December 22, 2007

133: That Little Matter Of Christmas

Christmas is viewed as a season unto itself, and that is no more true it seems than for us this winter. Kerry and I will be engaged – moreso – in all manner of familial comings and goings from now, straight into January. So, to wind up Jeopopolis for 2007 – its smash, best-selling, awesomenatious third fantastic year – I present our Christmas tree in all its glory. This winter we opted for a locally-grown red pine that had to be hewn at the lot just to fit on top of our poor, laden Civic – and also under our ceiling. I think this may just be the largest tree I've had in all my Christmases. But it commands the hell out of the room, and smells delicious. A better look at this shot can be had here, o'er on Flickr.

And, in the spirit of the season, the Mac-heads at work sat for a quick, pot-light photo shoot so I could create the design department's third annual e-card to the company. "Buffles" is short for buffleheads – quick, small diving ducks that make their home near many a northern Canadian lake (and also known as butterballs in hunting circles).

December 09, 2007

132: Spouse Mouse

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This year I had my first crack at co-judging duties at an annual Christmas cookie exchange Kerry participates in. Impartiality is difficult for the judges – comprising exclusively of cookie-baker-sigoths – and this year even moreso as I designed the top-secret, newly-released Cookie of the Year award that now accompanies the winner for a full year of bragging rights.

Kerry created spice mice (this recipe comes close, if not entirely bang-on). Figuring the creations' immense photo appeal (click here for a closer look), I whole-heartedly endorsed this decision. And, much like with last year's mint sandwich stars, they came out of the oven beautifully. Alas, the award went to a competitor (who the heck judged this thing, anyway?). But all contestants come out winners, and this year is no exception as we returned home with a tupperware full of a dozen different cookie concoctions. Speaking of which, I think I'll go crack open that thing.

Bonus! Click here for a surprise spice mice visitor.

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Clockwise from top left: the judges' stash prepares for its close-up; the 2008 Cookie of the Year (with trophy); the combatants; the judges in their impenetrable, underground Judge-O-Lair.

December 03, 2007

This Country's Got Problems

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Scary problems.

Except for where I am. That yellow patch dead-center in the weather warnings map before you essentially represents me, sitting at my desk, considering the absolute hose job missus nature delivered today ... across the nation, to all the non-Manitobans who do nothing in gratitude but whine and plonk their cars in the ditch.

I'm a snow junkie. I'm no fan of temperature extremes, but I want my snow. Metres and metres of it. I love walking in it, I love shoveling it. If it falls in one fell swoop I get the day off. It's clean, it nicely obscures the dog poop – it's nature's white space. And it arrives best with a bang, like last year the day before Halloween, or as any Winnipegger worth his kubasa remembers, in November 1986 – me, swan-diving off the porch railing – and April 1997, when I walked alone down an abandoned, standstill Broadway like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man.

Environment Canada – supplier of the map above – has predicted a nasty winter for much of the country. So long as it includes a big-ass dosage of snow, I may be able to withstand the nastiness. I've got a shovel and new mitts from MEC. Bring the snow to someone who appreciates it.

November 27, 2007

131: Rhymes With Quail

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A super-quickie for this week's Illustration Friday theme of the zoo. I'm always interested in the concept of illustrating with type. I even did it once already, creating an owl out of type for a long-ago Illustration Friday theme (see here). So, combining a hand-drawn doodle of a quail I made a couple of months ago with the sudden realization I could rebuild it out of eight apostrophes ­ and I get this.

I spent about an hour last night going through my font libraries searching for just the right apostrophe. I almost built my own after a near-futile search when I came across a winner ­ the snazzy 80s throwback, Fenice (I think the Delta Hotel chain used it, at one time).

And it's true, too, if you think this is a lame connect to the theme. I'm not exactly in quail country, and wouldn't mind it at all if our local zoo picked one up. But I did eat one however, for my birthday dinner in October. Quite tasty.

November 24, 2007

130: Grow A Pair

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Photo Friday's current theme of
two was the inspiration behind a Saturday afternoon fruit shoot on our kitchen stovetop. I attempted recreating a seamless single super-pear from red and Bartlett pears – harder than it looks, judging from my skills with the knife – and I suppose I could have smoothed some edges off in Photoshop, but in the end I like the stacked effect here. I also tried a similar stunt with a lemon and lime (with less favourable results), and an apple and orange that didn't even make it in front of the lens. Perhaps another time.

Fruit procured from De Luca's on Portage. That place smelled so good today.

Click here for a closer look (lemon/lime jobbie coming soon).

November 20, 2007

129: A Bird In The House

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Bird nut that I am, the birds were top-of-mind when I thought of Illustration Friday's current theme of superstition for a moment. Pick up a copy of Graeme Gibson's The Bedside Book of Birds and you'll be spending hours discovering the historic worldwide fixation mankind has with the ties between birds, omens and superstition. And one of the most curious, untraceable and far-reaching omens out there is of "the bird in the house".

At first, I was set to take this concept in a Gary Larson-esque twist, with one bird warning another of the perils it faces in entering the birdhouse; a more straight-up cartoon. It was the designer in me that abandoned that path for what you see here.

This is a good example of not giving up on a doodle. This illustration began in pencil on the back of some scrap paper, as I fleshed out the idea ­ in particular, the perspective ­ over lunch at work one day. When I opened my sketchbook to create a crisper, more finite version, I found myself unable to duplicate the doodle's vision. So I inked the scrap paper pencil job and erased surrounding notes and scribbles in Photoshop. From there a palette was selected and colouring and texturing were completed on the computer.

You can click here for a better look at the detail.

November 15, 2007

128: The Reason I Don't Blog As Much, Part III

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Probably the most time-consuming spare-time vacuum over the past few weeks has been the editing and design of my inaugural edition of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada's (GDC) Manitoba chapter electronic newsletter. Since roughly this time last year, I've been serving as the communications chair for the Manitoba chapter – a fairly unassuming duty – but had also been delaying work on the (approximately) semi-annual newsletter, one of my chief responsibilities. But a recent glut of local design happenings and story ideas helped pave the way nicely for the project to once again take flight. With its official release this afternoon, I am proud to report that I am finished with my Reason I Don't Blog As Much series.

As for the newsletter, I remain grateful to all of my story interviewees, contributors and fellow chapter members for assisting in its path to fruition – particularly to local designers and photographers on Flickr that came forward to be a part of my feature article. I invite anyone reading this to visit the GDC Manitoba homepage to download themselves a copy.

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Top: the newsletter's cover, made in Photoshop with custom brushes built from scanned sumac leaves. Above: a grab from the Flickr article, featuring pears shot by talented local designer-photog Tamara Paetkau.

November 13, 2007

127: The Reason I Don't Blog As Much, Part II

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Realizing I kind of snuck it through in a September vacation post, I should do so now: Kerry and I are getting married. We picked up the license yesterday (Jebus help me if Vital Statistics discovers that I don't know my dad's middle name(s) or guessed where my mom was born).

But all this meant invitations were in order. More of a formality than anything, since we already procured 13 of the 14 ceremony attendees (at I-do time, mom may be anyplace between Colombia and Argentina), but we are creatives and must oblige expectations.

I wish I could put a name to the chap who bemoaned designing his own wedding invites in the font-geek documentary Helvetica ­ but he was bang on: I was, for lack of a better word, intimidated. In the end though, I relied on a treatment that was primarily photographic, relying on the scads of photos accrued over the years (we've been together since 1998) ­ and built a four panel roll-fold creation that tells a loose story as it unfurls, including photos, some basic info and a poem-by-Kerry original.

One funny: we realized late that nowhere on the piece does it actually say our names. Pah. You all know who we are.

Sorry about the grainy shot – we don't get too much daylight up here anymore. If you want to see a crisp version, let me know (I'm not about to advertise all our info all high-rez n' stuff here).

November 08, 2007

126: The Reason I Don't Blog As Much, Part I

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I admit that to the untrained eye, I may not appear to be posting as much on my site. That the very mantra that begat this blog at the end of 2004 – that I create something once per week – is going unnoticed and being abused. It's partly true; I don't have near as much to add to the world these days. But the main reason is because I have real things to do. These real things will reveal themselves over the coming days as a handful of personal projects are completed, the first of which…

Kerry's book. Two words I love to type, and two words she – and by extension, I – loved hearing announced on the eve of our September vacation. As details have been sorting themselves out and the concrete began to set, the realization it was real struck when the publishers required a bio and cover design be included in promotional materials sent to retailers. Due to the tidiest of associations, I'm proud to report I got the job to design the cover of The Sleeping Life – Kerry's first book of poetry, scheduled for an April release.

Above is the cover. The black frame is a common design element with all of the publishers' books. The remainder however, was almost wholly art-directed by Kerry. She selected a colour scheme, and we went through my field guides to find just the right bird to inspire the cover's silhouette (a savannah sparrow, I believe – birds are a link through several of the book's poems). The forest background I added to provide a base and anchor the whole thing.

October 28, 2007

L'il Toot

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I realized I never came up here – since the computer is in the attic, I consider my blog "up" – to crow about a recent contest I entered and received a fantabulous prize from. The provincial chapter of CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) held a summertime ask for Manitoba-based photo submissions for their 2008 calendar via their Naturally In Focus photo contest (view the dozen finalists here). And two of my entries (out of 473 total, though they really, really run the gamut in terms of quality) won berths in the calendar, both snapped on our quick vacation last September to the Whiteshell and Riding Mountain. The photo of a white-tailed deer buck in fog near West Hawk Lake (above) won in the "Manitoba Wildlife" sub-category, and my point-up-and-shoot image of fall aspens in Riding Mountain National Park (below) earned me second place in the "Patterns in Wilderness" section. And though I'm not certain how the prize-doling all worked out, I now have me a sweet $250 certificate for work done at a local framing outlet.

Crisper versions of the deer and aspens can be had here, and here, respectively.

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October 17, 2007

125: Plush Invasion

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No explanation required. Just goofing around, as Babe Bennett used to say on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. A higher-quality version can be viewed here.

(Plush monsters by Melissahead!)

October 15, 2007

"What Are You Guys Walking On?"

I like the weirdos. There are not too many where I work, but I do make sporadic contact with them during excursions out in the larger world (case in point, this lady ... or this lady). So it gave me great pleasure to receive an email from Kerry late last week about an encounter with a strange man in the concourse beneath Portage & Main. I thought I could elaborate on it here, but truth be told it's best just acting the messenger. Here's her email, verbatim:

A random disheveled, bearded guy, probably 50s or 60s, Indian accent. First he was doing something that looked like tai chi. Then he started doing the moonwalk.

To himself, while moonwalking: I am walking on the moon. I am walking on the moon.

Randomly to others:
Well, what are you guys walking on?

To himself: laughing, laughing.

Other people: ignoring him, walking more quickly.

Me: laughing.

October 08, 2007

124: The HOWieZine Cometh, Part VIII

Honestly, I completed this zine contribution so long ago I damned near forgot it existed. That's one reality of the zine business in general, I believe (not overly known for rigid structure or schedule). But if all goes according to plan, my copy should be sitting on my desk at work when I show up tomorrow (I'd been away, whittling my two remaining vacation days into a five-day Nova Scotian Canuck-style Thanksgiving siblingal visit spectacular, where it was infinitely better than the sludge they call weather here upon my return).

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So yes, Virginia, there is a HOWieZine still, and its theme was robots – one of the design industry's all-time favourite and most dependable fallbacks for kickass source material. My own submission stemmed from last year's midwinter photo shoot, and subsequent Photoshop-phest, that I had with a few of my more inspiring toys strewn about the house. I decided to turn a one-off photo concept into a vaguely more coherent two-panel storyline. The real trick was attempting to mimic the setup, lighting and all the Photoshop steps I took months ago, in recreating the second panel, because I failed to write down said steps while they were fresh in my brain. Above is the first panel (though the more newly-built recreated scene), and below is the payoff – if one can call it that. But I suppose I am, for one.

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My attempt at recalling some of the digital procedure can be had here, from when I wrote about another shot in last winter's toy shoot. And a bigger look at the zine's second panel can be had o'er on Flickr, right about here.

September 30, 2007

Zine In Your Face

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Clockwise from top right: Chris Pointon thanks contributers in attendance for their work; tabletop snapshot of the festivities; the cause célèbre – A Paw In My Face (cover art by Mr. Pointon); one of three poemlets submitted by Kerry; Allan aka El Negro Magnifico finishes up a PIMF street poster.

This past weekend, the cumulative efforts of our city's artistic establishment resulted in the grand release of the first issue of A Paw In My Face. The co-brainchild of Chris Pointon (he of the fabbo Pop77 mixes) and Meagan Radford, A Paw In My Face strives to achieve what the HOWieZine does on its more semi-regular basis: allow creatives to step outside the boundaries of their respective jobs and ... be creative.

Offering a premiere issue theme of love, contributions as varied as photographs, writing, doodles, designs, comics and one modified architectural drawing(!) came together and underwent careful mixing and editing by the two founders – culminating with the release Friday evening at the King's Head Pub. From here, the quest begins for at least one more issue (early indications hint at a theme of hate, how cool is that). For now though, the city's artsier and fartsier establishments get peppered with 200 copies, less handouts at the premiere and one copy stuffed in the hands of Premier Gary Doer, who for reasons unclear was also pubbing it up Friday night.

My own submission, not posted, may be familiar to some of you who drop in here – it was a modified version of this piece, drawn some time ago for Illustration Friday's theme of "song".

September 26, 2007

123: PotatoJugglerMan

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"It's no cakewalk being a single parent, juggling a career and family like so many juggling balls ... two, I suppose."
– Chief Wiggum, The Simpsons


I've been so hesitant to draw these days; I finally decided to do something. I started doodling this guy while Kerry and I played Scrabble™ and recovered at the park this weekend (she of stitches from a bike accident, me from a knockout tummy virus). It wasn't until later that evening I checked in with Illustration Friday's current theme – juggle – and began to modify it to suit. I don't really know what's going on with this drawing – just some gangsta doofus who can't juggle potatoes to save his South Side street cred. I apologize if you came for a deeper emotional attachment. I can't give it to you. Be sure to click here for a larger view.

Side note: as a 15-year-old, bored to tears one summer afternoon at home, I picked up three tennis balls and taught myself to juggle. Verging on 32 years of age, I am proud to report that I can now juggle ... three tennis balls. Or three spherical objects roughly the size of a tennis ball.

September 18, 2007

122: Flight Of Fantasy

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Photo Friday's current theme of fantasy brings me to this adjusted image taken not too long ago at the beach in Matlock, Manitoba. This is Kerry's nephew, monkeying around in the lake for me and my zoom lens (positioned on a pier about fifteen feet away). I would instruct him to submerge, then to explode through the surface of the water as high as he could. And of course, an experiment like this depends highly on the moment – nabbing the position and expression just so, otherwise losing it – which in itself relies a great deal on hope. The moment lasts milliseconds. Fortunately for me I nabbed this still (click here to see the original, untouched version), and then modified it in black-and-white largely using Photoshop sessions with the dodge and burn tools. Be sure to click here to view a larger version.

September 10, 2007

121: Great Lakes

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Top row (left to right): our only photo together, road-weary in Manistique; Riley the golden doodle; Frank and Sue on the Toronto Islands ferry. Middle row (left to right): blown away on the Bruce Peninsula; Kerry with Big Bay home-made ice-cream; a campsite squirrel prepares to speak. Bottom row (left to right): a Flowerpot Island duck stares me down; I show my good side; Kerry channels The King.

I've just completed the most wonderful vacation.

Following the 2005 meteorological disaster that was our venture into the Rockies, it took us a couple of years to fully lick our road-trip wounds. This time we chose the more predicable climes of Ontario, a two-week sojourn chock full of pit-stops, visits to friends and family, toe-dips in four of five Great Lakes (sorry, Erie) and a holiday schedule about as varied as they come.

Beginning with a two-and-a-bit day trek south through the
hugh-nigh steaks (as I referred to the U.S. as a tot) from home to London, Ont., the trip started with a late night on the road due to a dirt rally in the metropolis of Bemidji, Minn., that booked the entire town's worth of rooms. Not the best start – but in Grand Rapids we scored a cheap penthouse suite when the late-night hotel-dude couldn't figure out the computer. Our next night in the deathly quiet burgh of Manistique, Mich., also wound up fabulous with the twin discovery of whitefish dinners and Jilbert's ice cream (much props to buddy Lew, the northern Michigan expert, for cluing us in on both).

Back in Canada on our third night, we arrived unscathed at the house of Kerry's friend (and bursting with pregnancy) Christen, husband Phil and golden doodle Riley. Our two days in London were spent enjoying Ontario heat, an amazing performance of King Lear at the nearby Stratford Theater Festival and boundless tomfoolery from Riley the dog. Our time was capped with a day on our own at Pinery Provincial Park on the southern shores of Lake Huron, hiking some stubby trails and renting bikes. We learned that the tulip-tree is the largest in eastern North America. I never heard of the thing, but them suckers are indeed huge.

Our next stop leading into the long weekend was up-the-road Kitchener where daddy Frank and wife Sue lay waiting with an unbelievable palette of food (peaches!), wine and scheduling – a canoe trip on the Grand River, shopping for a brilliant decorative stained-glass window for our home and a day in The Big Smoke exploring Kensington Market, a brick-in-the-belly lunch at Big Fat Burrito with Kerry's now-Torontonian sister Kath, and the Toronto Islands. One day does not do the country's finest city justice, but we came as close as anyone.

The unofficial third leg of our grand tour had us striking out on our own to the Great Outdoors, beginning on the Bruce Peninsula with a one-night stay in tacky Tobermory – and with what now seems like a vacation staple of ours: stumbling into a place airing The Sopranos (a rarity for those on the cheap in Winnipeg). And to answer your next question, yes, Tobermory – population 500 – does have an Indonesian restaurant. Our days on the peninsula were spent in the (by now) never-ending sun trying to get lost on busy-busy Flowerpot Island, camping in the much-appreciated post-Labour Day solitude at Cyprus Lake and hiking scenic spurs of the world-renowned Bruce Trail.

Eleven sunny days into our trip, we left the Bruce after a wet, stormy night in the tent for the ferry that would take our little workhorse Civic to Manitoulin Island and onward to the wild north coast of Lake Superior. What had become our first lousy day of weather culminated in a gloriously colourful hazy evening sky over the aptly-named Lake Superior Provincial Park. And it was here, steps from our tent, on a miles-long beach, before a red-dot sun and after a campfire-trout dinner, that I proposed to Kerry and we decided to get married.

Lake Superior Park, for this reason and so much more, is now entrenched in my memory as one of the more beautiful locales I have seen in my lifetime. It was here my camera was stuffed with multi-part panoramic attempts and my chest caved in a way it only does before the most majestic surroundings.
It is a sight to behold first-hand. Besides a pair of beachside sunset meals, Kerry and I viewed Ojibwa pictographs, the tumbling cascades of Sand River, the knee-busting slopes of the Orphan Lake trail and postcard gawkings of the planet's Great Lake. The region's tempestuous weather was on our trail again, and after time that seemed so much longer than it was, we continued on.

And on, as things turned out. Our final two nights intended to be at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park near Thunder Bay were scuttled following a day of rainy, foggy, hilly, winding and semi-trucky driving and the frigid north winds that eventually chased it all away. We had few regrets though. Our time was done.

Stay tuned to Flickr for all the photos as they get uploaded over the following days and weeks.

August 06, 2007


... and the living is busy.

It's high time for another late-summer shutdown. Much like what happened about this time last year, my interests just don't seem to be tuned into this site (my little SiteMeter dealie, and your lack of comments ... yeah, you ... suggest the same). August brings with it much to be done, had and enjoyed – primarily away from this computer-machine. So unless some freak streak of imagination strikes me, expect a return in just over a month's time.

Chances are a few photos will pop up o'er on Flickr, so don't give up on that front. I may also post from the vault for any relevant Photo Friday themes. But otherwise, relax. Stay cool like the Fonz.

August 01, 2007

120: Photomiscellanea V

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Top row (left to right): Kerry by firelight in Spruce Woods Provincial Park; the concession is a little quiet at the drive-in. Middle row (left to right): boots on wires at sunset (at Wolseley & Raglan); columbine in our front yard. Bottom row (left to right): awaiting The Simpsons Movie at the drive-in; Kerry readies a marshmallow for a deluxe s'more.

The "new photos" folder on our desktop has been piling up all summer, recently ignored as a pair of heat waves made the attic swelteringly unattractive. But a reprieve from the humidity tonight has given me the chance to conduct a search and show some of what I've been up to over the past few weeks.

With the exception of the columbine image, these have not made it over to Flickr in their higher-resolution glory yet ... but soon. First I gotta tend to my HOWieZine submission, which is lagging just a tad.

July 23, 2007

Giving An Inch

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While I take some time off to craft a new HOWieZine submission (theme: robots ... yes!), here's a grab from the vault to represent me for Photo Friday's current theme of vacation. If there's one thing I have, it's pictures that represent this theme. I adore vacations. And this is a snapshot, plain and simple, from a grand vacation Kerry and I had in Ireland in 2003. It was taken on bulk ISO 200 film with a point-and-shoot Pentax at Inch Strand in County Kerry, during a tour of the Dingle Peninsula. We had what could quite possibly be Ireland's first and last cloudless day, start to finish. It was in my favourite month of September, and I was dripping sick with a head cold, nicely sedated by European meds (soon she would be, too). An absolutely fine vacation day.

July 16, 2007

119: Hippo!

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I haven't drawn in a little while. I needed some hippos in my life. So it seemed a touch like destiny when Illustration Friday upped and decided their theme-of-the-week would be discovery. That's a theme as vague and wide-ranging as it comes. Destiny also came in the form of a rare summer weekend spent largely kicking back and otherwise staying around the house. Plenty of time to draw, which hasn't been the case of late.

The above is a fairly straightforward interpretation of 'discovery' – and I'm not ashamed of that in the least. Anyone can be faulted at least once in their life for wanting to draw a hippopotamus. I'd never tried it myself, and this sketch almost got through with the beastie having quite humanoid feet before I realized that probably isn't the case with real live hippos. I added stitches late in the game in case anyone accused my hippo skillz of not representing – so I could retort with an oh yeah? well it's a toy hippo and a toy hippos can look however they want. That sort of deal.

If you want to see a better look at some of the pen detail in this illustration, check the larger version on my Flickr site here (click on 'all sizes' to magnify).

July 14, 2007

118: All The World's A Stage

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Clockwise from top left: Jason Collett makes Kerry swoon; Amy Millan, a voice that melts butter; gruff-looking Millan bandmate; Mark Sasso of Elliott Brood gets primal on the banjo.

Last weekend I attended my 14th Winnipeg Folk Festival. My time spent on the festival grounds varies between the full four days or as little as one day, as was the case this year. My first festival took place a week or so after my high school graduation. I've experienced the festival campground as a teenager (and the booze that invariably comes with it), the mud-inducing downpours and standout performances ranging from Leslie Feist, Xavier Rudd, Neko Case and The Weakerthans to the Buena Vista Social Club, Billy Bragg and Sir Bob Geldof.

Of the 14 years, the 2007 lineup was the least familiar to me, but the performers I was keen on managed to all be on stage during the Saturday – so I focused on that (perhaps a poor decision; word has it Friday night kicked some butt). I brought my camera and zoom along this year to stay occupied capturing concert footage at the daytime stages, since the recent festival norm seems to be stifling hot days rendering me stir-crazy from heat. It's only a year – minus a week – until the next one.

A few more shots from last Saturday can be viewed in this Flickr set (including a couple of an Imperial Storm Trooper ... no foolin').

July 05, 2007

117: Take Off (To The Great White North)

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Top row (left to right): Kerry, stylin' as Indiana Jones; Duncan catches some late-day weeds; full moon over Lake Athapapuskow on Friday night. Middle row (left to right): the maw of a killer northern pike; the maw of a not-so-killer Anna. Bottom row (left to right): polyphemus moth rescued from the lake; foggy Monday morning just before we left.

Kerry and I joined her sister's family for an extra-long Canada Day weekend of camping at Baker's Narrows Provincial Park near Flin Flon. We purchased a tent, three years ago, but sadly its use had been limited to an initial setup inside our gigantic old apartment and lending it out to a friend once. So it was high time to put it to the test. We picked up some sleeping bags, an air mattress and a cooler a week previous, and our half of the provisions the day before ­ including cinnamon buns from Tallgrass and tasty-fresh other buns from Deluca's.

To get to Baker's Narrows is a 719-kilometre drive. There are pros (and a few cons) to such a long trip to go camping. While I enjoy the ability to drive about an hour to experience relatively unspoiled nature, there's a palpable difference between what is nearby and the rugged vastness of the real north country. This I loved. I also admired the unexpectedness of twilight extending almost to midnight, the traffic jams of loons and mergansers on the lake and the scent that comes from firesmoke-drenched clothing. I took exception to my first sleepless night of ear-buzzing mosquitoes inside the tent (this got rectified though, right quick) and the mind-numbingly empty road home through the Interlake. But the fact that, after living in Manitoba for 25 years, I finally caught a glimpse above the 53rd parallel made the trip absolutely worthwhile.

Baker's Narrows is on the shores of Lake Athapapuskow (say it like you spell it), the epitome of the Great Northern Lake. Unlike many of Manitoba's provincial campgrounds, conscious effort has been put into retaining as much nature around the sites as possible ­ – and because it is out of reach for most weekend urban hooligans, the place quieted down come nightfall even on the long weekend. Any urban hooliganry was reserved solely for Monday night's White Stripes concert, a far cry – mebbe the farthest cry humanly possible – from the quiet and foggy morning we experienced packing up to leave the lake.

Stay tuned to my Flickr site for new photo uploads from the weekend, including better looks at the ones in the grid above.

June 26, 2007

116: Zoo(m)

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Top left: the wary eye of an American flamingo. Top right: it's not what you think (aka the backside of a vulturine guineafowl). Bottom left: a roseate spoonbill gives the stink-eye. Bottom right: nobody knows the trouble this lemur has seen.

Our country's 140th birthday is upon us – and while Kerry and I celebrate by camping under the stars in the True North, I present to you this quartet of recent zoo images from my continued feeling-out of the new zoom lens. The zoo continues to be the perfect spot to shoot, for now, though I've tried my hand so far at capturing some slightly more, uh, wild animals both at work and at the lake. It'll be with me this weekend in case we see any bears, moose, beavers or hosers – but regrettably, the Rebel-with-zoom will be too large for carting into Monday night's White Stripes show. Have a great Canada Day, all!

Click here for a closer look at the flamingo.

Click here for a closer look at the guineafowl (and here to see it's face).

Click here for a closer look at the spoonbill, my submission for PhotoFortnight's theme of "red".

And click here for a better look at the weary lemur.

June 21, 2007

Escape From Winnipeg: The Soundtrack

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The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.

– Rob (John Cusack), High Fidelity

I remember this quote each time it comes to making my annual summer road trip CD. What began as a simple challenge between Kerry and I in 2004 has become a springtime ritual: a chance to string together a soundtrack for the all-too-brief season of weekend getaways.

But what road trip aficionados may find odd, is that only a few of the songs on the new disc touch on the ideas of travel, being on the road or even movement. But for me, content doesn't even matter ­ – it's all in the rhythm. What's more, these summer discs are never modeled for urban cruising. Instead, they're built for a very specific purpose: escape from the city. That's why this disc in particular was laid out as it is, starting off gruff and loud, eventually winding its way to a cruise-controlled series of softer, stress-free tracks (and the last one is bonus, kind of a just-when-you-thought-it-was-done sorta thing).

I've noticed already that my interest has faded in the CDs I made only a couple of years ago. Tastes change, and that's healthy. And because I was, and still am, a late bloomer to most music scenes, I should probably continue to expect this as I feel out new music as it now pours in ­ because as Jemina Pearl Abegg squeals in "Adventure": it's all cool kiddo, 'cuz we're like, adventurers.

The 2007 lineup

I'm Shipping Up To Boston - Dropkick Murphys, The Warrior's Code
Manifest - The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site
*Adventure - Be Your Own Pet, Adventure
Wolfgang - Elliott Brood, Ambassador
American Pageant - The Sadies, In Concert Vol. 1
Outsiders - Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better
(Antichrist Television Blues) - Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
When Company Comes - The Feelies, The Good Earth
Cold Black Devil/14 Miles - Jackie Greene, American Myth
Corona - Calexico, Convict Pool
*Be Gentle With Me - The Boy Least Likely To, The Best Party Ever
*Snakes In The Grass - The Essex Green, Cannibal Sea
Monster Ballads - Josh Ritter, The Animal Years
We All Lose One Another - Jason Collett, Idols Of Exile
*When U Love Somebody - Fruit Bats, Mouthfuls
Coconut Skins - Damien Rice, 9
Trans Am - Nathan, Key Principles
*Baby I - Amy Millan, Honey From The Tombs
*Born Secular - Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat
Sugar Baby Love - The Rubettes, K-Tel's I Love Pop Music

* These tracks, either directly or indirectly, came to me courtesy of fellow Winnipegger Chris Pointon's awesome (but only occasionally updated) Pop 77 podcast mixes.

June 16, 2007

Swing High

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A shot of Kerry on the swings is almost an annual ritual for me. This vision, on the swing set at Half Moon Beach in Matlock, Manitoba, was taken in the summer of 2003 using my hand-me-down Minolta and slide film – and is my submission for Photo Friday's current theme of active (a similar 2006 swinging photo was used for Photofortnight's theme of transport, seen here). The original photo contained a strip of Lake Winnipeg horizon just below the bottom of the crop shown here, but was removed to heighten the illusion of ... well, height. A closer look at the detail can be had right over here.

June 12, 2007

115: The Blue Suited Booby

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Every girl's crazy for a sharp-dressed man ­ – so I hear, constantly, on the classic rock station shooting out of each Camaro here in town.

But there's substance to the argument; in the bird world, appearance is practically everything. While it can be said that approximately two out of every three ZZ Top band members are intensely bearded, the ratio of male bird species that rely on colourful, attractive or otherwise distinctive plumage to lure potential mates is much higher. Boiled down: the suit makes the man.

Some species that live in massive colonies made of birds appearing precisely the same ­ – like the blue-footed booby ­ – require other means to identify individuality. Brilliance of the feet is an asset, but the male also makes use of an elaborate courtship dance to attract attention.

Nonetheless, my submission for this week's Illustration Friday theme of suit suggests ­ – as ZZ Top will tell you ­ – that in the mating game, a nice suit goes a long way in seperating contenders from pretenders.

June 04, 2007

114: My Paradise...

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...does not include cankerworms.

My home town may profess to being the mosquito capital of the world, but it is the cankerworm that is currently the bane of our existence. Frankly, I would rather sit in a lawn chair and satisfyingly snuff out ten mosquitoes than encounter a single cankerworm dangling from a tree between my two crossed eyes. And it is only a matter of time before someone here in town riding his bike ­ – quite likely me ­ – meets a sudden demise by swerving into the path of an oncoming bus in order to avoid a fat, precarious cankerworm rappelling from a ravaged elm above. I may be a sufficient representative of modern man with the ability to think and such, but it is not beyond me to gag at the thought of a simple cankerworm finding its way somehow onto my person.

So thank you, Illustration Friday, for providing a pleasing enough word-of-the-week as paradise – only to have one of my few neuroses whole-heartedly take over.

Click here for access to a better look at the detail.

Addendum! The completed Flickr photo-set of our May vacation to New York City is now up. Stop by and have a peek.

May 27, 2007

113: The Large Apple

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Top row (left to right): sundown at Grand Central Station; aesthetics is king at the MoMA. Middle row (left to right): gentoo penguin at the Central Park Zoo; goofs in Central Park; Murray's Cheese in Greenwich Village. Bottom row (left to right): my favouritest skyscraper in the world, the Chrysler Building; a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Kerry and I finally made good on our promise to do New York last week. Our visit to the city made famous by Crocodile Dundee, Hercules In New York and the 1976 remake of King Kong was a packed and thrilling experience. And so I give you, in typical Letterman fashion (where rank means nothing), my Top 10 of our week spent in New York City:

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I live for the view of things, so the opportunity to glimpse Manhattan from the peak of Rockefeller Center was a high moment (nyuk nyuk). We avoided the crowded observation deck at the Empire State Building – and in hindsight, our view offered one key glimpse it didn't anyway: the Empire State Building.

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And lo, on the sixth day of our vacation, there was Fleet Week. We didn't witness the full-on revelry of New York City mixed with thousands of sailors on leave, but it was still pretty cool and old-timey to see them in full regalia, mixed in with the crowds on Wednesday night as we showed up at Times Square for our final minutes on holiday.

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Chelsea was where we called home for more than half our time spent in New York, spending two nights at the Chelsea International Hostel and a final, sleepy night at the Chelsea Hotel to satiate Kerry's Leonard Cohen fix (and where the neon marquée shone "Chelsea Ho" – until the night I decided to photograph it). I loved this area, just a touch slower and calmer than the rest. It was here we had a quiet bench breakfast outside Café Grumpy, burritos the size of your head at Salsa Y Salsa and also where I saw my first New York transvestite.

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In either of Kerry's two previous visits to New York, she had never walked the Brooklyn Bridge. So we stuffed this, our only sojourn off the island, into our somewhat-loose schedule on a gorgeous Monday afternoon. Our brief apple break at Empire State Park (curiously, we ate quite a few apples during our trip), and the view it provided, were quiet highlights.

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The single largest gobbler of our time was spent walking the streets, either aimlessly – as it was on Friday and Wednesday nights, saying hello and goodbye, respectively, to the city – or with purpose as we headed to one destination or another. It was during these moments that we established our bearings, slowly learned the subtler points of jaywalking and crowd avoidance, and witnessed all manner of things I had only heard about. Examples: rim-bedecked Escalades really do exist, New Yorkers really do curse a blue streak, and the NYPD really does patrol on segways. Whether trotting along Fifth or Park, meandering through the Village or strolling along 8th Avenue, we more than got our fill of daily life.

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We were not check-listing tourists. We did not hop on or off the bright red buses circling about. Didn't take in a Broadway show or step on the Staten Island Ferry. Didn't visit the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, the Met or the American Museum of Natural History. But that wasn't to say we didn't have a tasty fill of culture, taking in the refurbished Museum of Modern Art with Philly phriends Melissa and Rob on Sunday, and the currently-refurbishing Guggenheim on Wednesday (after a tiny sidestep to the Museum of American Illustration down the way).

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It was my co-worker who introduced us to the prospect of a walking food tour, which she partook in on her own visit in the winter. We decided to do likewise, signing up for the Monday Greenwich Village food tour. It was a scene, a three-hour saunter through the neighbourhood's cuter streets and establishments such as Rocco's Bakery, Bleecker Street Pizza, Murray's Cheese and the Cornelia Street Café (which we returned to Wednesday night for a wine-included, six-dollar poetry reading). Pizza, cannoli, chocolates, cheese, more sweets, more pizza, this, that and the other – supoib.

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My fledgling trip to New York (and Kerry's third visit) was made so much the sweeter with the input, guidance and experience of a select few folks we hooked up with during the week. Despite the city's best efforts to make us feel back home in Winnipeg with cool, drizzly weather, Melissa and Rob showed us the finer points of Manhattan, taking us on a straight-line tour of the island's gut from midtown to Soho. Toss in a one-block dash of Saturday Chinatown madness, Mel's promise redeemed of a store that sells insect lollipops and taxidermized chipmunks ($250!), mice and kittens, and an escape-from-the-rain panini lunch at Caffe Reggio – and well, a good time on your hands is what you have right there.

Kerry's cousin Sibyl, and husband Paul, in Greenwich Village also played a key role in allowing us to feel right at home as New Yorkers, graciously accepting us into their place for three nights and treating us to a barbecue, two crazy cats, a viewing of the third-last episode of The Sopranos (in New York, how cool is that?) and a valuable-beyond-words home base for our visit to the city's more bohemian quarters.

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I have to get this out. When we decided to visit New York, the first thing that sprang into my head was seeing a penguin. And not just any penguins, but the purportedly-gay chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo made famous in Canuck comedienne Samantha Bee's report on The Daily Show (referring to them, amazingly straight-faced, as "strap-ons"). These birds did not disappoint me in amusing, and I don't mean that in a gay sense – not that there's anything wrong with that.

And neither did the park in general, where we spent portions of three days over our time in the city. Central Park quite possibly serves as the premier example of foresight in urban planning, a place where nearly all city noise is muffled and our days slowed down. We lolled Sunday afternoon away in Sheep Meadow watching the city's inhabitants crawl out after a cold and rainy weekend, spent Tuesday on rental bikes and at the Zoo and cut through on Wednesday, stopping at Belvedere Castle and Strawberry Fields.

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To step into the cavernous and venerable Radio City Music Hall was a trip in itself. But to have the stage occupied by Damien Rice, playing in support of a new album to a 6,000-strong, four-balcony sold out venue only cinches Monday night as my highlight of our time spent in Manhattan. From aching piano ballads like "Accidental Babies" and the angry opener "9 Crimes" to raucous and all-out full-band numbers like "Me, My Yoke and I", Rice’s show was heart-stopping, and an exercise in tempo, rolling through a peppy "Coconut Skins" (turning into a kickass jam session), a mic-less and crowd-shushing "Cannonball" and the rollicking crescendo of "I Remember".

That show, midway through our trip, was accented nicely by two other live entertainment experiences. One was a taping of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart on Tuesday (the guest was U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, but a green-screened 'live' remote by Aasif Mandvi and a report from Dan Bakkedahl kept things nicely humming). The other show, a hilariously blue stand-up performance at MSG's theatre from frumpy Brit Ricky Gervais, was equally fine. A surprise introduction by David Bowie, singing "The Little Fat Man (With The Pug-Nosed Face)" from Gervais' show Extras, provided our only unexpected celebrity sighting.

Oh yeah: I have a few hundred pictures to sort through, and the best-est ones will be on display at my Flickr site over the days to come. I'll be sure to post a link to the photo-set when it's ready to go, but in the meantime keep your eyes on the fancy Flickr widget at top left for anything recently added.

May 24, 2007

Hey, Sailor

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An intriguing placeholder, while I churn through the scores of photos I've taken from a trip to New York City that Kerry and I just wrapped up. Coles Notes version, though? Awesome.

May 14, 2007

112: Such Great Heights

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Kerry surprised me last fall by booking me for a late-season flight over the
city in a hot air balloon. But my birthday being when it is, the reserved date didn't pan out because of poor weather ­ – then the ballooning season promptly ended for the year. So after a long, balloonless winter on the ground and in the snow, the trip finally came to fruition this past weekend ­ under sunny morning skies and ideal conditions.

Launching from Whittier Park, across the Red River from downtown, the excursion took myself and five other passengers in a northwest direction, arching around the north side of downtown office towers and the Exchange District, then following Notre Dame Avenue to Red River College (my alma mater), the airport and over a patchwork of fields within the Perimeter Highway. And though I'd been told the rides are eerily quiet (with exception of occasional hair-scorching blasts from the propane tanks), the early Saturday morning flight took silence to new levels as most people were still asleep in their beds as we ventured out. Thoroughfares were largely empty, and with winds low the clearest noises were amazingly from birds ­ – gulls, blackbirds, robins and meadowlarks leading the charge.

Highlights included the launch itself, rising from a grass lot surrounded by trees to see the skyline beyond, as well as demonstrations of the pilot's skill as he skipped our basket along the airport's main runway during a moment of arrival/departure downtime ("it's not every airport that allows us to do this", he mentioned), and a rapid ascent that followed in order to hold a position directly over a landing jet plane. Our haute-rageously french pilot Serge had a deft hand at maneuvering such a seemingly uncontrollable craft, guiding our group to a "passive landing" on a gravel service road (the alternative on windier days, I learned, can involve skidding for several metres at a 45-degree angle).

A small collection of 20-odd photos from the morning can be seen here, including closer views of ones featured in the grid below, and a much better look at the seven-photo stitched panorama above.

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Top row (left to right): Serge checks out the interior as the balloon inflates; our shadow as we rise out of Whittier Park; a jumble of buildings in Winnipeg's downtown. Middle row (left to right): abstract streetscape of the Exchange District; Serge (quel pilote!); tree canopy abstract of Brookside Cemetery. Bottom row (left to right): lifeblood; farm field abstract; a post-ballooning champagne toast.

May 13, 2007

111: The HOWieZine Cometh, Part VII

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After a long breather, the ageless HOWieZine project rolled back into gear, heralded by the arrival of the latest issue – themed myths and legends – to my desk at work last week. I submitted a page for the book (which I discovered in the end to be a wonderful box design containing each entrant's work loose inside) early in the new year that featured a bit of design, illustration and photography.

My first page (above) featured the raven sketch I modified and passed on to Illustration Friday for their recent theme of polar, which I actually drew in advance of the zine's deadline around Christmas and on a winter vacation in Cuba. Here, the raven is surrounded by a field-guide description and a short mythological tale of the bird from the Pacific Northwest. The strong presence of the raven among New World folklore was a primary influence on this page, but moreso the theme gave me a chance to do what I love most if I'm drawing: sketching birds in pen.

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One of those you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it moments was the inspiration for my second page (above). Last fall Kerry and I ducked over to a neighbourhood coffee shop, where through the window I noticed this television-headed man with a handycam-toting friend, preparing to shoot a scene for a film assignment (my guess anyways – and for their sake I hope it's true). Living a half-block away, I discarded any pretensions and basically told them to wait while I ran home and nabbed my camera. So while my first zine page covers the territory of myth, my snapshot of this dude stands in for legend – and my interpretation of a legend in his own mind. My Flickr link for the original shot acheived the understandable what the? response, and also offers access to a better-quality look.

May 06, 2007

Beware The Soccer Mom

"You know, we're living in a society here!" – a frustrated George
Costanza (Jason Alexander), on

THE DEAL AT SAFEWAY on the first Tuesday of every month – Customer Appreciation Day, ironically – is that shoppers have a choice between receiving bonus Air Miles or ten percent off their purchases, providing they're at least thirty-five dollars. So to our amusement upon reaching the mysteriously short lineup at Checkout Number One, an interesting standoff was going down between a newbie cashier and a belligerent, denim-clad, bronzed-beyond-recognition soccer mom ...

Soccer Mom: I wanna know why I don't get the deal. I should have the choice between ten percent off or the Air Miles, right? That’s the deal.

Poor Pimples, The Junior Cashier: Well, it's a minimum thirty-five dollars purchase for that to happen.

SM: I did spend thirty-five dollars!

PP: Yes, but that was before I swiped your Club Card. Now it's $30.72.

SM: So then how many Air Miles could I get?

PP: Well, that would depend on what you bought.

SM: And what's ten percent of thirty-five?

PP: Well – it doesn't – your total isn't high enough for the discount.

Next-In-Line Lady: It's three-fifty.

SM: How did you just figure that out?

NILL: Ten into thirty-five is three-fifty. You just move the decimal over.

SM: Thank you. See, now that makes sense.

A few more minutes pass as the details and description of the store's offer are rehashed between Soccer Mom and the cashier.

NILL: Oh come on – this is stupid. Lady, it's just three dollars.

SM: Yeah? Go to another f**king line if you don't like it.

NILL: I am going to another line. I don't have to take this.

SM (leaning in, nearly nose-to-nose): Lady, you're lucky I don't smack you in the f**king face.

NILL (rounding up her things): You’re crazy!

SM: Yeah, yeah, that's right. I'm a crazy b*tch.

At this point a manager is brought in to officially cave to Soccer Mom's demands, but moreso to avoid an even bigger scene. We've done well to avoid participation, but as she readies to leave she finally acknowledges us.

SM: And I'm not apologizing for anything.

May 04, 2007

110: Huit Hiboux

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Top row (left to right): Inuit soapstone carving, perforated metal candle lantern, Peruvian carved wood owl. Middle row (left to right): Panamanian marble owl, portrait of my avatar owl (click here for all the backstory on how it was created), Guatemalan carved wood owl. Bottom row (left to right): Inuit-themed soapstone carving from Banff National Park, Kenyan-made stone owl carving.

I've used our unfinished basement for shots in the past, such as for PhotoFortnight's theme of night, and also when I snap pictures of jack-o-lanterns (you begin to get a sense the basement lends itself to imagery of a creepy bent). I secluded myself there recently for a brief exercise in candlelight photography. I used a pair of those ubiquitous IKEA tea lights to help with these one- to two-second exposure shots of owl collectibles and carvings that sit atop a mantle in our home's foyer (I also took photos of a stone garden gargoyle and a heavy iron hippo, which didn't make the cut for the owl-theme's sake). These owls came from a variety of sources; many are gifts from my mom who has headed to Central America the past few winters (and is currently trekking across Colombia and Ecuador).

Click here for a closer look at the grid layout above.

April 24, 2007

The Old Country

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Photo Friday's current and all-encompassing theme of the country made me head into the vault for a suitable image to represent, and also give me an opportunity to "paint with pixels" (as the Photoshop nerds say) – a technique I hadn't given much of a go ever before. And even this shot dabbles on the surface of what more patient people can do with this form of photomanipulation (click here to see another recent attempt I did, posted on Flickr), essentially a base image, along with a duplicated layers set to screen and multiply modes that were then modified to create this end effect.

The image itself is of a cultivated, early-autumn field at sunset outside the hamlet of Stevington, England where a whole branch of my family tree resides, taken in 2003 with my old point-and-shoot camera. Below is what the manipulated image started as; decent, somewhat washed-out, but still the elements that I exaggerated with light and shadow were all there to begin with ... just, you know, exaggerated. Click here for a closer look at the final black-and-white image.

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