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Thursday, 14 January 2021


Art, Books, Upcoming Shows, and Current Work

with Reflection During the Covid-19 Pandemic

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From the 2020 oil on canvas painting I Wish I Were An Island

Nearly four years have passed since I last added to this blog. With an upcoming solo show at our Thunder Bay Art gallery I thought I would blog the progress towards its opening day. Current events are having their effect. I feel t
here's never been more of a call to deliberate and celebrate what is positive about us human beings. It is said we are at our best when times are at their worst. It's not as bad as it could be for us Canadians. Others are certainly suffering more. After a completely stalled month of March my "happy gene" kicked in and I've never been so productive. Today it's playing lots of George Lewis, Gene Krupa, and the Danish Radio Big Band that helps. 
I've never been so productive, with
the need to do what artists do at their best: connect people – to give people something wonderful to reflect upon, to empathize with and somethingcathartic that drags a better self out from the clouded confused self. It also doesn't hurt to provide a little escapism, to direct them into another world. I hope I can do some good with my art and books.
And I have to give a heartfelt thanks to the Canadian Liberal Government for the CERB cheques. Without them I would have been sunk. As would other self-employed friends of mine. I plan to return the favour to our fellow Canadian citizens by being a good samaritan this summer, and beyond. 
Sketches of ideas for paintings for show at
the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in 2023/4. 
As soon as this pandemic is over I'm going to give away a thousand books to children in Winnipeg and a couple hundred more here in Thunder Bay. I have 3,000 copies of The Boy from Sun (GG Award winning book!) in storage at my printing company, Kromar. I'll b
e giving away $20,000 worth of books! I've given away more than 800 so far in Thunder Bay, and boy, does it ever feel good. I get all kinds of crazy wonderful reactions. It's so fun and surprising I wish I could give away all my books. I'm also going to have shows of colourful abstracts, expressionistic/impressionistic flowers, landscapes and other works. I will put out a couple children's books, a novel for adults and who knows what else for a couple of combined book launch/ art shows, one at the TBAG in a couple years.
With the pandemic shutting down my usual habits and axing every income opportunity I had, along with my gallery/studio shutting down, I have nothing else to do but write, paint, draw, think and get creative in a smaller space. I have the time to mail recently completed works to agents and publishers. I'm working on a grant proposal for a solo show at the Thunder Bay ArtGallery in two years. The show is called The Ugly Flowers. I plan to do 14 paintings with vignettes inspired by a project I did 20 years ago for the Guildford Public Library in Surrey, B.C.. I shingled into the mural painting characters that I was able to use in two children's picture books, The Love Ant, and The Chameleon Snake. The former book is self-published, the latter I recently completed with illustrations I completed last year (With Special Thanks to the Ontario Arts Council!). I made a few discoveries in the process of shingling in the vignettes, and using one of the images in both books. Whenever reading these books to children at schools I get big surprises. Not only do the kids love it, they begin expressing new interpretations of the characters and other aspects of the book. 

A mural painting with
vignettes turned into
 illustrations for
two picture books

For fun I mapped out how I got multiple images from the mural and throne and how the images were used. The crossover page is in the middle. I now have the idea that I can employ multiple crossover pages with different characters in completely different stories. The large paintings will double as a means of generating new stories where I can link related themes to the paintings. Planning this approach has already been a great idea generator. And I can see how it's possible to layer themes with fewer signals (clues) in each painting and within each potential narrative. Related signals can appear elsewhere, in another paintings or vignettes, without clogging up one painting with too much information, detail or mixed messages. The more astute and patient the reader/viewer, the more they will be able to see deeper themes and intentions. At least, that's the idea if I can pull it off. And I can't afford to do too many paintings that I know will be incredibly difficult to sell. Employing vignettes, crossovers, and other techniques by shingling them together I get to explore the best of the serious high art world and benefit from the potential sales of books considered popular art. I hope.

Illustration for The Chameleon Snake.
Acrylic on Board. 
George Grove, Oil on
Board. Painted with
Flake White
When a painting of Beaver Mountain sold rather quickly in 2019 I got requests for another mountain painting. Detailed landscapes aren't my normal subject, but this mountain I had climbed to the top of as a child. Idyllic for me, I pulled out my best paints and had fun with it, altering the style from the last painting, ditching the pallet knife and went with the more impressionistic pointillism for the middle ground and instead of very thick paint for the foreground I went for a smooth glass look. The thickest paint is actually in the mountaintop. The rocks look more pronounced this way. Seven of the colours I used would cost about $350 today for the tubes. I got them twenty years ago when I worked at Herald Street Artworld in Victoria and the generous owners let staff buy art supplies at wholesale. I spent thousands! The tube on the far right in the picture of tubes below is Flake White. You can't get this paint any longer as it is made with lead. It's fast drying and beautifully captures the brush strokes. It's what artist Lucien Freud used for his figurative and portrait works. I used Flake white in this portrait of Victoria artist, George Grove. I have enough Flake white left to do a few more portraits.
The lead is safe when it's inert/dry and sealed under a varnish. I put on a special protective cream when I use it, and sometimes rubber gloves. Artists went blind using lead and cadmium based paints in the past. (They used to drink their solvents too!) The colours are great, and you see the difference in the paintings.
Mt. Mckay (Anemki Wajiw: Thunder Mountain), Oil on Canvas. 30x48"
Many artists use lots of browns and basic colours because they can't afford the variety of brighter quality paints. The chemical synthetic paints made today don't have the same strength or richness of pigments formerly crushed by hand. The pigments in modern machinery are crushed to too fine a dust, so we are experiencing an inferior quality of paint. This is also why frustrated artists get unnecessary reflections of paint causing them to brush vertically, avoiding side to side streaks. It's also why it's so hard to get a good photo of your artwork. A great book on the subject of how paint and other aspects of art and materials have changed (not for the best) is, The Art of Arts: Rediscovering Painting by Anita Albus. 
For the life of me I can't remember what month I completed this novel, We Play You. I was so happy to get it over with and get back to painting that I forgot about it for months. Must have been February. Almost a year! I didn't bother sending it to agents. The word count is at 112,481, so it's about 350 pages in length. The novel reworks two novellas I wrote for a book of short stories called Rocket Fish. One, non-fiction, recalled the time I organized a little sting operation on a con artist who tried to steal everyone's artwork from the gallery he ran. Clearly he'd done this before and had avoided being sued or arrested for theft. The police were no help, so I forced a situation where the police had to acknowledge that art theft was an actual crime, and that the con artist was obliged to return the w
ork. I combined this story with another about an IT programmer who womanized agents at an investment company. This was a fictional story, but based on an actual character mixed with events surrounding a student who had gone postal at Lakehead University when I was a student. I changed and added characters and rewrote the stories as a suspense/crime thriller involving stolen art and a cascading danger. The cover needs to be changed, but I haven't had time to get to it. The photo above is a Photoshopped version of me in my apartment in North Vancouver. I did not have that view. I had a view of a parking lot.
I project images from my books when I do the readings. I get an individual child to read
 the coloured dialogue, which encourages the rest to read along. I like to include an
 unfinished book to get their opinions. They are often incredibly insightful, so insightful
that I'm employing what I've learned into my upcoming show, The Ugly Flowers.

This is my little gallery at 118 Cumberland now closed.
Sold. A friend helped me 
out buying this small 
landscape. Oil on Board
If you want to be an artist you have to read
Bram Dijkstra's work. Don't talk to me if 
you haven't. I'll ignore you.
I'm rereading the work of one of my favourite art historians, Bram Dijkstra. He's the second most insightful and knowledgeable art historian I've ever read. He writes with great clarity and honesty. He gives sharp analysis of how artists reacted to historical upheavals. As a great humanist he's unabashed about making moral judgements. This is refreshingly progressive. He contradicts repetitive truisms about art movements and how and why they occurred. And he doesn't condemn popular art, keenly aware that popular culture has replaced High Art as a way of understanding much of our history. His book, American Expressionism, explores art before the end of WWII and a movement bizarrely ignored in my university art history classes. I've found great inspiration in Dijkstra's work for The Ugly Flowers. The inspiration from this art movement and Dijkstra's insights will be used in the large paintings for the show.
These paintings start with 
leftover paint.
These landscape paintings start with leftover paint on my palettes used for larger works. I have enough of these and some abstract works now for an art sale before my big show at the TBAG in two years. I might be able to throw in a book launch as well. I would love to have a little art sale in the summer. We'll see what is possible.  
I do miss my little gallery space. I didn't sell many w
orks, but the space was great to get larger works completed and allowed me to leave all my paints and palettes out. I had storage in the basement. I had a few tourists, a larger number of underprivileged folks drop by, and of course friends. What I miss about have a gallery space was my minimal contribution to the arts community. I didn't get a chance to have an opening for a show alongside the Definitely Superior Art Gallery that opened up across the street this summer. I can't see myself opening up another gallery, but I will need studio space soon. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

August: Mural Work, Portraits and Logo

Claire Douglas-Lee (Assistant/apprentice - studying at McGill)
paints leaves better than I so I have to follow her example. 

I've had to put book projects on hold while I work on a few commissions to pay the rent. I've hired an assistant so I don't fall behind. Claire, who is going to her first year at McGill will be leaving me at the end of the month to study politics and international studies. She's hoping to work overseas for an NGO. I didn't know she could paint! I set her up to paint leaves and now I have to adjust my style and match her unique approach.
     Bille, from Thailand is working as a lab technician in town till the end of the month before she heads back to Thailand. She posed for an oil painting. I made her cheeks a bit fat so I'll have to rework the painting. It was great that she had the time to pose for a live portrait.
     This month I received a wonderful compliment from a woman in Woodstock, Ontario. She got a tattoo to celebrate her three children, one who loves The Boy from the Sun. Mother and son have read it "a hundred times" and are still reading. 
Promoting and selling books at the Westfort St. Fair
     Writer, Gleb Raygorodetsky has asked for a logo for his book, Archipelago of Hope. I'm working to get a number of themes represented in the logo. No small task. More updates to follow this month. Back to selling books at the Country Market, a new street fair in Fort William and the Westfort Street Fair at the end of the month. READ ABOUT MY WORK IN FRENCH. CBC RADIO INTERVIEW.
Visitor to the Country Market gets a free book!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Current Works

Afro Vinyl - Oil on board a 4'c8' sheet -
 hair soon to be filled with vinyl discs. 

This July continues to be active. I had fun painting this 4' x 8' tall board for the Waverly Library in Thunder Bay. Interviewed by the library: HERE. A Lakehead University Engineering student named Bobbi posed. She has braids, but was okay with the oversized afro to mimic a Chicago Library work. Our librarians used the idea to promote their "new" vinyl collection. The afro will be filled with vinyl discs.

Ocean Guard at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery
My last painting is hanging at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery for a show called, The Perspective From Here: 150 Artists from the North. It's nine feet long, so my biggest canvas yet. The show wonderfully represents both past and current artists from Northwestern Ontario.
Read Article HERE
Commissions are coming - it helps to have a gallery/studio (118 Cumberland). I completed the cover for a dice throwing game, Vault Assault, for its box.
Calmly laying on a rock in the painting on the lefts is a Hollywood damsel who is not in so much distress in a storm. (Storm in the sky yet to be painted). The painting is a metaphor/allegory so realism is not required. I had fun creating waves that you wouldn't see in nature. A little guy will be featured in the background of the painting, working with a few wires. And a panel will have popped open on the side of the rock.
Read about my work in French.

Friday, 9 September 2016

New Works, literary and visual

Temporary cover design for book. 
The images help me to edit text down to the basics. 
I've been working on first drafts for two middle reader novels, a novel for adults and a number of visual arts projects. All have been slowed down as I've taken on a couple paid commissions and am busy setting up a gallery space, vendors booth and all the necessary promotional work for them both. (Special thanks again to Ahti Tolvanen for use of his space! I wouldn't be getting all this work done without his help.) Which work gets attention at any one time depends on my mood and ability to focus on a project – the number of free days I can afford and probably a bunch of other factors. I can't leave a project for too long or it takes a couple days to re-familiarize myself with it. There are benefits to leaving a project aside for a while. Time can give a writer/visual artist a fresh pair of eyes to work with. A number of times I've made major changes because the thing I was originally dedicated to doesn't seem so worthy any more or in a couple cases, I decided I needed a more interesting character for a story. Or that the hand is too big in a painting. That sort of thing. I'm not worried about a project taking a long time. But I do worry that I'm not taken seriously because I'm slow to produce a work. However I already have a number of completed works looking for a publisher so there's no rush.
Dr. Yes tries out new foods outside of the International Fast Food Restaurant.
     With the use of a studio/gallery space (118 Cumberland St. S.) and a quiet apartment in which to focus on writing I'm in the unique position of being able to balance painting and writing as a full time writer/artist. (Special Thanks to Ahti Tolvanen!) 
    I've been asked to show at two local restaurants, which is perfect timing for me as I'm trying to complete a couple larger paintings and start a couple more paintings in new styles.  Article link:   
Fire Fish. Oil on Canvas. 3'x3' $750.00
$750.00  Duncan Weller

Monday, 9 May 2016

Writing in Finland

My wonderful host, Anna,
checks her phone.
Writing in Vihti, Finland
     I'm hold up in a cabin in the wood care of the Tolvanens. My father knew Ahti Tolvanen years ago when they both taught at Lakehead University. I met Ahti through my friend Anna who I came to visit in Helsinki. Anna is moving to Oulu when she returns from Singapore.  I had a chance to see her  and a bit of Lapland and the Arctic Circle. We also travelled to St. Petersburg to visit the city and stroll around the Hermitage museum, which was larger than I expected. Anna, as of this writing, is in Bali on vacation with a friend. I plan to stay here at the cabin for a while longer. The next stop is either Holland or Spain.
Meeting with Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin, one of Finland's top
 children's book illustrators, now retired.
Northern lights in Oulu, Finland.
Cindy, the house cat.
In the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, standing in front of Danae by Rembrandt. 
Anna at the Hermitage.
Giving a talk and reading my books to
children at a Finnish International
School in Vantaa.
At Caisa conference room to attend meeting
with a presentation by Sandi Boucher.
Host Ahti Tolvanen.
Members of different political parties attend. 
So my mission right now is to complete several projects and find an agent or agents to represent me in order to procure a publisher in the United States or Europe. I had a publisher in Canada, but because a Canadian bestseller is considered only 5,000 copies it made sense to try my hand at self-publishing for a while. That went far better than I expected. I was earning a profit of eleven to twenty dollars per book after the printing costs were paid, which didn't take long, due to the wonderful support of the citizens of Thunder Bay. I spent $50,000 in three years printing four books. However, I'm not making a professional wage and for that I need a better publisher with wider distribution. So, here I am in Finland cleaning up a couple projects and starting a couple new works. The surroundings are immensely inspiring. Ideas come to me while I'm doing yard work, housework, canoeing, or when sitting in front of the fireplace. I've been incredibly productive and feeling great, although I feel a little like I've abandoned my home town, family, friends and others. So at some point I'll have to regroup in Thunder Bay. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

The Boy from the Sun: Expanded Edition –Second Printing

The Boy from the Sun is selling like hotcakes. Thank you Thunder Bay! In the last three months I've recovered 20 percent of the printing cost! A record for me and it means every dollar I invest eventually quadruples. And every new book I print gives me more selling opportunities and new markets. It doesn't make me rich, but it keeps me self employed as a full time artist, which is rare in these parts. I had 2,000 of 5,000 books delivered. The plan is to sell the rest in other cities. So later this year I will buy a vehicle for the first time in my life to take the books on the road beginning with Winnipeg.

Friday, 6 November 2015

AMA: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

I met Manu Herbstein in Accra, Ghana in 2012 and one of the discussions we had was of our difficulties with the publishing industry in our respective countries. The link HERE is where you can order his book and has a brief description of Manu's current troubles. AMA: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, is a great story and well-researched novel which won the 2002 Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book. 

The description below is provided by Daniel Musiitwa 
The story is set in the west coast of Africa, where Ama (or Nandzi as she is then known) lives. After her village is ransacked, and hundreds of her kinsmen are shipped off to slavery, Ama is left alone to care for her baby brother. Life turns even uglier when she is later captured, raped and enslaved. Although she manages to escape the first time, she is recaptured. We follow her journey into slavery, as she is transferred from one group to another, eventually ending up onboard an English slave ship, where she unsuccessfully tries to instigate a rebellion.  Ama, as she is now known after being renamed by her slave masters, is shipped to Brazil, where along with other slaves, she starts a new life working long, back-breaking hours and suffering humiliation. Still her spirit never breaks, and Ama refuses to see herself as a slave. 

Ama has been taught at several U. S. universities including Harvard (Prof. Emmanuel Akyeampong), East Carolina University (Prof. Kenneth Wilburn), Carleton College (Prof. Martin Klein, University of Toronto) and Boston University (Prof. Heidi Gengenbach, University of Massachusetts). This fall Prof. Rebecca Shumway is teaching it at the College of Charleston in a HIST 361-02 course entitled West Africa in the Era of the Slave Trade.

Reviews: "A book written with tremendous moral passion about a monstrous episode in human history." The Right Reverend Bishop Richard Holloway, Chairperson for the pan-Commonwealth judging panel, author and former Bishop of Edinburgh.

"A monumental work, epic in scope and design, and clearly the result of extensive research, which has been skilfully woven into an enchanting narrative. This panoramic story, with its vividly realised characters and heroic action, restores the ancient link between history and literature." Africa Book Centre, London

"Ama is a story of struggle, resistance and inner strength. Great attention is paid to detail and the descriptions are atmospheric and sensual . . .this is a notable debut which amply deserves its recognition, in particular because of the deep research which underlies the text." Rayda Jacobs, Rapport (South Africa) 29/06/02

Friday, 19 June 2015

Gifts from Finland!: The Beautiful Illustrations of Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin

I contacted an illustrator in Finland whose work once appeared in Canada in a collection of stories called the Kalevala. We exchanged a few emails and Pirkko-Liisa was very helpful with information regarding the industry. We agreed to exchange books, and to my delight she sent me five book that she illustrated. Her work is beautiful, and very inspiring, but sadly she has retired from the industry a few years ago finding a new love: gardening.