Monday 23 July 2012

Creativity equals chaos

Many people seem to think that an artist's life is a serene one, that we drift through peaceful days in our studios, making art, sipping tea, contemplating the universe and pondering creative matters beyond the scope of "normal" folk. While this may be true for some, my life as an artist is anything but contemplative, particularly given all the elements involved in not only making art, but making it into a viable business. At the best of times there's some measure of chaos in my studio, but during this particular month as I gear up for a major art festival and juggle a heaping-handful of other projects, the notion of serenity is truly laughable!

Visitors to my studio nearly always find it in some degree of disarray unless I've managed to tidy up in preparation for a workshop, or a meeting, or an open studio event. That's just how I work. If things are too organized, I don't seem to be able to function. However, the state of affairs here right now is downright chaotic! And in the final days of preparation for the Filberg Festival the chaos is starting to overflow from my downstairs studio into the rest of the house.

Out in the foyer are boxes of my newly-printed 2013 calendar. Next to the boxes is a pile of plastic sleeves in which each calendar will be packaged.


Also in the foyer are baskets of newly-made bookmarks and fridge magnets bearing images of my art. An unsuspecting friend who over-nighted with me on the weekend was pressed into service running the laminating machine. As a result, the laminating machine and other related equipment/materials are currently set up upstairs in my kitchen.

My mobile art table has also found its way upstairs, and on it is a new drawing of a trio of tiny chickadees still in need of finishing touches.

Back downstairs in the studio itself is a rack of newly-painted silk scarves which will be soon be going into the steamer to "fix" the dyes and make them permanent.

On another rack are several new silk paintings, also awaiting the steamer. If all goes according to schedule, they will be framed, as will the chickadee trio, during the coming days. (I was fortunate to work as a professional picture framer earlier on in my life, so in addition to making the art I also frame it and therefore have yet another designated area of the house where that part of the process takes place.)

My silk painting table, where I've just finished up these projects, is littered with my palettes of dye, tubes of resist, pots of water, brushes, towels and other related items.

Meanwhile, over on my drawing table is a newly finished portrait of a lovely, appaloosa mare with beautiful dark eyes. I will be framing the portrait and then it will be claimed by its owner next month.

Sharing my drawing table are sketches for the book illustration project I'm working on. These sketches will be transformed into finished art pieces very soon.

And then there is my desk. It's challenging to describe this but I will try because I can't bring myself to show you a photo of it. It's a jumble of stuff: this morning's coffee cup, yesterday's bottle of water, applications for the upcoming Langley Art Studio Tour (I'm a founder/organizer of this event), pens, pencils, piles of paper, rolls of tape, a ball of string, a measuring tape, a couple of printer ink cartridges, my camera, notebooks, magazines, sticky notes I wrote to myself and which now make little sense... all manner of flotsam and jetsam that has ended up beached on my desk till I'm able to sort it out and either put it away or throw it away. In the midst of it is the brains of the organization: my computer whose monitor is adorned with still more sticky notes. Forming a backdrop is my jam-packed (and I do mean jam-packed) bulletin board. It's all actually kind of embarrassing. However, it's who I am and this is how I work, and as people who know me can attest, everything always gets done with reasonable efficiency. Some insightful person once said long ago, "out of chaos, comes order" and that's how it is with me.

Once the festival's past, projects are completed, and life returns to a more moderate pace, the chaos will also recede to a less "lively" level...that is, until the next crunch time rolls around. But until then I'd better get back to work in the organized chaos of my life as an artist.

And despite what's going on in my life, some members of the household manage to maintain their serenity and stay oblivious to it all.

Sunday 8 July 2012

The cat who could fly

This is Archie. At one-an-a-half years of age and he is the newest member of our family, having come to us from the good folks at the Katie's Place cat shelter last year. It goes without saying he's been a lively and entertaining addition.

Archie is a very interesting guy for several reasons:
  • He's an unusual colour. A bit of Internet research revealed that it's called "fawn" - a dilute brown/grey which, depending on the light, can take on a reddish undertone or even a lavender hue. It's quite remarkable. However, while his colouring is that of fawn, his temperament is anything but that of a timid forest creature.
  • Archie and Rupert "playing", back when
    Rupert still had a size/weight advantage.
  • He's a confident little character. He greets human guests, bosses his elder buddy Rupert around, and even torments the dog sometimes. Perhaps because he's a "teenager", he views the world as his oyster and is quite confident that he's invincible. 
  • He is the most athletic cat I've known. I suspect his heritage includes Siamese or some other exotic breed because of his long-limbed build and loooooong fluffy tail that he waives like a flag. He can climb just about anywhere and leap great distances with fairly good precision.
Archie's traits makes things a wee bit challenging at my house where cats live indoors and do not roam free. I'm a stickler about this for several reasons: indoor cats live much longer lives without the hazards of being run over by a car or eaten by a coyote, or facing a range of diseases and minor injuries; they don't irritate the neighbours by pooping in their gardens (something I personally don't enjoy dealing with); and they don't kill songbirds whose numbers are shrinking for variety of reasons, free-roaming domestic cat populations being one of them. However, containing a lively, athletic, fearless young cat has proved to be daunting.

"Toy mice are for babies! Let me at the real thing!!"

Archie has demonstrated that sometimes cats can fly. My cats have access to the second floor sundeck to bask in the sun, birdwatch (not catch) and enjoy the sights and smells of the big, wide world. No previous cat has had the will or expertise to move beyond this limitation. Then came Archie! From the time he was a tiny kitten he scrambled from the sundeck up onto the roof via a handy grape arbour, doing an acrobatic act as he precariously navigated the arbour's narrow beams. When he was about eight months old, I discovered him roaming around outside the house a couple of times. I was mystified. Then one day I witnessed him leap from the sundeck, spread his little body out in the shape of a parachute, and glide gracefully to the ground. My neighbour saw it too: his comment was "wow"! Unharmed, Archie greeted me cheerfully when I ran to scoop him up.

My sundeck now resembles a large bird cage. Wire mesh is installed strategically to contain the little feline, who rather than being named Archie should have been Houdini or maybe Orville or Wilbur (as in the famous flying Wright brothers). I am hoping this fortification is a temporary measure and that as Archie becomes older, fatter, and hopefully lazier, the mesh barrier can be reduced if not eliminated. But for the time being, my reluctant housecat has been more-or-less contained (he still gives me the slip occasionally) and is learning to live within the limitations of the household.

Archie at rest. Life as a housecat isn't so bad.
I find it interesting that Archie has not yet found his way into my artwork. Perhaps it's because his personality is still developing or because his colour is elusive and difficult to pinpoint, or maybe because he's often zooming past me too quickly for the eye to see. However, I was inspired while writing this to draw a little doodle of Archie, the Amazing Flying Cat.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Portrait of a best friend

Dogs are, in many ways, a lot like people. No doubt that's why we like them so much. They're social animals who sometimes meet other dogs who become their friends. I expect that canine behaviour specialists would say it's all about instinct, and dominance, and pack formation, but I have my own simplistic point of view. Just as sometimes I meet a person I gel with, in my mind so it is with dogs. In one particular case, both my dog and I have the same good friend: a little black cocker spaniel named Roxy.

I met Roxy when she joined the family of some good human friends. She was a guinea pig sized ball of black fluff that could fit in the palm of your hand. Of course, when I laid eyes on her it was love at first sight! She was adorably cute and it soon became apparent she was also smart and oh-so-very sweet. Who wouldn't love her? We bonded... just like that.

Baby Roxy
(photo courtesy K. Enns)

When she and my collie Riley met, it was kind of the same reaction. They were firm friends pretty much from the get-go. Riley's a bit dominant and Roxy isn't, so Riley's the boss and Roxy's fine with it, deferring to her larger friend at all times. They're a good team. It's also a respectful friendship. Sometimes they play polite chasing games that never involve nipping or rough-housing (at least they did before Riley, now 11, developed arthritis).

Riley and Roxy playing "snow tag".

They often exchange beds and blankets or snooze peacefully side-by-side on the floor.

Who's sleeping in my bed?
(photos courtesy K. Enns)

Sometimes they team up to beg for treats by demonstrating who is best at sitting. They are both equally accomplished at this particular skill.

As time has passed our friendships, both canine and human, have strengthened.

An exuberant character, Roxy's humans have only to mention my name, or Riley's name, and the little black cocker is absolutely beside herself. I have only to mention Roxy's name and Riley's ears perk up and she goes to the window to watch for her friend. I'm told that when Roxy's humans drive with her to our house for a visit, she recognizes the neighbourhood as they draw near and once again, she is beside herself. And when we finally meet in person, she is absolutely over the moon, shrieking with delight! She can't decide whether it's me or Riley she wants to greet first and to shower with cocker-kisses. And Riley, whose personality is much more reserved, breaks into one of her long-snouted collie grins, wags her tail, and without embarassing herself, makes evident her great pleasure at seeing her little buddy.

Roxy is now six years old, and her humans recently decided it was time for a portrait. It's not the first time Roxy has been a painting subject for me. She was one of the rainy-day pack a few years ago in my silk painting "Three Red Raincoats".

"Three Red Raincoats" featuring Roxy, Riley
and wee Ginger Snap (sadly, now deceased)

When faced with the prospect of capturing Roxy's likeness in a portrait, there was one thing that was absolutley certain: it had to include her ball! Roxy is practically inseparable from her favourite red ball - sometimes she even sleeps with it in her mouth - and so no portrait of Roxy would be complete without it. For her expression, I tried to capture a demeanor that is sort-of calm but with a little underlying tension because in real life she is usually waiting for something - anything - to happen and is ever-hopeful someone will throw the ball. The result was this:

Thanks, Roxy — from me and from Riley for being good friend to each of us! I hope your human family enjoys this portrait for many years to come.