December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

Memories of my childhood Christmases drift in and out my thoughts tonight like the steam from the pot of soup cooking on the stove. Random memories: A live carp swimming around in the tub of our apartment in Kralupy, the whole room reeking of river water and father not quite sure how to do the kill; my parents and I, sitting in our living room in Toronto, singing carols and missing all the family we’d left behind in Europe; the Czech Christmas Mass my father played so much I still remember all the words. And later memories: R stomping around and ho-ho-hoing on the roof of the bungalow in Arizona, pretending to be Santa, and N wide-eyed with wonder below; N playing an angel in the church we joined on a whim and then left even faster, the giant tree we had a the house on Queen’s, too big for all our ornaments. Layers and layers of memories so many still full of magic and myth.

Last week, C next door gave me Sara McLachlan’s Wintersong CD. The first cut is a cover of John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). I think Sara does it justice though I still hear John Lennon singing it with her. And it really hits home. As I’m flooded by the memories all those past Christmases, all of them rich and all of them safe, I think about how many people don’t have the luxury of safety. Tonight we’ll sit down, my parents and R and N and I, and we’ll add another layer to the memory bank, and we’ll all remember how very lucky we are to be here and together and, for now, without fear.

December 17, 2006

Ghosts of Christmas past

Yesterday and today were the first days this year that I felt anything remotely like the Christmas spirit. With R's annual Christmas melancholy from too much exposure to the commercial end of things at his work, and all the uncertainty linked to my finding a new job, and with Frodo's anal gland issues, we haven't been feeling all that joyous. N is complaining that Christmas is "disorganized" this year and she's right. We’ve shopped and I’ve wrapped some gifts already even, but it’s been a chore.

But yesterday I hauled out my CD of Czech Christmas carols, and my other favourite Christmas CD’s, and I dug up my copy of the Christmas recipes mother got from the women at her work when she was 30, and I baked. And baked. And, elbow deep in flour and nostalgia, singing along to songs I’ve sung every Christmas since I can remember, something turned inside me and Christmas felt the way it’s supposed to. I think even N sensed it because she came into the kitchen and hugged me for no reason.

Today the CBC broadcast their annual Euroradio Christmas Music special "JOY TO THE WORLD”. Unfortunately, because we didn’t make it home from J & C’s party until 3:00 in the morning and so didn’t crawl out of bed until 10:00, we missed the first part of the broadcast and the part I would have been really interested in hearing, from Moscow. I love Russian music. Even so, the program and music were marvellous and managed to push the right emotional buttons. We put up our tree, a gimpy and lovely Charlie-Browner, and we welcomed Christmas. It’s here again; I hope I can hang onto it.

December 03, 2006

Bleak Carol

Yesterday, mother and I went to see the Vancouver Playhouse’s dark and twisted version of A Christmas Carol. Dickens meets Kafka. The reviews tout this as an original rendering and yeah, original it was. But does original equal good? Okay, some of the concepts were interesting and acceptable like for example: the actors playing furniture and other props as well as playing people. Overall though, the piece had no heart. No soul. And that’s a bad thing for a story which is essentially all about finding just that: heart and soul.

This version seemed to look at the ugly side of everything. Even traditionally “up-beat” scenes, where the characters were cellebrating Christmas, were dark-shadowed and mildly disturbing, Tiny Tim’s family were totally unlikable and verging on demented, and Scrooge’s nephew had an irritating laugh that made him appear to be partially insane. Maybe, and I don’t know this since I never read the book, that’s the way Dickens actually intended it; he did write Bleak House too afterall. Maybe the many film versions of the story are sentimental and romanticized. But I’d still choose them over yesterday's funhouse mirror version showing the distorted and grotesque characters and, judging from the weakened applause at the end, so would many other people in the audience. All in all, we left the theatre feeling disappointed and deffinitely un-cheered.

Today I finished my Chrismas cards. Great relief and just in time too, we have to send to ones to Europe off this week.

November 27, 2006

Snow Day

This is the view that greeted us this morning when we walked into the kitchen.

And we did get the snow day we hoped for yesterday and couldn't resist going out to take some more photos...

November 26, 2006

Winter Wonderland

Compared with the snow storms in the Toronto of my childhood, the one here today is probably mild. Still, R. is going out to shovel for the third time today and the snow's still coming down. It's supposed to fall through the night.

N. is keeping her fingers crossed for a snow day tomorrow and I'm thinking the same way. I love it when the city slows down for snow and people slow down the frantic pace of their days. Besides that, it's beautiful to look at.

We took Frodo and set out for a short walk but he loved being out there so much we ended up just walking and walking. By the time we came back I had to chip away at the balls of snow frozen into his fur. I couldn't get them all out and he soaked every spot he lay down at after that: the walking puddle.

Today was also the day of R's staff Christmas party but, thanks to the snow, it was cancelled. As much as I like dinners out, today we were only too happy to stay home, eat pea soup and sandwiches, and feel thankful for the peace. I worked on the Christmas cards and managed to get lots done, inspired I guess by the wonderland outside behind me. Very thematically fitting.

November 19, 2006

Printing a "blue print" Christmas...

The wind this morning was strong enough to bring the rain in through the open window; it sprinkled our faces and woke us. The weather also meant no usual morning walk with Frodo, but I was glad for the chance at getting some printing done first thing after breakfast.

This weekend it's hard to shut out thoughts of work. Way too much turmoil and uncertainty there for my liking right now, even if I know things always work out in the end. Still, I put off thinking about resume writing for a few hours and began on my Christmas cards. Now the first stage is done and 50 prints are hanging to cure along the kitchen windows. Lots more work to come...I'm hoping I can get it all done in time to make the mailing to Europe.

Yeah, I'm going with a "cutesy" theme this year. At this point, it's all I can get myself geared up for. This snowman snippet is just a portion of the card for now. I'm reaching back to my roots: I want the final image to somewhat resemble a modrotisk: fabric printed with images carved into wooden blocks. Always white on indigo as far as I know and thus literally called blue prints. These days, there's probably only a handful of people who still carry on with this traditional Czech folk-art. Too bad. I've always liked the honesty of the designs and the juxtaposition between white and indigo. Here's part of one I got as a gift from the Czech Republic a few years ago.

November 13, 2006

Long Weekend

Sweet long weekend! Way too much of this one went to the Roman blinds I started sewing in the summer but at least we finally got the new window trims put in and painted and the blinds mounted. Now I know why they charged $450 a piece at the window place and never again am I making new blinds myself. That's what I say now anyhow. At least the windows finally look as awesome as they were meant to.

And I did actually manage to get some artwork done.
First, I finally carved the lino version of the Dandelions graphite I did a few months ago.

But I proofed it and didn't like the first proof at all -- the church dome was very weird and oniony and looked as if it would fall off. I carved another block, this one with a modified the church dome and body, and did another proof and didn't like it either. It didn't seem to have the same energy. In the end I guess I'll crop both blocks and have two bits I'm not sure I'll ever do a proper printing of - at least not for a while. Christmas is too close and I have to get started on Christmas cards.

Dandelions - Cropped

Last, even though the red leaves from last week still weren't fully dry, I risked it and printed my last block for Leaves Overhead. I might still do a very light wash of blue for the sky once the but I'm not sure about that one. In any case, next is matting and THAT will wait too. My last matting attempt ruined my mood for too many days.

Block 4 - DS Ink - Black

Not a bad weekend all in all though all that much harder to go to back to work now. Sigh.

November 11, 2006

Rememberance Day

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

(John McRae)

I’m lucky; my life hasn’t been touched by war in any way. Childhood in the Czech Republic and numerous statues, monuments to fallen war heroes, and other icons on the military theme – reminders of a turbulent political history, are largely forgotten. I never knew my grandfather who spent years in concentration camps. My parents and mother-in-law, remembering the war and hardships I can’t even fathom, have grim stories to tell but no one I know has died in a war, or lost someone they loved to war. I have one friend in the military; he’s safe at home now.

Yet today I took a walk through the cemetary and looked for the markers of the soldiers. I thought about “In Flanders Fields” and the man who wrote it and about his despair. And I thought about the others, so many others, who died, and are still dying today, to keep us, and this world, protected. I, who have a hard enough time going to my safe little office job every day, thought about the men, and women now too, who go to jobs they’re not sure they'll come home from. What incredible courage that must take. And what loneliness they must sometimes feel to be so far from home and those who love them.

So in the graveyard today, leaves spinning and falling all around me, I did my best to remember those who fought and still do. And I do my best to hope for a future with fewer and fewer dead soldiers for us to remember.

November 05, 2006

Red leaf rising

Got a chance to add the third colour to Leaves Overhead today. I really debated over which colour to go with before I chose the red and I think it'll work although, in retrospect, a golden orange would probably have been nice too.
Another problem I had was that, with the minimal amount of relief on the block, the cleared areas kept picking up ink from the edges of the brayer. I'm guessing I'll need to get a wider brayer eventually. For now, I made a clear plastic mask and laid it on top of the block once it was inked. It worked really well and, with the mask between the block and paper, I managed to keep the registration nice and clean.

Now there's only the branches to be done, probably two weeks from now, depending on how well this last layer takes to dry.

November 04, 2006

Relief Print Show

I dragged R to the Burnaby Art Gallery's current exhibit, The Relief Print, today. We drove over there in probably the worst downpour of the day, hydroplaning on the highway, surrounded by clouds of mist. To me, not having to focus on driving, it was beautiful.
Both Deer Lake park and the gallery were empty when we got there so we had the luxury of wandering around and taking in the artwork at our own pace. Slowly.

What a surprise (and not) to see Jim Rimmer's prints as soon as we turned the corner into the exhibit hall. I love his work, love the radiance of the colours. Along with Jim, there were four other contemporary artists featured as the main focus of the show and all of them most inspiring. Linoprints have an energy and power uniquely their own.
For contrast, we watched a taped presentation on the Moku Hanga technique -- I really like the results, the transluscence of the colours, but the method doesn't draw me somehow.
Finally, touring the gallery's collection of prints, we were both blown away by a couple of works by Rosemary Kilbourn and Ernest Lindner, both dead now. It's amazing how someone can take a block of wood and bring such marvellous images out of it.

And yet it was a small exhibit. I'd been hoping for many, many more prints on display, hoping to find more contemporary artists working with relief printmaking. I suppose that's the nature of the medium: it's an exclusive club.

October 29, 2006

Forest Treasure

An extra hour of sleep and sunshine in bed in the morning...double bonus! Perfect day for another mushroom hunt, said R., but by the time we got to the woods it was drizzling. We stuck it out and were glad we did; perserverance furthers:

Soup and Chantarelle Crostini for supper and enough mushrooms left over to dry for the winter.

Back at home, tried printing the third colour of Trees Overhead but the dark green still hasn't cured. One week later and it's still tacky and smeary. I figured I'd better wait it out and reprinted Birdhouse instead, this time with DS ink .

4" x 6" - Rives BFK

I'll be adding watercolours to it once it's dry; I'm guessing the paper will work well for that.

October 23, 2006

Alexander Ivanov

I came across a Russian artist who's done the most amazing and unique linocuts. I kept forgetting his name but kept wanting to go back to the page to look again and again; maybe this is a good place for a link to it.
Maybe his work appeals to me so much because the European style reminds me of illustrations in books I read as a kid in the Czech Republic?

October 22, 2006

Sunday adventures

Can fall be as beautiful as it is here -- grass full of dew, grey scarves of mist around the mountains, the scent of damp pine needles -- in some place like Saskatchewan, for example?

R and I took Frodo for his run in the park this morning, the two of us searching for wild mushrooms - again. Nothing yet for the days of rain last week; only the usual sulphur caps and one beautiful and classic amenita rising alone from a bed of fallen oak leaves. I wished I had the camera and could have taken a picture for a future print. But then we'd need the camera every time we go out. There's always something that inspires.

In the afternoon I printed block 2 of Leaves Overhead -- big sigh of relief. A couple of people on WetCanvas had problems with their second colour separating from the first with the DS waterbased inks. I stressed a bit about that happening to me but the colour went on beautifully, as well as the first.