Font sizeMitre plane in brass and boxwood, oil and gold leaf on panel, 10" x 10"

Last winter, our neighbour Konrad milled a window sill for us. Konrad Sauer happens to be a highly sought after maker of custom hand planes. You can see his work here: Sauer and Steiner. In exchange for the sill we agreed I would paint at least one still life portrait of a piece or pieces from his hand tool collection.

Only in the last couple of weeks, thinking a still life painting would be a nice break after the frenetic pace of Star Portraits, did I finally make it over to his shop to get a bit of a primer on hand planes, woods, and metals, and to select one of his storied collection of hand tools as the subject for a still life painting.

We settled on an amazing miniature mitre plane, made from the brass of an old tenon saw back and infilled with English boxwood. The brass bears the stamped marks of the original saw maker alongside those of the plane maker, Bill Carter, who lives in Leicester England with his wife Sarah, and who has made more than 700 planes in his lifetime. You can see Bill and Sarah’s excellent website here: Bill Carter Hand Made Planes. The little plane is an exquisite object in itself, all the moreso when you realize that it is a precise, efficient woodworking tool. These tools of astonishing beauty are made by hand with care and precision and are purchased by wood workers and furniture makers who hand craft wood into furniture or cabinetry or musical instruments that will last for generations. What a contrast to the disposable world of cheaply produced goods most of us live in.

I have the utmost respect for these makers of hand tools—I like to think we share a certain sensibility. I am looking forward to recording some of these unique tools, so unfamiliar to many of us, and so different from the mass produced tools so readily available, in still life portraits.

The story might have ended here, but it does not…

In my larger painting series, I have often incorporated text into the backgrounds of my paintings—to suggest a narrative that runs deeper than the surface of the person or thing I have painted. I am always drawn to story and to the written word. When I got the little plane back to my studio, I took a look at the website of its maker: Bill Carter Hand Made Planes

Mitre plane in brass and boxwood, oil and gold leaf on panel, detail

After reading about Bill’s plane making I decided to contact Bill and Sarah to request permission to use the stories from their website in the background of my painting, to which they readily and generously agreed. Imagine my surprise when several days later I opened my inbox to discover that I would be the extremely honoured recipient of two Bill Carter miniature mitre planes—tenon saw brass bodies and ebony infill, stamped with Bill’s name and address across the heels. I was so moved. I am extremely flattered. Of course I intend to show my gratitude with portraits of the miniature planes for Bill and Sarah. Almost overnight I have become an amateur of hand tools with a tiny but meaningful collection. I will post portraits of the tools on this blog in the future.

How amazing that in repaying the kindness of a neighbour, I have made a connection with a couple an ocean away who will bestow on me an incredible gift, which I will attempt to repay and each of us will have a little something of the other to remind us of this connection. How unexpected, and how lovely.



I can’t resist posting about my current art endeavour.

In November I learned I had been selected to appear as a participating artist in STAR PORTRAITS—a television series based on a British show of the same name which aired on BBC One for three seasons and boasted the largest audience of any arts show ever in the UK.

In Canada, Star Portraits is produced by PTV Productions Inc. and will air on Bravo! in the Fall of 2009. The series combines the art of portraiture with celebrity biography and is hosted by Canadian musical theatre star Louise Pitre. The premise for each 1/2 hour episode is that three artists meet a mystery Canadian celebrity on camera at a location revealed only the day before. The artists spend a few hours hastily sketching the celebrity and then return to their studios where they have two weeks to finish the portraits. Afterwards, the artists and celebrity reconvene, the portraits are unveiled, and the celebrity chooses one for his or her own collection. Of the remaining portraits, six will be chosen by the Portrait Gallery of Canada for their permanent collection and the rest will be auctioned off at Joyner Waddington’s Auction of Important Canadian Art, with proceeds going to the celebrities’ charity of choice.

It's nerve-wracking to be in the spotlight, and two weeks is a very tight deadline for a finished portrait in oils, but I think the complete series will be great to watch.

Drawing and painting as a spectator sport (at least one in which I am part of the spectacle) is very new to me, and I was ill prepared for the performative act of painting on demand—in an unfamiliar space with unfortunate lighting and television cameras inches from my canvas. But in spite of my anxiety at being on camera and in the public eye, I am very happy to have had occasion to paint the portrait of such an exceptional Canadian as…

To learn more, stay tuned, or visit the official Star Portraits site to see the entire cast and learn more about the show. See if you can guess which celebrity I painted. I’ll post more closer to the air dates. My star portrait will appear on this blog and on my website after my episode airs.

March 4

Cat jump, India ink on paper, 5" x 7"

This quick ink drawing--inspired by my cat when he was young--is pinned on my studio wall. When I saw the topic for this week's Illustration Friday I decided to take it off the wall and post it here and there.


February 27

Winter hope, oil on wood panel, 9 3/4" x 15 3/4"

Unfortunately my high hopes for the subject of this painting, a hyacinth bulb, were dashed when I realized that in spite of the healthy root system and promising green sprout, my bulb (and all of my hyacinth bulbs this year) was a dud. It grew just that much and then gave up. So I'm saving my hopes for spring. Today, with even more snow on the ground and a forecast low of -21 C, I think I may have a long wait. Last fall I was on a bit of a quest to find hyacinth glasses, which seem to be very common in Europe and virtually unheard of here (except for the clumsy versions that sometimes come prepackaged in a gift box with a hyacinth bulb). So I was excited when I spotted this vase with its hyacinth glass shape in IKEA. I have two large ones, which provided successful habitat for two amaryllis bulbs, and two smaller ones, which may have played a role in arresting the development of the hyacinths. Maybe I shouldn't have messed around with the vase designer's intentions. Maybe it was a case of bad chi. But now, all hope for this bulb is abandoned--except in the painting where (in Grecian urn fashion) hope springs eternal.


February 21

Flint and Ro-ro

Flint, oil on hardwood panel, 24" x 24"

Ro-ro, oil on hardwood panel, 24" x 24"

These paintings can be hung at any distance from each other so long as the eye contact between cat and boy is maintained. Like this:
Or this:
I'd like to see them hanging in a stairwell.

These are the first two finished portraits in my new Feet of the Master(ed) series. I first experimented with the physical relationship between paintings in my Suspect Profiles series when I hung my portrait mug shots according to the height of the subjects. I think this series will present some great opportunities to mess around with wall placement again.

Valentine's Day Self Portrait

Valentine's Day self-portrait, oil on panel, 12" x 12"

Even though I am a portraitist, there is something about self portraits I still find daunting. I painted this one, today, to rise to the challenge proposed by one of the blogs I love to look at: The Portrait Party
For the month of February, the blog invites people to celebrate 'the greatest love of all' (a la Whitney Houston) with self portrait submissions. I think this will be mine.


January 28

Billy and Suzie (nearing completion), oil on hardwood panel, 24" x 36"

I've begun a series of paintings with the working title "At the Feet of the Master(ed)". In it, I hope to depict the close and complex relationships between people and their pets. Given the multi-billion dollar pet industry and new niche businesses like doggie daycare, professional dog walking services, and gourmet and organic pet food companies, the question of who is master of whom is more apropos than ever. I'm not sure whether I'll depict my human subjects in part, as in this painting, or whole, but as I learned in my much earlier Drinks in Hand series, in which I painted only the hands of my sitters holding favourite drinks, some models are more willing if they know they won't be readily identifiable in the finished paintings.

Below, is a series of photos of the painting in progress.


January 20

Afternoon Nap
oil on hardwood panel, 10" x 16"

After some months away, I'm planning some changes to the blog to better reflect my current work. More soon.