09 November 2017

Christmas in the County 2017

30" x 36", oil on canvas, 2017, private collection

Being a huge fan of music, I always feel lucky and happy when I get to participate in the design and/or illustration of a CD package for a band (or other musical project). I've done a few of them over the years, learning a lot along the way, and they've been plenty of fun, for the most part.

A few months ago, Krista let me know that Lori Farrington, one of the organizers of the annual Christmas in the County fundraising album, was looking for an artist for the 2017 CD cover. I contacted Lori immediately about volunteering to illustrate the cover and offered to go beyond that and design the booklet as well. It turns out it's just a sleeve, but the track listing and credits still needed to be laid out on the back of it, so I took care of that...although, I don't know what the CD itself will look like, as I wasn't involved in that (somehow I let it slip my mind).

The CD should be ready in early December and I'll have photos of the finished package then.

Some of my earliest ideas centered on coziness, inspired by the Danish concept of Hygge, but I couldn't figure out a way to illustrate that and customize it for Prince Edward County without it feeling overly contrived. I'm sure there's a way, but I wasn't happy with any of my ideas, so I brainstormed further, collecting images for inspiration.

Among these were images of stained glass windows (traditional and contemporary), various musical instruments, local winter landscapes (mostly pictures of Small Pond in winter), and the covers of past Christmas in the County CDs by other local artists (to make sure I don't repeat earlier ideas).

Ground with tightened pencils.

Skipping my sketchbook, I decided to compose my cover idea directly in Photoshop using a photo of a winter sunrise I shot a couple of years ago in our backyard, an acoustic guitar, some scrolls from a medieval stained glass window, and a scan of a "matrix" pattern (among many) I'd created a decade ago for use in some other paintings.

The scrolls would remain on top of everything, the landscape would remain intact (but I'd make the foreground a field of white snow, rather than the frosty tall grass from my photo), and I'd break up the guitar in a "shattered mirror" sort of way...for fun.

Getting the lead out.

Knowing this would be the darkest element, I started on the "leading" using a brown and blue mixture that I find gives me a richer black than black from a tube. This first application isn't the darkest it will be, but I planned to go over the lines at the very end to clean up any brush strokes that crossed over.

Scroll and body work.

Rather than lay out the text in a computer program for the final cover, I wanted to incorporate it in the painting itself, to make the entire cover handmade (although, I did lay out the text in Photoshop in preparation for the painting to get the spacing, sizing, and curvature as correct as possible).

I started with the scrolls because hand-lettering is not one of my strengths and I wanted to get it done early in case I had to make any serious adjustments, but I think they turned out okay.

I made the guitar body darker than the final would be. knowing I'd paint several different lighter shades of brown and orange over top.

Getting the blues.

I painted the blue foreground expecting to either overlay that with some transparent white paint, or make a similar adjustment in Photoshop later on. Then I fell in love with the blue/orange complementary contrast overall and kept it as-is.

I didn't do anything to change the colour of the scrolls, here; that's just the exposure of the photo messing things up.

Doing some landscaping.

I've mentioned before how painting over a bright orange ground messes with my colour perception –especially if I'm painting blues– so getting the violet hues of those sunrise clouds was a challenge, but it worked out in the end.

After this stage, I had to simulate the brightness of the sun in the centre, so I added a red-orange halo around the trees in the middle and then made a bright yellow sun which would get a flat white covering afterward.

28 October 2017

Five Years of Firelight (Posters)

2017 theme: FIRE & ICE.

I wrote about the creation of the first Firelight Lantern Festival poster and logo in this post from 2013, just over a month before that year's event (before it was decided to hold the event in November from the following year onward).

Here, I've collected the posters from the past five years in reverse chronological order, showcasing this year's event which takes place exactly three weeks from this posting.

After having fun with the tail end of the elephant leading the crowd on last year's CIRCUS poster, I wanted to do something similar this year and decided to add a stilt walker (based on several photos of me from my various stilting gigs) leading the procession. He'll be a standard element in all future posters unless something else more appropriate (like the elephant) comes up.

Also echoing the new elements from 2016's poster, the negative space above the crowd on the left is taken up by a long dragon lantern (based on a hybrid of Chinese, Welsh, and generic fantasy dragon designs).

While having two-tone lanterns really helped convey the designs of the popcorn and circus ball lanterns last year, I wanted to avoid that this year as I want to maintain my limited colour scheme of black walkers, blue background, yellow lanterns, and white text...but that skate absolutely needed flames...

2016 theme: CIRCUS.

The CIRCUS poster is the busiest (it's a circus, after all!) and contains several new design elements: the trapeze artist above the crowd, the elephant leading the procession, and the more interesting two-tone lanterns (last year's Planet Earth was the first). While the trapeze artist isn't logical in the context of a parade, she's my favourite element on this poster (with the juggler and the elephant close behind).

The silhouetted crowd was designed to have lots of negative space on the right not only for text, but to give the lead walkers lots of room to "walk into," but the elephant (and stilt walker) hide nicely behind the text and leave lots of open blue space.

As more sponsorship logos are added, all event info is moved to the image area.

2015 theme: EARTH.

This was a tricky theme to come up with lanterns for, and I feel the carrot, flower, frog, rabbit, and mushroom lanterns are reaching a bit, conceptually. The actual planet Earth and the symbol for it (the circle with the cross) are okay, though.

2014 theme: AIR.

This theme was fun and my favourite lantern is the kite on the far right with the trailing tails overlapping the walkers. Also, event info is added to the image area using a new typeface.

2013 theme: WATER.

Of the three inside (yet appropriate) references in the first FLF poster, the most obvious and recognizable is the submarine (from the Beatles film Yellow Submarine). The other two are The Beatles themselves and the fish from the Small Pond Arts logo.

Lantern logo and procession in ink.

The big idea was to have the same silhouetted walkers on each year's poster, but many of the lanterns would change according to each new theme, while some lanterns would remain and move around, like the stars, circles, heart, and moon.

The colours would be limited to black walkers barely contrasted against a dark blue background, allowing the yellow lanterns to really stand out and glow. The information text would be white and mostly off to one side, leaving the image lots of room to make a visual impact.

First logo with box lantern.

This logo was used on the first two posters (before sponsorship logos started crowding along the bottom) and various promotional materials like flyers and stationery. I'm slowly phasing out this box lantern design in favour of the new logo below.

New logo with street lantern.

I didn't like that box lantern so I redesigned the whole thing to be more striking. The letterforms are a departure but work better with the new lantern than the main typeface used for the main headings on the posters (which remains in the circular logo below).

New circular logo.

A box lantern might be more common during the festival, but a street lamp is more recognizable.

11 October 2017

Millennium Falcon [Factory Stock] Part 3: Ship Build

To find out more about my methodology and why I'm building this particular model in this particular way, please read PART ONE.

To see the early stages of this project where I scrape, file, and sand off most of the kit's beautiful details, please read PART TWO.

Rear end with grill.

Now, that grill didn't appear onscreen until the 1997 Special Edition of Star Wars, whereas, before, the model had a simple rectangular piece of translucent white plastic (below) to represent the massive power of the engines and the ship wasn't seen from behind when the engines weren't active.

I'm not sure, but this may have been about the time the model kits started including the grill because the original MPC kit or the later AMT/ERTL kit only had transparent plastic (to allow for lighting to be installed) for the engine area.

Original studio model: internal lighting, but no grill.

I'm not going to be including the grill partly because it's a 20-years-late addition to the "lore" of the model, but also because it seems like it would get in the way of, or get melted by, the thrust (not that Star Wars physics has to or does conform to Earth physics). The "nozzles" included in the kit make practical sense (moreso than a flat piece of plastic), so I'll be using those.

Even if I accept that the engine grills come standard on a YT-1300 freighter, it seems to me like something Lando or Han would have removed for greater speed, which would mean I should leave them on...or does it mean they're not standard and one of the guys added the grills? Either way, no grills for me.

Grill removal.

On either side of the engine area are the added strips of styrene I built up which came out pretty much to the outer circumference of the grill, and now (minus the grill) they make the engine nozzles look even more recessed –and I like that.

Like all the other Falcon kit parts that don't get used for my final model, these grill sections will go into my kitbashing parts collection for eventual use on other projects.

Rear end without grill.

I'll probably paint the nozzles some dark-ish gunmetal or something (many folks have been painting them copper, so we'll see...) and the recesses will be black to suggest greater depth. Since this model will not be in flight but landed in (a showroom), I won't be lighting the engines.

Port side outside.

The most notable feature of this "factory stock" version of the Millennium Falcon compared to the one in the Star Wars films is its relative smoothness and severe reduction of greeblies. My sidewalls here are perfectly smooth, but I'll be adding a few vertical lines with a scribing tool and a few photo-etched bits and pieces here and there so they don't remain completely blank.

Port side styrene additions.

After filing off the greeblies and sanding the sidewalls smooth I felt they were recessed a little too much between the top and bottom hulls, so I applied strips of sheet styrene five layers thick to build out the walls to an outer circumference that worked for me.

Starboard styrene additions.


This is a slightly better angle to see the limits of my sidewall deepening; if I went further than the plating on the left, filling in the space seen between the overhanging plates in the middle, it would protrude too far. Same goes for the short bit between the docking ring and the cockpit corridor on the right: I could bring the sidewalls closer to the overhang, but it would protrude beyond the inner wall on the left.

Primed (with new greeblies).

As much as I wanted the Falcon's surface to be pretty smooth, my additions were a little too smooth, so I added some photo etched parts in strategic spots...maybe I should have just scribed a line or two on the back parts instead...

Mandible cover greeblies.

I would have preferred something circular, but the PE parts from my Russian tank (Trumpeter's T-64AV Mod 1984) donor kit only had two really good circular parts with mesh (rather than four), so I sliced off four identical rectangles from two other bits.

Maintenance cover greeblies.

These planes were too plain as well, so I added the straight bits from the tank kit and the three-pringed bits come from the Green Strawberry PE set I got for the Falcon (but they go inside the gun turrets, which I won't be using –I think I'll just black out the windows).

Port side greeblies.

More tank kit PE parts to add some interest to (and cover some gaps in) the smooth, flat styrene I added.

Starboard side greeblies.

Sometimes symmetry is better than asymmetry, sometimes vice versa. It all depends on the circumstance.


That's a lot of greeblies, to be sure, but the functionality of these "actuators" was too good to leave out. After all, I kept various details I felt were linked to the task of cargo handling/grappling, so this was an easy call (but I almost got used to how good the smooth engine flaps areas looked...).


Once the primer goes on, you can really see any imperfections that might need fixing. I already knew that I gouged the hell out of the upper and lower hulls when I was chiseling the molded details off, but the primer test revealed the worst dents.

Unlikely-to-be-seen photo etch.

I got the Millennium Falcon photo etch set from Green Strawberry mostly for the fine landing gear details and decided to practice a bit with some unimportant parts (which might never be seen) because I'd never worked with PE before (apart from just attaching some to the sidewalls). It's tricky and delicate but it adds some better realism in areas where the kit parts are too thick.

Landing gear test fit.

The main reason I got this photo etch set was because the kit parts for the circular bits on the landing gear were too thick and cutting out all those holes would have been harder than dealing with PE. They didn't turn our perfectly, but I'm hoping they'll look better once painted. I may or may not use the PE parts for the gear doors...we'll see.

And speaking of which, there's a lot of painting to get to before certain sub-assemblies are finally attached to the ship (landing gear, cockpit...maybe I'll do the ramp down, maybe not...). Part Four will deal with all of that and Part Five will be the start of The Showroom itself (which is still being designed).




03 October 2017


by Celia Sage and Milé Murtanovski
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017, private collection
[HOME: Phase Two]

When I think of “homemakers” I think of my parents, making a safe, comfortable, loving place for each other, and me, and my sister. Studying Celia’s tender painting of her and her daughters, developing ideas about how to respond for my half, I started thinking about generations –the older ones taking care of the younger ones– and I went back a generation, past my parents, to my grandmother, Lenka, digging potatoes in Macedonia, helping my granddad make a home for a very large family, giving them the opportunity to leave and have better lives, which my parents, in turn, passed on to me and my sister.

– Milé Murtanovski

by Celia Sage
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase One]

Click the image above to see all ten Phase One
paintings from our HOME project.

02 October 2017

Home Town

by Milé Murtanovski and Celia Sage
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase Two]

Milé's shrouded figure* lying on the sidewalk was an almost unanswerable challenge. I hope that with a bit of imagination –and humour– the viewer will find the way I changed it to a bag of ski equipment persuasive.  This and other clues suggest my home town.

– Celia Sage 

Always on My Mind
by Milé Murtanovski
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase One]

Click the image above to see all ten Phase One
paintings from our HOME project.

*That shrouded figure was a homeless man (he was tightly wrapped in white, but his feet and head were actually exposed) sleeping on the sidewalk at Richmond and Yonge in Toronto, a chilling image I've kept not too far in the back of my mind since photographing him (that's my car's side-view mirror on the right) on my way to work in the fall of 2003.

01 October 2017

Rocket Out of Suburbia

by Celia Sage and Milé Murtanovski
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase Two]

In keeping with Celia’s surrealistic image of a flying trailer whisking her to adventures away from home, my frequent escape from the suburban doldrums of Scarborough was the mighty TTC (the subway used to be called the “Red Rocket”) taking me and my friends into the excitement of the Big City (Toronto).

– Milé Murtanovski

Home Away From Home
by Celia Sage
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase One]

Click the image above to see all ten Phase One
paintings from our HOME project.

30 September 2017

Home Away From Home

by Milé Murtanovski and Celia Sage
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase Two]

Milé's patterned background [a suburban lot plan] immediately suggested to me the site maps used at the many campgrounds to which my husband and I have taken our trailer –our home away from home.  A new favourite is on the Maine coast, hence the mermaid.

– Celia Sage 

Born and Bred and Bored and Dead
by Milé Murtanovski
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase One]

Click the image above to see all ten Phase One
paintings from our HOME project.

29 September 2017

Duelling Landscapes

by Celia Sage and Milé Murtanovski
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase Two]

As a contrast to Celia’s tranquil and pastoral landscape with its surreal eyes keeping watch, I’ve painted one of the seemingly millions of ever-present wire-festooned poles that line Scarborough’s streets (here at Kennedy and Lawrence, the very heart of bland convenience) like superhuman fence posts or totem poles for communication, electricity, and boredom.

– Milé Murtanovski 

Home Made –Squall Shadowed Hills
by Celia Sage
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[HOME: Phase One]

Click the image above to see all ten Phase One
paintings from our HOME project.