Thursday, December 29, 2011

That's totally a skunk

skunk detail A determined skunk marches through the snow in this lino block print in black on white Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper. Each print is 12.5 inches by 8 inches (or 31.8 cm by 20.3 cm). There are 8 prints in the edition.

While most famous for their malodorous defense mechanism, the black and white striped skunk is actually rather cute. So, I'm adding it to my collection of black and white block printed animals.

skunk marching through the snow

This is an actually conversation I had, inspired by my "discarded proofs of prints as wrapping paper" scheme.

R: Oh, did I tell you I love your narwhals print?
M: You mean the pygmy right whale and the two seals?
R: Yes, and this is a great badger.
M: Dude, that's totally a skunk.

These things can be important to know. Those in Europe may not truly appreciate the pungent consequences of mistaking a skunk for a badger (though, I don't suggest messing with a badger either)*. N's cats like to taunt the local skunk, so they are not allowed out if the skunk has been seen. Unfortunately, one summer night they closed only the screen door. The vengeful skunk sprayed their house. N's teenage children were sent home from school the next day, because they stank, merely from being in the same building. Can you imagine being a teenager sent home from school for stinking?! Skunks are quite common here, even in the city. When I was small, we had one who lived below the back porch.

I've been translating all my Etsy listings into French, for days. It's funny to note that while in school I learned that a skunk was a moufette but in Québec it's often called la bête puante (or the stinking beast)! Apparently in the US a skunk is sometimes called a polecate, which I don't understand.

*I can hear the stinking badger jokes now.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Marley & Meat*

Marley - detail

This is a portrait of my "nephew", my brother's (the OB's) black Labrador Retriever, Marley. No relation to any other labs by the same name - this Marley was named after Bob. In this hand-carved lino block print, he's dreaming that the prime rib steak my brother bought is actually for him. Basically, this is inspired by the OB's Facebook page, which seems to consist of photos of large portions of red meat labeled 'dinner for 1', and photos of his dog looking cute. I have to think that Marley may envy my brother-the-carnivore's diet.

The portrait is printed in black and burgundy ink on Japanese kozo (or mulberry paper) with chine collé (added coloured paper) brown eyes. Each sheet is 9 inches wide and 14 inches tall (22.9 cm by 35.6 cm). There are 12 prints in the edition.


Marley is a sweet dog, so long as you aren't trying to rush out of the house, in which case he might chew the cord of the hair dryer or sabotage your attire, or unless you want to leave the park, in which case, he no longer knows you. I understand that all labs like to swim, but I believe that Marley is actually a seal disguised as a dog. He loves his people very much.

p.s. Happy Boxing Day!

*RJH made me use that title

Friday, December 23, 2011

In Honour of Mr. Cat

TC -'This Too Shall Pass' linocut

I managed to bring my last present to Reynardin and Faunalia today. It's the first of an edition of six prints I made, dedicated to the memory of the late, great, lamented TC. I always associated TC with R's father; they had a similar gait and outlook on life, it seemed to me. This was one of his sayings, most useful to recall when things might look a little bleak. The wonderful, wise, old, gray cat, Tail Chaser (TC) always was there to comfort anyone who needed this message and to feel more resilience. I thought the memory of TC could continue to comfort R&F.

This linocut print, in gray and green, on Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper, with chine collé (added coloured paper) green eyes is is 9.5 inches by 12.5 inches (24.1 cm by 31.8 cm). The typography is inspired by calligraphy.

detail of TC, 'This too shall pass'

I based the portrait on a photo from F's blog. I found my photos of TC weren't quite right. Apparently, F says the photo was taken by LW one previous Winter Solstice, so it seems an apt choice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice!


Despite the rainy weather the 22nd annual Kensington Market Winter Solstice went ahead. I met Faunalia at the start. We were in there close to the performers. I really enjoyed the flaming pipe. Greg was there on stilts to start things off again. We marched down Augusta engulfed by the samba squad. We managed to get to a less crowed and deafening part of the part, where we could hear the drums and each other. The route was a bit abbreviated, but it was wonderful. I enjoyed having my lantern, complete with burning candle (no LED for me). We made it to the park, where they had set up the vignettes (usually within the market); I suspect they decided setting up on roofs in the rain was not wise. We found Reynardin who had brought F's lantern. I loved the shadow puppets. The storyteller persevered despite technical difficulties (including loosing lights and his mic). We checked out some of the booths and then I went to get a better look at the Chinese dragon. The dragon came right up to be and blinked its eyes at me! We managed to get a good spot to watch the burning of the fire sculpture and the fire dancers. It was worth braving the weather!

Happy Winter Solstice!

the planets, with Copernicus Happy Solstice everyone! Bundling up for the parade...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Adventures in Shipping

Paper lantern During our well-catered paper-lantern workshop** chez Faunalia & Reynardin (for the Solstice Parade) I was complaining about all my trips to the post office. I was amused that Blythechild suggested the postal outlet in the pharmacy up the street because while this is normally an excellent suggestion it's quite crazy in December - and it is precisely where I am going so often that all the staff know me. I was there today to mail some tapirs and a dodo, behind the usual line up of about 6 people, half of whom were chatting in Polish. There was an old man behind me who seemed to be anxiously willing the line to move faster. As the letter carrier arrived with a large, collapsible dolly to lug away the copious amount of mail, the old man suddenly lunged forward. He ignored me altogether and asked the girl ahead of me whether he could go ahead of her. He said he wanted to catch the mail pick-up and only needed stamps. I could see his envelop was stamped, so I pointed out that he could mail stamped envelops in the slot at the front. (I wasn't kidding when I told my friends I would know how to say, "You can buy stamps at the other cash," in Polish, by the end of the month. I know all the ins-and-outs of this postal outlet. I am a regular.) He somewhat frantically said he didn't know how much more postage was due. The lady behind the counter was dealing with two customers and one on the phone, so was not responding to his flailing to get her attention. A young father witnessed this scene and tried repeatedly to give the old man stamps, so he could mail his letter before the letter carrier left. The old man seemed too anxious; he didn't know how much more postage was due and wasn't keen on accepting charity, even if it was one stamp. The letter carrier noticed what was going on and paused. Eventually, the old man got the lady behind the counter to tell him he needed one more stamp, accepted the young father's stamp as a Christmas present (after trying to force some change on him), and the letter carrier took the urgent letter with his huge pile of parcels. I imagine there will be some happier grandchildren somewhere when the fat envelop arrives.

back of paper lantern The girl in front of me claimed her package, and then I placed my parcel on the scale. The lady behind the desk asked me whether the letter carrier had left. I said yes. She said if I hurry I would catch the mail too. I just calmly filled in my Customs form and said I didn't think I would make it. She whipped the half-signed form from my hand, stuck the label on my package and said, "Go! Go! If you run, you will catch him - and then you can come back and pay for it." It seemed pointless to argue, so, I went, weaving through the customers in the pharmacy. I found the letter carrier loading packages onto his truck and I asked him if he could take one more. He saw it was labeled and he placed it on the truck. I returned inside to pay for my shipping. The letter carrier followed, with a large box. He explained he couldn't take the box since it had no postage. The lady explained that she had tried to tell the customer she couldn't accept the box without postage, but the customer had insisted that Land's End had free returns*. The letter carrier said it would just sit around for a long time and then get thrown out. Meanwhile, another woman tried to get her mail into the letter carrier's collection too, but the lady behind the cash just told her it would simply take too long to fill in her form and he couldn't be delayed. I guess there are benefits to being a regular.

On another note, here is our tree:
Minouette tree toperprintmaker's tree

You may recall the Minouette-angel toper I made, to go with all the block-printed ornaments. This year, all gifts are wrapped in my discarded proofs of prints on newsprint. I've got to do something with them, and I can only make so many paper lanterns. So, hand-made wrapping paper it is.

** By the way, the dollar store 'Shoupie' markers were not only coloured differently than advertized, they bled. It's okay of course, but you might want to know this prior to using them.
*Perhaps this is a US policy? In Canada, if it doesn't say 'postage paid', it isn't.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Reading is sexy XLVIII

(image source) The next two books I read had a theme of dysfunctional sibling relationships, where siblings compete for love with fatal results, also the theme of Eden, the serpent and fall from grace. Just in time for the holidays! (kidding of course)

23. The Game by A.S. Byatt This is a shorter, early novel by Byatt, which tells the story of two adult sisters, Casandra the Oxford don and Medievalist, and Julia, best-selling novelist. As children they had an elaborate, shared, imaginative life and the titular game, inspired by Medieval romances, reminiscent of what the young Brontë sisters made with their mythology of Gondal and the associated maps and stories they created together. The adult sisters are distant, but brought together when their father has a stroke. They grew apart, we learn, as the novel progresses, due to a series of perceived transgressions (Julia writing about their shared game, their mutual and competitive love of the neighbour Simon -now a jungle-dwelling herpetologist with a budding TV career, Cassandra's rather melodramatic denunciation of the family's Quaker faith and conversion to Anglicanism, Julia's sort of self-sabotaging hero-worship for her older sister). Cassandra is a spinster, with a secret obsession still for Simon, who shared her early religious investigations. Julia is married to would-be Quaker saint Thor, and has a teenage daughter Deborah. Julia finds herself on a TV show about art and ideas, through which Simon re-enters their lives. Once again, Byatt has a natural scientist as a character to involve zoology, but also the symbol and mythology of snakes and serpents. I appreciate her consistent argument that science, like art, contributes to culture. Julia, initially intending to repair her relationship with her sister, ends up writing a novel, which is a thinly-veiled story of Cassandra and her relationship with and to Simon, without much thought to consequences. This is a study of family relationships, unrequited love, ideas, the nature of art versus science, writing, mental health, suicide, charity, academia, and responsibility. The characters feel quite real and the story is engaging, though it is perhaps less of a tapestry of ideas than Byatt's later novels.

(Literary gossip being what it is, I read once that this novel started her feud with her sister Margaret Drabble, though, it's also been attributed to writing about a family tea set.)

24. Cain by José Saramago This strange and final parable from the wise old man himself, is a sort of mythical biography of Cain. It begins with his parents, Adam and Eve, and their despotic Old Testament Creator (complete with ample pride and crown) in the Garden of Eden. After their expulsion, and an interesting interlude between Eve and the guarding Cherubim, they land on their feet when taken in by a caravan (because, of course, there are other people), and eventually they make a home and a family. Cain, in frustration with God's petty testing of his faith by only accepting Abel's tributes, kills his brother in jealousy, but argues for God's partial culpability. The story is really of his life after this, as a nomad, through time and space. He serves as skeptical witness to all of the most famous Old Testament stories (from Abraham and Isaac through Sodom and Gomorrah, the Tower of Babel, Moses, Job, various wars and battles ending with Noah). The thesis seems to be that the Old Testament God is cruel and capricious (all that senseless death and destruction, including innocent children destroyed in Sodom and cruel demands of sacrifice), but Cain has a plan for retribution.

As intriguing as all of Saramago's novels, this is a most unusual book.

25. My White Planet by Mark Anthony Jarman At first I thought, that's what you get for choosing books at random off RJH's shelf. He, after all, has King Leopold's Ghost (about the exploitation of the Congo) by his bedside, and The Road (in which *spoiler alert* people are eaten) in the glove compartment of his car. I wondered whether perhaps all his favorite books would be sad. Jarman's first story (and some of the subsequent stories) of a soldier's life in Custer's army is a bit grim. Several stories are informed by the violent North American colonial wars and battles (with allusions to Sitting Bull through Louis Riel). The titular dreamy story about seven isolated men at arctic research station which has fallen out of contact with civilization, who find a shipwrecked girl, is quite creepy. But, he writes crystalline stories like poems. "Make way for my itchy antlers, my spikes of rage, my affection for the slippery slope." I have the idea that Jarman is a writer's writer. He knows how to wield words. His stories are very evocative. I recognized the unnamed Straight of Georgia (and was unsurprised to learn the author lived in Victoria, prior to moving to Fredericton) in the description of a float plane flight in Bad Men Who Love Buzz Lightyear; I recognized Fredericton with its right side and wrong side of the Saint John River in Bear on a Chain. I can see how his simple story of a New Brunswick old timers hockey team, A Nation Plays Chopsticks would charm RJH, with its descriptions of the game, the odd camaraderie, driving moose-ridden highways at night, haunting old arenas, and questioning the drive of the 'civilized' narrator (presumably Jarman) to play a sometimes violent game. I personally enjoyed the sporadic allusions to an interesting array of music (clearly he's an avid listener) - from Bobbie Gentry through the White Stripes, by way of everyone from Otis Blackwell, Neil Young, Stereolab, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Joy Division, the Tragically Hip, Sid Vicious, Syd Barrett and assorted unexpected allusions. The final two stories are even labeled "Bonus Tracks". Personally, I would read this book for the sheer pleasure of these two sentences: "If Derrida didn't exist we'd have to invent him. And then beat him up at recess," but the book is much richer than that. Read these well-crafted stories and see.

26. Myths To Live By by Joseph Campbell. Guess it's back to the imagery of the Garden and the serpent.

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