Friday, December 30, 2011

god bless the ivanhoe

The Ivanhoe is on Main Street in Vancouver, and is right on the border of the Downtown Eastisde*. It has been full of real shit since I first moved to Vancouver in 1992. Not many places stick around like that in Vancouver. I hope they keep serving watered-down beer to people buying and selling stolen goods for many years to come.

An old man wearing a cowboy hat and rubber boots nurses a beer in the corner, mulling and mumbling to himself.

It's always been easy to start conversation in those places, and I always find the conversation gets very deep and personal very quickly. Compared to the rest of the city, which drains and saddens me, I find the patrons of downtown Eastside bars very refreshing. If you even manage to start a conversation in a pub in an affluent area, it will be a lot more superficial. Why is that?

*The Downtown Eastside is a very old area of Vancouver, and one of the poorest areas of Canada. It's well known for drug-use, poverty, slum houses, crime and violence. Main and Hastings is supposedly one of the most depraved-looking intersections in North America. Used syringes litter the alleys, as do lurching crack addicts scratching the ground, hoping to find a scrap more of something. Police cars and ambulances are a regular sight. But on the other hand, there is an incredible level of community participation and activism down there. It feels like a troubled little rural town trapped at the centre of a big rich city. I think it's a gem.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Road Trip to Stuttgart*

My last short film, "The Perfect Detonator", got accepted to a second major film festival. This time it's the Stuttgart Animation Festival.

There are so many festivals to choose from, and it's hard to know what to pick. My strategy was to spend the first year sending the film only to the top festivals in the world. I chose those by looking at the Academy Awards list of festivals that they draw their Best Animated Short contenders from. If you win at one of those festivals, you're longlisted for an Academy Award. Not that I expect that to happen, but it seems like they're probably good festivals.

I used to have a dream of winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short; then I realized that the Academy nominates a lot of films that I really don't think are the best of the year. Many of them are more on the easy-watching "cartoon" side of animation, with a simple message and lots of visual gags. It doesn't make sense to strive for a public perception of "success", when I would have to make films that didn't completely represent me to do it. That feels like an empty kind of goal that would probably never make me feel fulfilled. My next film is going to be even less festival-friendly, I think. That's going to be an interesting struggle- to make a film I'm proud of, but knowing that it's going to really challenge the audience.

The best thing about getting into a festival for me is knowing that a certain number of discerning folk appreciated the film enough to think it's worth sharing. That's a huge compliment.

The second best thing is that more people get to see my film. I made it to share, and I love showing it. Getting the film into big festivals means it's easier to get it into smaller festivals, and sometimes you can get the entrance fee waived, so it becomes cheaper for me to share my film.

Also, having big festivals attached to the film's name means I might be able to make better deals with distributors, and they will have an easier time shopping the film around.

*Title provided by Chris Huggins, Master of Wit.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I really like the shapes of the branches of big ol' Cedar Trees.

I have a new regular walking route - a 20-minute bikeride up a walking trail, then hide my bike in a little dip just off the trail, cover the bike with my green jacket, cover my jacket with fallen leaves, then follow a small creek up a steep hill.

Tonnes of deer trails, very little underbrush, ravens croaking far overhead. Lots of big ol' Cedar Trees.

Friday, December 16, 2011

two otters

This morning's sketches. 

The majority of my mornings' pages in the last month look very similar to this. The same withered Arbutus tree, a few lines denoting an otter, duck or boat, and a dozen words.

Every morning I sit on the same mossy stretch of stone looking over the ocean. I  find it so peaceful and captivating that I don't really feel like drawing a lot. I suppose the pages are a pretty clear representation of where my mind is at.

Here's the page from the day before. The water was moving strangely, like there was a giant mass moving underneath it:

...and the day before that:

I've been thinking a lot about fictional storytelling, image-making, and truth; how stories create myths and are really just one person's opinion. So they're kind of false. Could they potentially be unhealthy if you don't look at them critically? What's the point of a story? Shit like that.


Today I saw two bald eagles hunting a seagull. I'm sure we've all seen eagles and seagulls and other large birds chasing each other away from nests and territory, but this was different. They were chasing this poor gull all over the bay, swooping down and pecking at him, trying to fly above him and grab him with their talons, etc.

I'm fairly certain all animals (including humans) have an instinctive meter of efficient energy-use. In other words, we're not going to burn too many calories doing something unless it's going to bring us food and / or help us propagate our genes. These eagles were way beyond a leisurely chase. They were flapping their wings, swooping and climbing more than I've ever seen a bird of that size do. It wouldn't make sense to do that unless they really thought they were going to eat that gull.

I find that exciting because I often see bird carcasses on the bluffs overlooking the ocean, but I've never seen how it happens. Maybe this is how.

The eagles chased the gull around a point, out of my sight, so I never saw the resolution.


So was that a fictional story, in a way? Surely my opinion is in there. Am I dramatizing things a bit? Should I be dramatizing things?


Thursday, December 15, 2011

smoke is rising

Random Sketchbook Page featuring dialogue from the coffee shop.

I don't have much to say on here these days. Maybe I'll just stick to images for a while.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trails and lists

This island is covered in trails. I think you can get anywhere without being on a road more than 20% of the time. Some are people-trails, some are deer trails, and some are both. There are some very busy people-only trails, so I tend to stick to the deer trails. Some of the deer trails run fairly close to the people trails, so when people are walking by I have to stop suddenly and stand really still so they don't see me; I'm sure they'd think I was a wierdo, skulking around in the woods.

I'm worried about what will happen the first time a dog smells me and comes to check me out. "Cleatus! Cleatus, come! Cleatus, get out of the bush! What are you doing in there? Oh Jesus, there's a man standing there."

I would scare the shit out of myself if I saw that.


There's a lot of 'No Trespassing' and 'Private Property' signs around the island as well, but forunately I seem to hit them from the wrong side every time. By the time I see them, I'm leaving the 'Private Property', not entering it. That's another advantage to deer trails - they respect the terrain instead of imaginary people-lines.

I have a ridiculous amount of work on the go, but it's all fun. Here's the list:

- Brainstorming and storyboarding a short film proposal (collaboration with myself, a dancer and a live action filmmaker)

- Brainstorming and co-writing a proposal for a National Film Board project that I would co-direct with a documentary filmmaker friend from Bella Coola.

- Finishing a website job; the art is done, now it's HTML hell.

- Doing photorealistic dog animation in CG software, then adding visual-effects-y lines of energy and scent and making the dog kind of turn into energy. This project is with a local interactive video artist. I think it will eventually be a gallery installation.

- Writing proposals for Masters of Fine Arts applications. This is the most fun, I think. I have to write 2-3 potential projects I would undertake. I've come up with about seven, and I want to do them all. That's about a decade worth of intense and exciting experimental work written down on a single sheet. Feels so good to have all that stuff to be excited about. If any other animator-artist read the sheet, I'd have to kill them.

- Doing a 5' x 5' oil painting of a maple tree. Actually, this is the most fun, hands down. It's hard to beat the joy of painting.

Not to mention constant marketing and admin stuff. Good times!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Leaves With No Tree

If there is one thing that I'm finding visually fascinating these days, it's the shapes of trees.

I love the complicated silhouettes of deciduous treetops in the winter. Especially when there are a few leaves left on them. I'd like to just isolate the positions of the leaves and see what kind of pattern they make.


Lookin' arty!

I like this one.

There you have it. "Leaves With No Tree"

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Stitched-together cedars for painting reference.

It saddens me to say that there are a lot of things I haven't been doing lately to take care of myself and keep myself happy and balanced:

1) I haven't been listening to my little creative impulses. When I think "I should paint that," or "that would make a good camera shot," I haven't been writing it down, taking a photo, painting, or generally considering the fun and intuitive part of my brain at all. For me, that's killer when it comes to art-making.

2) I've been prioritizing other peoples' projects over my own, because those projects are paying the bills at the moment. The bottom line for me is that money is a tool I use to make my art. If I spend three solid months working on someone else's stuff, I'm making money, but I completely lose sight of WHY I'm making money. I need to be making my art daily. So that's what I'm doing again, every morning. Priority one.

3) I haven't been getting out into the bush. I went for a walk in the bush yesterday for the first time in weeks and almost started sobbing from the release. I get everything from the wilderness - a sense of calm, a humbling perspective, inspiration. I'm a fucking idiot for not doing that.

I suspect these are all reasons why I haven't been posting on this blog as much. When I'm not posting here, it means I don't have anything to show, or I don't have anything to talk about because I lack perspective on my life.

I love how this blog has become an integral part of my creative life. My public diary.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Buffalo Dreams

Different drawing tools give different drawings. I've been carrying around a red pencil and mechanical pencil for the last couple days, which is resulting in more character design type stuff out of my head, instead of drawing from life.


 I wish I had some kind of life-coach to tell me what to do, what to prioritize. I have so many things on the go, but I'm not putting myself out on a limb with any of them. It feels dry and a little stagnant. I need to take a lunge at something, but I'm not sure what it is yet. I feel like it's about to emerge, though.

I just want to focus on one thing. I want to say "fuck it" and pour all my heart into some project or dream. Give it to me! Lay it on me!

 I've always worked from one Big Dream to the next, and at the moment I don't have one.

Well, that's not true.

I want to paint.

 I haven't painted in about three months now.

 That's a problem.


Lets get on it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

rain island

(1) I have been neglecting my Key Activities to Happiness (Swim / Bushwhack / Draw / Paint) for over a week now - maybe longer , and it hit me like the Devil this morning. It's amazing how I can feel completely lost if I stop making my own art and / or spending time outside. It's a bad bad place to be. On the bright side, all it takes is an hour of drawing and a blasting cold water dip to put my world right again.

(2) My woodstove appears to be leaking smoke and I'm doing research on carbon monoxide poisoning. My nose is burning but that's not a symptom so I guess I'm okay.

(3) These are the most busy months I've had in a long time, which is why I haven't been blogging. I have a proposal or an application to write every second week with the last one due Jan 15th, and a big project I'm working on with a deadline of Jan 19th. It's absolutely nutty. This coming weekend is the last one where I won't be working for a while.

That's it for now! Once more, unto the breach! Wish me luck!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Studio Mk X

My new studio area is the best I've had so far. Lots of natural light, lots of room, lots of storage for big canvasses and enough space that I can actually work on big canvasses and have room to step back from it.

This is the tenth "studio" area I've had in the last ten or fifteen years. Goddamn, have I ever moved around a lot.

ps. I lost my camera's battery charger in the move, so I'm borrowing a camera and it takes photos differently so I thought this would be a decent photo without looking at it too hard. And I don't feel like taking another photo that is non-blurry.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


My mornings are:
Black-Tailed Deer,
River Otters (Mother and two children, and another lone Otter in the next cove over),
Great Blue Herons,
Gulls (don't know what kind yet - never thought to look until now),
Brandt's Cormorants (including a juvenile),
Mallard Ducks,
the Varied Thrush,
the Northern Flicker,
Douglas Fir,
cold water.

One of the otters ate something nasty this morning and puked all over the moss. Mucous-like gooey lumps of orange-pink.

Friday, October 28, 2011


While drawing this, I was wiping smears of blood off myself. That cat slashed me across the nose.

I don't understand cats nearly as much as dogs. Is it even possible to understand cats as much as dogs? I haven't had a cat since I was two years old, because my baby sister kept chasing the cat and pulling its tail and it eventually just hid behind the fridge all day, afraid for its life.

I wonder what my parents did with that cat.

Maybe they killed it and put it in a plastic bag by the road, and that's why this cat slashed me across the face.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

asymmetrical proportions

Once upon a time I had a degree in Civil Engineering and a desire to be an Architect.

I still like to think about building and structure design sometimes. Usually it involves a house implanted into a south-facing slope, looking over some water.

This is a transmutation of the shack near where I swim. Incidentally, it is on a south-facing slope looking over the ocean. Two nuns used to live in it, but they left and now there is an otter family in the basement.

The shack has a symmetrical peaked roof, which I didn't draw. I think it would look nice with an offset ridgeline and a long line of windows up there. And turn the covered porch into an extension on the main building, with lots of windows looking out over the water.


Monday, October 24, 2011

leaves and bubbles

I have a feeling this drawing is somewhat representative of some kind of animated thing I'm going to do in the near future.

This is my thought of the day:

The only way to be the best at something is by doing it according to your own rules. It's very difficult to perform at your highest level if the parameters are dictated by someone else. I believe that most people who are at the tops of their fields create their own methodologies, exercises, routines and philosophies to support their work - whether its athletics, sciences, art, business, or the ultimate goal of Living Life Happily.

I think the word "genius" is a misnomer for this very reason. I think everyone has the potential to be a genius at the things they love the most - but they don't end up pursuing those things, or get sucked into thinking they have to do it the way other people do it.

Einstein said: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

In other words, fuck what everyone else thinks. You know what you do best. Have the courage to make it your own.

(I'm lecturing myself here - not anyone else.)

(And Singne - don't worry, this isn't a backlash about our genius talk last night. I already half-wrote this blog a couple days ago.) :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

in the brine

New place to live means new places to swim.

The problem with this island is that the coastline can be privately owned. I have to walk through 3-4 peoples' properties to get to the water, but you wouldn't know it - it's a steep mossy slope with huge stands of cedars and maples. No fences or markers or sign of human presence whatsoever.

I've decided to play it more like a deer, less like a person. I walk quietly down the slope, pausing occasionally to listen and watch for people. Sometimes I hear them and I stand still until I know they can't see me. I pick routes that are out of the line-of-sight of the houses, and make my way down to sheltered rocky cove where I'm invisible to everything but the three river otters who live in a nearby shack.

If I ever get caught, I'll apologize and plead ignorance and do a better job sneaking next time.

You can buy the oceanfront and say the forests are yours, but I'll be damned if you're going to keep me from enjoying the trees and the animals and the cold water every morning.

Friday, October 14, 2011

five pages

I have three crazy months ahead... deadlines almost every third week, and they're big deadlines for big projects, grant applications, scholarships, or project pitches. So much thinking and idea-refinement must happen alongside serious focussed worktime.

I can see that non-poetic words are already starting to infiltrate my morning sketchbook pages. My mind is having a hard time staying on big abstract thoughts and meditative observations. It keeps jumping to hard-and-fast plans, thoughts of the future, scheduling the day, etc. That stuff is important, but the non-thinking stuff is crucial. That's when my mind opens up, and the ideas and inspiration really start flowing.

Interesting concept: 'it's when the mind isn't thinking that the ideas come.'

Thursday, October 6, 2011


random thoughts

I've been waking up at 4:00 am for the past few mornings with all kinds of ideas. Instead of going back to bed, I'm getting up and pulling out a notebook and writing down pages and pages of sketches and notes.

I have way too many ideas and not enough time to do it all. I need to focus them down. Right now I have three collaborative projects on the go at once. I'm doing those while drawing in the mornings, organizing my own projects and getting as much exercise as possible. My days are full to the teats!

I can now understand why some big name artists I know have assistants. It's like any business - you can only expand so much if you're creating product and marketing and seeking new projects and doing the other administrative stuff all on your own. Either you gotta slow down, which means you're creating less, or you gotta expand.

But I can only wrestle with the big picture for so long. What it comes down to is enjoying each day, working hard and doing what I love.

. . .

My last short film, The Perfect Detonator, got accepted into its first festival - The St. Louis International Film Fest. This year I wanted to hit all the festivals that the Academy looks at for feeders into their longlist for Best Animated Short Film. I don't expect to be nominated for an Academy Award, but I figure the Academy's list of festivals is probably a good list to go from. SLIFF is one of those festivals.

So that's another thing to do - keep submitting to festivals, update the Perfect Detonator website, etc etc.

Where's my goddamned assistant?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bathing and Climbing

Here's where I've been bathing. The 'waterfall' changes flow depending on the rainfall of the previous few days. It better rain again soon or there's not going to be a shower tomorrow.


I've heard that learning happens in plateaus - we have long periods where we feel like we're not getting any better at a certain thing, but if we keep at it, we'll experience a sudden jump in understanding. Presumably this is the result of all the time taken in the previous plateau to gather experience, or maybe it's that we have been learning slowly, but just haven't noticed the incremental change.

Yesterday I had a sudden leap of understanding with deer trails.

I follow deer trails quite often, but all of a sudden I'm finding them everywhere - in places I've walked past dozens of times. On my last three bushwhacks, there has been zero wading through Salal, breaking through thorny vines or falling through rotten logs. Instead, I'm walking where deer walk. I still have to crouch and jump and push aside the undergrowth, but there is always a sure step for my feet.

This had led to a sudden leap in understanding how deer live. I stoop through the soft mossy hollows under big trees they use for shelter, pause at the cleared-out spots that give a great view of their surroundings, note the side-trails where they dip down to drink from a stream.

It seems that most ravines have two deer trails - one along the top of the ravine, and one cross-slope trail about halfway down. I would imagine the top one is the most used, and the halfway one is more sheltered from the weather, and a good hidden backup to run along if you spot a predator up above.

All the times I've walked along these streambeds I've looked for signs of deer and never found them. Now I realize they've been up above me the whole time, and probably watching me sometimes. (Most of the cross-slope deer trails give an excellent view down to the streams whenever possible.) This makes sense - since every animal needs to drink from the streams, it would be stupid to walk along them.

I also learned that deer can climb just like mountain goats. Seriously! It's ridiculous.

I followed a trail upslope from a river. It was steep, but doable. Then it turned into a cliff. I was pressed right against the earth, pulling myself up with roots and fern bases and salal steams. The dog and I took a lot of breaks, breathing heavily, sometimes pressed up next to each other against the base of a tiny cedar, figuring out how to manage the next route.

To imagine a deer climbing or descending this route blows my mind. They must run straight up or down at some points, because there's no way you could do it without some momentum, or opposable thumbs to grab things, or a man-friend to push you up by the bum (if you're a dog).

Much to learn!

At the top of the deer trail, looking almost straight back down to the river.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

oil paintings

Salal in Shadow - 36" x 24" - Oil

Here are three oil paintings I did this summer. They're the first oil paintings I've ever done. I'm very happy with them. I've done a lot of acrylics, and some half-acrylic half-oil stuff, but this is definitely the way to go for me. I love how you can blend and layer the colours, and the texture of the paint. The wetness works for me, too. Acrylics dry too fast for me to moosh them around, and I end up wasting a lot of paint on my palette because it dries up.

More to come!

Summer Maple - 36" x 24" - Oil

I gotta take these paintings outside and photograph them in indirect light with a tripod. The photos are a little blurry, and you can see too much reflection, so they don't really show the depth of the colour. I'll probably post them again once I get good photos of them.

Blackberry on Sun-Bleached Log - 48" x 36"

I'll soon have an online gallery with my paintings, but if you're ever interested in buying something, send me an email.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

autumn on the mountain

Swimming Hole and Environs.

The rainy season has officially begun. The skies are grey, views of the forest are filtered through a thin curtain of silvery rain.

I've learned a vital lesson to keep myself active and happy in this weather - immerse myself in it. Jump in some kind of water every day, no matter how cold it is. Put on shorts, take off my shoes and hike through the bush, balance across logs, crawl through game trails and get drenched in the droplets hanging from the ferns and salal.

I've been missing these immersive aqueous adventures over the past few dry months. It's good to be cold and cut and wet again.

En route to the local stream.

Recent bush highlights:

Standing in a rainfall of fir needles on a dry windy day. It was like bathing in Tree.

Deep in a ravine where water falls from the forest canopy long after the rain has actually stopped. Realizing that the sky has cleared, but the "rain" is still pouring over me with the same intensity as before.

Crawling through a pile of logs in heavy rain when the dog suddenly goes crazy and starts running around sniffing something. He never smells deer, only bear. The rain is so loud it's impossible to hear anything more than twenty feet away. Waiting and listening, then following the dog to see what we can find.

The daily skinnydip in a rocky pool on Qualicum River, under an old Maple (shown above), and among crayfish.

Watching the dry streambed fill up and start to flow again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

on the walls

There are very few things more rewarding that seeing children engrossed in one of my films.

So I finally have my film, Perfect Detonator, on the walls of a gallery with my paintings, including some big oils, watercolours, and "accidental" artwork that came out of the process of creating my film. I'll be posting more of the paintings in the next week or so.

This was my original intent with the film. I kinda forgot about it after all the years of creating the film. It feels good to remember why I did it, and to see the final product.

Framed Production Painting from "The Perfect Detonator" short film.

I prefer having my films presented in a space that is removed from the normal film and TV viewing experience. I don't want there to be expectations of instant gratification or a handy remote to change the channel if the first 5 seconds doesn't grab you. I want people to watch the film, then have a period silence to think about the film instead of being instantly popped into another film or a TV commercial.

The space of a gallery also lets me share my fascination with the process of creating animated films.

I like that people can walk around before and after the film and see all the incidental art that happened along the way. I showed a few of those things on this blog - background paintings that I found interesting, or a series of classically animated frames, done in pen and ink.

Now that I have the show up, I can document it and shop it around to other galleries in places where I really want it to be shown. I'm excited about that.

"French Creek" - Watercolour, Pen and Ink

An important breakthrough for me is that the show is not limited to one side of my creativity - I'm showing all different media and styles, but everything still looks cohesive. I suppose that's because it all came from the same brain. The wider spread of styles feels good because it's a good representation of how my creative process works. I like to jump around with the work I create. This gives me tremendous freedom to use whatever medium I feel like and know that it's going to work with everything else I'm making. My shows will be more like "This is what I've been up to", rather than "This is a series of paintings," which has limited me in the past.

"If Only You Knew" - watercolour, pen and ink

The other exciting part is that the gallery show finally completes my Perfect Detonator Canada Council of the Arts Grant. I can finally start applying for funding on other projects.

Monday, September 12, 2011

on this morning

Consistently hot and cloudless days. Fewer wasps now than last week. The termites are at peak migration. Plenty of them flying around at dusk every night. The diversity of birds has dropped sharply in the last two weeks. No more Goldfinches, Pileated Woodpeckers, or Northern Flickers. The Stellar Jays are still around, as are the Chickadees and Sparrows. I can't remember if any of those birds stick around this area all year.

The ravens are always around. Quorking in the unseen distance or flying overhead with the wind thrumming loudly through their wingtips.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Same sunflower, different tools. The first is a 4B pencil and watercolour; second is a brush-pen and watercolour. It's amazing how much more expressive a brushstroke is.

Number One Reason My Quality of Life Has Recently Improved:
I only sit at the computer when I have specific work to do. No more twaddling around on the internet. I think this is saving me 2 hours per day, minimum - not including the interruption of focus I used to suffer from constantly checking email.

Number Two and Three Reasons:
Waking up close to sunrise and immediately drawing for 1-3 hours. It feels so good to do my favorite thing in the world, right away. It calms me, gives me perspective, and lets me ease into the rest of my work without resentment. By 8:00 pm, I'm pleasantly tired and don't keep myself awake with coffee, working until midnight or 1:00 am. I fall asleep early, looking forward to waking up early because there's something to look forward to.

Friday, September 2, 2011

streams and lakes of the future

Starting tomorrow, and for the next five weeks, I'll be house- and dogsitting. That means far less swimming, and a lot more bushwhacking. The area I'm staying is very familiar to me, but I don't want to hit the same routes that I usually take.

I'm going to buy a topographic map of the area at a scale that will show the streams, and try to follow as many as I can. Once the rain starts, those will be nice places to check out.

The maps I already have show me some small lakes to tramp out to, as well. Small enough that I can swim around them and get the dog to follow me on the shore.

There are too many thoughts kicking around in my head to get into anything too deeply. By the time I get to blogging, I'm tired of that kind of thinking. The thinking is happening during my long morning drawing sessions, though, so I have lots of non-words things to show.

My new non-computer-wake-up-at-sunrise regime is working like a charm. I can't believe how much more productive I am, and how many more ideas I have.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Qualicum is Hell

Lots of things going on in this ol' head lately. Instead of trying to write about it, I'll show some sketchbook pages. I think it tells the story well enough.

ps. Qualicum isn't really hell.