Category Archives: inspiration

Gallery-2557: Personal Drawing and Collage

Here’s a link to a new gallery on this site – a collection of personal drawings or collages that I’ve done since 1998.

If I draw, it can be immediate, messy and expressive, like the manic scribbles of an angry child.
That feels good.

However, collage from found commercial images is my favourite method.
I like the idea of co-opting some art director’s vision, shredding it to bits, and putting the elements into a completely new context that suits my needs. I’ve learned that using “found images” evokes sub-conscious themes; archetypal symbols, dreams, or metaphors that are sitting underneath my skin, waiting to be re-used on paper. Some of the themes they evoke are inherent in the image, so really, at some level, I’m tapping into the collective unconscious that I share with that original art director or photographer. They just didn’t give me permission to so that, but so what…

I have (so far) resisted using digital tech for my personal images, sticking with scissors, tape, glue, pen, pencil, and crayon. I have a large plastic storage box full of odd magazine pages, and piles of ripped out, cut up elements: hands, arms, faces, spines, textures, dark silhouettes, and various angels and monsters. Fashion magazines often provide a rich storehouse of raw material for my surrealist visual “riffs”.

As I cut out bits of images and move them around on a page, a foreground/background theme, setting, or figure may begin to emerge. Rarely have I ever sat down with a particular idea in mind beforehand – it comes from the process of exploration, play and chance.

Creating a collage feels most personal when working by hand, directly applying paper to paper, tacking bits in place with tape, and then gluing them down into final locations. It feels like a little stage.

The weight of a Dragon; the position of a Rock.

Today, I enjoyed a visit and stimulating discussion with one of my earliest art school teachers, John Wertschek, currently an Associate Professor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.

I suppose that many of John’s former Foundation students would probably agree that he has, in one way or another, challenged them to imagine the previously unimaginable. Certainly this was the case for me in John’s “3D” course, back in 1985 at what was then called the Emily Carr College of Art + Design.

I remember “The Rock Game”, an “exercise” (for lack of a better word) situated in a low-lit room on a table that was surrounded by mostly high-school-aged young people. On the table was a collection of rocks of varying sizes, which each participant would take turns moving or re-orienting. That was the whole thing. The Rock Game could be called a “no rules” game, but it required reaction, space, material and personal decisions, so although “rule-less” it might have been,  it was not without structure or outcomes. Very zen, or whatever. 🙂

As an eager 19 year old who wanted to experience many new things, my take-away from that simple little game was “pay attention, feel, respond, and act for yourself”.

John liked to use words – their meanings, origins, sounds and similarities – to illustrate and challenge patterns of  thought. Sometimes the challenge was a visualization and/or a creative thought experiment, such as “build a device with which to weigh a dragon”.

I also took away one deceptively simple piece of practical advice from John: “The two most important books you’ll ever use in your life are the Yellow Pages and the Dictionary.” Something in that advice told me that the door was open for me to go through, the resources and information out there if I looked for them, and that I should give myself permission to act when I needed to. (What the hell was I waiting around for anyway?)

So today, my dictionary and my business directories are Wikipedia  and Google, and if I still have rocks to move around, they’re metaphysical or more often than not, composed of pixels. But the personal process contains a similar proposition: make a move, and do it with intention and integrity.

Today, John told me that back when I was doing my Foundation year, about 50-60% of the students were fresh out of high school, and that now, the number is more like 85%.

For a young generation of digital natives, acclimatized to immediate, packaged information and real-time access to a thousand opinions and personas, it makes me think  that the kind of face-first, open-ended explorations which can cause you to question, reflect and think for yourself are now more important than ever.

Related Links:

Learning, without end…

I get glimpses of learning happening all around me. Sometimes I’m part of the process, tutoring, advising or coaching someone through a new concept. Sometimes I’m just observing how others teach and learn, or taking an opportunity to observe the communities that educators create in order to make learning happen for others.

Tutoring Grownups

In my day job, I often work with instructors who are specialists in their own subject areas, but who must redevelop their courses as online learning experiences. They have a specific set of project goals in mind (and usually a tight schedule), and need one-to-one guidance and hands-on experience in ecourse authoring, web design or multimedia. Some teachers are good at organizing information for others, and guiding their own students through experiences that help them to learn, but these same folks can struggle when they themselves are in the student’s position, faced with trying to learn something new and unfamiliar. Each person I assist is unique in their personality and preferences, yet they each experience similar moments of uncertainty, curiosity, revelation and inspiration, as they progress through the same cycle from mystery to clarity.

My challenge as their facilitator is to understand their needs and perceptions, find common language so we can communicate, find common goals so we can work together, and encourage confidence and pleasure from the process. It’s a personal thing, and if I didn’t really care about the people and the quality of the process, I would suck at my job. I do not suck at my job. I love my job.

Learning Environments for At-risk Youth

A colleague at my day job works at a youth resource centre in my neighbourhood. This centre provides tutoring, social services and personal support to youths who have struggled in the public education system, or at at risk in some way.

Visiting the centre for a tour one day, I saw a classroom where students complete their secondary school education, a work area where art and media projects are done, a computer lab, a community kitchen, and facilities for taking care of the basics of daily life, like showering, sleeping or getting medical assistance from a nurse.

Some of the kids in this centre struggle with addiction (their own or in their family) or with physical, emotional or mental challenges that mainstream services have not been able to adequately address.

In this youth centre, the lessons taken are life lessons more than school lessons. The social challenges, family breakups, and toughness of life for some low-income youth can affect everything about them. Their sense of value and worth is the very foundation upon which everything else they will do or will become will be built. So, in this centre there’s a strong sense of community, almost to the level of an extended family. It reinforces the feeling that the youth has value, is loved, and is connected to themselves, to their peers, and to their neighbourhood and culture.

People who feel alone, like outcasts, face a much more difficult road in life, and are less likely to succeed. People who feel valued and included will use that as fuel to propel them to the next stage of their life.

Learning the Primary Lessons

Community, personal worth and constructive social values are the basis of primary education, as I’ve learned from my wife’s example. She’s been a primary teacher for many years. At the beginning of a new school year, I’ll help her to set up her classroom and will find myself reintroduced to the miniature-sized world of little children, little hands, tiny chairs, and primary colours.

In the primary world, the smallest child learns how to socialize and share with others, how to communicate and cooperate, and how to negotiate and absorb the world around them.

The primary school environment is infused with simple colours, music and meter (chants and sing-songs), storytelling, and essential morals and values. Nowhere in a primary school will you see messages of cynicism, negativity, or despair on the walls. The tone is hopeful, positive and cooperative – often loving. Elementary school becomes a safe harbour, where the ideals of compassion, ethics and morals are held as the standard for young children.

If only the rest of the community consistently held those same values. How many of these little kids face the kinds of social challenges at home that could one day send them to a youth resource centre when they hit their teens? How many of the little kids live in rich, privileged families that don’t sympathize or understand the challenges their classmates may face?

At some point, each of us is a student who needs support and guidance to help us reach our goals and feel valued.

Explorations in Drawing: Old-school and Digital Tools

Over the years, I’ve always had a pile of half-empty sketchbooks to work in, with various types of paper, sizes or formats.

Over the years, whenever I needed to, I’d pull a sketchbook out from my pile, and draw in it for a page or two to help solidify an idea, play with a new pen or less often, sketch some person, scene or object in front of me. Sometimes I’ve kept a sketchbook in my desk at work, to help me work out a visual design idea.

But in recent years, I haven’t sketched nearly as much as I used to back when I was an art student, or back in the early days of my career.

Recently, I’ve felt the need, and have begun sketching again.  This time though, in addition to pens and pencils, my sketching media include smart phones and tablet computers.

Check out this gallery of sketches in traditional and digital media:

Click image to view this gallery:
Drawing Explorations Gallery

 Media Used

  • Brush-pen (ie. pen and ink) on paper
  • Smart phones (Treo 650 and Blackberry Torch)
  • Blackberry Playbook tablet

 

Rebuilding Foundations: 2012 Colour Studies – Unit 6

Unit 6: Colour in Nature

Continuing with my self-directed study of colour by following the telecourse Colour: An Introduction.

(Check out all my colour assignments here.)

Here are my notes from completing this unit of study:

Click image to view the gallery for this unit:
Colour Studies 2012, Unit 6

The goals for this unit of study were:

  • analyzing colour and form in natural objects

My experiences while completing the assignments:

  • I haven’t drawn anything by hand in a long time. When it came to analyzing the structure of a flower for this unit ( picked a sunflower), I decided that I had to abandon my Blackberry Playbook tablet and use good ol’ pencil and pen in my sketchbook.
  • The Playbook tablet remained an excellent tool for recording the colours that I saw on the skin of yellow and red peppers as I turned them over in my hand. I painted the colours schematically (as mostly vertical strokes) using a fairly large brush, as if the surface of the pepper were rolled out flat like a map of the earth, instead of rendering the pepper’s surface volumetrically.
  • I learned a lot from this unit, appreciating the interior structure of the flower, seeing how small seed and filament-like structures extend out into the myriad of pollen-bearing pieces, densely packed into a spiral form in the near-black centre of the flower. Amazing.
  • I felt an empathetic and emotional response to the flower itself: the visual energy I felt from the beautiful, bright ranges of rich yellows, in it’s pollen aroma, and in the realization of its inner life.

Rebuilding Foundations: Colour Studies, Redux

Unit 1: Colour Wheel - Subtractive Primaries and Secondaries
Unit 1: Colour Wheel - Subtractive Primaries and Secondaries

Recently, I’ve been walking myself through a telecourse called “Colour – An Introduction”. This course intends to help anyone effectively use and appreciate colour in many different capacities. It was designed to be for a general audience, with no specific art or design training or prerequisite experience.

Originally co-produced by BC’s Knowledge Network and The Open Learning Agency around 1987, this award-winning telecourse was comprised of nine video programs and a printed course manual. It was first aired on BC’s Knowledge Network and for years was broadcast and offered as a Foundation-level colour course to students across Canada and internationally.

In the mid-2000s, after the OLA’s catalog was taken over by Thompson Rivers University, Colour and its companion Foundation telecourses continued to be offered offline via DVD.

Foundations of Colour

As a student at Emily Carr College in the 80s, I studied under (and later worked for) Master Art Educator Dr. Tom Hudson. At that time, Tom and ECCAD’s Outreach department had made it their mission to make ECCAD’s first year Foundation curriculum available to the general public through distance learning. Colour was the first of four series that Tom wrote and hosted.

Although I’d never formally taken Tom’s Colour telecourse, I was able to get a spare draft copy of its manual, and I religiously taped the video episodes off of TV. Although I’d already taken Foundation Colour classes, the theory and perception of colour continued to fascinate me. I read and bought books on colour and perception, and learned a great deal by studying under Tom’s expert personal guidance. To me, Tom’s manual for “Colour: An Introduction” was a must-have item for my growing library, and an indispensable artifact of Tom’s studio-based teaching methodology.

Computer as Tools for Learning About Colour

I was one of two second year fine arts students selected by Tom to be his “computer students”. Where Tom’s other students used charcoal, ink, graphite or paint to explore visual language in his summer master classes, we worked almost exclusively on Amiga personal computers.

Back in the 1980s, desktop computer technology was still relatively in its infancy, with different platforms offering different capabilities of colour range and spatial resolution. My earliest explorations in computer-based visual literacy research were using a Commodore 64 running Koala Painter and a KoalaPad drawing tablet and stylus. Months later, Emily Carr College acquired dozens of Amiga personal computers, and I continued using the Amiga platform for visual literacy research and animation development over the next four years.

This Round of Research

In my new series of personal research in colour, I’m using a Blackberry Playbook tablet and sometimes, Adobe Photoshop on a Windows PC.

I guess the moral of this story is:

Once a computer-based visual literacy student, always a computer-based visual literacy student. 🙂

Inspired by Teachers, Symbolic or Real

What Makes a Teacher Special?

Who are (or have been) the most important teachers in your life?

Any category, any reason. Think about it.

Growing Up Years

Growing up through to my teens, my heroes were the adults I admired, and the school teachers from whom I took my lessons, both directly and indirectly.

My Dad

My Dad taught me about fairness, courage, cowardice, respect, and how to work hard for a living.

Dad was both a positive and a negative role model, and I’ve already written about him at length in numerous articles. By his living example, Dad taught me a lot about regret, fear, and the dangers of not dealing with your demons. Dad was suspicious of religions. His faith rested in science, many of the values of the modern world, and his simple series of edicts: Respect the rights of others. Do it right or don’t do it at all. Stand up to bullies.

Maybe nobody else holds a more central position in my psyche than my Dad. Young lessons at his side were set early, and some of them took a long time to reverse. Fathers raise you right in the fray of life. Their hands tend to get dirty.

Directly and indirectly, my Dad taught me how to survive.

My Grandfather

The next role model/teacher would have to be my Mother’s father. We called him Poppy. He led by example, was a gentleman, and he bore his losses and burdens with dignity and grace. I still hold my head up high thinking of Poppy.

Poppy also painted landscapes in oil (taught himself, I think), and I found it interesting to look through his Walter Foster art books and see how perspective worked or how to model a form with cross hatching.

Grandparents tend to have more distance from the centre of your life, giving them a wider perspective and often, a wiser view.

My Art Teachers

Tom Hudson

Dr. Tom Hudson was an internationally-recognized Master Art Educator, and a key proponent of the revolution of the Basic Design programs in the UK in the 1960s. Tom and his colleagues adapted modernist values from Herbert Read and from the practical patterns and programs of the Bauhaus, trying to transform and update art and design teaching across the UK. [View the VADS UK Basic Design online collection.]

As Dean of Education at Emily Carr College of Art + Design (ECCAD), Tom was directly responsible for the structure and evolution of the Foundation (1st year) program that I waded into in 1985. I was so inspired by his passionate lectures on Colour, Drawing, and Modern Art that I soon volunteered for his summer, out-of-class art projects. I remained a student and assistant of his at ECCAD until 1991.

Tom Hudson has been described as pursuing his goals with “missionary zeal”. That was very true of him. He remains the central figure in my training as a visual designer. I still hear his voice when I’m hacking away at some creative challenge, and I continue to find inspiration from his early lessons.  Through his art and design tutelage, Tom taught me how to see and understand the big, revolutionary changes in art and design history, how to relate them to current movements and ideas, and how to pursue my own explorations.

Neil Prinsen

Mr. Prinsen was my art class and home room teacher throughout high school in East Vancouver.

He was a practical, direct man with a friendly face and a confident yet sympathetic nature. He had some idea of the challenges my sister and I faced in our difficult home life, and he let me know that he cared.

He was a talented painter who gave me my first lectures in painting and art history. Art was always my favourite subject in school, and in Mr. Prinsen’s class, I learned about the Impressionists, I fell in love with Claude Monet, and I frantically tried to emulate Seraut using felt pens.

In our senior year, Mr. Prinsen gave me and a few of my classmates art books describing the artists and genres that we each had responded to the most. He gave me a book about the Impressionists, and I devoured it and studied it over and over.

Mr. Prinsen was passionate about art – he loved it and he truly understood it. He was a great high-school teacher and a nice man.

My Grown-up Years

My CEOs and Bosses

For years after leaving the art college, I worked for a succession of small private high-tech companies. Most often, I was the resident graphic designer, documentation writer, and creative dog’s body.

Running a small company and taking responsibility for your employees is stressful, and I don’t think I could do it. From my best bosses and coworkers, I’ve seen warmth, humane behavior, responsiveness, compassionate support, and well-reasoned decision making. All bosses should exhibit these values. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Unfortunately, on the other side of the scale I’ve also witnessed yelling, nepotism, loud profanities, lying, massive egos, laziness, weasely sucking up, supervisors with manic eyes and little flecks of foam in their mouth, and dumbfuckery of all sorts.

I’m convinced that some of the people who exhibited the worst of these behaviours were borderline sociopaths. Often they were in Sales. Others were just Bullies, and made the Worst. Bosses. Ever.

Overall, the best and worst of my bosses taught me to trust my own judgement and to maintain my integrity.

Favourite Teachers Whom I’ll Never Meet

These are writers and teachers whose work I’ve really enjoyed and whose voices really reached me. Their expertise cuts across a vast range of subjects, but in each case, their voices have resonated with me very strongly.

The Dalai Lama

His Holiness became an inspiration to me years ago, when I began reading his books. Two of his best books, IMHO, are “The Art of Happiness” and “The Universe in a Single Atom”.

My wife and I saw The Dalai Lama speak at GM Place, when he came to our hometown of Vancouver. The crowds were massive, but very joyful.

The international importance of this man’s living example of loving kindness and compassion simply cannot be overstated.

Albert Einstein

After reading Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time”,  I decided that I needed more background in physics, so I bought a small book called “Relativity: The Special and General Theory“, written by Albert Einstein.

It turns out that Albert Einstein is an excellent explainer of his own theories. I followed his detailed yet easy to comprehend discourse from his initial “man on a train/observer on an embankment” examples, straight through to the Lorenz Transformation. I even limped through the calculus far enough to see the final derivation of his famous equation e=MC2. I had to read this book twice, but it was all there, well said.

I grew so fond of hearing his voice in my head as I progressed through that book, that I began to warmly regard Albert Einstein as my “Uncle Albert”. Even more than 50 years after his death, I believe that he still has a vast multitude of adoring adopted nephews and nieces who feel the same as me.

Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong’s book “History of God” did more to help me consolidate my thoughts and feelings about religion and spirituality than almost any other author, with one exception (above).

Her little book on the life of the Buddha was a thing of beauty, at once both humanizing and elevating the character of Siddharta Gautama for me.

In “History of God”, her description of “The Axial Age”, covering the major personalities and eras around which all three monotheistic religions rotated, has stuck with me.

Groucho Marx

Another adopted Uncle – a Great Uncle, I think. He’s a complex and contradictory figure: bitter yet sweet, biting yet gentle. I picture an older Groucho, way past his prime, skewering some rich upper crust fat cat at a dinner party, and then going home to strum his guitar and bang out an angry letter to the editor about how his own money is subject to too much income tax.

I love watching videos of Groucho on the Dick Cavett show, showing his intelligence and his quieter, more serious side. Stefen Kanfer wrote an amazing biography of Groucho, but best of all, I love dear old Groucho’s own private little autobiography of sorts, called “Memoirs Of A Mangy Lover“. Let him tell his own story in his own surprisingly self-deprecating style, I say. I can read between the lines, hearing his regrets on the one hand, while he tries to get me to laugh with the other.

I am a perpetual student.

This site is an experiment. It’s my attempt to document the wide array of personal interests, curiosities, and self-directed learning efforts which continually seem to occupy my off-hours.

My interests tend to vary – I tend to hop around a lot conceptually, in terms of what motivates or excites me.

I go through phases; minor obsessions with very different topics or areas of interest. Like the avante-garde pop of Devo, or the social commentary of Popeye and Groucho Marx, or the design philosophies of the Bauhaus, or Einstein’s Relativity. I have always tended to hop laterally from subject to subject, and then try to integrate and assimilate that new information into what I already know.

I’m mostly a visual learner. I need to see and make images to help me understand. So, aside from the chronological, bloggy aspect of this site, I thought that it would good to have an image portfolio to show any research that I do, or to show illustrations that helped me to get to where I wanted to go.

Somewhere there are connections – common threads – between all these various areas of interest. Finding those threads and tugging on them is part of the joy of discovery.

I am a life-long learner, and probably, a perpetual student.