer. Still, he knew Parsley had big dreams. Parsley longed to step up and be a hero. Trouble was, he was too shy to make it happen. Purslane didn’t give a damn about being a hero. In his mind, he already was one.

       Grandma Pansy looked the boys over. Funny, wasn’t it, that whatever you believed you were was indeed what you were. ‘Course, sometimes, just sometimes, things happen in such a way that what you thought you were changed. Parsley could do with some new thinking about himself. A little change wouldn’t go amiss for Purslane either.

       Grandma Pansy looked at her people, blue with cold, huddled together, teeth chattering. The babes were wailing. It was a terrible sight and she could not let it go on any longer. She pressed her lips tight together and thought of all the other times she’d sent an envoy of pixies to some Bigun or other hoping to dredge up just a little imagination, just enough that one of them could glimpse a pixie. Biguns always wore clothes—well maybe not when they washed or played hanky-panky, but the Biguns even played hanky-panky with most of their clothes on. They were not the kind to lie around and enjoy their nakedness. Which for her purposes was a good thing. If Purslane and Parsley could get that boy to believe in pixies, they would have a good chance of having warm clothes.

       “What I want you boys to do is find that skinny Bigun boy and I want you to get him seeing pixies. And, for goodness sake, make sure he thinks you are wearing warm clothes. Go now, while the sun is still up. You know it will be impossible when evening comes. The old ones and the babes cannot handle the cold much longer.”

       “Aye, Granny,” said Purslane, “but what would you have us do? We’ve been sending out parties of pixies for years and not once have we found one Bigun who could imagine a pixie. These people aren’t dreamers Granny. These Biguns are all doers.”

       “Would you rather go to Toss, Purslane, where there are no doers and most of the dreaming is about pink tutus? We got to keep trying and I think we have a good chance with this white-faced boy.”

       That white-faced boy was the second son of Boswell the plumber. Boswell had two sons, one was as big and dull as Boswell himself, and the other was Richard. Richard spent long hours hiding away from his big brother Harry, reading books and dreaming about naked women. You see Richard was fourteen and when you are a fourteen-year-old boy, naked is awfully interesting.

       So, when Purslane and Parsley found him behind the short wall in the garden, picking his nose and staring into space, they caught him at the exact moment that his mind was weak with dreaming.

       “Hey, Bigun! Hey, look at us!” Purslane yelled, jumping up and down and waving his arms. He elbowed Parsley. “Come on, we’re supposed to get his attention.”

       Parsley looked doubtful, but if Purslane said to jump, Parsley jumped. He bounced up and down, waving his arms in the air, shouting at the top of his lungs.

       Richard took no notice of them at all. He just kept staring off into the distance while spiders spun webs between his feet and flies buzzed around his head.

       Hoarse from shouting, Purslane waved his arms harder, so hard that he fell off the fence, just as a particularly large fly lit on Richard’s nose.

       Richard’s eyes crossed and lost their glazed look. He swiped at the fly nearly knocking himself silly.

       “Hey, you ugly, Bigun. See us!” Purslane said as he landed at Richard’s feet. “By God, Parsley, look at him. I don’t think he has a brain in his head. Grandma Pansy is daft from the cold. Whatever made her think this one had a speck of imag—” Purslane broke off to bite Richard’s toe, hard.

       “Ow!”

       Richard swiped again and this time he caught Purslane in his pale clammy hand.”

       “Huh?” said Richard, a big question swelled in his head, but before he could think another thought he began to scream.

       “Put me down, you knucklehead,” yelled Purslane.

       “He sees us! He sees us!” shouted Parsley.

       “Whaa, Whaa!” cried Richard.

       Together they made a terrible din.

       At last, Parsley could stand it no more. Purslane wasn’t listening to him, nobody was listening to him, so he scrambled up on Richard’s arm, holding tight on his sleeve even though Richard tried to shake him off. When he reached the bigun’s shoulder he marched across it, lifted the lank strands of hair away from the ear and shouted. “Do you see us, Bigun?”

       The sound roared in Richard’s ear like a train in an empty tunnel. He dropped Purslane and clapped his hands over his ears, inadvertently knocking Parsley into his lap. He shut his eyes tight. When he opened them again Parsley was standing on, a rather delicate part of his anatomy up shouting at him while he bounced.

       “Who are youse guys?”

       “Are you daft boy? Can’t you see we’re Pixies?” shouted Purslane bouncing up and down.

       “Oww, oww, oww! Don’t you be doing that,” Richard caught the pixies by the backs of their long red woolen underwear and set them on his knees.

       Seems Grandma Pansy was right, and Richard could, indeed, imagine. It took a while, to be sure, but before the winter truly settled in each and every Pixie in Zarfyn had warm clothes.

And that is how the pixies of Zarfyn finally got their clothes. In time, the global warming did come, and they found that the long red woolen underwear was very itchy in the humid heat. They began to envy the Pixies in Toss, but that is the problem for another story.

Happy Canada Day!

Dessert

I’ve been away on family visits, and I’m deep into gardening catch-up and preparation for more family visits.

I have less time in the studio but I’m continuing my study of digital illustration. I struggle with two different things:

  • I have trouble thinking of things to illustrate and,
  • When I do create something, it looks stiff and self-conscious

In this little mouse painting, I used my brushes more like I would if I were creating with analog mediums like watercolour or oil paint and I think it has helped.

Are mice fond of blackberries for dessert? I have no idea, but dessert is good. Go ahead and have an extra helping of Canada Day cake!

Krita 4.2.1 is here.

My son taught me how to use computers. I think the first oneI tried was an an IBM XT. It had two floppy drives. One held the WordPerfect software I was hoping to use, and the other held your documents. It was a terrible exercise in frustration for me–all those arcane keystrokes, I could never remember–but I was hooked.

My education in computers took a long time. As a single mom, of two, just finishing my degree in fine art, I didn’t have money to buy computers and operating systems, but there were enough of them around to find old computers whose hardware you could scavenge to build something for yourself. By the mid-nineties, my son taught me about open-source operating systems and software. He taught me about Linux. (I use Ubuntu)

I fell in love with the co-operative way Linux was built, and how it offered opportunity to people who couldn’t pop out and buy computers at a whim. My son ended up becoming a software engineer. And I’m still a fan of computers and the ideals behind open-source software.

Krita is one such software. It’s an amazing drawing program that rivals and exceeds the ability of expensive digital editing software like Adobe Photoshop. It’s both robust enough for production artwork and cost friendly enough for beginners who don’t have the money to buy visual artmaking software.

According to Wikipedia, Krita is the Swedish word for crayon and rita is Swedish word for ‘to draw’.

The newest version of Krita just came out, and I spent the tail end of last week and all weekend, trying new brush sets (offered for free by many) and the colourize mask that allows you to colour your work quickly and easily.

Above is a composition of my own that is a little Handmaid’s Tale and a little Mother of Dragon’s, and mostly neither. My very quick granddaughter noted that the expression on the woman’s face is all wrong given the miracle of a dragon hatching in your hands. She’s so right.

The other drawing is a portrait of Dominique Tipper who plays Naomi Nagata in the TV series The Expanse.

Quick, Quick, Slow, Slow

Flora #2 03-06-2019
Flora #2, 2019, egg-tempera on panel, 14″ x 11″

When I was a kid, making my own art with left-over paint-by-number paints, it took a long time to get a painting done. Not only because I didn’t know what I was doing (I didn’t) but also because the things I painted were detailed and required a lot of work. I wish I could find one of those paintings for you. I know that somewhere there is a painting of a deer leaping through water, fear in its eyes. On a cliff above lurked a mountain lion. Only the mountain lion was beyond my abilities so I didn’t paint it in. I was working from a photo from one of my father’s Field and Stream magazines. It was slow work.

Fast forward to my thirties, I went off to study studio art-painting at university. The Canadian prairies had a whole lot of art envy going on and we were particularly smitten with the Abstract Expressionism coming out of New York City. Most of our professors studied in America and the university had an off-campus camp at Emma Lake where guest artists came to lecture. Artists like Barnett Newman, Stanley Boxer, Kenneth Noland and Donald Judd along with critics like Clement Greenberg.

The focus was on abstraction and if you were going to paint something recognizable it would be best if it was in an expressionistic style.

Expressionistic work was all about quick lines, by its nature quick and you didn’t labour over an abstraction for weeks either. In fact, we didn’t labour over any one painting. Part of that was the school schedule was heavy and no student had the time for work that took weeks or months to complete.

I loved all of it, the quick, quick of expressionistic work, the pouring and splashing of paint. But the need to go slow found me. I began to make large paintings made up of small bits of paper. The process took time. First the gluing of paper, and then the pouring of paint and more gluing of paper.

I think my recent fascination with making highly detailed paintings of flora have some of that same process and quality my paper constructions had. The abstract underpinnings are still there.

Flora #2 isn’t quite done, but you know, slowly, slowly.

I also managed to find time to write the last half of a short story I was stuck on. It’s still in first draft, so who knows what flaws are lurking in it, but fixing them is working for another day.