Neil Gaiman says:

Neil Gaiman says:
pic by Allan Amato

Friday, February 27, 2009

Snow pixies dashed against frosty windshields

Tomorrow is the end of February, and no one (except maybe my Mom) will be happier than me to see its tail end sliding out and leaving us to March's tender mercies. Today it was raining, 7 degrees C, balmy and spring like. At least that's what it was like around 8am. By the time I headed out to the car around 4:30pm, the wind had picked up, the temperature had fallen below freezing and ice pellets were spacking me in the head like annoying grains from a limp derringer.

Halfway home (Bells Corners) and the pellets changed to broad white mushy snowflakes. They looked like suicidal snow pixies as they hurtled through the grey air, splotching into cars and melting almost instantly. Mushy, icy, slippery, fun to drive in. I just cruised slowly and kept my tired eyes focused on the drive, the crunch of the glazed ice turning under my tires and the slippery skid of shimmying turns through intersections. (Shouldn't complain though--remember winter this time last year??)

We ate more of those TV dinner things that had been on sale last week "SPA" dinners(?) They weren't bad. Tonight was Thai chicken and chicken prima vera. Arlo ate his share of chicken (of course). We gazed numbly at "How It's Made" and discovered that bamboo fly fishing rods take 40 hours to make by hand and require much fire and patience.

Work was low key. I finished editing the index for our publication, so that should be good for Monday. Dead boring. I kept interspersing my work with phone calls, doodles, games, staring at the wall (enjoying photos of my nieces), writing emails, trying to (unsuccessfully) fax something and the like. Lunch was a nice distraction from the doldrums. I caught up with Myra and had tuna and tortellini and mixed veggies. It took forever to eat. My teeth are angsting me again and I don't want to think about them.

I wanted to go to the Aylmer SPCA today to see the Welsh Corgi that is up for adoption. Clay doesn't seem as against the idea of this doggie than others. I wonder if it's because it's smaller, or I've been slowly wearing him down, or... who knows. The weather so lousy though, we decided maybe we'd go see him tomorrow. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, I don't want to get disappointed again.

I spent the evening individually with my animals, almost 30 minutes with Bookie on my lap, which is quite the record for our antisocial rabbit :-) The guinea pigs darted back and forth on the couch and sat on our laps. I'm now covered in fur.

Snagged another contract for some children's book illustrating. I'm excited about it-- it should start in a couple of weeks; 4-6 black and white illos for a book publisher in Michigan. Yay :-) Feels like pieces of my freelancing life are drifting together.

Well--c'est tous I think. I will get some painting done tomorrow... (I have been sorting through a stack of vintage Walter Foster How to Paint books which are actually really funny--humour aside, I think they will prove a bit more useful to me than some of the "How-To" paint guides on Youtube...!)


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Trembling in the light

One of my earliest "artist" memories is at my Nanna Bernice's place up on Manitoulin Island, when I was around 6 or 7 (or possibly younger..who knows..) I had drawn a cow, and I wanted to colour it. I remember that I specifically wanted to paint it and my grandmother gave me a tube of bright yellow cadmium oil paint with which to do the job. I remember painting the cow bright yellow and being thoroughly delighted.

I've messed around with painting my whole life, absorbing knowledge from books of all kinds, and wishing I could absorb skill via osmosis, simply by leafing through art books and wandering galleries. I remember standing in the Tate Gallery in London with my pals Vicki and Anders. There was a Kandinsky exhibit, and I wandered into another room. It looked like the whole place had been bathed in blood: it was an artist whose work I'd seen in the same room as the Voice of Fire ...Mark Rothko. The canvasses were enormous: massive things that dwarfed the walls and made one feel as if there had been an inadvertent return to the womb. For those who sniff contemptuously about modern art, and that "their kid could paint THAT", I would ask you to step into a room full of canvasses that loom over you and thrust their impact at you, as these did. It was remarkable. A 2" x 2" picture in a survey Art History text book doesn't come near to providing the awe one feels standing before vibrant, engorged, artwork; pulsing from the walls and gibbering at the mind.

I learned colour theory in High School at the Earl of March in the Special Arts Certificate program. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mrs. Bongo, Bowstead, Dewar-Monk and Mr. Clarke, Fletcher, and Harris; somehow it got pounded into my adolescent brain (that was far more interested in mooning over various cuties [of both genders] and doodling cartoons and comics). I never really "learned" how to paint. I experimented, tried stuff, produced work (usually at the last minute) and was never quite satisfied. It never looked like how it had looked in my head. It was ok, but it was never "right". My favourite artists at the time were a bizarre mixture of the Impressionists Claude Monet, Post-Impressionists Van Gogh and Fantasy Illustrators (check out the links at the end of the post. Most of these artists I still love and revere to this day.

I began studying at Ottawa U. in fine arts, hoping that someone would teach me how to paint. I had an amazing time in sculpture class with Russell Yuristy (friend of Joe Fafard). There is nothing more freeing than slipping goopy plaster over an armature and watching a form develop from meagre beginnings to breathtaking completion. I really loved sculpting! My other classes were a bit more disappointing (granted at 19 I was far more interested in being heart-broken and writing torrid poetry than learning anything new, or regularly attending classes).

By the time I cracked my head against the walls of academe and took a painting class, it was only to discover that the university "way" is not to teach painting. You approach the canvas with your paint, and just do it. You do it, and you really don't learn much about the technical side of painting. You learn how to defend your work in critiques, but the finer side of mixing colour, transfering image to something that remotely resembles said image on canvas was left pretty much to the wind.

When I ended up in animation at Algonquin in my late twenties, I was actually looking forward to learning. I wasn't learning painting, but in the intensive courses that followed (life drawing, design), I learned how to really see. My learning curve was steep, and my art improved by about 75%. I was shocked. I'd been cruising along, really taking my talent for granted...and people were actually standing there who were interested in teaching me how to become a better artist.

So, as for painting, I have only really done it on my own. I've messed around with watercolours, but have always felt intimidated by my lack of "official" knowledge. So, it was with surprise and a bit of tripidation that I found my paints, brushes and canvas this week and realized that painting was exactly what I wanted to do. It was something I needed to do.

My first efforts were pretty crude; I'm an impatient artist. I want the work done, and I want it done now.. I want some kind've reaction from it, then I want to move on and make something else. Paint doesn't work that way. Paint (especially the cheapola craft acrylics I was using) was not patient, and wasn't drying the way I expected it to, and simply was not opaque over the areas I wished that it would've been opaque for! I had to learn to slow down, to sometimes draw before coming to the canvas. To be patient and work on other things while recalcitrant canvases were drying (before returning to them again.) It's been a learning experience.

My first solo show is this year and I'm terrified. I realized I had exactly ONE painting when I booked the show. I just assumed I'd make some more (har har). But, it's actually happening. I'm painting. I'm trusting myself and my talent, my colour theory knowledge, and my drawing skills. Painting has helped me begin to move through my grief. Another early memory I have is of my Dad helping me paint. I remember he did a background wash in tempera or watercolour (can't remember), then he blocked in a tree trunk and branches radiating from it. He did it so naturally, calmly, as if he knew exactly which branch should go where. Once that was done, in went the leaves. I can see it in my mind, clear as if it had been just the other day.

I'll upload some of my work this week, and you can see how things are going. My show is at Venus Envy this year, November 2nd - December 31st (I think). I'll get more info later on. It's far enough away that my fear isn't a hammering chorus of terror, but close enough that I know I have to keep producing, and learning.


Painting with Fire
Frank Frazetta
Michael Whelan
Phil Hale
Keith Parkinson
Julie Bell
The Bros. Hildebrandt
Jed Dougherty
Simon Bisley

Kristy Gordon
Dave Cooper

Friday, February 13, 2009

Though I'm old with wandering...

I have bits and pieces of poetry, music, images lodged in my head. They alternate between being comforting and being insistent with their presence. One is the "Dream of Wandering Aengus" by Yeats (inspired by very early Celtic stories) and made popular by Tommy Makem. Donovan also covered the poem in song form, and there is an interesting version of it on Youtube.

Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

— William Butler Yeats

This was one of my Dad's favourite songs/quotes. We printed it on the commemorative bookmarks that were at the service Sunday and Monday. On the other side was a great quote from Carl Hiassen that was a perfect description of my Dad. I have no idea how my Mom had the forethought to jot it down while she was reading, but she did and it was good. Reverend Jane, who lead the service on Monday read it and her voice broke. And of course I cried like Niagara Falls (again).

"He was a fighter, a real tiger, but he had a generous heart.
He was an idealist who believed in the innate decency and honesty of everyone he met.
He faced profound sadness in his life but he never let himself be defeated by it.
He never lost his sense of humour or his optimism.
He was one of the most positive and unselfish persons.
He chose a simple, ordinary life because he believed that was the secret to true happiness.
He wasn't perfect.
He had weaknesses as all of us do.
Impulsive moments, blind spots, and lapses in judgment.
He wasn't a perfect person but he was a truly good person and we'll all miss him dearly."

-- Carl Hiassen

It has been a strange week... I feel like an empty husk, with a low wind blowing through my mind. I move, write, create, but it is like being an automaton with no independent thought or motive. The strangest thing was grocery shopping. If Clay hadn't been there, I probably would've ended up lodged at the end of an aisle with my cart ground against a row of soup or something. It was like being in a dream. I talked with my Mom Wednesday and she said Mike had felt the same way.

I get up, make coffee, put clothes on. I gaze at the lovely flowers that our friends sent and let my mind drift into daisies, roses and palm fronds. Occasionally I will go along and forget. Then forcibly, I'll be stopped mid-thought: Dad would really like this book--- Realizing that I'll never share another book with him. Or looking yesterday for images from "Slaine the Horned God" by Mills & Bisley to get a picture, and coming up in a shortened chest-tight gasp. Dad and I loved that book, and nobody else really got it within my circle but us. Other things like that cascade in my mind--small things, significant only to me. But it hurts to my bones, and it is something that can't be brushed aside or crawled over. It has to be examined, cherished, then moved through respectfully, in its own time.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Joy and Sorrow

A long while ago, one of my dear friends, Fiona was traveling on the West Coast. I missed her lots and so, when this card arrived in the mail, I was blown away. It is from Khalil Gibran and it really meant a lot to me. It came from someone I loved, and it also came at a time when I was mourning the loss of my grandmother. The lines make sense to me, because they speak about balance.

Today was a day of balance as well. I woke up with my face pressed so hard into my pillow I'm amazed I wasn't suffocated. It was like I was trying to physically hang on to sleep for as long as I could. As long as I was in bed, asleep, the day (for me at least) couldn't progress. I wouldn't wake to another day of the reality of my father being gone staring me in the face. Inevitably I had to get up, but it was with a deep reluctance, and slowness; the way a kid will fight all the way against something, dragging their feet, even though there is no point and they will go to bed whether they want to or not.

Clay and I gathered some lunch items, some blank CD's, the old Rideau High School year book that Myra had lent me ages ago, and headed for Keith's place. Keith had agreed to try and transfer some old compilation mixed tapes I had made for my Dad for his birthday (June 3rd, 1990 and 2000). We stopped at Mac's first in Kanata and I topped up my phone (the day I needed it the most, not only were its batteries kacking out, it had like $1.50 left on it. Sigh!) I also picked up a couple of copies of the Citizen that had Dad's Obituary printed in it. Do you know what they ding you for an obit? Like $500! Geez! So, I am happy that they did a good job on it...

We drove up and along Eagleson, and I thought I could use some music. Just as we began merging on the 417, I clicked on CKCU (93.1) and Stan Rogers was singing "The Mary Ellen Carter". My God! I choked right up and sniffled and snurged as I drove. I was ok until the chorus, whereupon I just started sobbing again. Thankfully, the traffic had slowed a bit, so I could cry and kind've drive at the same time... After the song was done, the announcer said it had been a memorial set for someone else, which made it feel again, like it was destined to be heard by me.

"...And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again - though your heart it be broken
And life about to end
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend.
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again."
--Stan Rogers (1949 - 1983)

For a beautiful piece on YouTube, click here.

By the time I found my parking spot in front of Keith's place on Kent St., I was ok, but still deeply moved by the song, and my spirit somehow felt lighter. It was like, there was a lift that had happened inside and I could see a bit of light and laughter as well.

Keith got started on the tape transfer (btw, I had no idea that something like that could take close to 8-9 hours, depending on how things went. Clay and I had lunch and Keith put on Steve Martin's "the Jerk", which I had never seen. It was wonderful, just being able to laugh together and feel some of my tension release. Keith continued his work, transfering the poor old audio tapes to digital, and checking in on us to make sure we were ok. I sent more notices via email, and also linked Dad's Obituary to my facebook page.

We settled in for a second movie, this one an old favourite of mine when I was a teen, and also I remember Dad getting a good laugh out of it as well: "Amazon Women on the Moon". I think I giggled pretty much through the whole thing. And of course, during some of the more rib-splitting scenes, laughed so hard I started coughing and sounded like I was coming apart.

Fi and Vicki arrived later with a veggie lasagna, timbits and a bottle of Baileys! We just hugged and it felt so good to see them. Fi had been in the car all day coming up from Newmarket, then barely got out to hop into another car to come in to town. It was so good having them there, just talking, reminiscing and laughing.

Eventually we broke it up, after supper. Keith finally finished his audio magic and I had 4 CD's with Dad's music on them for the visitation tomorrow. Fi and Vick headed back for the 1 1/2 hr drive to Portland, and after lots of hugs and heartfelt "thankyous", Clay and I also headed out. We set course for Stittsville though, not Kanata.

Mom and I still had to put together the giant photosheet for the funeral home's frame that they put up in the visitation room for people to look at. We'd gone through a lot of pictures the other day and Mom had gone through a few more, but wanted me to help with the layout. It didn't take too long.. I sorted them in chronological order and then tried to see how they would all fit together. I put in the pic from Myra's yearbook and it looked good. There were pics from Dad as a little boy in 1947, to his army days, his trip to England and Trinity College in Dublin, as well as showing him relaxing on Sanibel Island in Florida. A real collage, showing his life, serious, smiling, looking mischievious, bending over the Lada (which needed eternal repairs) and finally, a picture in the lower right corner of Dad's granddaughters: Bronwyn, Kiara and Rylen.

It looks good.
Night, rest and may sweet sleep bear you to gentle dreamings.

Friday, February 06, 2009


As most of you know, Norm passed away yesterday afternoon at the Queensway Carleton Hospital because of complications related to diabetes.

I would like to thank everyone for their love, support, thoughtful words and generous hearts during this incredibly difficult time. It means so much to us that you are thinking of us and that we are supported by those who love us and loved Norm.

If you are in the Ottawa area and would like to come to either the visitation or funeral (or both), here is the information:

Kelly Funeral Homes
580 Eagleson Rd., Kanata, ON K2M 1H4

Sunday February 8th, 2pm - 4pm
7pm - 9pm
1:30pm Legion Service
6:30pm Masonic Service

Monday February 9th, 2pm

Norm's obituary will be published tomorrow in the Ottawa Citizen. In memoriam donations to the Canadian Diabetes Association or St. Thomas Anglican Church, Stittsville.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Man of Harlech

My Dad has been ill for a long time; dealing with diabetes, kidney disease, as well as stress on his heart and lungs (C.O.P.D.). So, when Mom called me this morning at work, I could tell from the sound of her voice that something was seriously wrong: it quavered and broke as she told me that Dad had been admitted to hospital last night, when he was having trouble breathing, and that I should come right away.

I gave a garbled message to one of my co-workers, pulled on my coat and went as quickly as I could back down the elevator, through the JT lobby and out into the -31 C weather that's been plaguing us. My lungs choked up with the cold and I could hear what my brother calls "lung kittens" wheezing in my chest. I got to my car and hit the parkway. The day was so bright and beautiful, sunny, but bloody cold. I was out of it, dazed. The car seemed to drive itself.

I pulled into the Queensway Carleton Hospital and eventually found a spot to park, which meant another long, freezing walk across a parking lot. I kept wanting to be at my Mom and Dad's side now, but things kept conspiring to get in my way. I found myself on the 4th floor of the Hospital, realizing the room numbers only went up to 425. Dad was in 450. I finally got directions and headed back down to the lobby, reoriented myself and made for the "new" part of the hospital.

Finally I found the room. Finally I shucked off the winter clothing. Mom was there. Mike was there. Dad was stretched in a hospital bed, breathing in an oxygen mask, sedated, hanging in there. I just hugged my family and listened to Dad's hissing in-out breathing. It was Jethro Tull's Aqualung, or Darth Vader; the quiet, hitched breathing of someone who is not getting everything they need from each lungful of air.

Nothing felt real; even though everything was laid out in front of me. The doctor was patient and kind, explaining things straight, but with gentleness. She advised us to not bother with dialysis today, because the stress of moving Dad to the General across town would've been too hard on him: interrupting his oxygen (and inadvertently cleaning the helpful drugs from his system). She said if he went into arrest in the ambulance, or needed oxygen or his pain medication and the other drugs they were using to help him breathe that it wouldn't be available to him. So, reluctantly, Mom decided against dialysis.

We sat together near Dad, occasionally holding his hand, Mom sometimes brushing back his silver hair. The sun shone brightly through the window, warming the room. We talked about Dad and the fact that he tended to rally under duress: the phoenix rising from the ashes, again and again. Mike said we were lucky that we'd had the time to be with him after his many visits in and out of the hospital; that we'd all managed to let each other know how much we loved one another. Last May, when Dad was scheduled for heart surgery and was fearful of going under, he talked to us, letting us know how much he loved us. We said good-bye last year, and then just enjoyed all the time we had together. So, we were lucky... I guess.

How come I don't feel lucky? I feel empty, wrung out like a wet rag, eyes swollen from crying. I headed out from the hospital around 2pm to do some errands, and eventually picked up Clay at work, because of the bus strike. I drove back to Kanata, picked up some dinner to take back into the hospital for Mom and then headed home to drop Clay off. It didn't really register as strange to see Mike's car parked in front of the house. I just thought... I don't know, that we were going to plan things together for dinner, or he had news about Mom, or something. I came in, babbling about stuff and just doing my usual thing. Mike looked like a part of him wanted to be anywhere but there. He said quietly: "He's gone, Sue. Dad's gone."

I dissolved... falling into the couch in choking sobs. I felt like a part of me was torn right out of my body, crushed and twisted. I couldn't breathe. I felt Mike and Clayton close to me, felt their arms holding me, and just cried into my brother's shoulder. I felt that I would never stop crying. Mike said that Dad had just slowed in his breathing for awhile; that the in-out of his breath got slower and slower. The pauses between each breath hung and then there was another hitched inhalation. And then there was nothing. It was over.

Norman Henry Marsden
June 3rd, 1940 - February 5th, 2009

Me and Dad, 1972.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

St. Brigid

Good morning y'all,

It's... whoa, been since October that I've written? What's up with that? Hmm... I continue to blame Facebook, plus I've been doing some freelance work at, so there you have it.

A couple of years ago I wrote a fun note on celebrating St. Brigid's Day (today) and you can check it out here, if you like. St. Brigid's Day is on old Celtic celebration, called "Imbolc", and somehow has survived even in our modern world. Weird! Yet cool ;-)

Life has been going along not too badly. We somehow made it through January; a month plagued by deep-freeze temperatures, big, hulking piles of snow, and an extraordinarily inconvenient bus strike that, after 51 **ckin days, finally curled up its toes last week and died. The buses won't all be functioning for long unexplained weeks to come, so it means, I'll still be driving the Boy to work and picking him up again. One link in the bus chain is all it would've taken to set our world back in some kind've motioned order (the #116), but no, no order for us.

But, with the dawn of a new month, fresh, bright and crisp, and my wee car functioning ok (thanks to a $250 trip to Midas *sigh*), we sally forth. Possibilities seem to open like so many lotos blooms at the beginning of anything... it's like, after about the 3rd week of a month, you figure "what the hell" and throw your arms in the air with defeat and impatience. At the start of the month, everything seems new and actually do-able. I know, days are days, and there really isn't any discernable difference. (Why should everyone hate Monday, and love Friday for instance? Purely psychological.. yes, I am a Monday-hater, and truly cherish my weekends.. *grin*) But ultimately, each day has the same 24 hours in it, sliced up neatly into apportioned minutes and seconds, each of which holds the pure potential of the doing, or the not-doing, or the simply lounging (depending on whether or not you are a procrastinator par extraordinaire...)

This month, I aim to finish up my outstanding projects and get paid (finally).. which'll be nice. Then I can link to all the fun freelanced stuff I've been semi-labouring over. It'll be exciting starting a couple of new illustration projects as well. Once I get that ball rolling, I am going to wrap up the bits and pieces left dangling around my upcoming book, and finally send the bulk of files off to a P.O.D. place, so you can all get your excited mitts on "96 Hours", my 4 successful 24 hour comics, all in one brand-spanking new format. Hurray!

Ok, I think I'm pretty much done.
Cheerio, and good luck to you as you try and thrust your way through the chaos and organize life, the universe and your sock drawers.


PS Here is one of the illustrations for the upcoming book from Swordfish Toys called Alphabet Madness by Simon Fish, illustrated by Suzanne Marsden. Hurray!