December 10, 2012

Shh! She is sleeping


This wee wisp of a girl, much fattened and nimbler now since the moment pictured here, was born in the spring along with a hundred other babes who, through their birth and their mother's attachment to the internet, form the offspring of the April 2012 Birth Club. Little A's mum was my Secret Santa. Of course, though she seems chuffed by the gift, really the pleasure of putting this pastel painting together was mine.

Very miserably for me, though, I won't be continuing to use chalk pastels. I was obligated to buy them for art class and did so reluctantly, only to find them a hugely sympathetic medium. So natural to use, especially for an aspiring colourist. However, they let off a dust that is very fine and, whether the pigments are toxic or not, is difficult to filter and to clean. No one needs that in their lungs.

So now I am trying oil pastels! Stay tuned.

December 5, 2012

Left-handed insight

November 29, 2012

Only one art class left. Sad to leave the situation that has allowed me/taught me to make easily the best art I've ever done.

The blog is quiet lately because I feel quiet about art these days. Not sure why. I do a lot of it, but it feels a bit too in-my-head to talk about right now.

November 22, 2012

One thing I would like to share. Our teacher, Aida Alves, taught us to draw with our non-dominant hands. It's oddly freeing. The picture at the top of the page was drawn (base drawings) with my right hand. First layers of colour, also right hand. All the movement was done with my non-dominan, left hand. It's easier to hear what the piece needs that way. Flaky, but truth!

November 21, 2012

Lined up feet

November 20, 2012

Felled by flu last week -- and I missed the foot class! Yup, the foot. That limb of ill omen (well, for artists), and the major reason I signed up for anatomy art class. My feet are absolutely wretched. I fought back by doing lots of foot studies at home.

The poorly-photographed green person below is from the previous class devoted to the torso. My teacher told us we weren't allowed to use brown so I crept back into the land of colour. In the doing, I realised my Grumbacher pastels were absolute shite. Even my teacher said I needed a trip to the art store.

November 8, 2012
And we all know how that turned out. That's right. Expensively. $136 in one sweet hour of goggly-eyed lust.

Did you know you can buy marbling kits, tie-dye t-shirt kits, and face-painting kits? Yes, and you can pay for them, too! Along with washable, non-toxic finger paint, on-sale watercolour paper blocks, black pastel paper and a Faber Castell black marker (fine point) because I only had it in brown.

I'm a glutton, but at least I was spending on my little girl and not just myself.

I also bought the Prismacolour Nupastels I was supposed to get and MY WORD they are awesome. Like butter. Here's a pillow.

November 18, 2012

November 11, 2012

Personal best

Caroline, October 25 2012

Since I started Bus Drawing out of necessity, my attitude has been to draw what I see, anywhere, anytime, with whatever I've got on hand. My art class is changing all that.

I'm rediscovering traditional art supplies like charcoal, pastels, big sketchpads, easels and kneaded erasers. They are all so easy to use since they are designed for artists and perfected over centuries. I'm also exploring traditional colours: all the old favourites -- burnt sienna, raw umber -- and standard drawing techniques, like hatching, shadow blocking, and the like. My art class gives me things like time, teaching, and developmental exercises, too, for all of which I am fervently grateful.

Theo, November 1 2012

Mostly, it's just so easy to draw in this environment that I'm focusing on improving my work artistically (I'm not totally sure what I mean here, but hope the gist comes across!) instead of on contextual challenges (like sitting on a bus or drawing a moving target like my children) or technical challenges (drawing with markers in small books when I would prefer to do large format work with brushes, inks and paints).

At the same time, those 1.5 years on the bus were so difficult that my technical abilities grew enormously. I am constantly amazed in art class by how easy it is for me to do assignments that would have had me sweating pencils a couple of years ago. I'm not trying to say I'm the greatest or anything, just that I can't believe that a relatively short term of drawing on the bus did for all of my art, not just rapid portraits.

Art class is three hours of sheer joy every week. May there be more and more and more.

November 7, 2012

His right hand

November 2012

November 2012

Though my husband and I got together in 2005, I've rarely made a study of him though I've always wanted to. The larger portrait isn't quite right -- too Arnie -- but I did a good job on the drawing above. A devotee of the computer, Jeff writes software by day and at night he can be found writing ever more code, gaming or reading online. As someone with fingers in all sorts of pots, I admire his dedication.

October 31, 2012

Dinner sketching

October 2012
My latest trick for getting through Ada's lingering at the end of meals is to keep a sketchbook by my placemat. After a few days of this she has started making drawing requests. It really bugs her that I mostly draw heads. The funny thing is, she doesn't ask me to draw bodies. She always tells me to put feet on them! I like to interpret her literally just to tease her.

The shin bone's connected to the chin bone

October 24, 2012

Never seeing ribs the same way again

October 23, 2012

Here is my spiny goodness project with a little colour. No time in this busy mother-of-two life for shading and all that. The flat colours remind me of Goodnight Moon. ("Goodnight mush!")

October 22, 2012

Spiny goodness

Oops, I forgot the lumbar spine

Did you know that we aren't born with all three curves in our spine? Nope, we're born with one. We add our second when we learn to lift up our heads. You can see this second curve in James' neck or cervical spine area, above. Our last curve is in the lumbar spine or lower back and we add this one once we learn to stand.

This is the final ready-for-colour drawing for my first Anatomy class project. My chosen topic was, "Things that loop and link and how that is like a spine." Really it was just an excuse to draw more James but with added anatomical fun. Instead, it was hard! From poring over pictures of infant and adult anatomy, I learned that our ribcages aren't just a series of loops threaded through our breastbone and spine. It turns out that on each side we have two floating ribs, four ribs that are attached to each other (but not to the spine) and six ribs that are hooked to the spine.

And then I dumbly chose this three-quarter profile view instead of doing the relatively easy face-on or profile view. Did you know that there are virtually no three-quarter profile views of the skeleton online? Well, go figure, neither did I. So this is what I think an infant's rib cage looks like from this angle. Our ribs have interesting curves and twists and since I didn't have the time to learn them I simplified the anatomy for this exercise.

It's really neat how our ribs loop around the spine. Now I notice this pattern everywhere. Curtain rods, wheels and axles, spinning tops (well, in principle), woven things...

We have a terrific children's book called A House Is A House For Me. The poem talks about everyone's houses -- a lion's cave, a sheep's barn -- and expands from there with wild whimsy. A glove is a house for a hand, a tea cup is a house for tea. By the end of it the writer says that once you begin to look you start to see houses everywhere.

from A House Is A House For Me illustrated by Betty Fraser (Author: Mary Ann Hoberman)
It's a bit like that with ribs and spines, but I can't get as far with it.

A ring is a rib for a finger.
A bracelet is a rib for a wrist.
A necklace is a rib for a neck and
a garland is a rib for a tree.
A padlock is a rib for a doorlatch,
a ribbon's a rib for a gift,
a clothesline's a rib for my laundry, and...?

October 21, 2012

Thanks from Canada, Allison!

I'm really excited to finally share the project that has kept me from drawing for Bus Blog lately. A year ago sometime after James was conceived I joined an online community of pregnant women all due in April 2012. Since then our cross-Canada network has grown to 132 mothers.

A couple of weeks ago one of us shared Florida mom Allison Tate's blogpost about the importance of making sure mothers put themselves in photographs with their kids. One mom, Deshe, uploaded a photo of herself with her son and it sparked a rush of photos from the others. Like Allison Tate's readers, many of us discovered with surprise that we had few or no pictures of ourselves with our kids (six months in I have only three photos of myself with both Ada and James!). After the fortieth or fiftieth picture flew by, I realised I needed to bring these pictures together. The collage above is the result.

For many of us, the Birth Club is a safe place, an honest place. There we can chew over parenting and homemaking techniques without being boring, talk intimately about our changed bodies without being offensive, and share sappy videos, caustic jokes and every tiny milestone our beloved and bewildering children reach with an ever-caring audience.

I love looking at these pictures. Most of the photos on here aren't professional and I know many of us in the Birth Club lament that. We wish we had looked better that day. But the love in these faces is incredible. It makes us more beautiful, or it illuminates the beauty already there. As I get older, I don't enjoy 'good' photographs as much as I used to. Most of the work of professional photographers is so stylish and beautiful, capturing us always at our best. They're pieces of lovely art. But the photos where it's just us and our feelings shining through, warts and all, those are my favourites.

October 10, 2012

Not known for terminology like "Glute"

This is Sharon Bruneau. She's from Timmins, Ontario, and I chose her photograph to use for my latest homework in art class: Draw a bodybuilder's muscles. Tomorrow I will find out what some of the parts I couldn't identify were. She has a particularly nice Sartorius muscle, no?

October 9, 2012

Maybe I do have my own style, dammit

Jason, October 4, 2012

Showed Jeff my latest life drawing picture, above, and he said it reminded him of the picture I put on my biz cards back when I was planning on giving up my diplomatic career and taking a shot at illustrating for a living. (See, my feeling is that you can have dreams+1 kid or you can have 2 kids. Other options are: wealthy spouses or lucrative dreams. But the director of the art school told me, there are winners and losers in this society, and artists are among the losers.

So. I took the tacit advice and kept my job. Luckily, I love my job nowadays. Further, this blog provides me with the compromise between my passion and my career that I desperately need. Now you know everything I know and I will end this self-indulgent ramble here.)

I made the picture that Jeff was talking about as the cover of a comic book I wrote.

Hall Door II, 2005

October 7, 2012

Bite me, it's a breakthrough!

September 30, 2012

The last 2 weeks of Bus Blog fell to teething. I won't say any more about that.

After three years of trying on and off to draw the kids, I might be getting somewhere. Normally when I draw, I can sometimes see the drawing on the page before I draw. My guess is that my brain has a map of faces that is places on the page for me to trace. This happened for the first time just the other day, and again a few days later while I was drawing Ada at Big Rig Restaurant (a new brew pub in West Ottawa; it's great for folks of all shapes, ages, and loudnesses). This doesn't look much like her and it's obviously just a quick sketch, but it does look more like a child. I find them devilishly tough to draw, personally.

September 25, 2012

Surprisingly unchanged

Every couple of years I draw myself. I drew another one this weekend after completing my art class homework, a blind (don't-look-at-the-page) drawing of my face. Since I was sitting in front of a mirror anyway, I figured, why not.

I coloured it in poor light conditions and am disappointed by how it turned out. Drawing in the dark -- dumb! But unavoidable sometimes. So I won't finish it, I think. That pink-orange face is too grating.


Lots of people are really into self-portraits. My schoolmate Kate's are amazing.

Myself I find it unnerving. But I have done a few pictures of myself over the years, and I thought it would be neat to have them in one place.

Sorry about the untidy layout. One of these days I should move over to Wordpress.



September 21, 2012


September 20, 2012

Ah, life-drawing. How I've missed you.

September 18, 2012


I know Page Views aren't anywhere near as important as unique visitors, bounce rates and all that neat stuff, but I'm chuffed anyway. Bus Blog just reached 10,000! Now off to celebrate by feeding my baby whilst reading The Psychology of Judgment and Decision-Making. Have a great week everybody.

Holy grail of markers!!

Because I can't be trusted, I rarely permit myself to visit art stores. But with art class starting Thursday and some mysterious items on the required materials list ("fat stick," you say?), it seemed a little trip to paradise was on order. First I tried Michael's, judiciously making my way afoot with baby in jogging stroller as if the calories burned off by my run could offset the drain on my wallet. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the "Biggie Sketch Pad" is no longer to be had at Michaels, which meant Lia was going to Wallacks. 

Wallacks was where I had wanted to go anyway. Correction: Wallacks is where I want to go. Present tense. Like, all the time. Since I would rather buy art supplies than use them (who doesn't prefer potential over effort?).

I left the house late Friday night and arrived at the Nepean store at 8:20 pm. With 40 minutes til close, I couldn't possibly do too much damage. 

September 16, 2012

People love to tell me that I underestimate myself. Well, what do you know. I CAN blow 200$ in 40 minutes half an hour! Because what did I see, friends, after diligently filling my order of willow charcoal (various sizes), paper and 3-inch bulldog clips, as I came around the corner of the ink & marker aisle?

I actually said, out loud, "My God, it's the holy grail," to the aproned clerk at my side. Judging by how often he checked up on me after that, I think I might've freaked him out. 

A forlorn, quite dusty display case of Staedtler Mars Graphic 3000 duo markers! Forgotten at the end of a utility shelf! Many of them were in the wrong slots and most slots were empty but as is often the case, the BEST colours were all there. (Why don't people like grey, brown and cream? Am I the only person out there who draws trees and people with markers? I don't think so.) 
Sniff :(
Why, Staedtler, why?

I wish I knew why these beautiful markers were discontinued. On second thought, maybe it has to do with the total market dominance of comic-book style products. Or maybe it's their unweildiness under the scan that does it. What surviveth not online, surviveth not.

So I bought 36 of them at $3.75 a pop. 

I would've bought more, but when I asked them (twice) to name a price for the whole box, they ignored me. I think they thought I was joking. 

And so now you know why I won't be going back to the art store til next spring. Hey, at least I put back all the Copic markers I'd picked out... For now ;)

September 16, 2012

Scanner driver versus Photoshop

A mildly technical post today. I thought you might be interested in hearing about a new way I discovered of bringing an image into the blog. I'm no expert so if you have advice, do share!

Until now, typically I would scan an image and then, in Adobe Photoshop, correct the scan. This is because scanners (I have a Canon MX870 following the demise of my Lexmark) always change the colour scheme, contrast and tone etc of my drawings. Most irritating, they transform the cream pages of my Moleskine notebooks into a dark, muddy yellow. (That's why the backgrounds of my images are always a bit different from each other -- I don't automate my Photoshopping, so the background ends up a different colour most times.)

I also lose quite a bit of colour when I scan any drawings I've done using Mars Staedtler Due 3000 markers. These fabulous markers produce lovely, delicate watercolour painting effects. Unfortunately my scanner just doesn't see the light colouration. It also misses subtle gradation of colour. The result is drawings that look cartoonish, which is fine when that is what I am going for, but frustrating when it takes away from the gentle treatment I'm going for in drawings like the one of James below.

Photoshop has always gone a long way to helping me fix these problems. Here's an original scan and the Photoshopped result next to it.

Scan with no adjustments (cropped)
Photoshopped scan (cropped)

But it's not trivial. Some drawings can take 30 minutes or more to fix using trial and error. On Saturday I was down with a cold, so while Jeff took care of the kids, I decided I was sick of fiddling with Photoshop and investigated the cause of the problem: the scanner itself.

Going through the scanner help files and some online techie tutorials, I learned that my scanner has a driver that  allows me to correct for the same issues I was adjusting in Photoshop but before the scan. Apparently this preserves image quality, but frankly, I just care about how much easier it is. Changing the settings pre-scan is trivial (just a couple of mouse clicks using a preview of the scan) and I get the picture I want. By contrast, futzing with an image post-scan is much more work though I use the same types of adjustments (colour balance, histogram, levels, tone curve etc). I think it's perhaps because pictures, once they have been scanned, have to be actually distorted to be touched up and so it is much more laborious.

Here is the scan I ran after I adjusted the scanner driver settings to correct colour and contrast. Next to it, smudges removed in Photoshop.

Scanner driver adjusted (cropped, no Photoshopping)
Scanner driver adjusted (cropped, retouched)

The improvement shows particularly in the hair above James' ear and his brow line. See how the colours are more distinct and less muddy than in the first scan I took.

And finally, below, the final image with lightened background. (I think if I fiddle with the scanner some more I will be able to do this pre-scan as well, but I decided to quit while I was ahead yesterday.) This image comes the closest to my original drawing. Here you can see the watercolour-like quality of the markers and the very gentle, fragile colours they have. (Why did you discontinue them, Mars Staedtler, why???)

Scanner driver adjusted (cropped, retouched, background lightened)

(To see all images together and larger, just click on one and it will bring you into Blogger's lightroom where you can go back and forth between images using arrow keys or mouse.)

September 15, 2012

Blue chips and a rosebud

September 14, 2012

James was adamant about learning to sit yesterday and I drew his portrait while he did crunches on my lap. It's a sweet enough picture but with Anatomy class starting next Thursday all I see are the flaws! The nose sitting too low, the right eye oriented too far to the left...

School is hard on my artistic practice. Learning rules turns me into a merciless critic of my work. This over-sensitivity is largely what led me to abandon some early dreams of doing something artistic professionally. I ended up doing diplomacy quite by accident and I think I like it partly because it has nothing to do with my youthful experiences at the hands of harried teachers. A fresh slate.

All this to say that I am looking forward to learning anatomy, but am ambivalent about going to school. Hopefully the other students will be nice folk.

September 12, 2012

Remembering the taste

August 7 - September 12, 2012
Watching Ada eat fruit (she'll choose it over candy) reminds me of the way I experienced food as a child. Some of my strongest memories are of gathering or eating fruit. Sticky peach juice, drippy melons, hard tart apples. But blueberries I remember best of all.

Age 6 or 7, or younger. I am sitting in the metal boat crossing the lake to get to the wild patch. It smells like hot metal from the boat's sides and I can smell the clean lake water, too. My dad is wearing his tan shorts and his hand is on the throttle as he watches the shore. The boat scrapes across the gravel. We all climb across the hot, dry lichen-covered rocks and plunge through the scratchy grasses. They're as high as my waist. The crickets are deafening. We collect the tiny berries in old Ontario cardboard fruit baskets. Their bottoms are mottled blue. The taste of the berries is incredible.

At my neighbour's farm, a young teenager, I discover wild patches of berries. I eat them methodically, working my way vine by vine. The little bulbs are so fat, less tidy than raspberries. I ruminate whether I should call them black raspberries or if I should call them blackberries.

My mother grows berries behind the house I was born in. A rectangle of raspberries and strawberries under a tree. Her garden is vast, everything from beets to pumpkins to watermelons, and I am so small. Smaller by far than the big compost pit by the rock. The throats of the snapdragons are as tall as I.

There are small pale apples in front of the farmhouse. They're tart and hard, just moist, not like the crumbly red apples in the orchard. I'm the only one who likes them. The cores brown quickly on the ground where I drop them. Delicious is the soft green skin. I lose the taste for them as I get older.

A few days ago, about to set out on the Rideau Trail, I hold up a pear to my son's mouth. He is 5 months old. It is his first food. In hindsight, it was stupid to let him taste it before hiking off into a forest. He might be allergic to pears as I used to be. He stares at the pear, lips wet. I hold it up to his mouth again.

September 11, 2012

View from The Bungalow

This weekend we stayed at a lodge in the 1000 Islands with my sister and family friends. It was pretty good, particularly the bouncy pillow, wowza! It was a very urban campground (Sue behind the front desk called it 'resort camping,') and certainly no slouch, but I was nostalgic for The Bungalow at the KOA Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain.

August-September 2012

Many of the details of the main lodge are missing because it was largely seen through a translucent cast of green. What a beautiful place, peaceful, with lots to do, or nothing at all, as you prefer.

September 5, 2012

The best care in the land

We sent Ada to preschool for the first time yesterday. Last Friday, Ada thanked Stephanie for 2 years of the best daycare ever. We put money for pampering into the Thank You card our family had lovingly decorated, but Stephanie said she would rather fold the cash back into the school.

If you want to give your infant or toddler the best possible start, I can assure you that AcadeKidz is the place to go. I've trudged through every area daycare and chatted up many a home care provider in Ottawa's West End. AcadeKidz has recently expanded and has spots available - no waiting list. Get 'em while they're hot, as they say.

My plug: Superb staff retention. Stephanie, Michael, and Nora have been fixtures for years. Theresa, the Spanish-speaking caregiver, joined last year. The meals are gourmet (Ada has had everything from rabbit to Indonesian) from Dial-a-Chef and Crusty Baker. See this week's menu below!!). Newly renovated rooms with wraparound windows, on-site devoted female owner who is a fiercely dedicated educator, the veritable zoo of aquariums and small animals). Ada participated in a pilot jiu-ji-tsu class for 2 and 3 year olds

It's nuts how wonderful this place is. I could keep listing stuff but what counts the most is the love. I know, sorry, getting a bit sentimental. But I never expected my daycare provider to love my child. Would you have dared dream so high?

Here are AcadeKidz' new website and photos of the rooms. Their bilingual preschool is Academie de la Capitale, an International Baccalaureate school that accepts kids right up into high school.

Steph visits Ada on her first day of preschool. Check out the cute uniform!

Back to this week in our house... It's really hard to let Ada move to a new head teacher, despite having known Nora as long as we've known Stephanie. Despite knowing how terrific Nora is herself and that she's taken care of Ada many times in the early days when Nora worked both the daycare and the preschool.

I guess it's just strange and wonderful seeing her trucking off to preschool. She didn't want any help. Asked me twice if she'd got her socks on right. Fumbled with the collar on her new uniform shirt. Snipped off the label on her plaid while I peeked around the corner of the living room. She's one of the Big Kids at school now.

So, like the legions before me I say, my little girl is growing up! I'm not ready!

* * *
Menu for week of September 4, 2012


Rigatoni in tomato, vegetable and cheese sauce, a salad with a vinaigrette of my own,
Peach an apple strudel, fruit.


Fennel and tomato soup, Chicken sandwich on a croissant, datte square, fruit.


Oriental chicken in coconut sauce, stir fry vegetable and rice, cookies and fruit.


Roasted fish fillet( depending on arrival) with lemon and capers, steamed new potatoes,
vegetable, Palais au chocolat et caramel, fruit.

September 3, 2012

LoafBoy's Last Stand

Originally this picture had a woman in a "Mom" apron standing over the breadboard, but Jeff thought that was too gruesome. It was his idea, anyway. He said, "Death to LoafBoy!" when he saw the picture...

August 24, 2012

Drawing gifts

Back from vacation in the Adirondacks. With all the stress of childcare (while freely admitting how many blissful moments there are, and my total lack of regrets) I had forgotten what it was like to be simply happy for days on end. It is a wonderful place to visit, whether for a solo/group athletic adventure, couples retreat, or family holiday. LOVED the KOA on Whiteface Mountain.

Since I can't get out to browse the shops, I dream up presents and draw them. Here are my gifts to my beloved husband and sister. Detailing for Angela's Mazda 3, which has faithfully carried her our way so many times since James was born (thank you thank you thank you).

...and a plane ride over the mountains for Jeff.

He invited me to join him on the ride. It was scary and beautiful, just like you'd expect! The picture didn't work out as well as I'd hoped it would, so I did up a fancy envelope, too.

August 1, 2012

Perspectives on brains

July 31 - August 1, 2012

Still reeling from everything I'm learning from that brain book. I decided to design myself a brain rewiring program for the terror of cars I developed following a head-on collision in 2008. Say, walking and eventually running alongside busy roads 2-3 times a week while listening to great music. That way, I could start to associate cars and roads with feeling contented (by the music) and energised (by walking).

I might as well try it, right? I normally have to drive, be driven, or take the bus daily. And already drawing on the bus is my tool to relax when I am afraid, you know, when drivers go 80 kmh on the Transitway in the dark or faster on the freeway. Maybe I can go a step further, not just calm myself or make the traffic experience neutral, but actually start to enjoy it again. I come from a family of driving lovers and I was one myself, once upon a time. I even have a long-disused motorcycle license.

Only thing is, I keep avoiding the walks because I dread them!

* * *

Above, James' exceptionally lovely skull and some attempts at mapping Ada's cheeks (where's the bulge?!). I hope they're forming high-quality neural pathways in those little heads of theirs.