Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“Take A Look Around”

Monday was the first day back to school after this year’s fourth annual Earth Hour. I began the morning driving my high school students and as we were entering the school grounds I asked them to raise their hand if they had participated in this event. Five out of forty students raised their hands. When my busload of about thirty elementary school students entered the school grounds, I asked the same question. To my delight I witnessed every student raising a hand!!!

I asked, “Now, take a look around and what do you see?” About five students yelled out, “Everyone raised their hands!”

I told them that I was very proud of each one of them for doing something wonderful to help make the Earth a better home for future generations. While we waited to unload many students had a little something to say about the event. “I played card games by candlelight with my mom and dad.” “I had hockey practice and we got home after 8:30 so we did our Earth Hour between 9-10pm.” “My mom and dad and I went for a long walk and when we got home the only light we turned on was the bathroom light.”

These students fill my heart with so many happy feelings and my confidence grows to believe that – in their hands – the future will unfold with a smile!

Before I continue with stories about the students’ peace art, I want to share my newest youtube video -

I filmed this video last November, just a few months after The Peacebus was born. When I see it I’m amazed to realize how much artwork my students have created over the last seven months. The roof of the bus is now filled with almost three times as many artworks as you will see in the video!!

I love it when the students hand in artwork that relates to a season or an event in our lives. Nathan gave me this ‘Olympic Peace’ art during the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Mehdi handed in this art on a Monday – a few weeks ago - and he told me that he had spent the weekend building Peace Snowmen with his brother and father.

Maddie drew this picture for her friend who was having a birthday. “It’s a Peace Bee, Mr. Jim and she has a birthday cake!”

Two girls worked together on a couple of drawings for the bus. One was filled with bright colours and this one, “is before there was colour in the world, Mr. Jim!” They both laughed at their silly joke. I’m guessing that they had spent part of their weekend watching some old black and white movies with their parents!

I always enjoy when the students show how proud they are to belong to a free and peaceful country.

Matt has always shown a lot of creativity with his artwork. I was scanning these images when something in his second artwork caught me eye.

I noticed that in both of the letters ‘E’ in the word ‘PEACE’, Matt had drawn a simple landscape of trees.

In the first E he had drawn this landscape with our moon in the background with shadows of night. In the second E there is a sun in the background surrounded by a blue sky.

All of these four drawings were inspired by Spring and this weekend’s Easter Celebration.

I’ve talked a lot about Nathan’s art in previous blogs. This grade one student is going to grow up to be a leader of humanity. He is brilliant and full of positive inspiration!

One previous blog told the story of Nathan’s invention to build a flying car that will plant trees in the Amazon Rainforest. This is another of his flying car inventions. It’s obvious to me – having studied architecture – that Nathan uses tools to help bring his artwork to life. Notice the perfect curves used in his Sun and Earth. His space shuttle was also drawn using straight edges. This tells me that he puts a lot of thought into his creations.

When Nathan handed in this drawing I think my brain blew a gasket. I was begoggled!!! “Nathan, is this another of your Earth-saving inventions?” It was. I asked him to explain it to me. I was told that this was a space ship that was fueled by pollution and that clean air comes out of the exhaust pipe. The creature in this drawing is a robot dog, “Cuz a real dog can’t breathe in space, Mr. Jim”, and its job was to collect all the broken satellites and other garbage that is orbiting our planet!!!

Where did this come from???? I had never talked about garbage in space. I asked him a few questions and learned that during the time when our bus was discussing the problems of the Amazon that his father had continued these talks and had branched off into other related topics. I thought that this was great!!! We need parents to talk openly about environmental issues with their children, to involve them in understanding the problems while discussing solutions.

I think that it’s great when the students are inspired by other student’s art. Maddie had seen and listened to the story of Nathan’s art and the next day she handed in this ‘Peace Spaceship’.

I spent almost three hours at my computer, Monday afternoon, scanning, shrinking and adding borders and names to these artworks. When I picked the students up that afternoon, I handed the art back to the students for them to take home to put on their fridges. Before I could even finish this task one of my students handed in another artwork for The Peacebus. I smiled! I have created art monsters!!! There’s no stopping this onslaught of creativity!!!

Yesterday I received five peace-art drawings and this morning another student actually handed in a small canvas painting filled with bright Spring flowers! I think that I’m the most fortunate person to be surrounded by so much passion and love for peace and solutions to worldly problems.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Love For Planet Earth Is…

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip up to my parents’ house for a short visit. While I was there I spent a while checking out some of the flowers in my mom’s gardens. Soon, I found myself with a shovel in hand carefully stealing a few of them!!!

I arrived home just after 5pm, said, “Hello!” to Joanne and then immediately went out to work in my garden. I had stolen some tulip bulbs and they needed to find a home in my garden before the end of the day.

Last November, I began the process of creating brand new flowerbeds around our house and this was as far as I got, as the winter season was settling in. I wasn’t yet ready to plan and plant my gardens but now I had to think of some kind of arrangements, right away.

I began by turning the soil and getting it ready. While I was shoveling my mind was scheming away trying to plan a simple layout.

This is a small mass of Iris and you can see that this years flower sprouts are already beginning to ‘green’ their way through the ‘dead’ of last year’s growth. Iris is very similar to Hostas in how the root mass grows. These root masses are very easy to cut into smaller quarters and within two years each quarter of root mass grows to the size of the mass that it originally came from.

As an artist, I’m always searching for interesting textures. I’ll gaze into the sky to witness the textures of clouds. I’ll view a large area of weathered tall grasses, flattened by the winter snow and marvel at the textures of the golds and browns interlaced with shadows from the sun. I’ll split apart a mass of Iris roots and delight in all the contours of the sectioned tubers as my mind envisions the multiplied lives of colour that this action will be bringing to the Earth.

Gardening is a very empowering exercise that is full of euphoric energy transformations as life is nurtured through the actions of your hands.

This is a photo of what my Irises will look like in just a few months.

Close by, I’ve also planted a few Cardinal flowers. Now, don’t be silly… the plant is named Cardinal – I’m not planting birds!!!! My parents told me that these flowers attract Hummingbirds – one of my favourite flying creatures… cuz they are so mysteriously full of flight and so sensually decorated in colour.

A little while later, my first planting of the season was done. One thing that I’ve learned over the last few years is how to intermingle Spring flowers with Summer flowers. The Cardinals and Irises are planted about 18” away from each other. This space will soon fill as both of these flowers mature this summer. In between, I’ve filled the area with Tulips that will bloom this Spring. The Tulips will grow, bloom and then die before the Cardinals and Irises mature.

The advantage of intermingling these flowers is simple – no weeds!!!! The Tulips will grow and cover the soil with their leaves, allowing no light to penetrate underneath where weeds would grow. When the Tulips die, they still cover the soil until the Summer flowers are mature enough to prevent the growth of weeds. I hate weeding!!!!

You can see that I’ve also planted a small Red Currant berry bush in this garden. One thing that I’m trying to learn is how to intermingle berry bushes, flowers and vegetables together. Most gardens separate these three kinds of gardens, but I figure that by mixing them together I will attract a greater number and variety of bugs and bees and other insects that will help in the pollination of my fruits and veggies. I’m excited to see what will happen!!!!

I was able to steal four nice baby Currant bushes from my parents’ garden, but unable to find any small Gooseberry bushes… so I took a few branch cuttings. I had read in a gardening book how to use cuttings to begin new bushes. The book said to bend a berry bush branch down to the ground and bury parts of the branch. Once under the soil the branch would begin to sprout new root systems that would create new berry bushes.

So… I dug a small trough in another part of my garden, dropped the Gooseberry branch in and covered it with soil. Ideally, the branch that I buried should have been apart of an actually berry bush (still attached), but my branch was a clipping. I’m hoping to have the same results. Berry bushes are very hearty in these climates so I’m hoping my experiment will be fruitful! Ha! Berry bad joke!!!!

The reason why I think that this experiment will work is because the gardening book also told how to start berry bushes using just small clippings, only a few inches long. Basically the idea is to clip the end few inches of a branch, and stick it in the ground!

The tall plant – in the middle – actually has a bit of root mass, already, and I know that this will grow into a berry bush. Surrounding this is a few berry bush sticks. It will be interesting to see what happens. If this works, each stick will grow into a nice size bush, over the next five years, and from my own experience I know that these bushes will produce enough berries to supply several families with fresh berries to eat, for pies (with rhubarb or strawberries) and many jars of jams.

It’s so important for people to realize how necessary it is for families to be able to provide food for themselves. We need to become more and more self-sufficient and this is such an easy way to get started. We don’t need to work harder at our office jobs to make more money to pay for the ever-inflating cost for imported fruits and vegetables. We need to become more reliant on our own abilities to provide for our families some of the basic necessities of life.

As you can see from this photo, the sun had almost finished setting, by the time I finished my work. I love this!!!! My heart fills with so much joy after having lived through such a fulfilling day. This is a feeling I wish everyone could experience… digging, planting, dreaming of our future until it’s too dark to do anything more for that day, knowing that a new adventure awaits us in the morning!!!!

Happy Earth Hour Day! Let’s turn off our TV and computers and get outside to plant something… anything!!!!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

‘Greening’ Ourselves Into Extinction

A few years ago the Ontario government thought that it would be wise to do something to make our societies less wasteful… and then they introduced ‘The Smart Meter’!!! Mine arrived yesterday.

The idea behind ‘The Smart Meter’ is simple – consumers pay more for electricity if they use it during ‘peak’ hours and they pay less when they use it during ‘non-peak’ hours. Consumers are supposed to try to use electricity in more conservative ways to save money and help our environment. This will be very challenging as the ‘peak’ hours are in the mornings and evenings when ‘the masses’ prepare for work and prepare their dinners after work. It’s next to impossible to change a working day that has been established by previous generations, so let’s all get ready to pay more and more!

So… let’s take this back a few steps to see how ‘green’ this new idea is and who is really paying for it.

First – the government needs to plan and do studies. This takes many years and many shrimp cocktail meetings served with the finest imported wines for our high officials. I’d estimate that a couple of million dollars is spent in this process. To pay for this the government raises taxes and takes money out of ‘the masses’ pockets. Now there is less money to pay for my dinner while I’m paying for someone who already makes ten times my salary to eat ten times better than I do. This makes sense!

The government now has a plan and now they need to manufacture enough ‘Smart Meters’ for each and every house in the province… and that’s a lot. So, taxes are raised again and the money is found to manufacture the new meters. Unfortunately, the manufacturing was done in Mexico and no new Canadian jobs were created… except for the powers that negotiated this deal!

In order to produce these 2 ½ (plus) million ‘Smart Meters’ resources are needed. How much sand was used to produce all the glass casings? How much metal was used to produce the meter with all of its intricate parts? How many machines had to be built to build these machines? How much oil was used to manufacture all the plastic components and to run the machinery? How many cardboard boxes were manufactured to put each meter in so that they could be wrapped in rolls of plastic before they were transported across an entire continent? What scares me is the thought of all the air, water and soil pollution that is created during this manufacturing process of these new ‘green’ ‘Smart Meters’???

Thousands and thousands of transport trucks will be (and have been) filling the interstate highways to ship these meters to Canada. This is good for the U.S. trucking companies and gasoline companies. Canada should be very proud that our government is so generous with the money that they take out of our pockets to grease the wheels of economies in other countries.

I was very happy to also receive a thick envelope filled with a sixteen-page booklet and other propaganda material all wrapped in a biodegradable plastic bag so that I could become more informed on how the hydro companies will be taking more of my money. I thought that this was very courteous of them!

I wonder where these 2 ½ (plus) million pamphlets and booklets were manufactured? I hope that our government spent our Canadian dollars in China, this time – seems only fair!

In a nutshell…Our government takes our money and spends it in other countries to create tools that will be used to take more of our money!!!

I can’t wait for our government to move on the ideas of replacing every car on the planet with newer more efficient models, replacing every air conditioner, refrigerator, window, shingle on our roofs, toilets, faucets… Oh wait! That’s already happening!!!

The problems with our world (environmental, social and political) have been created over the last two hundred years as our societies have expanded out of control. We are now at the brink of an uncertain future because of this. Am I the only one who can see that if we go about replacing everything that has ever been built with newer ‘greener’ models that that act in itself will exponentially increase our consumption of the Earth’s resources in 1/100th of the time?!!! Surely, this will spell out untimely doom.

We don’t need new ‘green’ things in our lives to build a better tomorrow… we simply need a more profound understanding of the word ‘need’.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Decidedly Deciduous

In June of 2004, Joanne and I had returned to London, Ontario after a five-year tour of Canada. We moved into our new apartment, found jobs and soon I began looking for ways to continue teaching art to children. During our Canadian travels I had learned – from many different experiences – how to organize art workshops. Each new workshop was better than the previous one and I felt that it was time to advance my ideas to the next level.

I found myself in conversation with two librarians who worked at a local children’s library, and we discussed ideas and soon had a plan laid out for the next year. I would teach my ‘Art For Earth’ programs once a month – on a Saturday afternoon – for the next eight months. The library gave me the space to teach and paint, they paid for all the materials needed (canvases, brushes, etc) and in the end the library would get to keep all of the canvases to display on a permanent basis. I volunteered my time so that we could offer this program for free, to the public.

For many of these classes, I prepared the topic of discussion that would lead to a painting inspired by that subject. On a few occasions I had guest speakers who also volunteered their time to help with these endeavours. On these days I would begin the class with a few opening words before I introduced the guest speaker to the class.

My guest speakers were people who worked for local environmental groups. Because many people have the false illusion that problems with our environment happen in far off places like the Amazon Rainforest or the Australian Desert, it was important for me to show that each location on our planet is facing challenges that are unique to each region. I wanted the children to realize that Southern Ontario has many challenges to overcome as we search for solutions to our own environmental problems.

For this class my guest speaker had come from a local environmental group that deals with the problems facing the Carolinian forest species – which is unique to this part of Ontario.

We learned about many birds and animals that only live in Carolinian forests. We discussed the topics of frogs and insects, as well. The main focus was learning about the different kinds of trees that live in this region of Ontario and how this forest species is threatened because the last ten generations of builders and farmers have chopped most of it down.

Then… it was time to paint!

I spend about five minutes giving instructions to the student painters – to make sure they know what they’re doing – and then we’re off to the races!!!

As time went on, and my classes became increasingly popular, more and more students were signing up. I knew that I could only have four painters working on the canvas painting, at one time, so I had to think of activities for the other students – until it was their time to paint.

I came up with an easy solution. I cut some scrap painting board into small square pieces and simply asked the students to use pencil crayons to create their own drawings based on the topic of that day’s class. I quickly realized that this was a great idea! While the students working on the canvas were learning painting techniques, the other students had this time to be uniquely creative – to learn how to express their own ideas and use their own imagination.

Each class focussed on a different topic and a unique painting was created, inspired by that topic. I also chose to teach different painting techniques in each class, as well. Some of my students had signed up for all of these classes and I didn’t want to teach the same techniques over and over again.

One class focussed on pointillism techniques. Another focussed on learning about ‘the grey scale’. This class was designed to explore the ideas of creating a mosaic – using small individual shapes of different colours that would end up creating a unique image.

I took this idea one step further and we learned how to use negative space – or silhouette rendering – to create images by painting everything but the image!!!! As you can clearly see, this is a painting of the top portion of a tree… but the tree is the only thing that hasn’t been painted!

The students and I always had a great time learning about our world and about art. I can’t look at these old – ha! only six years ago – photos without smiling and thinking of all the things that my students taught me!!!


FYI – These paintings are still being displayed at the Spriet Children’s Library, located on the first floor of London’s Central Library…downtown!!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Mexican Adventure

A few days ago, I received a letter from my friend and yours, Stik! Apparently, without my knowledge, Stik had decided to take a little vacation down in Mexico. He told me that he needed to get away from the Canadian snow for a little while. He is a pretty slim guy and I guess that all the snow shoveling had hurt his back, so he needed a little rest.

Stik told me that he had traveled down to a beautiful sunny resort with two of my friends. He was really concerned when, after waking up one morning, he noticed that his friends were not in their room. Stik thought that they might have been kidnapped so he went to the local police to ask for some help!

The policeman that he spoke to, told Stik not to worry. He said that his friends might have simply gone out for a day tour of the area and if Stik waited around that they would probably return some time soon. So Stik waited and waited…

After almost two hours had passed Stik decided that he was a little hungry and could use a good meal in a local restaurant. Since he had been hangin’ around a telephone booth, he decided to use the phone to call for a rental car.

Stik told me that although he enjoyed driving, he did find it a little difficult to reach the gas petal.

Instead of finding a restaurant, Stik had found a local Tequila Pub. He went inside and soon became friends with Phoenix. They talked… and drank tequila all afternoon. Stik confessed to me that he didn’t find Phoenix all that attractive, but he said, “The more I drank, the prettier she became!” Phoenix was only going to be in town for another day. She was there for the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations that took place a few days before.

Well! Wasn’t Stik relieved and happy when Bill suddenly appeared at the entrance to the pub?!!! Bill told Stik that he was very delighted to find him again after having accidentally split up early that morning. Stik introduced Bill to Phoenix and they all continued enjoying some more tequila!

After a few hours, Stik was in no shape to drive back to the hotel. He thought that it was smart of Bill to give Carolynne a call, to ask her to come and pick them up. Carolynne had spent the day shopping and all day long she was wondering where Stik had got off to for that day. Now she knew!

Phoenix was very sad to see Stik leaving and just before they got into Carolynne’s car she ran into the parking lot with a piece of paper with her phone number on it. Stik told me that he was not going to be starting any kind of long-distance relationship, but he would keep the phone number for a while in case he happened to venture down to Mexico again in the near future.

Thanks Carolynne and Bill, for taking care of my friend Stik during his holidays – he had a great time!!!