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.


and from the ends of our 8-bit universe, we called each other and cried (i love him deeply)


and from the ends of our 8-bit universe, we called each other and cried (i love him deeply)an original mixed media painting on cradled wood panel; 8 x 10 x 1 1/2 inches

I think I like collage too much. I think the process of tearing down and building up is addictive, not only within the process of each artwork itself, but with all the supporting material that one needs to gather and prepare, as if building a little library. Like how a scrapbook can eclipse the pictures within.



bursting into the cityan original mixed media painting on cradled wood panel; 8 x 10 x 1 3/4 inches

These ones are thick, built-up; they have the heft of furniture, or relics. They feel substantial.

But I’m finally getting to the end of these, for now. I have a last set that I’ll photograph and post this weekend, and after that I’m more interested in combining figurative drawing and painting with background collage elements (in fact I have a load of vintage maps that I’m keen to use).

It’s very cold here, while other parts of the country are being hammered by storms. Stay warm and keep off the highway if you can.

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.

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.

cigar-tin story – “Draycott”


cigar-tin story – Draycott  / /  an original painting on a dessert cigar tin which contains an accordion booklet of an original short story

Draycott is the story of bus ride out to the edges. You can hear it here.



I used to number my cigar-tin stories but at some point (around the 180 mark, I think?), between selling online and in-person, I lost track and couldn’t keep them straight. So now I just label them by the story, even though some stories might appear in two or three different tins over time (I probably have about 60 published stories and another 100 unpublished stories to choose from).





I find it easier to sell these in person, when I can put the cigar-tin story into someone’s hands and explain to them that they’re holding a one-of-a-kind, original art object, something priced to work as a highly unique collectible or gift.


The online aspect is still a real struggle. I keep thinking that I’m going to reach some magical point where I’ve put in enough hustle and I’ve reached a large enough audience and I’ve won enough customers (or even patrons) that it will all go on autopilot and I’ll only have to worry about producing enough work … but that never happens. And all I can do is keep working.

set up to go


The best way to come into the studio in the morning is to find it already set up for work. If you take the time to do this before you leave the previous evening, then the next day you can just walk in, take off your jacket, open your coffee, and start to work. For an artist, this is like sitting down to dinner.



The aftermath of three cigar-tin stories. I don’t paint the covers with any idea in mind; I just find three reference pictures that are compelling in some way. That’s it. To proceed in any other fashion is to be self-conscious (once you start thinking too much about what you’re doing, you’re in trouble). It’s only afterwards that I try to match the image with a story –– which isn’t that difficult since I literally have hundreds of stories, writing something new every week for my Ban Righ writer’s group.