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SHOUT-OUT SATURDAYS – #2

Hey folks! This is the second entry in the series where I showcase creators and artists in my circles whose work I admire. This time I’ll be showcasing some artists outside of Toronto as well.

Flukelady

Flukelady (Alley) is a fantastic lowbrow artist from Philadelphia. I found her work about a year ago and have been hooked since! I like this piece especially, it really recalls so much of that childhood nostalgia / liminal space aesthetic that I love so much. See more of her work on her website here.


Leo

Leo’s art is a beautiful mix of high-intensity playful color with finely-tuned realistic characters. It reminds me a lot of late 80s California artists like Gary Panter! I’ve known him for a very long time, and had the chance to see his art grow and mature over the years. You can buy his artwork here.


Paddington Scott

If you were to ask me which North American street photographer of the 21st century I admire most, I would wholeheartedly say that Paddington Scott has that honor.

His work is a great throwback to older street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and especially Brassai, as Scott’s main body of work revolves around nighttime Toronto Street photography. All in all, very professional and refined pieces. You can find his work on his website here.


That’s all for now – but catch this series again every other Saturday, where I’ll be showcasing three more artists every other week.

This blog will become more active in the next few weeks as I’ve got more free time after recently finishing a project! Hope you guys enjoyed.

I’m Making a Game?

Back in 2019, I made a short text adventure in Inform 7, an interactive fiction engine released around 1993. It was called Marchester Manor.

Marchester Manor‘s first iteration was a school project – a late 80s style text adventure set in an abandoned mansion in the Louisiana swampland, focusing on exploration and a gradual expansion of the world around the player as they found ways to proceed (keys, tools, etc).

This time I’m making it in Twine, which will give me a lot more freedom in terms of imagery & sound, and will also allow for me to make it web-based so I can embed it here.

Here is a short clip of Marchester Manor as it’s looking at this point in development!


SHOUT-OUT SATURDAYS- #1

I wanted to share with you a couple of the artists in my circles whose work I really admire, so you folks can have a look at some cool new art.


Serena

Serena is an Ontario-based artist focused on realism. Her work is highly detailed and expressive! I especially like this watercolour orange, because simplistic as the composition is, you can tell just how much work was put into it. The shading is also very impressive.

You can find more of her work here.


Robyn

Robyn’s art is highly imaginative and polished. Many worlds are created and explored within it. With this painting, I think the colors used are evocative of otherworldly imagery. This one especially reminds me of some early pieces from the Symbolist movement, such as ‘The Cyclops’ by Odilon Redon. You can find more here!


Tarquin

Tarquin has been a long-term collaborator and friend – very talented musician with an innovative pop sound, whose music has been featured on shows such as Kim’s Convenience! Her most recent song, a collaboration called “Good Old Days” can be found here.


Every Saturday I will be showcasing and supporting several artists who inspire me and whose work I really like – This is the first of many, so get your wallets ready to buy their music, prints, photographs, and more.

Old Time Blues

Crossroad Blues, Robert Johnson

I think the first blues song I heard in my life was Crossroad Blues by Robert Johnson. Something about the sound of that music really spoke to me – whether it was the complex intonations of the guitar, or the energy in Johnson’s voice – I’m not sure. But I was hooked. There was just something inside the music that had such an incredible energy to it.

Over his lifetime, the ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax (now deceased) accumulated an incredible amount of archival footage and recordings on multiple different types of folk music – blues very much included. He has this to say about the essence of America.

The essence of America lies not in the headlined heroes … but in the everyday folds who live and die unknown, yet leave their dreams as legacies.

Alan Lomax
Sutherland’s formerly unmarked grave – now tended to by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund in Mississippi.

And this is true. Many of the artists I’ll share with you in this article died relatively unknown, and many times their music gained traction and popularity only after their deaths. Of course, Lomax’s documentation also helped musicians like Sam Chatmon and Belton Sutherland be remembered decades after their deaths.

The fact that we can find these archival videos on YouTube shows just how influential Lomax’s recordings were in showcasing these worlds of folk music that largely went unrecorded.

Going back to the beginning, blues music was an evolution of songs by the many African American men and women who were heartlessly enslaved by colonial settlers. The pain and hardship of these times is still felt by the descendants today and these injustices are still fought against today by organizations like Black Lives Matter.

These songs eventually made their way into field hollers, which were used to keep time and to keep up the mood in work camps and prison chain gangs throughout the 20th century. These work camps were very close to indentured servitude themselves, as most men who worked there were paid very little and treated very badly – but there was nowhere else to go, especially during the Great Depression.

Belton Sutherland: Blues #2 (1978)

Elizabeth Cotten


Elizabeth Cotten (1893-1987) is one of the very best self-taught musicians I’ve heard. Her style of guitar playing is especially interesting as she plays a right handed guitar but with her left hand , so instead of working with the standard EADGBA tuning from the shoulder down, she plays with the ABGDAE, since she’s playing upside down. But watch the video, and she sure makes it work!

Cotten wrote Freight Train when she was a young girl – and continued to sing it until she died.

Mississippi John Hurt


Mississippi John hurt is definitely my favorite blues musician. Many of the artists I’ve shared with you learned to play guitar at a very young age, and Hurt is no exception – he learned to play guitar at the age of 9 years old, and has a signature self-taught picking style that is very complex and hard to replicate.

Mississippi John Hurt, seen here with a kind smile.

His singing is quiet and subdued, and during performances, such as this one – he concentrates deeply on his guitar, intent on the intonations.

Blind Willie Johnson


And finally to cap it off, this is Blind Willie Johnson, playing his song “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground”. Interestingly, this song was actually sent out into space on the Voyager Golden Record – a cohesive ‘soundtrack’ of earth that was sent out with the Voyager spacecraft to portray the diversity of Earth. Timothy Ferris says that this song was based on an experience that Johnson and many others had – of having no place to sleep at night – unfortunately a universal experience for many.

In conclusion, I think that blues music is incredibly significant, both culturally and historically. And I hope that you folks listen to these songs I’m sharing with you, and share them with your friends and family as well. Happy holidays!


You can find my essential blues playlist with all of the artists from this article on Spotify HERE.

And finally, here are two of my own covers of Elizabeth Cotten and Sam Chatmon on my Soundcloud.

Woodcuts and the Don Valley

So, the past few days I’ve really been buckling down and actually making stuff, rather than the usual studio curating and cleaning and ‘making sure all the jars of pencils in my room are in a perfect row, because if they’re not I won’t be able to do a single sketch’, etc etc.

It’s good timing, too – because it seems like after sleeping in for a couple months, the world suddenly realized it’s December already and, throwing its blankets aside, just tossed a bunch of snow at us and went back to bed. So while I’m working in my heated studio, the world has turned into a powder-white wonderland.

The south view from a trail in ET Seton Park.

Thankfully, this abrupt snowstorm has resulted in some absolutely beautiful landscapes in the Don Valley – which I walked through on Tuesday.

What I’ve been working on for the past few days is a lot more illustrative pieces – the featured one is for a project I have to keep quiet about but it’s a classic fairytale illustration style made with a very traditional medieval woodcut method – one that I’ve really been getting into recently.

I think working with medieval art styles is interesting, particularly because it’s largely pre-Renaissance, so there wouldn’t be as much formal art education like the schools that popped up in Florence during the early Renaissance.

So you’d get art more like this:

Source

Which would be made by peasants and monks concerned more with pure religious depiction rather than the mathematically exact techniques in the Florence schools.

In my opinion a lot of these woodcuts are very similar to modern comics with their crosshatched shading, thick black lines and simple yet very recognizable faces. In any case, I’m really beginning to love working with this very simple style.

Where to Find More:

50 Watts – Excellent website full of inspiring high quality illustrations from many different decades and cultures

Graven Images: The Art of the Woodcut
– Great book full of the history of woodcuts

Gumshoe


In early 2019 while in a lecture class on Semiotics, I doodled a little scene containing two characters, both of which I tried to make as minimalist as possible without removing their essential characteristics, working with the concept of Semiotics that I was listening to my professor talk about.

For those of you who are foggy on the concept of Semiotics, or are simply curious about the meaning of the word – According to the Oxford Dictionary, Semiotics is defined as “the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.”.

On the left hand side of this image is the word “POLICE”. obviously, this word is a signifier for the collection of shapes and lines just to the right of the word, but why exactly is that obvious?


Sure, we could say that of course it signifies that object, because that’s where the word bubble is pointing, right? (which is another semiotic discussion in itself) but what really makes it clear is the dialogue between the signified and the signifier.



Because we are labelling this object as ‘POLICE’ our brain is filling in the gaps and is starting to pull both the signified and the signifier together. Things like the horizontal rectangle nearest to the door, with the description of ‘POLICE’ may become a gun, or a pointing hand. The bottom line on the triangle becomes a mouth, the top a wide-brimmed hat.

In late 2019, I took this character and brought it into a short 23 second animation, which I’ll link here:

Now, in the past month I’ve been working on a short comic starring this character – which I’d love to show you an panel from.

So, as you can see it’s come a long way from its semiotic origins! I’ll be uploading the full comic tomorrow, so check back then! Very excited to share this with you folks.


Finding the Don Valley

In 2004, when I was six years old, my family and I moved From America to Toronto. I was leaving behind the forests of rural Missouri.

Days of catching crawdads in the creek (pronounced crick, in the Ozarks drawl) and smelling woodsmoke on starlit summer nights had suddenly disappeared, replaced by a decidedly concrete, urban environment that didn’t really have a precedent in my life at the time. City life was incredibly new to me – Before we crossed the border into Toronto, I thought about what it would be like.

Here are some of the notions I had in my head:

  • Polar bears just walking through the streets – because it’s Canada, and it’s cold, right?
  • The only buildings we’d be seeing would be igloos – because it’s Canada, and it’s cold, right?
  • Subway trains had entire ‘Undercities’ in the tunnels, and people would live in them.

When we arrived in Toronto, we lived in a tall apartment building in the east end of the city. North of us was a largely industrial area, full of concrete factories and chemical plants, abandoned warehouses and empty lots, while to the northwest was the affluent neighborhood of Leaside. But to the northeast and surrounding us on all sides –

That was the Don Valley.

Let me give you some history on the Valley itself. For one thing, it’s had its protectors over the years. It seems like every decade or so the Don Valley chooses someone to champion it, to explore its many hills and ravines. Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), a founding member of the Boy Scouts of America, wrote extensively on the Don Valley, even owning two small cottages for some time in parts of the ravines.

“All my nature craved for knowledge of these things….When I glimpsed some new bird…I got a curious prickling in my scalp. Something clutched my throat; and when the bird flew off, leaving me dark as ever, it was like a swift blackness with a vague sense of sorrow and loss.”

— Ernest Thompson Seton

The second champion of the Don was Charles Sauriol (1904-1995) another naturalist who has written several books on the subject of the Don Valley as well as a major protestor of the Don Valley Parkway, an expressway project constructed in 1961.
He also owned two cottages for some time in the ravines – on the northeast corner of the Forks of the Don, the remnants of which I’ve been to several times, although the area is currently a hotbed of mosquito activity, so I can never stay long. What I have found is the remnants of Sauriol’s old bridge that crosses the Don, and what I believe to be an old well.

Charles Sauriol has written several books on the subject of the Don Valley

Today, the valley is still a hotbed of activity and while it has become less of a wilderness in recent years, there are still areas of it that are largely glossed over by the average hiker or mountain bike enthusiast. Areas with decades upon decades of history just beneath the surface.

I have no cottages in the ravine, nor any published books detailing my explorations, but I am lucky enough to live in a building that is as close to the ravine as possible without actually living in it. As I write this I have a birds-eye view of the 20th century railway bridge that Sauriol showcased in a picture as an example of the industrialization of the natural beauty of the ravine.

And I have some stories and photographs from the sixteen years I’ve spent exploring the Don Valley, which I can share with you here.

The Bottle Dump


Leaside was always a railroad town. It was one of the very first planned communities in Canada, and its streets (Hanna, Wicksteed, Fleming) all showcase that. All of these names harken back to the Canadian National Railway company, who had a hand in organizing the creation of Leaside itself.

One day I was wandering through a part of the forest close to my apartment, south of Leaside along a small western offshoot creek that fed into the Don River, doing some mudlarking, trying to find some interesting fossils or cool rocks when I saw a glint of something half buried in the creekbed. Intrigued, I waded in a little bit and pulled the object out of the creek – finding that it was a large, intact antique wine bottle that seemed to be in relatively good shape. Continuing my search of the creek I found more pieces of busted pottery, and a few old, yellow bricks.

This part of the river was downstream – so I walked further on up the river, through a couple brambles, while being accosted by mosquitos the whole way.

Eventually I reached the bottom of a large ravine. All along the North side of this ravine was a treasure trove of glass. All sorts of cobalt blue bottles, interestingly shaped soda bottles – and it was totally untouched, other than the steady flow of time.

What I’d found was the old Leaside bottle dump. These bottles all date back to the early 20th century, from about 1920 – 1932. Many of these bottles are pharmaceutical in nature, and from my research and some of the embossed glass on the side, I’m inclined to believe they came from the Tamblyn drug store on Bayview and Millwood.

It’s an interesting place – time is frozen there, since it’s so hard to reach due to the hazards of the swamp around it – and the trees blocking it from view, its a very solitary area – a small piece of history hidden amongst the trees of the Don.

And that’s what Sauriol, Seton, and modern contemporaries like Robert Burley – photographer and writer of the book An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Parklands all have in common. We are all explorers – and so very lucky to have these incredible green spaces here in Toronto.

The Limitless Draw of Nostalgia

In September of 2019, I made a small point & click game called July 25, 2005 on Scratch. You can play it here, but this is the basic concept.

You wake up in the middle of the night due to a strange sound. Unsure of what caused it, you explore around your room, trying to find the source.

I won’t spoil the ending here, but what I do want to talk about is my love of Y2K era nostalgia, which is laid on pretty heavily in this game

When I was a kid, this is what computers looked like.

The internet was in the very first stages of community, and it was before Facebook was the all-consuming force it was today. Way before Instagram, too. When I was around on the internet in those days it had a sort of ‘Wild West’ feel to it, a feel that there were unknown reaches at the edges of the familiar websites. Due to the pretty shoddy antivirus/firewalls on the Windows XP machines, the chance of getting a virus was pretty high – and things like Screamers or shock websites like Goatse or Lemon Party were always a danger too, so clicking links was usually a bit of a minefield – you never knew what you were going to get.

Creepypastas were born during this time, too – a lot of the ones that are the most famous, Slender Man, Huntsville Camping Trip, etc, were written during this time. Similar to the Blair Witch Project, where the fear was transmitted through the medium of a personal camcorder, and the creators did everything they could to make it feel real – these creepypastas were just written by people on the internet and put out there, the urban legends told around the digital campfire.

At the time, it felt like nobody was holding your hand. I think that’s why so many people have nostalgia for the internet of those days, why so many people miss ‘the old YouTube’. It was a much freer time.

My game, July 29, 2005, capitalizes on that fear of the unknown, especially relating to technology. Right now it’s all around us, but having grown up in the age of the family computer, technology once felt like the woods surrounding a pioneer village. Mysterious, and full of danger.