January 30, 2013

Get perspective

January 2013

Savouring the AMAZING art on this agency website, I'm struck by all the slanted streets and fish-eye perspectives. See how this artist sloped the floor to emphasize our hero's fall into the pointy bits.

To play with perspective, you've got to get perspective. Well, I thought I did. And then last week I tried drawing simple road scenes. Like, generic road disappearing into the horizon from the viewpoint of someone standing on it.

Hahahahaha. Feels like you're about two storeys off the ground, no?

Tried the same with a piazza. Again, 20-foot tall viewer. Tried doing a car coming over a hill -- it looked like a beetle because the perspective on its back end was wrong.

In art class, my painting of a boardwalk receding into the distance looks like we're standing on a balcony. I mean, this is a problem. It sucks that my painting doesn't look the way I want it to, simply because I don't know how to do what I want!

So this week I'm passionately about understanding perspective. My goal is to be able to draw a scene with the viewpoint and depth that I want on my first try. Curvy road winding down a hill and behind some mountains? Street scene seen from around the corner? These should come easily, right?

A bird's eye perspective on the Chrysler Building's gargoyles from a 45 degree angle, okay, that would be a headscratcher for anyone.

I already know about two-point perspective, even though I don't understand why we stick these mysterious vanishing points in one place or another. I have (yay me!) figured out the horizon line is the viewer's eye level. If a line of trees is coming at you in the picture, the canopies will slant upward above the horizon and visible tree roots will slant below it.

And that's where I run into a wall.

Help, Internet? Ah, says Internet, perspective's way more complicated than you thought, Lia. For example, Rule #4:

4. For two sets of parallel lines at some angle in the scene, the two vanishing points form that same angle at the viewer's eye, regardless of the orientation of the angle in space. In particular, the vanishing points for any 90º angle in space form a 90º angle at the viewer's eye.

Get it? Me neither. But I am persevering!

January 23, 2013

The Montreal poets of 1998

Every once in a while (an embarrassingly short while, to be honest), I Google lost friends and lovers. What ever happened to...? Listening to CBC Radio's The Next Chapter this week, I heard an interview with someone who edited a book of poetry by Canadians named Susan. She'd managed to narrow it down to 47 Sue's. With difficulty, apparently.

I was barely listening. She started to name them. "...Susan Musgrave, Susan somebody, Susie blather, Susan Elmslie...."

Sue Elmslie?

In the old days before I threw over the arts in favour of government and diplomacy, I helped put together a small poetry workshop that made up for being short-lived by being terrific. (I guess that doesn't make up for it. Makes it worse, really.) There were five of us. And we wanted to keep it that way. The local self-avowed poetry maven who ran a workshop that fairly vomited wannabe-poets even rang our members up and excoriated us for being exclusive.

Our group was excited about words. We loved how they fondled and frowned together. And, getting back to Google, Sue Elmslie was one of us. So were Rachel Rose, Fran Hahn and Masarah Van Eyck. They were terrific writers. More shockingly, some of them still are. (Well, I could never find Fran online, but I'd bet she's still at it.) I hardly write poems anymore but if you want to pore over my verse, be my guest.

Here are some poems of Sue's and some of Rachel's. Masarah's site is down, but maybe she'll post again someday and I will edit this entry.

January 21, 2013

Red plus brown plus white

January 20, 2013

They cancelled art class yesterday. The weather got so excitable that the province closed a hundred kilometres of the local freeway.

I was despondent about losing my three hours of escape. Jeff told me to go out, find somewhere to draw. So I went to the art school anyway and painted by my lonesome.

After working out colour charts for landscape (my unfinished class homework) and for flesh tones, I attempted James in acrylics. It is just a sketch, but it's him. He really looks like this. Yah!

January 19, 2013


January 2013

Last fall I was blown away by Spanish artist Ricardo Martinez' illustrations in Scientific American. What technique was this?? I looked him up (amazing work, right?) and discovered he works in scratchboard.

Scratchboard, huh? Never heard of it. So I promised myself I would check it out.

January 2013
Scratchboard is a paper backing coated with a layer of clay, usually white, and a layer of paint or ink, usually black. Your tool is a slim blade on a stick. Using your quasi-nail file, you scratch off the black stuff so the white shows through. As I was often better at using my eraser tool in Photoshop than the brush, this seemed like a great technique.

Here are my first attempts. The scene at top is my bedroom and it includes a framed painting that is actually the plan for a piece I'm working on in art class. I'm thinking of putting the completed painting in the same spot once it's done. Just because.

January 17, 2013

Admiring her imagination, hoping it's enough

A personal post today. Two art posts in the queue coming this weekend.



I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Ada.

Ada, aged three-and-a-half

 Last week I entered our living room to discover this:

It's the crane her uncle gave her for Christmas. She has placed two figures in the crane. 

But here's the thing. The construction set to which the crane belongs came with these figures (hello fellas!):

Construction Big Site by Kid Connection

She didn't use these figures. Instead, she took this figure...


...and one figure from this set...

Melissa & Doug

...to use in her construction play. Problem solved. At least according to the child.

I didn't put her up to this. It has just become more and more important to her over time to play with the figures she has that represent her own sex.

Ada dreams of being a fireman when she grows up. This Christmas, her grandparents bought her the Melissa & Doug fire truck set, above. I tried to tell her the female was a firefighter-in-training. She poo-pooed my idea, telling me instead that the girl was getting rescued by the firemen, which of course she is. (Those are her words. I always say "Firefighter.")

We have a lot of old toys around saved by Grandma. These toys are so impressive. The figures here...

Fisher Price "Little People"

and here...

Playmobil (truck is unrelated to these figures, of course)

...have defined genders but each can still  play any role a child might want.

Toy manufacturers have improved in terms of race. Look at those black firefighters and construction dudes! You used to be lucky if you could find one person of colour in your toys.

But my daughter, who loves trucks and tea sets equally, has been nudged out of such roles. And yet, in real life, there are more females occupying more roles than ever before. What gives, toymakers?

As a mom of two (I also have a nine-month-old son), I have to tell you that I don't like the fact that she has to make do by cobbling together what she can scrounge out of the toy bin. It's not fair.

It's embarrassing and sad. Especially when in every other way all these toys are just awesome. I just want to see one woman in each of these sets. And I really don't want her to be the one getting rescued! Please help, toy companies!


Lia Hiltz

January 16, 2013


January 11, 2013

My long-term theme being "draw whatever, wherever" but especially new things (it just happens to be my eating theme, too -- I tried sweetbreads in December! Yum!), I took advantage of some impromptu hospital visits to get in some sketching. My innards aren't functioning quite right, unfortunately. It's scary having your body parts examined and I always find my drawing pad a great relief at such times.

January 7, 2013

These studies are from Queensway-Carleton Hospital's Rooms 9 and 10 as well as my doctor's office. I think they are very studious! I'm sooooo glad I have more patience now. I was really hyper when I was younger and it was so hard to stick with this kind of thing. But it really pays off artistically to do it. Better late than never, I hope.

December 20, 2013

January 11, 2013

Happy Second Anniversary, Bus Blog!

Practice makes perfect. Or something. (December/January 2013)

One of my favourite Ottawa artists is Blair Paul and he offers an introductory landscape course at Ottawa School of Art, which is where I took Anatomy for Artists in the fall. It starts this Sunday and I don't own most of the paints required on the course materials list. I guess that don't have common colours? More money to the art store, dammit. Well, I always chose paints by their looks. Only since I read a small book on Colour Theory in December have I more intention when choosing colour. (Did you know you can gray a colour by mixing it with a complimentary colour -- not by adding black?? Weird.)

I started going over fundamental elements of drawing and colour once the Anatomy course finished up. It's been really eye-opening. Yesterday I learned that pencil crayon artists often work on both sides of transparencies. And that scratching colour from a top layer of colour so an under-layer shows through -- something I always thought was kinda rebellious, something the kids dreamed up on their own -- is a respected technique known as sgraffitto.

Since leaving school I avoided instruction. I'd learned the hard way that I was impossibly impressionable. Flitting from one technique or idea about how to do things to the next, I was at the mercy of the last person I talked to or book I opened. Looking at other peoples' work was equally disorienting, and discouraging, too. Soon enough I just shut everything out and tried to muddle along on my own. And  now, at 37, I have done my own thing long enough that I don't get thrown off course as easily anymore. What a relief that's finally over. Impulse control - wonderful!

That's not to say that after ten years my own thing is particularly developed. I remember deciding in my twenties that the reason I must be having so much trouble dreaming up content was that I just hadn't lived enough. So I resolved to do some living before getting back into art seriously. That was another good decision, I think. Now I have some solid ideas and I'm excited about working on them.

But those unopened art instruction books, courses not taken, silenced conversations, and artists' work not viewed together left a big hole in my art stuff. I can't do many subjects and I've come to grips with only a few techniques. On the plus side, I have at least tried most things and I've developed a bit of the other things that matter, like commitment and discipline.

January 2013
So I'm working through some art books and magazines. The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature by Cathy Johnson was really good. I read a few others but that one, lent by my mom-in-law, was my favourite. More of a complete lesson on drawing for beginners along with the focus on drawing outside. She also got me a subscription to International Artist for Christmas. I'm mostly done The Sketching and Drawing Bible, also lent by my dear MIL.

At right are some remedial exercises I have been doing courtesy The Complete Guide to Drawing. Guess who I borrowed it from. :) Sorry for the terrible photo. Too big for le scanner.

I have also been practicing with Sennelier oil pastels. They're gorgeous, paint-like, but with no mess. That's useful for my non-ventilated home studio that has to be kid-safe and totally non-toxic. After reading about the dust problems of using chalk pastels, the set of Neupastels I bought last November (and fell madly in love with) has been set aside for a future where I have a suitable space. The picture at the top of the page is me sorting out flesh tone mixtures.

I wish I had a chance to get my brushes out so I'm less rusty this Sunday. I haven't painted since, oh, was the last painting I did really circa January 2011?

Happy New Year! Let the studies of trees and rocks commence!