I very rarely, if ever, tell people that I am a visual artist. When asked, I usually offer a vague description of what I do for a living. It’s weird too, because I usually regret not mentioning that I am an artist right after making an acquaintance. If nothing else, it’s the loss of a networking opportunity because you never know what that person’s interests might be and it might lead to somewhere interesting.
For a while, I would say ‘I do a few things’ whenever people asked what I did for a living. And it is true, art is not what I do for a living. It’s almost the opposite of that – definitely more money out than in, but that’s my choice. It’s what I do for fun. Maybe that’s the crux of it – it only matters if you make money at it, and preferably lots.
‘What do I do for a living’, you ask. ‘I do a few things’, I say.
Perhaps it’s because I haven’t rehearsed what to say or how to say it. I also might be avoiding the inevitable questions about what kind of art I do and having to explain that. I think the best explanation I’ve ever come up with is ‘nothing that will match your couch’.
I may even think that my making art is evidence of a character flaw. I do believe that, for me, making art is a compulsive behaviour. I admit to feeling a little guilty because there are so many other things that I should be doing. You know – adulting things. I have to feel caught-up with the rest of my life commitments before I can give myself permission. It’s messed up but, guilt or no guilt, it keeps happening. – L/C
They are disarmingly adorable and of course you fall in love with them. You are powerless in the thrall of their adorability. You’ve fallen into a quicksand of cuteness and it’s a good thing that they are so cute. Like babies, they were no doubt made that way for a reason. By the time you realize the truth, it’s way too late. You are done for.
The pile of puppies
The first time we ever laid eyes on Ollie and his 11 siblings they were all just a writhing mass of fur, brown eyes, and squish. Memory suggests that they were around the four-week mark, give or take. Very fresh and cute. Anyway, we were just there for a preview. They varied in colour from white to toffee and each had a different colour ribbon around its neck to identify it. All but five of the litter of 12 were already reserved. It was a self-evident truth that we would be taking that number down to four before leaving. Somehow a little beastie with a turquoise ribbon was placed in my son’s hands and that was the extent of the selection process.
My wife and I spent the first couple of weeks taking turns spending nights on the couch. This point, Olli resembled a potato with legs. Unlike a potato though, he had very limited bladder control. He would wake and need to be promptly gathered in one’s arms and taken outside. The available window of time was narrow so you had to be on your toes. Otherwise, relief would be taken on some patch of carpet or other. For that reason, the quality of sleep that we got on the couch was fitful at best. After about a week and a half of sleep deprivation I realized that I was basically wandering around in an impaired state.
Doing the math
Beyond taking care of number 1 there was also number two. There seemed to be a constant tally of when and how often. Each deposit that occurred outside of the house was considered an achievement to be celebrated. Keeping track of Ollie’s bodily excretions became the focus that we had obviously and so desperately needed in our lives.
We were motivated to get the dog into a crate and he took to it surprisingly quickly. With Ollie in his crate we were able to return to the bedroom and enjoy some solid, although somewhat abbreviated, sleep. Our days tended to start around 4:30 or 5 am but it was still a lifesaver. We quickly began to alter our nighttime routine and started going to bed early. We began to feel like functioning humans again.
Stomach on legs
Ollie will get into everything and by ‘get into’, I mean eat. He likes to chew paper, plastic, leather, nylon, lumber, sticks, rocks, and asphalt. This is only a partial list but you get the idea.
We have been cautioned by amateurs and professionals alike about the perils of obstructions in the digestive system and the surgeries that often follow. We do try to discourage it, typically through distraction or offering more appetizing alternatives like treats. At some point in the day though, it becomes too tiring and we just give up.
He is joy and frustration all rolled into one mischievous but very handsome package. He is still a very busy little guy and the centre of our time and attention. Young labs have energy to burn and burned it must be. Walks amuse them and give them opportunity to send and receive pee-mail but ultimately do not wear them out.
Ollie is almost 10 months old now. He has completely lost interest in sleeping in his crate and we just as quickly lost the will to enforce the rule. He sleeps at the bottom of our bed but please don’t judge us. The good news is that he sleeps like a teenager so everyone is well rested.
It is still difficult to find 5 minutes in a row and we still find ourslelves working around the dog’s schedule. You do things when the puppy is sleeping. Or you choose to put the puppy in doggy day care so you can have a sustained block of time to tackle chores. Certainly, there is little time or energy left to devote to writing blog posts.
There it is – I’ve blamed the dog for my inability to launch a blog post so my work is done.
Let’s start with the low hanging fruit. Defining what qualifies as a reproduction is pretty straightforward. There is an original and from that there are replicas. You start with an original painting. It is photographed and then printed using a technology called 4-colour lithography. When you look closely, you can see the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots that combine to form the image. I’m oversimplifying the process here but you get the idea. It’s the same way that most everything in the commercial world, like magazines, and posters etc. are printed. In the end you’ve got a photographic reproduction of an original artwork.
There is much confusion surrounding the concept of an original print and the difference between that and a reproduction. When people come and see my work they see mostly paintings but also several editions of silkscreen prints. I often find myself having to explain that the prints are not a reproduction of an original. It strikes me as particularly odd given that silkscreen printing is one of the least likely methods that one would use to reproduce an image with any kind of fidelity.
The pervasive use of the word ‘print’ doesn’t help.
Many popular artists in the 1980s started to market ‘limited edition reproductions’ of their work. I particularly recall Robert Bateman, a very commercially successful wildlife artist in Canada who did just that. Each print was indeed signed and numbered. The editions were very large, often in the hundreds and even over the 1,000 mark. The editions were so large in number that it was frankly misleading to refer to them as limited at all. Artists like Bateman, and there were many, made loads of money for themselves and their dealers.
To confuse the buying public even more, the images were printed on top quality, archival (acid-free) paper – the same sort of paper that a legitimate artist/print-maker would use. That is where the similarity ended. The printing was done on large, industrial grade printing presses. These were really high-quality reproductions but reproductions nonetheless. This practice, more than anything else, did huge harm to the market for original, limited edition prints.
Also, online art sites like Saatchionline.com sell digital prints that are reproductions of artists’ work. To the best of my knowledge there is no limit to the quantity they might produce of any given image. That sort of ‘print’ is a reproduction of an original and completely different than an original print that is part of a signed and numbered limited edition. ‘Giclee’ refers to a kind of inkjet digital reproduction. I don’t know much about them except that a lot of artists are using them to make money. These are really just a poster. They may be nice to look at but they have no intrinsic value.
How can a print be an original?
I recently reached out to the folks at Open Studio in Toronto to get their take on how to explain it all. Open Studio is an awesome place where artists can access printmaking equipment and workspace to make original prints. We’re talking about printing techniques like lithography, intaglio (e.g. etching), woodcut, and serigraphy as well as a few others. They also offer classes and workshops to artists and school groups. That’s not all they do but you get the picture. Anyway, they were nice enough to offer me their explanation:
“An original print is an image that has been conceived by the artist as a print and executed solely as a print, usually in a numbered edition, and signed by the artist. Each print in the edition is an original, printed from a plate, stone, screen, block or other matrix created for that purpose.”
It may be difficult for people to get their head around the idea of a print actually being an original. Essentially the original exists in multiple and that’s a little confusing, especially for the uninitiated. After all, there are usually a number of pretty much identical pieces of art on paper. That is what is called an ‘edition’.
I suppose this means I have to briefly try and explain what the term ‘edition’ refers to. For the sake of discussion, let’s say there are a hundred identical impressions. Each one will be numbered sequentially (in this case 1/100 – 100/100), and signed. The total number in the set is 100. That’s the edition.
I like to make editions of silkscreen prints. There may be 50 or so in the edition and each would be pretty much identical to the others. Unlike commercial/industrial printing methods using machines, there are minor inconsistencies in any hand-done printing methods. After all, I’m using my two hands and as much as I try for consistency and precision, I am no machine.
Each colour is a separate printing. I typically do 2 colours because it suits the kind of images I like to make. I do a base colour printing and then follow that up with a black printing. The sheets of paper are hung separately and have to dry after each colour is applied.
It’s not all about the money, but it’s not, not about the money.
Selling limited edition prints can be a good way for artists to make their work more available to a wider audience. It’s a volume thing. Because they exist in multiple they are a much more economical option for purchase. A painting by any particular artist might be for sale for thousands and out of reach for many people. However, a limited-edition print by the same artist could be had for much, much less. It’s way easier for most people (to rationalize) a purchase decision to shell out a few bucks for a print instead of the bigger ticket items. Obviously, you have to sell many to make it financially worthwhile but it is often easier to sell a lot of prints versus a single painting. I sell most of my serigraphs for $75 and the number of multiples in each edition is relatively small, usually 50 – 75.
It’s also nice that people who like your work but aren’t in a position to spend a lot can walk away with a piece. It’s also a great way for people to start collecting quality, original work on a budget.
Anyway, I hope that I’ve made your understanding of this better and not worse. Thanks for reading. – L/C
Acknowledgment: Open Studio — one of Canada’s leading contemporary printmaking centres—offers affordable printmaking facilities for artists, and exhibitions, education programs and artwork sales for the general public.’
I’ve started to make things in what I like to call ‘2.5 D’. Sometimes I take a picture that is already painted, cut it apart and then reconstruct it in various levels.
I’ve attached a quick video that demonstrates the cutting and another for the rebuilding.
Other times I begin with the drawing on board, cut out and around the shapes using a scroll saw. After that I paint the images on the separate parts, and then build the final piece. This is definitely the least scary of the two options. Either way the final effect is pretty much the same.
Anyway, that’s it for today. It may be the shortest blog post ever but it came with pictures so I must get points for that, right? – L/C
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I drove from Calgary, Alberta to Knowlton, Quebec. It’s a long way geographically as well as culturally. One province feels completely isolated and hard done by and the other is Quebec, but I digress. The journey presents an opportunity to empty one’s mind but maintain enough focus so as to keep the wheels between the lines. For the record, it’s a drive we’ve done before and one that I don’t mind doing – just not too often.
We currently have houses in both places but hopefully not for much longer. Prior to leaving on our journey we had a few weeks of intensive fix-up and clean-up to do. Our Calgary house is for sale and our intention is to be in Knowlton full time. Fingers crossed.
The SUV was packed tight and deep with all manner of stuff. I had a bunch of new paintings that were mostly unframed and a couple of boxes containing 4 new silkscreen print editions. There was also a circular saw and various other tools intended for various projects in and around the Knowlton house. We also had clothes and shoes and a cooler and pots and pans and on and on and so forth. Lots and lots of stuff that took up the entire back of the car with the back seats folded down.
The silkscreen prints were done in advance of the 2020 Tour Des Arts. That event was also impetus for getting new paintings done. Of course, because of COVID 19 the tour has been cancelled for this year but something in me felt the need to proceed as though it is still happening. It was a case of bringing it all or sticking it into storage back in Calgary. Also, I hold hope that some us will still be able to put together some kind of show in lieu of the tour. We shall see.
Driving Cross Country During a Pandemic
Yes, we drove across a goodly portion of the country during a pandemic. While I realize this may not ingratiate us to many, I can assure everyone that precautions were taken seriously. During the rare times we left the car, we wore masks. Motels were not a problem and each seemed glad to see us. Rates were definitely lower than what is typical. CAA card also came in handy for discounts. Staff seemed to be very cautious of sanitation and cleanliness. Front desks were protected by plastic barriers, etc.
Tim Hortons We Salute You
I take this opportunity to give a special shout-out to this pre-eminent Canadian institution. Of the many franchises dotting the route, all but one location we stopped at had open bathroom facilities. Coffee, lunch, and bathroom breaks all happened at Tim Hortons. Timbits are also an excellent amuse bouche on a long drive. Tim Hortons holds this country together in good times and bad.
Loving and Leaving Alberta
This is the part of the trip that seems easiest. After the final check and packing is done you head off on the adventure with a sense of relief that you are finally on your way. Heading east of Calgary offers little in the way of anything to look at other than bald ass prairie. Occasionally, I would search the landscape for a suitable tree from which to hang myself were I to ever find myself domiciled in these parts. I never found one.
The Province That’s Easy to Draw
Saskatchewan is mostly, although not entirely, flat and an easy drive. It has a few gently rolling parts to occasionally relieve the monotony but requires little real effort in terms of driving. In fact, half asleep is not a bad way to do it. I’m pretty sure that I drove most of it with the little finger of my left hand while the car was set to cruise control. They call it ‘Land of the living skies’ by default. It’s a good part of the drive to let your thoughts wander where they may.
Brandon was our first stop and we took up in a Super8 just barely off the highway. Manitoba has terrible highway and road conditions. Bumpy, rutty, and generally terrible.
The one thing I know for sure is that Ontario is very long indeed and the most taxing part to drive. The Trans-Canada, as it is called, is really a bunch of cobbled together secondary highways once you get into Northern Ontario. Highway 17, which you are on for a good part of the way is mostly two lanes with intermittent sections with passing lanes. These are helpful for sure and likely prevent a lot of accidents. The route tends to be very twisty-turny so the driving required in Northern Ontario is far more active than say Saskatchewan is. We budgeted and spent two days to get through Ontario in order to avoid driving at night. Best not to hit a moose.
There are some very beautiful parts of the drive through Ontario. The fact that we took two days allowed us to stop occasionally and breathe some of it in. Big stretches of Northern Ontario have very little in the way of services like gas and lodging, so you need a bit of a strategy.
We went into Thunder Bay to stay the first night. The city itself is a little off of the Trans-Canada but it is surprisingly beautiful and vey well-kept. We stayed in a funky hotel that had previously been the courthouse. Funnily enough there were 3 cars (out of a total of 10) in the parking lot that had Alberta plates. Apparently, we were not the only Albertans defying recommendations not to travel. In the morning we took the short trip down to the waterfront and recharged a little before resuming our big drive. From there, we were on to our next big stop in Sault-Ste-Marie.
By the ‘Soo’ we were starting to get a little crusty. By this point your mindset is bordering on a dream-state so you have to keep your wits. Ontario was not finished with us yet and we were determined to get this done and be in Knowlton by day’s end. We made a brief stop in Ottawa to have a socially-distanced visit with our daughter on the front steps of her place. Gas, coffee, Timbits, and off we headed to our final destination which at this stage was 2.5 hours away.
We did finally arrive in Knowlton late in the evening while it was still light enough for us to glimpse the yard-work and general clean-up that was in store. The general condition of the house and yard is much improved but by no means are we finished. I haven’t had the time or energy leftover to do any painting. It’s hot and humid here right now. Hopefully I can get to that point next week. Everything is a journey, right?
In closing I just want to say that I haven’t had a Timbit since getting here. However, there is a Tim Hortons within about 2 kilometers. It’s still too soon, but one day. You see, it really is the glue. – L/C