Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Maria in uniform

She borrowed my laptop to check her email; I borrowed her break time to make a drawing.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Figure study

A figure study, done from life with acrylics on board. This isn't really my sort of thing, but it's a good idea to practice from time to time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Another sketch of an attentive medievalist made at the lecture of Chris Berard about King Arthur and Edward III.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Genova Centrale

A quick browse of my landscapes might suggest a fascination with the type of European picturesque aesthetic that prevailed in the 19th century. Nor would that be entirely wrong: I do love a good rendering of medieval architecture.

But I wouldn't ever be content with just ruins and atmospheric crags. One of the great, and rarely mentioned, advantages of making pictures is the ability to see something interesting almost anywhere. I once attempted to interest a buyer in a landscape of a shopping mall some years back. He wouldn't hear of it, so it never got made, but it would have been beautiful! All those horizontal lines!

The Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti famously claimed that "a speeding automobile is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace." To which one might reply, it depends on the automobile...

But he was making a value judgment. New shiny things good; old landscapes bad. Especially if the old landscapes were dominating and impeding the course of artistic expression. He had a point - Courbet was making the same one when he ran through the Louvre to destroy the Venus de Milo. Marinetti and Courbet could not imagine a world where artists could make whatever they liked, whether it be shiny or important or not.

But that would be a better world, wouldn't it? If you can see beauty everywhere, it's nice to show it to other people.

This is a view from near the main station in Genoa. It's a large screen print worked back in with watercolour. Apologies for the low quality jpeg.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


A drawing done from life in around fifteen minutes, using markers and china markers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In the rain, in Italy.

Watercolour, as you may know, is a medium in which the pigment is suspended in water. The more water involved, the more it flows around, and the longer it takes to dry.

For obvious reasons, it can be tricky to paint watercolours when its raining.

This is a quick sketch, looking east up the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. It was a very damp day. But I think you can see that from the picture.

I painted two watercolours that day. Here is the second.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Abbie in Winter

It was cold day, and Abbie had someone she wanted to avoid. It's easy to forget just how much anonymity a big coat can provide. From December to March every year, Canadians are as uniform as North Koreans.

It's a bit depressing, to be honest.

Monday, November 19, 2012


An aside: much as I enjoy yoga as a way to keep fit and flexible, I've yet to be convinced of its merits as a repertoire of poses for life drawing. Which, FYI, is very common.

Not that the poses based on yoga postures aren't impressive - they are. But they have a certain unreality that I find jarring. It's like the difference between drawing people in their normal clothes and in costumes. Nine times out of ten, I prefer the former.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Well, let's see. It's an old sketchbook page full of notes.

We have Domenico Fetti, one of those artists who, like Egon Schiele, died young(ish) and unfulfilled. And a peculiar chimney, which I observed atop the house of Guilio Romano, genius, egomaniac and sometime pornographer, the greatest pupil of Raphael.

And also the personal motto of Isabella d'Este - my first exposure to a theme worth exploring.

Lastly, Vincenzo II Gonzaga, Duke of Manuta, who inherited one of the world's great art collections and sold it off to indulge his love of hobbits. That is, dwarfs. Or so my history teacher told me, some years ago now.
It may be true. Dwarfs were big business in the late Renaissance. But the so-called Apartment of the Dwarfs, allegedly built on a small scale for their convenience, has unfortunately turned out to be a model of the Scala Santa in Rome, built for devotional purposes. It can still be seen, sometimes, in the Gormenghast-like pile of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua.

And various people, of course.
It was all drawn with a an old-fashioned dip pen and india ink. It's a wonder I didn't make a bigger mess.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A quick ballpoint sketch of a scholar of early medieval Anglo-Saxon politics and intellectual history.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Discipline and silence

Drawn from life in about fifteen minutes, with a variety of markers and crayons, at a Keyhole Session in Toronto.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aerial Knife

In late September, college band Aerial Knife (thank you random band name generator!) rocked the Grad Club in London Ontario.

Luckily, I was near the front:

The drawings from that night filled up the last pages of my daily sketchbook. I'm running out of space to store them!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Pleasure of Ruins

One of the most interesting phenomenons in the history of architecture is the reuse and transformation of ancient ruins. For us, ruins are often attractive. People go out of their way to enjoy the suggestive aura of dilapidated castles and abandoned factories.

Our generally positive attitude towards ruins is a consequence of living in a rich society. In the past, people were more likely to dismantle a ruin for spare building material, like the Iraqi villagers who burnt a great Assyrian bull to render it into quicklime.

Religious buildings are a special case. For early Christians, Roman temples were an abode of demons. One way to deal with them was to build a church on top of the temple, as in the case of the basilica of San Clemente in Rome, built above an ancient mithraeum. Another approach was simply to consecrate the pagan building to a new patron: in this way the Pantheon (also in Rome) became the church of Holy Mary of the Martyrs.

After the end of the ancient religion, pagan temples no longer posed a threat. By the time of the Renaissance, "past ruin'd Latium" became an object of fascination to artists and scholars.

But the era before the Renaissance remains a mystery. In the 10th century, when Rome was a half-abandoned ghost town fought over by dimly chronicled warlords, a group of Greek monks settled down to live in the ruins of the temple of Mars Ultor ("The Avenger"). Why did they choose that spot? Did the God of War mean something to them, or was it just a convenient pile of stones?

Perhaps the ruins spoke to the monks. In the 5th century, Sidonius Apollinaris wrote of seeing "cattle not only lying in the half-ruined porticoes, but grazing beside altars green with weeds," language which suggests he took some pleasure in the view, even as he deplored it. And Paul the Deacon, in the 8th century, wrote "the dwellings were left deserted by their inhabitants, and the dogs alone kept house... You might see the world brought back to its ancient silence; no voice in the field, no whistling shepherds..." Grim stuff, but beautiful words. Around the same time, an anonymous Anglo-saxon writer penned The Ruin, a meditation that begins:

The wallstone is beautiful
      but broken by fate.

The city is shattered
the old work of giants is falling...

Obviously some people were enjoying the sight of the ruins, even if they didn't go to the 18th century extreme of building fake ones. We still did this in the 20th century, of course, for example at the Guildwood in Toronto.

All this is leading up to a picture of my own, of course:

This is the ruin at Chateau-Bas, in Provence. No one knows to what god the temple was dedicated. What we do know is that at some point, probably in the 11th century, somebody built a small Christian chapel adjoining the ruins of the temple, from which the stones were taken. The temple is now a wreck, but its columns still stand, and it must have been even more impressive when the chapel was built. Today the chapel is dedicated to Saint C├ęzaire, presumably Caesarius of Arles. We have no way of knowing whether this was the case originally, or who built it, or why they chose the spot they did.

The drawing was done in pencil, in the early afternoon, during a bicycle ride from Cadenet to Salon-de-Provence. It was a pleasant idyll, sadly interrupted by an eruption of kindergarten children. As the teacher said to me as they approached, "Your peaceful solitude, it is over."

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Drawn from life during a lecture by Chris Berard on King Edward III of England and his manipulation of the King Arthur legends.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Maya the cat

Maya dwelt for many years with another cat, who was more venturesome and aggressive. She seemed okay with this, in general, and gained a reputation as passive, and disinterested either in exploring the outdoors, or testing the limits of human patience.

But when her companion expired, after a due period of mourning, Maya became another cat. These days she tyrannizes the voles of the yard, and even (now and again) tests the resilience of the squirrels. She is also much more interested in the countertops, and what might be upon them when the humans are looking elsewhere.

Here she is, preparing to strike:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Emily at rest

A five minute drawing, from life, of Emily. She was trying to stay awake.

It was done with a Copic brush pen and a few colour markers and pencil crayons.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

near the theatre

I was sitting in a cafe up the street from the theatre. This woman spent almost an hour discussing the intricacies of set design.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reflections in a wine bottle

Gainborough used to discover landscapes in the arrangement of his salad greens - think of that the next time you see one of his formal portraits. All those trees? Broccoli.

This landscape was equally impromptu. Tarragon is able to discover such things in a wine bottle.

He wouldn't be the first.

It was done on the iPad, using the Brushes app.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The pollarded trees of winter

A row of pollarded trees on a damp day in autumn, guarding the entrance to some Florentine estate.

They reminded me of the original version of Snow White, in which the trees of the forest clutch like the talons of the wicked queen.
Ineffectively, although poor Snow White couldn't know it at the time.

These trees look rather ineffective too, the sad truncated things. As a method of keeping vegetation in check, pollarding is effective. But until the leaves bud in spring, they take on a strange anthropomorphic countenance unveiled by the usual screen of small twigs and branches.

Like the suicide trees in Dante, perhaps. That might be appropriate for the entranceway to a certain sort of Florentine villa.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A old painting

Years ago, when I was a poor student, I used to cover strips of cardboard with acrylic housepaint, in order to have something to paint on. Canvas was expensive.

I'd leave the cardboard lying around the room I lived in, and when opportunity struck, I was ready to make a painting.

Here's one of them, done from life with a pencil and acrylics:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A rifleman of the War of 1812

In the spirit of the 1812 bicentennial, here's a British infantryman of that era. When I saw him he was failing to repel the American assault on Fort York, and would shortly withdraw to the shelter of the Gardiner Expressway.

Despite the fact that neither of the British Rifle regiments were at Fort York, he's dressed as a rifleman of the 60th Foot, and apparently armed with a Baker rifle. No doubt he's an advance scout who got lost en route to Maine, which his battalion did help occupy in the summer of 1814.