December 30, 2005

46: Plays Of The Year

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I enjoyed keeping this site together over the past year. I've never held myself to a New Year's resolution before – never bothered setting one – and to look back now and see the stuff I've posted gives me a good feeling. Even though the original aim was to create something new each week, I consider the goal reached. I couldn't have factored in things like vacations, a month of moving preparations and spending the last weeks of the year working on Top Secret Project X (which I'll post next week: promise). I posted some reruns, quickies and remakes, but in the end I now have 43 new pieces of work I didn't have at this point a year ago (click here for a better look of the image above). And seeing how during the previous year, I might have come up with less new work than I have fingers on my two hands, I'm a happy camper.

Because I set for myself two other related goals (one failed miserably, the other a so-so pass), the results aren't all glowing. But put them all together, and I still graduated. So thbbbbpt – and on to next year.

I thought briefly about the status of this site a couple of weeks ago. It held me accountable to my resolution, and now that 2005 is over then mebbe it should be, too. After all, with the amount of time updating and writing all this stuff, technically I could have been putting myself to use in other ways. On the other hand, it kept me off the streets, my brain ticking, and largely away from the television. In the end, I decided to keep Jeopopolis on the air. And for 2006, I will keep trying to come up with a new bit of creativity once a week – and posting it here. Consider it a re-resolution.

I'm also gonna go on the record here with a related resolution, to keep up a sketchbook. Though I did all this stuff in the last year, not a great deal of it was with the aid of honest-to-goodness sketching or doodling. It doesn't have to be complex art, just an effort. More pencils. More direct observation. That sorta thing.

Thirdly, a totally unrelated third resolution: this year I am going to ride 2,080 kilometres on my bike before next winter. I have an odometer, and as a stats junkie I like to keep track of the distance it rings up (2,080 will bring it to an even 5,000 since I attached it). Last year, almost solely on commutes, I rode 1,100 kilometres. In 2004 – which was extremely crappy in these parts – I rode 1,200 kilometres, largely bolstered by a quickie spring biking vacation in Jasper. So this summer, I want to use my bike more as a means of exercise/stress-relief on top of regular commuting. It can easily be done. I just have to be all Nike about it and do it.

I want to thank the people who took time to come and visit this site. I never imagined back in January that it would receive as much attention as it has. So, if and when you read this, consider yourself thanked. The comments and support are greatly appreciated. And if you have a favourite image from all the posts in 2005, drop me a comment or an email (j_wolfe at ducks dot ca) and I'll gladly send you an electronic hi-res copy.

All the best in 2006.

December 29, 2005

Sprucing Things Up

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This is our first very own Christmas tree. There are many more like it, but this one is ours. And it's not really a spruce, but a balsam fir we picked up at StupidStore (Canuck shop-o-plex SuperStore, for the American reading masses) for twenty bucks last week. It thawed in our basement overnight, and the next day I sawed a slice off the trunk and fit it into our oversized tree stand. We borrowed leftover ornaments from Kerry's parents. We used a string of white lights, some covered with plastic lizards (above right) from an old strand of lights from Kerry's childhood bedroom, and popped a puffin hand puppet on top as our angel. It's adorable, and I'll never forget it. Size-wise, it pales in comparison to the long-needled monster trees my mom got when I was growing up (mebbe I was just smaller?). They were beautiful in their own right, but a sense of dread always came with them because it was my job to pick up the thousands of dropped needles. Mom wouldn't let me use the vacuum. She said the needles would clog the hose. And I defy that logic to this day.

The two moments I was most excited about when we bought our house was handing out candy to kids at Halloween and putting up a Christmas tree. I feel this year has been that much sweeter having these two moments now tucked in it.

Side note: I'm in the process of making changes to this site (as you can see). I've switched to a new background template to wrap up my first year of blogging, to better enable myself to be able to customize it further in the future. So please bear with me as I feel my way through a dimwitted spell of tinkering with web design (web design lite, really) – and if anything appears funny then by all means let me know, especially those using PCs. I already know it will wreak minor havoc on archived posts, because I've altered the width of the main content column so I can post slightly larger images. But still, lemme know.

December 23, 2005

45: The Hardest Button To Button

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Recently, the local chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) held a button swap – where interested members could create a design for a one-inch button. The entries were then gathered, printed, and shipped back with each submitter receiving a copy of each contributor's button – and, as it turned out, a whole whackload of their own (which I gave away at a dizzying pace earlier today). Kind of a neat concept, but the turnout was way less than expected, most likely because of Christmas and being broke and such. Hopefully the GDC does another run later on when people aren't so distracted. My button was probably the quickest to make; I took a photo of Kerry's belly button and basically sent it in as is, with this message (right) that wound up getting clipped. Ah well... having the collection is kind of cool, anyway.

December 19, 2005

44: Imagine-ation

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The second-last Illustration Friday theme of the year is appropriately enough, imagine – and as such, nearly every thing imaginable qualifies, like these two chaps imagined from the depths of my brain. They say opposites attract, but more often than not opposites also repel – and these two obviously are not taking the season's good cheer to heart. This was a quick sketch of one bird done in pencil. After scanning, I duplicated the bird, flip-flopped it and then brought the two beak-to-beak. The fill is just some Photoshop goofiness, also inverted for the duplicate bird. Click here for a closer look.

Before the year draws to a close and everybody toddles off to their own corner of the world, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish one and all a fabulous, merry, happy Christmas. Enjoy what time you have off, and take the time to chill and appreciate the good things that are happening all around. Personally, my family is scattering itself across the country – across the New World, actually – to gatherings in Newfoundland, Ontario, Saskatchewan and even Nicaragua (my mom, bless her, avoiding all things freezing and exploring Central America until May). Kerry's amazing family unit is taking me under its wings again, keeping things nice and Christmassy – and for that I am extremely grateful.

And to the wonderfully supportive online clans of visitors from both Illustration Friday and the Howieverse, have a safe and smooth set of holidays. Wherever you may be, and whoever you're with, enjoy.

Bonus: below is a Christmas e-greeting of my company's art department I made for us to send out to all sorts. The top-secret photo shoot was done a couple of weeks ago. That's me in the top right of the group, but all the guys have wigs so don't nobody go thinkin' this is how I present myself every day. Tinting, saturation, type-work (the font is Adobe's Bauhaus) and two out of three moustaches are the result of some added Photoshop magic.

Merry Christmas!

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December 12, 2005

43: Blow'd Up Real Good

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It's Christmas-time, so I hope this little piece of imagery doesn't come off as too macabre. But really, go and peruse the lengthy list of Illustration Friday submissions for the word surprise – then come back here and ask yourself, is there really anything more surprising in life than sitting on a bench, reading a book … and then spontaneously combusting?

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Just this weekend I completed Top Secret Project X and decided I'd let my hair down with this bit of fun. Actually, first I was going to revisit a doodle I made over a decade ago while working at Broadway Pharmacy in downtown Winnipeg. That place was absolutely full of surprises; they'd come through the door daily, destitute, delirious, drunk and (once or twice) dripping in blood. My friend Allan Lorde and I worked there for a number of years as teenagers (and then some), and we'd doodle the dates in the daily prescription copy ledgers the place kept. Sometimes they'd get pretty twisted, but so long as they included a date, nobody seemed to mind. I drew this one (above left; the poster reads death wields a mallet) – on August 12, 1994 – and thought it could use a proper update job as my submission for I-Friday's 'surprise'. But then I figured I'd just include it here along with coming up with something original for the first time in awhile.

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So here it is: a guy sitting on a bench, loosely modeled after myself (right). Reading a book (that's Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, my favourite). Waiting for the bus. And then: foom!

I used pencil for the loose sketch based from the photo, and then drew the final lines with my precious Pigma Microns. I only sketched it once, and duplicated it five times in Photoshop to get this final result – obviously with some minor amendments to the final bit of the sequence.

Be sure to click here for a better look than I can offer here on the homepage.

December 03, 2005

42: Mama Said Knock You Out

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Not that this week's Illustration Friday theme (
blue) particularly speaks to me, but for some odd reason I find angry people a heckuvalot easier drawing subject than happy people – probably because it's just that much more conducive to line-work. So, the word 'blue' gave me the chance to show off this cranky woman I just finished today. The inspiration came mostly straight outta my head, with a few exceptions; the idea of giving her fat, inflated fists came from a fridge-magnet illustration I made a few years ago – and the white fringe around her figure is created from Photoshop brushes once again complements of Philadelphia designer Keith Bowman (these brushes were also deployed for my Illustration Friday envy submission in the summer).

The initial illustration handiwork was done in pencil and a few different pens (line-work through her hair, collar and pants was helped out with a ruler, too). It was then over to Photoshop to insert the background and fist fills, as well as the bits of text. Clicky here for a closer look, but watch out for them fists.

November 28, 2005

41: The HOWieZine Cometh, Part III

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The rollout of the fifth edition HOWieZine is officially upon us – a nice, pre-Christmas turn of events that gets the gift-receiving season off to an early start. This edition, themed lost and found, was especially nice for me as I was fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to volunteer myself for cover duty. And I spent a fair amount of time in the fall mulling over how I was gonna go about doing it all up.

I first thought about the concept of feeling emotionally or creatively lost and/or found – how it happens, what triggers it, etc. But I’ve never been too fond of dealing with heavy topicality and opted instead for a more light-hearted route. And the socks really are a gimme. So much so that I'm predicting now, without having seen the finished book, that there will be other pages featuring them. But the dual scenes – the front cover's lonely singles and the inside cover's happy mismatched pairs (above) – put a spin on the timeworn idea of finding the perfect match. Click here for nice big, fat, close look.

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I filled out the back covers of the zine as well (above) with a pair of stand-alone ideas I had before I started drawing the socks. The inside back cover feature photos of trail markers from a hiking trip in the fall, twisted in a way to lead you on a circuitous route to the centered message. And the back cover I filled with a year-old photo of my niece Cadence, matched with the famous lyrics of Amazing Grace. Not a deep message, but one I thought more than suitable to finish of the end of the book. Clicky here for a closer look.

Let me know what you think. The next HOWieZine (theme: superheroes – this one's gonna be off the charts!) will get into gear in January.

November 24, 2005

When It Snows It Pours

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The view on Garfield Street, Winnipeg (Nov. 15, 2005).

Last week's snowstorm afforded me my first opportunity ever to 1) borrow a neighbour's shovel, and 2) build a snowman in my front yard – the latter being somewhat more of a personal highlight than the former. Our snowman's lifespan left a little to be desired: built at noon, wilting by three and dead on the ground by the time we came back from Kerry's parents place after dinner. He was a bizarre crossbreed, created from Kerry's desire to go all-natural – using dead foliage from our flowerbeds – and me wanting to use found basement objects, which consisted of a leftover scrap of dryer ventilation duct.

Here's a pic of Kerry and the big snowy papi we built on Sunday. We never even got the chance to name it.

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November 20, 2005

Free Time

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I have to get my butt in gear. Kerry and I are making a top secret Christmas present for a certain special someone, but it involves a bunch of work on my part – of which I've done nada thus far. But today, it begins.

And to keep my blog audience – now numbering in the millions – occupied while I toil away on Project X, I'm posting this nine-year-old piece of rerun action from my college days. I used to draw for The Projector, Red River College's student newspaper, over parts of three years (ten bucks a strip!) – and this submission came directly on the heels of getting dumped by my then-girlfriend. So draw what you know, right?

Anyway, she thought it was in poor taste. I think it was the most cathartic ten dollars I ever earned.

This cartoon also doubles as my Illustration Friday contribution. The site's theme this week is the word free – and this piece is appropriate enough, as it plays decoy while my free time is filled with work on Project X. Click here for a closer look.

Side note: My strip, The Crobolog, was named after a failed attempt at a Scrabble word by a friend during a mid-1990s weekend cottage bender.

Side side note: I will post Project X following Christmas. Keep pants on.

November 14, 2005

40: Squirrel Carrying Giant Nut

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A rundown on how this Illustration Friday submission came to be:

Friday was a holiday here in Manitoba. Remembrance Day. So while at Vimy Ridge Park, keeping warm, waiting for the local Remembrance Day ceremony to begin, I asked Kerry what I might do to illustrate strength. Surely, given the surroundings and circumstances, I could come up with something inspiring, something of a tribute...

So how about a play on the famous sculpture of Atlas, with the weight of the world on his shoulders? And instead of Atlas, it’s a squirrel carrying a giant nut?

And that's my thought process. As Forrest Gump would put it: "That's all I got to say about that".

I penciled it out in my sketchbook Friday afternoon. I'm not a very fluid cartoonist or caricature artist, so stuff like this gets drawn out quite carefully. Plenty of eraser action as I get body parts down just so. I pose, pretending to be the squirrel, to see how the hands and fingers should be positioned. Never drawn an acorn before, so I do an image search on Google. The acorn isn't working. I'm frustrated that I can't seem to draw an acorn. I begin to go over the squirrel's pencil-work in pen, doing my thicks and thins. There's mistakes that will have to be erased in Photoshop, so I mark them. After I finish the squirrel, I take a thin pen and sketch over the linework so it doesn't look totally rigid; it is a cartoon after all. I ink the basic outline of the acorn, but the perspective on the 'stem' is all screwed up. I draw a new stem on a separate piece of paper, scan it and add it to the finished linework digitally. I thought I might then post the line-art as is, a nice black-and-white piece of work. But I'm a sucker for the polish that digital colour provides, so...voila.

I call it Squirrel Carrying Giant Nut. Click here for a closer look. Hope you enjoy it. Have a great week, all.

November 13, 2005

39: Body & Spirit

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Regardless of the reason why you've come here – be it from Illustration Friday, random exploring or to cop my image of Rocket Robin Hood – I urge you to make your next mouse click here, to my online friend Jeff Andrews' blog concoction, Design Inspiration. This is a simple site built to give designers, illustrators, photographers – heck, anyone with a creative bone in their body – an opportunity to introduce themselves to the planet, and in particular, other creative types. The site's great angle lies in its indiscrimination; it's an equally high platform for both the established design rock star and the startup looking to make a name. I did it. See for yourself.

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I'm also posting this second shout-out to PhotoFortnight, the online photography contest I occasionally enter (and even won once, with my photo of the rubber duckies I posted here a couple of months ago). The theme of the moment is body, which fits perfectly with my recent experiments at home with the new camera. I'm having a hard time choosing a submission between the image above, which has a whole body-mind-knowledge-fire thing goin' on...

...and this one, which is more subtle. Harder to gather in with a quick look, but dark and somewhat creepy. And it tackles the theme from an 'out-of-body' direction. They both do. Go and vote when the submissions are posted after November 15. Especially for mine.

November 08, 2005

38: Photomiscellanea II

I've been tinkering with a number of photos I took or had developed recently. I got a new Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT for my birthday, which I'm very excited about. If anything – and anyone with a digital camera will tell you this – it gives me the opportunity to now make hundreds upon hundreds of mistakes without the guilt of wasting film. And by default, hopefully learn.

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Above: One of the first things I did with it was take it to work to see the ground squirrels, who are more than tame and tolerant enough of people to sit dumb and still while they get their picture taken. This fat fella (left) was one of the last remaining above-ground critters around when I walked past their colony a few weeks ago. This other timid creature (right) was caught in a self-portrait, reflected off the front of his G4.

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Playing with the camera's 'time-value' mode, I took a series of these ghostly shots using the timer function. These were 25-second exposures. That's me and me, and me, contemplating putting new sheets on the bed.

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Kerry reading her book on the couch we bought a couple of weeks ago. It's called Wendy. It’s red and cushy. Really ties the room together.

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These two photos of thick morning fog were taken at work almost a month ago with the department's Nikon D70. This happens a few times each fall at the marsh, and it's absolutely magical when it happens. The geese didn't even know I was there.

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I finally sifted through the roll of black-and-white film I took on our holiday in the Rockies. I popped it in the camera when the weather turned lousy to take some mood shots, but most of them didn't turn out that well. This dead tree (right) on Sun Point in Montana's Glacier National Park was a find. Kerry posed for me between two giant cedars (left) on a trail near Fernie, B.C.

November 03, 2005

Mike Wazowski!

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So, since perhaps the dawn of time no one has ever fingered me as Mr. Craftsmanship. Got a project that involves sculpting, mounting, cutting or outright delicacy? Keep it away from Jeope. I could design or illustrate decent work in college, but unfortunately part marks were always reserved for how well the piece was mounted. Blast.

But despite all my craftsmanship foibles, this past weekend I sucked it up and carved me a pumpkin. And to the best of my abilities, I made this fine specimen (above), intended to be Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. I hadn't made a jack-o-lantern in about 15 years, so carving memories from pumpkins past all came racing back, ranging from "phew, this thing reeks" and "eww, this feels disgusting" to "I absolutely love stabbing things".

Doling out candy to kids on Halloween for the first time was a sweet experience. And when one asked me if my pumpkin was "that guy from Monsters, Inc.", it felt doubly good. An extra Kit-Kat for that sucka!

November 01, 2005

37: Talking Heads

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These two disembodied, broken heads equally represent Illustration Friday's theme-o-the-week – broken – and a so-simple-it's-brilliant project by Oregon creative everything Von Glitschka: the Doodle Archive. Mr. Glitschka's always-thinking head is in the process of creating a website that will archive doodles submitted by folks from all ages, skills and walks of life.

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For the record, my doodle (above) was inspired by one of my department's multi-hour, mind-numbing and rarely relevant meetings which, until the day I started Jeopopolis, was my sole outlet for anything remotely off-the-cusp creative. These sessions are frequently dominated by talking heads, such as these two blokes. So in honour of the art of doodling, I managed to pry the black Pigma Micron 01 pen from my cold, undead hand in exchange for a more doodle-friendly Bic ballpoint (shudder!). And it took all of five minutes to do.

Then to incorporate the doodle with the broken theme, I crafted this Photoshop montage, which takes the concept of these talking-head types and merges it with an indisputable fact of life for the vast majority of graphic designers: these people are a major obstacle between cool, quality work and the means to have it shown to the world. They represent the finicky client, the micromanager, the board of directors, the boss's wife. Here they're literally chewing it up, leaving in their wake a big ol' void of bluh. Click here for a slightly larger view of the montage.

Side note: If you're wondering how to get yourself some of this sweet Doodle Archive action, head over to its under-construction homepage and follow the instructions to request a card like the one in the photo above. And if it's inspiration you seek, check out Mr. Glitschka himself and get lost in his one, two, three amazing websites.

October 27, 2005

36: And I Am Cute, Too

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To find the source of inspiration for subject matter in illustrating the word remote, I decided to travel deep into childhood to find the moment when I first discovered the meaning of the word. And truth be told, more than likely it was taught to me via the timeless bastion of learning that was, and is, Sesame Street. And in particular, a short sketch in which Grover displays the difference between 'near' and 'far'. So in honour of the moment, I've created this here quick and dirty homage to the furry monster who indirectly helped show me – and countless others – the definition of 'remote'.

Bless that hairy blue thing.

October 16, 2005

35: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

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While I devote the remainder of my week's spare time to devising a cover concept for the fall HOWieZine (theme: lost and/or found), I submit this tinkered version of an old FreeHand jobbie for Illustration Friday (theme: cold). I originally doodled and vectorized this hockey goon a couple of years ago. But with the reinstated National Hockey League back in full tilt, I thought a subtle revamp of this thug was in order. It is the League's intent that talentless ape-men like this fellow will be left out in the cold as it ushers in a new-look, skill-heavy PR effort. So to that effect, this hombre is quite cold, perhaps soon to become as much history as the helmetless player and the intermission smoke break.

The background in this piece is constructed from a few different sources; a strip of birch bark, a photo of an old wooden ammunition crate from Kerry's parents' cottage, plus some added Photoshop brush pizzazz and some blue-heavy hue and saturation shifts. One can get a closer look if one clicks here.

October 14, 2005

34: Don't Trust Anyone Over 30

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Last week Kerry and I went to Pantages Playhouse to check out a show by The Blind Boys Of Alabama, a longstanding – and kickass – gospel group we've seen a few times in Winnipeg over the years. Their shows are always energetic and relentless, and when I hear them I can't help but feel good – and I'm a solid-gold atheist. But as Bart said when he heard a gospel choir in a recent Simpsons: "Black God rules!"

This week we went back to Pantages for a show by Leslie Feist, recent Juno Award (the Canuck Grammy) winner for best new artist. She's a tiny ball of energy with a voice that can at times equally channel Etta James and Björk. One moment she's a cooing little pixie, the next she's a fireball wailing on a guitar, wringing out her punk roots for all to see and hear. And as good as that sounds, she was nearly trumped by her buddy and warm-up act, Jason Collett – with fearless stage presence, a Jagger-esque strut and a firing-on-all-cylinders band. Check them both out.

At right is the invite for our housewarming next Friday. Kerry thought up the cool concept, not remotely based on the fact it's October and we're three months late. I scanned one of her old blue mittens and added the stripes and rooftop effect in Photoshop. Click here for a closer look. 'Natch, you're all invited.

Side note: I've officially joined the ranks of the thirtysomethings. And while that’s not really a big deal in my books, I'd be lying if I said I haven't been thinking about it a bit. Especially when folks discover a new reason to poke fun ("If you were in the NHL, you'd be in the twilight of your career" – poetic). Whatever. Nuts to them, and nuts to you if you're one of 'em. And I did get to cross off one thing on my New Year's resolution list: turn 30.

Side side note: Speaking of the NHL, I'm kinda glad it's back. My heart didn't skip any beats last winter – and not that I have allegiances to certain teams anymore, but I do fancy the other great Canadian tradition: the hockey pool. Even though I regularly come out with some cash at the end, and it's early – way early – but my pool team is clearly a bunch of bums.

September 30, 2005

33: Will It Float?

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This may well be one of the weakest links to the theme of this week's Illustration Friday, but if the shoe – or in this case, the drawing – fits, then it. And just what is "fits" anyway, in these topsy-turvy modern times?

I recently wrapped up this illustration as a favour to an online friend who has a brilliant idea knocking around inside his skull for a potential children's book. For anonymity's sake, I'll refer to him/her here only as Mister/Miss Ravens McOrioles – as I don't want to let the goose out of the bag before he's/she's even put pen to paper. But because the subject matter was up my alley, I offered to help flesh out a bit of imagery for the story which involves a goose and a wallaby.

Side note: I've never drawn a wallaby in my life, so Mister/Miss Ravens McOrioles, we're on equal footing with that fella!

The goose however, I know and know well. I was given details about the goose character in McOrioles' story idea. Goose X (not his real name) was to be an eccentric fellow, well-dressed, prone to bouts of daffiness, imagination and ideas that sometimes sink and sometimes float (hence the background scheme and loose relation to Illustration Friday's theme). I decided to give him an elderly, forgetful-professor vibe to boot; kind of a fuddy-duddy.

I loosely sketched a whole manner of geese that for one reason or another didn't turn out. This fella was eventually done up in pencil last weekend, detailed in pen and coloured in Photoshop. Click here for a closer look. Do it.

September 28, 2005

32: Seamless

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I rue the day I started taking panoramic photos. It seems now that I just can't stop.

One of my favourite things to do, photography-wise, is create panoramas. It started a few years ago when vacation pics I took in Nova Scotia just didn't seem to capture the size and scope of some of the places I visited. But when I stitched a few consecutive pictures together, the effect was much improved.

On the flipside, this tactic has really upped the number of film rolls I run off at any given time. Each panorama is usually constructed from anywhere between three and ten single photos, depending on the span of the subject. From there it's a seemingly endless process of colour matching and rubber-stamp work in Photoshop.

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These panoramas were taken on two of the better days from my vacation. At top is the amazing view from the Bear's Hump
(click here for a closer look), constructed from a series of eight separate photos. This image best shows Waterton Lakes National Park's tight transition between prairie and mountains, as well as the townsite and the park's namesake string of lakes. Above is the five-photograph, west-facing view of Crypt Valley (click here for a closer look), and below is an east-facing view along Lower Waterton Lake with some cool directional clouds (made from six photos, click here for a closer look).

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September 19, 2005

It's Raining Bears

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It's a nice day as we set out to Prince Albert (Saskatchewan), our first stop and a visit, long-weekend-style, with Kerry's older squister and her family. The car is loaded with snacks, a fat Saturday newspaper, a fully-laden iPod with recently acquired iTrip dealie and a tank full of the most expensive gasoline in history.

It seemed that our local media couldn't get enough of bears and bear attacks in the days leading up to our departure. Which sucks, on account of us vacationing in bear country, and because of Kerry's newfound worrying-about-bears. And so, a couple hundred kilometers from home, a black bear galumps across the highway – and I think, aw jeezus.

In Watson, Saskatchewan, we stop to check out the giant Santa Claus (right). Watson is the self-proclaimed Christmas Capital of Whatever, population 800. We also spot a pair of great, big home-made Michelin Men a few miles down the road in Daphne. I think Saskatchewan must be the Capital of Giant Roadside Objects.

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Kerry, niece Anna and older sister Jennifer sportin' vintage togs at Batôche.

In Prince Albert we have a ton of fun, starting with an awesome barbecue of beer-butt chicken. Kerry's niece Anna and nephew Duncan are a hoot and a handful. Duncan and I waste much time playing Scoot-The-Matchbox-Car-Across-The-Floor, How-Many-Times-Can-You-Hit-A-Balloon-In-The-Air (By-Using-Only-Your-Head) and Froggie-Get-In-The-Glass (don't ask, they're all complex).

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We also spend a great day touring local Canadian history hotbeds Batôche and Fort Carlton. Saskatchewan is celebrating its centennial, so cake at Fort Carlton is free and evening fireworks in Prince Albert pop to homegrown music superstars like Joni Mitchell and some group called The Tex Pistols. A rainy Labour Day is spent with Duncan and his dad Peter at a local fishing hole, where Duncan teaches me how to catch a frog (above).

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Our goes-everywhere travelmate does not appreciate the Canadian prairies.

The next day's starting point Prince Albert and finishing point Waterton Lakes (Alberta) cannot be more dissimilar. Forests fade to farmland. Farms fade to tree-sparse rolling hills. Hills fade to endless miles of barren ranchland, to dry plateaus dotted with oil derricks, to foothills, to mountains. Somewhere south of Lethbridge I blink and all of the sudden they're there on the horizon. The mountains here are an amazing sight. There's almost no transition zone as they rise straight off the prairie.

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Me on the Crypt Lake Trail, a few thousand feet higher than I was a couple of hours previously.

Our first full day in Waterton may well have been the best of the entire trip. It's cloudless and hot as we pay for the boat to take us across the lake to the Crypt Landing trailhead (voted one of Canada's premier hikes). The man in line behind me sounds like Sam Elliott. "One fer th' Crypt".

The Crypt Lake trail is incredible, and incredibly tough for flatlanders like us. It's an 18-kilometer, 2,300-foot ascent up a steep valley with switchbacks too numerous to count, views of four stunning waterfalls and vertigo-inducing topography. One notable segment includes rock-hopping a frigid creek, scrambling up a scree slope and a short metal ladder bolted to a cliff, then crawling through a 100-foot natural tunnel and shunting along a (cable-aided) precipitous Coyote-and-Roadrunner-esque rock wall. Looking down, though not recommended, offers views that are incredibly, incredibly cool. Reaching the end of the trail, we are rewarded with some time to kick back at Crypt Lake, which is surrounded on three sides by sheer vertical mountain faces.

And then it's all done again, in reverse. Our holiday's second bear is spotted munching a safe distance from the trail.

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Kerry navigates the tunnel on the Crypt Lake trail.

While waiting at the trailhead dock for the boat to return, I stick my sorry-ass feet in the water. We're so sore. Back at the motel I want to fall asleep, but it’s only 8:00. We decide to at least wait until it's dark (what 29-year-old wants to admit going to bed at 8:00) and attempt to play frisbee, but my thighs are made of concrete. We swing in the swinging seat in the parking lot. Best day ever.

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For our second day in Waterton we decide on a trek of a decidedly more horizontal nature. Taking the traditional boat tour along the park's long, central lake, we get off at the south end which is actually in the States and plan to hike back – a relatively comfy and horizontal, 15-kilometer hike. It's the same trail I went on with my family when I was nine years old. The first few kilometers seem rarely used, and there's plenty of overgrown brush and webs. Then bam! There's a great, big berry-laden pile of bear poop, and we start to freak out. It's the only way we can go, we're alone and the boat is long gone. We continue, making lots – and lots – of noise. Kerry sings:

Hey bears! Yo bears!
There's no bears like no bears!

Suffice to say, we make it out alive. We stop for lunch on a dock smack-dab on the international boundary, which for some odd reason is marked with a laser-straight 20-foot swath straight through any and all wilderness in its path (right). Weird.

It's a nice, long trek on another beautiful day. We cap it off by taking our dinner (Subway subs and a bag of chips – nice!) with us up a steep, short hike to a point that overlooks a great portion of the park and out into the surrounding prairie. It's a stunning view. So far it's been a great trip...

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Me and Kerry atop the Bear's Hump, overlooking Lower Waterton Lake.

Until the following day. Clouds are rolling in, but it's still plenty pleasant in the morning to seek out a third nice trail that leads us to the Rowe Lakes. I can sense though, that the weather is turning – and it can, on a dime in the mountains – so we cut the hike short and decide to fill out the remainder of the day exploring the rest of the park with short stints from the car. We visit Cameron Lake, where it begins to rain lightly. It's getting colder. We take the short drive to Red Rock Canyon and Blakiston Falls when we come across a "bear-jam" (halted traffic, throng of stupid tourists, bear). And just like for rednecks when they see UFOs, my camera suddenly doesn't work.

It's raining as we look around. Some guy hiking with a big cigar in his mouth asks me to take a picture of him and his wife.

At night we go out on a Waterton date; out for pizza and then a movie at the little town's rickety theater. It's pitch black, wet and cold, and The Brothers Grimm is a poor choice. Some of it even creeps me out.

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A goldeneye swims in the rain on Lower Waterton Lake.

The next few days are a total washout. It doesn't matter one day because we're doing laundry, exchanging currency and driving across the border into Montana. Funny story (though not at the time): An hour after checkout I realize we've forgotten a bottle of wine we bought in the motel room. We go back to get it, but the Hutterite cleaning women have already swigged from the bottle. And it's not even noon. Hell, we didn't even know they were allowed to drink. But the front-desk lady's hilarious head-shaking and whispered curse of "Hutterites!" will stick with me for some time.

The afternoon is spent reading the fat Saturday Globe & Mail, which we wisely picked up before heading States-side. We venture outside only to the motel's cozy diner, which appropriately enough, reminds me of the restaurant chain Montana's. The day's highlight comes at 10:00, when because of our proximity to Canada, we are able to watch the fifth season premiere of The Sopranos on CTV.

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One of several bleak views offered us in Montana's Glacier National Park.

The next morning it's still raining, now sixty hours straight. To boot, it's snowed in the higher elevations. We head to the Glacier National Park visitor center to find the park's crown attraction, the Going To The Sun Highway, closed due to snow. We enter the park anyway to explore the fringe areas; the lady at the booth says "do your best". Trying out a small hike, we're caught in a deluge and we retreat to the motel to dry out. In the afternoon we're caught in another dummkopf bear-jam and scolded by the park ranger via megaphone.

It's miserable cold now. That night we decide to cut short our time in the U.S. and head straight to Kerry's parents' condo in Fernie, B.C. The news reports that Fernie is suffering through an unseasonal snowstorm. But right now it's the lesser of two evils.

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The condo is situated in a ski resort outside of town. It's a nice place with a ping-pong table and a homey atmosphere. We stay in Fernie a few days, going for short walks when the weather's OK, heading into town and gathering our wits. The rain still shows up now and then, and felled trees from the storm impede our progress on a few local trails, but it's a cozy place in an out-of-season sort of way. On one nice day we hike into the forest (right) where the smell of gigantic cedar and fir trees is mesmerizing.

We stock up at the Calgary IKEA on our long ride home. The highway from Calgary to Winnipeg is a whole lotta nuthin'. A night is spent in Swift Current, Sask. to break it into two manageable pieces. But the time goes fast, and being home is strong motivation. In the end, it was a trip full of anecdotes and funny stories. Not the two-week Rocky Mountain adventure I had hoped for, but a welcome time and a few days so memorable and nice that it was absolutely worth the crap weather we had to endure at other times. I'd do it again in an instant.

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A freight train runs through Kerry's head as we switch off driving duties in Saskatchewan.

September 18, 2005

31: The HOWieZine Cometh, Part II

The fourth edition of the HOWieZine has been released to the extremely limited masses, so it's safe to post my submission without any protests of "spoiler!" from the dedicated designers who put time into crafting their own pages. This issue's theme was naked, a word that can conjure up an array of ideas, interpretations and imagery.

As with my first submission to the HOWieZine project, I collaborated with Kerry in putting my idea to paper. The Cartographer – a poem she wrote a few years ago – became my text to play with, a beautiful story that combined nicely with my own fascination with maps.

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In order to accommodate the sneakily subjective photo I took (relax smut-watchdogs, they're only shoulder blades), I had to create a wider-than-normal page that eventually took on centerfold-type proportions (how apropos). The inside spread (above, click here for larger view) features Kerry's poem, split into three sections, rolling with the curves of the photo and the graticules of the map overlay. And the overlay itself is shown on the outside spread (below, click here for larger view), along with the title and lines of topography that match up with the interior photo. And of course, X always marks the spot.

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August 31, 2005

30: Ducks In A Row (a.k.a. Yellow)

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Those interested in photography ought to check out PhotoFortnight, the summer brainchild of fellow HOW forum participants Sean O'Dwyer and Joe Blend. Their site offers photographers of all skill level an opportunity to send in submissions based on the site's bi-weekly theme. Once all submissions have been received, they can be voted on by viewers. Results are then posted roughly one week later. But unlike the massively popular Photo Friday, only pictures snapped within a two-week window are accepted. PhotoFortnight also offers themes that call for a little extra thinkwork, and even a touch of design sense. Case in point, the latest theme: yellow.

My concept here is pretty plain-Jane, using a unique road sign just outside of where I work. But the image that was in my head differed sharply from my best final output, so I spent some extra time mulling over a yellow-based still-life session the next day with objects from around my house (see below). In the end though, I submitted the original idea. It's goofy.

So after the long weekend, head over to PhotoFortnight and vote. And be kind to my pic!

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A slightly Photoshop-enhanced outtake from the second shoot. This one shows the grand pile of stuff that I gathered together (sad that I forgot to bring my happy-face frisbee). R.E.M.'s Green is my favourite item in the shot. Also shown is one of only two modern-day issues of National Geographic without a photo on the cover.

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And in this one, the soon-to-be-famous duckies are ready for their close-up. For now though, it's back to their spot atop the sill above the toilet tank.