Tag Archives: inspiration

Escaping the Studio: a marriage proposal pops up

I like to escape the studio, even though there’s a comfortable chair and a huge  table.  It’s good to get out.  I take my writing or sketchbook and “work” in public spaces.  A good way to get some things done.

Covent Garden Market, London Ontario

On Friday afternoon I was having tea by the huge beautiful windows upstairs at the Covent Garden Market.  A group of teenage girls began to gather and  practice dance moves in the space beside me.  I had my Mp3 player and ignored them.  More and more girls came, but I shrugged, thinking they were practicing for the Fringe Festival which had started the day before.

A friend spotted me and we moved away from the growing commotion so that we could talk. It soon became clear that something was up.  At some point, the practicing stopped and the girls scattered among the tables.  Ah, a flash mob. Sure enough, the music started up and a couple of girls got up to dance, with more girls gradually joining in.  But they kinda swarmed a woman who was not part of the dancing group.  And there to save her was a man.  That man handed her a gorgeous bouquet of red roses.

Out came the tissues.  It was a marriage proposal.  She must have said yes.  Confetti cannons went off.  Then more tissue therapy, for her this time.  Her guy just hugged her, seriously smiling.

This kind of thing never happens in my studio.



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The Buddhist Boys

6 luohans on the first floor of the ROM, the Asian culture galleries.

I only went to Toronto for the day, and and only had a few hours to spend with the boys.  To make the most of the trip, I decided to get into a Buddhist frame of mind so that I might draw these fellows with more understanding.

My friends, Dan and Pam, recommended reading J. Macey’s Active Hope and I started it a few weeks ago.  Honestly,  it’s a tough read.  Over the weekend I listened to Pema Chodron’s Bodhisattva Mind.   From this small immersion, I got the message to stay in the present and be open.  Easy.

The boys are  a group of six monks carved in sandstone from the Song Dynasty (1000-1200 AD).  The religious term for them is luohan.  The ROM blurb didn’t explain much about them but from my bit of research, they were a kind of spiritual warrior for the Buddhist faith at a time when it was experiencing persecution in China.  These luohan continue a communion that started a millennium ago.  So cool.

The luohan aren’t boys, I discovered, but strong men in many senses.  Calmness is under appreciated in our culture.  As I drew them, I felt the power of it.  They were centred, unique, compassionate, yet there was muscle under the cloth.  These boys could walk, and sitting still, I imagine, wasn’t a passive activity for them either.

Luohan with a dragon at his foot, ROM.

What surprised me as I drew, was that I began to see monks through  the sculptor’s eyes.  Each man was a model to be cajoled into a pose and flattered into an attitude which would serve both personal vanity and the cause of  religious teachings.  The sculptor may have been a monk himself (sorry, have to assume “he”); he would have had to answer to an abbot of sorts, to the traditions of his craft and religion, if he could separate these.

From the dates, it’s likely that more than one sculptor would been involved in portraying this group, yet the style and details are incredibly consistent.  The stone blocks had their own grain and inclusions.  Not perfect or painted over.  So the execution was very important.  Imagine sanding the heads and faces, the lips and brows, so smoothly–polishing into the stone to bring out the flesh.  The tension between body and spirit.

I would date the Buddhist Boys at the ROM again, but will confess my crush may have shifted to the artists who created them.



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Purposing My Space

A corner of my studio.

The walls  in the studio are white and it’s not hard for me to leave them bare.  The space is clean, nicely lit, but it’s nothing special. It’s a spare bedroom, for goodness sake, in a boxy apartment.

On the weekend of a recent Artists Studio Show, I had the opportunity to see the studio spaces of ‘real’ artists.  People painted in their basements, in the attic, off the kitchen in old mud rooms.  One had taken over what looked like a family room.  Even with that space, the room was filled with shelving and storage bins, a long strip of corkboard on which ideas were pinned.  A work table took up the centre of the room.  Another artist, working with fibres and textiles, had moved her sewing machine and materials storage structure into a storefront art gallery.  That woman had the best, albeit temporary, space.

I’ve worked in the window of a dry cleaners, hemming slacks and putting in half-pockets and new zippers.  I’ve painted in the studios of Zavitz Hall on the campus at University of Guelph, in the underground mall at Lakehead University.  I’ve gone into my daughter’s school and drawn the classrooms, and  picked up drawing lessons at in the old rooms above London’s The Arts Project.  All public spaces with a purpose.

With a studio in my home, the space remains private for the most part.  One doesn’t invite strangers in, or have them peering through a window.  The room has been reclaimed from being a mere storage area, filled with clutter.  It’s clean and I have space in there to think. Yet I find more distractions.  It’s a little too easy to leave a project and start lunch early.  The dressmaker Judy has more presence in there than I.   And she can be intimidating.

Yet, it feels like summer with the weeks of unseasonably warm weather we’ve had.  Maybe it’s time to wander and gather ideas?



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A Mother’s Day Story

Swan, pencil

When I became pregnant, my world shifted and tilted back towards art.   I picked up my pencils and took the lead. I knew where I was headed.

Swans at night, pencil and Mylar film

Stratford Park

June, July and August were spent in the park in Stratford, Ontario.  I walked the river everyday, sometimes at six in the morning because the baby inside me loved walking as much as I did.  Her dad framed up the pictures, and on weekends I set up my display of drawings and sold a few, then made a few more.

Over the past week, I’ve come to see how strongly the park figured in my pregnancy.   The river and huge, gnarly black willows, the swans and couples who walked hand  in hand.  The regular early morning walkers and the Sunday theatre-goers.   All summer long, the beauty filled me.

It’s been interesting to pull together the pictures from that time.  The physical skill of drawing is one thing; making decisions about composition and design is another.  What can’t be taught, or forced, is hitting a deep feeling so truly that it can be seen on the page.  Only one drawing came out as beautifully as my daughter did that summer.



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