Sketchbook Selection – Owl in Flight

This image was rendered with the #2 Pigma archival ink brush pen and Staedtler pigment 0.1 and 0.05 liners. The drawing is 5.5 inches by 8 inches. This is the second of three owl pieces I completed. If you’re an owl expert (not saying there’s any around these parts but they’re out there somewhere) you may have noticed that this isn’t exactly a faithful rendering. I was interested in attempting to convey something more immediate (or even whimsical) that I associate with those momentary glimpses we so very rarely catch of owls or larger birds in general.

 

Painting on Found Objects – Juvenile Great Grey Owl

My house was built circa 1910. Being a lath and plaster construct, it wasn’t insulated. The people who owned it before us installed blown insulation in the walls and attic. At that time most of the attic flooring was removed leaving a few planks to walk on and a couple of smaller cuts lying around. I’m not sure what kind of wood the flooring is but I’m of the mind that it might be hemlock. The portion I used to create this piece has a lovely rich colour along with some interesting dings and scratches. Neither the bottom or top are cut even. It’s an odd fifteen-ish inches high and a smidgen under one inch deep. It is tongue and groove but the groove side was snapped off (it’s still a foot across though). It’s not “pretty” but those are my favourite kind of found objects to use. They have their own history and that added element enriches the final piece.

I’ve not been lucky enough to photograph a Great Grey Owl so I went online to research my subject. I didn’t draw from any single source but rather found inspiration in a variety of places. I noticed that owls exhibit consistent perching behaviour no matter the breed or environment so that determined the composition. I used a layer of matte varnish to seal the wood before I started painting. This juvenile Great Great Owl, painted with acrylic and somewhat stylized, is all about the brushwork. Building from dark to light I fashioned shape and substance with layers of small brushstrokes making no attempt to blend or smooth them out. I wanted the image to retain the unique properties of the wood surface. To that end, although there are multiple layers of paint it’s not so thick as to hide the texture of the wood allowing it to be seen through the brushstrokes.

 

Hide and Shriek Production Work

I’ve been busy working with my local theatre as they staged their spring production of Hide and Shriek by Tim Kelly. I had a bit of a hand in everything this time around. I was involved with general administrative production work, set decoration, arranging advertising, running social media outreach, and acting.

Administrative production work is a catchall for general things that need to be done (printing tickets, compiling program information, inquiries and bookings etc). The social media side is a bit more creative. I had the opportunity to go full on cheesy with the campaign publishing fun little posts like the one below.

I edited this original photograph with the poster edge filter, added some corny text, and ended up with a quirky promotion piece. I did some gif posts as well to change it up.

The set had a standard footprint. Door and window locations were determined by plot line and blocking. The space was to be reminiscent of a once stately home that had fallen into disrepair through neglect.

The set took me about 20 hours to decorate.

If you’ve seen any of my prior theatre posts you may remember the back drop behind the french doors from other productions. It’s painted on a bed sheet I picked up at a thrift store for $3. I’ve used it in 4 plays so I think I got my money’s worth.

A selection of old mismatched wallpaper was the perfect material to use for the “walls” working to express traditional and multilayered decorative sensibilities. Backed with age weakened paste, the paper sagged in a way that spoke to the neglect narrative. I have a handy dandy tool that generated the appearance of wood grain on the bottom of the flats.

I used faux finishes to create the look of bare plaster and lathe revealed through breaks in the wallpaper further emphasizing the “age” of the stage setting.

Liberal smears of “dirt”, mismatched furniture, and missing fixtures (like the absence of stair posts and railing) were meant to strengthen the atmosphere. I think this might have been the fifth time I’ve repainted that fireplace. It’s made from plaster laid over a wood and chicken wire frame and suits any kind of set (depending on the colour choice).

An integral plot point revolved around a fictional John Singer Sargent painting. I did a quick study in acrylic based on an early Sargent portrait of Gabriel Fauré. I felt it would have the right feel when seen from the audience. It’s not an exact copy but props like this only need to look good from far away so there’s no need to be too fiddly with them.

This organization plans to stage Treasure Island in the near future. Some of the scenery from the 2017 production of Peter Pan will be a good fit for the proposed play. These theatre flats are surfaced with thin mahogany sheets. Rather than painting them over, the skins were flipped to preserve the imagery so it’ll be available for future use. This picture shows the section of a flipped skin that was the pirate ship door in Peter Pan. The wine corks cover the end of trim screws protecting actors as they moved behind the set.

Here is the view from the stage on preview night before the doors opened. This production saw me step out from back of the house onto the stage.  I’ve been in a number of plays but this was the first one for which I had two character roles to play. I also had to learn a new song on the harmonica. The hardest part about that was one of my dogs HATES the harmonica. His brother isn’t too keen either but I feel like one gets the other “going”. It’s impossible to practice when you can’t hear yourself over the howling!

The play was well attended so thank goodness not everyone feels the same way about harmonicas that good old Lester B. does.

Toad Watercolour Sketch

This watercolour sketch is based on a photograph I took a couple of summers ago. An enormous toad would come out after dark and sit on the back patio. He was a bit of a stoic chunky bumpy blob who couldn’t be bothered to move even as I took a couple of flash photos. I started the sketch by keeping a light hand layering in the background and basic shape. When those sections were dry I added a bit more character using the accent of darker markings.

Inktober 2018 – Sketch Selection 13 and 14

The Inktober prompts for these were “Whale” and “Flowing”. The vagueness of the terms allowed for any kind of interpretation. I utilised different marking techniques for each of these images but the designs follow a similar footprint. The eye is drawn from the upper left corner into the page and down for both.  The downward movement is emphasised through the descending verticals of the “whale tails” in the upper drawing. For the lower drawing the downward movement is created through the use of elongated “ribbons” that serve to direct the gaze. Even though the imagery and marks chosen are different they find a common ground in the compositional movement.

 

 

Inktober 2018 – Sketch Selection 7 – 9

The techniques used here are traditional drawing approaches. You can see some crosshatching, scumbling, and stippling. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as using a “good” or “bad” mark (social or political symbols excluded) whilst drawing as long as the marks are applied in a way that effectively reaches the desired conclusion.


 

 

Inktober 2018 – Sketch Selection 4 – 6

Here are three more scans from my 2018 Inktober series. I kept the preliminary pencil work to a minimum attempting to use it specifically for defining overall sections or linear elements rather than detailing. That worked fine for organic material like plants but when it came to anatomy…not so much. That wasn’t a big deal in this context. As an exercise in exploring techniques it’s more interesting figuring out what can be done with the tools at hand rather than meeting a specific aesthetic.

 

 

 

 

Crafty Christmas 2018

A number of years ago I worked for a giftware company bulk painting folk art items for retail. It was piece work so the more pieces you painted the more money you made. It wasn’t particularly challenging for technique. The pieces had to be simple so they could be mass produced but I did pick up some nifty tricks (floating, double loading, tole patterning) that are fun to revisit every once in awhile. I’m crafty keen about Christmas. I make my own fresh evergreen planters, decorative wreaths, and ornaments.

Ornament creation is a great activity to incorporate some of those folk techniques. I usually use whatever things I have lying around. I work with low viscosity (craft/folk art) paint and I don’t finish varnish. The two ornaments hanging from the lights on either side of the fireplace were made with some old plywood odds and ends. The figures are intended to look as if they’re parachuting down into Christmas.

They’re probably not what you would traditionally think of as ornaments because they’re quite large.

Here’s a closer look at the Jester in a Box whilst hung to provide a better idea of the scale.

I used metallic string to join the two pieces in a fun way.

These ornaments have much more detail than any of the bulk work I did whilst painting giftware.

 

Looking at the back it’s easier to see just how rough the scrap plywood is (I only sanded the cut sides) but I like that for these pieces. It’s an approach that falls into that homespun handmade feel that I associate with Christmas.

Inktober 2018 – Sketch Selection 1 – 3

Every October, artists all over the world take on the Inktober drawing challenge by doing one ink drawing a day the entire month. I didn’t make the whole 30 days but an attempt was made. I chose to use an 8 inch by 5.5 inch sketchbook. The sketches were completed using Staedler pigment liners and a Pigma brush pen. I’m still on my first brush pen and I’m enjoying the opportunity to make a broader variety of marks in comparison to the finer tipped pigment liners.

I’ve been experimenting with my printer scanning function trying to create digital copies that are true to the originals. I’m not entirely there yet. All three of these images were scanned using document scan settings (two in B&W and one in colour) instead of photo scan settings. You can see a marked difference in how the printer records the information. The document settings result in less “noise” so the whites are a truer white (not so much a textured grey). There is some loss of mid-tones using the B&W document copy settings. The colour document copy settings accentuate the brush pen marks making them appear more distinct than in the original piece but the colours are closer to that original. I did add watercolour to the third sketch so I don’t know if it truly follows the Inktober parameters. The composition wasn’t going to work without it and I didn’t have any coloured pens.

Peter Pan Set Design and Build

The local non profit theatre organization that I volunteer for (the West Elgin Dramatics Society) staged J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ for their 2017 year end production. I had the opportunity to design the set.  Barrie’s 1904 play script includes pages of set and production notes that weren’t a realistic aim for the organisation’s budget or the performance hall footprint. The cast was a large one (32 on stage plus the backstage and tech crew) so space was at a premium. The production called for a nursery, three separate settings in Neverland (daylight woods, lagoon, night woods split with the house underground), the deck of a pirate ship, and a place for Nana’s dog house/the Darling house yard.

I first read Peter Pan as an illustrated story when I was a child. I wanted to bring the same kind of feel to the set design. I decided to build large “boxes” that the stage crew would rotate to display four scenic murals with the other two scene sets remaining in place. Each original mural was 8 feet high by 12 feet long spreading across three “box” faces. I constructed the boxes combining existing theatre flats with additional ¼ inch mahogany sheets over frames made of 1 inch by 3 inch pine boards. Set build for a WEDS production usually begins around two weeks before a play opens so time was definitely a factor in getting the set together. Budget is always a consideration so the paint used to create the imagery was a combination of discount mis-tinted house paint and acrylic craft paint. I created the pieces with the knowledge that the flats used to build the boxes would be disassembled at production’s end to be painted over for use in other plays. In some of the pictures you can see some wear and tear under the paint from other set uses. That does make it hard to determine how much work to put into them but hopefully there were enough details included to create the required atmosphere.

The view from the catwalk shows the Darling family nursery as well as the yard where Nana’s house sits.

The backdrop on the wall and the trees were originally created for past productions (See How They Run and Alice Through the Looking-Glass). Community theatre often means recycle, recycle, and recycle some more.

The beds used were inflatable cots which worked surprisingly well in appearance (they aren’t fully inflated or completely covered here as this was just prior to opening), mobility, and storage.

Two of the boxes formed nursery walls that were hung with curtains to conceal the first woodland scene.

Using two of the boxes as nursery walls was the best solution to where to put them when not in use. As you can see from this picture there was no place for them backstage either stage left…

…or stage right. That’s the third box in front of the theatre’s baby grand piano.

The Neverland woods.

Here’s a closer look. Most of the work was done with foam rollers, house painting brushes, and a 1 inch acrylic flat brush.

Rotating from woodland to lagoon. I used felt furniture pads on the bottom and the boxes moved quite well.

The lagoon set. The lines between the surfaces look quite heavy here. These pictures were shot in regular daylight. With the theatre lights on during the play run the dividing lines weren’t as noticeable.

Lagoon detail. I live near the northern shoreline of Lake Erie. If you’re familiar with the area you’ll definitely recognise elements of it in this composition.

Rotation from lagoon to split night woods and house underground.

During the play run these pieces were set up with a split between them so plot lines could develop on the stage back to back with only lighting changes.

Night woods detail.

Rotation from split scene to pirate ship deck.

Pirate ship deck.

Pirate ship deck detail.

I’ve blurred the actors’ faces here so don’t be alarmed (they’re not melting). This rehearsal picture shows the actors utilising the split set.

Again I’ve blurred the actor’s face. This rehearsal (wet tech) picture shows the ship deck scene as stage lighting is being added.

This last picture is me explaining to one of my stage managers how it’s all going to work. She later said she had her hands on her head not because she didn’t think it would work but because she was concerned about the amount of work that was required to get them sorted out. I’m around 5 1/2 feet tall and you can see that even with my arm fully extended I couldn’t reach the top. Though the boxes were large and the stage crew were all small women they had no problem moving them.

The rest of the design consisted of a small number of set pieces like Wendy’s house, the pirate rowboat, the lagoon rock, Nana’s house, etc, that were built by myself and other handy members of the production team. With such a large cast and crew, and numerous scene changes, it really helps to keep the set pieces to a minimum. That said I really enjoyed the challenges that come with this type of production.