01 October 2019

The Clarity of Empty Vessels, Phase 2

CEV Phase 2 A
14" x 11", oil on canvas, 2019

CEV Phase 2 B
14" x 11", oil on canvas, 2019

In my post about Phase 1 I mentioned and linked to the trio of paintings I did in 2010 featuring wine in wine glasses with a few other items, but it was this painting below that specifically inspired this challenging new series...

Full-bodied, A
18" x 14", oil on canvas, 2010

13 September 2019

Restrained Fury

Restrained Fury
18" x 24", oil on wood panel, 2019

Pencils (with circle).

I felt the composition needed something in the upper right, so I drew a circle there, but I don't think I'm going to keep it as a clearly-defined shape.

Blocking-in shadows.

Along with the shadows, I blocked-in the dark background and softened that circle in the upper right. I'm still not sure what to do with it...

Close, but something's off...

Blue highlights on right. 

The right side of the head and neck weren't looking right until I realized I needed some definite blues (rather than trying to make it work with pale violets) and then it all came together. Now for some blue highlights in the coat...

Close-up featuring ear.

20 August 2019

Ted Maczka 2

Ted Maczka
17" x 14", ink on Bristol board, 2019,
private collection.

This was a commission done as a house-warming gift and was based on my oil painting of Ted Maczka (below), Prince Edward County's famous Fish Lake Garlic Man. The commissioner was aware that the recipient knew Ted well and missed him (Ted died in 2013), so I was more than happy to paint this one.

Ted Maczka
36" x 24", oil on canvas, 2011,
collection of the County of Prince Edward
Public Library and Archives

04 August 2019

County Coyote: Explorers

County Coyote: Explorers
18" x 24", oil on wood panel, 2019

I always enjoy participating in the shows put on by Peter and Alice Mennacher at their Blizzmax Gallery in South Bay, here in Prince Edward County, and when I got the invitation for this year's County Coyote group show I quickly began brainstorming ideas.

The main concept is that participating artists take Peter's drawing of a coyote and do whatever we wish with it. I decided to take the plentiful coyotes out of PEC and sent them out into the final frontier, exploring strange new worlds.

The main background of mountains and a ringed gas giant in the sky was borrowed from a Robert McCall painting, the rocket is based on Hergé's design from his Tintin comics, and the hoodoos are based on photos I took in Alberta more than a decade ago (I was going for a sort of Roger Dean-inspired landscape, and the surreal (and unlikely) tripled hoodoos lend themselves to this notion). Naturally, these canines would build doghouse-shaped structures for their outposts. The simple, bubble-shaped space helmets further contribute to a 1950s retro sci-fi feel.

Coyote by Peter Mennacher

I wanted to keep as much of Peter's coyote as possible, so they remained white in my painting, perhaps as a sort of genetic modification to aid in space exploration. After all, they have space helmets but no space suits, so it could be a pressure-based technology, perhaps, like a hydrophobic coating that they're dunked in or is sprayed on. Or maybe it's like the original Star Trek and how the warp drive and the transporter work isn't important, but what happens because of them is what counts, story-wise.

Show Poster

A lot of great local artists participated in this show and it was great to see a few faces I hadn't seen in years at the opening. See the show if you're around. SEE IT!

03 August 2019

The Clarity of Empty Vessels, Phase 1

CEV Phase 1 A
14" x 11", oil on canvas, 2019

In the winter of 2017-18 I kept seeing the first painting in this "full-bodied" group of paintings I did in 2010 and, because I really liked how the glass was rendered, with all the distortions and reflections, I came up with an idea for a larger group of paintings that would feature clear glassware as the main subject.

CEV Phase 1 B
20" x 10", oil on canvas, 2019

I felt painting those distortions and reflections convincingly would be a fun challenge, so I collected a few interesting glass items and photographed them in various lighting conditions, emphasizing the fact that they were all empty (more on that later).

CEV Phase 1 C
20" x 10", oil on canvas, 2019

This group was shot at night with extreme lighting mainly coming from above, with additional light sources causing many of those highlights and interesting reflections. 

CEV Phase 1 D
20" x 10", oil on canvas, 2019

I also got to thinking philosophically about a specific area of human nature, and this series became, coincidentally, a literalization of that idea, which I will elaborate on in Part 2.

17 July 2019

Minerva McCrimmon (study)

Minerva McCrimmon (study)
20" x 16", oil on wood panel,
2019, private collection.

When Krista and I moved to Prince Edward County in 2010, we were very interested in its history, feeling we could explore and celebrate it through our artwork in various ways. I won't get into all the historical work we've done, but I'll say that, over the years, we've gathered more than a few books to help educate us. One of these books is "The New Improved Legendary Guide to Prince Edward County" by Janet Kellough, and it was in this slim, spiral-bound text (that everybody seems to get upon arrival in PEC) that I first became aware of Minerva McCrimmon and her big heroic act in April 1880. There isn't much information on her actual life, but the story from from well over a century ago is really all I needed for this project.

I liked the story a lot –especially because she was so young– and I kept revisiting the tale to see if I could come up with a way to paint her portrait or adequately illustrate the event (much the way I illustrated another fascinating County story concerning a Mrs. Irwin during World War One). I pored over my existing photo reference of friends and co-workers that I'd used (and continue to use) in my paintings, but no one seemed to fit or looked young enough.

There are four paragraphs in total in the Kellough book concerning Minerva (spanning pages 66 & 67): the first one doesn't mention her, but informs us that many women signed on to ships as the cook, occasionally taking the wheel during storms while the men dealt with the sails; the second paragraph tells us that no one could steer the schooner David Andrews straighter than Minerva; the third paragraph tells the relevant story:

"...on April 13th, 1880 the David Andrews drove into the reef three miles below Oswego, New York in a blinding snowstorm. The lifesaving crew was already responding to other vessels in distress, but they managed to shoot a line across to the David Andrews. The only way ashore was by riding across this line on a bosun's chair. The crew was petrified. Minerva went first, to show them it could be done, and then she returned to the ship. One by one she escorted the crew, including her father, safely to shore;"

...and in the last one we're told that "soon after" she married Henry Whattam (but their marriage record says she and Henry were married on February 10, 1880, two months before the storm incident), and died a short time later at the age of 21. That's the only mention of her age in this book, but some sources place her age at the time of the ship's grounding at 17, while others say she was 19.

Penciled and prepped.

Months ago I was approached to be part of a group of portrait artists who would create a portrait of a notable woman from Prince Edward County history during a fundraising event for our local museums. Naturally, my thoughts turned to Minerva and I immediately began composing a "symbolic" portrait since there's no photographic record of her. The final portrait of Minerva herself is based on a photo of a young woman I bought from a stock house (I again revisited my existing model refs, but I still felt none of them fit or looked young enough).

The parameters of the fundraising event at the Wellington Heritage Museum changed a bit since the initial invitation, but now were that we would create these portraits on a 20" x 16" canvas (or wood panel, in my case) and that they would be completed in exactly 60 minutes. People would pay to watch us paint, and then, afterward, they would bid on the portraits in a silent auction.

I don't mind taking a calculated risk in front of people, so how well or poorly I painted during the hour would be just a look into my process or whatever, and not a great concern to me. But, knowing the portraits would then be up for auction, I wanted to maximize the potential for the museums to raise money from my painting by doing the best possible work I could in an hour –and that meant coming prepared, so I started with the penciled image above, acrylic ground also already in place.

Repaint begins.

Having only an hour in which to paint this portrait, I deliberately designed it to have a limited palette, sticking closely to blues to evoke both icy cold and serene calm. I knew from the get-go that this would serve as a study for a larger piece based on the exact same reference illustration I created in Photoshop; I'd be able to really get in there with the detail work on her face, the ship's intricate rigging and sails, and all those water effects, both calm and stormy. I'm happy that this fun fundraising event lit a fire under me to finally (nine years after I first "met" Minerva) come up with an image that I feel does both her and her story proper justice.

I felt lucky to get a 20-minute extension during the night of the fundraising event and felt satisfied to have achieved what I did in that short a period (in the photo above only the clouds and calm waters have been repainted, the rest is as it was after 80 minutes' work). Then we were told that the auction would take place at a later date and that we could take our portraits home to work on them some more if we wanted to. Well, sure: of course I'd like to take it home and take my time to get it closer to my initial vision for the portrait. The repaint benefits from increased contrast and I did a better job on the stormy water effect, but I didn't do any new work on her face at all, feeling the rendering, as is, would suffice for this study.

04 July 2019

Droid DeSoto (1/24 scale model), Part 1

What follows (for a little bit) is largely the exact same content as my KITT post because it's the same base model kit and there's just so much crossover in the early build stages (and I don't assume everybody reads everything I write here). 

Box art (front).

Even after building KITT, I still have no idea (and still no significant interest in finding out) what a MechatroWeGo is or does (it looks like a robot helper/friend of small children), but that doesn't matter. I really like the design and, seeing as dozens of modelers around the world have made amazing customized versions of these things, I wanted to join in the fun (with my own twists, of course).

Box art (sides).

Like many recent Bandai kits, Hasegawa has designed these figures to be highly poseable and, I suppose, played with. My plan is to have this robot simply standing in a display case, maybe with some kind of reference to the Station 51 firehouse from the show to fill out the space (the display cases I have are quite a bit taller than the figures).

Views of standard completed robot.

These things look great box stock and yet they're almost like a blank slate, as though they're begging for custom paint schemes or other additions (just Google "MechatroWeGo custom" and have a look at the wonderland of amazingness people have created).

Assembly instructions.

The build is made easy by instructions, while in Japanese, that are clear and easy to understand, pictorially. Also, like many recent Bandai kits, this one doesn't really need glue, but I used some anyway in key areas to make sure nothing ever comes apart in case of a posing or handling mishap.

Sprue tour.

I used just about all the parts but I didn't bother to model the inside or use the figure provided since this one won't be opening up for any reason. Like with my KITT robot, I used after market hands instead of the clamps provided with the kit; I figured these guys need extra dexterity in their jobs, so they both got hands and fingers.

And now, the twist:

Squad 51 from Emergency!

I love this little truck and I had a little Hot Wheels-type version as a kid; it's both cute and rugged-looking at the same time.

I may have had the engine, too.

Of course, after years of watching the show, this truck is a reassuring sight: help is on the way. After recently re-watching the series I was struck by how much it holds up today –it was so realistically done that, as a kid, I thought it was a documentary of sorts before realizing I was watching extremely well-made fiction (based on real events, however). Of course, Droid DeSoto is named in honour of the TV character Roy DeSoto, the paramedic (and senior partner of Johnny Gage) who drove the Squad (and helped rescue countless people).

I seriously considered building a model of the truck, but that would require buying garage kit resin parts for the back storage compartments and merging them with a Dodge pickup kit. Lots of work and expense involved in that proposition. But I'd become aware of these nifty Mechatro robot kits and decided to customize one and dress it up as Squad 51. The kits aren't very pricey and just how hard could that be?

Photoshop mock-up.

Appropriate after-market decals.

These were pretty cool, but quite thick –probably because the DIY decal paper used has thick carrier film. I was happy to have plenty of duplicates because I had some placement problems and had to redo a couple of them.

Sub-assemblies ready for primer.

I initially was going to paint every single piece individually, but after building KITT, I realized I could assemble quite a lot of the parts (whole sections of the arms and legs, etc.) before painting.

Seams to address.

These fairings cover the shoulder and hip joints and I almost considered not adding them to the final model, but I liked the finished look they gave i, so I closed up those seams with putty to make them look like one perfect unit. It's a robot, and seams and other artifacts of mechanical construction should be expected, but some parts look better smooth and shiny. The ones with the cream-coloured "hub caps" were used on this kit and the other four were used on KITT.

Take the lightbar challenge!

Of course, to properly recreate Squad 51 (and certainly my Photoshopped mock-up) I needed a lightbar, preferably the kind used on the actual vehicle and there happened to be an accurate after market kit available, so I ordered one. To say I was slightly intimidated by the complexity of this is almost an understatement, but I'm still confident at this point that I can build it adequately.

My favourite part of the instructions: "For simplicity sake and to keep the assembly frustration level from going orbital..."

Fire engine red!

I used a Rustoleum red gloss rattle can for the red and it worked perfectly, giving me the colour I wanted, plus a smooth, glossy durability after it cured for a few days (making it easy to handle (no fingerprints!) for further assembly and decal application).

Back panel decals.

You can easily see the thickness of the decals' carrier film here.

Mech suit, not robut?

I'd left the head until last because of the complicated lightbar build (it's practically a mini model kit in itself) and the more I looked at the model at this stage of completion, the more I liked the look of it...

Mech suit in the shop!

Then I added a 1/24 scale mechanic I was going to use in a garage diorama for my A-Wing Roadster (for interest, but also to bring that model up to 1/24 scale) and BAM! This thing is now a mobile mech suit that needs a driver/pilot/paramedic/whatever...and it's going to be in the display case as though it's undergoing some maintenance or repairs.

But that'll be in Part 2...for now, some more outdoor shots:

12 June 2019


40" x 30", oil on canvas, 2019

This painting is based on a photo I took at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Fort Macleod, Alberta. I find skeletons and skulls fascinating (we all have at least one, after all) and when I saw this wall display of dozens of buffalo skulls I was mesmerized by the patterns, shapes, shadows, and sheer volume of bones.

Here's how that place got its name. It's a coincidence, of course, but I think it's wonderfully appropriate that this was done over top a failed painting I was calling Gravity Loves to Win (see below). Maybe I should have kept that title for this painting...maybe I still could...


My technique on this painting is different from my normal cross-hatch-style of brushwork, largely because I started blocking in shadows with an older brush, giving me a softer look...and I just kept going like that with very little cross-hatching. I did go back in with some sharply-defined darks and highlights, but having a nice looseness with those older brushes, I wanted to maintain that look. This soft-and-loose approach is most likely a one-off as I don't know if it would lend itself to other paintings I have in mind. We'll see...


At this stage, things were kind of hard to see since I didn't apply a thick enough coat of gesso to cover the previous painting. But with some concentration and patience, I was able to figure out pretty much what was what and blocked-in my forms and shadows accordingly.

Salad days.

While composing this image in Photoshop out of four different elements, I thought this would be an interesting and elaborate –maybe even an improved– version of my original watercolour painting (see below). Although, I couldn't decide which way it should go for a long time, finally settling on this horizontal orientation just before ditching the whole project.

Then the movie Gravity came out (I still haven't seen it, by the way) which apparently featured a woman falling to earth from orbit at some point and I kind of lost interest (even though my image was completely unrelated to that movie and the title is a line from 32, a song by Wild Strawberries (again, see my watercolour painting from 1998). I set aside this painting still in this drawing-and-orange-ground stage for a few years (but only partly because of the movie; other projects took precedence).

I blocked in some shadows in the figure in 2016 during a photoshoot with a local photographer, but then set the painting aside for another long stretch while I again worked on other, more pressing projects.

I admit: I lost track of my printed photo reference (and found it again) a few times over the years after I'd set up the painting, and my computer suffered a catastrophic crash in 2014, leaving me with no digital version. That's no excuse, but I gravitated (no pun intended) to relatively "easier" projects rather than digitally rebuilding that composition. I do have that printed reference now, though.

I resumed painting this last year and it looked like it was going well, what with my new interest in glazing...and I liked those clouds...but it wasn't quite coming together and I was reminded of another failed painting from a few years ago which also featured the same model and also was another oil variation of a previous watercolour painting (which had its own oil variation already). So I started having reservations about this painting...

Then, early this year, I was looking through my photos for ideas and came across my photo of the wall of buffalo skulls I'd shot back in the previous decade and decided to recycle Gravity Loves to Win and do what I'd hoped would be (and did turn out to be) a much better painting. Huzzah.

Gravity Loves to Win
32" x 40", oil on canvas
(2012-2018 –unfinished, recycled)

And here is the watercolour painting I did in 1998:

Gravity Loves to Win
22" x 15", watercolour, 1998