29 March 2013

Preparing the Lamb

30" x 40", oil on canvas, 2003, private collection

Soon after trying my hand at oil painting with my Interiors series, I painted a handful of scenes involving elements of my Macedonian heritage like this one, based on a photo my dad took on a trip there in 2002. This is at the home of one of my cousins (crouching, his wife to the right and his mom (my dad's sister) to the left); the man in white is a local butcher and he's cleaning a fresh lamb in preparation for a nice Easter meal.

Note the drying red peppers, hanging from the rafters of the car port.

27 March 2013

Easter Island Heads, Part 1

 above: private collection
14" x 17", ink on Bristol board, 2005

I did these ink paintings of the Moai on Easter Island, AKA Rapa Nui, a couple of years before I had the idea to make a graphic novel about their creation, the myths surrounding them, and the overall history of the island. I never did make that graphic novel, but I did a hell of a lot of research for it and I did plan a bit of it in a couple of sketchbooks.

How did this come about? While doing research for my comic book, Weak Species, which dealt with all the nasty things we, as humans, do (to each other, other animals, our environment, etc.) I learned about the history of Rapa Nui and felt strongly about retelling their story in graphic novel form as a cautionary tale. The following excerpt from Easter Island, Earth Island by Paul Bahn and John Flenley explains my main motivation:

The islanders of Rapa Nui "...carried out for us the experiment of permitting unrestricted population growth, profligate use of resources, destruction of the environment, and boundless confidence in their religion to take care of the future. The result was an ecological disaster leading to a population crash...Do we have to repeat the experiment on [a] grand scale?...Is the human personality always the same as that of the person who felled the last tree?"

It seems I wasn't up to the challenge of a full-on graphic novel...and I only ever produced one issue of Weak Species (2007), comics not really being my strong suit –and the extreme time consuming nature of the medium being another major factor. I do have material for about one and a half more issues, though. I'll post some stuff here eventually.

Incidentally, these Moai are based on my own photo reference...from Tivoli Miniature World during a family trip there in the summer of 1989.

25 March 2013


17" x 11", watercolour, 1997, private collection

I think this dates back to early 1997 and is based on a magazine photo; I did –and still– have my own photos of giraffes from the Melbourne (or is it Sydney?) Zoo in Australia, but decided to use this because of the cuteness.

The negative areas between the brown "cells" of the giraffes' patterns were just carefully painted around and left alone rather than made with frisket or any other masking medium. I have tried it a few times and, who knows, maybe I'll use it again in the future, but I prefer to practice precision, fixing any accidents later with white ink or scraping it with blades.

23 March 2013

No Parking

11" x 15", watercolour, 1999, private collection

I "discovered" Main Street Unionville on a mid-1990s bike ride to my cousin's house in nearby Markham; he wasn't home so I kept riding, kind of aimlessly exploring, and came across this amazing little stretch of town, seemingly preserved from the turn of the century. Many of the buildings are shops and such, but the façades, are preserved and/or renovated to remain aesthetically unified with each other. It makes for a very pleasant walk of about five blocks or so.

Often riding my bike or driving my car out to Main Street Unionville to relax and "get away" for a couple of hours (in all seasons; in fact, autumn is stunning there), I started taking pictures and eventually did some paintings of some of the buildings (the "music shop" I painted as part of Matt Osborne's self-titled CD is based on a building very similar to this one).

14 March 2013

Firelight Lantern Festival

5.5" x 17", ink and digital, 2013

It's almost upon us; Picton's first lantern festival is sure to be an amazing community event with lantern-making workshops already underway. This is the event I was helping to fund with 50% of my sales from my Burning the Midnight Oil painting marathon back in December.

101 ink portraits painted in 100 hours.

When it came time to design the poster for the festival, I had an idea right from the start and, as you can see below, the final image is exactly what I had in mind when I made that doodle last summer. I wanted something bold and eye-catching from a distance (as always) and I wanted to have the lanterns be the key feature, the silhouettes (having low contrast against the background) becoming clearer as you get closer to the poster. Even my placeholder logo is pretty close to the final version. Krista also made some doodles to help me brainstorm some lantern designs to include.

Poster and logo sketches.

With the poster design sketched but mostly in my head, I set about gathering the necessary elements to put it all together. The final poster composition would be digital so I could incorporate text for festival information and the logos of the local business sponsors, but, as usual, I wanted to have a handmade component as well.

I rummaged through my library of people from my days working in architectural illustration and selected a good variety of people walking in profile. I made various changes to them to suit the design and added the lanterns. Once the inked drawings were scanned, I cleaned them up, stitched them together, and coloured it in Photoshop.

Inked drawings.
(spot The Beatles)

Although the poster came to me very quickly, the logo for the festival  went through the usual painstaking process of sketches and revisions, going back and forth between me and Krista (see also the process behind the Small Pond Arts and Puppets Without Borders logos).

Catch the wave.

The theme for this year's festival is water and the theme's dominant colours blue and white. Krista suggested incorporating waves into the logo design, so I started working on waves, planning to make this an overlay element which could be changed if next year's theme is different (while keeping the same lantern design).

That's a bingo!

Satisfied with the lantern shape in the sketch above, I enlarged it and made an inked version (you can see it above, with the inked silhouettes of the people). On this same page is also the final wave design and how it would look on the lantern.

The inked lantern drawing went through the same process as the inked people (scanning, cleaning, fixing, colouring, more fixing).

You can find out more about the Firelight Lantern Festival by clicking the logo above.

08 March 2013

Coriander & Cilantro

24" x 48", oil on canvas, 2013, private collection

I've had photos of these two dogs on that red sofa on my hard drive for such a long time that I'd convinced myself that I'd taken the photos after spotting these ladies* in a store window while walking down Queen Street West in Toronto –despite that I don't actually remember taking them. Of course I don't remember taking them: Krista did while on a day trip to Cobourg with her family. It was some kind of "doggy daycare." It's weird how memory works, and mine doesn't usually fabricate information like that.

There is one photo that has both dogs in it, but I combined two separate shots of each to make this composition work better on the very wide canvas.
Then I added the hats.
Then the book.

*an assumption based on their (originally) pink collars

07 March 2013


11" x 15", watercolour, 1998, private collection

Like the beagles in my previous post, this cat and dog couple were based on an image from a magazine, but, I assure you, my post after this (featuring two dogs) is based on my own photo reference.

This was done in 1998 as part of what I called Operation: Waterstorm, during which my goal was to paint one watercolour painting per week for the year (I ended up doing 63). During that year-long project I learned a lot about craftsmanship, dedication, drawing/painting techniques, composition, time management, and other things –and I would say that I'm still learning...always learning...

05 March 2013


15" x 22", watercolour, 2003, private collection

This was the first painting I did in the late summer of 2003 after an overly-long break from painting. I wanted something challenging and a little complicated and found the photo ref for this in a magazine. I toyed with cropping the woman further or even removing her altogether, leaving just an assembly of beagles, but I like the hint of human making the composition more interesting –especially with the negative space around her.

01 March 2013

We Could Be Heroes

30" x 22.5", watercolour, 2006

Last decade, when I was working as a costumer in the Opera Department at Malabar in Toronto, I took advantage of my access to all those great costumes and they've turned up in a few of my paintings –most recently Embroidering the Truth and Seized of the Matter.

I also dressed up a bunch of times and I have photos to prove it. This painting is based on a photo taken during a fun dress-up day with my co-workers Wanda and Michael. I thought we looked like some outlandish trio of crimefighters here, so, of course, I had to paint it –and give it an appropriate title (a slightly-changed line from David Bowie's "Heroes").

I tweaked my moustache a bit to give it a nice curl at the ends, added a monocle for myself, and exaggerated Michael's beard...for extra comedic effect. Surprisingly, though, I didn't come up with names for our impromptu characters...