Saturday, February 25, 2006

Every other Friday I do my Lakeshore Walk. We've been living in Port Credit since 1985, and our lives have been furnished by all the second-hand stores which seem to flourish where regular retail shops fail to. One of my favourite stores, Rococo, will be closing its doors soon. Many unusual Christmas & birthday presents have been found there over the years. Rococo specializes in ephemera - costume jewelry and odds and ends and will be sadly missed as will Miriam who is an artist in transition.
A new favourite opened a couple of years ago - Nostalgia Books - a second-hand bookstore with lively and engaging owners, Sylvia and David. This is a sketch I did for Sylvia apropos of 'some' form of product promoting the East Village. That they are enthusiastic about the Port Credit community is an understatement. This year we will be privileged to showcase Paul's work in their store for the Lakeshore ArtWalk in May. More about that when the time comes.

Friday, February 24, 2006

AGO Portrait Show
The AGO had a call for entries for what they hope will be the biggest portrait show ever. Who could resist when the requirements are a postcard size (4"x6") self-portrait in whatever medium you choose. Mine was done at an 'art playgroup' that a friend holds semi-monthly for a diverse group of women. It's interesting because I feel free to explore different mediums with this group - only one of whom has had art training besides myself. Looking forward to catching the show when it opens (July 1, 2006).
We have not had Internet access for a week. The power went out last Thursday and blew out our modem when it turned back on. Then Friday the big pine tree in our front yard blew down across the hydro lines and gave our neighbours a couple of hours of entertainment watching the Hydro guys take care of it. We suffered internet withdrawal - you don't realize how much of your life and thoughts are taken up with it. By the Monday my 20 yr-old son was joining us in the livingroom for TV & chats (been a LONG time since he's done that!). His social discourse takes place almost entirely on MSN & during on-line gaming through-out the week when his friends are working/at school, etc. Guess he was feeling lonely!
So obviously we have it back, though not without a lot of phone-calls that tested our powers of endurance. The phone company hasn't changed since Lily Tomlin declared 'we are omnipotent'!
On Wednesday I was privileged to hear Stephen Lewis speak about AIDS and war in Africa. It was an awesome experience and Mr. Lewis has my full regard. He has witnessed some terrible sights in his travels thru Africa (but not more so than the people who are experiencing these things). He had many thought-provoking ideas about gender-equality and what Africa needs in the way of help. I wish I had taken A. from school to listen to him. It was so good to hear a real 'speaker' - and he had something to say. A rare experience.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mansfield Park
So we're re-reading the Austen Canon and A. has just finished Mansfield Park with many disgusted comments on the caddishness of Mr. Crawford. It's funny to see her get so hepped up about obnoxious characters - I think she uses them vicariously to vent about similar types at school. Speaking of which - it may be naive of me, but wasn't school the place you used to go to become educated. Maybe time and wilfull sumblimation has created false memory syndrome.
A.'s English teacher saw her reading M.P. and said she found it really confusing. Confusing? Jane Austen? Okay - maybe the Victorian idiom is a bit convoluted & occasionally you have to reread the sentence before you get that she's being ironic (again). If I were an English teacher, a) I wouldn't admit that I found any novel confusing. b) rejoice that there was hope in the up-coming generations. c) try and draw my students into intelligent discussions about the books they were reading for themselves.
THAT would be an education.
On any given day, if I ask what they did in school (Gr. 10), they will have watched at least one movie/video (often more). In Family Studies they are watching Magic Schoolbus...not that there's anything wrong with learn about the digestive system. They should just invite a dyspeptic old man into class and find out way more than they need to know about the human digestive system.
Getting back to Mansfield Park; we got the 'old' Fox movie from the library - the 2-vol. 5 hr version. It will be interesting to compare it to Patricia Rozema's version. I thought she badly misrepresented Fanny Price. I think she got her heroines mixed up and subbed Lizzie in for Fanny. It was disappointing.
So it looks like we're going to have a Victorian kind of weekend in front of the tube. Weather is crappy - an icestorm is supposed to be on its way - though the announcers these days do so much squawking about nothing. Regardless - we've got two or three classics to get us thru the storm - providing the power doesn't go out!
Now I must sit down and wrap my head around today's art class...I'm waiting for the phone call to say they've closed the centre - but I probably won't be that I better have something ready. I know - we'll go outside and make snow sculptures! Brilliant!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

These were based on some drawings done my daughter. They were so cute, we turned them into tiny (1") Valentine cards. A bit hit with all her friends. We did a whole series of Easter cards too, but we'll save them for later.

Happy Valentines Day

Monday, February 13, 2006

I did my annual Valentines' Pop Up Workshop at Neilson Park yesterday. It's always a bit of a crap shoot doing these things - people don't want to commit themselves so they can keep their options open. Also I had heavy competition from the Olympics. If I had been thinking I'd have advertised that we'd have a working tv in the studio so fans wouldn't miss Canada's next gold!
Where my showing up and hoping for the best has paid off well at my last few workshops - I guess people aren't as in love this year and only two signed up (one at the last minute). But it was good anyway. They got a superior workshop because we covered much more ground than if we had a roomful of people.
There has been a burgeoning interest in the Pop-up classes. The folded paper Santas and Angels I was selling at the Christmas Craft shows engendered a bit of excitement amongst the 'seen-it-all' hard-core craft show enthusiasts.
So there's been a bit of a buzz about the workshops I've offered, particularly amongst the calligraphers and book-arts people.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pride & Prejudice
I have just finished re-reading Jane Austen's P&P. We saw the new movie w/Kiera Knightly et al., and enjoyed it very much - she is quite lively and lovely even as she is described in the book, with enough wit to overcome the sins of her family. We also rented the older version of the movie w/Colin Firth, who has perfected the art of gazing with nuance for long periods of time without ever saying anything. I am impressed that he can convey so much with doing so little, but perhaps they depend rather a lot on the audiences' fertile imaginations to supply what the actors do not. In any case, both versions of P&P recommend themselves for different reasons and both are faithful to the book, the more recent version in spirit rather than to the letter.
We thought Mr.Bennett was well-portrayed in the earlier version - his dialogue seemed to be straight from the page. I think he is a wonderful character and to paraphrase a line from Jane Eyre: "Mr.Bennett is an amateur of the decided and eccentric". The fact that he promotes his correspondence with the pompous and silly Mr.Collins just so he can enjoy a good laugh is interesting and though he is somewhat in the background, is as fully-wrought a character as any of them.
It is a great pleasure to be revisiting Jane Austen with my daughter. She is getting a great deal of pleasure from the 'canon' and it is fun to discuss the books with her. The 'villains' are satisfyingly dealt with and we can vicariously deal with our own villains by comparing them. Who doesn't know someone as obsequious, vain and full of self-interest as Mr.Collins? Or as pompous and 'frank' and interfering as Lady de Bourgh? And A. knows many fellow students at least as giddy as Lydia - so we have great fun making our comparisons to take the sting from having to deal with them!
Now I have to get down to thinking about some Valentine-y art project to do with my kids today. I bought a package of craft-foam hearts - I may go for the easy thing and just have them make cards....nah - too much of a cop-out.
I will also be conducting a Valentine Pop-Up workshop at Neilson Park on Sunday - so I have to wrap my head around that fairly soon. After a month of being in a total fug, I'm having trouble jump-starting my brain.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More Birds Red-wing Blackbird - harbinger of Spring.
The problem of a gift for my mother was solved this weekend by the Globe & Mail. The Review Section featured a short article about Graeme Gibson's 'new' book, "The Bedside Book of Birds: an Avian Miscellany".
...and I can look forward to borrowing it from her.
Yesterday, enroute to Back Acres, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk hunched over his bloody kill - enjoying his roadside elevensies. It's probably the same hawk I often see airborne over the fields along Ninth Line. There's another one that has staked out a patch at the corner of Erin Mills Pkwy and the QEW. It's good to know that some wildlife can adapt to the encroaching development.
Back Acres' kitchen has a big picture window with a perfect view of the bird feeder. The juncos, nuthatches and chicadees are always busy flitting in from the surrounding trees. Sometimes they are eclipsed by the flashier jays and cardinals lending a vivid splash of colour to the drab winter landscape (this year so devoid of snow). On the north side of the house, the view from the living room is of various woodpeckers (mostly the downies) who prefer the suet-based meals they have to dig from the drilled-out blocks hanging from the Beech tree.
My mother's faithfulness with with the food supplies have given us all many hours of viewing pleasure over the years.

Back home I notice that since our cat died (just recently), my forsythia is once again teeming with noisy sparrows. They perch at my place and make raids to my neighbour's feeder -but I get all the pleasure of their company and their gossip. They make me laugh.

Birds in the Bush
Fifteen, twenty-five, thirty fat bodies
Puffed out against the cold,
Feathering the forsythia.
Forsooth! They're noisy little neighbours,
More chatter than a houseful of idle men.
Yet - if I speak - if I say,
"Good day sparrows."
Quiet as hiding children they become.
My faux pas hangs heavy on still air.
Their bright relentless eyes
Stare me down
And I, chastened, fly.
Helen McCusker

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Really Good Sweet Potato Soup
I love making soup and stews. They consume a multitude of dubious foodstuffs that were bought with good intentions or in a spirit of adventurousness which quickly dissipated on getting home.
This soup came into being from sweet potatoes that had been sitting in the fridge, taking up space, far too long.
Heat a tbsp or so of oil (sesame, olive, butter) in a heavy skillet.
Slice peeled sw. Potatoes in 1/4" slices.
Fry gently in skillet along with a few slices of fresh ginger (to taste) until lightly brown around edges.
Put in blender (food processer) along w/juice of one orange & of 1/2 lemon plus a 1/2 tsp or so of orange/lemon zest.
Add a little more oil to skillet & gently fry one or two sliced leeks until soft. (any of alium vegs. will do - spring onions, cooking onions, vidalia, etc - to taste).
Mash leeks with back of soon & pour blended mixture back into skillet to reheat.
Add water/juice/soup stock until desired consistency.
Add salt & pepper to taste.
Serve (add condiments of choice: curry powder, sour cream, fresh coriander, etc.)
This soup is nice & zesty. The ginger will warm you up on a cold day.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Totems & Airheads
For my Kid's Art Class yesterday we did these cool totems. I had the kids print their names on large sheets of black const. paper. The letters had to touch the fold, each other and be big and thick. They cut them out & pasted them to a background paper, then 'brought out' the figures & shapes they saw there. Then they glued them into a cylinder and they could add 3-D shapes if they wanted. I think this would be a great project for older kids (8 & up). My 5 yr-olds needed a lot of help. I like the idea of using the family name for a totem - you could have a lot of fun with that.
The second project was based on Milton Glaser's album cover for Bob Dylan - a silhouette of Dylan's head with technicolour swirls & flowers coming out of it. I told the kids to think about what's in their heads - what they think about and showed them a pretty good example of what I was expecting from them. The results, unfortunately were less than brilliant, but kind of funny too. One kid glued 3 - 1" green squares over his silhouette. Another had a tiny white fish floating (in the vast space), but the 'best' one had nothing. I hope they're having me on. They seem like pretty normal kids - I'd hate to think nothing's going in their heads!

A search for the lid of plastic container this a.m. segued into a conversation about beauty and attraction. The details are lost to me now, some hours later, but I recall an incident from yesterday:
Hurrying up Hurontario on the way to work last night, an SUV pulled out right in front of me to turn left.The guy in the right lane had stopped, apparently to let this person out, so I was on guard. Still, I blasted my horn because it was stupid move, and the very pretty girl at the wheel flashed a 'sorry' smile at me. This would not have happened if the driver had been unattractive, old or heavy.
It's an age-old question, I know, but why does beauty always make its way so easily? Don Marquis got it right in his 'archy' poem, 'the hen and the oriole':
well boss did it
ever strike you that a
hen regrets it just as
much when they wring her
neck as an oriole but
nobody has any
sympathy for a hen because
she is not beautiful
while every one gets
sentimental over the
oriole and says how
shocking to kill the
lovely thing this thought
comes to my mind
because of the earnest
endeavor of a
gentleman to squash me
yesterday afternoon when i
was riding up in the
elevator if i had been a
butterfly he would have
said how did that
beautiful thing happen to
find its way into
these grimy city streets do
not harm the splendid
creature but let it
fly back to its rural
haunts again beauty always
gets the best of
it be beautiful boss
a thing of beauty is a
joy forever
be handsome boss and let
who will be clever is
the sad advice
of your ugly little friend

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Colour of a January Afternoon at Mount Nemo
Chameleon dog, now the colour
Of dead grass;
Her underbelly white, like snow
Black eyes - worm pods of asters.

Violet shadows on snow
Cup yellowing willows;
Immense winter blooms
Along the frozen creek.

Crimson sumac fruits
Tip the ends of each black bone branch;
Tufted antlers of submerged cervidae.

Lines of black cedars dip in and out
Of distant folds.
The cold shrinks colour into a darkness
So subtle, you must squint to see it.

The only green in miles of frost
Is a truck sliding across the field.
Its white window rolls down
Past the ruddy face
Of the man whose fields I crossed,
To inquire (his question grey tinged with pink) of me.
Our breath rising white into blue air.

Later that night
Green Northern Lights
In the black, black sky
Danced me home.

Helen McCusker

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Okay, here's the second version. I'm taking some time to get the hang of this (posting, etc.). She's a doll (about 4 feet high) made from 'found' objects - seasoned lilac branches, a pine log body, birch bark mitts and a wooden head covered in acrylic polymer, and paper & bark hair. She's been in two art shows at Neilson Park Creative Centre and now she's residing in our bedroom.

These are two versions of a character I createdcalled Aragula - Garden Guardian. Every garden needs one, but usually they're not so cute as this...which probably explains the great number of male teenagers hanging out on my corner. If only she would get her butt in gear & clean up all the junk that lands in my bushes. Seriously - the beer cans alone would pay for the year's seeds and bulbs.
She was created as a showcase piece for my teen cartooning classes. Every year she evolves a little more (the doll is last year's version). The kids are impressed by the 'manga' style of drawing. At this age level it helps to have the chops (somewhat), so they know you know what you're talking about. I'm still working on the secondary characters.
My next version of Aragula will be one that can live in the backyard…or maybe she’ll have her own comic strip…