30 April 2020

Johnny LaRue

Johnny LaRue
17" x 14", oil on Bristol board, 2020

Here's my SCTV story:

One late Friday night (likely some time in 1979 or 1980), during one of the many, many sleepovers at my cousins' house, we tuned in to SCTV. I'm not sure I got all the jokes –certainly not all the references– but I knew it was something this 8- or 9- year-old liked.

I would keep up with SCTV for years, on whatever channel I could find it, and it was in the mid-'80s that I started noticing the name "Malabar" in the credits, listed as providing costumes (of course, the costume designer was the brilliant Juul Haalmeyer).

In 1990 I started attending the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University) on McCaul Street (about midway between Queen and Dundas in Toronto) and, just one block north of Queen, was Malabar Costumes. The name recognition from watching countless hours of SCTV gave me a distant sense of vague connection: the art school I'm going to is on the same street as the costume shop that serviced my favourite comedy show. I never went inside Malabar during my two years at OCA, but I smiled just about every time I passed the shop.

While looking for work in 2003 I saw an ad looking for a costumer at, lo and behold, the Opera Department of Malabar Costumes on Brock Street (I mistook it for Brock Road in Pickering, much closer to my home than its actual location in downtown Toronto). For three years, I assembled costumes for many opera companies in Canada and the USA. Sometimes, my duties would take me to the HQ on McCaul St. (I finally -now, regularly- went inside that mythical building I passed hundreds of times over a decade earlier).

I took this shot from the second floor of the Opera Dept.
on Brock St. (I brightened the sign a bit for legibility).

This door was on the main building
on McCaul and led to an alleyway.

Much of the crew at Malabar had been there for a long time and remembered the SCTV days. I heard a few stories about the cast and Juul, but my absolute favourite thing was seeing some of the costumes used on the show (much of which were stock items, like formal period suits and dresses). I got to see the Shmenge brothers shirts (with "John" and "Gene" still written on the inside) and I even got to try on one of Dr. Tongue's vests. It was magical.

So get this:
1970s: I see first-run SCTV as a kid;
1980s: grow to enjoy the show even more; notice Malabar credited as providing their costumes;
1990s: go to art school down the street from Malabar;
2000s: work at Malabar in the Opera Dept.;
2020s: paint portraits of my favourite SCTV characters.

Here's the time lapse video of this painting's creation:

22 April 2020

Maple Taffy

Maple Taffy
14" x 17", oil on Bristol board, 2020

I was assigned to document this year's Ice Box event (February 2020) in photos and video and I noticed, almost without fail, that my first few shots taken outside would be overexposed (if I had come from shooting indoors) and the first few shots taken inside would be underexposed (if I had come from shooting outside).

On the second weekend, Chef Chris Byrne and food stylist Ruth Gangbar were making maple taffy from local maple syrup on a makeshift apparatus recreating the methods used in sugar shacks. When reviewing my first few photos, I noticed this one of a young girls enjoying a sweet treat was way overexposed with everything but her red hair being blown out. I really liked the "minimalist use of negative space" that my incorrect camera settings "designed" for me, so I kept it to paint later on.

Here's the time lapse video of its creation:

21 April 2020

The Last Outpost

The Last Outpost
16" x 20", oil on mat board, 2020

Maybe I'm just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but sometimes my artwork makes people smile...and that's enough (for now) for me to keep the light on in the dark; maybe someone will find some fuel to keep going through the night.

I've had the photo reference for this painting for close to twenty years (taken on one of several road trips to New York City), but I never felt I had the wherewithal to paint it to my satisfaction. But recently, my experimentation has me getting out of a stylistic comfort zone, and I'm trying new things (including using my fingertips to apply paint and move it around (it really helped with the lights, here).

Also, symbolically, it felt like the right painting for right now; my first paragraph is how I feel and all there is I currently have to say.

Here's the time lapse video of its creation:

20 April 2020

Happy However After

Happy However After
14" x 17", oil on Bristol board, 2020, private collection.

Much like the situation with my Sleepy Fox painting, this one was also done for a family member's birthday. My brother-in-law, Tim, reached a milestone (it's on the jersey), but, since everyone has to stay away from each other because of the pandemic, he could only share the special day with his wife and two kids.

I loosely based my still life on "Still Life on a Table" by Willemsz Heda from around 1644 (though, I basically just used the table, tablecloth, and the light-coloured fabric that's now underneath the baseball glove). Then I added a bunch of his favourite things* in a satisfying composition –all intended to put a smile on his face the day he turned 40. And it worked! He'll get the painting itself when it's dry (and safe) enough to send to Ottawa.

Happy birthday, Tim!

Here's a time lapse video of this painting's creation:

*incidentally, this is the second time I've painted two bottles from Steam Whistle Brewing and a glass full of their beer.

18 April 2020


16" x 20", oil on mat board, 2020

Continuing the practice of revisiting older photo reference I've shot (and, sometimes, painted already) this painting is based on a photo of my friend, Trish, from way back in the mid-1990s. Below is the watercolour version, which is okay, but it's very small, so there's less detail...and I think my new oil version is more vibrant and alive (which is a good sign, considering they're about 25 years apart).

15" x 11", watercolour, 1994

Here's the time lapse video of "Hubbub's" creation:

17 April 2020

Sleepy Fox

Sleepy Fox (for Isla)
16" x 20", oil on mat board, 2020,
private collection.

One of my nieces turned 8 years old this year, but in the midst of pandemic-induced social distancing, she wasn't able to have her fox-themed birthday party. So I made this cute little fox painting for her and the accompanying video to help ease a bit of the disappointment I knew she'd be feeling.

Here's the time lapse video of this painting's creation:

03 April 2020


17" x 14", oil on Bristol board, 2020

This painting is based on photo reference I shot in the late '90s and used as part of my Operation: Waterstorm project from 1998 (see below). I challenged myself to paint one watercolour per week for the entire year (I ended up painting 63 in total). I had a suspicion that painting regularly would improve my skills and it turned out to be true; the only way to get better at something is to keep doing it (it's also important to be mindful throughout and learn from your mistakes; the improvement is cumulative, but there will be some duds along the way).

This current project (which, uncharacteristically, for me doesn't have a name) is very similar, even in its origin: on New Year's Eve, 2019, I decided to paint as many pictures in 2020 (and beyond) as I could, all the while filming myself and then uploading time lapse videos to my YouTube channel. As of this posting, I've done 14 paintings (and videos) which puts me at just over a painting per week on average (I have a bathroom renovation and pandemic to contend with, or there would be a few more by now).

As with the watercolour project from 1998, I'm finding some improvement in my paintings (so far, just oils, but I'll eventually paint some watercolours because I still love that medium very much). I'm trying some new techniques and Bristol board is an interesting surface to paint on.

22" x 15", watercolour, 1998.

This was the first time I used this reference image...but not the last: I abstracted it in Photoshop, then painted that image in oils nearly a decade later (below).

Easy as Pie
40" x 30", oil on canvas, 2007
private collection

Of course, this wouldn't be the last time I use this photo reference; after Abdicate, I'll be using it in a larger oil painting to be done in the next couple of months (and there'll be a time lapse video for that, as well).

Meanwhile, here's the time lapse video of Abdicate's creation: