Thursday, 31 December 2015

Meeting People by Sketching

Some of the best moments on this trip to Peru were meeting local people as a result of sketching in public.  I've heard this form other sketchers - taking photos of people is something that is often resented and people can even get upset about it.  However, people seem to be interested and even complimented if you draw them.

Here at home, I rarely seem to be noticed drawing on location, much less strike up a conversation, however in Peru, people often came up to look over my shoulder and called others over.  In Cusco's San Pedro Market, a pair of small boys were quite uninhibited in learning over my sketchbook as I worked and the ladies in the smoothie aisle were all curious to see the finished product.

It somehow broke through the tourist barrier so that rather than being a foreign voyeur I was treated as a curious visitor.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Tuk-Tuk Moto Taxis

One of the charming aspects of the couple of days I spent in Ollantaytambo was the put, put of the tuk-tuks.  There were a few flatbed models moving produce, but most of them were "moto taxis" running people around the small town.  There was a taxi stand of sorts near the bridge over the river, but they rarely seemed to be there for long.  The dozen or so little vehicles were all somewhat customized and so were quite recognizable, as they constantly circulated around the streets of the newer part of town.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Don Miguel

While sketching in Pisac, Peru, I bumped into this gentleman several times. As luck would have it, I was lucky enough to met Don Miguel Chavez again at a cafe and he had some time to tell me a little bit about his fascinating life.

Born on the coast in northern Peru, his forbearers were from Italy.  In the early 1960's he made his way to Hollywood and had bit parts in serval movies before training as a pilot and finding employment as a crop duster.  A few years later he found himself back in Peru and became established in land-reform.  At that time the whole of the Sacred Valley was controlled by just 11 families and a new system of co-operatives was established.  As an offshoot of this he went to Prague to study agricultural engineering, but with marriage to a German woman, remained in Europe.

All these years later he is back in Peru studying "Andean Cosmology", ancient beliefs that continue as folk practices and cultural values, such as "Pachumamma (Mother Earth).   On a more practical level, he became aware that most of the Llama and Alpaca wool was either being laboriously spun by hand spindle, or sent out to be mechanically spun commercially.  He started to import simple spinning wheels and train local women to use them, in order to improve the economics of their beautiful weaving.    A brief outline of the project can be found at

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Inca Terraces

Those busy Incas!

The Inca empire was not much more than 140 years old before the Spanish conquest and to see what they constructed in that brief time is incredible.  What struck me while visiting was the intentionality - the planing.  Their projects were not iterative ....successive waves of improvement, rather they were implemented with a high standard of workmanship towards a master plan.  The experts recon Machu Picchu was build over a period of 100 years - sort of like starting a final drawing in one corner and filing the page, except for that each stone took hours to carry and fit.

These terraces were constructed to optimize  crop space - what the crops were and why they couldn't be grown in the valley lands, I haven't learned, but can only assume there were compelling reasons to go to so much effort.  And here they are 600 years later - truly a cultural landscape.

Inca granaries in Ollantaytambo, Peru

On arrival in Peru, we traveled to Ollantaytambo, some 60 km.s from Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude ( 2,792 m/9,160 ft. above sea level)   The next day we puffed our way up in the thin air on a narrow path to Pinkuylllana.  These are remnants of large storage buildings perched on the mountainside about 200m above the town.  It offered a great view of the rigid grid of narrow stone walled streets in the town below,l which are largely unchanged from the original Inca construction and the agricultural terraces on the mountainside on the other side of the narrow valley.

The superb stonework of the granary walls are still in good condition and include projecting corbels on the outside of the gables which were supports and up-lift tie downs for the rafters ("hurricane straps").  I never did find out why they chose such an inaccessible location to build these, but it certainly implies a very well organized society and surmise that the food kept here would be easily defended from theft.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Andean Condor - better from afar

I saw 3 condors while hiking in the Peruvian Andes - they were very high so I didn't see much, even with my field glasses.  Maybe just as well, as I was so short of breath that had one circled me, I would have assumed it was casing me out for dinner.  Not to mention, as majestic as they are in flight, they look very like the vultures they are, up close.

At Machu Picchu, I learned that the Condor was revered as a messenger to the Gods as they flew so high.  And like Zoroastrians and Tibetan Sky Burial, the bodies of the deceased were put out for Condors, in the belief that the person's soul would be delivered to the afterlife.

Machu Picchu

Last week, on my Birthday, I visited Machu Picchu.  It was amazing and much more impressive and interesting that I had hoped for. The tour took a couple of hours and was fascinating.  Afterwards, I found a shady bench to do this drawing from.  This is the beginning of the rainy season, so I was lucky to have a clear sunny day, and relatively few visitors.

As good as the tour was, it raised many questions in my mind about the Inca civilization - now that I'm home, I'll be searching for a good book about those amazing people.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Full Sheet Sparrow

I love large paintings, but for practical purposes use small sketchbooks.  They are portable and small sketches are fast to do.

Yesterday I found this little sparrow dead on  the sidewalk, so I brought it home and put it in the freezer, so that I could study it. You can see it in the lower photo.  This morning, as a little break from work, I pulled it out and did my first ever full sized sheet.  It didn't take long and was really fun to do and unlike a sketchbook, can be hung on the wall.   I'll be off to the art supply for more paper tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Last Swim

We've had a beautiful warm September and I swam regularly in the Ottawa River from the Britannia Club pier, and from my boat while at anchor.  This week, however, the nights grew cold and its undeniable that summer is over.  Clearly, its time to renew my membership at the swimming pool.

It’s a morning with dew
at six on the clock.
It’s a morning for flannel,
two shirts and wool socks.

The warmth will come later
and by lunch be quite nice.
But summer is over,
soon the lake will be ice.

It’s my strange obsession.
Will this be the day?
Or have I already had,
my last swim in the bay?

Back to the Hills

Suddenly, its cool and while the leaves are just changing colour, it clear that winter is not far off.  For me that means skiing and skating, so its time to do some long walks and get my legs ready.

This is my favourite shelter in Gatineau Park, Shilly Shally.  It was nice enough to sit outside and do a quick scribble while having a cup of tea from my thermos, but too cool to sit and paint.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Spring in the Boatyard

The ice is off the river and it's spring in the boatyard.  It's a special time  - removing tarps, polishing,  painting on anti-fouling and finally rigging.  The sketch is actually Phil rigging his Soling, "Unity".

Spring in the Boatyard

I visited my lady today
and the sight raised my pulse.
The curve of her bottom,
is like nothing else.

I remembered the joy
of our days spent together.
And how she's taken me through
both bad and good weather.

I took off her top
and we basked in the sun.
No reason to rush
this kind of fun.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Unitentional Symbolism

Notre-Dame Basilica has been a landmark here in Ottawa, for well over a century, then along came the National Gallery of Canada and a decade later, Mamam, a giant spider.   Strangely, in conversation many people will refer to the spider rather than the much larger cultural buildings....I'll leave that analysis to the cultural anthropologists.

All to say, that from the lower Boreal Garden, the spider and the Basilica are juxtaposed quite dramatically, which is what attracted me....well, that and the fact that it was a warm sunny spot on a breezy spring day.

As I came home, I was thinking about art and how I need some real things to represent and how I'm reluctant to adjust even something like a power pole to improve composition.  And I realised, I just created a work of great symbolism and social comment!

Hopefully some critic will tell me just what that is and write at length about my clever statement about the church and egg bearing arachnids.  Whatever it is, I truly hope it isn't sarcastic or somehow least of the spiders?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Freshwater Shark

With the weather finally breaking after an usually harsh winter, tarpaulins are coming off in the boatyard daily.  This Shark must be one of the early numbers, its hull is a mottled green with faded pink tones below the gelcoat showing through.  These are great sailboats, and are still a popular racing class despite the age of the fleet, many of which date back to the mid 60's.  Many of them have been re-gelcoated and look beautiful.  I suspect that I will see the owner grinding and sanding the hull  as we wait for the ice to blow out and the river to warm up.

Only time for one sketch in London

Between the weather and schedule this was the only sketch I did the day I was in London. A quick and dirty sketch of Big Ben, the world famous clock tower.

My pal David, who grew up here, but has now lived in London most of his adult life, took me to on his favourite boat tour on the River Thames to Greenwich. I had only a few minutes before departure.  Hence, straight to ink, which explains the wonky perspective, then a quick splash of paint with my little water brush. But looking at it, brings back clear memories of the day and the fascinating trip through London along that historic River.  Thanks David.

I was disappointed at not getting the vibrancy of the gilt gold ornament in the sunshine and David, who is an artist, made the suggestion of using masking fluid for those yellow highlights.  I have yet to pick some up but will, when the spring flowers arrive here in the Great White North.

small squares

More of my little vignettes from the train.  I was trying to catch "moments" or elements of the landscape and simplify them graphically into little icons.  They are very small - about 1 1/2".  I'm also trying to use more intense colours, stepping up from my usual pale washes.

As a graduate of the James Belisle school of masking, I taped off the squares in order to have the crisp edges.  The really fun part of doing that, is peeling off the tape and seeing the crisp white edges....or at least what stands for fun in my life!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Hurston Cottage, Wallon Farm

I stayed in a cottage on what is referred to in Dartmoor as a medieval farm.  These farms are rambling assemblages of extended homes, barns and outbuildings.  Hurston Cottage was recently renovated and the only real remnant of the past was the well in the floor of a room off the kitchen which was covered over with a thick piece of glass.

Wild daffodils were out , but I didn't manage to catch the vibrancy of the bright yellows. Time for me to investigate masking fluid and gum Arabic, I think.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Fingle Bridge

I was lucky to have sunny weather when walking from Castle Drogo, near the village of Drewsteignton in Dartmoor National Park.  Fingle Bridge dates back to the 17th century when it was built for pack horses carrying corn and wood through the River Teign gorge.  Today it is the site of near constant photo opportunities as visitors pose in the refuges over the cutwaters ( the piers between arches).

On the Train

I love a train ride.  I enjoy putting my brain in neutral and gazing out the window.  Last week, travelling to London from the West Country,
I was lucky to get a seat with a table to myself, which let me spread out a bit and sketch.

I did the top one first and it's an archetype, not an actual scene, as I couldn't work quickly enough while passing through the landscape.  That lead to the lower one which is a sort of graphic composition rather than a landscape.  (The white bits are sheep.)

These put me in mind of a quilt or fabric sculpture.  With the right colours, wouldn't that be fun?

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A Devon Landy

I've had a "thing"for these old Land Rovers since I was a boy.  It goes back to driving out through the jungle and up and down the steep pitches of bauxite mines in Guyana in the late 60's.

All part of my observation that most guys would like the car of their youth that they couldn't afford at the time.  My list includes a BMW 2002, an air cooled Westfalia camper van, a Citroen deux-chaveux and ( a new ) Mini.  All but the Mini, are hobby cars, as in more time under them, than driving them.  Were I stinking rich, I'd own them all, but with new engines.  Like a Westfalia, with a water-cooled Subaru transverse retrofit 4 cylinder,  that actually power many of what appear to vintage Westie's along Americas left coast.  it's not really about the vehicle, it's about the prospect of an adventure.

I saw this "Landy" in Devon and wondered about the snorkel ...did the owner really ford rivers...or, had it seen service in Africa and was purchased at auction upon return?  But then the sticker in the window explained it all - "powered by fairies".

pen with prismacolour pencil crayon 

Kes Tor and the River Teign

I spent several days in Dartmoor National Park in the West Lands of England last week. A constant contrast between narrow tunnel like lanes bounded by tall banks and hedges and the moody skies and rolling heather hills of the open moors.

It's an amazing cultural landscape where even the wild moors support sheep and ponies.  This sketch was just beyond an ancient stone slab "clapper" bridge where we had a quick dip in a small pool.  Kes Tor - a rock protrusion on a hilltop, was visible through the gap in the pine windbreak.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Stone Men

Last night our sketching group visited the studios of Smith & Barber -stone carvers.  They are currently working on the restoration of the West Block of the Parliament Buildings here in Ottawa.  Their specific contributions is the replication of various architectural ornaments and details.

They work in an amazingly traditional manner - mallet and chisel on stone, with incredible precision.

Phillip Smith stayed late to let us in and in talking to him his passion for stone carving was evident and infectious.

I was taken by some of the "green men", sort male nymphs or fairies which became part of the Gothic lexicon of ornament, but have much longer origins back to the Celts.

I invited my sketching friends Marc and Laurel to come all the way from Montreal ( a 2 hour drive) and they did!   A gift to me for their company. They made friends, as they usually do and documented the evening with Laurel's photos and Marc's sketches.  More to come, no doubt, this summer at the Stone Carving Festival.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Little Colour on a Grey Day

A little bit of colour is welcome on a grey winter day when there aren't even distinct shadows.  This yellow shed around the block from my home was the closest to sunshine I saw yesterday - unusual here in Ottawa which is known for is cold but clear, sunny winter weather.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Daly Street

The backsides of buildings continue to fascinate me.  As the large trees in front of homes decline, are removed and not replaced, more and more, the large trees can only be found in the interiors of the blocks.

I also like the way you can read the evolution of the buildings with additions cobbled onto additions in stages.