cigar-tin stories number eighty three / / a Friday, in several parts

A Friday morning. It’s the end (finally, Jesus, the end) of Oona’s March break so I don’t have to make any breakfasts or lunches but my own. And that’s easy: coffee with cream. My brother-in-law is a believer in short periods of fasting so I’m trying it on; although I won’t make it to noon, I can probably last ’til 10, with more coffee and water along the way. Since starting this dieting business, I’ve lost nine pounds. I have until the end of April to lose twenty. I use my no-rushing, no-coercing, no-craziness morning time to write in my day planner. I am that person who is more or less organized because I constantly struggle and fail to be more or less organized. But soon I have to get going; Oona has a play date at a frenemy’s this afternoon which means her mom needs the car which means I need to go catch a bus. After a warm, hope-filled day Thursday, the weather this Friday morning is a rap across the knuckles, with a hectoring wind that cuts right through my light gloves. Several people at the bus stop are not wearing hats and some even have wet hair and I know I am getting old now because the sight of this makes me wince. On board the 502 Express downtown, things get eerily quiet; people are already working hard at avoiding eye contact. I listen to an Irish Times podcast about Russians being poisoned in Great Britain, then about the slurping volcano of buffoonery and sleaze in Washington D.C.; the musicality of the Irish accent somehow makes it all less deplorable. The walk from downtown to my office, especially the middle part going over the causeway, is loud and biting and wholly unpleasant. A guy in front of me, determined to try and smoke and have his coffee along the way, is experiencing the weather equivalent of being rolled into a wet rug and kicked by a gang of children.

A Friday working. I spend all day making minor, senseless corrections on a massive book that is murderous in its blunt length––all heavy, black-letter design and blustering irrelevance (I once had an American history professor who confessed that most military history is the intellectual equivalent of masturbating into the sink). The sheer volume of charts and graphs and things that have to be turned on their sides just to fit is brutal; I think I understand ideas around crashing ambition better than most but this is a bit obliterating in the futility department. By the end of the day I’m literally twitching with the sheer uselessness of the last eight hours.

A Friday evening. Friday evenings are hard. I’m tired. But if I can just get to the studio and fall into some work, things will usually proceed on their own simply by picking things up or taking them down.

I finish some cigar-tin stories –– here, here and here. I make a booklet about wolves (which I haven’t had time to scan or photograph––maybe next week). I remake a painting that has been asking me for something for quite some time. I finish a book art object about monsters.

I start a new painting, over a giant map, but there are some problems with working too wet, so it will need some going over. Also, I have this idea to re-fold it as a map again, incorporating those lines/folds as part of the image, and thereby transforming its nature as well (it could be treated just like a map, something to pin to a wall, or even frame). A more affordable, transportable art. I’ll probably write more about this next week as well.

Finally, I have to call it a day. On the way to catch the bus home I pass whole battalions of stumbly-legged blonde girls and pressed-together boys, all of them giving off the psychic energy of gophers, all half-drunk and carrying flats of beer, and then I remember that it’s St. Patrick’s Day this weekend, and I start thinking about drinking, and bars, and I have this weird errant thought about Winnipeg, where I used to live, in the long ago, for ten years in fact, and I wonder, is Winnipeg the Sammy Hagar of Canadian cities? Loud, wildly permed, all capped teeth and Mazatlan tan, largely ignored but standing directly in front of the speakers anyway?


I hope everyone survived their kids’ social calendars last week,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

p.s. This is a version of my regular Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to here.


cigar-tin stories number eighty-two / / memory ruins

Oona and I listen to a podcast about colours. One of the stories is about a woman who loses her sight, then regains it slowly, painfully, in a highly altered fashion, seeing like some prehistoric fish at the bottom of the ocean. At one point her brain begins turning on the colours of things when she’s told what they are; somewhere in our brains are tiny wires marked out for ‘blue’, I guess.

At the supermarket (always at the supermarket): a teenage girl, sullen in the wake of her mother’s endlessly stupid grocery shopping (“Why are you even buying that? I’m not going to eat that. This is boring!”), says, with little atomic lightning bolts shooting from her eyes, “Do you even know where you’re going? You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” Sometimes it seems like this is the entire world.

On Brownie night I serve Oona a quick supper––in this case it’s a mixed plate of grape tomatoes, sliced strawberries, vegetable crackers, seedless grapes, Polish sausage in bite-sized chunks, apple slices, cheese, toast with butter and jam, and cold chocolate pudding. It’s the cheese where I fall down; Oona won’t eat regular cheddar or mozzarella, she’ll only eat either when they’re mixed in a processed cheese string. Foolishly, I have broken these into pieces, and mixed them with all the rest. The censure is swift. “What were you thinking, daddy?” she asks.

I haven’t been posting as much art. This isn’t to say that I’m not creating as much, only that I’m experiencing some kind of glitch where I skip the last step, the packaging and presenting and posting part. I seem to have a lot of things lying around the studio, moving around but never put away and asking strange questions in their need to be finished off. But it’s always easier to start things than to finish them, isn’t it? At the start of things the world is yours. But finished things move away from you.

Part of this is down to organizing. Nothing of importance can be accomplished without organizing. I’ve heard. Unfortunately, the aspect of my brain dedicated to organization often looks like the forgotten remains of a bag of onions––all rottenness, brittle skins and some kind of plastic mesh where you can’t find your way in. And then as you get older, you just don’t care as much.

So much of my life these days is the giving up on things. I don’t mean this in any negative way; it’s more the ability to ignore the various circuses that roll through one’s cognitive suburbs. The noise, dear, and the people. I think instead about routine. I don’t want to buy anything. I have too many masters already.

Consumer society doesn’t really work so much anymore by pulling the old levers of advertising and having you want things; now it cultivates the need for adventure. It’s the difference, I guess, between the Cuisinart You and the Curated You. It’s just a different road to the same place. You’ll still require many products and devices.

Looking for music, I find a CD with the handwritten (Sharpie) label of ‘mixed for new’. It might be fifteen years old. The ancient JVC stereo in my studio was always cheaper than fuck, and these burned CD’s always have a secondary audio quality anyway, but I sort of love the heavy, low-fi sound: loud but somehow never sharp, never refined, as if coming from the end of some narrow memory tunnel.

At a children’s play where the kids read from scripts: it is not exactly a the-future-is-ours kind of moment. But the real play is called SELF-ESTEEM, and the velvet ropes are fiercely patrolled by organic-fed parents, all ecstatic applause and giant teeth, so I do not say a word.

It’s March Break, which should really be called Emergency Child Care Week. I take some holidays to stay home with Her Highness. The morning is for playing, the afternoon is for getting out. Yesterday it was simple: a giant walk that ended at a bakery. “But all these cookies have peanuts!”, my eight year-old complained, even though she is not allergic to peanuts and her aversion is completely based on some random comment by another manipulative eight year-old. In the end she picked out some lemon cookies and some shortbread with a jam centre. How awful.

Have a good March Break, everyone.


Draw things, write things, paint things, make things.

p.s. This is a version of my Tinyletter, which I send out every Tuesday from here.

downtown fire escape


downtown fire escape

an original mixed media collage on cradled wood panel

9 x 12 x 1 1/2 inches

drawing, found paper, typographic elements, acrylic paint, colour-infused gel, pencil and marker

a very red painting that tells a frantic little story

packaged for gift giving

a perfect accent for a cubicle or desk, adding vibrancy and detail

sealed and protected with gloss varnish

three quotes for this one …

She’s mad, but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire.
~ Charles Bukowski

Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman.
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Catch on fire and people will come for miles to see you burn.
~ John Wesley

shipped with care

everything from my store comes with an extra art surprise


original painting, home decor, decorating, fine art, wall art, collage, wax, monoprint, heat, flame, fire, downtown, escape, wood panel, gesso, acrylic, ink, pencil, wax paper, varnish, the moment of forever burning

june is no summer at all



Or at least it hasn’t been –– just gloom and humidity, with intermissions of wind and rain. An impression of weak sun, here and there. WAKE UP.

Summer is hard on the artist. Rounding the corner into July, which announces itself as SUMMER in the same way that Godzilla enters a room –– no matter what the weather, YOU WILL HAVE FUN, YOU MUST BE HAVING FUN –– one can almost feel the psychic descent that takes place, as all plans go out the window, and the notion of work becomes a mannequin heaved to the sidewalk. All around you, all the time, nothing is getting done.

But art doesn’t like to be picked up and discarded at one’s convenience. Certainly, there are ebbs and flows, but ‘breaks’ have a certain price tag attached –– muscles not used, imagination in decay.

For me, the fact that I have a studio that I pay for exclusively with proceeds from my visual art and writing demands that I use it consistently and effectively. It means discipline. It means going in there regularly and making something from nothing.

I have two weeks coming up where I should get to do a lot of work in a hurry. Wish me luck.

The Poet


The Poet, IV; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 24 x 24 x 1.75. You can see a fuller description here.


I took the day off yesterday, and spent it in my studio painting this. I’ve found it difficult to think lately –– specifically in terms of what happens next, creatively, or what I should do next. The things I have the capacity to imagine. How much effort and discipline I will bring to bear. If I am being honest.

There is always the matter of what I want to do versus what I want to do.

And while this is going on I still need to work. So I simplify things, meaning I just make paintings. Not art objects or fussy smaller pieces. I mean big works, on wood: the kind I bind to the easel, and do some violence to with corrupted brushes. The iconic nature of the imagery seems to come easily from that.

It’s summer. We’ll see how this goes, and where I end up.






Interview with Susan Schwake, author of Art for All Seasons


Recently I interviewed Susan Schwake about her new book, Art for All Seasons. Besides being an author, Susan is an artist, a gallery owner and an art teacher.

Q) Hi, Susan – how are you? Congratulations on your fourth book in this series! Just in general terms, how have you found the process? How much control have you had over it? It’s so much work – writing, editing, design, publishing and promoting – has it come naturally to you, and do you enjoy it?

Susan: I have found the process exciting and exacting. With writing I find that my flow is best in the morning and keeping a schedule or “date” with myself keeps me on track. I love the process and order it demands.

Q) You have a life as an artist, a gallery owner (and curator), and an art teacher. Tell me how those lives contribute to this book. For example, because I know your work, I can look at Art for All Seasons and immediately see a connection between the lessons inside and your own creative style – light, playful, full of decorative touches and spontaneous juxtapositions – but perhaps for you it’s more about the teaching aspect?

Susan: Perhaps! It would be hard for me to split both my aesthetic and my teaching style as I see them connected deeply in childhood.  My greatest task (in my own mind) is drawing out each person’s individual style while encouraging brave, experimental, spontaneous events in their work.  I do not give models for the lessons in my studio but for the books I do show final outcomes with the disclosure that each person’s work will be different and to celebrate that difference. And to cherish the process most of all.

Q) Tell me why kids should make art. Is art important?

Susan: For children visual art is a way to express most personally, their world. As many adults don’t always listen to children as well as they should – a visual presentation of this can be most important on many levels – from serious to extreme humor!


Q) I like the seasonal framework for this book. Why did you choose that, and how do you think art activities change by the season? Found objects seems like a good example to start.

Susan: Living in New England we are seriously bombarded with the four seasons. Some years I hear Vivaldi’s violins roaring in my head while the black flies attack or the winter storms on!  I think Nature and her changes are something to celebrate and to pay attention to. Using them as a springboard for inspiration and for materials is a natural fit for kids. Who doesn’t remember their rock collection from the 2nd grade?

Q) I also love the way you link an artist’s work with the lesson at hand, plus the fact that these are all working artists that you know. Tell me about using examples this way, and about finding inspiration in general.

Susan: Thank you DJ for being part of this process and bringing this question forward. It has been a goal of mine since starting my little school 20 years ago to introduce less famous artists to children than what they might learn about in school.  The reasoning behind this is this: everyone may not be inspired by Monet or O’Keefe. Everyone more importantly – might not identify with a famous artist. Perhaps a young student compares their work to a master who’s work doesn’t resonate with them and they feel isolated.  Each student (both young and old) that I have worked with seems to have different opinions on what art they like or identify with.  Having a wide library of art books and a gallery filled with different artists we have been able to teach our students a variety of lessons based on elements of professional artists work.  For example: Last week a newer student was creating a painting of a simple still life. She painted a dark line around all of the elements outlining each one. When I asked her about what she saw she said that it just seemed darker to her around all the elements and naturally painted that in.  I grabbed a book of still life paintings by Cezanne  and showed her his outlining techniques and encouraged her to continue following her style.  It’s an affirmation sometimes for kids and adults alike to see something outside of the traditional realm of art that reasonates with them  – or that they question.


Q) I have a five year-old, and part of her love for art is the process involved, as if the steps were some kind of magic trick. Do you think that making art is valuable in terms of learning patience? Do you see this at play in your own classroom? Does it work for adults as well?

Susan: The process IS why so many people make art. It is a good deal play and the permission of the teacher is what allows both kids and adults to make the magic happen.  Too much emphasis on product detracts from the act of making and that interferes with learning the patience part – which directly evolves from making a lot of art.  Sorry for the run on sentance but it is a cyclical problem as I see it. Adults and kids alike suffer from the same problem.

Q) Another thing that comes through in the book is how accessible art is – the entry costs are extremely low, all the rules are bendable (if not breakable), and there’s no right answers. Can you talk about a little bit about happy accidents, or the idea of the joy being in the process?

Susan: It’s always my greatest hope that my students know that everything goes, no rules – just physics in some cases – and that there is no cheating, just many solutions to questions. The job at hand is always joy in the process of making and knowing that there are many many art pieces to be made to get to the one you love best – so you might as well have fun on the way!


Q) If you could give parents one bit of advice when it comes to making art with their child, what would it be?

Susan: Let your child make their own work.  Make something with your own ideas either alongside them or after they have gone to bed. Ask them to tell you about their work instead of asking What Is It?  Let them make art!

Q) So what’s next? Does the series continue?

I have always wanted to make a book which a child could pick  up and look at a series of simple directions and photos and make something on their own.  A book that would cut into their screen time. A book that they would love and be excited to own.   In September we are releasing ART CAMP which I hope will be just that book!

Thank you so much, Susan. If you enjoyed this interview, and would like a chance to win a free copy of Art for All Seasons, please like this post, leave a comment below or send me an email at I’ll post the draw results in three days.

You can find Art for All Seasons on Amazon, as well as the other books in the series. You can find Susan’s own work at, and artstream studios here.