Work in Progress – “Midnight Flight”

It was a long, lazy weekend, but I’m going to share a teaser of the painting I’m working on.

This one started out in the Sketchbook, but I was so excited to get started on the real thing, I didn’t even finish the study (and I tore the page!):


It looks so lame in its abandoned, unfinished state!  But it’s coming together on the wood panel, I promise.  (And again, I apologise if you’ve already seen this on Facebook – but I’m almost caught up with the redundancies, honest!)

I’m using acrylics on wood because I live in Nova Scotia, and you can literally wait months in our humid climate for oil paint to dry (pretty sure I still have a palette kicking around with paint that is still tacky after several years).  That, and I’m an irresponsible child who can’t be bothered with fussy brush cleaning techniques.  Also, my first love is watercolour, and acrylics give you that smooth fluidity and transparency on the wood, without the complete disappearing act of watercolours, along with the option for opaque layering.

So here’s the sketch, transferred to the panel:


Laying in the first layers:


A bit of detail:




It’s a little hard to tell, but I’m actually going to give her a little “experience” (wrinkles).  I wanted her to be pretty, but with signs of life lived.  Wisdom and whatnot, ya know?  I’m not done yet, but here’s a close-up:


Starting to fill out the background so I can balance the contrast:



Still have a lot of detail work to do (particularly on the owl), but gotta do something about that moon…


Gold leaf!


You can’t really see it in the photo, but at night, with the room dimmed, the light shifting across the gold leaf is quite breathtaking.  It feels alive, like the real moon.

I’m hoping to get it finished this week sometime (that poor, neglected owl…), in between other projects, so stay tuned!


The Sweet Smell of Freon in the Morning

I had a skating dream last night.

Skating dreams are frustrating, because unlike most of my dreams, my skating dreams do not stray far from reality.  (My skydiving dreams, for instance, are nothing short of epic – skydiving in real life is pretty freakin’ awesome, but in dreams I am like a superhero.)

In my skating dreams, I am usually in the same dingy small town rink that I spent most of my youth in.  It’s still cold, and I still can’t land a triple anything.  But for some reason, I wake up feeling nostalgic – which is interesting, because I sort of hated skating.

You see, I was forced to start skating against my will.  I was (yeah, I know) pathologically shy as a kid.  My parents thought it would be healthy for me to have some extracurricular social contact, and since we lived in a small town with limited choices, it was either girl scouts, a church group of some sort, or figure skating.  Figure skating it was.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t totally hate it at first.  I may have even been kind of happy after my first lesson.

And then I moved through the badges really fast and made some friends – one of whom would turn out to be my best friend when we both wound up at the same school for junior high.  Then it was suggested to my parents that I continue on to the group mysteriously known as ‘Juniors’.

I had no idea what ‘Juniors’ was.  But I became one.  And made a total idiot of myself on the first day.

In addition to being really shy (and therefore unlikely to initiate conversation even to ask a question which really should be asked, like, say, “So this Juniors thing…what’s that all about?”), I was also a pretty easy-going kid.  I was happy to live my life on a need-to-know basis.  I mean, I trusted my parents not to subject me to anything that would be bad for me (boy, did I grow out of that!), and so I figured ‘Juniors’ was where I was supposed to be and that was that.

The first day of Juniors was a Saturday.  Instead of just an hour in the evening once a week like the badge program, I would now be skating all day on Saturdays and would have private coaches.   When I came out of the dressing room, the other juniors were out on the ice.  There were only a handful, and they were scattered all over the ice.  I spotted my friend and made a beeline for her…and immediately got smacked-down.

Apparently there was this thing called ‘patch’, where each skater gets a patch of ice to work on their figures (yes, that means figure-8s, and…well, fancy figure-8s).  Patches are sacred.  You don’t skate across another skater’s patch.  I’m just lucky Tonya Harding didn’t skate out of my club.

Well, I caught on.

Yeah, I went on to ‘Seniors’ eventually and even got my coach’s certification.  And the great thing about these hierarchical activities is that you eventually have others below you that you can act all high-and-mighty around and pretend you always knew not to skate over someone else’s patch.

I spent the next 10 years in rinks.  All sorts of rinks.  Nice ones, heated ones, big ones, ones with mysterious drips coming from the ceiling that formed icky yellow slush puddles on the ice.   I remember my dad picking me up in the Jeep on dark winter nights, so exhausted I couldn’t even speak, stretching my throbbing feet in front of me and dozing off on the drive home, where I would eat the supper my mom had kept warm for me before crashing hard.

It’s not just the dreams that make me sentimental now – it’s other things, too.  Like music.  Even now, hearing “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry” takes me right back to freestyle practice – that tinny, cheap 80s rink music.  Or “The Stray Cat Strut” – from the year my precision line group dressed in cat suits for the year-end carnival.  Any kind of waltz, and I’m right back in Tommy’s arms (Tommy was only boy in the club and had the burden of partnering everybody for their dance exams – poor Tommy), or worse, if Tommy wasn’t around, the arms of one of the two very-very tall girls in the club who had to stand in for him in a pinch.  I remember very clearly protesting to my freestyle coach when she assigned me the song for my first solo choreography – “Tea For Two” and a bunch of cutesy footwork was waaaaay too baby-ish for a nearly-nine-year-old.

I remember other sounds, too.

Like the sound of Mrs. Gilmour – she was a sort of house mother that babysat all of us, sitting in the dressing room sewing our costumes and knitting us Lopi sweaters.  “Get off that telephone, young lady!  Do you know how much your parents are paying for your ice time??”  The ooohs and aaaaaahs when our new dresses were finished – particularly my first dress with double ruffled skirts that flew out and looked like a tutu during a spin (custom-made by Mrs. G., of course).

The sound of skate blades scraping sideways to produce snow to pack on a fellow skater’s injury after a bad fall.  If you think skating is a dainty sport, think again.  I once put the end of my blade right through my shin-bone during a jump…not pretty.

Then there was the clack of hockey sticks on the hollow seats of the stands as the players filed in for practice after our session, and the hockey players bitching about us skaters leaving divots in the ice with our picks that even the zamboni couldn’t repair.  (Blah blah blah.)

Oh, the hockey players.  For some of us, that was about the only exposure we got to boys, other than school.  We only saw them at a distance, from our lonely isolated patches of ice, though.  I, of course, developed a long-standing crush on one, a boy with dark hair, dark eyes and a big smile.  We actually became friends later on, and in fact, he may or may not have been my first date.  Never did figure it out for sure.  He started asking me to dance for all the slow songs at the high school dances, but I figured it was just because I was short and so was he.  He used to joke around and eat popsicles over my shoulder while we danced, so I never took it seriously, even though I was mad for him.  Then one night he asked me if I wanted to (what else) go skating with him (I figured he wanted the practice).  He picked me up in his mom’s car and invited himself up to my room afterward.  But I was a 14-year-old four-eyed dork whose entire social life so far consisted of hanging out in a cold rink with a bunch of other girls and I’d never had a boy in my room ever …so when he came and sat next to me on the bed, I figured he needed more room, so to be polite, I went and sat in the chair.  He’s happily married with kids now, I hear.  Still cute, though.  Wonder if he still plays hockey?

And then there are the smells.  Freon.  Oh, the smell of freon, that cold ozone-y taste of the air in a rink.  I will never forget it.  (Or maybe I will – have there been any long-term studies on what those fumes to your brain?)  Boiled canteen hot dogs.  Vending machine hot chocolate and Lime Crush.  White shoe polish for your boots before a show or competition.  Band-aids (yes, they have a smell).

But it’s only now that I have these fond reminiscences.  When I turned 17, I rebelled.  I discovered booze and boys (yes, finally) and threw a tantrum and declared that I hated skating, hated the cold, and never wanted to skate again.  I got rid of all of my equipment except for one pair of skates (my best ones).  And then I didn’t hit the ice again for many years.

The funny thing about it, though, it’s like riding a bike, I guess.  Some years back, I went skating and I had been a bit nervous that I would fall on my ass.  It came back instantly – along with all the memories of alllll those hours.  It was awesome, despite how sore my feet were afterward from squishing them into my teenager-sized skates (which sadly, I hadn’t cleaned properly when I stored them in my fit of angst and it took the guy at the shop forever to get all the rust off the blades, amidst much ‘tsk’-ing over my treatment of such expensive gear, blah blah blah).

But as many hours as I spent there, I never did land anything great, like a triple-anything.  So wouldn’t you think the least my subconscious could do would be to give me that in my dreams?  But no.  In my dreams, I even have to coach the wee ones and make them learn basic choreography to impress the parents (which, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of 4-year-olds in snowsuits on a slippery surface, well, you can imagine the challenge).  I have not once done a back-flip combination á la Scotty Hamilton.  And the music is still canned.

It’s so unfair.  I really expect better of my imagination, you know.

Sunsets and Skyscrapers


There is a photo on my desk that people often ask about.  It’s a photo of a young, tall blonde boy, barechested in low-slung jeans and hiking boots, wearing leather cuff bracelets and a bear-tooth on a thong around his neck, playing guitar, his hair hanging in his eyes.

Most of my boyfriends get very jealous and weird when they see it.

But have you ever been lucky enough to meet someone who was able to show you an upside-down view of the world and make you a better person for it?  That’s what Tim was to me.  I keep his photo there not as a tribute to our relationship, but to remind me of the freedom he helped me find.  I believe that people show up in your life when you need them.  Tim was one of those people.  I sometimes wonder if he was even really real.

I was 24.  Working two jobs.  Sleeping…rarely.  A pre-med student specializing in neuroscience, planning to undertake four more years in a basement laboratory in order to: a) prove to myself that I wasn’t stupid; b) prove to my family that I wasn’t stupid; and c) hopefully, along the way, help others.

I wasn’t happy.  But I’d kind of given up on ‘happy.’

It was summer break, and my best friend and I were indulging in a rare night on the town.  We were stumbling up the hill toward our favourite alternative club, Birdland, when Keri grabbed my head and pointed it in his direction.  “Look at that guy!  He looks just like Leonardo DiCaprio!”

He and a friend, I would later learn was Darrell – also beautiful, with shoulder-length curly auburn hair – were busking with their guitars outside the Art College.

I was wasted.  I wanted to dance.  I could have cared less about Leonardo DiCaprio lookalikes.  But we went over and said hi.  And somehow ended up inviting them to join us at Birdland.  As we walked, we paired up – Keri with Darrell, leaving me to speak to Tim.

He was 20.  He had busked/hitched his way across the continent after spending time in the Mexican rainforests with nothing more than a tent, a blanket, a tin cup and a journal.

By the time we hit the club, Tim and I were in a full-out debate about life in general…and hours later, still at it.  We talked about the western part of the country that I had never seen.  He told me about the mountains I had never seen.  He belonged to another time – he was fresh air and earth, innocence and an old soul.

He moved in with me the next day.

That summer, this younger, much freer man drilled me about myself.  He was my mirror and I was his.  He had grown up the middle child in a middle-class family much like my own, but longed for more.  Unlike me, he had stopped trying to please others long ago.  He went out of his way, in fact, to test people.  In public, he deliberately acted like a jerk to try to offend people.  Later, we analysed one another and when I told him my impression was that he purposely tried to drive people away just to see if they would climb over his hurdles, he became pensive, and admitted I was the first one to ever point that out.  He constantly tested the limits of society.  I was fascinated by the strength of his sense of self; although alone, he was romantic and vulnerable.  When I asked about his travels, envious, “What colour are the Northern Lights?”, he paused for a moment, thinking, and then said, “They’re the same colour as your eyes – green and gold, with bits of blue.”

We read each other’s diaries.  We wrote in each other’s diaries.  He drove me nuts, because he would wake me in the morning, playing Velvet Underground songs on his guitar, singing at the top of his lungs, or he would storm out of bed, dragging the blankets with him.  When I followed, cold, with hands on hips, to demand what he was doing, he would laugh and hold his arms open, saying, “I just wanted to see if you would follow.”  He dug around in my apartment, scanning my bookshelves, pulling out long-abandoned paintings and demanding to know why they weren’t finished.


The moment that changed my life was the night we were heading out of town in my car, with friends in the backseat and Tim riding shotgun.  I was so used to the jaded ‘city’ mentality – keeping up with the Jones’, making fun of anything that wasn’t ‘hip’ and ‘of-the-moment’, that I didn’t get it when we drove past what was obviously someone of a very lower class – wacky wardrobe, slight stagger – and Tim muttered under his breath, “Oh – would you just look at that!”

A part of me shut down.  I was so disappointed in him.  I had thought he was above making fun of people for how they looked.  I shot him a glare from the driver’s seat and heaved a massive sigh.  He looked at me, mystified.  I began to explain my disappointment, when he said, “Come on – have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

And I looked where he was pointing – and saw, beyond the skyscrapers, beyond the city skyline – the most gorgeous sunset, magenta and orange, filling the evening sky, that I had ever seen.  He hadn’t even noticed the person on the sidewalk.  That shame remains with me today.

He stayed with me for the summer.  His friend Darrell, after having a brief fling with my best friend Keri, headed off back to Alberta, but Tim decided to stay.  I was torn – I didn’t know how to resume my basement laboratory life with him in it.

He asked me to come back out west with him.  He said, in his middle-child-afraid-to-commit way, “We should get married on a mountaintop in the Rockies.”

I couldn’t.  I had responsibilities.  I was committed to finishing school.  I was a grownup.

One morning, I awoke in a blaze of sunshine and he was watching me.  He said, “I think today is a good day to hit the road.”  And I knew it was the right thing.  I was sad, but it was time.

So we said good-bye.

I’ve never really regretted not going with him…because Tim taught me to accept that there is a part of me that can never tow the line, resign to the status quo, be happy with city skylines.

A few weeks after he left, I covered my car with painted flowers.  And I did the drive west that we had talked about.

I finished my degree, but opted to defer grad studies.  I had things to do first.  I needed to see the Northern Lights for myself.  Now, I’m pursuing my art for real.

And you know?  The men who come into my life have nothing to fear.  That photo on my desk is not a symbol of my regret.  It’s a talisman, a reminder of who I really am – a reminder to look beyond the skyline and not lose her again in other people’s dreams.