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...