July 5, 2014: What’s New in the Backyard Garden?

It’s a hot day.  The lupines have been cut back, to make room for the showy lilies to make their debut very soon.  However, this guy beat them to it.  These poppies are like weeds and reseed at will.  I recommend selecting the areas of your garden where you want colour and let them be, otherwise, you might want to pull them as they appear.  Welcome colour, but so saturated in today’s sunlight, difficult to photograph.  The carrots, beans, onions, radishes, tomatoes and strawberries are all coming along.  Rhubarb needs to be pulled for the third time.  Yummers.  I’m thinking of Pauline as I write.

Not to be confused with an Oriental Poppy.

Not to be confused with an Oriental Poppy.


Gorilla House LIVE ART: October 30, 2013 A Perfect Day

As my readers know, last week we lost Lewis Allan (Lou) Reed.  The inspiration for last night’s painting were Lou Reed Lyrics.  I wasn’t feeling up for attending OR painting last night, but ironically enough, it was my father on some form of social media messaging, who encouraged me.  Beautiful, Dad.  It was good to paint.  Now, for the back-story on the poppies.

As a junior high teacher, I had attended, over the years, too many funerals for my students.  I have recently lost Jessica…and Sheri many years back…but so many boys, other people’s sons.  Visiting a funeral home along with other teachers, greeting families at the loss of their child, was surreal over and over again.  When Jarrett passed, I painted a show titled Pieces of Gold: A Tribute to Two Sons…and then when Chris and Peter passed in a tragic accident out highway 22X on October 22 of 1997, I began painting furiously in my studio.  One of the lines in Peter’s obituary…”One of Peter’s favourite hobbies was sketching.”

I painted large scale oriental poppies…approaching Remembrance Day that year…I simply wanted to remember.  Born in 1979, how was it possible that such young lights had been snuffed out?  I was having a very difficult time with the tragedy that other families were suffering and was fearful for my own children.  When I painted red, I painted the pain, sadness, utter joy of life and the history of children…the huge impact that they have in our lives.  No issue between children and their families can stand in the way of love.  Mothers…fathers…love your children.  Do the best you can.





I saw my work as a tribute and felt that I could ‘work’ the struggle away.  Recently, a dear friend mentioned my poppy paintings…the Red Green Show came to mind, so it was only instinct that as a tribute to Lou Reed, I paint a poppy and after months of neutral colour, at the loss of Mom, I squeezed red out onto my palette.

I wrote the complete lyrics to A Perfect Day in gold text from top to bottom.  The words poured out of me.  With white chalk, I sketched in the two blooms…one about to burst open and shed it’s protective cover, the other, fully open.  Thank you to Phil and Laila who purchased the piece at auction.  Remember.

P1130962 P1130964

Phil and Laila

Phil and Laila



Just a perfect day
drink Sangria in the park
And then later
when it gets dark, we go home

Just a perfect day
feed animals in the zoo
Then later
a movie, too, and then home

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spend it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

Just a perfect day
problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
it’s such fun

Just a perfect day
you made me forget myself
I thought I was
someone else, someone good

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

You’re going to reap just what you sow
You’re going to reap just what you sow
You’re going to reap just what you sow
You’re going to reap just what you sow

Gorilla House LIVE ART: September 19, 2012

I was in my early years of teaching when I came upon the books, Art Synectics and Design Synectics: Stimulating Creativity and Design by Nicholas Roukes and that is when my life as an arts educator really began to evolve.   In the second of these books, I first discovered words that described how I had been learning/thinking…to that point.  While we most often associate the word synectics with technology, in truth, our brains are wired this way (some more than others) and so we, as humans, are ‘synectic’ thinkers.

The most basic of explanations is to compare a stimuli/object/image/song to a pin ball.  Drawing back on the spring, the pin ball is shot forward, finding its way into the body of the machine.  At this point, it begins to boink off of various OTHER stimuli and the binging begins…the lights go off…the points are scored.

Finally, I was offered a description of how I thought and had always been thinking.  I was not a linear thinker.  It took me more time than others to describe my beliefs/ideas and feelings about things because there was, in fact, so much going on in my head at one time about pretty much every new idea/concept or visual stimuli.  That’s why I learned that writing and art gave me a way to archive my thoughts and reactions.  I was not the child in school who benefited from being asked to answer a question on the spot.  Instead, I sought to understand.

These last years I have learned a huge respect for a mathematics/drama teacher, Kelly, who uses strategies to engage such learners.  Students have time to make meaning while creating foldables.  Such methodology reaches into the creative side of students and gives them the time and the imagery to make sense of a concept.

Image from Open House Pizazz

Working 4 the Classroom Photo

Now…to the Gorilla House LIVE ART battles!

Creativity is the marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition – Max Ernst

The real poet studies the world as it is: lovely, terrible, sensible, grotesque; and would ask for no other in its place. Humor is the final sign and seal of seriousness for it is a proof that reality is held in honor and in love.  – Mark van Doren

Last evening’s concepts for the two hour art battle seemed, to me, disjointed…even more so than is typical and yes, somewhat dark.  1. hairless (Yes…that was the artist/audience reaction as well!) 2.  lessons from life and 3. self destruction.  While I’d have to agree that this piece is one of my ‘darker’ paintings at the Gorilla House, I tried to take a positive spin on the concept of self destruction.

Here’s what I was thinking…

We spend much of our time reacting.  Back to the pinball analogy!  In short, what I’ve noticed is that along the way, when I have felt things pulling apart within me, those are the times that I have re-created myself and grown into someone stronger, more evolved and generally, more interesting.  No one wishes for bad things to happen to anyone!  But let’s face it, _______ happens.  And when it does, we have basically been given an opportunity.

Photo by Terry Storey

The painting of the figure (androgynous and having no racial profile), without uniform or clothing…vulnerable…became key, but not key.  The figure contains the cosmos at its heart.  It finds itself in that moment of being ‘stripped’ of everything…and it is at this moment that the ‘spirit’ and the mind begins the process of reconstructing, re-energizing and becoming something else.

Why red?

For a zillion years I painted a ground of cadmium red medium as an underpinning for all of my ‘pretty’ landscapes.  There is a tradition, even among the Group of Seven, to activate a blank canvas by creating a ground.

In 1917, Thomson painted what is probably the most famous of all Canadian images, a pine tree, standing battered but strong against the elements. For many, the painting is the quintessential image of the Canadian spirit. The picture vibrates with colour. Presumably lakes and the sky are blue, but his picture is pink, violet, green. And to make the colours even more vibrant through complimentary contrast, he allowed spots of the red under-painting to show through.”  Written by Dale Smith and found here.

Having visited many of these paintings over time, I’d have to say that the under painting is a rich  yellow ochre.

Neil Patterson once explained and demonstrated in a painting workshop that he uses black.

In oils, I used red.  This created a real play between complementary colours and caused the eye to float through the small, sometimes unnoticed passages of red.  For me…red represented passion, pain and sadness, elation…all of it.  I patiently waited for my under paintings to dry and then generated epic landscapes on top.

Oldman at Maycroft Crossing

These days, the red has surfaced. During one of those times when I ‘fell apart’, I became far more outward looking and less inward in my thoughts.  I plugged into my faith…read scripture and also read about the demise of countless species.  I thought about my father and his gesture, saving a single pelican that had lost its wing as all of the other pelicans abandoned it on their southbound migration from a Montana river.

Then, inspired by Brian Skerry’s work and given his permission to use his photographs as references, I began to paint A Covenant Series.  The red continued to surface as I looked at the status of the beluga whale population on the St. Lawrence River and then watched the film, The Cove and learned about the struggle of the cetacean populations in various parts of the world.

I have recently learned that I only want to paint from a place of authenticity.  I want to be true to myself.  This has taken some time. The piece that I painted last night tells that story in visual terms.

Last night, Terry Storey, an awesome photographer, purchased my piece.  It is important to me that he saw something in this piece that spoke to him.  I am looking forward to working with Terry on some interesting projects.  It was another great night at the Gorilla House!

The post-battle chat was once again, inspiring.  Thanks to my friend-Gorillas.

Bruce, deep in thought.


She Makes a Great Egg Salad!

I’m bagged.  I stepped into the house and dropped my school bag and laptop.  I went down to my bedroom, traded my work shirt for a plaid pyjama top.  I went to the fridge and pulled out the bowl of egg salad that my daughter had made at 1:00 a.m.  When I shuffled upstairs in the dark and stepped into the BRIGHT kitchen at 1:00 a.m., I asked her if she would please cut out the noise.  She said, “Sorry, Mom.” And added, “You’ll be glad when you have this egg salad tomorrow!”  At the time, I doubted it.

I toasted the two pieces of frozen bread and then slathered it in egg salad. (I am glad.) I plunked down on the red sofa…oh, wow, did that feel good!  A glass of cold milk.  Mmmmm.  I went over, in my mind, what the week had been all about.  I thought, “Finally, I finished Moby Dick!  An accomplishment….yippee, a new book tonight!”  I was relieved that the art work had all been delivered to the church gathering-area, but sad that I had to cancel my date with sister-friends, to attend tomorrow’s Asparagus Festival in Innisfail.  Yes!  There really IS an Asparagus Festival!  I will have to go to the Church hall instead and actually display the art work tomorrow morning.  I just didn’t have the energy after teaching all week, grading, recording, managing, and then transporting art.

It has been raining steadily for four days here in Calgary.  It’s grey and wet and still, I face that hour-long play time in the wet, in my gum boots, with Max.  I avoid.  It’s so warm in here.

As a way of avoiding, I turn on the computer.  Little beeps…lights come up on the screen.  I don’t know why, but I decide to explore some random sites of interest on WordPress.  I come to Gillian Holding of Leeds.  I know nothing about Gillian Holding.  Do you?  But, a short time later, I’m wandering about from one page to another and falling madly in love with her work.  My shoulders sit back in place…I no longer slouch.  Max, nudges me from behind and brings me several toys, in hopes that I will ‘catch on’.

I log into Skype.  Mom and I have a five o’clock date.  Hmmm….she’s forgotten.  I decide to leave Skype UP and continue to view Gillian’s blog.  I find a common spirit.  I find encouragement.  I feel a spark of motivation to complete a sketch tonight.  This is good.

Thank you for these words, Gillian.  I don’t know you, but your insights are real and generous.  Thank you…and I hope you don’t mind, that before I take Max for his time at the off-leash, I should share your words.

About Gillian Holding

“I am a contemporary visual artist living and working in Leeds trying to juggle family, work and dog walking and often not really getting it right anywhere. Add to this mix the absurdity of the world I live in and observe around me, and it all leaves me with a burning desire to document my experiences and insights (such as they are) by every means possible. Then maybe, just maybe, I can make some sense of it.”

Thanks also, Gillian, for the survey of favourite reds….mine is Cadmium Red Medium…some would call it Bright Red!