Saturday, January 31, 2009

Up On The Roof

It must have been about mid-October when I was inspired to climb to the roof of the New Grand Hotel to take some photos of the town. Now, usually it was my job to make sure that no one went onto the roof of the hotel, because part of my job was security, but I made an exception for me.

I had worked the midnight shift at the hotel and one of the highlights of this position was watching the sun’s rays sweep into the valley at the break of dawn. I learned a lot about Nature during my time at the hotel.

One thing that I had never seen before was a snowline, which appears on the mountains during this season. This line – with snow/frost on the topside and forest below – is absolutely horizontal as it stretches throughout the region. And it changes elevations from day to day, too!

I had just gotten off my workshift and while I was walking home I noticed that not only did this morning’s chill bring another snowline to the mountains, but a really cool occurrence of clouds was passing through the area, as well.

The clouds hovered just feet above the trees and as they moved with the soft winds they seemed to catch like cotton candy onto the trees, getting torn and stretched.

I went home, got my camera equipment and went back to the hotel to climb the roof.

From this elevation it was easy to see all the shadows created by the morning sunrise.

Nelson was a delightful place to live in for our year and half. There are lots of interesting old buildings and roads that are built into the side of this mountain.

The early builders planted lots of trees, so now, many years later, most of the houses are hidden from view when the trees are full of leaves.

And in the distance we see BOB. Nelson’s famous Big Orange Bridge.

The first time I heard someone tell me about BOB I had a good laugh!

I was nearing the end of my roll of film (in twenty years people will wonder what a roll of film was - LOL!) so I decided to do something funny. I had brought one of the hotel’s walkie-talkies with me and I made a call down to Bernie. Bernie was the dayshift personality for the hotel and everyone really enjoyed sharing a laugh with her. I told her that something was on the roof of the hotel – I didn’t tell her that it was me – and that she had to go out and take a look up. She did…

… and ‘snap’ I took her photo.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Finding Happiness In The Unexpected

No matter how much thought and preparation we put into planning our days, all our plans could change as soon as we begin our action. Sometimes these unexpected events are minor and cause no major disruption to our plans. Sometimes the unexpected event could cause an artist, like me, to take an extra forty minutes to arrive home with the groceries…

The winter snows had recently vanished during this 2001 springtime and Joanne and I were living in Cranbrook, British Columbia. We were there so that I could work on my art project- Canada: Glorious To Be ( This day was my ‘run-around-town-getting-things-done’ day. As was my lifestyle, I left on foot with a knap-sac on my back. It was a bit of a long walk so I prepared many stops. And I always plan my walks on days when the weather is nice, so I can enjoy myself.

I had looped around the north end of town before swinging to the west and the shops of the downtown area. I really grew to enjoy going into all the different shops to buy just one or two things before wandering down the street to the next shop. In one shop I would buy a couple bars of soap and some organic peanut butter. In another shop I’d buy some German rye bread and a chocolate bar. I still had to pop into the local chain supermarket for a few items, but most of my money went into the hands of local merchants who support local producers and that is really important to me.

After two hours or so, I’ll need a little rest, so I would usually plant myself on a street bench and enjoy the sun while other people walked by. Then it was time to visit the local Goodwill store. I had a part time gig at a bar – spinning tunes and making silly jokes now and again – and I found lots of cheap music to add to my collection at ‘used’ stores.

I was only a ten minute walk away from home and one of my shortcuts brought me out of a forested area into a clearing that had a long white building on it, that had been abandoned many years previously. Rarely would I cross the path of another person, along this small stretch of pathway, but today there were lots of people gathered around the building. Many of them looked very busy.

I walked closer and asked what was going on. I was told that today was a special day, designed to promote awareness about spousal abuse and that the owner of the white building had given permission to this group of activists to paint their message to the world on walls. I looked up and was able to read messages like, “Treat each other with love”, “NO MORE VIOLENCE!”, “Please be kind” and many others. There were drawings of flowers and rainbows and people with smiling faces, holding hands. I thought it was a great idea and I asked if I could write a message, too!

Most of the lower wall space was already completed, so I asked for a ladder. I shared a poem that I actually just finished a few days before. It wasn’t a long poem – more of statement, really. And I put my peace symbol in the place of the heart’s heart!!!

Always be open to the unexpected opportunities to work with others to build a safer world. The smile that it will bring you could just save someone’s life!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Childhood’s End

I was rummaging through an old box of art works when I came across one of my earliest paintings. It’s been several years since I have seen this painting and a huge flood of memories came back to me. This painting is meant to symbolize how humanity has changed with references to those things that have caused the change.

The background of the painting was created using a special technique that I taught myself, to create unique and random textures. It is a symbol of the blackness and vastness of our universe. Within this universe, we have constructed our world and this is symbolized by the geometric structure that is painted in black and white checkerboard formations. Since our ‘new’ world is a product constructed by man, there are symbols depicting our imperfections – the holes in the checkerboard floor.

One of the greatest structures created by man is that of social religion and this is depicted with a blood coloured cross, so we don’t forget the pain that this structure has caused in our societies. Then, there is the symbol of the child…

The children that are being born into this time are pure and innocent – depicted with a symbolic smile. They grow up in a world of fast food, computers, cars and all the other marvels of our age. They believe that these ‘things’ are what life is about because they are surrounded by them, everyday. I was trying to show that these children are being created – not for the pleasure of understanding our Natural world – but for the purpose of being institutionalized for the purpose of further industrial satisfaction. We are no longer giving birth to children. We are giving birth to products to be used within the cogs of our social machine.

Symbols relating to our natural world, however, are found within the symbol of this industrial child. The child’s hair is a silhouette of pine trees (based on a photo I took while in the Temagami forestland). One of the eyes is filled with symbols representing the Earth in space, surrounded by stars. The other eye shows that the sun is setting into the ocean – a symbol of possible endings – and the ocean becomes a tear on the child’s face. The child’s skin is a patchwork of metal sheathing, riveted together with a button nose and the fire’s of industrialism burning from within (seen through the open mouth).

The child is holding a symbol of his creation – the flame of life. This flame, however, is being fueled by the industrial machine and cogs and gears can be seen within this flame.

It was a wonderful experience learning how to create this painting, but at the same time my heart was filled with sadness because of what this painting does represent. My focus was not to portray the wonders of the Earth and our ability to shape a better world. Rather, it focuses on the wonders of life and the shameful ways we have misled ourselves in pursuits of ‘things’ that do not bring us true happiness and fulfillment.

I believe that it was important for me to have painted this image so that I could have a clearer understanding of the thoughts that were rattling around in my head. Once this was accomplished, I felt a deeper desire to focus my future art creations with brush strokes that were not so pointed. I felt that it was time for me to stop thinking about all the wrongs that have been created within our history and to start exploring all the rights that are still to be created.

I felt that my childhood, as a blind individual, was over and that it was time for me to grow up. During the last night of working on this painting, I was listening to a Pink Floyd album and the song ‘Childhood’s End’ was playing. It seemed interesting to me that this song was playing during the short period when I was deciding what the title should be.

+ + + +

A few months before I started exploring the world of creative expression, I was getting ready for my Temagami ‘walk’ ( I met Kevin a few weeks before this walk began and I was very impressed that he wanted to join our adventure.

After ‘Childhood’s End’ was completed, I decided to give it to Kevin. I wanted to thank him for his support and I also wanted to give him something that I hoped would be a part of his life for many years to come – so that he would feel comforted with knowing that he belonged to a small group of individuals that are trying to make positive changes for our world.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Peace is...

Peace is a word used to symbolize a thought of understanding which is useless without action.


Saturday, January 24, 2009


I spent the last two days finishing a canvas painting with the grade 3 students of Kensal Park School. We all had a lot of fun…

By the end of Thursday, only the cattails and rocks were left to complete.

I was told that there was going to be a special event happening on Friday, so I arrived a little earlier than normal and the painting continued…

Just after the lunch break, our canvas was finished.

We spent the remainder of the class period judging the students’ colouring contest. All the artwork was really great! I always enjoy when I see the techniques I teach the students, used in their artwork…

By taking individual lines from many students’ poems, I was able to create this collaborative expression…

P lants keep the Earth nice and clean
L akes are homes for lots of animals
A nyone can help
N obody should be left out
E verything needs energy
T all mountains touch the sky

E verything on Earth is special
A nimals are our friends
R ecycle to create less waste
T oday is a new day, the past is behind you
H elp keep our planet safe

After the winners were awarded their ‘Art For Earth’ T-shirts, we had the teacher take a group photo – one with smiling faces and a silly faced photo…

I had finished loading my equipment and supplies into my car and when I returned to the classroom the teacher asked me if I wanted to stay for a short while to participate in a school event. Of course, I said yes!

The event was put on by a group called ABC Canada. As one part of their Family Literacy Day 2009 celebration they were attempting to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the “Most children reading with an adult, multiple locations”. We were given certain children’s books to read to the students and the reading had to begin exactly at 2:00pm, for a half an hour. The teacher and I took turns reading the different short stories to the class. One of my stories had a lot of singing, and since the students already knew the story they helped me with the singing. During the last song, our classroom was overflowing with the children’s voices. I was having a great time!

I left the school with a smile. Not only had we finished our painting – we had also worked together to create a new world record! Not bad for a Friday afternoon….


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gettin’ ‘Er Done!

Ideally, I like to teach one workshop a week, with the occasional weekend class that pops up from time to time. This allows me the much needed time to prepare for each class. People are often surprised when I tell them that a fifteen hour class (5 hrs./day x 3 days) takes between thirty-five and forty-five hours to prep.

Every once in a while, my schedule gets quite crammed… like now! By the end of this Friday I will have taught three classes and created three paintings within the last ten school days, working with sixty-five students. I saw this time coming and that’s why I spent so much of my ‘time-off’ getting ready. I never think of complaining… Like me pappy uzedd ta say “Just get gettin’ ‘er done!”

On Monday I was finishing a painting with one of the grade three classes. The day began with a flurry of confusion. A few of the students had forgotten their colouring sheets in their flurry to get out school, last Friday, and they were panicking with their pencil crayons. Very soon, we had them relaxed… we just told them the colouring contest would begin later in the day. Their teacher even gave them a small period of time to work on their art and poetry.

Now, that they were little humans again, the painting continued…

These students were an absolute delight to be with. Each one was so full of positive energy and they all showed great skill when they painted. Soon, their masterpeace was completed…

I always like to have a few of the students wearing their ‘Art For Earth’ T-shirts in the group photo we take at the end of class, so we had to have our colouring contest. For the last few colouring contests, I’ve been selecting just the first winner. I then ask the winner to chose their favourite artwork and the second winner is selected. I repeat myself to the class between each new judge that the art must be selected based on its creativity and not who created it (or else they may choose their friend’s art). The students have proven themselves to be very honest with what they like in the way of art!!! These are the artworks created by the five winners…

And – as always – I’ve taken lines from several of the students’ poems to create this one collaborative…

P olar Bears are mammals
L ittering is bad
A ir is what we breath
N o more garbage
E at good food
T he Earth has vibrations

E veryone eats food
A ll people should be nice
R ead about how you can help the planet
T ry to clean our litter
H ow can you help our planet???

Then we had the group photos, one with their teacher and one with me…

Today, I was teaching in the other grade three class, right next door to my previous class. So, of course, I popped my head into their room and smiled with a “Bonjour, mes amis!!!” Then it was time to meet my new artists.

These students were equally as great as my last class. They were polite, raised their hands to speak (most of the time), and they laughed at my silly jokes, so I was very happy.

I always begin with a little interactive chat with the students, discussing all the varied art forms that are in the world. The students will tell me stories about how they like to dance, play musical instruments and paint. We talk about art at the dinner table, art in math class and art in finding solutions to clean our water and air.

Then, I played my guitar for a few moments.

Denise was my guest speaker, again, cuz she’s just so gosh darn smart! Denise can talk about a variety of habitat topics, and her specialty is wetlands and that was the topic of this class.

Denise had brought a few more items to show, for this presentation, and the students loved it. They each had a turn to examine a snake skin, that had been naturally shed…

… and the fur pelt of a muskrat!!!

Denise had asked the students – remember that they are only in grade three – if they could name the different species of animals that live in wetlands. The first answer was ‘amphibians’, then ‘birds’ and then ‘crustaceans’ and before they could continue I interrupted, “Excuse me, but I must be in the wrong class room. I thought I was teaching grade three students… not university graduates! How do you know words like ‘crustaceans’? I’m not even sure if I know what it means!!!” The teacher smiled and gave them a compliment. I was blown away!
After the lunch break and recess, the painting began…

The students had a great time and they did a fantastic job with their paintbrushes. Soon, it was time to leave for home. Many students came to say good-bye to me and I thought that was really nice. One of the last remaining three students was still sitting at his desk, gathering his books and he spoke across the empty room, “Mr. Jim, thanks a lot for coming to our classroom to teach us. It’s been a lot of fun having you here.” I had to pause for an instant before I could thank him for his kind words. The generation that is growing up in our midst is very special and kindly. They will accomplish what we are afraid of even trying… of that fact I am most certain.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mount Jim

Two weeks ago, I was leaving my house with Koly, to take him for a walk. It was a sunny day, which contrasted greatly with the previous evening, which was filled with a heavy snowfall. I began the day by shoveling our driveway while Joanne prepared our breakfast. Now it was time to give Koly a bit of exercise.

As we were leaving the house I noticed that our neighbour’s children and a friend were trying to use their snow sleds on the piled up snow along the edge of the road. My concern for their safety grew when one little girl slid onto the road. I called them all over and I told them that playing in such a way could cause a bad accident. I told them that I wanted them to continue having fun on the pile of snow that was once my front lawn.

Since that time, we have received quite a bit more snow. Now, when I’m clearing the driveway, I go out of my way to make sure that I pile the snow nice and high in one spot to give the girls a higher hill to slide down. This growing hill has been named – by the three young girls – Mount Jim. I laughed when they told me this.

With the children playing in our front yard I feel confident that they are safe. This has also put a smile on my face for another reason. Occasionally during the evenings, when Jo’ and I are eating our dinner or watching a bit of television, we’ll hear the shouts of laughter and joy, from these girls, while they are sledding. Mount Jim has now grown so high that we can see the tops of their hats bobbing along, outside of our second floor window!!!

Our most important responsibility is ensuring the safety of our children. When they acknowledge these actions by filling the air with laughter, we know that we have done our job well!