Birthday at Vancouver Art Gallery: Jock MacDonald and dragons

Vancouver Art Gallery 2014

5-year-old's sketches of dragons at VAG

5-year-old’s sketches of dragons at VAG

Yesterday we made a family trek to the Vancouver Art Gallery for my birthday. I’ve always wanted to go on a Sunday when they have family activities to engage our kids better. The main exhibit right now is “The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors.” Clipboards in hand, the kids sought their favourite dragon representations to draw as they explored the exhibit.

brush painting Chinese characters

Using water and brushes, these templates allowed us to practice some Chinese characters that looked just like ink.

Next we zipped up to the fourth floor where a table of craft supplies was provided for making Dragon collages. Our kids loved this craft and put lots of thought into their designs.

7-year-old's dragon collage

7-year-old’s dragon collage

5-year-old's dragon collage

5-year-old’s dragon collage






Meanwhile the adult artist in me was snatching glimpses of the Jock MacDonald exhibit on the third floor. I had read about this painter in art school, and three years ago when I read the Painters Eleven book. Another artist has captured a few highlights of the book here.

The paintings showed very clear stages in the artist’s work. I most enjoyed the abstract paintings, especially “Nature Evolving” and a few others that featured a combination of yellows, browns and turquoise green. I’m planning to experiment with these colours now.

Nature Evolving - Jock MacDonald

Nature Evolving – Jock MacDonald

Collage art

I sometimes become a bit compulsive when doing art, and one of my little quirks is how much I love my little scraps of ripped paper. I used them in almost all of my paintings, whether they are mixed media acrylic paintings on large canvases or wood panels or little pieces of rag paper like this one. For instance, I finally used some of this piece of corrugated paper that was in a vintage set of pastels. I’ve been holding onto this scrap for a long time and finally decided to use it.

I tried to make this almost purely collage, with very little paint, other than some of the scraps being pieces of my own ripped up artwork.

Step 1 - I quickly built this collage out of my favourite thing - little scraps of paper I find and file. Some are hand-painted by me, others are old papers, while others are found.

Step 1 – I quickly built this collage out of my favourite thing – little scraps of paper I find and file. Some are hand-painted by me, others are old papers, while others are found.

When I start a collage like this, I don’t have any sort of plan. It’s a creative expression that I enjoy. After just going with it and sticking things where I feel they should go, I will usually stop and pick it up another time, and see what direction to take it. With this one, I decided for one thing that it was upside down.

Collage artwork in progress - mixed media

Step 2 – I decided the whole thing was upside down, and also lacking a focal point. I added the door and then the steps. Soon added another door (3 in total at the end).

I decided to try to make this collage have more recognizable elements in it, so I used some things cut out of magazines, like the doors and steps as well as a chandelier. I finished it, as I have been doing with other rag paper collages, by sewing with black thread to create a highlight point.

I’m not quite done with the left side – it was so busy and the pieces weren’t quite working, so I might put a bit more work into it.

collage on paper artwork

Step 3 – I moved the circles, which weren’t working for me, and continued to work on the composition. I am not quite happy with the left side, so I think there will be another post in a few weeks where this has progressed.

Poplars on paper

At the same time as I started the last painting (Autumn Poplars), I also started one on paper. This one is not quite finished but here are some progress photos.

paint on paper

Step 1 – on a piece of rag paper, I just started painting.

Painting in progress

Step 2: Toning it down and adding texture with used expresso grinds mixed in gesso.

painting in progress

Step 3: Messy “underpainting” stage.

forest landscape painting in progress.

Step 4 – current state, but not finished.

Autumn poplars

poplar trees in autumn
On Thanksgiving Monday, we went for a hike with my brother-in-law and nieces. We came to this clearing, and I was taken by the contrast of the poplar grove tree trunks against the dark background, and the autumn colours in the foreground. I decided to try to paint a couple of small sketches to capture this scene.

Disclaimer: I should probably use a better camera than my phone for these progress photos! Sorry! I think it looks quite a bit better in real life.

collage artwork in progress

Step one – sometimes just starting a collage is a good way to build the surface, so you aren’t staring at a blank canvas.

collage painting in progress

Step 2 – I added a light grey sky and roughed in the forest texture with gesso and espresso grinds.

forest painting in progress collage mixed media

Step 3 – painted in the dark background of the forest.

mixed media painting in progress

Step 4 – added more colour. I guess I just really like colour.

mixed media painting in progress

Step 5 – painted in the forest and started adding layers of colours.

mixed media landscape painting

Step 6 – added some dry-brushing and noise using things like pastels. I think it is finished.



Apple-picking – an autumn highlight

Willowviewfarms Abbotsford, BC

Perfect apples at Willow View Farms in Abbotsford, BC

When we moved from Vancouver to the Fraser Valley almost 5 years ago, I remember asking a friend who lived here what moms do out here with their young kids. I was trying to find similar entertainment for myself and my toddlers to what I had been used to in Vancouver and Port Moody. Her response was to name one of the local orchards.

What? I thought – what is this place, that it could be the thing to do? I think I was picturing things more like weekly library children’s programs or other such programs.

It’s funny because over the years, it really has become that sort of an experience for our family and friends each fall. We go to the orchard every week or two to pick apples and buy fresh cider, squash and pumpkins. Our kids love playing on the playground there and visiting the farm animals. Once in a while we get a coveted caramel apple or go on a hay ride. And every year since my daughter started preschool, we’ve gone on at least one field trip here.

Some seasons, we’ve tried to make a weekend ritual of going to the farm and then hosting a brunch at our house, or serving up a huge stack of pancakes while the kids play at our house and then hitting the orchard afterward. It really is a great excuse to gather, and is a highlight for our family.

pumpkins and plums

Fancy lemonade milkshake – great girl’s birthday party idea

My daughter enjoys having her birthday parties at home, so in the midst of a fairly hectic August, we sat down one day for just a few minutes and looked at pinterest to brainstorm a few ideas for a “fairy” themed party for her 7th birthday. I had just seen a recipe for a lemonade milkshake, with instructions for decorating cups with sprinkles.

When we went to get the cups ready, I wondered what to use for glasses – we didn’t want to do styrofoam or disposable cups, but we didn’t have anything else uniform so I grabbed a bunch of small canning jars we have on hand.

Mason jars decorated with sprinkles

Preparing some mason jars to serve as milkshake cups at the fairy birthday party.

A couple of days in advance, we just prepared the jars. We melted some white chocolate pieces in a small bowl, and dumped some red sugar sprinkles in another one. My daughter was able to do this herself: just dip the jar in the white chocolate, then the sprinkles. We placed the jars in the fridge until the day of the party.

lemonade milkshakes fairy party

My daughter at her 7th birthday party

For the milkshake, we made a variation of this recipe. It’s essentially vanilla icecream, strawberries, lemonade concentrate and strawberry jam. (P.S. – it was popular so make sure you get enough ingredients so there is some left for mom and dad).

With such a fancy drink, the kids were quite content with our bowls of chips and simple cake mix cupcakes for snacks. We chose our battles wisely on this one!

Camping at Chilliwack Lake: nature therapy

Chilliwack Lake, BC

Chilliwack Lake, BC

This is another ode to the summer that was, the epic, endless summer of 2014 in British Columbia where the teachers’ strike added an extra 5 weeks to summer. Now that is all over but I haven’t quite caught up here on sharing my summer highlights. We went camping for a few days at Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. We camped there over 10 years ago, and have hiked there a few times, but it’s been ages. It’s quite a drive past Chilliwack, and well beyond cell phone service. But it was a wonderful experience for the kids, who biked that campground every daylit moment like only a gang of 5-to-7 year olds can. They found castles and kingdoms of rock.


The lines and contrast of driftwood

A highlight for me, other than the quietness of the campground, the complete lack of mosquitoes and insects at this time of year, and the company of friends, was the hike to Lindeman Lake. It’s a beautiful turquoise lake that took about 45 minutes for us to hike up to. It’s fairly steep but I made it, despite being barely into my second trimester of pregnancy. The kids were champions. Of course it always helps when they have friends to play with and they motivate each other onward.

Hiking and camping pals

Hiking and camping pals

I love finding patterns and art that naturally occurs in nature. Check out the pattern on this drifting log:

bug paths on log

The beautiful pattern was drawn by some kind of bug, creeping around under this tree’s bark.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll mention it again: there is nothing more relaxing and fulfilling to me than time spent in nature. These pictures from another day’s hike sums it up. The icy clear water rushing over my feet just washes away the stress or difficulties of the week. And finding all those colourful rocks – honestly they aren’t that colourful when they are scattered all over the riverbed. But with a goal of making a rainbow of rocks, it’s amazing how the colours stand out.

river stones

Cold river water and brilliant river stones

So while summer is officially over, I will try to revel in it a little longer! We try to hike as much as we can, and I’m thankful that is possible almost year round here in British Columbia.