Sunday, 18 February 2018

Where I Work

My most recent post on Instagram was about my office. Okay, that’s a bit risky. I’m more or less a private person (despite the blogs). And the pic kinda does go there a bit.

Why are there skeletons around your desk, Tristis?
It still looks messy.
How can you work here?

People can zoom in and see things like the word “Procrastination” on my wall. It’s not done. The full statement is “Procrastination is the fear of required perfection.” Ironic, I know, but sincerely done. Now it’s a reminder that even telling yourself that you don’t have to be perfect doesn’t free you from the anxiety.

And the skeletons. Oh, so many bony bits and bobs all over my world. I have had people refuse to work with me after seeing my office. I get the notion they maybe thought I worship Satan or something. Hard to say, when they don’t explain themselves, or speak directly to me any longer. 

Relax. They’re for reference. 

Okay, I also think bones are interesting on their own, but I was using them for reference on a novel…then just kept collecting. Even though they’re the thing most people associate with me, they’re far from the only thing I collect—and, hey, another thing is teapots, so…not so Satany now, am I?

Another thing is books. I have a serious addiction to books. I collect all kinds, although I prefer reference books like dictionaries and encyclopedias. I also have a wide range of art and design books. And a personal favourite is pop-up.

I wax poetic on books and the collection of them in my other blog—which focuses on writing—Domus Comm. I decided a while back that I needed to explain my library. I’ve been curating it for a while now and have some very interesting books (and assorted things among the books). But my family and friends see only the bulk and thinking of its value—or deadweight, as some describe it—instead of the books themselves. They’re not seeing the trees for the forest, so to speak. 

This blog is supposed to be about art, though, so back to that:

For the record, my studio also stays pretty messy. I clean it up frequently, and clean it out every so often, but it is a room full of stuff to make stuff, so it's never actually clean.

I don't have a lot of pictures of it. That's pretty much accidental. I would actually like to document my work when I make art, because I so often forget how I do things. Alas, however, it's pretty rare to have a shot of it.

I’m not sure how artistically pleasing anybody else finds the myriad of things I gather around myself, but I enjoy it all. I got a notion, though, a while back about how other people respond to it. Okay, this was actually years ago and it was a different office, but (and this shouldn’t be a surprise) kinda the same look and feel. 
A prior office

We held a party for a bunch of community radio folks. This was a creative bunch. Some were musicians, some writers, some artists. They had our entire, very tidy and uncluttered house to hang out in, but everybody ended up sitting around my tiny office on the floor (not nearly enough seating) talking over drinks. I marvelled a bit afterward, until I thought about how all my weird little collectables make me feel—the cacophony of colour, shape and texture; the cluster of story (formed, half-formed, hinted at); the overlapping symbols of moments; together they provide a cushion of distraction from what is otherwise a cold world of sameness and other peoples’ purpose.

During a tour of the Museum of American History a couple of years back I came across the “desk” of a famous author. I can’t remember whose, and damned if I can find the pic I took of it, but the point of the display was to show how this man worked, what he surrounded himself with and what level of construction he was comfortable with (his desk was partially plywood). I felt vindicated then, and I guess a bit more now. This is how I work. I could win a billion dollars, move to a mansion, have servants waiting on me hand and foot and I’d STILL have this sort of space to create in. 

The Virgos in my life will just have to learn to cope.

Cartoon of me as a Victorian at work by Lisa Pardy

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Those Other Redactions


It was a snowy afternoon at the end of a pleasant January thaw. Our front deck, which my wife shovelled so diligently when the snow was heavy, prior to any thoughts of a thaw, was now accumulating a fresh couple of inches of snow.

Our heat pump is under the deck, so there's a certain amount of melt that always happens, making nifty little patterns through the boards, and that's exactly what happened this time.

So, I grabbed my new phone (yes, phone. I'm seeing what it does—good little camera for a phone) and took a picture. I was struck by how much it looked like highlighted columnar text.

Mysterious Read
I set about finding the right text for it, eventually remembering an old piece I'd written about the photos of real life moments. We all smile in photos. Especially back before digital, when it cost a lot to develop pictures that came days later, when the moment couldn't be re-shot so easily. All those smiling photos, marking occasions and even otherwise random times, made it seem like our lives were a series of gleeful moments strung together.

The story was about a woman who proudly displayed those other photos (it was titled "Those Other Photos") in her home. And the photos depicted her sexual journey, some of which was painful. I've only shown it to a handful of people. They were all made uncomfortable by it (I thus learned why all our photos are filled with smiles).

This new photo, with my snowy redaction, is my response to those readers and the world, I guess. The words are light, like the snow. The depths are dark and a little rough. Little FYI, the whole text is there in the photo, but the snow's highlight burns the detail all away.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Art for a year

I enjoy making calendars. I truly do. I like playing with how a year looks—or, really, any timespan. It doesn't have to be a year. I have a few designs that are on the back-burner that, in my humble opinion, are wonders unto themselves. Maybe some day I'll make them. That would be nice.

But in the meantime, I am making other, more straightforward years.

(Damn! Did I say straightforward?)

I have a thing about the weekly grid. It's most often wrong in other calendars. My week does not start on a Sunday. It never did. My week ends on a Sunday. It starts on a Monday. So I was always rather disappointed that the powers-that-be dictated a design that forced me to constantly self-edit when making plans. There's a J-pattern our eyes have to trace when tallying up weekly or weekend plans, "Go thus far, then check out the first block of the next line, please."

When I started managing the radio station, I was handed a lovely (not the least bit decorative) advertising calendar from our ad agent and my mind was blown. It turns out that it's not the LAW that calendars have to start on Sunday!

So, of course, the moment I was given the chance to make my own calendar, I set out to make a grid that began on Monday.

My Graphic Design instructor was not very encouraged, even after I explained the benefits of a Monday-Sunday grid. "People are used to the other way. They'll get confused."

"Okay. I know, I'll put a big space between the five days of the week and the weekend. This will highlight the two best days and remind people that they're different from work days."

"Their eyes will just track over the space. It won't look different enough."


And thats why my grids all have a big foggy MONDAY going down the left side of the grid. Yes, it tells you it's Monday. But it also tells you that it has to tell you this, because you're head is foggy.

My first calendar was based on my photography. I picked photos I thought meant something to the time of year.

It was a nice calendar, but very soon after I put it out, I encountered a process that has pretty much stolen my entire attention.

Papercut art is just fascinating. I think I like it for how it strains against imposed limitations. I don't know. Maybe it's because paper doesn't give me the splinters that woodworking did. I but my mind runs through endless mazes of possibility thinking about how layered 2D designs make interesting 3D shapes, landscapes and mysteries.

My first foray into paper cut calendars was with the Paper Kaleidoscope. The concept behind it was that each month was an individual pattern cut in a separate colour. There was a lot of negative space cut out of the pattern, letting the viewer look through to the next layer (and then next and next for 12 months and a cover). In January, the first colour and pattern were prominent, but when February came, January didn't disappear, it flipped around and became a background coloured pattern. February followed this in turn. What happened over the year was that a new "picture" appeared for each month, a fresh tumbled set of colours, just like inside a kaleidoscope.

I'm not done exploring that. I wanted to look at how mandalas worked and see if my art could speak as a year-long mandala. There were patterns I wasn't able to use in the kaleidoscope that would sing in a mandala.

I started work on a calendar called "At the Lake" which was a series of twelve views of a lake at various times of the year. But my notions make for complicated design and cuts. That calendar is not yet finished and it's been a year and a half.

Seriously, at 8 inches across for the design, this shack becomes an inch or so tall. Look at the itsy lines in that thing! They do not cut out easily. But I love them lots. I need to work on a bigger canvas…or simplify the shack. We'll see.

Meanwhile, this fall, I put together a calendar along the same lines, but with some much needed divisions that make the design easier to deal with. I broke the year into four, with a solid image falling behind every third month. That meant I was only dealing with three layers and could start fresh right afterward. Really, years are set up for this anyway with seasonal changes. So my name for this calendar became quite simply "Seasonal" (I know, not a creative name. It's a working title. I'm wondering how much people care, anyway).

But, hey, I'm still a storyteller. I saw the year progressing along in a theme and my art started to take on the story. It's not a complicated tale. I think it's more cute than anything. I can't describe it here, because there are little surprises in it and I don't want to spoil them for you if you ever decide to buy one of my calendars.

I am going to show off a little bit of the calendar, though. It's fairly handsome.

January here was originally going to be one big flake. But stories don't get told with big flakes taking up all the room, so we go with this mess-o-big-flakes notion, instead. I drew them from magnified pictures of real snowflakes. It floors me that we can see snowflake structure. I have a photo of a flake captured in a bead of water that I took one March morning while standing on the back deck of a house in downtown Fredericton.

Anyway, in this shot, you see the flakes of January, and beneath it, a snowman in February and a few of the snow-laden trees of March. The snowy night sky behind is the barrier between March and April.

April is a dense layer, with just a few cut-outs. I needed it to be rainy and the image behind June is a bright sunny morning. There's some cut-outs that go only to May, where huge pink flowers dominate. In April, the smaller hedge flowers borrow their colour from the giant petals below.

There had been a lot more cut-out of April, but the lines were too small and I felt it was better to use colour and inked lines and limit the cut-outs to shapes that would work with this.

Speaking of April. This was not my first design (I'm not sure it was my second, either). I had wanted to use a lot more of the colours from the pages below, so my first thought was multicoloured easter eggs. I spent a lot of time working out the math for that design, getting the cuts lined up just so, making use of the long petals of May's echinacea flowers.

Well, after all that work, I came to my senses: Easter was at the beginning of April, would come and go quickly and the image would be irrelevant.


I kept the design, though. I will use it some other time. That's a lot of detail in those eggs. And I think that the bunny ears playing off the petal shapes was really neat.

Friday, 21 August 2015

InstaMom & The Soft Pitch.

So, I got an Instagram account on the advice of an established artist. Facebook is for chatting with friends, he said. Instagram will help you connect as an artist with the public.  I'm not feeling the magic so far, but I have faith.
It's a simple premise, really. With a photo and some short text, snap a instant-quick slice of your life and send it out for the perusal of the masses. Only my life doesn't happen in instants. It sometimes shuffles along in tardys, draggys, and the odd momentous moments. Other times it sneaks past in wha-was-thats? and whoo-back-ups! And when it's successful, I only see the sticky residue in late night omigods! (They're fun. No sleep for you, Tristis. You now know what you missed last week)

Well, I'm on Instagram. And since part of my days are often spent with my mother, I'm fairly tempted to post her and her quirkiness. Mom's of two minds with this: she completely delights in being photographed, and she absolutely detests being photographed. Yes, those two things utterly contradict each other. That's my mom.

So, what does my instagram feed get out of this? Mostly confusion and very few actual photographs. I take far more photos with my camera, than my phone, and when I do—thanks to my hammy model— they're rarely the stuff of zippy, square, insta-art. They belong in series and stories and rambling discussions about mothers and children and time.

And thus enters the ice-cream-imp series of photos:

Mom's wicked look comes from my having just told her that she is a terrible person. She and I were discussing the fact that, after I had hauled a softball out of my camera bag—

—What on earth was a softball doing in your camera bag?

There's no good answer for that. Let's move along—

—she offered it to several nearby children. No, of course they could not have the softball. I had to say no to the disappointed cherubs, duck their mother's glare at my having contradicted the "sweet little old lady's" generosity, then get my revenge with the camera.

"Why are you taking my picture?"

"It's a record."

"Of what?"

"The crimes you commit."

"Oh, you don't want that ball, do you?"

"It's not mine. I forgot it was in there. And it's important. It commemorates a championship game."

"You don't play baseball."

"It's still not up for grabs."

"You could take a picture of my ice-cream."

"I will. Hold the ball steady."

"You'll get my fingers."

"I want your fingers."

"Not my face."

"Not your whole face."

A while back, when mom was sick and thought she was dying, I was worried, too. I wanted to send a picture to my brother in Alberta. Mom said no. I asked if I could send a shot of just her hands. She agreed to this.

She didn't die. She did, however, embark on a game of being a horrible, horrible patient—mostly because she was so very angry at not dying. Other people in the family who got this flu dropped dead (we missed the funeral, because she was sick). She had to suffer through a recovery and now has to wait before getting to heaven.

And all that.

That's okay, mom. You get to stick around and amuse yourself at my expense. And I get to amuse myself with random photos of you and sometimes your hands.

I've got a real fascination with her hands. They're shaped far different than when I was young and she  was shaping my memories. They took turns around each other, bent themselves and heaved up in odd places. But they remain nimble and useful tools for her in ways I wouldn't assume possible, given the pain they must cause. She still goes at all the same wacky projects she used to and only sometimes hisses when she hurts them.

There is something very special in how my mother has aged. It's not the arthritis, or the white hair or aging skin, it's in the defiance of those things. She's refusing to be old in two directions at once. The first, I've already mentioned: she's hellbent to die and go to heaven. Being old sucks. She wants her cloud, her little reward, and to take a tally of who didn't make it because they were just evil little buggers.

The second direction is in her immeasurable youth. This mother of mine is a child. For a while (after my father died) I thought she was a teenager, given her sudden interest in the opposite sex. But of late, I've got her figured at around six, that age where play is intricate, but still carefree. Nothing has to make sense to the rest of us, but everything does in its own weird and magical way.

Oh, yeah, and she's a brat.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Royal Eye

Take note of my penchant for tacky.

This is one of my fav shots. I use it on my computer desktop. It makes me smile.

What it is: a self portrait in Macro

Yeah, it's purple. Purple is pretty much my hands-down choice for eye colour. If I could afford them (and tolerate the notion of sticking something in my eye) I'd wear purple contact lenses every day—well, every day that I wasn't wearing stark white or absolute black or little skulls…I should probably seek help.

The photo has, of course, been manipulated. I've often wondered if people think that makes it less (less photographic, less real, less honest, less worthy) or overdone. It certainly could have been more subtly approached. And I considered that, but there's nothing terribly subtle about purple eyes in the first place. There's no reason to hold back any of the boldness that the Photoshop tinkering produced.

This is fantasy and it's okay for it to be loud and thick and highly contrasted. It's okay to be over the top, outrageous and grand. It's the royal eye, after all, and We are very happy with it.

For the record, the original pic, which I also happen to like, is the end result of pretty near blinding myself the day I first bought my macro lens. When I look at it, I feel a little smart in my ocular nerve.

You know, I used to have brown eyes.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Building a Bridge To Get Over It

This was not supposed to be this blog post. I had something else written and different photos to share, but complications and questions just haunt the daylights out of me. So I'm posting a short series of early morning shots I took on the gritty, gritty banks of the Saint John River.

I used to have an early morning job. It would make me crazy to be out at such a beautiful hour, but unable to photograph what I saw, like mist on the river in the morning sun. Every so often, though, I finished early enough to race home, grab my camera and go back out to a good site (Yes, sometimes I had the camera with me, but that wasn't the safest plan in the world).

This was a Saturday morning in late spring. I wanted the train bridge disappearing into fog, so I scrambled down the embankment for some low level shots.

This is not a particularly popular site for the insanely-addictive-to-camera-buff bridge pics, so I guess I get to claim some unique angles to pay for my bruised ankles (see what I did there?).

The most important thing turned out to be the sun, not the fog. The light was amazing.

There's a lot more shots in the series that I really like. There's two panoramas, too. I'm pretty sure the wide panorama shots would be puny in this format, so I'm sticking with the stubby ones.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The trouble with love

Some photos I took last night in my backyard.

They're all of the same indiscreet union, a romance doomed to fail, to be limiting to both, temporary in what shallow support can be given, and yet beautiful in the moment.

Evening Nightshade is the vine that has wrapped herself around a grass stalk. She's a relative of Deadly Nightshade and carries some less potent, but still quite exciting possibilities in her sex (her berries).

She can knock you off your feet. She can paralyze you. She's got attitude to spare.

So, you might think to yourself, what's this dangerous beauty doing entangling herself with common grass? But if you did you'd be selling our straight-talking dependable champion of the earth quite short. Grass is strong—not in that bully sense of beating up on other plants, but in its tenacity. Grasses are the first thing to take root in seaside soil. They establish colonies and then whole societies with interconnected roots that are the basis of fertile soil as they rot and renew, thicken and spread. Grasses are the builders of continents full of lush plant life.

I could go on. But suffice to say, the grass is cool no matter how "common" you think it is.

At any rate, while not prone to romance stories, I thought this one was quite lovely. I'm not sure when, but I do know that a fellow is coming to remove the garden box that has "gone to weed," or as I like to call it: been allowed to be its real self.

The Nighshade will face its third uprooting. I doubt it can come back from this one. I think I might sneak out before the fellow arrives and move parts of it over behind my big pine tree. There will be less sun, but also less mayhem.

I 've been meaning to get pictures of this strange couple for several days. When I finally got out there with a camera it was evening. The sun was starting to set and I was a little bit worried about the angles I had to work with. Truth be told, there were about twenty five shots and these were the only ones I felt worked with both the bokeh'd background and the light. There were shots I thought were really good for the subject, but my deck was a too-busy bit of background.

Frankly, I think it's rather neat that the light kept changing through the shoot, too. It made variation where (let's be frank here) there isn't much in subject matter. Cute little vine, so-far sturdy stalk of grass. That's pretty much it.

I hope they're enjoyable (yeah, I know, grass. Still, though).