Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mmmmm… Maple Syrup and Spring Flowers!!!!

Now that I’m working as The Peacebus driver during the weekdays and a Para-Transit driver on Saturdays, I try to enjoy my one day off as much as possible!

I thrive on sleeping in every Sunday morning and lazing around with Joanne and our family of pets for the rest of the day. Occasionally, we’ll spend the afternoon with Jo’s parents, enjoying a meal that we didn’t have to prepare! Every once in a while I’ll surprise Jo’ with something fun to do…

… like a nice drive into the country to enjoy a pancake breakfast topped with the finest maple syrup around. This was our first time to McLachlan Family Pancake House and I was surprised to find that so many other people had the same great plan. Now if I could only inspire this many people to share in another great plan… like PEACE ON EARTH… then I’d really smile!

As the horse carriage ride pulled away, the rest of us had to suffer through the intoxicating smells that wafted out to the lineup as we waited our turn to be fed.

While we waited, I checked out some of the small displays that told the history of maple syrup production as it dates back hundreds of years. The first makers of this great Canadian product boiled the sap collected from hanging buckets throughout the maple tree stands for hours and hours… maybe even days.

The process evolved into the creation of these small sheds. Larger and shallower containers were built to boil the tree sap in more efficient ways.

Now-a-days the process is even more efficient. Workers no longer have to walk throughout the forests collecting the tree sap that has collected in hanging buckets. Instead plastic lines are connected to the ‘taps’ and the sap travels along joining lines.

The forest now resembles an intricate highway map, with smaller lines feeding into ever-larger ones until it final reaches the small processing plant. I’d hate to be a rabbit being chased by a fox trying to run through this forest! Hmmmm… actually, all of these obstacles just might help the rabbit survive!!

A huge vacuum-like machine is found near the processing plant and this uses suction to pull the sap through the lines.

These operations are very small – this one is a family business – and the impact on the surrounding area is very low. Electricity is used to power a few simple machines that use steam to boil down the tree sap.

As we continued to wait for our breakfast, I noticed a few funny things in the forest. Like this ‘red-neck’ weather vane. A rock is dangling from a leather strap to a long outstretched wooden pole, in the middle of the forest. When the rock becomes wet we know that it is raining. When the rock is dry it is sunny outside. If the rock is moving we know that a strong breeze is blowing. If the rock is bouncing around we know that an earthquake has hit the area and if the rock is gone then we had better run for cover cuz a tornado is passing through!!!

The lineup had been steadily moving and soon we found ourselves nearer the entrance door. Just above our heads I saw these directional signs. These signs are very old and were made way before anyone had ever heard of a GPS, so I’m wondering just how accurate they really are!!!

The inside atmosphere was very rustic. Tables and chairs filled the space just like an old style worker’s camp. The walls were decorated with old farming tools and lots of comical expressions. The owners must laugh a lot!

We purchased our tickets for breakfast and soon our plates were being filled!

Finally! Time to sit down and enjoy some pancakes and some local sausages.


After such a delightfully filling breakfast, Jo’ and I thought that a bumpy horse ride would help us to digest our food. LOL! What beautiful creatures horses are!

The horse ride was shorter than I thought – almost comic! It took about two minutes to reach the end of the small Maple tree forest where the horses turned around and brought us back to the beginning. We had a few laughs during the ride so it was time well spent!

When we arrived home, Joanne went about doing some of her usual Sunday chores. Since the sun was shining and I had so much energy from such a great breakfast I decided to do a little gardening. My first task was to clean up the front flowerbeds. As you can see, there was still snow on the ground, but I didn’t care. I have been waiting for Spring to arrive since the first snowflake fell, last year. This is my favourite season!

My first chore was to hand pick all the small bits of gravel that ended up on the flower garden that traveled there from the driveway during the many times I had to clear the snow away. Koly kept watch to make sure that I did a good job!

While I was doing that I noticed a few Daffodils poking through the leaves that I had raked onto my flower garden last fall. This reminded me of a blog story that I wrote a couple of years ago - http://bitsandpeaces08.blogspot.com/2009/03/listening-to-growing-grass.html. This also gave me an idea that I think I will try in a few of my gardens this year!

I’ve shared ideas about creating a weed free garden before. In those stories I’ve told how I like to plant low-lying flowers around plants that grow a bit taller - I’ll plant low-lying violets around hostas. The violets shade to soil retaining water and they make it very hard for other weeds to grow in this space. Voila! No weeds!

Since even small flowers – such as Daffodils or Tulips – obviously have the strength to poke through this layer of decomposing leaves, my idea will be to leave the leaves in a few gardens to see what happens. The leaves will decompose throughout the summer and while they are doing that they will also help to retain valuable water for my flowers. Weeds will have a hard time growing through the leaves and the ones that do will be weak and easy to pull. This plan will help me to use last year’s autumn leaves in productive ways – instead of taking up space in landfills. Every little thing we can do to keep anything out of a landfill is a good thing.

However, I have also thought that these decomposing leaves may begin to grow fungus while they are decomposing and this will be no good for the flowers. I will have to watch and learn to see what will happen. That is why I will experiment in just a few flower gardens, this year.

For this front yard flower garden I’ve decided to remove the leaves. I have plans to add a few more flowers to this area and the leaves would get in my way, so off they go!

I created this garden last spring, filling it with Daffodils and Day Lilies. I’ve noticed that when I transplant flowers of this nature that they don’t bloom very much during their first season in their new home. Their roots are healing from the transplant. Last year only six Daffodils bloomed and only eight or nine Day Lilies bloomed. I’m very excited to watch this entire garden fill with blooms this year. I’m expected about ten Day Lily blooms per flower this season and this will equal close to two hundred blooms in total! Very impressive!!!

This is a bud from a very pretty flowering plant. Again, I’m expecting about ten times the amount of flowers this year, compared to last. I love gardening cuz I’m always learning. This year I will learn the name of this plant.

A few more minutes of raking and I uncovered several small patches of Tulips. I’m totally amazed at the number of flowers that are growing from each small cluster that I planted last year. I wrote a blog about Tulip transplants last year -http://bitsandpeaces08.blogspot.com/2010/04/so-what-if-im-month-behind-with-my.html - and I mentioned that I transplant the bulbs in small groups of four. So how come my groups of four are now groups of nine???? I love the expansioning prowess of Nature!

This is about as far as I’ve gotten with my garden so far this season. I was excited to do more, the next day, but I woke up to another fifteen centimeters of snow! Since then an arctic low pressure cell has been hovering over the area and the snow hasn’t melted.

I want the snow to go so my flowers will grow!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wouldn’t Change A Thing

A little over a year ago, Joanne and I began thinking about buying our first house. Both of our parents were very happy for us and they all helped by contributing to our investment. Thanks!

For this reason, I thought that I would do something to show my appreciation. Since I’m an artist, I decided to create a very special painting for my parents. The walls of Joanne’s parents are filled with many portraits of Joanne – that I’ve created over the last 15 years – while my parents have just a few of my artworks… so I thought this would balance things out a bit!

The idea of creating a painting for my mom and dad had been in my mind for quite a while, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do…

… until the day when we were sorting through some of the photographs that my grandfather had left for us. I found this old photo taken at my parents’ wedding.

I was struck with a lightening flash of inspiration! What could make a better ‘Thank You’ gift than a portrait from their own wedding?!!!

I spent several hours at my computer, fiddling around with different croppings and other ideas until I had created an interesting image that I would use for my blueprint. Then I had to go to a special print shop to enlarge the image to the size of the canvas that I had bought, so that I could eventually trace the image onto the canvas.

I taped the enlarged image to the back of my artroom door, where I spent the next week simply looking at the image – sorting out in my mind the many things that I needed to sort out before I began the painting.

Let’s take a closer look while I share some of the thoughts that went through my designing mind…

First thoughts led me to create this image in a monochromatic style (one colour). Since I wanted to create an image that reflected time – in a sense – I thought that a ‘gray scale’ painting would be appropriate.

My next easy thought was to get rid of the candle burning in the foreground. It was distracting.

I spent many hours looking at the shapes and forms that are seen behind my dad’s head – intense whites and deep darks. I could have looked at the original photo to see where those shapes had originated from, but instead I let my imagination wander, to see if they would inspire something within me. At first the brilliant white shape shifted into an angel and I toyed around with this idea for some time. Maybe a guardian angel would be appropriate for a wedding portrait. This thought just wasn’t sitting with me.

By the third ‘think’ day I just had to look at the original photo to figure out what had created these forms. Simply, I saw that there was a picture of another couple framed and hanging on the wall behind my dad’s head. This gave me a totally different idea that I toyed around with for the next few days. I remembered an old Pink Floyd album where there was an image in the foreground with a picture in the background. The background picture looked just like the foreground one and it also had another image in its background and so on and so on. Thoughts of ‘history repeating’ were moving through my skull as I thought that it might be interesting to have a painting in the background of my painting with an image of another couple getting married – and in that painting there would be another painting in the background of a third couple getting married! These thoughts made me dizzy!!!

It’s always a lot of fun figuring out the designs for any art creation – even if many of the ideas never get used. I ended up following a sacred rule… KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)! I realized that I didn’t want a painting filled with symbols such as angels and I didn’t want to create an image that distracted from my original intentions – a simple portrait of two people in love cutting their wedding cake.

Next, I had to think about how I would fill the background. Quickly, I decided to create a simple texture using pointillism techniques. Since the left side of the image (the cake and my mom) is very light, I thought that I would create a texture to balance these tones by painting the background with dark colours. Since the right side of the image (my dad) is very dark, I thought that I would surround him with lighter background tones. The spaces in between would shift from the dark extreme to the light.

The final design elements that I had to consider where the almost white outlines and almost black outlines found throughout the image. At first I thought that these two lines did outline the cake, my mom and my dad completely, but I looked more closely and realized that this wasn’t quite so. So, I made it so!!!!! By extending a line here and there I was able to create two continuous lines of white and black that flowed through the entire image.

There! All my ideas where in place and now it was time to begin laying out the design that I would use.

After applying two coats of Gesso to the canvas – and letting them dry – I was ready to begin tracing the image onto the canvas. I taped four sheets of tracing paper together and made sure that they were facing the right way – graphite side down.

When I’m tracing an image I try not to think about what it is that I am tracing, but rather I focus just on the tones of colours and trace around them. This part of the image is my parents’ hands as they are cutting the cake. I didn’t try to trace the image of hands. I traced the groupings of colour tones found within and around their hands.

There! Tracing completed.

I’ve never been one to try to create a realistic representation of the subject that I am painting. If I wanted to do that I would have just enlarged the original photo and left it as is. By breaking down the photo into separate shapes based on colour tones I end up creating a ‘colour by number’ scheme and this give me a final image that is a bit more abstract. The colours and textures that I use create ‘moods’ and this is what art is all about, for me.

Now, for the paints…

This is my painting box, filled with small jugs of paints and empty mixing containers.

I mentioned that I wanted to create this painting in a ‘gray scale’ fashion, so many of you may think that I would simply use black and white paints. Rarely have I ever created a black colour using just black. And never do I use less than three pigments to create any colour for a painting.

The red and yellow will mix to create an orange colour. By adding a small amount of blue and a hint of purple I am able to push the orange into an umber or rust tone. My parents got married in the late autumn and rusty oranges are found during this season.

Then, I added lots of black to the orange to create the darkest tone for this painting. To this black I added a bit of white. To this colour I added a bit more white and so on until a complete gray scale had been created.

Many times, I will paint the border edge of the canvas first. This helps me to make sure that my colours are ‘good to go’ and it helps to get me in the painting frame of mind. I thought that I would try something new by adding three different colours onto my paintbrush before I applied the paint to the canvas.

Instead of painting a few strokes with the black and then adding strokes of the orange and then adding strokes of the gray colour, I dipped my brush into all three of these colours and then applied my strokes to the canvas. As you can see the colours blended themselves once applied to the canvas. I thought that this looked pretty cool!

Okay! The canvas has the design laid out, the paints have been mixed and I’ve completed my experiments and testing on the canvas border. Now it’s time to really get painting. To make this experience enjoyable for me, I always love to listen to some of my favourite bands…

Today, I thought that I would spend the afternoon listening to some of my vinyl records. I’ve got Cat Stevens and The Who from the 60’s and 70’s and Love & Rockets and The Alarm from the mid to late 80’s.

But first I’m going to slip on this Rolling Stones classic. Time to ROCK’N’ROLL!


Originally, my intention was to use only gray scale tones of my rusty/orangey/black for the entire painting. As soon as I started experimenting on the canvas border, these thoughts changed just slightly. I really, really loved the way the original rusty orange colour blended with the other gray scale colours and so I decided to use this colour some more on the actual painting… but just in the background. The rest of the design would still continue to be painted using only gray scale tones. It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but the occasional bits of the rusty orange colour really make the background sparkle with emotion.

The rest of the painting – the cake, my mom and dad – will be filled in with solid gray scale colours. I decided to use a texture that I’ve used many times in the past. I call it ‘Contour Painting’. I start by outlining a shape with the paint selected for that shape. Once this has dried, I paint another ‘row’ following the first outline. Eventually the shape gets smaller and smaller until it is filled in. It kinda looks like a topography map – or contour map – once it has been completed.

At the end of a very long and tiring day, I had managed to complete the entire background and most of the wedding cake. It was time to crack open a couple of cold beers, listen to some more music, sit back and spend time preparing my imagination for the most important phase of this artwork.

Since I had spent most of the afternoon, listening to music from my youth, I thought I’d bring myself into the new century and play a random selection of some of my newer CDs. I had some U2, Thornley, Mike Peters and Tegan & Sara ready to go!


It took me another five days to complete the wedding portrait for my parents – between shifts at work – and I had a great time! The only time I was really worried was when it was time to paint the faces. This always makes me nervous. I mentioned that during the designing phase I focus on tones of light and shadow, and not what the image really is. Faces always seem to do funny things when I follow these rules. Funny but good things!

I never actually try to paint ‘a nose’ or ‘the eyes’ or ‘the mouth’. The abstract way in which I break down the image still kinda baffles me, but it does seem to work.

There! Finally!! Done!!!

I think the neatest things in this painting are the white and black lines that flow throughout the entire design. Everything is outlined with these two colours. The outline begins near the bottom left – by the cake, then it sweeps over the cake to follow around the hands, just catching a bit of the wedding dress before it travels up my mom’s right arm and around her wedding veil. The line continues by becoming a part of my dad’s hair and then it circles his ear, traces his jaw and nose before joining up with his jacket until it traces the table and then exits at the lower right side of the canvas.

I’ve interpreted these two symbols in a fun way. The white outline is for my mom, the female, the guiding light. The black outline is for my dad, the man, the one who needs guiding – ha! ha! They are on a journey together but sometimes they become momentarily separated (the white and black line are not always side by side) as each line (person) journeys through life. The white outline is more efficient as it takes the most direct route through the painting. The black outline tends to go for small adventures and gets easily distracted but eventually finds its path again.

Hmmmmm…. that story sounds a bit more like my life with Joanne!!!!!

It took me a few more days until I had the title for this painting. I had thought of some obvious titles like “The Wedding”, “Autumn Love”, etc. and then suddenly “Wouldn’t Change A Thing” popped into my head. This title refers to a few things. We all go through so many experiences in life that shape us into who we are. Some experiences may not be as pleasant as others’ but it’s always healthy to reflect on these changes with no regrets – to have accepted the consequences of all of our decisions.

When I told Joanne the title that I had chosen, she laughed cuz she knew that my mom might have something to say about that – I’m always reminded of my years as a crazy teenager and how I drove my parents a little nuts! I laughed even harder and said, “Yeah, I know, that’s what makes the title so perfect. If I had been a better behaved teenager, stuck with one of my many decent jobs and had not become the free spirited ‘Earth Lover’ travelling around the country with just a few pennies in my pocket learning about art and life then this painting would never have been created.”

This has been a rather wordy blog – even for me – but I really want people to have a deeper appreciation for all the things that go into an art creation. Art isn’t just the final image that people see. Art isn’t simply a symbol of reflection. Art is a unique and special moment of inspiration catapulted through time, surrounded by life and evoked through labor with love.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Peacbus Is Back!!

It was February 13 and I had just finished getting myself organized for The Peacebus’ return. The sun was soon to set and so I thought I would take Koly out back to take a look.

WOW!!! The sky was filled with the most brilliant pinks of clouds and deepest blues and violets of the atmosphere. Although this photo is nice, it doesn’t come anywhere near the brilliance that I saw.

“Red sky at night… Sailors delight!” I took this as a wonderful sign.

When I woke up the next morning I had a smile on my face. I knew that my first run of the day would have me seeing many faces that I had come to know last June.

When these students knew me, they had known the ‘summer’ Mr. Jim. I had very short hair and I wore shorts and T-shirts. Since they hadn’t seen me in over six months I was wondering if anyone would recognize the ‘winter’ Mr. Jim – with my toque, and longer hair (helps keep my ears warm) and big jacket.

I welcomed everyone in my usual Mr. Jim fashion, “Hey! Hey! Bonjour mes amis!!! Hello! Hello! Good morning!”

After I had picked up over half of the students I could hear a little whispering, “Is that Mr. Jim?”, “Hey this is the Peacebus!” One of the students very boldly spoke, “Mr. Jim??????” and I answered, “Oui! C’est moi.” “Are you gonna be our bus driver now?” “Oui! C’est ca!” and a small eruption of cheers filled my ears.

The students who I met a little later – on my second run – were just as nice, with big smiles and friendly hellos. That afternoon, one girl in grade three came to me with a lollipop in her hand and as she gave it to me she thanked me for being their new busdriver.

Joanne noticed a huge difference in me, as I walked in the door that evening. “You had fun?” “Just the most fun ever!” I replied.

The next morning a student gave me a Valentine’s heart decoration for the bus. She was totally delighted on the home trip, when she saw that I had put her heart art on the front window of the bus.

Over the next few days, many more wonderful window decorations were created for the bus. All of this enthusiasm and I hadn’t said anything to the students about giving me art or decorations, they were just doing it!

One morning, two young sisters were getting on the bus and both of them had window decorations to give to me. Image my surprise when, one of the girls said, “Mr. Jim, this artwork is from me and this one is from my mom!”

It was the third afternoon and the first few rows of students were a bit tired so they were a bit quieter than normal. Then the silence was broken with a tiny voice that filled the air, “Mr. Jim, why do you like peace so much?”

I was surprised by the sudden question and I paused to think. Several students sat up to hear what I would say when an even smaller voice pierced our space, growing with much enthusiasm, “Cuz peace means a happy and healthy world.” A huge smile crossed over my face.

“Yeah! Ditto! What she said,” was my final response and we all laughed.

So, I guess that it would be quite redundant if I was to say that I love the fact that The Peacebus is back!

As well as my regular runs, I am kept quite busy with other transportation needs for school students. Sometimes just one class will need a lift to and from a local aquatic centre for gym class. Other times seven buses will be needed to transport the entire student population to some sort of community event.

I love when the students are hurrying onto the bus and suddenly they notice the art-covered roof of the bus. They slow right down to look at all the images and I always hear, “Hey look at that one!”, “Check this one out. Too Cool!”

It’s been a lot of fun immersing myself into this lifestyle again. To be a small part in so many young lives. To have so many young lives inspiring and creating me.

I can’t wait to see what happens next!