Geeking out on Arthur Rackham

The thing that made me want to be an artist were the illustrations in books. No one I knew had paintings on their walls when I was a kid, but the pictures in the Sunday school books were amazing. I wanted to make drawings just like that.

Fast forward to university, where “illustrations” were not a part of my fine art studies. I learned to disregard this kind of work as not serious.

I’m past wanting to be considered a serious artist, and I can finally look again at the story illustrations that enthralled me as a kid. I still love them, especially the older, complicated, many-mark kind. Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) pushes all my delight buttons. Above is a drawing I did based on one of his (mine has a rat with a crow, rather than a baby) and then I painted it in gouache, a wonderful medium that sometimes rewards you by creating a glow in your work.

Here’s another gouache painting, with more than a few problems, but some of that glow is there.

Everything is an Experiment

So this (grisaille painting) turned into that (coloured painting)

I’d intended some colour from the start. I thought I might make this an egg tempera painting, but I wanted to add colour with some texture. Egg tempera is very smooth. I thought I might mix oil or powdered pigment with cold wax medium. Cold wax is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and solvents. It makes the oil paint very thick and it dries matte.

The thing is that given the fine detail of this painting, I found it difficult to add thick paint to such small areas in a concise way. In the end, I used oil paint and a thinning Alkyd medium to glaze the colours on.

Painting is like life in that way. Sometimes you do what YOU want. Other times you do what the painting (life) wants.

I must add that I stole the title of this post. Artist Laureen used it in an Instagram post. She’s a very wise lady.

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.

Quick, Quick, Slow, Slow

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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.

Making Lemonade

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Old Woman #1, 2019, oil on paper, 5 x 5″

Some time ago, someone gave me sheets and sheets of fabulous d’Arches watercolour paper. This is seriously expensive paper: deckled edges, cold pressed texture, and thick. It has to be at least a 250-pound paper. Bond paper, the kind you use in your printer, weighs about five pounds per ream (500 sheets). This paper is 56 x 72 centimetres. If paper weight is measured is the same with all papers, 500 sheets of this paper would weight 250 pounds or more. The paper does not buckle or wrinkle when you get it wet.

And did I mention, that it is very expensive?

The thing is, I don’t like it. I don’t like how it takes water mediums. And I don’t like its rough texture. It’s been kicking around for ages. I’ve moved it from one studio to another and used very little of it. It occurred to me, recently, that if I gave it a good coat of gesso I could practice oil painting on it.

Years ago I painted in oils—when I was a kid really—and I didn’t have much of a clue on how to use oils. It seemed like a good time to learn.

The gessoed paper works well for this purpose.

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Old Woman, #2, 2019, oil on paper, 10 x 8″

I’m continuing with a foliage motif in my egg-tempera paintings, but on this paper, I decided to do portraits of old women. Above you have portraits of two colourful ladies whose photos I found on Pinterest.