The doctor

October 1st, 2011

Witch doctor (October 1, 2011)

Weekend sketching: distaff

March 13th, 2011

Lamia, after Waterhouse (Mason, March 13, 2011)Purple (Mason, March 13, 2011)

Two quick sketches I’m quite happy with. Femininity has been tricky for me to capture at times — many of my earlier drawings of women made the subjects look a little too mannish — but these turned out well, if only because I’m gradually learning the discipline not to draw too many lines. The one on the left is after a sketch by JW Waterhouse (a study for “Lamia”), and the one on the right… is not.

Big sky

March 5th, 2011

I’ve started to experiment with capturing light and times of day with my trusty Blackberry Bold: no zoom function but decent enough resolution, and it fits in my suit pocket.

West on Richmond (March 1, 2011)

Morning light, south-east (March 4, 2011)


March 5th, 2011

Redhead (Mason, Feb 22, 2011)A late-February drawing that (along with the gecko, below) finished off a sketchbook.

Geckos and magazines

March 1st, 2011

Day Gecko (Mason, Feb 26, 2011)

When I posted this on Facebook a few minutes ago, I called the gecko “the Billy Crystal of the lizard world”. I think it’s the smile and the glitter in the eye.

By the way, if you’re curious as to where I’ve disappeared to over the last nine months, go visit SCOPE magazine: My latest (and most time-consuming) project, SCOPE will keep me busy for a long time, I hope — so my posting on Archipelagoes will likely be limited, by and large, to the occasional sketch or photograph, rather than to my traditional essays. Please keep dropping by here from time to time, and certainly add SCOPE to your favorites list. Looking forward to hearing from you in both venues!

Morning sketches

June 4th, 2010

A selection of sketches from my morning practice sessions. I’m trying to do a full hour of sketching every day now, trying to escape from what I felt until just recently had become an unwelcome plateau in my level of skill. I spend 15 minutes doing exercises from Andrew Loomis’s Drawing the Head and Hands, 15 minutes on his Figure Drawing for All Its Worth, and a good half-hour on a study of a drawing made by one of the masters.

My current inspiration in this regard is John Singer Sargent (check out this great database of his works at Harvard), whose drawings are full of energy and vigor yet do not lose control of themselves. They’re tremendously fun to copy, and result in satisfyingly realistic pictures. The three sketches in the top row of the gallery above are all based on Sargents.

I’m particularly keen on the two women in robes, who remind me simultaneously of medieval nuns and acolytes of the Bene Gesserit.

Now welcom somer

May 30th, 2010

Summer mosaic (Ian Mason, May 30, 2010)

A little something I worked up today with a camera and the ever-handy GIMP photo editor. I had some ambitions to push colour saturations in each picture to create a kind of gradient across the piece, but decided to stick with realistic colour instead. It was such a gorgeous Sunday — why try to improve it?

Fill ‘er up, sir?

May 18th, 2010

Frank (May 16, 2010)

The nice thing about doing figure work but not doing portraits is that when your drawing goes south on you, there’s no one to look over your shoulder and say “Um, thanks Ian, but that doesn’t really look at all like me.” Having a reference is one thing, but a live person with a sense of identity can play havoc with your artistic morale.

The above picture started out as an exercise in reproducing a compelling self-portrait done by the great fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta, who died last week. As I worked on it, I realized the eyes were too big, the mouth too pursed, the neck too thin. But since Frank has far cooler things to do now than look over my shoulder, I’m free to reassure myself that the drawing at least looks like someone might — perhaps a Christopher Walken-esque movie villain from the mid-1960s, the kind of character who works at a country gas station, speaks quietly, and has murder on his mind.

Go on, try it. Press the button.

May 11th, 2010

In a burst of twenty-first-century technological enthusiasm, I managed this evening to install AddThis “share” buttons on Archipelagoes. “It’s about time, too,” readers of a social networking bent will say. Other readers may say simply, “You added what?”

A quick explanation then. “Share” buttons appear at the bottom of each post (including this one — look down); when you sweep your mouse over one, a menu will pop-up, allowing you to easily share the post with your friends by email or by importing a snippet of the post into a social networking service like Facebook or MySpace (assuming you have an account on one of them, of course).

It’s really pretty simple. So go ahead: pick your favorite recent post (not this post, I hope; if this post is your favorite then I’m in deep trouble) and press that Share button. Your friends will thank you.


Why they fight

May 9th, 2010


In Jean de Brunhoff’s 1931 children’s book, The Story of Babar, a young African elephant sees his mother shot by a hunter; he runs off, not deeper into the jungle, but (somehow) to Paris. There, he is taken in by a kindly and rich old woman, and learns the pleasures and virtues of urban civilization before eventually becoming homesick and returning to Africa, where he becomes King of the Elephants and helps his subjects adopt an improved lifestyle based largely on human ways. It is a delightful and amusingly surreal story that can be read to children as often as they like. They will learn the horrible truth soon enough.

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Motion arrested

How France's most deliberate painter captured its most dynamic subjects
April 27th, 2010
Detail from "The Rehearsal" (c. 1873-78), by Edgar Degas

Detail from "The Rehearsal" (c. 1873-78), by Edgar Degas

It is a strange yet common tendency of the beginner artist to think that the use of a reference object or image — a live model, for example, or a photograph — is somehow cheating. The beginner thinks, as I have thought at times, that a true artist is able to generate beautiful pictures directly from his or her imagination, without having to “copy” from something in front of them. Of course, this idea is both accurate and completely misleading. Many artists, through rigorous training and ongoing practice, have internalized the makeup and proportions of the human body (to take a common subject) and can render it at will — this being more than adequate a skill for artists employed in the fields of, say, fashion design or advertising. But many other artists regularly use live models or photographs as reference points, either because they are trying to capture the look of a specific person (rather than an imaginary one), or because they are trying to understand more perfectly the human form itself. Some, of course, are trying to do both.

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April 13th, 2010

Photographs of ballet dancers, I discovered this evening, are an excellent reference point for learning how to draw the human figure. What’s more, there’s something about sketching dancers that feels both dynamic and essential — forms built without adornment as simple vectors and curves, yet filled with energy and direction.

Unexpectedly but thrillingly, drawing has rarely felt this natural.

People, shooting people

April 12th, 2010

One of the great benefits of the Internet is the ability it gives creative people to communicate with and support each other, by sharing techniques and providing feedback on work they’ve offered up for review. One of the great benefits of the Internet for the rest of us is that it allows us to see and enjoy their work. For fans of independent film, Shooting People is a must-visit. Launched in 1998 (the same year in which Jesse Ventura got elected governor of Minnesota and Viagra was approved by the FDA, if that gives you a better sense of just how far back that was), S.P. ran on an entirely volunteer basis for its first four years. It now boasts a community of more than 37,000 U.S. and U.K. filmmakers who each pay only $40 a year for a range of services including DVD distribution, casting, and crewing — and more importantly, for the chance to meet and help others like themselves.

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Precision warfare

April 9th, 2010

We’ve seen this in the movies dozens of times: highly-trained Western special forces burst suddenly into a target building, their weapons at shoulder height. Moving rapidly from room to room, they identify each potential target within a second, unhesitatingly shooting the bad guys while keeping safe the unarmed and innocent. When it is over, the audience breathes a sigh of mixed relief and admiration.

Being the movies, this cannot really depict reality — and in fact, it doesn’t. It turns out that when special forces burst into a house, they keep their eyes closed.

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Room without a view

March 23rd, 2010

It won. This narrow, simplistic, disappointing little film won the Oscar.

No, I’m not shocked. Nor am I disappointed with the Academy — though it has been on an admirably strong run in this century (No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire), this is also the group that elevated both Shakespeare in Love and Titanic to the pantheon. But I am annoyed that such a flawed movie has managed to achieve this amount of acclaim, and that The Hurt Locker is, even more gratingly, regarded now as an “important” film. It is not important – not in the way, at least, that great works of art (cinema included) are capable of being.

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The storm we carry with us

March 18th, 2010

I had an unexpected bout with a ruptured appendix — mine, unfortunately — late last week, and as a result ended up missing several days of work. Having returned to the office on Wednesday, I immediately began to reconstruct my schedule of tasks and appointments. If you glanced at my Outlook calendar, you’d see what a Herculean effort this implies. But for all of the tiresomeness of this chore, the one oddly pleasant part of it was (and always is) the postponement of events into the future.

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Illustration Friday

February 22nd, 2010

Propagate (Ian Garrick Mason)

I’m disappointed to note that my brief fling with Jim Gurney’s “Art by Committee” has come to an end, now that Jim has put the monthly challenge on an indefinite hiatus (giving him more time to focus on his fascinating ongoing tour of art techniques and great artists, I note with admiration). There are lots of fish in the sea, of course, and Illustration Friday looks like a good replacement.

Illo-Friday offers a challenge that is more open-ended than Jim’s: rather than a page of text or a business card, it offers only a word. From there, your artistic mind is free to roam — so long as you get your picture in before the following Friday. This week’s topic is “propagate”, and you can see above what I did with it. It was certainly an interesting exercise: I started by attempting to depict one meaning of the word, and found when I was part way through that I had captured two.

A dank and claustrophobic universe

February 21st, 2010
Detail from James Ensor's "The Tower of Lissewege" (1890)

Detail from James Ensor's "The Tower of Lissewege" (1890)

It is by now old news that blogging has forever changed the nature of how information is generated and consumed, but the full ramifications of this change continue to play themselves out all around us today — and will go on doing so for some time yet. The latest area to be transformed is the global war for public opinion over the issue of climate change. As my friend Jeet Heer argues in a fascinating piece in this weekend’s Globe and Mail (”Climategate’s guerrilla warriors: pesky foes or careful watchdogs?“), climate change skeptics have found their greatest influence to lie not in peer reviewed journals or congressional hearings but in blogs written by passionate amateurs — sometimes highly intelligent ones — who are determined to subject even the smallest component of the international climate change assessment process to scrutiny and, once in a while, disproof.

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Upcoming: Charles Wohlforth’s The Fate of Nature

February 16th, 2010

A fast heads-up that Alaska-based writer Charles Wohlforth has a new book coming out on June 8 called The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering our Ability to Rescue the Earth (you can read an excerpt here), which focuses on the relationship between the possibilities and limits of human nature, and the scale of the environmental crisis we now face. Wohlforth is a man worth following; his last book, The Whale and the Supercomputer, remains one of the best books I’ve ever read on the environment. I reviewed it for the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2004, using words that seem even more relevant amid today’s artificial tempest over the IPCC’s methodologies:

In [computer-based climate] models, the number of possible variables is near infinite, while our understanding of the natural processes underlying each variable is in its infancy at best. Meanwhile, the unrelenting logic of chaotic systems, which declares that one can’t possibly predict the future state of such a system without being impossibly accurate about its initial starting conditions, leaves science at a loss. [...]

This uncertainty, of course, has spawned endless scientific and political debate about the existence and nature of climate change. But Wohlforth wisely points out that though we can’t create models that eliminate (or even reduce) the number of uncertainties, we can at least choose to “rank important certainties above trivial unknowns.” After all, we do understand the dynamics of the mechanism that causes global warming, and we do understand the importance of greenhouse gases as a determinant of our planet’s temperature, an importance second only to the sun. The global climate is like a massive machine with banks of labeled dials. We can’t know for sure what the machine will produce when all the dials are turned in different directions, but we do know that we’re deliberately cranking the second-biggest dial — the one labeled “atmospheric CO2 content” — far beyond any previous setting. And in doing so, we’re performing an irreversible experiment with the only planet we’ve got.

The Fate of Nature can of course be pre-ordered on Amazon. If I end up reviewing it for one of the tree-based papers, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Things you can do with paper: 6 months in

February 15th, 2010

Concerned woman (Feb 13, 2010), by Ian Garrick Mason

I had a bit of a crisis a couple of weeks back. I’d been working diligently on this whole “learning to draw” project for five and a half months, and had steadily worked my way through ups and downs to a point where I could say that my skills had progressed from “really very bad” to “mediocre”. This was a significant source of personal pride for me, as I hadn’t been sure when I started that I would manage to reach any higher level of artistic competence at all. I was feeling pretty good, frankly.

Then I watched Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary on Valentino.

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