Sunday, December 28, 2014


This particular unfinished (and since trashed) picture pretty much sums up where my creative process spent December. Stuck in limbo between one project and another I'd decided to relax by redrawing and painting an image I'd done many years ago. The only record I have of the long gone original is a small and faded photograph. This time I thought I might replace the main figures in a magical wintry landscape as the whole idea of polar bears in spring seems anathema to me now. What could I have been thinking? Quite obviously, from all we've learned about the problems of human assisted global climate change, I knew nothing back then. Anyway, there were several versions of this that I tried - each one worse than the last - and none worth keeping.

Polar Bear Spring - original

Still in the midst of being deeply sad about things I can't change I visited the blog of one of my favorite modern scientific philosophers, Bernardo Kastrup. His most recent book called 'Why Materialism is Baloney' will be  on it's way here soon. Here is the poem he posted a few days ago that I hope you will like too:

 The Legacy of a Truth-Seeker

    Having trodden the path for cycles uncountable,
    Having crossed the ocean of mind from end to end,
    Through all veils, its fountainhead have I finally seen.
    To you, honest truth-seeker treading the path behind me,
    I grant the gift of my legacy.

    I have learned thus:

    Only untruths can be experienced.
    Hence, only untruths can exist.
    Truth is fundamentally incompatible with existence
    For it is that which gives rise to existence,
    Like a loudspeaker gives rise to sound.

    Experiences are self-referential tricks:
    They arise from nothing and are made of nothing.
    If you dig deep enough within yourself,
    You shall always find the layer of self-deception
    Upon which any one of your convictions ultimately rests.

    One's reality sprouts from the first layer of self-deception
    That escapes one's field of critical awareness.
    The deeper this field, the more subtle the self-deception.
    Those with little critical awareness thus live more colorful lives:
    Their fiction is fancier.

    The honest search for truth annihilates its own subject
    Slowly, recursively, from within.
    Having peeled away every layer of self-deception within me,
    I have found myself to be like an onion:
    Nothing is left.

    Only nothing is true.
    No external references exist, no outside arbiters.
    We are self-created fictions and so is the cosmos.
    Truth-seeking is the path to self-annihilation
    And thus to liberation.

    Rejoice, for your pains, fears, frustrations and regrets
    Are all untrue.
    There is nothing to fear, nothing to strive for, nothing to regret.
    You have no soul; that's just self-deception.
    And you won't die; that's just self-deception.

    But beware!
    As a dream allegorically portrays the inner state of the dreamer,
    As a novel insinuates the aspirations of the writer,
    As a lie betrays the insecurities of the liar,
    So the fiction you call reality reveals something about truth.

    Thus pay attention to life,
    For truth expresses itself only through its own fictions.
    To discern truth in fiction: here is the cosmic conundrum!
    To engage wholeheartedly without being taken in: here is the ultimate challenge!
    To find meaning in nothingness: here is the epic demand of nature!

    Watch reality as you watch a theatrical play:
    With inquisitiveness and curiosity.
    But watch it as audience, never as character.
    Characters spend their lives chasing their own shadows,
    Whereas audiences attain subtle insight.

    May my legacy serve you as a warning, but also as encouragement.
    The prize at the end of the path is handsome:
    The freedom to make the deliberate, guiltless choice
    Of which untruth to live.
    Exercising this choice wisely is the art of life.

This is a message I need to remember. Happily, in the past few days my creative abilities (such as they are) seem to have returned, making it likely the next picture installment of the girl, her dog, and the two weird dragons will appear next time.

Best wishes for the New Year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

having cast off

Sometimes these things take longer than I expect they will but now I can show you the latest illustration from the annals of my unwritten story. If it's any help at all, I'll also mention the pictures are in no particular order. You may remember the boat from 'Turbulence' - this is before that :). For the time being this one will be the last of them as I'm planning to get serious about a different story - one with a girl but no dog and no dragons either. Well, in actuality there is a dragon in the story I'm thinking of, but rather than being a smallish, curious dragon like one of these, he's a much larger and more ferocious member of his species. Don't worry, you'll see the pictures as they develop and likely a picture or two of Crow as well. He starts to feel neglected if I wait too long between portraits.

Now we're in those last days of the year leading to the shortest one - in this hemisphere anyway. I don't know about you, but I always feel much more relaxed once it's all over and we can begin looking forward to longer days and shorter nights even if it is freezing cold outside.

I won't bother mentioning the bad news of the past week or so (call me a coward if you like), but the good news I read a few days ago is that the Masai people of Tanzania won't have to move off their land after all. I was shocked to read a few weeks ago that the that the Tanzanian government had reintroduced plans to forcibly relocate 40,000 pastoralists to make way for a luxury hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates. Unbelievable. We can only hope that the next step will be to give the Masai permanent rights to their land.

We are a strange species, but one that's capable of extraordinarily beautiful achievements too.

Happy December

Sunday, November 23, 2014

character studies

So far as my own work is concerned, you can see I've been doing more sketching than finishing these past few weeks as I try to image(ine) the characters for a story written a number of years ago by the now grown daughter of a friend. It's a challenge, but kind of fun for all that.

In the meantime it keeps getting colder here as we count down to the shortest daylight hours of the year. There's been rain aplenty and cloudy skies too, but happily we've had no snow to spoil our walks in the park. A long stretch of that walk is by a channel in the bay where the woodland rises to a height on the left and the sea is at the bottom of a steep drop to the right. One recent day we'd fed some crows at one of the spots where we drop peanuts for them on our way to the point of land that faces right out to sea. The crows were following when we noticed a flock of chickadees flitting around in the brush to our left. Usually what happens when we see them is I scatter some nuts and wait to let them eat while we keep the greedy crows at bay. This time I still had the food in my hand when a hungry chickadee landed on one of my fingers and took a nut. Before I had time to react the little birds came one after another to take their share of peanuts from my hand. It was the sweetest feeling ever to be that trusted. Now that we know they'll often come if we wait a bit, feeding them has become one of those little events to treasure.

I know this is a small thing, perhaps even an ordinary occurrence. If so, I hope a connection with the wild world is something routine in your life. For me, it's an example (one I can hold in my hand) of real magic in the world. It's funny to think that until the final triumph of the scientific revolution at the start of the eighteenth century, magic and a great many things connected with it were treated as everyday matters in Western cultures. The sense of life, mind, and meaning in the cosmos is something that we as individuals put into the mix in the process of constructing our worlds.

Experiencing the world as a community of existent thinking beings leads us to understand that every living thing has an equal part to play in the great web of life. The opposite is to experience the world as a dead and mindless mass of raw material that has only whatever meaning and value certain human beings choose to give it. Which of those behaviors is more useful in the present predicament of industrial society is another point worth considering.

For something extra (and finished in this case) I did find a great short video you might enjoy watching as much as I did:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

deviant friends part 2 - patriartis

One of my favorite new acquaintances at Deviant Art is Patriartis, a digital artist from Finland. While Patrik's art is uniquely attractive in many ways, what has made him a delight for me to follow is his Journey series wherein we get to accompany the twin aliens, Linus and Linnéa, on their adventure of discovery around an equally alien world. The written exploits are compelling and just mysterious enough to keep the story moving. If you look closely at the pictures you can (occasionally) just about see the brightly attentive eyes of the two protagonists. Next you can read the paragraph describing the opening picture with two more samples to follow.

They had walked the main street countless times before, although never so confident and proud as on this day. Every event in their young lives had built up to this moment, and at the end of the path awaited a new chapter in their lives; a small but magnificent spacecraft that would take them away from the planet and into history. They were proud to be twins. Proud to be chosen.

This is a prequel to the Journey series. A rare opportunity to see Linus and Linnéa in spacesuits which aren't covered in dirt and/or scratches..

By now, the damp jungle was nothing more than a fresh memory as the trees and berry-bushes started to become replaced by even stranger plants. These plants, however, seemed more watchful than the others, even to the point of Linus convincing his travel companion that leaving them alone without further examination would probably be the best course of action. Not only did the plants look largely suspicious, argued Linus, but angering or saddening them would be especially unfortunate considering their excellent shelter-properties in case of a nasty bit of hard rain, sour rain, or whatever-kind-of-rain this world was accustomed to. However, the travellers' curiosity was quickly redirected as they noticed purple egg-shaped things sticking out of the grass...

Much to their delight, the dreaded rain was postponed. However, Linus knew quite well that these twists were simply temporary; nature was probably far to busy elsewhere to suddenly change its mind in such small matters. Needless to say there was only a matter of time, and so they had to produce some food before the rain made it impossible later on. Although they had procured plenty of nutrients from their crashed vessel to store in their spacebags, Linus seconded his travel companion's suggestion that they should be kept for a rainy day, quite literally. Being the masterprocurer of fish, as Linus convincingly illustrated through eager arm-movements, he explained how they would find excellent food without much effort in a nearby lake. His companion tried to oppose on account of the lake seeming a bit cryptic, even for this world. Nevertheless, resistance was futile as Linus had already found highly motivated baitworms for the task at hand. What could possibly go wrong?

The story so far can be viewed by going to The Journey gallery and opening the pictures in order from bottom right to top left. Along with a number of others at dA I'm always looking forward to the next episode of this fine adventure. Patrik doesn't have a web page but can also be reached at his Facebook page under pbjorkstromillustration

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

deviant friends part 1

This painting is from a drawing I did for a proposed Wizard of Oz prequel. My main objective was to illustrate the drawing in a style similar to Arthur Rackham. It was a good learning experiment.

Inked with crow quill and brush, colored with watercolor. On stretched 2-ply Bristol paper, plate finish reverse side.

 ~ Colby Bluth

In the past week I've realized it's come to a choice between illustrating blog posts and spending some time working on a special project that's caught my interest. While I could, instead, post photographs of what I see outside, I'm no photographer and, besides that, what's outside is late autumn in Halifax with its overcast grey skies. It's been mostly raining here for weeks and the leaves, rather than blowing off the trees and bushes, are actually dripping off them.

You may recall I re-joined Deviant Art last summer and, oddly enough, within a week I'd been invited to be a moderator of one of their super groups (that's like a gallery with lots of members inside the larger website). While I was nervous about moderator responsibilities at first it's turned out to be easier than I'd expected and I've been introduced to some very talented artists whose work I might not have seen otherwise. Our group specializes in watercolors and the very talented Colby Bluth is one of our members. He kindly agreed when I asked to show you some of his work.

Colby is a professional artist who lives in Los Angeles:

Hello, and thanks for checking out my artwork. I’m an artist that’s been working in the fields of illustration and animation for over 15 years.

Some of the projects I’ve worked on include Fox’s Anastasia, Disney’s The Tigger Movie, and the Adam Sandler movie Bedtime Stories. I’ve also done flash animation and illustration for the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific since 2001.

Feel free to contact me for your project or to commission an art piece.

While Colby doesn't paint only in watercolors, it's those I tend to like the most, probably because of my own long-term interest in the medium and the fact he's also very accomplished at fantasy painting in a turn of the century style I've long admired. He's also been very generous in presenting his unfinished work so that we can see examples of his process.

Lastly, I was delighted (and a little envious) when I found some animated 2D cartoons made entirely by Colby Bluth in the old-fashioned Disney and Miazaki style. Here's a sample you may enjoy too:

You can see more of his work here and here.

I'll be back soon.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

the consultation

According to a report by Oxfam which warned that inequality between rich and poor is spiraling out of control, the number of dollar billionaires in the world has more than doubled to 1,645 since the financial crisis of 2008.

Despite the austerity affecting ordinary people around the globe in the wake of the recession, the richest 85 billionaires saw their fortunes increase by a total of around $240bn over the past year. Research earlier this year found these 85 people had access to wealth equal to that of half the world’s population.

If the world’s billionaires were taxed at a rate of just 1.5% on their wealth over $1bn, it would raise $74bn a year - enough to get every child into school and deliver health services in all of the world’s poorest countries. The report is titled, Even it Up: Time To End Extreme Inequality.

Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring said: “Inequality is one of the defining problems of our age. In a world where hundreds of millions of people are living without access to clean drinking water and without enough food to feed their families, a small elite have more money than they could spend in several lifetimes. The consequences of extreme inequality are harmful to everyone. It robs millions of people of better life chances and fuels crime, corruption and even violent conflict. Put simply, it is holding back efforts to end poverty."

Oxfam challenged governments to follow a seven-point plan to rein in inequality:

1. Clamp down on tax dodging.
2. Invest in universal free healthcare and education.
3. Introduce equal pay legislation.
4. Agree to a global goal to tackle inequality.
5. Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers.
6. Shift the burden of taxation from labor and consumption towards capital and wealth.
7. Provide adequate safety nets for the poor, including a minimum income guarantee.

While I prefer not to be skeptical..
Do you think we have leaders capable of introducing these ideas?

Meanwhile I hope you like the new illustration. Any suggestions for captions or story ideas are welcome.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

meet Edrig & Adrig

Some weeks ago I bought copies of two novellas by my friend and co-blogger Andrew MacLaren-Scott. 'Sample 717' and 'After the Lady Lord' chronicle the adventures of Edrid and Adrig, two superior beings who are scientists native to a distant civilization that is ruled by women - known as the Lady Lords. As scientists, these two could probably best be described as anthropologists, and Sample 717 could best be described as planet Earth.

Adrig, the elder of the two by several hundred years, has become enamored of our world mostly because Sample 717 has many slim and beautiful women who don't generally order men to do their every bidding - unlike the Lady Lords. The Lady Lords, who are built like Mack trucks, take great pleasure in terrorizing their puny men, even to the point of forcing them to drink a concoction called testosterjuice whenever they're feeling a bit 'broody'. You get the idea.

Adrig and Edrig decide to make a trip to Sample 717 in order to enjoy the sights, promising the chief Lady Lord (a brute from the sound of things) they'll return with a virile football player for her entertainment. They attire themselves in the only Earth clothing they have available - some 1970's gear that Adrig had brought back from an earlier sojourn. Their travel pod carries them to Earth where nothing goes quite as they planned.

Now it's not every day someone I know publishes a book or two, and while these aren't likely to cause anguish to any Nobel candidates, they did provide for an entertaining afternoon. The picture here is my interpretation of Adrig (the tall one) and Edrig's (the other one) elation when they visited a pole dancing class.

Thanks, Andrew. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

1, 2, 3 Crow goes Dhoom

Don't mind Crow. Ever since he discovered Bollywood he's been dancing up a storm in hopes of a starring role in the next Dhoom movie. Yes, we've become big fans. While I'm not entirely sure why, the reason could be the ever intensifying bad news that requires those of us who wish to remain moderately optimistic to find diversion, or it could be because the movies are great. I prefer to think the latter.

The Dhoom movies are basically high-tech heist thrillers that use bits and pieces filched from the global action-movie repertoire to lend some cutting-edge flash to Bollywood’s loose-knit “cinema of attractions” format. They feature a globetrotting succession of elaborate robbery and chase sequences. Judged purely as a crime movies, they are messy, littered with unanswered questions and dangling plot threads. As entertainment their variety show atmosphere and low 'high tech' special effects are sheer joy to watch. And, true to Bollywood tradition, there is always much singing and dancing.

Dhoom 1:

In the first movie, Inspector Jai Dixit demands assistance from Ali, a petty criminal motorcycle mechanic, to help him capture a gang of thieves. Supercop Jai says he'll let him off the hook if he proves useful. Feel free to envision a pair of characters not dissimilar to Martin and Lewis.

The basic story line for this one is that the police in Mumbai have been completely baffled by a series of robberies done in broad daylight. Called in as an expert, Inspector Jai Dixit asks for a map (imagine a subway map). The inspector circles five stations in a row where the crimes occurred and announces - to everyone's total surprise - it's the sixth station that will be the next target!

While at a stake-out on a dark rainy night Jai and Ali spot a poor girl sitting in her bright yellow Lamborghini that won't start. Ignoring Inspector Dixit's remonstrances to stay in the police car, Ali goes to help. Dance ensues - including 20 guys who get out of cars parked along the street to act as backup dancers. Ali tends to fall in love with every pretty girl he meets and dreams of being a family wala.

Now how are you going to distract the cops while you pull off the big heist at a casino? The answer, of course, is a dance!

Dhoom 2

Jai and now official police officer Ali are after a dashing cat burglar - a wall-climbing, skydiving master of disguise known as 'A' (Hrithik Roshan, one of the most gifted dancers I've ever seen). This international thief who has been robbing his way across the globe in bold, daring heists is on his way to Rio and our intrepid officers are hot on his heels. What better way to catch a thief than with another thief? Enter Sunehri, a beautiful young woman who also owes her freedom to Inspector Jai Dixit.

The plot is predictable, and at times ridiculous, but the music and dancing are over the top marvelous. Despite the fact the overarching storyline is about the police chasing after a master thief, there is very little violence and (being an Indian film) no gratuitous sex scenes. Nevertheless, the sensuality expressed in the dance numbers is very powerful. These are, after all, the people who came up with the Kama Sutra in 400BC.

Dhoom 3

Action in the third movie takes place in the very exotic locale of Chicago, IL, where 20 years previously a cruel and arrogant banker closed down The Great Indian Circus, a place of magic owned and operated by young Sahir's father. Rather than lose his life's work the father chooses suicide as Sahir watches.

The scene switches to the present day with Sahir (now played by Aamir Khan) as a vengeful thief out to destroy the very bank and banker who destroyed his father's life. He does this by committing outrageous robberies, throwing all the money he can't carry to the street as he runs down the sides of tall buildings (yes) and escapes by motorcycle. Who else would be asked to solve the crimewave but our trusty policemen from Mumbai, Jai and Ali?

What can I say but it gets crazy. What else can I say but that the song and dance numbers were even more spectacular than the ones in Dhoom 2? So far all the dance numbers I've attached as links so you can watch them as you choose. When it comes to Dhoom 3 I have to post two videos. The first, called 'Malang', is the spectacular stage show presented at the mid-point of the movie, while the second is 'Dhoom Machale Dhoom', a musical pastiche of major scenes in the film. If you can stand full-screening these are well worth it.

Here we go:

and the next:

If you're looking for thought-provoking plot lines and Academy Award level acting, you'll be bitterly disappointed. However, if you're a fan of musicals from Hollywood's Golden Age (1930s to the 1950s,) then you'll love India's Bollywood version.

As Crow says, 'They should find a way to bottle Dhoom Machale so we can all enjoy it'.

update on Monday, Oct 20th

An article posted on The Atlantic that discusses the dismantling of sexism in Bollywood films is well worth a read.

Friday, October 10, 2014

other people's work #93½ +

A Canadian artist, Peter von Tiesenhausen, came up with a radical solution to the problem many landholders have when it comes to having their property invaded by oil developers. What he did was to copyright his entire square mile property in northern Alberta as a work of art. The spread von Tiesenhausen inherited from his parents, a former family farm 80 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, sits atop a natural gas hot spot known as the "deep basin." He accepts that he only owns the surface of his land. The buried treasure belongs to the provincial government. It has rights to sell the resources and make him let companies onto his property to extract them, so long as he is compensated for the disturbance.

What a great idea! Around Von Tiesenhausen's home and studio, his property is studded with artwork such as a 33-metre-long ship sculpted with willow stalks, winter ice forms, nest-like structures in trees, statuesque towers and a "lifeline" or visual autobiography composed as a white picket fence built in annual sections left to weather naturally.

His legal move vastly increased the amount of compensation he is potentially entitled to demand from any oil or pipeline company wanting access to his place, because changing his property would be copyright infringement. "Now instead of maybe $200 a year for crop losses, we'd have to be paid for maybe $600,000 or more in artistic property disturbance."

Lawsuits have been threatened several times, but no oil and gas companies have risked a winner-take-all court case that would attract public attention and start other landowners thinking. Von Tiesenhausen emphasizes his message in the language of corporations - money. Taking a page from the books of business consultants, he demands $500 an hour from companies that want to take up his time talking to him about his land. "I demand $500 an hour. They pay. It keeps the meetings really short and they don't do it nearly as often as they used to." the artist said.

If word of this gets around there may be many more farms listed as artworks.
Goodness knows, if I owned my back yard I'd do it myself.

Friday, October 3, 2014

first world problems

While I'm not sure the difficulty I had earlier in the week could be literally defined as a First World Problem*, having the tracker pad of my computer suddenly lose track of itself was both aggravating and unexpected. The little cursor was happy enough to move around the screen but couldn't be clicked to open anything. As you can imagine it didn't take long for me to realize just how reliant I've become on this machine that contains the records of everything of any importance I've done for the past decade or more (before being packed away four years ago, the old computer had a serious conversation with this one).

* First World Problems

It's understood that some problems are universal - death, disease, hunger, thirst, cold, poverty, physical pain, illness - are part of the human condition and could happen to anybody. The problems of the prosperous don't fit in this class:

"I have too much cash in my wallet and it hurts my butt when I sit."

"Can’t decide whether to stay oceanfront at an all-inclusive resort or 9 mins away with a group of friends while vacationing in Jamaica!"

"My friend doesn’t have an iPhone so I couldn’t text him from my macbook."

"I had to watch a 3D movie because I didn’t want to wait for the 2D showtime."

"My Poodle can’t get a haircut today because of the humidity outside…so annoyed with stupid global warming!"

"How can I sleep when the fountain outside my window is so loud!" 

You can probably see why I'm unsure about whether having my computer break was an FWP or not. I happen to live in a culture where personal computers are common and so, like everyone reading this, I do own one. On the other hand, it's not like I'm going to use its temporary loss as an excuse to indulge in in a hand of Misery Poker:

Someone who complains of a minor inconvenience while someone else in the background is being chased by a herd of enraged rhinos.

The Apple geniuses had the track pad replaced quickly and so I have returned with all my pictures intact. Yes, this is the most recent one of those - not quite as cool as the last, but okay.

Last winter I read Charles Dickens's 'Hard Times' again and was amazed I'd forgotten Mr. Bounderby - the original inspiration for The Four Yorkshiremen sketch. Here are John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brook-Taylor & Marty Feldman performing an early version of the one made famous by Monty Python:

Til next time. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

a little turbulence

A year or so ago I posted some pencil sketches under the titles of storyboarding this and that. What I've been up to just recently has been a process of refining and actually turning some of those ideas into watercolor paintings. The funny thing is, other than a vague concept, I don't actually have much of a story to draw from. So what I'll do is paint the pictures and see where they lead. This is one.

Other than the fact these images are kind of compelling in themselves, the main reason I've decided to work on finishing some of them now is to allow myself to get comfortable with using full spectrum color again. Paintings done just well enough to provide something entertaining to look at before a blog post have made me lazy. Besides, some practice is essential before I begin work on that real story illustration project I mentioned earlier this month.

If you're in the mood to read something both interesting and relevant to the political, financial, and social turbulence we're currently exposed to every time we get out of bed - those of us who are lucky enough to have beds and roofs to cover them, that is - I highly recommend the recent articles on Golem XIV under the title, The Next Crisis. The articles are long but his points are valid for anyone who believes, or suspects, as I do, that partisan politics are simply another method used by the rich and powerful to divide and so conquer the rest of us. His premise is as follows:

1) The Over Class must retain and consolidate their control over the global system of debt.

2) The power to regulate must be taken from nations and effectively controlled by corporations.

3) Professionalize governance. Democracy can be and must be neutered, and an effective way of doing this is to insist that amateur, elected officials MUST take the advice of professional (read corporate) advisors. Expand current law to enforce this.

4) The financial system badly needs un-encumbered ‘assets’ to feed the debt issuing system. A new way must be found to prise sovereign assets from public ownership. Such a new way is suggested.

5) In order to facilitate the political changes necessary, the public mind-set must be changed. National Treasures such as the NHS in Britain must be re-branded as evil State Monopolies. Choose your own examples.

6) Effective ways must be found to convince people that democratic rule is no longer sufficient to protect them.

7) An alternative to Democracy must be introduced and praised. 

Okay, if you've read the above (or even have bookmarked the website for later), now it's time for the uplifting and entertaining part of the post - this time a short video piece about the great benefits of re-introducing carnivores to the US. In the past couple of weeks I read again two of Jack London's most famous stories: The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Who wouldn't prefer a real wolf to the one who wears a hand made suit and a $50k watch?

I hope you've excused George Monbiot for his somewhat overly excited presentation.

Monday, September 15, 2014

post modern irony with Crow

me: Anything interesting in the mail today?

Crow: Not really.
Here's a 'You're not covering the cost of all these mailings' charity request.
You got a 'You're not attractive enough' women's magazine with an article on swimsuits that minimize all your bodily flaws.
Here are some 'You're not stylish enough or ostentatious enough' catalogs - and coincidentally, an invitation to go deeper into debt from a credit card company.
And here's a news magazine to identify the trend of the week you're missing.

me: Yikes! Why do I get the feeling that society is trying to make us discontented with everything about who we are?

Crow: I suppose if people thought about real issues and needs instead of manufactured desires, the economy would collapse and we'd have total anarchy.

me: So pitching this junk would make me some kind of terrorist, eh?

Crow: Yes, it's your patriotic duty to buy distractions from a simple life. *

* Our conversation is a slightly revised version of one between Calvin's (of Calvin and Hobbes) beleaguered parents in 1994. It ends with this:

Calvin: Hey, Mom and Dad! I just saw a bunch of products on TV that I didn't know existed, but I desperately need!

It would appear things haven't changed much, but for the fact all this arrives online too :)

Monday, September 8, 2014

other thoughts - Alan Watts

Having recently rediscovered Alan Watts I'm wondering why he hasn't always been on my seriously Wise Person radar. The book itself is on my purchase list, but in the meanwhile I downloaded 'On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are'. Here is a story which he said was for children, but that doesn't really seem to be the case.

"There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world repeats itself again and again. But just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can't have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn't be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black.

"In the same way, there are times when the world is, and times when it isn't, for if the world went on and on without rest for ever and ever, it would get horribly tired of itself. It comes and it goes. Now you see it; now you don't. So because it doesn't get tired of itself, it always comes back again after it disappears. It's like your breath: it goes in and out, in and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you feel terrible. It's also like the game of hide-and-seek, because it's always fun to find new ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn't always hide in the same place.

"God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.

"Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that's the whole fun of it—just what he wanted to do. He doesn't want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self—the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.

"Of course, you must remember that God isn't shaped like a person. People have skins and there is always something outside our skins. If there weren't, we wouldn't know the difference between what is inside and outside our bodies. But God has no skin and no shape because there isn't any outside to him. The inside and the outside of God are the same. And though I have been talking about God as 'he' and not 'she,' God isn't a man or a woman. I didn't say 'it' because we usually say 'it' for things that aren't alive.

"God is the Self of the world, but you can't see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can't see your own eyes, and you certainly can't bite your own teeth or look inside your head. Your self is that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.

"You may ask why God sometimes hides in the form of horrible people, or pretends to be people who suffer great disease and pain. Remember, first, that he isn't really doing this to anyone but himself.
Remember, too, that in almost all the stories you enjoy there have to be bad people as well as good people, for the thrill of the tale is to find out how the good people will get the better of the bad. It's the same as when we play cards. At the beginning of the game we shuffle them all into a mess, which is like the bad things in the world, but the point of the game is to put the mess into good order, and the one who does it best is the winner. Then we shuffle the cards once more and play again, and so it goes with the world." 

What the story contains is a description of the essence of Advaita.
What do you think?

Now for something different, or maybe it's not all that different - a man and his dog dancing:

I liked that :)

ps: The painting at the top is a quick watercolor sketch from a story (written by the daughter of a friend) that I'm in the process of attempting to illustrate.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

back to storyboarding

Okay, I'll admit I've been drawing again. I still have a story, hinted at in pencil sketches I posted a year ago, that seems to become clearer the more I draw. Life certainly would be simpler if the whole of it would just appear on paper or in text. I'm a terrible writer of children's stories because I hate imagining children in danger or distress. Goodness knows there's already enough of that in the news without me adding more. The problem, though, is that stories have to engage a reader's attention and that generally means conflict of some kind or other that needs to be remedied. So I continue to work on these pictures bit by bit  while the story, such as it is, unfolds. I'm thinking to paint them one after another once the line work's all done. Then again, they're interesting enough on their own that I may just start painting them and pass on the story altogether. Time will tell.

Besides, the competition for attention has become pretty intense. It’s amazing just how much we are bombarded by the media – or perhaps allow ourselves to be bombarded is the correct way of saying it. Until something like this animation by Cesar Cepeda is placed under our noses it is easy to imagine that it isn’t too much and that we control it.

The Control from cesar cepeda on Vimeo.

Anyone for a good book? 

Monday, August 25, 2014

candy colored park

While our favorite park in Halifax is Point Pleasant, the large multi-pathed and semi-wild woodland that overlooks the harbor, the city does have a very rare (in North America) formal Victorian public garden at its heart. Even though we walk through its seventeen acres fairly often, I hardly ever remember to carry my camera. This time I did.

Known now as The Public Gardens, the park was established back in the 1830s and officially opened to visitors in 1867. It's home to several ornate fountains, a bandstand, statues, urns, a lake and a magnificent wrought iron fence and entrance. Also among their treasures are over 140 different species of trees, including unusual or rare species, some of them very old. There's an oak tree planted by King George VI and a new one next to it planted by Charles earlier this summer. So far that one doesn't have a plaque as I expect they're waiting to see if it survives a Nova Scotian winter or two. I'll wait a while before I take a picture.

As the aim of the urban Victorian garden was to display a great variety of plants in a confined space - confined, that is, by the standards of aristocratic country estates or the great landscape gardens of the eighteenth century - this one is very successful as you can see. I promise I didn't enhance any of these pictures. In fact, it's almost too much if it weren't for being quite nice to actually see.

The bandstand, renovated two years ago with a new copper roof, hosts concerts every Sunday afternoon in summer. Summer is most definitely the Season here. Happily for us locals the park has stayed open until the first big snowfall these past few years and reopens in April once the white stuff has safely gone.

The beautiful Victoria Fountain, built in honor of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, was renovated just a year ago. Sorry, but I missed the proud seagull that was standing on her head just a second before.

The Soldier's Fountain was built in honor of WWI veterans. There's a bench just under those tree boughs on the right where it's nice to sit on hot summer days

There's also a lovely, if rather small, lake in mid-center of the park - another nice place to sit and visit with the ducks and other birds that happen by. Yep, it's pretty tranquil around here all right. I just wish I could say the same for everywhere else, each in its own special way.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

seaside dancers

Here she is, my whirling sea dancer in a painting that was finished a few days ago. It was fun to do, but I seem to have a better time these days doing illustrations for stories written and unwritten. There will be more of those as time goes by.

Meanwhile I was reminded a few days ago about an artist who lives near the sea in Holland. I am awed and inspired by the work of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, who creates "sand beasts," kinetic sculptures that roam on the coast near his house in the Netherlands. He has been creating wind-walking examples of artificial life since 1990.

Constructed as intricate assemblages of piping, wood, and wing-like sails, Jansen’s creatures are constantly evolving and have become excellently adapted to their sandy beach environment. They sport legs, which “prove to be more efficient on sand than wheels . . . they don’t need to touch every inch of the ground along the way, as a wheel has to”.

You can always read more about him here or here, but the neatest thing of all is to spend a little time watching Theo Jansen's Sandbeesten cross a flat windswept beach. They would be an amazing sight to see in real life.

Compilation from Strandbeest on Vimeo.

Some of them, sensing when they're too close to the sea, back away while others can fasten themselves to the sand when the winds grow too strong.
Tell me that didn't make you smile.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

bored of the future with Crow

During an idle hour this afternoon Crow and I got involved in a conversation about a 'soon to arrive in all our homes' innovation - namely, the Internet of Things. Since we share a generally ironic point of view, as well as a low opinion of high tech devices, our exchange naturally enough turned to the topic of what could go wrong? Now if you're not au fait about this particular modernism (as I was not until Crow explained), it's the idea that all of our modern devices can - and soon will if the corporations whose sole intent is to mine us of the last of our cash get their way - talk and interact with one another.

Imagine the day when the 'Internet of Things' is established, you come home with your new 'smart toaster' and plug it into a kitchen outlet. The toaster boots up, finds the home Wi-Fi network and sends out a message to all the other smart devices registered to you. Your alarm clock, smart toothbrush, TV, smartphones, tablets, PCs, smart glasses, smart smoke detector, smart doors, smart clothes, smart fridge, smart washer and dryer and smart kitty litter box introduce themselves to the toaster, telling it what they're capable of doing. The toaster responds in kind and arranges to send and receive instructions from other devices.

Then comes the morning when you need lots of toast for guests. There's a lot of heat and a little smoke, and your smart smoke detector suspects a fire. So it sends out a message to the other devices saying, in effect, 'is anyone creating heat and smoke?' The toaster can respond the equivalent of: 'Yeah, it's me. No fire here and nothing to be alarmed about'. So the smoke alarm doesn't sound. But what if somebody else just set the curtains on fire?

It's even more likely our toaster will display a bread ad before we're allowed to make toast, suggesting to us we should get out of our jammies quickly, run down to the local grocery store and buy a specific loaf. Then as we're pressing down the lever it'll read our finger print to identify us, report that to a number of data warehouses for a plethora of governmental security agencies so they'll know down to the square foot where we are at all times and just how much toast we're consuming. That being said, I still find that my dumb toaster perfectly suits my needs, and see no reason for it to talk to any of my appliances. In fact I'd prefer not having to suspect my toaster and vacuum cleaner of colluding in some nefarious scheme while I'm out.

How soon they forget:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

the dancer

 Just in case you're wondering if I'm coming or going these days I'll tell you now I'm still here - but slower. I've been working on a couple of new things, this being one of them. I haven't seen anyone like this in my travels up and down the beach but it would be kind of nice.

One thing about my blogging habit is that I've come to demand of myself some new painting or drawing (at least) for every one. Talk about painting oneself into a corner, eh? Crow's pictures used to come much faster but now they too require days rather than hours (or minutes, in some cases).  Besides, it's summer and walks take longer.

I hope you're enjoying the best of summer wherever you are. Meanwhile, here are some words of wisdom from H.L. Mencken:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

ps: Don't forget your sunblock. I did that one overcast day and wound up with a rash that lasted ten days.. and most of my long sleeve shirts are turtlenecks :(

Sunday, July 27, 2014

the scavengers

There's a story in here somewhere but I tend to go off on tangents even I don't expect - the story I was thinking of has no dragon-like beings. Even as this pair appear to be innocuous enough one can never be entirely sure about the intentions of dragons.

I may paint it, or I may just draw another. These days I'm having a hard time maintaining any creative focus. This could be blamed either on the weather (which has been wonderful) or on the news (decidedly not wonderful).

Til next time.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

all at sea with Crow

In April of last year I wrote about a young man from Holland by the name of Boyan Slat who had devised a plan to clean the plastic detritus from the gyres of the world's oceans. Crow, who is off enjoying his annual mid-summer circumnavigation, sent me a letter:

My dear susan,

First the bad news is the garbage is still there - in point of fact, there's even more of it now than before. Young Slat’s plan, if you recall, is to deploy several V-shaped floating barriers that would be moored to the seabed and placed in the path of major ocean currents. The planned 30-mile-long arms of the V are designed to catch buoyant flotsam three meters below the surface while allowing my companions of the sea to pass underneath. “Because no nets would be used, a passive cleanup may well be harmless to the marine ecosystem,” he wrote in the feasibility  study. The idea is that over time, the detritus would flow deeper into the V , from which it would then be extracted. The report estimates that the plastic collection rate would total 65 cubic meters per day and that the rubbish would have to be picked up by ship every 45 days. Slat hopes to offset costs by recycling the material for other uses.

He's given me a picture of how one looks. I was delighted when I learned that the results of studies he and his team of researchers have done show that just one unit could remove half the plastic in the Great Pacific Patch. They've had great success with their first deployment and are now more than half-way to their goal of collecting $2 million for the next implementation of the plan.

I'm sure you'll agree to share this wonderful news with our mutual, and esteemed, friends. Now I'm off to visit my pelagic colleagues to let them know that help may yet come. The albatrosses, great auks and small, boobies, frigatebirds, gannets, murres, seagulls, penguins, petrels, and puffins depend upon clean seas. As do people. And fish. And sea mammals..

Warm regards to all,

ps: Please set aside some brandy and fruitcake to be shared on my return.

It's good to know there are people who don't take 'impossible' as an answer. After I read Crow's letter I found a few loonies down the back of the couch and made a small donation to Boyan Slat's website  The Ocean Cleanup. Whatever helps. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

no going back

A couple of weeks ago while digging through some old photographs I came across an out of focus snapshot of a picture I painted thirty years or more ago. I have no idea why I had polar bears and their lady guides climbing down a grassy bank, nor what they're thoughts and plans are regarding the young man and the other bear, but it must have seemed significant at the time. Anyway, what I did see was at least half a dozen things I'd do differently now that I have a bit more skill using watercolors. The first thought that occurred is that they should be on their way back to a land of ice and snow - a far better environment for the polar bears than a mossy slope. The next was that the composition would be much improved by losing the guy and the other bear. 

This is as far as I've got, and likely as far as I will get, with this project. Once I'd redrawn the picture and begun adding color it wasn't long before I realized I no longer had much interest in painting nubile young women riding, or otherwise interacting with, large and dangerous wild animals. What did I think happens when you try to hug a polar bear? Of course you know what happens, the polar bear isn’t going to be into it, and it’s probably going to try to eat you.

On the other hand there's a brave man named Kevin Richardson, a South African zoologist, who studies animals native to Africa. He's studied lions to such an extent that he seems to have uncovered the secret to not being mauled to death, as you will see. He has decades of hands-on experience studying how lions behave, and he was able to use that knowledge to his benefit (and ours) in an amazing way.

Now I shall return to painting Crow and friends - perhaps there'll even be one with an old lady :) 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

crow on the range

It just so happened that I'd been working on turning another of Crow's sketched portraits into a colored image for his scrapbook when what should I find but the following piece of good news:

'A room full of surprised veteran B.C. Aboriginal leaders erupted in “cheers and tears” after the Supreme Court of Canada, in the most important aboriginal rights case in the country’s history, ruled that the Tsilhqot’in First Nation has title 1,750 square kilometres of land in south central B.C.'
from the Vancouver Sun on June 27th

'The Canadian Supreme Court decision gives full title to Yinka Dene of their land. Not all First Nations, just the 6 bands in the Yinka Dene Alliance. This probably means the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal to the Pacific Ocean is Dead. Yes Enbridge can route around the Yinka Dene lands, only at greatly added cost.'
from Daily Kos on June 27th

While this is definitely good news for the First Nations people and all of those who love and respect the land, Crow has his own opinion about what it will take for  things to improve:

I've yet to hear anyone say that they want no power/generation. Perhaps they're envisioning some sort of fairy-dust based power that has no environmental impact? No, that's not true, fairies are mass-raised in factory farms for their dust, it's a brutal industry....  ;) As everyone should understand by now you can't reasonably just move the problem off into some other corner of the world and say, "I can't see it any more, so problem solved!"

Ultimately, the only solution is to reduce demand. And that's where the focus needs to be. Humanity would do well to remember The Great Law of the Iroquois:

“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

midsummer's eve with Crow

Crow was kind enough to pose again while the three of us enjoyed the view from his terrace in Alternate Halifax this week. In case you don't know already, AH is a large town that overlooks a very large ocean on the planet known as Alternate Earth, a perch from which Crow occasionally flies from to visit those of us who live on our own regular Earth.

Thought for the day:
Nature always gets the last word.

Happy Summertime

Friday, June 13, 2014

back to my work

It looks as though summer festival time is on its way here; one afternoon a couple of days ago it was actually warm enough for us to take our coats off for half an hour while we walked around the park. Yes, things are looking up - at least in these parts, and, hopefully, where you are too. As you can see, Crow is prepared for the local Tattoo. But I did make him take his bagpipes down the road and around the corner to practice. There's only so much a person can take.

Speaking of how much a person can take, a few weeks ago I made up my mind to try out a social network. No, I haven't joined facebook or twitter, what I did instead was to return to Deviant Art - or dA as it's fondly called by members. My first foray there was in 2009 when I signed up, posted a couple of pictures, became overwhelmed by the sheer chaos of the site, then promptly ran away. This time I've managed three weeks and it's still pretty interesting - huge, yes, with 31,000,000 members - but, as you can imagine, there's lots to see. Some of the work I've seen so far is phenomenal - not all, but that's to be expected in an open forum. It's nice to see that so many people are trying.

What's even better for me is that it's participatory rather than being strictly an online place to post things for sale. It's good to be able to have conversations with other artists about their processes and inspiration. While I'm interested in a number of subjects it's not like I can engage in intelligent conversations about physics with physicists, music with musicians, archeology with archeologists, investments (hah) with economists, or the finer points of enlightenment with mystics. What I can do is talk about art with other artists now and then, even when we work in different media.

The other good thing is that I'm discovering some fresh enthusiasm for painting and maybe trying some things I haven't done before. Having only made artwork for the blog these past years my tendency has been to work faster than I used to do. We'll see how that goes - old dogs, new tricks.. you know the rest.

ps: It only took me a year to paint this one :) That's the other thing - drawings I never get around to finishing.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

other people's work #97

I haven't done an 'other people's work' post for a long time, but the paintings Kim Alsbrook are really worth a look. The project, called My White Trash Family, are miniatures painted on pieces of flattened trash rather than the ivory or expensive linen canvasses such items of self regard usually decorated.

Although the portraits themselves are very beautiful, she has certainly brought the notions of privilege inherent in great wealth crashing down to earth. 

 " ... a clutch of beer cans ... crushed flat. On the surface of each was painted a bust dressed in 18th century collars and frocks, and posed as if standing for Gainsborough himself. The aristocratic air of the subject clashes with the disposability of the medium to create an exquisite tension suggesting volumes about the nature of family portraits and the value of art itself."

— Savannah Morning News Review   

Statement from Jesse Brass on Vimeo.

Thanks to Kuriositas

Saturday, May 31, 2014

a zen story - fate is in your hands

In a time long past there was an old monk who, through diligent practice, had attained a certain degree of spiritual penetration.

He had a young novice who was about seven years old. One day the monk looked at the boy's face and saw there that he would die within the next few months. Saddened by this, he told the boy to take a long holiday and go and visit his parents. 'Take your time,' said the monk. 'Don't hurry back.' For he felt the boy should be with his family when he died.

Three months later, to his astonishment, the monk saw the boy walking back up the mountain. When he arrived he looked intently at his face and saw that the boy would now live to a ripe old age. 'Tell me everything that happened while you were away,' said the monk.

So the boy started to tell of his journey down from the mountain. He told of villages and towns he passed through, of rivers forded and mountains climbed. Then he told how one day he came upon a stream in flood. He noticed, as he tried to pick his way across the flowing stream, that a colony of ants had become trapped on a small rock in the midst of the flooding stream. Moved by compassion for these poor creatures, he took a branch of a tree and laid it across one part of the stream until it touched the little island. As the ants made their way across, the boy held the branch steady, until he was sure all the ants had escaped to dry land. Then he went on his way.

'So,' thought the old monk to himself, 'that is why the gods have lengthened his days.'

Friday, May 23, 2014

on the terrace wih Crow

As Crow and I watched the sun set over the sea from his terrace perch while one of our young friends marveled at the view, we talked about how cities look now compared to the way they did 100 years ago. The seriously big change came about in the 1960s when two developments coincided: steel framed high rise buildings and city streets ruled by cars. While there aren't too many cities in North America that haven't been entirely overtaken by this phenomenon, it's no wonder people still enjoy going to Europe for their holidays.

Of course, I haven't been there for a long time but Crow tells me the high rise/high speed method of city planning has made inroads there as well. It's also true that Europe still has metropolitan centers that don't look too different now than they did long ago - with the major difference being that people of modest income can no longer afford to enjoy the benefits.

Benefits? Yes. Streets that offer varied, eyecatching stimuli every 4 to 5 seconds interest us, and those that don’t bore us. This works out to façades of 16-20 feet for people moving at average walking speeds. Whenever someone notes that a commercial district full of small and unusual storefronts feels human whereas a featureless big-box store saps the soul, there’s more to those preferences than simple nostalgia.

While Crow can travel in almost no time to anywhere, he understands that our natural speed limit is in single digit numbers rather than average car speeds. We like to have things to look at, especially each other. We feel more comfortable in surroundings set at a smaller scale.

Jahn Gehl is a Danish architect who has been promoting his philosophy of a return to people friendly urban development for years. This interview with him is good, but if you don't have time for reading here's a trailer for a documentary about him called The Human Scale:

Meanwhile, it's time for Crow and I to retire to the dining room.

(This is another Crow illustration awaiting color that I already like enough to show you. He does too.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

we all make mistakes

It appears that along with several other websites I was duped by the story I posted a few days ago about the millions of unsold cars clogging parking lots all over the world. Lindsay brought this to my attention in a comment he'd left earlier today linked to a Bloomberg article.

I can only blame myself since I should have been more suspicious after having looked at Vince Lewis's website (he who posted the article) where I found no references in any of his posts. Just because I found the link on a trustworthy site doesn't absolve my error.

Nevertheless, this doesn't mean all is well with industry and commerce in general. The story sounded right then, and in essence, still does. What is true is that the world is in a crisis of overproduction and the force of such exponential growth is very dangerous. No matter when those pictures were taken those fields of cars are a wake up call to those willing and able to listen.

ps: I couldn't resist this frog picture

new picture in the works so there'll be more soon.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

peak prosperity signs with Crow

Crow and I were looking through some of his old pictures yesterday evening when we came across this tinted daguerreotype from 1891. At one time Los Angeles had the longest streetcar routes in the world. Then came the freeways and more cars than you can shake a stick at. If you don't believe me you can always watch 'Roger Rabbit' again or check wikipedia.

Times have changed again but not quite for the better yet. This morning I found an article filled with amazing pictures of the millions of cars that are being manufactured and then hidden away from view in huge lots. It would appear that while China has ghost cities where nobody lives we in the west have ghost cars that nobody can drive. This is a monumental waste and a serious misallocation of energy. What it boils down to is that as true demand collapses relative to supply, financial instruments demand continual growth.

A Crow joke:

"Its quite a pickle we have gotten ourselves into."

"What do you mean by 'we' Lone Ranger?"

Monday, May 12, 2014

a walk in the park - Point Pleasant, Halifax

This morning I found a comment from my old friend, Lindsay, that said he'd like to see more pictures of Point Pleasant Park here in Halifax. It turns out I do actually have some despite the fact I rarely carry the camera. They weren't all photographed on the same day, but all were taken during the months of May and June.

Even as it's possible you've seen most of the pictures before, if you'd like a quick look at our favorite local rambling spot again you'll find them here.