Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pastel Artist, Kira Sokolovskaya Culufin

Deer Lake
Here is a wonderful work by pastel artist, Kira Culufin. She has recently moved from Russia to Vancouver, BC, Canada. This is one of her first paintings done in Canada, at Deer Lake in Burnaby. I have added a link to Kira's blog:

In the painting I have shown here, I really like the way Kira has used the dark trees and mountains as well as the foreground shadows to frame the center of interest. The value contrast makes the yellow grasses, blue water, and the tall trunks of the poplars really stand out. I also like the textures, and the sense of movement created by the curvy branches.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cold and Old

For the last six weeks, we have had a long cold spell with only a few breaks. The temperature has varied between about -18 and -35 degrees Celsius. However this weekend, it also has been windy, with a wind chill factor of -40. Minus 40 is the same in both the Celsius and Farenheit scales. At minus 40, exposed skin freezes in 10 minutes. 

However, it is the weekend, and I was getting stir crazy from being cooped up indoors. So Kate  (our dog) and I went out walking. Yesterday was a gloriously sunny day with a brisk wind, wind chill of minus 40, and we managed a 40 minute walk. Today, it has snowed steadily. We went out at the warmest part of the afternoon, -19 on the thermometer with a moderate wind. We stayed in the residential area rather than venturing out on the exposed hills, and this time I bundled up better with long underwear, fleece, a down jacket, warm toque and gloves, and a scarf. When the wind was sharp, I pulled the scarf up over my nose and mouth. 

Kate was eager for each walk, but also happy to arrive back home to warm up. The photo below, snapped near the end of our half-hour walk today, shows her with icicles on her chin. Her feet were getting cold as well and she started to hobble on 3 feet. But what the heck - we are hardy Northeners, and her feet were fine once she warmed up.

Or, maybe we're not so hardy. Now that I am in late middle age, I find I have much less tolerance for the cold. My lips are chapped. Every joint and muscle aches. The skin on my fingers cracks and bleeds. I have exema on the insides of my elbows. Whine, whine. I don't like to admit to this softness. 

Growing up in northern Canada, cold winters were the norm. Winters were longer and colder back then, and we went outside to play except in the very coldest weather. We walked to school and back, a distance of about a kilometre each way, and to town with my mom to buy groceries. 

When I was a child, we did not have the wonderful fabrics that we have today: fleece and down and technical base layers. We wore ankle height lined rubber overshoes over our leather school shoes, or hand-knit woollen socks in lined gumboots. We had knitted toques and mittens that never failed to become soaking wet while we played in the snow building forts, making snow angels, and dragging the younger children on the toboggan on imaginary pioneer trips into the bush. We tolerated the cold and went on with our lives. That was just the way it was.

Balaclavas, familiar now as gangster attire, became popular as I reached my teen years. They covered the face, protecting the cheeks and nose from freezing. I have frozen my cheeks and nose and ears, and understand to value of covering exposed flesh. However, as a teenaged girl, I refused to wear a balaclava except in the most extreme circumstances, and only if none of my peers would see me. I remember my breath freezing on the wool near my nose and mouth and the feeling of wet wool and ice against my face, chapping the skin.  

Nowadays, we have grown soft. We run from our warm, centrally heated homes to our pre-warmed cars, and from the cars to warm malls or office buildings. People just don't go outside except in perfect weather, unless they are skiers or snowmobilers. Yesterday, in 40 minutes, I only saw one other person outside - a bundled up man also walking his dog. He greeted me effusively. Mostly I saw people whizzing by in cars, craning their necks to look at me (that fool walking a dog!). Today, I saw two men outside shovelling their walks. I certainly did not see any children playing out of doors. 

Cold weather. I do not like it anymore. However, I am old enough to remember cold winters as way of life. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Lost Cheese

One of the things I have learned in my life is how to squeeze in family life and juicy bits of experience. Although my work obligations greedily suck up most of my time, I guard small blocks of time for art, writing, sports, and social time with family and friends. This weekend, for example, I have taken a four-day weekend to fly out west to see my daughters and grandson.

Travel plans do not always go smoothly, however, and yesterday I ended up on a delayed flight, missed my connection, spent an unexpected night in a hotel, and had a 5:15 am wake up call to catch my rescheduled flight.

This is where the cheese comes in. 

When I arrived at the hotel at 10 pm, I was too tired to go down to the restaurant, and not that hungry anyways. So I indulged in the luxury of ordering a snack via room service, and settled down to watch some Olympics coverage. I ordered a platter of Quebec cheeses and crackers, and a beer. 

The choice of cheese was against my better judgment. My seat mate on one of my flights was a research scientist studying osteoarthritis. I asked her a little about her research. I have osteoarthritis in my knees, so this topic is of personal interest. She told me that sports injuries can predispose people to developing osteoarthritis, and talked a lout the importance of staying active and continuing to engage in weight bearing exercise to stave off it off longer. Obesity is both a consequence of the reduced activity that follows a knee injury, and also a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis sooner and more severely. Excess weight puts more pressure on the knees.

I already knew these things, having researched my condition. I know that losing a couple of pounds and keeping the weight off is important for my knees. However, one piece of information that she shared was new to me. Adipose tissue actually contributes to inflammation biochemically. So it is important to reduce the adipose tissue (fat) in order to reduce the level of inflammation. Reducing inflammation slows the progress of the disease.

Therefore, I should not be eating cheese, or at least not very much cheese. 

So I sat in my hotel room watching elite athletes on TV, with a lovely selection of cheeses in front of me - great big wedges of specialty cheeses along with rainforest crackers and dried fruit. In actual fact, I only ate 2 pieces of cheese, and put the rest in a ziplock bag, planning to bring it with me. 

This morning, bleary-eyed at a ridiculous hour of the morning, I ended up forgetting the cheese in my room. It was really excellent cheese, and it is a shame that it will be wasted. 

However, maybe my knees will thank me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Creative Funk

I think I have finally figured out one of the biggest reasons that writers don't write and painters don't paint. In fact, this thing that I am about to describe applies to many types of creative endeavour, or, at least those I have engaged in. 

Creative activities often are as frustrating as hell when you are in the middle of them. It becomes obvious that nothing in the story or painting is going right. The words are clunky and amateurish, not at all representative of what you mean to say. The story keeps veering off in odd directions, and you have to delete hours' worth of sentences because they have nothing to do with anything. Or the painting looks sloppy and ugly, not in any way like the scene you are trying to represent, or the image you hold in your mind. The more marks you put on it, the worse it looks, and you can't think of how to fix it.

Tonight, for me, it was my painting that was going all wrong. I wrote here recently about starting a new painting, and not blocking it in the way I usually do. Well, now I am really struggling with trying to cover up the white canvas. I can't get the colours right, and have digressed into details before even getting the underlying shades in. Instead of enjoying painting, I feel frustrated and discouraged. 

I think many people, when they get to this point, also start to feel negative about themselves and their ability. This is when the critical little voice in the head kicks in with its sarcastic and disparaging cracks. This is the point at which people will throw aside the canvas, or stomp away from the computer, and then do not want to come back to the frustrating experience of that mess of a painting or that botched up story. This is when writers cease to write and painters cease to paint. 

Our creative activities, for large stretches of time, fail to live up to the rosy and romantic notions we hold about them. For example, I love to think about painting. I enjoy reading art magazines, and am very interested in other artists' descriptions of their painting process. I enjoy thinking about a scene that I want to paint, and every day I peer at the landscapes surrounding me and think about the colours, interesting contrasting shapes, or the type of composition I would create from a particular vantage point. 

Being creative in the mind is easy. It's actually making the thing that's hard. An art teacher I know has a favourite saying. She tells her students, "Go get in trouble."

I think that instruction is particularly apt. As soon as you begin a creative act, you begin to create a problem. The more you work at it, the bigger the problem becomes. So you swallow down the frustration and improvise. You work through the problem bit by bit, improvising and creating and taking chances. Often while doing this, a joyful kind of flow starts to happen. And if you're like me, you eventually end up with something that you never would have imagined to begin with, and that even is halfways decent. 

If the process just went along placidly and predictably, well then maybe it wouldn't be all that creative. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Walk on the Headlands

I have started a new painting. It is from a photo I took during a walk with Rob along the headlands at Villa Nova de Milfontes, in the Alentejo region of Portugal. In fact, it was the same day that I took the photo of the seascape at Milfontes which I later painted. I have written about it here.

As you can see, I am just getting started. Working on this painting has made me reflect on how I get started on a new painting. It seems that I do not always start the same way. 

When I do a landscape, whether painting en plein air or from photo references, I always spend a very long time thinking about the composition, and sketching the main shapes lightly on the canvas. Although I do not use a grid or any other aids, and I do not do a really detailed drawing, I am very careful about getting the shapes and their placement relative to each other accurate. 

However, if I am doing an abstract painting,  I do not do a preliminary drawing at all. My abstract paintings often are quite organic and playful. 

With a landscape, after doing the drawing, my next step is to choose my palette of colours. Again, I spend a long time at this. Mostly, I limit my palette to 2 reds, 2 yellows, 2 blues, and titanium white. I mix my other colours from these primaries. Which reds and so forth that I choose depends on the effect I want to achieve, and the quality of the light. However, there are a few supplementary colours that I am quite fond of, such as mineral violet, Indian red, and magenta, and occasionally one of the umbers or siennas. 

The next step in my process varies. Usually, my aim is to block in the basic shapes and cover up the white canvas. Sometimes I start by doing a wash of the main colours that I see in each section, without really considering the values. In this case I correct the values later. 

Other times, I start with a monochromatic value study, either using a main unifying colour in the scene, or using a complement of the main colour theme. An example of this is the orange underpainting I did in this painting of my (mostly green) back yard. I do this complementary underpainting when I want the complement to bleed through, add visual interest, and make the main colour pop. Because I use impressionistic colour principles, I never do my underpainting in grey or brown. I want my colours to be clean, not muddy. 

In the painting that I have just started above, I haven't followed any of my usual processes of blocking in. Instead, I put in the sky and hills, and then painted in the fences and figure in a preliminary way. I was worried that if I did a wash, my fences and figure would disappear into the ground. I felt I needed to define them first. I also wanted to establish my darkest values, and these were in the figure, the fences, and some bushes and shadows. 

However, that left me with a problem -- a lot of white everywhere. When the white canvas predominates, you can't see the colours and values properly against each other. I started blocking in the background colours, and at first I tried to capture the actual colours that I saw and the values at the same time. However, that was not working, maybe because of all the white. So now I am just putting in the basic colour areas, and I can see that many of them are both brighter and darker than I want them to be. However, the colours and shapes so far have given me something interesting to work with the next time I paint. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wind Warning - Poem

Wind Warning

Walk into the valley of dog walk
Yip talk, stick toss into the wind
Its susurrous shush, its raucous roar
Muscles my auditory am
Roils the curls of winter trees
Their arms, their fingers sweeping, bending
Earache of listen, flagellated face
I toil against its bulk
Meltwater royal blue path, slush pillows, puddles
While the black dog bounds through undulating grass
Yellow field
Eats snow, looks back
Wind warning, gusting to 100 k.

Lately, I have not written many poems. Unfortunately by the end of the day, my work tends to suck all language out of my temporal cortex, leaving no playful words. However, today on my walk with the dog, a sunny day with big wind, a poem crept into my thoughts. 

So here it is, first draft.

I have included a photo of the area where we walked. This photo was not one I took today, but a few weeks ago. If I had taken one today, the snow would have looked soggier. The wind? Not so easy to represent in a photo. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Bright Possibility of a Day

Today I awake, and the sun is shining brilliantly on fresh snow. Although it it is cold outside, minus twenty, there is no wind. My first thought is that a little later, after breakfast and a slow leisurely morning, we will go out and cross-country ski at the golf course. 

Rob groans at this. Yesterday we made an excursion to the nearest ski hill (a slow two hours each way because of icy roads) and spent the afternoon pounding the slopes. In his mind, that means that today should be a day for relaxation - a bit of reading and internet surfing. But for me, every day is filled with possibilities, potential new projects, excursions, and accomplishments. Getting some exercise outdoors is always on the list, except in the most foul weather. 

Yes, I have a mental list of things to do. Some of them are "should do's" that hang about on the list for weeks, months, or even years. These are things like: hem those pants, unpack the last ten boxes of books from our last move, organize my digital photos, and frame my degrees. This last one has been on the list for more than 20 years! About two years ago, I did get around to purchasing the frames, but it still have not framed the degrees. At this rate, I will be retired before my degrees are framed and on the wall. On the plus side, last month I ordered, shortened and hung curtains in the guest bedroom and my home office. These rooms had been curtainless since our move, and I was prompted to finally obtain curtains by the pending arrival of Christmas guests. Another "should do" that was done over the holiday break was taking our discarded clothing to donate to a local charity. 

There are also standing items on the list, tiresome must do's pressing forward demanding attention, like housecleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, car maintenance, and so forth. If I am not careful, these types of tasks can fill up the best part of a day, leaving little time for creative and enjoyable activities. 

Aside from the "must do's" and the "should do's", I spend a great deal of my leisure time on lazy but enticing activities like reading (novels, nonfiction, art magazines, newspapers and news magazines), and reading blogposts and articles on favourite websites, or watching Ted Talks, or how-to demos, watching movies or series, talking on the phone with friends and family, cooking, shopping (only as much as necessary), going out to dinner, and social events. If I am not careful, a beautiful day full of possibilities can slip away before I realize it.

The things I would really like to spend more time doing include: outdoor excursions and adventures (hiking, skiing, X-C skiing, cycling, fishing, kayaking), writing (blog posts count), painting and other creative projects, gardening, cooking/ baking/ preserving foods, and spending time with friends and family. I spend so much time at work that non-work time is precious. 

It is time to throw another load in the washing machine, and then grab those cross-country skis and get out there in the sunshine!

Creative Commons License
This work by Dr Sock Writes Here is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.