This sketch was originally drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen then scanned into Photoshop for colorization. The patterns in the tutu are individual pieces of fabric that were scanned and incorporated into the image.
This sketch was originally drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen then scanned into Photoshop for colorization. The patterns in the tutu are individual pieces of fabric that were scanned and incorporated into the image.
Last night was the second class of an SLR photography course I am taking at the School of Photographic Arts in downtown Ottawa. I’d taken and really enjoyed an introductory course there last summer, borrowing a friend’s old, but reliable, Nikon camera. This time around, however, I decided to invest in a comparatively beastly Canon EOS 60D camera, the operation of which, I am still getting familiar. It’s been like going from an old flip phone to a smartphone!
After getting completely drenched during the 7-km bike commute to class from a short but intense rainstorm, I was grateful to learn that we would be spending the majority of the evening roaming the streets of the Byward Market to shoot street scenes. The specific focus for this night’s class was to photograph buildings or their geometric features (e.g., windows, doors, etc), varying the angle of view by alternating between a long versus wide lens. We were given a generous 2 hours for this assignment, ample time for my rain-soaked clothes and hair to dry in the setting sun and warm early evening air.
Eager students, we all ventured off in separate directions, as if on a competitive scavenger hunt, searching for that perfect architectural gem among the many specimens we would collect. Fortunately for us, there is no shortage of interesting architecture, particularly of a historical nature, in the Lowertown district of the Byward Market. At the end of the first hour, I had easily amassed a respectful number of shots for the assignment and so began to turn my attention toward the more whimsical. The following is a sample of some of the self-directed shots I took after completing my ‘homework’.
The image below is a shot of the famous Notre-Dame Basilica located on Sussex Drive opposite the National Gallery of Canada taken at dusk from the corner of avenue Guigues and avenue Parent in Lowertown. I was struck by how much this church reminded me of the beautiful chapel of the ancient Pontlevoy Abbey in France’s Loire Valley, which I had the pleasure of visiting in September 2012. Surprisingly, I found myself transported back to Paris and the Loire Valley several times during this walk as I encountered urban parks, squares and the Château Laurier reminiscent of this inaugural trip to Europe. (Perhaps a sign that I must get back to sorting through my Europe trip pictures for a future posting!)
France continued as the theme of the night, as I found myself drawn to a puddle left over by that earlier rainstorm on the steps leading up to verdant Major’s Hill Park from Sussex Drive. The water showed a reflection of the Connaught Building, which resembled an Impressionist painting not unlike an inverted version of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral.
This is another shot of that same reflected image of the Connaught Building, but with pedestrians making their way down the steps toward Sussex Drive. I love this photo because it’s so whimsical and looks like the people are walking over a fresh painting. One could easily imagine them jumping through the image, like characters from Mary Poppins, to land at any one of the many French castles dotting the countryside of the bucolic Loire Valley.
This last photo is a reflection of a show-stopping blue wedding gown fit for a princess on display in the window of the high-end wedding boutique, McCaffrey Haute Couture along Sussex Drive. (The American Embassy located on the opposite side of the street can also be seen reflected through the glass.) I could imagine the late fashion icon, Grace Kelly, making a grand entrance to a royal ball in this lavish frock as smiling courtesans gaze admiringly upon her.
After a heavy 2 days of mind-numbing data-crunching and technical writing, I inevitably had to have an artistic release…
The photo below was taken at dusk in the Byward Market in Ottawa and transformed into a sepia monochrome in Photoshop while leaving the restaurant’s red door and sign intact. I’m hoping to use it in a larger drawing/mixed media project for a good friend’s upcoming wedding.
Since the aforementioned technical report had a tight deadline, I had to reluctantly forego my lifedrawing class this week. To make up for the loss of this focused evening of drawing, I thought I’d pick up my conté crayons (which we don’t use in this class; rather, just charcoal) and attempt a more loosely sketched interpretation of a vintage, early 20th century black & white fashion photo (I just loved the overall ethereal feel to this fairy-like photo) from my go-to drawing companion, Style Book. I applied various dilutions of an India ink wash for the background shadowing effects.Now, on to the next technical report!..
I hate thunderstorms. Especially the severe ones we seem to get all too often in the Ottawa Valley during the hot, humid summer months. As a year-round runner, thunderstorms are pretty much the only type of bad weather — other than the occasional, bad ice storm — that I will strictly avoid running in unless caught in a pop-up thunderstorm while a run is already in progress. It just isn’t safe to be outdoors.
When a severe thunderstorm portends, I don’t resort to hiding under the bed or whimpering like a Golden or Labrador Retriever (or even Goldendoodle, as I found last summer) is known to do, but I usually start pacing the room, going from window to window, repeatedly checking the status of the clouds in the sky like an amateur climatologist on a mission — searching for those ominous funnel clouds.
This past Friday night, a particularly intense thunderstorm rolled into the Ottawa-Gatineau region complete with tornado warnings. Sadly, an 18-year boy, out cycling through Vincent Massey Park when the storm hit, was struck by lightning and died.
I was supposed to head out by bike, myself, to Mooney’s Bay (next door to the park) that night for a dragon boat practice. I was initially torn between my desire to honor my commitment to the team and my desire to avoid danger or harm. In the end, my rational self prevailed and I opted to text our captain and recuse myself from the night’s practice citing concerns about the various severe weather warnings issued, including a tornado warning. (Practice ended up being cancelled anyway as boats are grounded or called to shore at the first sign of lightning.)
While sending the text, I could hear the distant rumbling of thunder in the heavy, sickly grey-yellow sky and see and hear the furious rustling of leaves through the swaying trees in my neighborhood as the wind picked up force. A prelude to a tympanic tempest. Within minutes, the rain began. It was torrential, rendering all observation indiscernible through my second-story observation deck. I had definitely made the right call in not venturing out to dragon boat practice.
Deciding it was probably equally unwise to continue monitoring the fury of Nature unleashed from behind glass, I turned to a drawing project as a means of distracting myself, while keeping the flashlights nearby (as well as my purse, keys, and bike helmet in case I had to make a dash for the basement!).
For me, drawing is an activity — much like photography, writing, and painting — that usually becomes all-engrossing. I knew this would be the perfect way to weather the storm. And so, I dug out my art supplies, pulled out my often-referred-to copy of the Style Book and selected two fashion photos to interpret as ink drawings.
[Below: Ink, colored conté, and watercolor crayons interpretation of a black & white photo dated 1941 featuring a woman in a tailored, wool, checked pantsuit feeding a majestic-looking swan by a pond. (Location not stated.) This image immediately reminded me of Coco Chanel and her ‘disruptive’ fashion line of ‘manly’ women’s clothing at a time when trousers were not de rigeur for ladies. (Katharine Hepburn is another woman who sported a pantsuit in an iconic photo shot in 1938, also featured in the Style Book.) BTW, for a couple of great Coco Chanel movies, check out Coco Avant Chanel and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.]
[Below: Ink drawing, wash, and colored conte interpretation of a black & white photo dated 1950 of a couple enjoying a care-free day out sailing on the bay. (Location unknown.) The couple is said to be wearing sailor-style trousers: hers – white & blue, his – crisp white. I would totally wear something like her outfit today. It’s so chic! Even her hair – kind of Greek goddess meets fräulein.]
A few painting experiments and one pen & ink drawing, all with the common thread of Canada…
Below: This is my second attempt at painting with a palette knife — an instrument, which surprisingly resembles a slim, tapered spatula for serving pie or cake, or mixing dermatologicals in a pharmacy dispensary. It was so much fun, too! I loved the heavy application of layer upon layer of color to create depth and texture for the water. (You will go through a lot of paint, though!) The inspiration for this painting was a photo (not taken by me) that I found on the Weathernetwork of our famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) Canada geese flying over an Ottawa waterway. [Acrylic on canvas; Creative Painting class, 2010]
Below: Another painting experiment from my Creative Painting class (2010), where I used a sponge to apply acrylic paint to a canvas to create the effect of a wooly, classic Hudson’s Bay Company blanket.
Below: Bucolic wintry scene painted from my imagination of a waning afternoon of cross-country skiing (classic style). [Acrylic on canvas using brush; Creative Painting class, 2010.]
Below: This is a more recent fashion sketch of a model (Coco Rocha, a Canadian) wearing a Roland Mouret Spring 2012 outfit that was featured as an advertisement for The Bay in the Globe & Mail on March 3rd, 2012. I loved the color and structure of the outfit and the matching, intricate purse, as well as the overall drama of the pose. [Direct from the pages of my sketchbook: pen & ink drawing, followed by wash and colorization with colored conté.]
After a rough week of nearly exclusive left brain use of sifting through and synthesizing a ton of scientific data and summarizing it all into a cohesive, pithy report, it was time for a creative catharsis. I decided to take out my Style Book and choose another photo from its endless supply of vintage fashion photos…
I chose a black & white photo of a woman wearing a one-piece beach outfit — a striped jumpsuit accessorized with a belt — napping (or at least pretending to nap) contentedly in a motorboat on an unnamed waterway, dated 1955. The picture was interesting to me for a couple of reasons: 1) the angle of the body movement (esp that the figure was angled away from the foreground) could be a challenge to interpret correctly compared to previous drawings from this book that I had selected (I still haven’t mastered perspective and foreshortening), and 2) the black & white nature of the photograph would require me to imagine a color scheme, should I choose to add color (which I almost always do).
So, I decided to experiment a bit more with mixed media…
I chose to initially hand-draw the illustration (below) in pen & ink, followed by a wash. I then took out my black conté crayon and added some more shading. (I have to be careful since I have a penchant for shading and can sometimes overdo it.) This was followed by another wash to some of the conté-shaded areas. I thought I was done: I had achieved a nice sepia-like vintage fashion illustration.
Apparently, I wasn’t, because I next had the idea of playing around with some subtle color through the use of PhotoShop. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am not a minimalist by nature.) It was just going to be the water, but then I thought, I can’t not add color to the model’s outfit if this is to be a fashion photo. Plus, I thought without a little color added to her skin, one might mistakenly interpret the tableau as a potential crime scene: was the woman napping peacefully or was she a murder victim set adrift on an abandoned boat? Or, maybe the illustration was to represent a more modern version of The Lady of Shalott?..
I therefore colorized to my heart’s content and even drew in some stars and rope (via a Photoshop paintbrush) to add a touch of whimsy and reinforce the nautical theme. Admittedly, the lake is a bit more on the green side than I had initially intended, but if you know the Muskoka region at all, it’s heavily forested, so the waterway could quite reasonably be a reflection of the various species of trees along the shoreline with a few rays of sunlight peaking through the stratocumulus clouds onto our blissfully unaware sunbather (who probably needs to re-apply her sunscreen!)
I love umbrellas. Big umbrellas, small umbrellas, monochromatic umbrellas, patterned umbrellas. Even the ubiquitous, comparatively conservative black umbrella, which can be so chic when paired with a sophisticated trench coat and some nice Wellies (don’t get me started on how much I love these boots – and splashing in puddles with them! :-))… I especially love plaid umbrellas, though, with the traditional wooden stem and crook handle. (Must be my British heritage speaking.) I can remember how particularly excited I was to buy this beautiful, bright red and blue plaid Esprit umbrella (with Esprit engraved into the wooden stem, but no crook handle, sadly) from a tiny little boutique in a small university town back in the early 90s. What a find! A patterned umbrella was so fashion-forward back then, and I used to delight in rainy days as an opportunity to proudly showcase my coquette parapluie as I strolled the sidewalks (or more aptly, “catwalks”) across campus to class… Now, I own a decidedly more mature, brown, red, beige, and and black plaid umbrella complete with the requisite wooden stem and crook handle. Definitely looks Burberry or London Fog-inspired (see fun watercolor crayon sketch below left).
I think my love of umbrellas can be traced back to Mary Poppins – that classic (1964) Disney movie-musical starring Julie Andrews as a no-nonsense, but caring, magical nanny, who accumulated Air Miles points via domestic umbrella flights over the rooftops of London. (Mary’s umbrella also featured a rather opinionated parrot crook…)
So, it’s still unseasonably warm in Ottawa, and maybe it’s the unease I have about this premature, protracted heat wave that has me thinking (perhaps wishfully) about rain and cooler spring days – and umbrellas. I know, I’m sure there are many of you, who are thinking, ‘Is she crazy? This weather is fantastic!’ No, I’m clearly just a Nordic girl, who does better in cooler climes, and who admittedly would’ve revelled in another couple of weeks of snow, enjoying some thrilling spring xc-skiing (i.e., crust-cruising) on the hills and trails of Gatineau Park. Oh well, as much as I miss the snow – it is also wonderful to run on hard-packed snow in the woods or along the canal – Ottawa is truly beautiful in the springtime with the bursting of new leaves from buds in the trees, the thousands of colorful tulips that blossom along the canal and in several major parks in the city, and the return of all the songbirds (but not those pesky, aggressive red-winged blackbirds, who’ve dive-bombed me several times along the canal! Ouch!). There is also nothing like running in the woods after a fresh spring rain, which always leaves the air so fragrant and the vegetation looking all the more lush and green. One of my all-time favourite running routes, especially on grey-green spring days, was/is up to the summit of Mount Royal Park (a park landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, who famously designed New York City’s beloved Central Park) , then down the meandering, sloping road of Mount Royal Cemetary, and finally through the eclectic, vibrant, tree-lined burrough of Outremont in Montreal. If you’re a runner and you’ve never run this route, you must the next time you’re in Montreal. It is almost a religious, Zen-like experience running the steady ascending serpentine trail to the peak of Mount Royal Park. (And what a sense of accomplishment and euphoria when you reach the top! :-)) It is an oasis of greenery and a temporary respite from the constant hum of the city that never sleeps. The views are absolutely spectacular, too. I used to live in that glorious city, and when I knew I’d be bidding farewell to my home of nearly 10 years, I made a point to spend some time just photographing and contemplating the Park and its many lovely vistas. It was my personal Elysium, enjoyed year-round, whatever the weather…
In keeping with the theme of rain and umbrellas, I decided to attempt another Crayola sketch from my much-loved, Style Book. This drawing is an interpretation of another vintage black and white photo shot in 1958 (location unspecified) of a woman modeling an oversized umbrella with matching cloche hat against a plain black shift – apparently a new trend for women’s accessories for the racetrack at that time. I should say that the original black & white photo features a check pattern to the umbrella and cloche hat, but because of my partiality for plaid, I thought I’d exercise artistic license and sketch a plaid pattern instead. Truthfully, I think I could’ve gone with less detail in the umbrella. Originally, I thought I’d just sketch in a bunch of rough, bare bones, curved black lines. I liked the effect, but was seduced by the idea of plaid and so pursued it. I also think I should’ve left the background grey rather than colorizing it in a greyish-purple. I still like the image, but I think it would’ve been stronger had I quit while I was ahead. Instead, I think I’ve created an edgy Disney movie poster of the wicked queen from Snow White taking Manhattan!? Oh well, as one of my handsome, free-spirited running friends once said, “Many artistic endeavors often end dramatically”. How true…
OK, it’s March 20th. The first day of SPRING, not summer. You’d never know it though by the record-breaking temperature (25 C), hot sunshine, and all the bikers, walkers, runners, in-line skaters, and sunbathers clad in their Lululemon tank tops and shorts (the girls, at least) along the canal. I half expect to hear the Pavlovian carillon of a Dickie Dee ice cream pushcart coming around the corner like the Pied Piper, with rapacious children and their parents streaming into the streets to purchase one of his/her frozen delectables. And yet, look out at the water – or ice – and you can still see a thin but determined glacial layer clinging across most of the canal, stubbornly refusing to recede and concede that spring (or maybe summer) really has sprung… I don’t know what’s going on with our climate these days, but I’m starting to wonder if some Big Bang like atmospheric physicist decided to play a little premature April Fool’s Day joke on us by simulating what life would be like living next to the equator instead of north of the 49th parallel…
Speaking of summer, sunshine, heat, and brightness, I decided to dig out my Crayola markers and contemplate a summer-inspired drawing. I’ve always loved working with Crayolas – especially on glossy paper. The markers are easy to manipulate and they just glide so effortlessly across the page. And, the effect of blending colors is almost like what you would get with water-based paint, except with more control (and what girl doesn’t want more control?? ;-)) since this is a pen not a brush…
When I was an undergrad living in residence on campus, I remember taping up poster-sized sheets of no-longer-needed, glossy advertisements on my limited wall space (i.e., my makeshift canvas) that I would recycle from my dad’s retail business. The white, unused reverse side of the poster paper was perfect for doing marker-based artwork. One of my favourite, most ambitious glossy paper-Crayola art projects back in the day was re-creating the Disney movie poster for Beauty & the Beast. (I even made it a “mixed-media” project by tossing all kinds of gold glitter – using glue, which amped up the mess factor exponentially.) I would happily get lost for hours at a time working on this tableau. Sadly, I gave this “masterpiece” away to a friend – ok, a very hot guy, who also happened to like my art and whom I had a huge crush on. (Hmmm, I’m seeing a pattern in my life here…) We would play one-on-one basketball – shirts and skins. I know, gratuitous. But, he had a great upper body. Wow, does that sound sexist to say! Anyway, I would usually win our games. :-)) Who knows whether he still has this unique piece of knock-off Disney art or whether he threw it out long ago… In any event, I haven’t done much sketching with Crayolas since my undergrad days for some unknown reason (maybe I thought I had to graduate to more serious Manga markers or something), so I’d forgotten how much fun — and how messy drawing/coloring with Crayolas can be! (Which is probably exactly why little kids love these markers so much!..)
Anyway, I thought it’d be cool to temporarily abandon my India ink (sigh), and try and create a vintage travel poster using Crayolas and one of the many great fashion photos from Style Book. I settled on a picture shot in 1961, poolside in Athens, Greece of a young woman in a white boned bathing suit (you know, the kind you used to see old ladies wear far less elegantly à la cover of the Northern Pikes’ album, Snow in June). Of course, I was also drawn to the over-the-top flower-power bathing cap! Is that not totally awesome or what?? Not that I’d personally have the guts to wear that kind of headpiece to my decidedly serious (and fairly competitive) community pool. No, these days it’s nothing but the standard-issue latex Speedo bathing caps (although the bright yellow ones are nice), which hardly fit my head (yes, I am one of these people with an oversized, but non-hydrocephalic, noggin – thanks, Dad and the rest of your side of the family!?) That said, I do recall proudly sporting a white, textured vinyl bathing cap with a trademark pink rose corsage-like appliqué on the side. This was the 80s. I wasn’t exactly the coolest kid in the pool either, or the best swimmer, but hell, I was determined to make a fashion statement from my drugstore-bought little piece of prêt-à-porter cruise wear!..
I recently picked up this great hard-cover fashion retrospective book (Style Book by Elizabeth Walker) that showcases all these fantastic vintage photos. (The Sartorialist is another great blog for admiring street fashion – modern and vintage.) I kept noticing it in Chapters every time I would visit – which is often – and couldn’t help but pick it up each time I was in and leaf through its pages to admire my favourite photos. I finally decided to purchase it when I realized how much fun it would be to interpret some of these photos through any combination of ink, conté, charcoal, watercolor crayons, acrylic paints, or colored markers. Since I am a big fan of fashion of the 20s and 30s, it is of no surprise to me that I gravitated to all the black and white photos of that era first. I also love polka dots, especially white ones set against a navy blue background. I can remember a favourite white polka-dot and stretchy navy blue sleeveless dress that I bought back in the mid nineties from Club Monaco while I was an undergrad in Halifax. It was my ‘femme fatale’, confidence-booster dress – I can remember how it totally turned the heads of these guys I used to play basketball with when I wore it out one night… Despite the film being barely out of the 80s – my least favourite fashion period – I still love the polka-dot outfit Julia Roberts wore to the polo match in Pretty Woman. In fact, I should confess that I actually bought a similarly awesome, 3/4 length, A-line, sleeveless white polka-dot on brown background Ralph Lauren dress last spring, which I wore with a pair of strappy brown platform sandals to a meet-and-greet event; just need the white gloves and a cool hat (like the ones you find at Ogilvy’s in downtown Montreal – which I always used to try on whenever I was out shopping along St. Catherine Street) or fascinator, and I’d totally rock my inner Pretty Woman at a polo match or derby! 😉
So, the sketch below is an (India) ink drawing with a bit of white conté for the polka dots and highlights. The “Paris 1934” text is done in watercolor crayons. I also used a brush and water to add some shading. Can I just say how much I LOVE working with India ink and especially painting with it? It’s wonderful for creating texture. Anyway, the photo for this drawing was shot in 1934 and features a model wearing a polka-dot evening gown by the French designer, Jeanne Lanvin. The fluted or ruffled white collar accessory seems to pay homage to that famous of French mimes, Pierrot, and adds a nice touch of whimsy to this otherwise formal pose. Is it me, or does it almost seem like there should be a chatte noire added to the scene below, à la famous Théophile Steinlen painting (La Tournée du Chat Noir avec Rudolphe Salis)?.. Maybe not. Would probably be distracting. (I’m more of a dog-person anyway, of the non-purse variety though.)
This next sketch is also done in India ink 🙂 along with some watercolor crayons, colored conte, and a wash. It’s an interpretation of a really cool 60s photo taken in London of a model wearing what looks like an equestrian or London bobby-inspired hat in shape, whose wattage is amped up by an oversized flower power appliqué in very cool polka-dot motif. (Was this the birth of the modern-day fascinator craze?) The model looks like she could be playing a spy in an Austin Powers movie, perhaps crashing the annual garden party at Buckingham palace… Anyway, I thought the hat was really cool – I’m a total hat person and I love flowers (as long as someone else with a green thumb tends them) – and it reminded me of some of the bright flower motif stuff I would wear in high school. I was always into patterns and bright colors, but prefered to experiment more on paper (hello, Fashion Plates anyone? – best toy ever!.. OK, I think I need to go call my mom now and have her ship my old Fashion Plates set up to me…) than in the halls of high school or university classes, though I was known to pair bright pink tights with a red mini-skirt or loud flower-print skirt on occasion. I won’t get into the litany of bad fashion trends I attempted in the 80s – that will just trigger my PTSD… (Hammer pants, star earrings, neon, and Madonna – ’nuff said!..)
Experimenting a bit with pen & ink… Oscars were on, so was inspired to interpret the Globe & Mail photo of Bérénice Bejo’s character, Peppi Miller, in The Artist. I find my rendering makes the actress look a little older than she is, but still retains the elegance of the character & fashion of the 1920s – one of my favourite fashion eras… I’m not sure if others have encountered this, but I’ve often been told that the female portrait drawings I sketch frequently bear an uncanny resemblance to me. I suspect a similar observation would be made in this case. Yet, in each instance, I can say that I had no a priori intention of creating a self-portrait. I am sure, however, that there are countless interesting psychologically-based hypotheses in circulation for why such personal imprinting might occur. Suffice it to say that this does not reflect an inner, repressed longing to be a screen siren! One intro acting class was enough to convince me I was not cut out to be a stage actor…