Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Painting the Pavement Project in Calgary

My introduction to public art happened last summer at a Calgary intersection— and, no, I wasn’t hurt.

The South Calgary Community Association (the SCCA) put forth a proposal to the City of Calgary to conduct a series of Paint-the-Pavement projects, and the City accepted one at the corner of 45th Ave and 15th Street SW, in the neighbourhood of Altadore. I was brought on board by a member of the SCCA’s traffics committee to provide the imagery and direct the painting.

The first step was choosing an image or two—that wasn’t too hard. I knew we wanted to reflect the kid angle of the ‘hood, so a boy and girl image were basic. But what should the characters be doing?

The corner for the project is adjacent to a playground where peewee soccer matches are a regular occurrence, so that decision was easy-- a kid with a soccer ball.

The other could simply be exploring her environment. As it happens, the community of Altadore is built on a high water table, and years ago (so I’m told) the area was quite soggy. So, I decided she should be playing in a puddle.

Colours were limited by what could be acquired in road-paint ‘shades’(!), which meant just the primary colours and white. I would need to mix a flesh tone (white, yellow & red), and and brown for the kids’ hair colours… all colours, with a splash of black was my original thinking. However, the day of, a glitch in the paint delivery (no latex black paint, only oil-based) meant I couldn’t add black to the latex mix.

BUT, someone brought in a can of plain old exterior house paint in a dainty shade of dark brown – I suspect this will be the first to wear off next summer…

Accurate measurements were take at the site a week or two prior to the event, and I drew up a a scale drawing. Then, I gridded it – the more detailed, the easier the job would be on-site.

About a week before the event, flyers outlining the road closures, and inviting neighbours to participate were circulated homes close to the intersection.

Saturday morning dawned nice and bright—an early crew of pavement washers (neighbourhood dads) power-washed and swept the intersection clean.

The next step was laying the chalk lines that corresponded to my grid drawing, in 3.5 foot squares. This took Dean and me about an hour with a chalk line and tape measure, and then I began to sketch in the two images with a piece of kids’ sidewalk chalk. It was a bit like playing Battleship…

By this time, families were beginning to gather, keen to help out. I gave the adults and older kids skinny paintbrushes, and asked them to outline the characters in white paint -– then younger kids could follow behind with brushes and rollers to fill in the bodies.

By mid-afternoon of that day, we’d laid down about 3 or 4 coats of white, and while we could have started with the colours, we chose to wait. Many local families had planned to join the action on the Sunday, so we decided to leave some work for them.

Sunday was the big paint day – enormous buckets of latex road paints cans were hauled out to the site. We began with one colour— a vat of the most lurid looking yellow paint I’ve ever seen -- which I started by making cut-lines over the white paint.

Then, kids descended with rollers and brushes and immediately filled in all the white space. We laid down 3 – 4 coats, giving all kids a chance to use a brush or a roller. One of our smart volunteers bought a bunch of those 4-inch rollers that were great for kids to handle.

Road paint dries very quickly – within about 8 minutes – and we had revolving buckets of water ready at all times to submerse brushes and rollers. Having a water source – someone’s hose – was critical.

Each colour was brought out one at a time, and we followed the same routine.

When all the colour was laid down in many, many coats, I outlined everything with black lines. Because the black latex still hadn’t arrived, we had to use an oil-based black—it was awful to use and it was toxic to breathe in. Kids got shooed away while this activity was underway.

The very final step was the addition of the reflective beads, required by the city. They needed to be added to tacky paint, and because the paint dried so quickly, we designated this to be an adult-only job.

Six months later, the intersection still looks great (though at this very moment, it’s under about 3 feet of snow).

Drop me a note if you have any questions or comments about our Paint the Pavement project.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Calgary author, Simon Rose, and I have teamed up to do some work creative work on spec.

When Simon's not busy writing his next novel, and I'm not working on illustrations for my next children's picture book, we've been transforming Simon's manuscripts into book dummies -- or miniature picture books -- that we can then approach potential publishers with.

Our first foray was with a manuscript about a renaissance dragon -- a dragon who likes the finer things in life. We broke the copy up into pages, and I created draft images to accompany those pages. It's an interesting exercise, as you realize along the way what needs to be illustrated, what DOESN'T need to be illustrated and what copy is superfluous.

Here's the draft cover -- notice that everything's done in black & white, and very loosely rendered... the interior images are likewise. I scan all the images, and set the text in Photoshop.

The beauty of creating a book dummy or a mock-up, is that you get an excellent feeling for the story's pacing and flow -- and most importantly, if the story is compelling enough to get readers to turn to the next page.

Another reason I like to make book dummies is that it makes a nice little package to hand over to a kid to critique-- whereas a sheet of thumbnails needs some explanation.

Our next project is about another fictional creature-- a little bigfoot -- who befriends a member of a different species. But more on that later...!

***Read more about Simon on his blog, or check out his site at www.simon-rose.com***

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Update on activities...

It's been quite a while since I've posted -- in fact, I had to figure out how to do it again.

In a nutshell, things have been very busy -- I just finished up my artist-in-residence at the Telus World of Science here in Calgary. The space they gave me was beautiful...

My "thing" was old-fashioned optical devices, so had a zoetrope, flip-books and thaumatropes for visitors to muck around with.

I really thought the zoetrope would get the most attention from kids (and I had nearly 600 of them in a 4 week period), but in fact, it was the thaumatropes that captured their attention.

In case you're wondering, a zoetrope looks like this pictured here ... this is the one from the Royal Saskatchewan Science Centre, but mine looked pretty similar (see right-hand pic). I had a local metal worker construct one for me. I think it was an unusual project for him. Here's what mine looked like in action...

Anyway, what was I saying...? Oh, yes-- it was the thaumatropes that the kids really dug. And do you know what they look like? Here's a pic for you... this is an example of a classic thaumatrope... empty bird cage on one side, bird on the other. Another classic example is the empty fish tank on one side, the fish on t'other.

Some of the ideas kids came in with were very inventive. Like a pile of logs on one side, and flames on the other, and when spun together, looked like a bonfire. A stick of dynamite on one side, a BOOM on the other. An uneaten chocolate bar on one side, a partially eaten one on the other. A blank TV set on one side, a character on the other... Some kids had trouble figuring out the upside down business, while others got it instantly.

Here's an example of a thaumatrope I did-- I call it the X-ray boy...
one side (right) is a boy, and on the other, very carefully lined up so that the eyes connect when the thaumatrope is spinning, is the skeleton (left). Especially appropriate at Hallowe'en, which is when I was there.

But back to the zoetrope (note, there should be an umlaut over the first 'e', but I don't know how to do that...)-- I'd had long sheets printed at Staples, that were separated into panels. The rule of thumb is that there should be the same number of panels are there are slits in the zoetrope.

Kids did growing trees and flowers, butterflies flitting over the page, people walking, happy faces turning sour... stuff like that. This was quite successful with the older set -- about 12 - 14 year olds, who had some time to spend.

One other option was creating flipbooks -- to avoid having to carefully bind papers together, I used old paperback novels and had kids draw their images in the lower right hand-corners of the pages. Flips beautifully, and the effect on the pre-existing type is really quite cool. I'll post examples of this one soon.

Many thanks to Linda Hawke for letting me use her great shots from the museum -- much appreciated, Linda!

Well, that's it fer now -- keep your eyes open for "Where Does Your Cat Nap?"

Ciao fer now!

val