Drawing On My Family


What does an artist do when there are no models to pose?  Why we draw upon our family members, at least I do.  I had this photo of our youngest son taken in a coffee shop and felt inspired to try and capture what is a familiar gesture.  Drawing family members has its own difficulties as one’s preconceptions often get in the way.  Our mind’s eye is often in opposition to what we actually see.  Consequently we rarely can draw the person as we truly see them.  However, I think this time I came a bit closer than I have before.

It was the first time that I had used oil pastels in a long time, but my way of using them, blending and layering came quickly back to me.  I like working with oil pastels because they smudge less than chalk pastels and they aren’t as hard to clean up after as oil paints.  When I’m drawing or painting I go into a trancelike state of pure pleasure.  Even when I am struggling with part of a drawing I am enjoying the process.  Now that is something I couldn’t say when I was struggling with an algebra problem.  Whenever I hear numbers my eyes glaze over.  I have to say, though, that I admire and envy those for whom mathematics is an art.  Despite the number of engineers in my family tree, sadly I was not blessed with those genes.  Consequently I write and draw.

Of course, I can see a lot of places where I have need of improving.  I’m not a patient artist, spending days on one piece.  I can certainly see the value in it though.  I am not so much on details as on the overall patterns and gestures.  I  admire those who are.  My favourite artists from the past are from the Group of Seven and the French Impressionists.  I can spend hours in front of paintings by Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, August Renoir and Marie Cassatt.  I am entranced by J.E.H. MacDonald, A. Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris, not to forget Emily Carr.  Their paintings are so inspiring, but now I have met even more amazing Canadian and American as well as other artists around the world through Facebook and Mixed Media Workshops.  Once again I feel the desire to express myself as well and it is a great feeling.  I wake up every morning excited to begin the day.

I have posted the photo and the drawing so that you can see what I was trying to convey.  Please let me know what you think.

Fun Earrings for Ears Not Pierced

If you are anything like me and cannot have pierced ears ( been there, did it and ended up with a messy infection due to an allergic reaction) or you simply choose not to, you might like an alternative.  Years ago when ear piercing was not so widespread women wore clip earrings.  You may have noticed that they are almost impossible to find now unless you haunt estate sales, auctions or your grandmother’s closet. I have long admired the cutesy earrings worn by friends who do have pierced ears.  It seems that they always have seasonal earrings in their earlobes – Christmas Trees, Easter eggs, Halloween pumpkins, etc.  I was envious because I just had to make do with the pairs I had which were sparkly, or the right colours for the season.

Then one day I was looking at some photos of the beautifully knit sweaters a friend had made for my children when they were small.  They had puppy, cowboy, and kitten designs on them with buttons to match each design.  I remembered seeing other buttons for children’s clothes and even some for adults with interesting shapes and objects on them.  Hmm, I thought, I wonder if I could use actual buttons to make some fun earrings for myself.  I made a trip to the craft department of a local Walmart and sure enough I found some daisies, yellow ducks, and apples on the button rack.  I then searched for the snap-on earring findings.  These are a bit harder to find.  I needed the kind that have a flat surface on which I could glue my buttons.  A crafts store like Michaels is the best place to look, but even then it may be quite a search.  The helpful clerk at the store I shopped in suggested a trip to a second-hand clothing store might be the answer.  They often sell bags of old clip-on or screw-back earrings for a mere pittance and the unwanted decorations could be removed so that the findings could be re-used.

I did find the kind of backing I needed, so I heated up my glue gun and prepared to make my earrings.  The first thing I had to do was take the plastic loop off the back of the buttons.  It can be done very carefully with the wire-cutting pliers.  All that remains then is to hot glue them to the metal backing.  I was a bit concerned that the glue might not hold but I have worn my earrings several times and they are still intact.  Use just enough glue to fasten the buttons securely to the backing.  Wait until the glue dries completely before trying them on (ear burns otherwise). Buttons with holes are good to use as well.  You could always put a small bead in the holes if they bother you, but otherwise, don’t bother.  No one will notice and if they do they will simply think it is part of the design.

Have fun making your earrings.  Today I found some really great strawberry buttons as well as some with air planes, tugboats, and trains. I also saw (but didn’t purchase) some nice black and white lace designs and some bumble bees and lady bugs.  Actually, you might find some great buttons in your own button jar at home.  Never throw away a garment without checking the buttons.  You never know what treasures you have in your rag bag.

The Importance of the Dash


My Great Grandmother, Katherine Robley

The Importance of the Dash

Our daughter loves to do family research.  She has discovered a number of fascinating facts about her ancestors.  On her father’s side, her ancestors are mostly Irish, French and English.  On my side of the family, her ancestors are English, Scots, and German with a smattering of French.  She has discovered connections to some writers, inventors and poets as well as shoemakers, carpenters and shipbuilders.  It is amazing to think that our immediate ancestors lived through the plague, many wars and survived sea voyages in a time when they were very treacherous.  All that information was hidden in the dash between the dates on their tombstones.

It hasn’t been easy for her to discover these facts.  The lives of our ancestors are as much of a mystery to most of us as the future lives of our descendants.  It has required diligent searching through posted family trees, sharing info with other searchers, posting questions on the web, looking through the archives, finding old photos and even calling people with the same last name.  However difficult, she loves doing it.  It is a mystery story slowly unfolding.

The dash between dates is the mystery.  That dash is misleading in its simplicity.  A lot occurred in that space – first steps, first words, the first everything experienced as well as the last steps and the last words.  I look at the photo above, of my great grandmother in the prime of her life, all dressed in the garb of the 1860’s and I wonder what she was thinking as the photographer flashed his picture.  I know at the time she was a widow, living in San Francisco where her first husband worked with my great-grandfather as a ship builder.  His last name was McGee. He and Great-grandma had a daughter.  She and he both caught typhoid and died within days of each other.  My great- grandmother was grief-stricken.  My great-grandfather, Thomas Robley, had promised his friend that he would look after Great-grandma. so he did.  He married her and they had eight children.  The two young boys died, but the six girls thrived.  Eventually, Great Grampa and Great Grandma returned to Thomas Robley’s home in Pictou, Nova Scotia.  It was there in Pictou where the McNabb and Fraser branches of the family had arrived from Scotland on the boat, the Hector.  I know Great-Grandma also looked after my great-grandfather’s two older sisters until they died.  Did she feel resentful, or resigned?  Did she encourage the imaginations of her children?  She must have because they were accomplished story-tellers, letter writers, and amateur actresses.  We have many photos taken of them in costumes.  Did she enjoy being the lady of the house?  Did she have a sense of humour?  She would have needed one with six daughters to rear.  They all had excellent funny bones.  What were her hobbies?  What were her dreams?  You can’t read those things in the dash.  How I wish I had asked my grandmother about her mother, but of course, I was too young to know what questions would be important to me now.

So I keep the old photos and pass on as many of the stories as I remember.  And I keep diaries for my grandchildren and great grandchildren, so they will know (if they care to) about the meaning of the dash between our dates one day.

In the Soup Pot

Peter Rabbit in Farmer MacGregor's Carrots

  • Peter Rabbit Eating Carrots by Beatrix Potter
  • Peter Rabbit almost ended up in the stewing pot at the MacGregor’s farm.  There wasn’t much on our land that missed the soup or stew pot when our children were growing up.  My husband had a huge garden and with four children to feed we certainly needed it.  I was sitting here eating my homemade soup made from chicken, bok choy, cabbage, carrots, onions and orange pepper and reminiscing about the many soups and stews I have concocted over the almost forty-three years we’ve been married.   I loved making them and still do.  Soup and stew are the greatest user -uppers of left-overs there are.  Everything can go into them and they will usually be delicious as well as filling.  I say usually, because we all have had kitchen failures which are evident by the fact that the pot remains full instead of emptying quickly.
  • I see this as an allegory for our lives and therefore the arts.  Everything can go into the pot – love, hate, fear, envy, jealousy, challenge, stress, joy, sorrow, pain and ecstasy.  If we don’t feel, we’re not alive.  The resultant mix of ingredients is the taste of our characters which can be a rich mixture of experience and wisdom or blunder and bitterness.  We find out which by the sort of friends we have made in our lifetime.  True friends who rally round in times of trouble or fair-weather friends who only stay as long as our money or drugs or booze or food holds out.   In the arts, the mix is good when people come back wanting more, patiently wait out our desert periods and cheer on our best efforts.  The audience doesn’t need to be large (although that is more financially rewarding) but appreciative.
  • When I was young I used to go to the library looking for books with happy endings.  Now I certainly want Peter to be saved from the stew, but I don’t mind how near he comes to being caught and I’d rather be in suspense about the ending.   I don’t want the stew or soup to be bland.  There must be spice, and all kinds of ingredients.  What excitement would there have been in “Jane Eyre” if she had simply worked as the tutor and never been visited by the mad woman?  Would there have been as many “Sonnets to the Portuguese” if Elizabeth Barrett Browning had been healthy all her life?  Not that I wish ill-health on anyone, but if it is one of the ingredients in the soup, it should at least be tempered with some great love, passion or high calling.   So I suppose, if we fill our lives with good things, things of substance, then we can look upon the sorrow, mistakes, disappointments and challenges as the spice in our recipe, all culminating in a delicious flavour to be  remembered and savoured in our later years.   It will be a memoir or novel, painting , play or photo album worthy to be handed on to the next generation.  A rich soup or stew worth eating.

Inveterate Night Owl

I am the daughter of a night owl and a grand-daughter of a night owl.  My children are also night owls. It is truly a genetic strain.  It can also be a strain on a relationship, especially if your partner is a day person.  Day people  do not understand night owls.  Any activity after midnight is a deliberate assault on their person.   Night life is definitely much quieter, fewer distractions (eg. meals to prepare) and thus concentration is uninterrupted.  Besides, my brain seems to get what must be akin to a caffeine kick around midnight.  It is very hard to try and sleep when your mind is abuzz with ideas and concerns.

My husband believes that I am a worry wart and I suppose he is partially right.  If I am not tired enough to sleep, I spend my time thinking about other concerns.

Earliest Artifacts

Exodus from Aklavik by Mollie Pearce  (age 14yrs.)

From the time I could hold a pencil or crayon I would draw.  At first it was just circles and then the usual stick people.  I was fascinated by grocery stores, so a lot of my drawing involved people shopping and rows and rows of boxes and cans.  Well, I thought they looked like boxes and cans however, as I often had to interpret my drawings for the grownups I guess they looked more like just a lot more circles and rectangles.

Then I got a kidney infection when I was six and wound up in the hospital for about a week.  It was at the beginning of December and the hospital staff were trying to make things look more “Christmassy”.   There was one very talented nurse on our ward who came in on her days off and painted pictures on the windows.  I was absolutely awestruck.  She asked the children on the ward to ask their parents to bring in some old Christmas cards that she could copy in paint on the windows.   She drew amazing (to my eyes) sketches which she filled in with paint.  I watched her for what seemed like hours. I thought to myself ‘I wish I could draw and paint like that.’

I also had a grade one teacher that would draw on the blackboard.  She drew different things for each month.  In April it would be ducks, rain boots and umbrellas.  In May it was flowers.  Even arithmetic questions were illustrated by objects like apples, teepees, trees and pumpkins with plus or minus signs between them.  It was the best thing about arithmetic period.

I filled notebooks with drawings.  In grade four one of my friends spent a whole recess and noon hour showing me how to draw a face on profile.  After that my glorified stick people became more realistic.  Of course, the proportions weren’t right but at least they began to look more human.  My parents had to ask less and less about what I was drawing.

By grade eight I was writing a book I called “Pioneer Daughters” (go ahead and laugh).  As we were at that time living on the prairie in Regina, Saskatchewan,  you can imagine what gave me the idea.  Anyhow I spent a lot of time writing and illustrating my book.  I designed the dresses I imagined the four daughters would have worn and spent a lot of time on the pictures.  That year I was asked to construct the grade eight graduation banner and I loved doing that.

Grade Nine was so exciting for me.  For the first time I was taught art by a real artist, one who had a particular interest in mosaics.  He had designed four mosaics for the school lobby, two were already in place and he was working on the third.  All four mosaics were to illustrate some part of academia.  The one that was in progress was all about Socrates and his students.  Mr. Miller, our teacher, and some grade 12 students were working on it.  That was the year that I discovered oil pastels.  The colours and the way they could be layered and blended enthralled me.  I drew a picture of women trying on hats in a store (still with the store fixation) and then I decided to branch out.

Our family was a naval family and so one of the postings we had was to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories.  I was not happy at the time of the posting as it was interrupting my upcoming Ballet recital, but I was so captured by the immensity, beauty and strangeness of the north that I soon accepted my disappointment.  I was not destined for the stage.  The north captivated me and so when I was trying to decide on what to draw I thought of a school trip we had taken while I was there.  Our teacher had taken us out of school to the river where we watched an Inuit woman cutting up a seal.  She was using the uniquely curved ulu (woman’s knife) and was carving up the seal very efficiently.  That scene was the one I chose to make an illustration of.   I wanted a lot of paper and so I used paper from a large roll of butcher paper and oil pastels.   That picture was one of three large pictures with the arctic as the subject.  Somehow that picture got misplaced after it was marked.   I did two more large pictures: one of the processional at the Anglican Church “All Saints”  and one of the shocking oil tank explosion in Aklavik which we witnessed when the townspeople were evacuated (picture above text).

At the end of the school year Mr. Miller asked me if I would like to help work on the huge mosaic during the summer and of course, I said yes.    It was very flattering to be trusted to cut and place the glass and ceramic tiles in the pattern he had set out.   I worked on it about two hours a day for several weeks until, once again, Dad was posted, this time to Ottawa.   I was thrilled to do it and I was able to work along side a grade 12 student.  Some day I would love to go back to Sheldon Williams High School and see the mosaic I worked on so long ago hanging there in the lobby.  That would be a thrill, even though I was just one of the unsung students who donated their time to work on the mosaics.

Word Addiction

My name is Mollie and I am a word addict.  It is a daily habit, I’m afraid.  I read everything in front of me; the backs of cereal boxes, the sides of aerial sprays, the contents of tins, newspapers, and catalogues. I love catalogues.  I collect words; big words, small words, unusual words, outdated words, even foreign words.  I play word games; Scrabble, Words With Friends, cross words, scrambled words, Balderdash, Lexulous, and any other word game that comes into my range of vision.  I love the look of words, the shape of words and the sound of words.  A blank sheet of paper is exciting.  I could cover that page with words, in different patterns, in different forms of poetry or prose, even in different colours of ink.  I get excited when I visit someone who has magnetic words to make poetry on their refrigerator.   I spend hours working with words, typing them out, writing them down, turning them around.  I’m a word manipulator.  I mainline dictionaries and the thesaurus.  I love the phone book and the world atlas because of the names of people and places.  It’s an incurable habit.

I would love to say that my addiction only affects me.  Unfortunately, this is not so.  My addiction causes me to delay meals, neglect laundry, ignore dust bunnies, and burn baking.  It is a terrible predicament but, I’m incorrigible and unrepentant.  When it comes to words, I am totally uninterested in a cure.

The Most Important

The most important aspect of my life is my faith.  I love my family very much, but before my family I had God and because God gave me my family, He knows how much they mean to me.  Yes, I think of God in the masculine gender, which I suppose is the traditional in me, but I am simply echoing the words of Jesus.  In my mind, God seems beyond “gender”, a combination of the very best characteristics of father and mother, but it is easier to choose the masculine pronoun than to quibble over English semantics.  Besides, we are all made in the image of God, so obviously God must embody all those qualities that are most admirable about men and women.

On the other hand, applying human characteristics to a being so incredibly powerful and creative is very simplistic indeed.  The universe is immensely mysterious and seemingly limitless.  It is really beyond human understanding.  Even if it began with a big bang as scientists believe, what was the initial source of all that energy?  Surely the answer is God.

The universe, infinite or not, is not the sole basis of my faith.  I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, and his ministry.  When I was very young I used to wish that I had been born during his life on earth so that I could have heard his teaching for myself and have had seen the miracles he performed.  I am no theologian and I won’t pretend that I don’t have some dark nights of the soul, but in the final accounting I find more to believe than disbelieve.  The Bible is a treasure trove of literature, so even if a person didn’t believe it only makes sense that it should be read by everyone.  The prophesies about the Messiah are plainly  pointing towards Jesus as are many of the beautiful psalms.  I love reading the epistles as well.  They are so very real, full of human emotion and practical advice.  Relevant, I would say, to anyone’s daily struggles.

I do not wish to force my faith upon anyone, but I think that it is well to know what another person finds important in their lives and upon what they base their morality.  “Seek” God says, “and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened.”  I have found this to be true.  Everyone is seeking, not that they know what they might be looking for, but everyone is looking for meaning in their lives.  I believe that we are here on earth to learn to love one another and that takes a whole lifetime.  We need to progress beyond self-preservation to selfless service.  What a different world that would be!


My Artifacts

I am much more confident about calling myself a writer than calling myself an artist.  However, I do both.  I have even had commissions for my artwork.  The one commissioned work that I am most proud of is the one I did of a farm house many years ago.  The family farm had long ago been sold and no longer existed, but the woman who had lived there as a child asked me to paint her a water colour of it based on an old oil painting and several photos.  The oil painting had been done by an Austrian prisoner of war who had been working on a farm across the road.  The oil painting had deteriorated as it had been stored in a garage for many years.  I agreed to take on the challenge.  I pored over the old painting, went to see a farmhouse made of similar materials and spent a great deal of time on the painting.  I decided, as a surprise, to add in a vignette of the woman and her two siblings as children on the bench swing they had in their yard.  The painting was fairly large, about 13″x16″ and the family was pleased.  I got the most money I’d ever received up to that point, about $250.

One other similar commission I did for my uncle who had a ranch in Alberta.  He sent me the plane ticket to visit them and I did for a whole week.  I had a wonderful time, made several sketches (in spite of the efforts of Tiny, their St.Bernard, to sit on my lap) and came home ready to paint.  I painted five versions of the ranch home – two in the winter scenery and three in the summer scenery.  I sent all five to my uncle so he could choose his favourite.  He decided to have all five framed, kept one for himself and gave the others to his children who all had their own homes.  I was very pleased with his satisfaction because he collected watercolours.  I considered it a good compliment.

Another commission was for the cover of a local magazine advertising farm gate produce.  I tried a number of designs for the publisher.  He chose two, one for the front cover and one for the back.  The design he chose showed a farm in a bushel basket.  The other design was the same one , as an outline.  I later found out he had that design enlarged and framed for his wall.

I have done illustrations for several magazines and two book covers.  One of my illustrations caused a bit of a controversy because I showed a baby bottle and one of the magazine readers objected to it.  She felt that because that magazine was for Moms and that they promoted breast feeding the bottle was sending the wrong message.  I countered with the fact that many moms fed their children juice and water from the bottle.  So for a couple of issues we had letters flying back and forth.

I love telling a story with words and through drawings.  I have a great admiration for a local evangelical who is also an artist.  He has done several murals and he travels with his wife every summer to camps and isolated communities where she sings songs on her guitar for the children and he draws to illustrate the Bible stories she tells.   I think this is a great teaching gift.

From childhood to the present I have been driven to draw and write.  I intend to go on doing so until I am no longer physically able.  I can’t imagine any other way to live.

Reving Your Writing Engine: Ideas

There are so many sources for ideas.  Instead of sitting in front of your blank screen staring at your keyboard do some of the following activities:

1.  Go through your card file where you recorded your notes about people you observed, places you described, stories you overheard, conversations, etc.

2. Read the newspaper, especially the personal ads.  They are full of mysterious tidbits.  Even the articles can give you ideas.   Social notices such as weddings, parties and obituaries are full of material.

3.  Photos of your family, especially old photos of grandparents are fabulous resources.  Magazines also are full of interesting faces and situations in photos.

4.  Current events in your community such as local politics and neighbourhood dramas can prove to be great starting points for short stories or novels ( changing the people sufficiently so that they are not recognizable.

5.  Historical happenings are gold mines for interesting ideas.  Visit the library and check out the local history books.  Monuments and tombstones are also fascinating.

6.  Mine your own life for memories of school days, family stories and interesting characters.

7.  Strange fashions, traditions and new trends can also spark an idea, especially for interesting articles.

8.  Take a walk around your neighbourhood and observe what is happening.  Is someone moving out or moving in?  Who is the reclusive neighbour no one ever sees?  What things do the teens do for amusement?  etc.

9.  Look through an art gallery or a book on art in the library.  What stories are behind the drawings and paintings?  Check out statues and sculptures.  What do you imagine when you look at them?

10.  Bible stories, myths, legends, fairy tales and even Mother Goose rhymes can suggest stories.  Set a myth in a modern setting.  Write a legend about a local landmark.

11.  Music can suggest amazing ideas.  Play a classical piece or your favourite jazz and write while you listen.  Take a song title and use it as the title of your story.  Read a poem and write the prose account that it suggests to you.

12.  Look through an atlas and choose a strange place name to set a story in.   Travel magazines and National Geographic magazines are full of wonderful pictures of far away places that would make great settings for a story.

13.  HIstoric journals, your own diaries and the diaries of famous people can prompt interesting ideas. Even the phone book can lead to imaginative plots and interesting names for characters.

14.  Old postcards can inspire in two ways.  The pictures on the front depict vacation destinations from the past and the hand written notes on the back can be a fun start to a story.  Period ads and old catalogue pictures can suggest historical articles or stories.

15.  Colours can suggest moods and emotions, even events.  Patterns and textures can stir memories.

16.  Unusual objects, especially antiques, can suggest situations and characters.  Old jewelry and souvenirs can prompt an idea.  Empty your pocket or purse and see what the contents suggest to you.

17.  Television ads, movie clips and titles can be the beginning of a plot.

18.  Even the weather report can start your imagination humming.

These are just a few activities or objects that you can use when you sit down to write.  There are a lot of good writing sites on the internet that offer daily or weekly prompts.  So don’t just sit there and stew.  Explore!

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