30 June 2017

HOME – a painting collaboration with Celia Sage

Where the Heart Is
by Milé Murtanovski 
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[Phase One]

Home Builder
by Celia Sage 
24" x 24", collage and oil on canvas, 2017
[Phase One]

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

Home Range
by Celia Sage 
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[Phase One]

Conform or Be Cast Out
by Milé Murtanovski 
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[Phase One]

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

Scarberian Rhapsody
by Milé Murtanovski 
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2017
[Phase One]

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


You can scroll down to read the lengthy description in the Origins section below for more details, but here's the gist of this project:

Celia Sage and I each painted five paintings on the theme of "HOME," then we traded pictures and painted over half of each other's work. The final ten paintings will be shown in August at the House of Falconer in downtown Picton alongside photos of their original versions.

This post is now being updated regularly with the original ten paintings, one at a time, then, after the exhibition, the new "hybrid" final versions will all have their own post.

Opening reception is on August 1 at 7:30pm.


Up until now, all of my personal painting projects have been solitary endeavours where I come up with the ideas and images, and then I paint by myself, and that's that. And I like working like that. But I have long envied the collaborative nature of other art forms (specifically, music, theatre, and film) and I wondered if I'd be able to make something like that happen for me with painting (I know others have done so to varying degrees, but I need my own thing).

First, I needed a suitable project; this wouldn't simply be a show by two painters –we'd have to actively make the final product together in some way. Sure, I could "jam" with someone and do a bit here, they do a bit there, simultaneously on the same canvas, but I find the end result of that kind of effort too random and unfocused, compositionally –I need more control over the final images.

I had one idea for a project that could be adapted to a collaborative version, to wit, we each would create the same number of paintings on the same theme, trade them when they were done, then we would paint over half of each other's original paintings with a "response" to what they'd done, working within the same theme as before.

That sounded like a perfect project for me and a willing cohort: weird, exciting, challenging, and potentially mildly controversial (we're painting over another artist's work!). All I needed now was a willing cohort...

And the first person that came to mind was Celia Sage.

I'd admired her paintings since I first moved to PEC in 2010 and in my many conversations with her about art, I felt that, not only were we on the same page concerning a variety of art topics, but we were in the same paragraph. Her work is of a high calibre and not too dissimilar to my own, but still very identifiable as hers, so our respective styles would complement each other well for this project. So there was no short list; there was only Celia. If she wasn't into this project, I would have then had to make a list of people to ask. I approached Celia in late 2015 about this and I was very pleased, but not surprised, when she agreed to participate in this weirdness. I trusted her to give me great paintings to work with and also to do great stuff with my paintings.

We initially planned for an exhibition in 2016, but our already busy schedules dictated a later date would be best and a longer gestation/production period would give us the opportunity to make the best work we can. We talked with Alex Fida about a show at the House of Falconer in August 2017 and he was happy to accommodate us.


We met a few times to discuss potential themes and specific parameters: we would each paint five 24" x 24" paintings, primarily oil on canvas (but other media could be used as needed/wanted), then we would cover up exactly half of the other person's work for Phase Two. This division could only be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal –for simplicity; it would be too complicated to scatter our half all over the painting or do it in quarters or whatever.

For this initial collaboration I felt keeping it as simple as possible was best; I like working within strict limitations/guidelines and seeing how far I can push the boundaries –after all, we could mess around with other divisional/conceptual permutations on future projects. Other than those guidelines, I wanted her to feel absolutely free to paint whatever she wanted/needed to.

After whittling down an already rather short list, we agreed that "HOME" was a good universal theme that would give us lots of leeway for interpretation and images. The theme might have been a bit too universal as the challenging part of Phase One was limiting ourselves to only five paintings!

We kept our ideas a secret during this phase because I didn't want us to influence each other in any way (perhaps a painting I was planning was too similar to Celia's, I'd maybe reconsider doing it, or she would see I hadn't covered a certain subject, so she'd feel like she might want to, and so on).


By February 2017 Celia and I had each finished our five paintings and met at Small Pond for the trade...

Celia paints around to her edges;
I paint my edges black.

Now, let me be absolutely clear: I had no doubts about asking Celia Sage to collaborate with me on such an unusual project...but IF I DID...if I had even the faintest whisper of a ghost of a shadow of a doubt...it would have vanished as soon as I saw her five paintings. Celia delivered work with lots of variety, interest, and beauty (as I knew she would), but what I didn't expect was that our paintings had some key elemental similarities that it looks like we'd planned them!

In a theme as universal as "HOME," and having only five paintings in which to explore that theme, some similarities are inevitable, I guess...but some of ours were uncanny: we each painted family members; we each used one word as a prominent design element; we each have floating objects; we each have some kind of surreal landscape; we each have a sort of map element; while the overall group of ten paintings is quite colourful, we each have a rather limited colour palette within the individual paintings; and, rather than taking an objective, conceptual approach to the theme, we both went with a highly subjective, autobiographical approach.

I know that painting over Celia's beautiful work is an integral part of this project, but it took me a long time to get up the nerve to tape off and "delete" half her work with white gesso.

Phase Two wasn't about using pre-planned ideas or ideas left over from Phase One; this time we had to take into consideration what the other had painted and respond to that while staying on-theme.

Stay tuned for more Process and the final paintings from Phase Two after the show in August...

16 June 2017

Hat Trick

24" x 36", oil on canvas, 2017, (after Johns)

Peter and Alice of Blizzmax Gallery had asked if I would like to participate in their One 5 Oh Canada show celebrating Canada's 150th birthday this summer and, always happy to be part of a Blizzmax show, I said yes, not knowing right away what I could/would/should submit for inclusion. With an eye towards positivity and celebration (rather than grim political commentary) I settled on aping a couple of Jasper Johns paintings of American flags and giving them a Canadian twist.

This one is a riff on his Three Flags (1958) which I did in oil (rather than his encaustic on canvas) and is much smaller than his work. Because I used a different medium, I had to create an illusion of depth as well as rely on many layers of gesso and paint for actual texture. My flag paintings are less complex as a result, but no less fun and whimsical.

My other painting is a Canadian version of his White Flag (1955) which I titled Snowblind.

Creating the illusion of stacking.

Over a few layers of gesso (for added texture) I did as precise a tracing as possible of the maple leaf in our flag because accuracy was important here. The design of the leaf in the Canadian flag is almost impossible to draw freehand and almost no one can get it right.  The proportions of the other elements vary in my flag paintings, but the leaf HAD to be correct.

Then after I covered the surface with orange acrylic for my ground colour (as usual), I reinforced the shadows of the two top flags with black acrylic to give the illusion of stacked forms (Johns made three flags and stacked them while mine is decidedly flat).

Almost there...

As with my white flag, I applied some dark acrylics for depth and to assist in illusion of shadows, then went straight to oil colours getting to this point, which is pretty close to what I want –another few hours of touching-up (some reddening of the reds, some darkening of the shadows, and some brightening of the whites) once this stage is dry and I'm happy and the paintings is ready for the show.

13 June 2017


24" x 36", oil on canvas, 2017, (after Johns)

Peter and Alice of Blizzmax Gallery had asked if I would like to participate in their One 5 Oh Canada show celebrating Canada's 150th birthday this summer and, always happy to be part of a Blizzmax show, I said yes, not knowing right away what I could/would/should submit for inclusion. With an eye towards positivity and celebration (rather than grim political commentary) I settled on aping a couple of Jasper Johns paintings of American flags and giving them a Canadian twist.

This one is a riff on his White Flag (1955) which I did with just oils on canvas (rather than his encaustic, oil, and charcoal on canvas) and is much smaller than his flag. Because I used one medium instead of three, I had to create an illusion of depth as well as rely on many layers of gesso and paint for actual texture. My flag paintings are less complex as a result, but no less fun and whimsical.

My other painting is a Canadian version of his Three Flags (1958) which I titled Hat Trick.

Nice and sharp.

Over a few layers of gesso (for added texture) I did as precise a tracing as possible of the maple leaf in our flag because accuracy was important here. The design of the leaf in the Canadian flag is almost impossible to draw freehand and almost no one can get it right.  The proportions of the other elements vary in my flag paintings, but the leaf HAD to be correct.

Then after I covered the surface with orange acrylic for my ground colour (as usual), I reinforced the perimeter of the leaf with black acrylic.

Okay, Blue Jays!
(or whatever)

I wanted the white to sit atop a range of dark colours so as not to be pure, flat white, so I started with some cyan (in acrylic so it would dry faster –speed at this stage was important because the show was coming up soon and I wanted to give myself lots of time for the pure white oil portion).

More underneathness.

Still using acrylics I added some brown and green to vary the colours and then emboldened the outside border with more black.

Almost there...

This is the first round of white oils and the colours underneath are showing through nicely, but another session of pure white (once this stage was dry) would be needed for stronger coverage and the look I was after (not a copy of Johns, but capturing the essence of his paintings in my own idiosyncratic way).

28 May 2017

TARDIS (Study Model) 1/12 scale

I've wanted a TARDIS since I first started watching Doctor Who in the late '70s during Tom Baker's run which I watched on TVOntario on Saturday nights (with a repeat on the following Thursday which I also tried to catch). My mother didn't try to prevent me from watching the show but she didn't really like it –not because of the scary monsters, but because she was worried The Doctor would trip over his long scarf! This caused her much anxiety and me much amusement.

Anyway, Doctor Who merchandise was pretty scant in Canada, so getting some kind of toy or model TARDIS (or sonic screwdriver or overly long scarf) was beyond me for most of my life...but the show was enough and I enjoyed much of it.

A night's work.

I'd used cereal boxes for my study models of the Bata HQ in Toronto and an a-frame restaurant prior to this project, but, in researching architectural modeling materials, I was introduced to chip board, a sturdy cardboard-like material (similar to mat board, which is typically used when framing pictures). This stuff is great to work with and is cut easily with a utility knife (just make sure the blade's sharp...and use many light cuts (along a metal ruler) instead of a few heavy cuts). Regular white glue would suffice, but I used wood glue for a stronger bond.

Familiar...but sloppy.

After literally hours of searching online, I finally found some plans for a police box and divided the measurements by 12 to scale it down to a manageable size (but it might be fun to try to build a full-sized one!). Some of my measurements were off (the roof angle needs to be shallower, the four sign boxes need to be slightly taller, and the wall/door insets need to be slimmer and more rectangular). I was translating imperial to metric, fractions to decimals, estimating much of it, just to figure it out and get a handle on building these forms...but that's what study models are for. Now that I know which measurements to correct (I'll take a trip to Logopolis for some block transfer computations just to be sure), I can build a better-looking one next time in balsa wood. Eventually...

Ghostly, but better.

One side of the chip board was white, but the back and the edges are a tan cardboard colour, so I decided to use some white gesso to cover this up and unify the overall look. A pleasant surprise was that the gesso served as a gap-filler so it helped with just more than the colour.

The lamp cover was made from card stock-like paper from a flyer and the lamp itself is a few pieces of clear plastic from a package. I used a black Sharpie to line the windows and mark up the front panel details. The St. John Ambulance badge is simply blue pen.

Painted and Shopped.

I really like the look of a white TARDIS, especially after the gesso tidied everything up, making it look like a proper architectural model, but I was eager to see this in its proper blue, so I got out some acrylics and got to work. I started with a dark coat of navy blue and then two coats of cyan, allowing some of the dark to show through in the corners and shadowy areas here and there, adding a nice texture.

I was also eager to see what it looked like with windows and signage in place, so I Photoshopped those elements onto the model, planning to add printed details later.

Lamp parts.

Using leftover parts from the food truck model kit (which I transformed into the Small Pond Arts Puppet Wagon) and the Romulan Bird of Prey, I'll be adding a working lamp to this study model (and probably transferring it to the new balsa wood version whenever that gets built). Pictured above is one of the LEDs which is part of the lighting system I'm installing in the Romulan ship, but my TARDIS light will be the same, only flashing.

Printed details.

After getting colour prints of the window and signage details I carefully cut them out...but then realized I didn't have any glue handy where I was...so I rummaged and found some Gorilla Glue. Good stuff, but not for paper (note the discolouration) and it doesn't dry clear. I was impatient and should have waited until I could get my hand on some white glue. I can still fix this with a minor paint touch-ups and applying my spare cut-outs. The "Police Box"graphics need to be longer and the boxes themselves need to be a smidgen taller.

Spare details added.

Above is the TARDIS with four new window cutouts, as well as a new phone box label and St. John Ambulance badge...it looks good out in the sunshine at Small Pond Arts, checking out the new silo banner.

All in all, this was a very fun and quick project in where I learned a lot about building with chip board, which I think is a great material, especially for my future study models.

25 May 2017

Small Pond Shipyard Architectural Projects List

This is the main hub for all my architectural Shipyard projects.

I've also created hubs for my science fiction model projects as well as my automotive model projects.

In this post I talk about my first known exposure to models as a very young boy, and, as that one was architectural in nature, it's fitting that I'll be making architectural models of my own, beginning with these study models:

23 May 2017

A-Frame Burger Joint (1/72 scale study model)

In this post detailing my return to modelling, I talk about being fascinated by a model of a hospital I saw as a wee lad, and recently, I've expanded my modelling interests to include architectural models, starting with my test model of the former Bata Head Office in Don Mills, Ontario. I definitely have a preference for mid-20th Century modern architecture and its (now) retro futuristic look, so looking around the internet for suitable candidates for future projects, I immediately fell in love with the design of these small a-frame diners.

This a-frame design dates a little earlier in the 20th Century, the first instance I can find being the late '20s or early '30s and the burger chain, Hardee's, used this for many stores in their chain across the USA. I'll be taking the design and incorporate many details from real a-frames to make my own unique burger joint as part of an action-packed diorama.

1/72 or 1/87 scale?

Based on a particular element involved in the diorama (sorry for the vagueness, but I'd like to keep the reveal a surprise) I initially designed this to be 1/72 scale, but I found some elements for the project that were in HO scale (1/87) so I've decided to reduce the scale of the diner to match.

Lots of visual interest.

If you look at this structure directly from the front, directly from the back, or directly from overhead, it looks like an ordinary rectangle...but from all other views it's got lots of dynamic visual interest and almost appears as though there aren't any 90° angles at all.

Necessary mechanicals.

This is a great little set and with some proper painting and additional wire detailing, these will look nice and realistic on my diner. For some reason I have a fascination for mechanicals like these and kind of can't wait to be able to use more of these parts on other buildings.

HVAC sprue tour.

Two parts trees are all you get, but the parts are well-molded and nicely detailed. It says HO scale on the box and instructions but, once I put them on my model, they look a little large –and I'll be making the building smaller!

HVAC test fitting.

These HVAC units look pretty good on this 1/72 scale building but look like they might actually be 1/48 scale...which means they'll be way out of scale when I reduce the whole building to 1/87. There are a couple of smaller box units on the sprue tree, but no smaller vents. I'll do another test fit when the new, smaller building is done (or another test model is built) and see if I need new, smaller roof parts.

New numbers.

I really can't remember now why I decided to make the whole project HO scale down from 1/72, other than the whole diorama will take up a smaller footprint. I found and used an excellent scale converter online which helped my math-addled brain immensely. I've scrawled all the new measurements on the test model, alternating from centimetres to millimetres (wherever the closest round numbers were), and these will be my guides for the new, smaller diner.

22 May 2017

Small Pond Shipyard Sci-Fi Projects List, PART 2

So many of my modelling projects fall into this this category that I've decided to split them up in groups of ten to avoid an overly long scroll down the list. I'll do the same for my Automotive and Architectural projects when necessary. My first ten sci-fi projects (which include my novice attempts in the 1990s) can be found RIGHT HERE.

The following are more or less in chronological order (some projects are being built concurrently; some are temporarily on hold for various reasons; some are simply very fast builds and get done before the more complex ones, etc.).

21 May 2017

Bata HQ (1/144 scale study model)

This is another modelling project whose inspiration goes way back to my childhood in the late '70s and early '80s. Growing up in Canada with a Macedonian cultural heritage, the main meeting place for us was St. Clement's Orthodox Church in Toronto for various functions: weddings, Christenings, and many, many dances (outside of Christmas and Easter, we didn't attend regular church services, nor did my parents insist that my sister and I go to Macedonian school). I bring that up only because more than 90% of the time we would pass this building on our way to and from church (and the dozen or so times I'd visited the Ontario Science Centre just around the corner from Bata HQ) –otherwise, I might never have known about this relatively short-lived gem.

Heading west along Eglinton Avenue (just east of the Don Valley) I'd see the this strange and beautiful building before we turned left onto Don Mills Road. Waiting for the light to change I'd often have ample time to admire this lovely, unique, futuristic, bright white thing (the view below is how I'd see it from the road). I would wonder what "Bata" meant and, early on, mistook it for a certain building from a couple of favourite current TV shows (I wasn't able to compare them side-to-side, so, to my seven--or-eight-year-old eyes, the one blocky building on a grassy hill easily resembled the other).

Misguided youth.

Designed by architect John B. Parkin and completed in 1965, it graced that hill for decades, but barely got to see the 21st Century; it was demolished in the late 2000s to make way for the Aga Khan Museum (which was completed in 2014). Toronto Star architecture critic Christopher Hume said around the time of its demolition: "Surely there's an element of irony when an architecturally worthy building must be destroyed in the name of culture."

The Bata design had its critics from the get-go (what doesn't?) but I agree with Hume when he gave it this praise: "Situated on a height of land in Toronto's north end, the simple, modular edifice exemplifies the ideal of the building in a park. Simple and seemingly weightless, it rests on rows of columns, reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple. Unadorned yet poetic, the architecture pays homage to the past while extolling the virtues of the future."

No blueprints.

Around 2010 or 2011 I was looking around on Google maps and wanted to have a look at this building from the aerial view that application afforded –and that's when I discovered it was gone! I hadn't been in that area for years, so I never had an idea that it was demolished and replaced by something else. When I returned to model-making in 2015 and eventually started thinking of branching out beyond spaceships and cars to include scratch-built architectural projects, this building was the first on my list.

My plan is to build this in styrene as part of a diorama including the grassy hill and accurate landscaping...and maybe even lighting the offices if I can find suitable reference images. But first I'd have to build it with simple and cheap materials (cereal box cardboard and masking tape) to get a handle on the measurements and scale (which, to make the project manageable, would be 1/144).

New details!

Since the building doesn't exist anymore, I had to scour the internet for reference images, and managed to collect quite a few, but nothing showing the roof, so that'll have to be creatively extrapolated. I never saw the back of the building in real life (even when I worked at the Radisson Hotel in the summer of 1989 –which was nearby on the same road!– so the six tower blocks on the "backside" (actually the front entrance) were a revelation to me. If only I'd been interested enough to take photos that summer (or any time before its demolition).

My measurements were approximations based on a more-or-less flat view from the side and an estimation of the height of the doors there. I think I need to make the top block a little taller to look more like it consists of two floors and, more obviously, I need to have two rows of nine windows on the front side, not eight.

For the surface treatments I painted the base and tower blocks with acrylic and the windows are simply drawings on paper, taped to the sides. Plus, this is a very basic study model and leaves out a lot of nice details like the column tops and the porte-cochere above the back entrance.

Fresh and clean and new.

This is what it looked like in the mid-to-late 1960s after its completion. It's so clean and modern, with some great details like the corner cuts and slight lower taper to the office windows, and those nifty umbrella-like radiating supports atop the columns. I've got my work cut out for me to accurately portray this wonderful structure in miniature. My modelling skills are growing with each build, so I know when I'll be suitably ready for this project.

She married into the Bata family and left behind her dreams of becoming a great architect to successfully help develop the Bata company. But look at her: she's so stylish and elegant here that if you told me that she completed her architecture studies and single-handedly designed this building, I'd believe it. I haven't found anything in my research to suggest this, so it's pure speculation on my part, but I like to think she had a big influence on the decision to go with the design (if not having an influence on the design itself) for Bata's head office in Don Mills.