Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lost portrait FOUND of Richard Dawkins!

A few months ago I painted this portrait of noted evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins. I shipped the portrait to England on May 15th, 2015, destined for Cambridge, UK CB3. It was shipped from Burlington, Ontario, Canada. It hasn't been seen since. 

UPDATE: August 2015 The painting made an incredible four month journey across the Atlantic and back to my doorstep the very next day after Richard tweeted its plight out on Twitter. Amazing! The wrapping was covered in various stickers marking its journey back and forth across the ocean and into customs. I am so thankful that it is back safe and sound and I will be able to deliver it in person to Richard this autumn. 

The portrait is oil on wood panel, 11"x14", and when I shipped it it was well packaged in two layers of cardboard and brown packing paper. 

This is the first time this has ever happened and it is vexing wondering what has become of the portrait. When I visited the post office I presumed tracking was included. This was my error as it was not and I did not realize until the painting did not arrive in the United Kingdom. Canada Post has informed me that since there was no tracking number the portrait is essentially a "missing item". 

Thank-you again very much for any and all help you can provide in locating this painting. Please feel free to share this message on any social media platforms. 



Saturday, July 5, 2014

"Self-Portrait, Fugue"

  1. 1.
    a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.
  2. 2.
    a state or period of loss of awareness of one's identity, often coupled with flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.

It's important to take note of unusual words encountered in a small period of time. Spoken or written, you see patterns. Recently the beautiful word 'fugue' came up twice in 24 hours. I was in the process of painting the portrait at the bottom of this blog post (and on the far right of the image above) and all of a sudden I knew what the piece would be called. 

The sooner we realize that nothing ever is permanent, the happier we will be....change is inevitable, the only true constant. Our mental states are often as tempestuous as a sudden snow squall. Our grip on sharp thoughts and clear focus may take a long while to become unstable, but when it does, we can spiral into a fugue state. 

This is my sixth "cathartic" self-portrait. The main reason for painting these self-portraits is I want to capture what it is to be bereft, or broken-hearted. There is an energy there, and a potential for creativity that is important to listen to, watch and learn from. I plan 99% of my paintings but when you will become unhelmed you must seize the moment and paint it.

So with each of these portraits I have examined, to my fullest capacity, the tumult and subsequent shift toward healing. These portraits are some of the only ones where the subject is looking directly (in some cases) at the viewer. It is an invitation in these paintings to look closer, to hold the gaze, and not look away, as we are often tempted to do when someone is upset.

This portrait is small, 4"x4"...there is a joy found in the small, revelatory pieces like this...just as a diamond jeweler looks through a loop, energy is condensed and the mind can focus on a tiny peek into itself on canvas.

I cherish these little paintings. They are certainly my most personal pieces. They mark where the only place to go was up, like filling your lungs and rising up out of the darkness, to not succumb but to break the surface and keep swimming.

"Self-Portrait: Fugue", oil on panel, 4"x4"

"Creativity comes from accepting that you're not safe, from being absolutely aware, and from letting go of control. It's a matter of seeing everything -- even when you want to shut your eyes." - Madeleine L'Engle

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Blue Eggs & the Importance of Listening

"Blue One", watercolor, 4"x4".

"As far as I'm concerned there are only three mystical places in the world: the desert just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Tree of Life in the Arab Emirate of Bahrain, and the restaurant at the corner of Sunset and Crescent,
 because that's where I first met her and that's where I first touched her."~L.A. Story

What you listen to while you paint is very important. Whether it be music, audiobooks or films, what enters your ears as you concentrate on creative output directly effects the result. Now, I'm not saying you need to listen to "Citizen Kane", "Lawrence Of Arabia" or "Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance" to do good work. All that matters is that what you listen to moves you, or keeps you at peace, or inspires you, or fires you up. Whatever makes you do the best work possible is key. I remember many years ago listening to a biography on Ernest Shackleton while I painted a self-portrait, while more recently I listened to "No Country For Old Men" while painting "Figure, Perched", a portrait of my friend Gayle. There are certain films and TV shows which I return to a lot, because of the dialogue, or the soundtrack, or simply the way it makes me feel.

It has been over 15 years since I've watched 'L.A. Story'. I remember loving it when I was younger, laughing at Steve Martin's writing, and of course his acting. He's a terrific writer, and clearly a romantic like myself. Plus he's a Shakespeare fan, and there's lots of 'Hamlet' references in the film, which I had forgotten about. An added bonus. So for a bit of nostalgia and laughter I decided to put on 'L.A. Story' today while I did these last two robin's egg paintings. If you haven't seen the film, see it. It's silly and funny and a terrific satire on L.A. culture. Included in this post are my favourite quotations from the film. 

So, to the robin's egg paintings. I found this little egg while out running along the Millennium Trail here in Whitehorse, Yukon last week. I ran past it at first, but then 20 feet further along the path I stopped, turned back and gently picked it up in my hand, examining it. There was no evidence of a bird around, so that gave me hope for wherever he/she may be now. I marveled at the indescribable ice-warm blue of the egg, and wondered about having the instinct and courage to break free at last from something so small, to emerge from one world into another. I cradled it in my hand and continued my run, knowing if I opened my hand too much it would catch the air and most likely break below on the asphalt. I made it home with the shell and took some photos. These painting are the result. 

"Blue Two", watercolour, 4"x4"

"'Ordinarily I don't like to be around interesting people because it means I have to be interesting too.' 
'Are you saying I'm interesting?'
'All I'm saying is that when I'm around you I find myself showing off, which is the idiot's version of being interesting.'"~L.A. Story

I knew I wanted to do a very simple painting of the I took out my watercolour set which I had recently taken to The Lake District in England with me. Each watercolour painting took under half an hour, and required a steady hand. Watercolour is hard. It hates being told what to do. It is a fierce taskmaster of a medium. I respect it, and find it a challenge. You can't slap watercolour paint down on paper and push it around like you can with oil paint...the paper would pill and the paint would turn to mud. Instead you have to use water and pigment carefully, set your tone down and WAIT. 

"Blue Three", oil on panel, 4"x4"

"So there I was jabbering at her about my new job as a serious newsman, about anything at all, but all I could think was 'wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and most wonderful and yet again, wonderful."~L.A. Story

The two watercolors were fun and scary to pick up something you remember yet forget, yet know you will remember once was like reuniting with an old friend: a bit of small talk and then right back to business, back to ease and comfort, back to the familiar patterns which formed your friendship in the first place. 

The oil painting at the end was fun to do. I had a little wood panel and slathered on the gesso yesterday....I MAY have forgotten to sand off the gesso in the excitement to get painting, but so be it. SO BE IT :) I like it for the fact that I didn't see the forest because I couldn't wait to get into the trees. 

With words or music in our ears while we paint, I think different synapses fire, or some sort of alternate neurological reaction happens. I don't know what it is but I know that years later, I can remember the exact programs I listened to while painting. Oliver Sacks would have an answer for why...but I'm content to not know just keep painting and living and dreaming and living the dream. 

"All I know is on the day your plane was to leave if I had the power I would turn the winds around. I would roll in the fog. I would bring in storms. I would change the polarity of the earth so compasses couldn't work, so your plane couldn't take off."~L.A. Story

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Emilie, Takhini North", and An Inaugural Snowshoeing

"We must let go of the life we have planned,
 so as to accept the one that is waiting for us."~Joseph Campbell

Even before darkening the doorway of The Yukon Territory I began making friends. Through past housesitting/hiking stints in the Territory, as well as via social media and friends in Ontario, I was excited to connect with people here. Emilie is one such friend. 

This painting resulted from a walk up in a subdivision of Whitehorse called Takhini North. It is amazing how our brains remember subtle topographies. In large urban areas we naturally remember buildings or man made structures to orientate ourselves within a space. Up here, there are a few buildings, yes, but natural structures vastly outweigh those built with human hands. Mountains have faces as well as people, and many folks have seen this painting and said "I know exactly where that is!"

Emilie had recently picked up this amazing blue coat at Unity Clothing here in Whitehorse. The intense, cobalt-blue hue was instantly appealing, especially in contrast with her amazing red hair. 

This was the first portrait I completed after moving to Whitehorse. It is 30"x40", a good size, oil on canvas. My gallery in Toronto, Abbozzo Gallery, has it now. It is on display currently if you wish to see it in person. Looking at images on a small scale is deceptive, especially when it comes to art. One needs to step closer to a painting to really see the "guts" of the thing, to see how an artist makes the work what it is. I paint very thinly, so I utilize directionality in brushwork to add structure and depth. Up close it is easier to see the subtleties. 

I have been in the Yukon Territory for four months now. Four months to let my bones settle into this place. The people are as warm as the temperatures are cold. There is community, and resiliency, and pride. I am proud to call The Yukon home. I can understand how city mice can be unhelmed by the quiet, by the space, by the solitude. It does force you to become better acquainted with the vagaries of your heart and mind. It does invite introspection...and it does so in spades. After living in a suburban environment up until now, with only periodic, bucolic adventures, it is a bit overwhelming at times. It is good. It is an opportunity to learn and find peace within the abundantly quiet moments. 

Recently I went snowshoeing here outside of town with some friends. I had never snowshoed before, and we did a 21km trek out near Fish Lake. It was great fun. Brisk, at -15ºC that day, but we kept moving and worked up a little sweat. Above, Greg takes off into the dawn. 

I took my trusty Arc'teryx Altra pack with me on this snowshoe. This pack has gone with me on treks in The Yukon, Iceland and The Faroe Islands. It's light, and a good size for an overnight hike or a long day hike. Here's a link: Arc'teryx Altra 48 L

The trek was a gradual uphill for the first 5km, then a slow but continuous descent for the majority of it. It made for some nice views. We passed a few cross country skiers and their dogs. People up here love to be out in the elements. And who wouldn't? 

The sun came out in the last half hour of the snowshoe. There is so little pollution up here that light is not hindered by anything. It is intense, and vibrant, and there are colours that practically glow in even the quietest shadows. The blues are so luminous it defies belief. I am fortunate to be here, to have no departure date, to dwell amongst the mountains, finally :) 

Have a beautiful day,


“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. . ."~Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Yukon Life: If You're Happy No Amount Of Darkness Matters.

"Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in a forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers." ~T.S. Eliot

These days in Whitehorse, the sun rises at about 9:48 am and sets just before 4pm. That's 6 precious hours to cast a shadow. And the sun doesn't mess around. True, the dawns and dusks seem more lengthy, but the darkness always wins. I feel as though I am on a night shift, even though I have never worked one before. 

The other morning, lying in bed, cocooned in a web of blankets and I thought about what changes I notice most about these colder days. My sweet cottage is a tiny castle….diminutive in size but large in charm. I love that it has a slant…cupboard doors swing open wildly, my studio chair is always wanting to roll away from the easel. It reminds me of quaint little cottages in Newfoundland. It only has two rooms, plus a small bathroom. It is all I need. It doesn't take you long in a small space to realise how much is superfluous. You become discerning out of necessity. 

Dawn at Fish Lake a few weeks ago

In the mornings, in the dark, there are few sounds outside of my cottage. My bed is against two exterior walls, so it is quite refreshing when it is -30ºC. I huddle under my Hudson's Bay blanket and Icelandic throw picked up in Reykjavik. I hear cars driving slowly down the lane way behind the cottage, the snow protesting in strange, dry squeaks. My neighbour says foxes are fond of the lane way, which makes me happy, knowing they are out there padding around in their fluffy auburn raiment. As I drove along Robert Service Way paralleling the Yukon River there other day I saw a fox cross up ahead of me. Thankfully he stood still and regarded me as I drove past…this beautiful creature out in the freezing cold, just doing his thing. Lovely.

The windows of Rose Cottage have had a whole story of their own this past month as the cold has set in. I have moisture in my cottage that is forming elaborate ice formations, almost stalactites, inside my storm windows, and in the case of my bedroom window, which doesn't have a storm window, in my room. It's weird to see the ice there, not melting, even though my cottage is 17ºC. Outside the ice blooms into floral patterns, dancing horses, tendrils of icy, tiny leviathans, otherworldly plants. Watching them shift with the alternating temperature is like watching clouds pass overhead and forming them into stories. 

When it gets below minus 25 the cold starts to do crazy things. Everything becomes more brittle. Even the water in our bodies starts to slow down and freeze…the pain of having exposed flesh sets in quickly. I have already begun stocking my car with emergency supplies, even though I don't want to drive too far out of town until I get snow tires. 

Layers of light at Fish Lake

Sasha's coat is getting thicker by the day. I love that he is on this journey with me, adapting and learning about life up here in the North. The biggest bummer is the ice on the windows. While beautiful, it is an impediment for him as he loves watching the world go by. In a 450 square cottage, he can use all of the activity he can find. He is my constant companion...5,400km driven together across this great country of Canada. I am proud of him. A tiny trooper.

Sasha Fierce

Mist rising off of the Yukon River at 9am last week...

The other day it was about -34ºC with the windchill. I saw light and mist rising off of the Yukon River. In a few minutes I had snapped a photo of a sun dog…my first! It is a beautiful phenomenon that I believe is specific to cold environments. It has to do with some sort of specific refraction of light…I's a bit of magic undeniably. 

The darkness is pervasive this time of year. It is new, and fun, and slightly intimidating. But I realized the other morning with some momentary clarity: when you are happy, no amount of darkness matters.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Yukon Living...The Sweetest Peace

The timber wolves will be our friends.
We'll stay up late and howl,
At the moon, till nighttime ends,
Before going on the prowl.

Oh, what a life! We cannot wait,
To be in that arctic land,
Where we'll be masters of our fate,
And lead a life that's grand!

~excerpt from Calvin & Hobbes' "The Yukon Song", by Bill Watterson

It has been almost three weeks since I arrived in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The drive was truly an odyssey, and the peace that has followed has also been overwhelming. After so many months of planning, my dream really has come true.

The air here is as clean as I remember. No more hacking cough from particulate in the air. The roads are quiet, much quieter than what I am used to. Everything is within a five minute walk as I am downtown. The Yukon river is 350 m away.

Emerald Lake. I drove too far and missed the turnoff to a friend's house
...but this was a great site to pass despite my error:)

The community here is close knit and supportive. There is always something going on. The cold and snow is just par for the course for the people here in the Yukon. Each time of day here, each moment of each season, changes almost before your eyes.

An unkindness of ravens surveyed the Yukon River as I walked by them yesterday...

McLean Lake. Went jogging here one day. No one around as usual. Perfect:)

Recently as I drove down the Robert Service Expressway into Whitehorse I looked across at Grey Mountain (or Canyon Mountain, it's proper name) across The Yukon River. I was struck by the rivulets of golden-yellow tendrils of far off trees whose leaves were reaching up onto the mountain as far as possible. Within 24 hours many leaves have given up the ghost and dropped down to the forest floor, like bright little mandalas. Beautiful. Ephemeral.

Driving down the South Klondike Hihgway...I see mountains every day now. Joy!

I will often paint in my little studio all day and then go for a 3-5 mile hike on Grey Mountain. There are well marked trails and you will rarely see another person. More likely you will see a porcupine, deer, or even a bear. This year has been a bumper crop in terms of berries I hear, and so some friends and I are going berry picking on the weekend. A true Northern tradition. I made some cranberry jam today, and will be blogging about that process, as well as the process of picking the berries.

Hidden Lake, which I passed on a recent hike. 

I have spent so much time and energy thinking about being here, planning, organizing, that the peace felt now that I'm settling in is palpable. All of that energy can now rest and be turned over into the soil of this new place. I honesty cannot remember being this happy. This place is polarizing. So much happening yet so much quiet and stillness if you turn away from the hum as well.

It is definitely autumn here in The Yukon..

Sasha is getting used to the little cottage where I live. His space has lessened but his personality is just as big and he keeps me up regularly at night wanting to play. What a trooper. I knew he could do the trip, and now his coat is getting thicker each day. He will need the extra insulation as the snow will be flying within two weeks most likely.

Moody skies at Lewes Lake, off the South Klondike Highway

Each day when I step out of my little cottage I am so thankful. I look at the mountains across the river and breathe the clean air and smile. I need nothing more. My cup is full, and The Yukon is a cup that never runs dry. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Yukon Bound Day 6...Grande Prairie,AB to Muncho Lake,BC

"Emergencies have always been necessary to progress. 
It was darkness which produced the lamp. 
It was fog that produced the compass. 
It was hunger that drove us to exploration."~Victor Hugo

 I thought that Blogger was being temperamental but switching browsers had enabled me to actually upload photos, which is half the fun when reading a blog. Today was the second last day of my grand journey across Canada. I drove from Grande Prairie, Alberta to Munch Lake, British Columbia. About 11 hours of driving and stopping for breaks. It was pretty epic in beauty and distance. I hope you enjoy the photos I have included here. 

The dawn, seen above, was outstanding. One of those days that looks like the sound of a light bulb breaking. Intense and blinding and satisfying all in one. A fracture of colour that cracks across the sky, with colour that seeps out where the sky has broken. That, combined with copious amounts of fog, made for an absolutely stellar dawn as I drove through Dawson Creek (mile '0' of the Alaska Highway), Taylor, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Wonowon, Toad River, and finally Muncho Lake Provincial Park, where I am tonight.
 I had to chuckle when I entered my address in Whitehorse in the GPS. The distance until the next turn, seen in the upper left hand corner, made me smile. 


Today was all nature. The architecture to admire was the mountains, the streams, the rivers, the wildlife. Lots of signs warning me about bison and caribou around every corner. I saw four caribou...gorgeous and pretty unmoved by the vehicles so close to them. 

The expanses that opened up north of Fort Nelson were beyond compare. Lots of solitude, trees as far as the eye could see, sunshine and two lane blacktop. No billboards. All awesome. A good audiobook (I am finishing listening to 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline. The audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, who does a bang up job of it. If you haven't read it, get it. Great book. If you are a child of the 80's, a nerd, geek, a John Hughes or Rush fan, or any other member of that subculture, it is for you :)

 The yellows foliage was gorgeous today. I have seen lots of photos recently on Instagram from Yukon residents snapping pictures of leaves changing, and I saw plenty of it today. All mottled green and yellow together, it is as though the hillsides and mountains were trying to catch fire, but very slowly, like trying to making a fire with damp wood, not a quick process. The brilliant yellows and greens, juxtaposed against the blue sky made for some amazing horizons to chase.


I forget which river this was but it is irrelevant...the braids and branches of it weaving under the bridge brought back memories of my first trip to Alaska in 2008. That trip and subsequent ones have all been working towards this moment of moving up here. How could one NOT want to be within this landscape? 

Around a couple of turns I saw four caribou in total. They were a chocolate brown, and there was a calf with his/her mother here in this shot. The mother was so sweet, nudging him up the game trail in front of her. A sweetness that was palpable. To see creatures like these, wild and almost untouched by any sight of human beings, is like seeing magic happen right before your eyes. And, like magic, it usually is gone quickly. Thank goodness for cameras and art :)

They were like shadows that could disappear if you looked away.

Finally after hundreds of winding kilometres I arrived at Muncho Lake Provincial Park. The lake is that gorgeous blue that you see in healthy environments. 

The dining room of the lodge where I am staying. Log cabins/homes/structures are the best.

Another long day in the saddle today for Sasha. Here he is helping me write this blog entry. I never thought he would handle this whole process as well as he has. It has made it so much less stressful than it could have been. I cannot wait to see what paintings come from this experience. New friends will become new muses, and the space and freshness of this land is the perfect catalyst for focused painting. I cannot wait...setting up my studio this week...:) long last....WHITEHORSE, YUKON TERRITORY! 

Have a wonderful week and thanks for reading...