Raccoons. Or racoons. However you spell it (one ‘c’ is British, two is American), you’ve probably gone to war with one. They’re clever animals, able to get into the most ‘secure’ garbage bins (just ask Torontonians!).
Growing up on a farm, where raccoons were associated with disease they might give to farm animals and considered pests that defecated in corn bins and hay mows, I learned to see them as annoyances at best and perhaps even dangerous. My father trapped them and either sent them to an acquaintance’s swamp, where they could fatten before being shot, or had them shot.
When I went to the city for university, I didn’t understand city folks’ fascination with raccoons. My most memorable city raccoon run in was when I was walking back to dorm in the dark, alone, and heard loud rustling the other side of the trees I was walking through. I had a moment of panic before I saw a big, fat, raccoon waddle by with the remains of somebody’s lunch from the trash can. (You can see why they get called trash pandas!)
Now, however, I see raccoons and other ‘pest’ wildlife differently. I see how we have encroached on their natural spaces; we are the pests in their neighborhoods. I think about the ways animals, from rats and raccoons to foxes and deer, have adapted to city living. Sometimes we don’t like it, sometimes we don’t see them, but they are there with us.
I see raccoons as one of the many fascinating species we share our world with, who have learned to hold their place in the ecosystem as we have altered it. It doesn’t mean that they’re not pests and frustrating at times, but that there is reason and inherent value in their existence. Our co-existence is far more complicated than just “adorable friend” or “dangerous pest,” “food provider” or “menace.”
Painting has become a compulsion of sorts, in the very best sense of the word.
I spend hours each week thinking about my paintings–mentally working out compositions, values, colours; considering how I will mix my colours to get the hues and shades I want; even thinking about the gorgeous texture of the oil paint and how I’ll create the brush marks. By the time I get to in front of the easel on the weekend, I have spent hours painting in my head.
The process of physically painting then is a sort of meditative affair. I immerse myself in the experience–in the colours, the smell, the textures, the sounds, the feel. Yes, I really do love the smell of oil paints!
I have always been driven to create, for as long as I can remember. Painting, drawing, sewing, baking, photography, and even writing or music at times. I don’t know why or where the urge to create comes from, but I am sure it is somewhere deep inside.
For a long time, I saw my inability to settle on one form or medium as a negative thing. That I was less serious a maker because I couldn’t dedicate myself to just one way of expression. Now, I realize that my diversity of expression is not a drawback, but a benefit. The various forms of expression enrich and complement each other.
When I design sewing projects, I am thinking about colour and texture and how to take an idea in my head to a 2D pattern to a 3D creation. I spend ages in the fabric store choosing fabric that contrasts or matches in colour, texture, and hand.
When I photograph things, I delight in details, in finding what I think is the essence of a place, an object, an experience. I am thinking about colour and texture and shadow and light. I am thinking about how I can (hopefully) make the viewer contemplate the small details of nature that are too easily overlooked. I am thinking about how I can capture the feel of a place in a single photo of a seemingly insignificant detail.
All of these modes seem to come together in my painting. I am taking 3D compositions and presenting them on a 2D surface. I am thinking about form, colour, shadow, light, texture. As much as possible, I am using my own photographs and, hopefully, presenting everyday or insignificant items in a new way, in a way that forces the viewer to recognize their beauty.
As a youngster I created a ‘studio’ space in my parent’s unfinished basement. It was my space to create, and gifts of art and craft supplies found their way there. Art class projects I couldn’t bear to part with wound up there–a plaster lion mask, an elephant head made from strips of cardboard, and my OAC final project on détruis and debris.
But painting really started for me, I think, in my last year of university in Toronto. In blissful ignorance of what I didn’t know, I took myself off to a Loomis & Tooles and stocked up on pots of Golden acrylic paint. I propped my canvas up against a bookshelf and painted away.
As life got busy, I drifted away from painting. But painting now has a hold of me again, and perhaps even stronger now.
In November 2016 I sat down in my first painting class (and my first art class since the late 90s). I went home from that first class with my arms just aching to continue painting. My teacher became my mentor, and convinced me to give oil painting a try. So, in the summer of 2017, I had my first lessons with oil–and loved it.
That’s when the fruit started. The glow and texture of oil painting just cries out for painting fruit and vegetables! After my first oil painting–a lemon– I started a series of fruit portraits. I use that term deliberately: As with my macro photographs, I want to present the fruit in a way that will encourage the viewer to see its beauty. The luscious fruits and dramatic shadows of Dutch masters paintings inspire me to show the glowing summer sunshine captured in delicious fruits.