Before the Plumber

5am mid February, 1.25 hours from the Canadian-US border. Early early pre-dawn sky looks like a dull ultramarine red, slightly warmer and washed out along the eastern horizon. At the corresponding time in the evening – post sunset, the sky is deep intense indigo, flecked with the one or two stars strong enough to shine through the light and air polluted atmosphere. Three hours north of here is a window that looks onto the eastern sky resplendent with a firmament as old as time.

We’ll be testing the new fire alarm today and tomorrow. An amazing opportunity to showcase your work! $25 for each piece entered, online exhibition begins in a month. I can tell none of you are healers. Shall I drive to California? Scotland calls still; Skara Brae in spring 2022, then perhaps another space in the highlands for a month – I’d like to see the part that is being reforested. Our ancestors require us to heal the trauma they could not, which is partly why things can feel heavy at times. Lockdown is lifted but we’re still in the red zone, mutated virus is here.

I pick things up, unaware, as I suspect most people do. Visible things like dust, or the hair of a dog on a black coat, but also emotional things, psychological. As though we walk every day through a field of unclaimed, un anchored emotions and gather them like seeds on our clothes. Ah, burrs, drat. Which we then pull off and leave on the ground. They become compost – or if the conditions are right, put down roots in the spring. What happens with the unclaimed emotions we pick up I wonder. Washed off in the shower and down the drain.

Sam the Plumber looks like a tall, bookish PhD student, soft spoken and gentle. I suspect he has a quirky nervous half-smile, though I’ll never know because it’s hidden behind his blue and white printed mask. The bathroom is small and so he will need to move the toilet to get to the tub drain he’s been hired to fix. It’s just what it is, he says.

I leave him to it and go to work in my studio – the first day since lockdown kept us home again almost a month ago. Why do I feel nervous? Why did this lockdown feel more like three months than 3.5 weeks? I bring commission work home from the studio but can’t see it properly in the smaller space. It’s just what it is.

Instead I start a new project that I can continue at home, should lockdown be required again. This project is a conversation over tea, with people I know and others I don’t. A connectedness despite and also because of the isolation.

The central images are drawings of an old Czechoslovakian tea set that somehow traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and ended up, via a rural auction house, in my kitchen. Six saucers, five cups, a creamer, sugar bowl, a very elegant tea pot, and a matching tray to carry it all to table. So loved and well used that the gilding has worn off in places. I have a collection of stamps and chinese cookie fortunes that may also make their way into each of the 22 (or more) pieces, which will be available for purchase after the show has gone public.

still in progress, this photo is taken in the morning sunlight. Every piece changes with the available light, I’m quite enchanted with them.

The grounds for these drawings are torn from a large sheet of printing paper onto which I’ve spilled and scratched out all the emotional and psychological impressions I’ve gathered each day, consciously or not. OIl pastel, silver ink, fluorescent chalk, acrylic paint, pencil crayon. The grounds are holographic, designed to shift and change with the light, just like our world does at the moment. Illusion and insight.

This week I begin to gather the accompanying conversations from people I know and don’t know. If you are interested in knowing more about this, and being part of these conversations, please let me know at

Your story and impressions, your insights and curiosities in these rather pivotal moments of right now are important for others to hear, I believe, since we are in this together. If you want to share and would prefer to remain anonymous, that is not a problem. Everyone who shares gets a preview before the project ‘drops’ this spring.

The ‘talking wall’ opposite my desk, where I watch for adjustments that need to be made with each piece. Also thinking about framing options.

it’s 5am again, and this pre-dawn sky is full of snowflakes. It’s the day after Sam the Plumber arrived and fixed the problem with the tub. I’ve been up since 3:30am after tossing around for eight hours, sorting through the stray unanchored stuff I picked up in the previous twelve. Some of it quite shocking, with guillotines and incarcerated women from the French Revolution (A book), first degree face burns and time-space loops (a briefly glimpsed TV series). The painting that was patiently awaiting my return to the studio…

Are they kelpies?

I shall soak these off in the tub and listen, with gratitude to Sam, as they spiral down the drain he fixed with his gentle half-smile.

#Selfie 11 – Truth beneath the truth

This drawing took about 2.5 hours.  I erased most of the right-hand side...
This drawing took about 2.5 hours. I erased most of the right-hand side…

I’m at the stage of production for this show that’s the most intense on all levels – emotional, psychological, mental and physical.  Each piece has its’ own trajectory and arc, and I work in collaboration with this.

re-building the idea...
re-building the idea…

There are sixteen different painting ‘trajectories’ to define and follow to completion –  in 22 days –  if I’m to make my deadline of June 13.

And I shall.

One key tool I use to get this work done in a short timeframe is composite studies.  This one is a layered mock-up of the painting built from bits of the selfies posted on social media in the past six weeks.  It's about the way we build our faces before we take ourselves into the public.  Masks like filters.
One key tool I use to get this work done in a short time frame is composite studies. This one is a layered mock-up of the painting built from bits of the selfies posted on social media in the past six weeks. It’s about the way we build our faces before we take ourselves into the public. Masks like filters.

I’ve done it before, though not with pieces this large – but hey, it’s good to add a challenge each time.   Everyone has a process, or a road to completion, and mine requires utter surrender to the moment I’m in, the mark I’m making, and the reason why.  I need to meet myself again and again in all my joy and ugliness, take off all the filters and tell the truth.  Then the truth beneath the truth.

‘Clarity’ gains whole new levels of meaning.  It becomes something I can taste.

the same painting the next day with things removed and re-added differently.
the same painting with corrected drawing.  Today I will work with washes to push and pull the images, and knock the whole thing back so the final drawn images can sit on a top layer.  They should appear to float in front of the painting…

There are still bank lineups, lessons and rehearsals, concerts, meetings and phone conversations.  These are more interesting than usual, since my self-observation has become so finely tuned.  The filters I use to get simple tasks done are much more obvious to me, and I know when they’re slipping…. it’s not always appropriate to discuss the psychological effects of spring green when sunlight hits it just so with the person behind the counter who just wants you to pay for your gas.

More soberly – not everyone wants to hear a bald truth, no matter how comfortable I might be with my clarity.  Nine times out of ten it’s better to say it with paint.

Next up: #Selfie4: Negative/Positive – 5 feet wide by six feet tall. Should be done in 3 days… or so…

Creativity is like willing oneself into madness – the kind necessary to make something interesting out of wood, canvas, paint, charcoal and …. perception, imagination, intuition, rage, hope, love….  all that.

Just nod and smile.  Or better yet, come on over & jump in to an underpainting – I’ll provide the oil pastel & canvas.  Mind the lack of filters, though…

I’m loving this.