Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bread and seasons

Tucked away in a small street in the heart of old St. John's, a little bakery sprang up a couple of years ago, called The Georgetown Bakery, after the area of town it is located in. In fact, that area is one I know well as I lived there for a few months when I first moved back to St. John's after many years of living in Europe. The bakery is located in a residential street on Hayward Avenue, in a converted house with a tiny shop showcasing the efforts of the bakers and bakery ovens seen in the rear. Wooden floors, a basic counter and large wicker baskets of breads show what is for sale with a friendly local woman explaining the different types of breads, it is tempting to try them all - and I nearly always do.

I rarely eat bread anymore, but when I do it must be good, artisan bread, handcrafted and worth the indulgence. Georgetown Bakery has that bread. I stocked up today with a Belgian loaf, a wholegrain round, some bagels crusted thickly with sesame and poppy seeds and a chocolate and cranberry loaf that is only made on Saturdays. To find a true bakery in this town is often more difficult than anticipated, as it seems the population often prefers to buy their bread in a plastic sleeve from a chain supermarket. This drives up the prices of 'real' bread, but still makes it worthwhile in my estimation.

Fresh bread with flavour and texture, crisp crust and soft holey interior, warmed, with real butter melting into its warmth, is the food of the gods. It is an indulgence and one that I enjoy occasionally. I wish it could be an everyday occurance for me, but my metabolism thinks the other way and only provides me with the once a month luxury of real bread.

With the heat taken out of summer, foods and rituals arise again. An extra blanket is put back on the bed; firewood is stacked and cut waiting its turn to make warmth; the chickens shake their feet as they walk across the heavy dew on the grass as they're turned out in the morning; goldenrod is starting to show its blonde tresses all along the side of the road to the house and hides in fields and trails along with cornflower blue New York asters. Pearly everlastings stand like sentinels along the roadways, their papery flowerheads already dry to the touch, crinkling like stiff tissue to my touch. These are wonderful for drying, rather like ghostly versions of their coloureful cousins, heliochrysum (straw flower).

There is always something a little sad about the prospect of summer slipping away, but there are also delights in the coming seasons of autumn and winter that can take away the sting of regret at the loss of warm breezes and hot sun. Artisan bread is one of those delights. Throw away your mass produced bread and go out and find a local bakery making artisan breads. Or make it yourself. You won't regret it. Celebrate the seasons and the moment.

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Friday, September 01, 2006


Technology is taken for granted until it goes wrong. Like tonight. I started my notebook and it was doing its thing very nicely then suddenly a big blue error screen appeared and told me the sky was falling and the only way to save myself was to reboot. But it wouldn't let me reboot as it was locked up.

After some Anglo Saxon persuasion I managed to reboot it and it started again, with another little message telling me there had been a serious error - no shit?? - and I should do a variety of complex tasks to the guts of the machine to make things right with the God of Notebooks. I did a adware check and cleared out old files and hope that will appease the gods for the moment. If not, I'll have to start sacrificing chickens again...

Its those tasks of backing up files and saving things on cd that we put off and put off until suddenly something happens that jeopardizes their security and it sends us frantically saving everything we can. Life is like that too. We never know what we have until it is in danger of slipping away. Unfortunately, unlike backing up information, backing up life isn't quite so simple, however the resulting losses are even more devastating.

There is a little technology in this photo - horsepower in a couple of senses both in the tractor engine and in the hay. Kit nickers in delight when she sees piles of hay for her. She's such a greedy girl. The sketch of a wasp on a flower was completed a couple of weeks ago.

Wasps are what are preventing a number of things being completed around the farm. One big wasp nest is under the front steps that need to be replaced, several others are in the woodpile, preventing it being moved with danger to life and limb. Once the weather gets colder, they'll have moved on and can be safely removed.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

The easy route

”What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears continue; those who don’t, quit.” Art and Fear

Isn't it what most of us take? There aren't many people who will go out of their way to make life difficult for themselves. We avoid hardship the same way as we avoid any pain in life, but sometimes facing the hardship is the only way to get to the other side. Its like that with art too.

Right now I'm stuck in a rut of sketching. I make little images that don't take much time or concentration. They are pleasing and will one day be an interesting record of life in the 21st century, but they are not of any signifigance as a major piece of art. I need to tackle a major group of art pieces and compile enough images to consider approaching a gallery. So what's my problem? Note the obstacles that I hurl into my path. All are removeable but I keep putting them there in the hopes that I can convince myself that I don't have enough ...... (fill in the blank) to achieve this.

Time. My day is stretched as it is. Where can I find more time in it to draw or paint?

Inspiration. Somedays, a piece of lint will inspire me; other days nothing will inspire and I become stuck in a deep hole of art block.

Fear. I enjoy the act of making art. I love the first mark on a clean white sheet of paper and seeing the image inch its way out of the fog. The fear comes when I have finished the piece and need to market it. I hate the act of selling or marketing myself. It makes me self conscious and uncomfortable. I hate putting my soul on the line to be praised or rejected. Either extreme makes me ill at ease.

I am at a juncture in life where I can slide into obscurity or move ahead and find a piece of light. I want both. I fear both. But this time I won't take the easy route. I will make time, find inspiration and overcome fears. I will move ahead.

Fuelled by coffee and another sketch...

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Food for thought

Today I've been participating in another drawing Scavenger Hunt and all my drawings seem to revolve around food. Its not surprising really as a lot of art contains food. Still lifes are often composed of fruit and vegetables or flowers, along with the occasional skull or watch or a book with the pages turning often with some of the subject matter fading or decaying to provide a moral lesson to the viewer about the ephemerality of sensory pleasures.

There is no moral in my little drawing here. It is a chocolate bar that I found in the back of the fridge that fit the criteria for an object to draw for the hunt. Of course I can provide some moral lesson about excesses if anyone cares to listen, but I'd really prefer to draw instead. I didn't even eat the chocolate bar. I had a willing volunteer who did that.

I often chuckle when I hear viewers of art converse among themselves about the 'meaning' of art. They constantly seek to uncover the secrets of the artist's thinking as she drew or painting the image. Quite often, there is no hidden meaning, no inner turmoil to discover. It is simply an individual putting marks on paper or canvas as the mood strikes them at a particular time.

It reminds me of something I saw years ago about art critics which blew holes in their thinking. At a zoo, a group of chimpanzees and elephants were give access to paint brushes and paints. The resulting 'art' was then framed and given gallery space at which a vareity of art critics were invited. They oohed and ahhhed over the wonderful mystery artist and talked about the emotion in the paintings and what they were trying to 'say' to the viewer. Needless to say, when they were told who the 'artists' were they were more than a little miffed. But it did prove a point about art criticism - its all relative and totally subjective. What I like you won't like and vice versa. The professional art critics are often posturing. Yes they may base comments on theory, technical skill of the artist, but often it boils down to their own individual taste.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An art critic is a person who specializes in evaluating or critiquing art. Their written critiques, or reviews, are published in newspapers, magazines, books and on web sites. Art collectors and patrons often utilize the advice of art critics.

Typically the art critic views art at exhibitions, galleries, museums or artists' studios.

Professional art critics are expected to have in-depth knowledge of both contemporary art and the history of art, and thus be able to make informed assessments of art. Knowledge, however, provides no guarantee that a critic will know if a work of art, an exhibition, or an artist will stand out in history as "great".

Many now famous and celebrated artists were not recognized by the art critics of their time, often because their art was in a style not yet understood or favored. Conversely, some critics have helped to explain and promote new art movements — Roger Fry with the Post-Impressionist movement for example.

In art, as in most of life, its not what you know, its who you know. If you can find your way into the circle of influence and money, you can make a name for yourself. If you can find an influential person to buy a piece of your art, others will follow as people emulate others who they want to be like or associate with. Sometimes the quality of the art doesn't even matter. If the right person has it, the lemmings will follow.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

The past

Last week I rescued a number of photo albums from my mother's house in order to catalogue them and scan them and save them on cds to preserve them for the future. The coincidence was the next day I was contacted by a relative who had completed a huge amount of geneology research on the family. He sent me volumes of information and photos that I had not seen before. It makes very interesting reading and visuals.

There are a number of photos there which make good drawing fodder for me and I'll tackle them in turn. Initially I am working ona portrait of my mother when she was about 18. I'm using Derwent Drawing Pencils as they fit the sepia type image of the age and I love the feel of them for portraits. Unfortunately, they never scan well and it too dark to take a decent digital image so I'll do that in another update.

For now, this is the beginning of the portrait - circa 1942.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006


The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple. (Amos Bronson Alcott)

I am offering a class in basic drawing in Flatrock beginning September 14th. To date registration has been slow but it interesting to note that those who have contacted me have indicated that they did take previous classes in drawing but came away not having felt they learned the appropriate skills. Was this the fault of the teacher, the curriculum or the learner's expectations?

Like these directional arrows at the top of Signal Hill, instructors are their to guide and show the direction in which to move. They don't tell the individual what method to use to get there.

In art, as in many other disciplines, the purpose is to teach the theory behind the process as well as to encourage and promote individuality. In some art classes, the art teacher's ego and fear takes over. Specifics aren't taught well for fear of the student becoming better in a discipline than the teacher. There are instructors who hang onto their positions and don't want the students to really learn much, for they don't want to lose their positions of "authority." Personal styles influence teaching too and need to be guarded against so as not to influence the student's outcome. It is a difficult task and there are perhaps 20% of teachers in all disciplines who are good at what they do. Unfortunately 80% aren't. I am hoping that my ability to convey information, encourage and fire enthusiasm for art and to make the process of drawing and enjoyable experience falls within the 20% range.

I am sure the academics and educational specialists will have their own opinion, but I believe that the opinion that truly matters is that of the student and what the outcome of their experience turns out to be. Teachers need to educate for the student's future, not their own past...

Art is not to be taught in Academies. It is what one looks at, not what one listens to, that makes the artist. The real schools should be the streets. (Oscar Wilde)

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