An Iconic Journey

An Iconic Journey 1

One of the reasons I decided to go back to school was to have more time for my art. I don’t know what I was smoking when I thought that, because I haven’t had a nanosecond of free time since September. Right now the term is (thankfully) almost over and exams are about to start, but I’ve spent the last month or two hanging on for dear life. If you’ve ever seen Star Trek episodes where the Enterprise is trying desperately to escape certain death while the embattled ship is at maximum warp, minimum shields, covered in phaser burns, venting coolant, and losing pieces (and red-shirt ensigns) along the way, that’s how getting to the end of the term has felt for me. Today I think I’m going to try to do some CPR on Ensign Laundry, Ensign Cleaning, and Ensign Cooking.

To cope with the lack of time to do things I want to do, I’ve had to resort to a fairly eccentric strategy, which is to sign up for something I really want to do but don’t have time for, then pray that by some act of God, it will all work out in the end. This is how I ended up in last week’s weekend workshop in iconography.

It really couldn’t have come at a worse time; it took up the entire weekend right before the week all my major term papers were due. (As it turns out, I probably could have tried asking for extensions, as apparently a good number of my classmates had. But I’ve never requested an extension in my 7+ years of university so far, because somehow in my mind, extensions are for special circumstances such as loss of life or limb, abduction by aliens, or the zombie apocalypse.)

I decided to do this iconography course anyway because I like to paint, and also because Eastern Christian iconography is something I know basically nothing about. To me they generally look kind of sullen, misshapen, and unhappy to be in Heaven. Obviously, this is not what the Eastern Church is expecting me to get out of the experience! So I went on a recon mission in a sense. As expected, out of the group of 12 of us, I was the only Roman Catholic. There were 4 Greek Orthodox people, and most of the others were Ukrainian Catholic.

Here are a few photos from the process.

Friday evening, we sanded the boards and applied linen with rabbit skin glue. Several of us stuck around until midnight to apply several coats of gesso to the boards.

Gessoed boards

Gessoed boards

Saturday morning, we then sanded the gesso, and traced the image of St. John Chrysostom onto the boards. Next was the halo: we applied a red clay paint first, buffed that, covered it in garlic juice, then added gold leaf. This is a lot harder than it looks. At least mine looks naturally “antiqued” with its crackles and missing bits…

Clay layer prior to gilding the halo

Clay layer prior to gilding the halo

Then came the background, painted in ochre-colour egg tempera. This is where I started to feel the frustration. Egg tempera is a very translucent form of paint, with the unique (and annoying) property that if you paint over other layers, you can very easily strip the previous layers off. With the acrylics I’m used to, you can get a nice solid colour on the first pass, and if not, then you can go over it and not worry that the other layer is going to do a disappearing act. For the icon I only had time to do 12 coats instead of the usual 40, so it once again looks a little more “rustic” than it should.

Ochre background

Ochre background

Next we filled in the body with a sort of camouflage colour, which represents the chaos we all start with in our lives. Not how I usually start a painting (and my life is always chaos anyway, not just the bottom layer), but that’s how it goes with an icon.

Layer of chaotic colour

Layer of chaotic colour

That was then toned down with alternating layers of red and green, representing humanity and divinity. Because of the translucence of the egg tempera, everything turned a dull brown.

Red and green layers of paint

Red and green layers of paint

From there we added the clothing (omophor and sakos) and the scroll, each with many, many layers to get a reasonable colour:

Omophor (the blue thing with the red crosses), sakos (the white robe with the crosses), and the scroll

Omophor (the blue thing with the red crosses), sakos (the white robe with the crosses), and the scroll

If you’d asked me at this point (Saturday night) whether I would ever want to repeat the experience, I would have said no. One reason is that because of the short timeframe, it felt like a military boot camp. Normally I’m a pretty easygoing person, but as soon as people bark commands at me, suddenly a rebellious side of my personality appears, and I have to repress the urge to lean back in my chair like a gangsta and wear a baseball cap sideways. I would last about 30 seconds in the army.

The other reason is that I was going crazy with the constant noise. I get the idea: you pray while you make an icon. Iconography is really a process of prayer. Not long prior, I’d visited a Ukrainian Catholic church as part of a class project, and one thing I noticed there too was the constant singing. For an hour-long service, it was fine. In the iconography workshop, it was almost incessant, and always the same song over and over and over… and over some more… and then some… which reminded me of attending Irish Dance competitions where we’re all going batty after 12 hours straight of accordion music.

Also, I’m very prone to ear worms. So when it finally did all end, I still had the singing stuck in my head. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing if the song is a prayer, but I’m not convinced it’s actually praying if it’s just a song stuck mindlessly in my head. I’ll have to ponder that a bit more. At least it wasn’t the Lipton Cuppa Soup jingle or Beethoven’s 7th, both of which nearly sent me to a mental institution last time they got stuck in my head.

So day 3 (Sunday) we worked on St. John’s face.

Face early in the process

Face early in the process

The instructor introduced us to the concept of dry-brushing, which is something I do all the time with acrylics, but since he cautioned me that this was going to be a “new language” for me as an artist, I didn’t think he meant the same thing by “dry-brushing”, so I actually struggled for several hours until I realized he really did mean the same thing. Once I had that Eureka moment, I was off to the races and enjoyed the process a lot more. The timing of this revelation is also why the omophor looks so much more primitive than the face.

The finished icon

The finished icon

Close-up of the face

Close-up of the face

For better or worse, St. John Chrysostom is now done, and I am now actually looking forward to trying another icon!

Turning Art into an Educational Experience

Turning Art into an Educational Experience 0

One of the reasons I wanted to go back to school was to have more time for my artwork. So far, it’s been quite the opposite experience: I have no time what-so-EVER to work on my art! Or do anything at all for my own enjoyment, for that matter. Zero time. If time availability could go negative, it would. I think I’d need another semester just to finish this semester’s reading!

I did, however, recently try a quick little online quiz that tells you how left- or right-brained you are. Going into it, I was quite confident that I would be pretty balanced between left and right brain. On the one hand, I work as an engineer and have two engineering degrees. On the other hand, I am an artist, musician, and fiction writer. To my surprise, the quiz told me I am 91% right-brained, and 9% left-brained. It’s not even a close call, even accounting for the large amount of statistical error that could be introduced by the fact that it’s a quick and dirty test. No wonder I always felt like something was “missing” while I worked as an engineer: apparently, 90% of my brain!

Now that I’m back in school, I’ve had to get creative to find ways to exercise more of that right brain. One method I tried was to draw while I studied for my theology midterm, inspired by a success from grade 10. I can remember some facts from my grade 10 history class, thanks to some cue cards I’d drawn up at the time. I thought they’d long since been tossed, but I recently found them again (O happy day!). Here are a couple of the memorable ones. Thanks to the “H” astronaut, I can still remember almost 20 years later what a huguenot is.

Study Cards

Grade 10 history study cards

So, for the Theology midterm, I ended up drawing 18 pages of cartoons to remind myself of the different principles. (Note to self: doing 18 pages of cartoons on the same day as actually writing the midterm is not a good idea. Both my hand and my brain were hurting before I even got to the midterm…) Below are 3 of the 18 pages.

5 Types of Theology

5 Types of Theology


Theology and Philosophy on a Date

Theology and Philosophy on a Date


Philosophy Definition

Philosophy Definition

In general the cartoons are intelligible to others, but sometimes things only have meaning to me. For example, the bottom right of the Philosophy Definition cartoon has my logic circuit diagram for “to be or not to be.”  Whatever works! Someday I hope to draw amazing cartoons like in Fr. Peter’s Napkin.

Also, this past week, I had to finish a painting for the annual silent auction at work. Last year I painted We Will Get Through This for the same occasion, which took for-freakin’-ever to paint and then nobody bid on it except one coworker who took pity on me at the very end. Live and learn. I wish I liked painting abstract landscapes…

Anyway, this time, I got smart(er). I probably shouldn’t have accepted to do a painting at all given how little time I have, but the only thing in shorter supply than time is space in my little apartment. I agreed to do the painting so I could get rid of a half-finished canvas that’s been cluttering up my place. This particular canvas has a long history. It’s 12″ x 24″ and started its life as a painting meant for this auction two years ago, but I didn’t have the time to complete it back then and didn’t really like it anyway. The title was Thundergoose.


Thundergoose, 12″ x 24″, incomplete

I really love West Coast First Nations art (having lived on the west coast for several years), so at the time, I thought it would be fun to try it myself. It turned out to be brutally slow and painstaking – the above image represents about 12 hours of work. I have a whole new respect for the artists who are truly competent at this style! When I was still working on this back then, I showed my coworker a picture of it, and he proceeded to pick out all its flaws (mainly proportion, as usual). He only discovered after he’d said all this that I was the one who painted it. Oh well, at least he was honest!

I decided to start over so I gessoed over it once, twice, three times… and discovered to my dismay that sharpie (which I’d used to do most of the outlining) will happily bleed through as many layers of gesso as you give it, like a ghost that you just can’t exorcise! It’s the same effect as Support Induced Discolouration (SID) shown in this video by Golden Paints. I ended up collaging over the whole thing, then added several random layers of paint, much like I’ve been doing recently with, for example, Habemus Papam. It then sat that way for about a year and a half.

This past week, I picked it up again, plucked a shape out of the chaos (a lopsided face) and worked with it. Even though this face is asymmetrical, it’s surprisingly symmetrical considering I just outlined a random shape that already existed in the abstract chaos of colour. I still like it much better than Thundergoose, and I think it turned out OK! It was at least fun to make, and I got to use my interference paints to give it shimmer. Its final title is Compassion.


Compassion, 12″ x 24″, Mixed media

Back to schoolwork for me! Next weekend, I will be attending a full-weekend workshop on Eastern Christian iconography, where I will go through the steps of creating an icon of St. John Chrysostom. I will be blogging about that, so stay tuned!

Brave vs. Crazy

Brave vs. Crazy 1

To call the last couple of months “crazy” would be an understatement. I think, in fact, the adjective should be applied to me generally, rather than a small portion of a calendar. As I mentioned back in September, I resigned from my engineering job to go back to school full-time, and to afford to go to school, being single and therefore the only bread-winner in my “household”, I had to sell my house. To add to the excitement, while I did resign from my job, I am also still on a contract as a “consultant” to finish the project for which I was the project manager.

The last two months therefore included full-time school, part-time work, selling the house, finding an apartment, downsizing the amount of stuff I have, and moving. Work got interesting because the commercial launch of my year-and-a-half project happened right in October, at least semi-fortunately during reading week. Fun times!

Most people call me brave but I think it’s generally just complete ignorance of the magnitude of what I’ve gotten myself into. I still feel like I’m living someone else’s life because mine has changed so radically. All that said, I’m glad I made the move! Despite the incredible stress, so far I think it’s just about the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I’ve learned a few things in this process:

  1. work + school + moving = not a good combination. That was definitely crazy bordering on insanity.
  2. In fact, at this point, I hope I never have to sell a house ever again. What a gong show! It’s truly amazing the mountains that people will make out of molehills.
  3. I need to learn to read faster. A LOT faster.
  4. Being able to write fast and well has been a lifesaver. Thank you, NaNoWriMo and 3-Day Novel!
  5. Slow cookers are helpful, but my schedule is so weird that I’ve had to run it overnight. Kind of messes with your head when you wake up in the morning and it smells like dinnertime!

Now it’s still crazy busy but at least the house sale stress is gone. Thank the Lord Almighty!

As you can imagine, in all this, art has been more or less sidelined. One problem is that I have no idea where I’m going to set up “shop”. The easel is basically sitting out on the balcony because I have no space for it, and I got rid of the dining room table (aka Studio 1) in the process of moving. The little black trolley is being used to prop up boxes of junk that I still need to sort through.

I also had to back out of a commitment to make a painting for a charity auction. I hate having to back out of anything, but the deadline ended up being square in the middle of all the craziness described above, and my sanity was on the line. Fortunately they were understanding.

So, for now, I will leave you with a couple of reasonably recent pieces. One is another watercolour sketch I did in Emerald Meadows park. I decided to try something simple, given the experience from trying to sketch St. Pat’s. Proportion is still my nemesis!

Hut sketch
Sketched Utility Hut in Emerald Meadows Park


Real Hut
The real hut


I also ran across an ornamental pattern on the web, which comes from the Gradac monastery in Serbia (whose website unfortunately just went down a few days ago). I am very fond of neat patterns like this, so I decided to give this a shot. I like how it turned out!

Interesting pattern
Interesting Pattern Sketch 


Finally, this is a bit older but I don’t think I posted this to the blog for some reason – an artist’s trading card I painted of Anissina and Peizerat. It’s acrylic on watercolour paper, as usual.

ATC - Anissina and Peizerat
ATC of Anissina and Peizerat (3.5″ x 2.5″)


Soon I will be back into my art somewhat more, and one of the areas of exploration will be iconography. In the future I would love to do work on church art and architecture. Iconography is primarily an Eastern Christian art form, so I’m not very familiar with it. While there are some icons that I really love, such as this one of the Mother of God of the Sign, To me icons often look sullen and either bored or angry, such as this one of Jesus of Navi (aka Joshua, not Jesus Christ):

Jesus of Navi (Joshua) Russian Orthodox icon. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Jesus of Navi (Joshua) Russian Orthodox icon. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]


Yet, they are considered the pinnacle of religious art in these traditions. If an icon looks distorted because it depicts a heavenly reality not bound to the effects of the fall (i.e., aging, decay, big mouths, etc), and if going to heaven means a state of ecstasy from union with God, you’d think these people would be a little happier-looking! I’m obviously missing something out of the equation here.

So, I’m going to follow my curiosity and learn more about them from the people who are in that tradition. In that vein, I’m doing two things. One, as a project for my Intro to Theology class, I’m reading St. John of Damascus’s Three Treatises on the Divine Images, which is a defence of icons during the time of iconoclasm in the 8th century. (This originally seemed like a good idea, but is proving to be an intense read. I fed the first line of this text into the Readability Test Tool, and it came out with grade 50, i.e., grade 12 + 38 years of post-secondary education!! St. John of Damascus loves huuuuuuuge run-on sentences.)

Also, at Saint Paul University where I’m studying, the Sheptytsky Institute is offering an intensive workshop on icons. I’m very much a visual and tactile learner, so I’m looking forward to being able to try it, rather than read about it. Hopefully it will also be a good way to meet interesting people!

It’s All a Matter of Perspective

It’s All a Matter of Perspective 0

A few days ago, I mentioned that I was going to give watercolour sketching a try. As it turns out, that afternoon I got a call for a viewing on the house and had to leave to allow the realtor to show it to her clients. It was labour day and nothing was open, so I just drove over to St. Patrick’s Fallowfield church, parked in front of it, and hauled out the sketchbook. This was the scene in front of me:

St. Patrick's Fallowfield Church (Nepean, ON)

St. Patrick’s Fallowfield Church (Nepean, ON)

As I sat in the car listening to the thunder outside, I started sketching. Within about 15 seconds, I learned my first important lesson:

Perspective and proportion are not my forte. I need a LOT more practice.

Part of it was because I was too stubborn to use any sort of measuring system to compare proportions. Also, I didn’t manage to figure out a way to properly frame the church as above in the sketchbook. In the end, the result was a sketch framed approximately like this:

Sketch frame

Sketch Frame for St. Patrick’s Fallowfield

Here’s the final watercolour sketch:

St. Patrick's Fallowfield sketch

St. Patrick’s Fallowfield final watercolour sketch

Thing is, even though pretty much every possible proportion is off, and I more or less made up the colour scheme to avoid the roughly grayscale scene in front of me, I kind of like the end result of the church itself. I wish I had an “undo” button for the tree, but I like the cute, almost whimsical appearance of the church. In particular, I had a lot of fun drawing the steeple. It’s funny how you can see a church every week for many years, and still never notice any of the details about it. I love all the architectural details in that steeple! In a way, I’m glad the scene ended up “zoomed in” on it, so that it was big enough to add in these details.

Watercolours are also taking some getting used to. My background is in acrylics, and if I slather an intense acrylic wash on something, I know I can generally expect an intense final colour. In watercolours, however, I learned that an intense wash can result in a chalky, powdery dried colour that is not at all desirable. I think it might be partially a function of my el-cheapo watercolour set, but I’m pretty sure it also has something to do with me! I’m so used to being able to expect intense contrast in my art that it’s kind of strange to have to figure out a clever way to make that happen in watercolour.

I’ll definitely be experimenting more! If anyone knows of any good resources on how to “frame” a scene when sketching it in the great outdoors, and how to measure out a building that’s in front of you and transfer to a sketch, please leave a comment – I’d love to hear what has helped you out with this.

Yes, I am a Living Artist…

Yes, I am a Living Artist… 0

I haven’t posted in a long time so I wouldn’t blame you for wondering whether I’m still alive. Yes, I am! Thankfully. A lot has been happening recently, so I thought I’d give you the brief overview, and a preview of the exciting things to come.

First of all, the big news is that after working at my full-time engineering job for over 6 years, I am going back to school full-time in the fall to study ethics, with a minor in human relations and spirituality. It was a tough decision to make, because it’s a stable job, good income, and I really do love the people I work with. They’re like a second family to me. But on the other hand, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about non-technical topics that I care about. The other upside is that I should have some time during the day (i.e., while I’m still awake) to work on my artwork. The way I see it, I am taking courses and practicing my art to work on my technique, and the university courses are to provide me with things to paint about.

I discovered (the hard way) that I can be quite bipolar when it comes to my drive to produce art. I find it incredibly difficult to force myself to make art for art’s sake. If I don’t care about a topic, or it doesn’t have a story built into it, I generally don’t want to paint it or draw it unless it’s some sort of mindless sketch while I’m on the phone. It just bores me. On the other hand, if I know that what I’m painting has a story, whether hidden or obvious, and it’s a story I really want to convey to others, then I become driven to create that piece of artwork. I chose the ethics degree I’m taking because it’s so broad and has such a variety of interesting courses, so I’m sure much of it will feed into my art and hopefully create the depth of story I’m looking for in my artwork.

So, what’s been happening in the past few months? Transitioning out of my full-time job, transitioning towards being a full-time student, and getting my house ready for sale, all at once. I never do things in small measures! Right now all my “art studios” are shut down and packed away to make my house look pretty for showing to potential buyers, and I’m going through withdrawal…

Before I packed everything away, here are a few of the things I’ve been working on.

This painting is another one (like the “Habemus Papam” one) that I started with Flora Bowley’s technique of putting colour and patterns down before narrowing down a colour scheme. This one is still in the “crazy teenager” phase, but I do plan to tone it down and make something interesting of it when it’s done. That could be a while, though, as it’s currently packed away, along with my big easel. It’s really fun to just splash paint on a canvas though! Very cathartic. This one is a bit bigger than Habemus Papam, at 36″ x 48″.

Painting in Progress

Another painting in progress!

Then, on the opposite end of the artistic spectrum is a grisaille copy of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. This one is also in progress, but that’s about the only thing it has in common with the above painting. I took a week-long grisaille oil painting class, and this is what we worked on for the whole week. This is my first-ever serious attempt at oil paints. I actually thought I’d never touched oil paints in my life, but as soon as I cracked open the first tube, the smell of the paint immediately brought me back to being about 10 years old and painting with a paint-by-number kit I got as a gift. Somehow I don’t think that really counts though!

I had to go to work at my day job for the 5th day of the painting workshop, so this represents about 4 days of work – one day for the sketching and transferring, one day blocking in colours, one day just on the eyes, and one day on the nose and mouth. It’s incredible how hard it is to try to exactly match an original! On the left is my grisaille and on the right is a print of the original. I’ve tweaked most of the face, but the turban and clothing are all still just roughly blocked in from day 2, so I need to work on those still.

Girl with a Pearl Earring Grisaille

Girl with a Pearl Earring – Grisaille in progress

Then there are the beloved ATCs (artist’s trading cards). I’ve done a few recently. The following one is my favourite, titled Window to the Soul:

Window to the Soul ATC

Window to the Soul ATC, acrylic on watercolour paper (2.5″ x 3.5″)

I did this as part of a swap on the theme of tattoos. The instructions in the swap were to really zoom in on a tattoo, to the point where most of the cards in the swap were basically just drawings on a beige background. So let’s just say I kind of bent the rules on this one. As I describe above though, once I have an idea I’m passionate about, I just have to do it. And in fact, while it was still in sketch form, I thought I had botched it and almost didn’t finish it, so it stayed in sketch form for a couple of weeks until I sat down to finish it. I’m glad I did – and someday I hope to do a bigger painting of something similar, because it really represents something I feel strongly about: the body as a temple, the body as a window to something so much larger than ourselves. It really has the Theology of the Body at its heart.

I did another couple of cards for an artist who adored my Redemption card, and wanted something similar. I don’t copy my own art so I did another couple of cards that are similar but opposite: one that is in the same theme of redemption/baptism/going from evil to good, and the other that is going from good to evil. Hopefully you can tell which is which!

Bathed in Light ATC

Bathed in Light ATC, acrylic on watercolour paper (2.5″ x 3.5″)

Winds of Evil ATC

Winds of Evil ATC, acrylic on watercolour paper (2.5″ x 3.5″)


So what’s next? Hopefully the house will sell, and I can set up my art stuff again soon! In the meantime, I’ve rescued a watercolour set and a sketchbook and I plan to take a crack at watercolour sketching, which I’ve never tried before. There are some really, really incredible and inspirational watercolour sketch artists out there, including Nina Johansson, Brenda Swenson, and Danny Gregory.

My first venture into watercolours (a watercolour ATC swap) was a big failure, resulting in withdrawing from the swap in frustration, but I’m ready to try again. It’ll be a while before I get good at these newfangled watercolour things, but no time like the present to start practicing!

Painting #1: Habemus Papam!

Painting #1: Habemus Papam! 1

Habemus Papam! On March 13, we got a new Pope as the whole world looked on. Pope Francis is now the latest Pope, and the first from the Americas. Yay!

I am still working on the Theology of the Body painting #1, but could not resist inserting a Pope Francis layer into it – it was too big an occasion to resist. This layer started with a prayer and blessing for the Pope and his people in the coming years. This can be found in the lower left quadrant of the painting.

Prayer for Pope Francis that begin Day 13

Prayer for Pope Francis that begin Day 13

It reads:

We have a new Pope! Lord, watch over him. Guide him as he leads your faithful on their earthly journeys. Let him foster peace and understanding throughout every nation and among all peoples. Give him strength and courage in the face of adversity to remain faithful to you and Your will. And above all, may he be an example to all – of your love for each and every one of us, as father, as shepherd. May you bless him and bless us as we journey in search of your unending love and in our battle to reject the lure of sin in our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord, AMEN!

Then, front and centre, came the Latin declaration of the Pope:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum:
Habemus Papam!
Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum Georgium Marium Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem Bergoglio,
Qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum.

And, scrawled at the very top in more or less unreadable graffiti-like letters, Gaudete! (Rejoice!)

This is how it looked at the end of that day:

End of Day 13 - Habemus Papam Franciscum

End of Day 13 – Habemus Papam Franciscum

At this point I really liked how colourful the whole thing was. A friend commented that it reminded him of the Berlin wall. (Hopefully, minus the bullet holes…)  Standing back, I also got the impression that it looked like a snapshot of a graffiti-covered wall in some inner city area, although the Berlin wall hadn’t come to mind. Regardless, I kind of like the effect!

However, this is not actually a painting about the Pope so I’ll continue to layer over it, but I’m happy to know that this layer will be inside the finished painting!

Painting #1: Enlightened, Literally!

Painting #1: Enlightened, Literally! 0

On the weekend, I had a great session with the painting, adding a layer of warm colours. To add to the mix, it was actually daytime, and actually sunny at the time! Here in Ottawa, we haven’t seen the sun in what seems to be about 2 weeks, so it was a welcome sight. I also rediscovered what I already knew, which is that I’m a solar-powered person. It makes all the difference in the world to my energy level when I can paint in the sunshine! Until yesterday, all my available painting time was after work, and after dark.

Also helping matters was finding this little trolley when I was out shopping on Friday. I was looking for a couple of simple lampshades. I didn’t find useful lampshades, but this trolley is better than lampshades. Previously, all my paints were lined up on my grandmother’s old and fancy coffee table, which I’d covered in paper and plastic and hoped for the best (see to the left of the chair and easel). Also, it’s kind of knee-height, which is a lot of bending over when I’m standing in front of the canvas. This is most of the time, unless I’m doing fine lettering like when I was writing out that passage from Matthew.

03-Mar-13 Painting 1

Now, I have this:

New trolley!

New trolley!

With this, and some free time on Saturday afternoon, here’s how it looked at the end of the weekend:

30DC - Day 9a _ smaller

Painting at end of Day 9

In the centre is a statement about the unity and indissolubility of marriage. In the top corner is “not ashamed” referring to the state of nakedness before original sin. I also made a few small pink flower shapes in the bottom left corner to symbolize the Garden of Eden.

I’ll write again soon about the layers that are going on top of this one. Exciting times ahead!

Painting #1: Contemplating the Finite and the Infinite

Painting #1: Contemplating the Finite and the Infinite 0

It’s Day 7 of the 30 Day Challenge, and already I’m having revelations about things!

First, paint is expensive. This is almost $75 worth of paint, and it was on sale at the time. Yikes. Makes me wish I’d chosen a smaller canvas size. So, when there’s a big(ger) sale on paint, I’m going to stock up.

New paints for day 7 of the 30 Day Challenge!

New paints for the 30 Day Challenge!


Second, incredible things happen when I slow down.

The first day I painted, I wrote out Matthew 19:3-8 and Genesis 1:27, which together took a whole hour, about 50 minutes of which was the Matthew passage. It goes as follows:

Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” And he answered them, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator created them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So it is that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined let man not separate.” They objected, “Why then did Moses order to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus answered, “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”.

Painting very fine wording is a slow, tedious process, but interestingly, as I did it, I found myself really taking the time to reflect on the words, what they meant, and visualized the scene in my head. Until this point, I’ve found it very difficult to focus on a passage and really let it sink in; I tend to rush through it to get it done and then I move on to the next thing. It really helped to paint it out.

Also, as I’m progressing through it, I’m finding myself looking forward to spending the time with this painting and with the reflection, both on the content of this first Wednesday audience, and in its general implication in my life. Also, I’m piecing in general inspiration that is coming to me as I work on this.

Here’s how it looked after the end of the first day I worked on it:

After Day 3 of the 30 Day Challenge (the first day of painting)

After Day 3 of the 30 Day Challenge (the first day of painting)

Over the next couple of days, I added a bit more text: one more Bible passage (Genesis 2:27) and some words that stood out for me that came from Christopher West, talking about how incredibly beautiful God’s original plan was for us.

After Day 5

After Day 5

These words shown above form the first layer, the innermost layer that will be the heart of the painting. Today, I started layering over it – dripping paint, sketching in an Alpha and Omega, and adding in the words “Endless is your love, O Lord”.

Day 7

Day 7

“Endless is your Love, O Lord” are lyrics from the song that is firmly stuck in my head at the moment: Endless is Your Love. You can hear it in the following YouTube video.

It’s been giving me hope in what is turning out to be a rough week – a relationship breakup a couple of days ago, fighting off a bit of a cold, and some bad news (and politics) in the project I’m working on at work. Also, it ties in nicely to one of Christopher West’s comments from Theology of the Body Explained about this first portion of the Theology of the Body: “Even if the heritage of sin carries with it the entire history of discord between the sexes, the roots of man and woman’s relationship go deeper, and Christ enables us to tap into that deeper heritage.”

So with that hope, I press on with the painting. I am looking to put layer upon layer (like Flora Bowley does) and eventually build it into a cohesive and yet sophisticated merger of the Word, Blessed John Paul II’s words, and my thoughts on the subject as I think through it. We’ll see what happens!

Redemption and Revitalization

Redemption and Revitalization 0

The other day I made an ATC titled “Redemption”, shown below. This particular card isn’t specifically a trader card, but is a thank you card (called a “hostie”) for someone who hosted a swap back in the Jan-Feb 2013 timeframe. Generally for a hostie, I will read through this person’s profile and pick a theme I think she will like. In this case, her profile listed numerous likes, such as dark angels, anything Moroccan (particularly doorways), rain, sadness, and women’s faces. Instead of picking just one, I mashed them all up into a single card, which I saw as the baptism of a dark angel – an angel of darkness coming to see and be baptized into the light. I had a lot of fun doing this card. So much so that I kind of forgot to take interim photos of the progress. Oops! At least being “in the flow” is a good thing.

Redemption - an Artist's Trading Card

Redemption – an Artist’s Trading Card

Shortly after completing this card, I found out about the 30 Day Challenge run by the same people who run Screw Work, Let’s Play. The idea is to complete a project, any project, in the space of 30 days, and committing a minimum of 20 minutes a day to accomplishing the project. I like these kinds of projects, because I seem to have a short attention span, and a scatterbrained approach to doing things I want to do. My current default strategy is, generally:

  1. Complain that I don’t have enough time.
  2. Miraculously get a huge amount of time.
  3. Waste it all on something that totally doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things (to me), like Facebook or finding the perfect slow cooker roast chicken recipe.
  4. Run out of time until I’m burnt out on work or whatever commitment that is actually occupying my time.
  5. Completely neglect whatever I’m burnt out on, and go nuts on what I want to do deep down inside, until I burn out on that.
  6. Go back spitefully to the other commitments I was initially burnt out on, because stuff is now due.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

As you might guess, this is neither a good nor an effective strategy for maximizing my time and talent (not to mention, sleep).

I have, however, figured out exactly what I want to do for a 30-day project, which has two facets:

  1. Create a painting for each one of Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences (of which there are 129 or 133, depending on who you talk to) on the topic of the Theology of the Body. Don’t worry, I only plan to do paintings for the first two in the 30 days allotted, but the 30-day project is to ensure I have a foundation to do the rest. Woot! Aaaaaaand…
  2. Revitalize this blog by using it to record my journey, both artistic and spiritual, as I work my way through these paintings and readings.

I chose this project because back in January, I attended the Theology of the Body 1: Head and Heart Immersion course from the Theology of the Body Institute. At first I had a hard time getting into it (not to mention, actually getting to it physically), but by the end, it was totally rocking my world and the way I saw both the Church and everything around me. And that’s with only just barely scratching the surface of the topic, my little brain trying to wrap itself around a way of thinking that is so fundamentally different from what we see all around us in society and the media today. I knew I wanted to express both some of the ideas and my relationship to them through my art. Now’s my opportunity (read: kick in the butt) to get started. Fittingly, the 30 Day Challenge runs through the month of March, ending the day before Easter.

Stay tuned – it’s going to be quite a journey, and I’m ready to go! The first canvas, 30″ x 40″ is loaded up on the easel and ready to go, just waiting to see what I’m going to put on it. I can’t wait to find out, either!

Canvas on easel

First 30″ x 40″ canvas is ready for the 30 Day Challenge!

A Guardian Angel When Needed Most

A Guardian Angel When Needed Most 1

I’m still new to this blog thing, so I thought I cleverly managed to lock myself out of my own blog and have only just figured out how to bust back in. I seem to have a knack for this sort of thing. I once managed to get locked out of my own house with my housekey inside, and the doors aren’t even the kind that lock by themselves. That takes talent — and at least a small dose of Murphy’s Law, because my phone died when I tried to call for someone to help me unlock the doors. Anyway, back to the blog it turns out I got some “help” getting locked out from some evil character who decided to target my blog. Sheesh. You’d think people would have better things to do with their lives.

Anyway. So now that I’m finally back in business, and before I lose all hope for humanity, I thought I’d talk about my latest painting, which is all about hope. Over the last few days I worked on this painting, and finished it up a couple of days ago. At work, we’re running a silent auction to raise money for the Ottawa Hospital Foundation, and I was asked if I would donate a painting. I said I would, but I don’t actually have a stash of paintings ready in the back room, so I had to make one especially for the occasion. Thing is, doing a painting for an auction is not quite the same as just doing any old painting — it’s got to be something that appeals to people. Most of what I want to paint these days is a bit on the dark side, and not exactly the typical pastoral landscape most people would think of for this kind of auction. Now while I have nothing against pastoral landscapes, it’s just not what inspires me to pick up a paintbrush. My passion is to paint people.

I finally decided to go with a guardian angel comforting someone who is on her way to a procedure at a hospital. She’s standing in a hospital gown and is afraid of what’s to come. When I think of a guardian angel, I don’t think of a little cherub that will scurry away to cry on a cloud at the first sign of a hangnail. This guardian angel is not only big-hearted, but strong, tough, and the sort of person that’s not afraid to stand up for someone in the face of danger. I don’t know about you, but I would take a fighter over a crier any day when it comes to guardian angels.


This painting is 12″ x 16″ and is acrylic on canvas. I didn’t take much for in-process photos while painting. I had a reference photo only for their basic position and changed just about everything else about it – the lighting, the clothing (or lack thereof), the faces, hair, wings, tattoos, etc… so there was a lot of guesswork involved. Normally I would outline the pose in pencil and then paint it from the reference, but in this case, I did a very detailed sketch which itself became the reference. I would work on the sketch and stand back to see if anything looked off, and if so, I’d fix it in pencil. Once I was happy with the sketch, then I went to painting. I figured fixing something in pencil is a lot easier than fixing it in acrylic.

And one more thing to add: I finally caved in and bought a tube of Golden’s Cerulean Blue Deep. It’s a series 9 paint (= expensive), so I drooled over it and waited for weeks to make sure this would not be an impulse purchase. I’m so glad I bought it though. Nearly the entire wing was done in shades of this colour, as was most of the background. I love this colour! I don’t regret spending the money on it at all.

Now I’m hoping to get to my backlog of ATCs I’m supposed to be doing, as well as my sketchbook for the 2013 Sketchbook Project. It’s currently still blank so I need to get cracking!