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 seventy-seven / / a rapidly congealing mass of paffle and nonsense


Here is the info for the brochure. I attached the original texts that I have been working from. This is pretty much already all done in Microsoft Publisher, except for a few things I can’t figure out.

Could you add some colour, like Bittersweet Shimmer or Deep Space Sparkle or other (not grey, or even Battleship Grey) and some borders; also there should not be spaces between items with a bullet.  Some fonts need to be changed to Calibri.

When will this be ready? I need 500 copies.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof.

I do not have the capacity to print 500 copies (which would be 1000 impressions, and then 1000 folds done by hand). For that I will need to get a quote from a print broker (and you will need access to a print budget).

I can do 50 copies. How would you like me to proceed?



50 is a good start.

The proof: you rearranged the order of the text! Please use the original order. Is this font Calibri?

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof. I have put the text back into its original order. Some panels may now appear squeezed because it’s too much text for the space.



Starting to look good!

Except for:

on the first side, can you change the bullet points into stars
can you make the titles bigger
make the logo bigger
can you put a border around the logo? or a star burst
could you add some kind of colour in the background or a border.  any colour except Battleship Grey.
Some French Sky Blue would be nice
It is my eyes or does the font look like it’s bigger and then smaller, like ripples in the ocean. Like traffic at night, that light snake that is all eyes, mean and sliding along a road beside a polluted and forbidding lake. Like the stairwell in an abandoned parking garage, cold and wet with the ghostly smell of long dead anxiety. Like a drawing that falls off the page. Like footsteps in the forest, never seen.

Also change all the fonts to Calibri.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof.



All that Battleship Grey is too overpowering.
Can you make a Light Medium Orchid border around all the paragraphs?
And a gilt-frame border around the logo?
Do you have Calibri as a font choice?
Also make the logo bigger.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof.



This is perfect! I need 500 copies by tomorrow. I’m off for the rest of the day, but I’ll come by to pick them up tomorrow morning.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


You’re killing me. Stop it.



I hope everyone’s well (even you, Esther). We’re still in the single digits of February but more sun is on its way.


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

the new rules are old again / / cigar-tin stories number sixty three

According to Harper’s Index, 92% of Americans spend 90% of their time indoors or in vehicles. The part of that which makes me stop is the in vehicles part, how commuting in a large city must be a constant fugue state of displaced helplessness and rage.

I am not doing well at work; all information systems and cognitive relays seem permanently compromised. I send things out and they keep bouncing back. Nothing is ever finished. Clients desperate for Solution A, clients in some last-minute bind, will not be satisfied when I actually supply them with Solution A, on time –– when I solve their stated problem. Suddenly they want Solution AB, or maybe even B would look better, don’t you think?  Plus the logo needs to be bigger. BIGGER, PLEASE. ASAP. Most days it seems pointless to do anything, especially if the work is going to be reviewed at any kind of meeting.

So I make some NEW RULES. They’re mostly old rules, mostly just underlining the idea of using up the entirety of my limited brain power to doing my own work first. Then the rest of the day, with its continuous debasement of my coherence as a human being (this imagined entity embued with stained dignity and a dangerously compromised soul) seems less egregious, as I stumble through in a robotic haze.

Snacking and naps are also integral. Walking and reading next on the list. Also: being strategically disagreeable. It has to be possible, and easily imagined, that you will wreck any dinner, walk out any front door, or exit any vehicle, if people talk to you or otherwise treat you like an asshole.

I read Personal Days by Ed Park. It’s a book about an office in decline, in its death throes, a last-days sort of thing, with the usual quirky-and-clever-but-flawed characters. Everyone has a tic, every moment is existential. It’s smart, probably too smart by half, because only the villain has any blood in him.

A double-page spread in The New York Times Style Magazine shows off a Louis Vuitton handbag decorated with Claude Monet’s Water Lillies. Also, just in case you don’t get it, there is a gold, embossed MONET on the side. This is what the Impressionists are now –– art so accepted, so colonized and consumerized, that it no longer works as anything but merchandise. Like the Beatles.

Because my office mates never, *ever* leave the office at lunch, and because they close the door at twelve o’clock sharp (even though 90% of the building has fled by 11:30), and because my idea of fun is *not* to sit in a closed room with two people and their chewing sounds, against a background of mouse clicks, I almost always leave at lunch. I run errands, I do some dry-goods grocery shopping, I visit the library, I drop by the studio. It feels like fleeing and the idea is half accurate.

The fourth floor smells like wetness and death but I know it’s just industrial grade mold. I can recognize that smell of degeneration anywhere –– the last office I worked at flooded all the time, because Winnipeg is hell’s black box of bad weather, and because somebody had poured concrete down all the drains. Eventually, all the floors and walls needed to be completely re-done. Anyway, at least I work on the second floor, and probably have a good three or four years before major pulminary issues.

Of course the Wi-Fi doesn’t work.

Lots of talk about how the political project is dead. I can’t say I’ll miss it; my adult entry into the world was to find myself wading into a sea of unemployment, debt and malaise. We still have the debt but at least everything’s constantly on sale.

Oona has a Halloween party at school, a Halloween night at Brownies, a Halloween day at daycare (another PA day, quel surprise). Never mind the actual Halloween. Every holiday is a week now. Christmas is a month. Does anyone wonder why? All I see are stooped hordes of hapless parents, playing seamstress/purchaser/chauffer/partyplanner. Being harangued by five year-olds for stupid choices. BIGGER, PLEASE. ASAP.

I used to love Halloween. It was greater than Christmas. In fact, Christmas was really for the little kids. Once you hit 12 or 13, Christmas was just a bit play-acting in the thank-you department followed by a highly awkward meal with not nearly enough stuffing. But Halloween in a small town in Saskatchewan in the early eighties, a town with no resident police presence … well, it was pure, unbridled anarchy, and more than once some middle-aged man came tearing out of a front door, trying to catch one of us so he could kick someone’s ass. Which only incited us to egg him and his house more.

Have a good week, everyone,

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

you’re making me anxious / cigar-tin stories number sixty two

Read a story in The New York Times Magazine about anxious kids –– not the usual Smiths-type anxiety but the I’m-not-going-to-school-anymore category, or what I’d call nuclear grade, in that once you stop leaving the house, or indeed your room, then everything is obliterated. It reminds me of the Hikikomori, the Japanese kids who shut themselves away (parents leaving dinner plates at the door, etc). My question was: okay, but what happens when these kids turn 18, 19, 20? 35? Do they never leave? And what happens when the parents die? C says there’s always someone else, some aunt or brother or church, but I wonder.

I’ve always had all sorts of anxiety; a grade four teacher once told me flat out that I’d kill myself if I didn’t stop worrying. Any kind of public event, in particular, can be a psychic wrecking ball of stress, at least until the event actually happens. But it was never an option to just not do it, or to stop doing everything.

Occasionally, we must do difficult things.

At the dentist (always at the dentist), getting two ‘repairs’ and one cavity addressed. “I don’t even know if you’ll need freezing,” the dentist comments, warming up her drills. This makes me anxious. The work is all near the gum line, which *might* lead to some sensitivity. “Would you like some freezing?” she asks. I shrug. Do I look like a guy who studied dentistry?

It reminds me of the conversation I had with the emergency ophthalmologist, who gave me the choice of the gas bubble + laser or full-blown surgery. “You tell me,” I said. “You’re an ophthalmologist. I’m just some guy who barely understands the problem.”

So I get the freezing. More needles, but at least these are in my gums instead of my eyeball.

If I never went to the dentist, I would never hear Foreigner or Def Leppard again. It’s always the radio in these places, and it’s always bad radio, as if life’s worst aspects are the only thing we can agree on.

A friend says all she does is dream and shop. “That’s a good t-shirt,” I reply.

Friday night at the studio and C texts me a link to the news that my express bus home cannot take its usual route home, that in fact it’s detouring all over hell’s half acre because the construction on Front Road is retarded. Great, I text back. Accordingly, the bus is fifteen minutes late. I ask the driver about my stop. “Oh, it gets there eventually!” he cackles. “What, like forty minutes?” I ask. “Who knows, buddy! Who knows!” Great. What are you, an extra in a Kids in the Hall skit? Everyone onboard is totally fucking confused as the bus careens around the west end of Kingston. Amazingly, we arrive at my stop at roughly the designated time. “You’re almost caught up,” I comment on the way out. “Almost, buddy! Almost!” he brays.

Sorry to bother you.
We found an error on the poster. The one we needed ASAP on October 3rd, the one we kept bugging you and bugging you about, and you stayed late to print all those copies.
On the side of one of the logos (the tiny one in the bottom-left corner), there is a ‘le’ where there should be a ‘la’. Yes, I know, you can’t really see it, but still.
Could you make the change and then reprint a million copies at forty-eight different sizes?

Hi Darryl,
I made a mistake when I said the project was approved. My manager says the date might change, and there’s a meeting on November 4th for this, so I will let you know at that point if the date is to change. Sorry about the confusion! Guess we didn’t need it right away after all!
Have a good day

Hey Darryl
Had a meeting and someone pointed out that the guy on the cover of the brochure isn’t in the program anymore, so we need to cancel the printing and redo the cover with a more current student. Do you have any pictures of current students?
We need this ASAP.


Because I carry a small magical box that tells me what to do, I dutifully download the newest update for my iPhone. Now it makes strange crackling noises, and randomly crashes, and performs weird tricks like turning the text upside-down if I try to use a photo filter while listening to a podcast. When it starts randomly texting me ASAP and SORRY over and over again, its mission will be complete.

Another week, another painting. This one is called The Traveller. I like its sense of wonder and relinquishment, and how the figure works with the map background.

Have a great week everyone,

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

How to Die from Graphic Design


How to Die from Graphic Design (in Ten Easy Steps)

An original art book, soft cover, perfect bound, full-colour throughout, 7 x 7 square format, 42 pages.

Essential reading for graphic designers or anyone thinking about studying graphic design: a step-by-step guide to the slow but steady poisoning of your artistic ambition and the eventual death of your creative self! Tongue-in-cheek? Perhaps. First and foremost this is an art book, filled cover to cover with my own original artwork in every media.


I made this little book at the end of a ten-month leave (without pay) from my graphic design job – a leave where I found myself doing far more graphic design than I intended (or wanted). Things devolved to the point where I could only think of graphic design as a kind of insidious killer, like stress or waterborne microbes or the spouse who pretends not to hear your cries for help from the bottom of the basement stairs (and instead turns up the volume on Madame Butterfly).


Of course I’m having some fun here, describing a creative profession as a kind of long-form suicide, but at the same time I find it pretty rich that people who want to make a living from the power of their visual imagination are drawn into the very industry that will (with the notable exception of those at the very top of the pyramid) ruthlessly crush anything original or experimental in its path.


All of the artwork is my own –– painting, drawings, illustrations –– with some unwitting spot contributions from my five year-old daughter, Oona.


I have nine copies of this book. The first six orders will come with an art-map poster (a poster folded like a map) of the back cover artwork, a photographic print of one of the interior artworks, and an original piece of library card art for use as a bookmark. The next three orders will come with an art-map poster of one of the interior artworks, a photographic print of one of the back cover artwork, plus an original piece of library card art for use as a bookmark. All copies are signed.



If you want the book only, you can find it on Amazon or Blurb.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some graphic design work to do.