The Sublime

The other day, I had a view of the most incredible clouds at sunset. It was a huge sweeping expanse of dark greys with bright oranges and pinks reflecting upon them against a pastel sky. Even the mountains looked small in comparison. It was incredible. It was sublime. There was no better word I could think of to describe what I was viewing from my castle in the sky (a.k.a. the apartment).

Seeing those incredible clouds and thinking about the sublime transported me back to my university art history lectures. I decided it would be fun to go back through my old notes to refresh my memory…

The sublime is a concept, state or thing of high spiritual, moral, intellectual or artistic value. In art, it is an awe-inspiring image that creates terror or a feeling of insecurity. It’s the sense of something well beyond your control when you are confronted by an image or a view of nature and its vastness; it’s meant to inspire a feeling of being overwhelmed and/or vulnerable. The romantics explored these emotions in their art and wanted to share the sublime with their viewers and they believed that it was good experience these emotions.

Here is the first artist that comes to my mind when I think of the sublime:

In these images, the fog and mists create mystery and a sense of limitless space, making the viewers experience no security and ambiguity. Where is the horizon? Visibility is limited and sound would be skewed. The fog could be seen as a metaphor for an unclear future. The figure in Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is the focus, surveying a murky landscape while at the same time, insignificant the grand landscape he is surveying.

Nebel especially, Friedrich created an image that is meant to transcend rational structure and inspire a search for narrative. For me, these images create a sense of smallness in the world. It’s also disconcerting to try and see what is right in front of you. He is enveloping the viewer and the image in fog.

In other images of the sublime, nature is threatening. They don’t celebrate the power of the individual but rather express man’s vulnerability; for example, Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps by Joseph Mallard William Turner. The storm in this painting is of cataclysmic proportions and threaten to destroy the figures.

Another, more subtle depiction of the sublime can be found in Antoine-Jean Gros’ Napoleon Bonaparte visiting the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa. Here the sublime is expressed through the contrast in colours, the horror of disease and the mystery of the Far East. It invokes a sublime response to neoclassical subject matter. Here, neoclassicism comes together with romanticism through subject and reaction.


Art history really is fascinating.



The Honey Glass Dip Pen

I’ve got a new ink tool to add to my collection, and this is the most pretty and delicate of them all. This past Christmas, my parents gifted me a Honey Glass Dip Pen.

It’s a gorgeous piece of art in and of itself. Its delicate nib is a piece of spiralled blown glass that holds the ink in the grooves. No matter the angle you write at, the grooves are all around allowing the ink to flow easily and smoothly. I was so surprised how easy it was to write with and how long one dip lasted. Perhaps this was my imagination but I also felt like it made my handwriting look nicer!

Okay, maybe it doesn’t make my handwriting nicer but that thought is just proof of how I romanticized what a beautiful pen can do.


Dealing with Numbers

Followers. Fans. Subscribers. Likes. Page views. Visitors. You name it – it’s a game of numbers in the online world and they can be absolutely infuriating.

It’s really quite the phenomenon how those digits can cause people to lose sight of what the whole purpose of social media originally was. For many, the numbers have becoming intertwined with self worth or talent. It’s a popularity contest for some, while for others, a validation of skill. Social media has evolved but perhaps the way we think of it hasn’t quite caught up with its main purpose is now for many people. At least, sometimes I forget and focus on those numbers.

To me, social media has two sides: it is a means of staying connected to friends and family as well as a business and branding tool. As a creative, I like to see it as a platform to share my work and I put a lot of thought into the things I post. Here’s the thing, and perhaps this will sound familiar: as those numbers yo-yo up and down, the negative thoughts creep in. Before I realize it, my focus is closely directed at those numbers and what I can do to affect them positively. It’s a slippery slope into passionless posts that carry no personality or meaning. On the flip side, one can pour so much heart into their content and get disheartened by numbers and lose sight of their amazing content. It can become a dark cloud that creeps into your mind and overshadows the beauty you wish to share.

Here’s something I was recently told when I was letting those numbers bounce inside my head a little more than they deserve:

Numbers aren’t everything. Social media is just one communication channel. It’s a vehicle to get your message out: not the message itself. If you only focus on the numbers, you’re missing the entire point of your art and your craft.

Social media is the vehicle to get your message out. Social media is not the message itself. The numbers you see are not your message and they aren’t mine.

Don’t let the numbers take over and kill your creativity. Do the work, share it and appreciate those who genuinely appreciate it. Those are the people, not numbers, that matter.

The Art of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Art of Walt Disney Animation Studios: Movement by Nature

When I was in Paris last fall, I decided to explore the city in a different way this time. I chose to wander and walk with no real aim. While many visitors scramble to the Louvre (worth it of course) to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, I decided to go to Art Ludique Le Musée.

Nerd alert: I went there for a Disney art exhibition. Yes, that’s right. I was in Paris, la ville de l’amour, and I wanted to go to a Disney art show. It was chilly – more than chilly – with a frigid fall breeze blowing and I nearly wiped out on the slippery sidewalk in my hurry to get out of the cold and into the magical world of Disney artists. Continue reading “The Art of Walt Disney Animation Studios”

Painting Mushrooms

One day, with a blank sketchbook page staring at me, I decided that I was going to paint mushrooms. I had a film on in the background that prominently featured food as the lead characters were chefs and I found myself painting a black truffle.

I meticulously painted in order to create the texture of the mushroom and I like to think I succeeded. It was only when I was done that I looked at it on my large mostly blank page and thought, without any context, it looks a little bit like a turd. And thus began my little chart of edible mushrooms.

I was surprised there were actually colourful and pretty edible mushrooms to paint! You learn something new everyday…

Struggles with Gouache

Gouache. Guh-wash. Goo-wash? Gwash? 

Even the name is a weird one. When I first saw it I never dared say it for fear of saying wrong. I patiently waited until I heard someone else say it first. So now that we’ve figured out how to even say it, what is it?

Simply, gouache can be likened to an opaque watercolour. Whatever that means. It’s a watermedia that is used for creating opaque methods of painting. It’s made from pigment, water and a binding agent like dexterin or gum arabic. It’s actually quite similar to watercolour in composition. Also like watercolour, gouache can be reactivated with water and the paint can be infused into the paper support. Then it gets all confusing because it can also act similarly to acrylic paint in that it can create a superficial layer on your support.*

And that dual nature of gouache is where my struggles begin. When I look at artwork created by gouache, I fall in love with the beautiful opaque, matte artworks that blend seamlessly into the paper and within its own designs. But when I attempt it myself, I can’t seem to find that happy middle between too much water and not enough mixed with my paint. Without water, gouache acts like an acrylic, thick and textured. With too much water, it looks like a strange dull version of watercolours with the paper showing through. It also dries to a different colour value.

To make it even more confusing, there are two types of gouache: the traditional version tempered with gum arabic and the newer acrylic gouache, which contains acrylic binding agents. Acrylic gouache behaves like a regular gouache except that it can’t be reactivated with water after it has dried.

Take a look at gouache versus watercolour:

With the right ratio of paint to water, gouache can make a beautiful opaque colour on the paper. Right below that, the darkest watercolour block still has a translucent quality. Clearly, I know how to work with watercolour better than gouache but it still shows how these two mediums are similar and yet different. (That was the goal anyways.)

Currently I am working with the traditional kind of gouache made by Winsor & Newton and I’ve got six colours exactly: the primaries, a green, black and white. This very limited selection of colours (thanks to a limited budget and picky painter’s taste) forced me to practice my colour mixing again. But practice makes perfect! I refuse to be beat by a paint!

*Just in case, “support” in this instance refers to whatever it is you are painting on, be it paper, canvas, wood, etc.

Creative Compendium 12.02.17

Big things often have small beginnings.” -Freelance Wisdom

Welcome back to this week’s creative compendium! I’m planted firmly on the couch as I reflect and write about this past week. (I’m pretty much ready to grow roots here.) I’m going to keep this intro short, inspired as I am by that quote up there. Big things DO come from small beginnings.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Lisa Congdon? Her story is one that really inspires me. I love seeing her success in illustration even though she didn’t start straight out of high school. That is an encouraging thought. I just read her post On Burnout and the Slow Rebuilding. Although I can’t yet relate to that volume of work, I appreciate that she is real about the cons of being a creative professional. It’s good to know all sides of the dream.

In an effort to try something new, I decided to experiment with digital painting. While I missed holding a pencil and paintbrush, I’m actually pretty pleased with the result! Perhaps in time I’ll find the perfect blend between traditional and digital mediums.


Why Unfollowing Will Be the Best Thing You Do for Your Happiness. Another good article to have a read through considering our very digital era where social media can actually contribute to depression and some very real negative emotions.

One of my best friends sent me an article from Brain Pickings recently. Maria Popova reflects about things she’s learned over 10 years of blogging and she makes some excellent points.

Who doesn’t love to hear from great illustrators of our time? I’ve recently been enjoying listening to the live streams from One Fantastic Week. It’s a weekly web show run by self-employed fantasy artists, Pete Mohrbacher and Sam Flegal. I like to listen to their interviews with artist while I work.

Speaking of interviews, I also recommend checking out the blog, Freelance Wisdom. It’s full of inspiring interviews with creatives and their journeys. It’s nice to hear about people’s creative beginnings.

William Morris – Master Study

“I determined to do no less than to transform the world with beauty.” -William Morris

Creatives of the 19th century always seem to be triple threats – no, quadruple threats! In any case, they often excelled in several creative endeavours. It wasn’t unusual to hear about artists who were also architects who were also orators/singers/writers/poets/politicians… You get it. There were many creative powerhouses. William Morris was no exception.

William Morris 

Born on March 24, 1834 (we share the same birthday!) in Essex, England, William Morris was an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist. Wow! And on top of that, his work in textiles contributed to a revival of traditional British textile arts and production methods while his writing helped to establish the modern fantasy genre. He was also a trained architect. Talk about a creative powerhouse!

In 1861 Morris formed a decorative arts firm with Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Phillip Webb and others. This firm was very influential in the interior decorating practices of the Victorian period. Morris’ contributions to the firm were his designs for tapestries, wallpapers, fabrics, furniture and stained glass windows. He was very much influenced by medievalism, which can be seen in his design work. The firm also sought to return to Medieval-Gothic methods of craftsmanship as well.

In my personal sketchbook studies, I decided to fiddle with gouache paint and practice wielding this medium by copying details of a William Morris floral pattern. It had been my first foray into gouache painting for a long time and I was definitely out of practice. I never really found the balance between paint and water during this session. I think it turned out okay but I still prefer to see that paint sketch from a distance!

Next I chose to go back to my favourite mediums of watercolour and ink.

Again, I copied this image as an exercise to practice watercolours and painting creatures. In university, I studied costume design which meant focusing more on people and characters. Even as a kid I liked to draw characters (there are lots of fairies in my old sketchbooks). I realized recently that I didn’t paint very many creatures. No time like the present to try something new.

This rabbit is a close up from a tapestry designed by William Morris. It was a good way to practice bringing texture to a watercolour painting. I also included two of my favourite quotes (he was a writer after all) that I think summed up the relationship between beauty, art and life quite perfectly.

To create is to bring beauty to the world and that is a necessity of life!