Frannie's Blog

My photo
Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada
I look for beauty and truth in everything. It's not always there of course but I try to find it or make it happen. I love people who make me laugh.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snow Days

Yes, it is winter. We shovel. We curse.We watch for weather updates and hope nothing is on its way to sideline our plans. We consult the local rodent for early spring predictions. Some of us embrace the season and go skating or skiing. Some of us stay indoors till the snow melts. Some people go south. We do whatever we can.
I paint a lot in winter. Here's the evidence: a sampling of paintings I've done over many winters, some dating back to 1981. Snow is an inspiring subject. It's all about sculpture and shadows.

And now I'm going for a walk in the snow, maybe get some new inspiration along the way. it or leave it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Lesson In Watercolour

In my time I have worked at many different jobs; baby-sitter, waitress,  retail worker, interior designer, book-keeper, mother (the job for life) and school teacher, and it is the latter I want to talk about now.

Teaching kids at school is the most difficult and nerve-wracking thing I have ever done and I admire anyone who has lasted in this profession for more than ten years without suffering from burn-out. I stuck it out for seven years as a full-time primary grade teacher and it took me the first five years before I began to feel confident enough to relax and feel that I was actually helping my students. Looking back now I believe that 19 years of age is too young to be put in charge of seven and eight-year-olds and it wouldn't happen today because of the increased academic requirements to qualify as an educator. At least I was somewhat older and a bit more mature when I returned to the classroom years later as a Supply Teacher, the worst of the worst positions in most cases. One day I'd be in Kindergarten, the next in high school. But the one class I never had problems with was when I replaced the Art Teacher. For some reason the same kids who behaved like juvenile delinquents in, say, a math class suddenly became keen and respectful in Art Class. That classroom was always quiet or at least engendered the low buzz of engaged concentration.

So today I'm going to teach another class: it's called HOW TO PAINT IN WATERCOLOUR. Actually it should be How I  Paint in Watercolour, and my way isn't the only way, but it's what I know.

 So here we go.

First you need to have your paints arranged on your pallette in some sort of order. I like to have my earth tones at the side and my primaries across the top with the yellows at the corner. My water container is at the top, divided in two sections, one for cleaning the brushes, one for mixing the pigment. It doesn't always stay that way but it's easy enough to get fresh water. Below the pallette is a wad of paper towel for damping off the bristles.

The pigment comes in tubes and can dry out there after a while once opened so it's a good idea to squeeze out a good sized blob into your pallette space. It can stay there for a long time; it will dry out but can be reactivated with more water. Use Artist quality paint whenever possible. It's pure pigment, no filler, and will last for ages. Better to have a limited selection of colours and learn to mix from them.

The brushes here: a 3/4 inch flat, two number 8's, pointed, one to paint with, one to lift out or soften colours, a number 2 detail brush and an old shabby brush for applying masking fluid if necessary. Masking fluid is liquid latex which dries where you place it to protect certain areas from being lost. It can be removed with an eraser. You'll see what I mean soon.

Because I'm a leftie my paints are at left and the light source is from the right. 

The paper here is Arches 300 lb. It won't buckle like lighter weight papers and can take many layers of water and paint. The sketch is done in light pencil and the sky is washed in. To make a wash you first wet the whole area to be painted, then flow the paint on and tip the paper around so it will flow evenly. I used cobalt and cerulean blue here, letting them run together. I always do the sky first in an outdoor painting because it establishes the mood for the piece.

You can establish the trees now, right over the sky once it's dry. I used a sea sponge to lay in the greenery. You can see a yellowish line at the roof top. That's the masking fluid to prevent the sponge from landing on the roof, keeping the trees in the background.

Now the mask is removed and the roof begins, also a bit of shrubbery at the front.

Here I've added a dog, a couple of cats and the first wash for the front lawn. I also masked the animals and the shrubbery and added the darkest darks on the roof.

More detail is added to the gardens. A pale under colour is glazed on the body of the house. (Glazing is painting a thin layer directly onto the paper.)

I start to add the bricks, tedious but kind of trance-inducing. The windows reflect the sky.

The bricks are done now, also the shutters and the beginning of the shadows on the garage door. You can see the leaves on the front shrubs stand out from the brick wall because they were masked.

The shadows on the roof are started as well as under the eaves and around the windows.

More shadows on the lawn now make the house stand out. I added more leafery to the trees behind because I didn't like the empty space just above the middle of the roof even though it is there in the photograph. You can play around with elements like this for the sake of the painting as a whole. You can also have fun with the lines of the house as long as it remains in perspective and retains its basic personality. Note the paint blobs at the bottom...I use that white area to test colours before using them. The mat will cover them later.
And now I think we're done! When I'm absolutely sure I'll sign the piece and deliver it to my client.

Monday, January 3, 2011

EDMUND DULAC, one of my favourite illustrators.

And another year bites the dust. Here's to the new one, whatever it may bring. We can never be sure what's coming but we can always try to be up to the changes and challenges. 

My year has started with a little bit of interior decorating. I painted our two bathrooms a new shade of what I like to call apricot, inspired by the following illustrations by Edmund Dulac. A dear friend gave me a very old copy of EDMUND DULAC'S FAIRY BOOK, published in 1916 by Hodder & Stoughton. The book has been well-used, its pages are loose but the beautiful illustrations, separately 'tipped in', are intact. I have had some of them mounted and they now hang on the bathroom wall.


"The prince took a carriage drawn by three great frogs with great big wings....Truitonne came out mysteriously by a little door."


"The chestnut horse seemed to linger in the air at the top of its leap while that kiss endured."


"When Grannmia saw her strange lover, she alone remained calm and courageous."


"There he found the Princess asleep and saw that her face was the face he had seen in the portrait."

I wish you all some enchantment in your life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Christmas Message (hem-hem-hem!)

I just heard it on the radio (so it must be true): THEY say it's now o.k. to say "Merry Christmas" again. Apparently the p.c. 'Season's Greetings' has been deemed too wishy-washy by the Retail Council of North America because it has realized that 90% of its shoppers are Christmas oriented. H-m-m-m...

Personally I don't adhere to any organized religion but what I do believe is that we can always learn more about the origins of other faiths. It's a great history lesson. 

In this part of the world right now the winter solstice is near, the days are short, it's cold outside and we all crave light and warmth and connecting with others. So whether it's Christmas or Chanuka or any other belief-system you're observing I hope you will light your lights, bring on the tinsel, food and gifts and celebrate whichever way you can.  

This is my Mom, Phyllis, at age 17. What I like about this photo is the sense of mystery created by the light and shadows in the room. Indoor photography was tricky in those days but shots like this have a certain charm and quality lacking in today's digital pictures. And Mom looks happy here.

While I decidedly do not look at all thrilled to be sitting on Santa's knee (although the little girl on the right looks ecstatic). I can still remember clearly how tired I felt at that point when we were all encouraged to swarm the BIG MAN. I knew he wasn't the REAL Santa anyway but at that age I still believed in God and Santa. I used to wonder if God and Santa knew each other. Santa, I knew, had a workshop and made toys for children. And I figured God must have a workshop too, where he made children. Therefor they must know each other and keep each other up to date on the numbers.

For me Christmas was all about dolls. Here is my sister Lynne with her new walking-doll and me with my 'newborn baby' doll. She/he was actually quite ugly and I still have her (she ended up female) today, thanks to Mom who kept her well-preserved over the years. I don't recall what name I gave her originally but my niece called her Charlotte and that's now her official name.

Now Lynne and I are older and less enthused about Christmas morning. I think our parents had to wake US up at this point in our lives. This photo belongs in the category of Christmas Horrors and I hesitated to post it but I find it so truthful in its starkness.

And history repeats itself; my sons, Jon and Andrew don't seem too keen on the paper hat scene as they are relegated to the 'kids' section' in their grandparents' dining room while I try to cheer them on.

Meanwhile, at the 'adults' table a little more enthusiasm is evident. I think my sister and my husband George are trying to make music with their wine glasses while Lynne's husband Frank just wants to drink from his.

When George and I lived on Vancouver Island I made us an 'alternative' tree out of grapevines. It seemed everyone was into 'alternative' living from therapy to clothing so why not a tree? I was quite proud of this effort and it didn't shed needles. If you look closely you can see the statue of Michelangelo's David standing near the base. (It's small)

So that's my Christmas post for this year. (Glad I can say that word again! ) And I wish you all a jolly, merry, healthy and positive time, whatever your choice of celebration. 

Or in the wonderful words of John Lennon, "Haddy Grimble!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bridget and Samantha

I know the internet is deluged with pictures of kittens and cats doing cute things and I'm going to show more of them in this post so if you've had enough already stop reading now. But if you're still into felines here are a few new photos of our Samantha and our Bridget.
First, here's a shot of them the day we brought them home, summer 2009.



Some of you may remember these shots. So sweet!

Well, here they are now, all grown up and playing catch-and-release with this poor little fieldmouse.

It doesn't matter that mousie is already dead, likely from sheer terror.

One can still toss it around and pretend it's alive.

"But now I'm getting bored."

Time for a nap. So sweet.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Return to Grant Road

Now we're back on Grant Road in Bella Coola to complete the series of six watercolours. The next house I visited belongs to a serious gardener and an equally serious musician. I didn't get to see inside the music studio but really enjoyed the gardens and meeting this little gargoyle as well as the owners of the property.

This shot just begins to illustrate how well-planned and varied these gardens are.

So when I painted this house I made a big deal of the flowers. I happen to love lilies and missed my own this summer because I was here. Just as well because when I got home I discovered that the red lily beetle had devoured all my plants.

At the south end of Grant Road is Moore's Market and this is the Moore's home. Tom and Kathy operate an organic food outlet as well as a market garden and greenhouse, supplying the Valley with plants, veggies and fruit, especially blueberries which were just starting to ripen while I was there.

Here's my granddaughter Alberta, sampling the blueberries.

And here's Finn, my grandson. The Moores are his other grandparents.

The greenhouse and the store keep Kathy and Tom busy all season. I hope they'll be able to start up again next year in spite of the setbacks caused by September's flood damage.

So this brings to an end my little watercolour series inspired by the houses of Grant Road. By the way, Andrew tells me the Tilt'n Hilton survived the deluge.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

I'm taking a break from the Grant Road series because today is Remembrance Day and I've noticed that lately people are paying more attention to it than usual. I see more poppies being worn and more media coverage, including some excellent programming such as we watched on TVO last night, Paris 1919.

The gentleman above is my paternal grandfather, Valentine Smith, who died in France during WW I several months before the birth of his son, in 1916. This is the only picture we have of him and we know very little about him personally, a fact that has always bothered my Dad.

These pieces of metal are the only concrete vestiges of his participation in THE GREAT WAR; a bronze disc, a be-ribboned medal and his dog tag.

And this silver cross, delivered to my grandmother possibly around the time she was giving birth to her son. I can't imagine how she must have dealt with her conflicting emotions of joy and sorrow during that period.

And I wonder how she felt when this son, my Dad, went off to war some 28 years later. Fortunately he returned. Through good luck and good planning Dad spent most of his time overseas with the British Forces Network, broadcasting morale-boosting radio programmes from mobile army vans and other venues in London or Paris or Hamburg.

This is the notebook he carried in which he recorded his many experiences, some funny, some sad, many lonely. Of course this practice was forbidden during wartime but so were many things. And they were done anyway. This notebook fit neatly into the breast pocket of his uniform and my sister and I often suggest it could have also stopped a fatal bullet.

He did have one close call on the Arnhem Bridge but no bullets were involved that day. He did lose his typewriter, 'Betsy Anne'.

He must have been overjoyed to put this message into his notebook!

During all that time Dad wrote many letters home to Mom. She kept them all and I still enjoy going over them once in awhile. I don't know what happened to the letters she wrote to him; he says it was difficult to carry them around. I bet he saved them too and they just got lost along the way. He's too sentimental to have deliberately got rid of them.

The long-awaited telegram.

And of course...his signature locomotive, this one inked on the inside cover of the notebook. After his voyage back on the Ile de France he journeyed home by train with many other troops who were lucky enough to have made it.

He got some medals too but never wore them later. It was enough to be back home. He was lucky.