Dec 21, 2015

Sep 6, 2015

Life at the Speed of Sketching.

I love sketching.  It is basic art. Grassroots creativity. 

Every person does it, whether as an artist or not; doodles, scribbles, diagrams, maps, sketches of mum, the house or the neighbour's cat. We use pencil on paper, pen in notebooks, brush on canvas, sticks in sand, fingers on wood, chalk on a blackboard, scratches on the back of an envelope, a stylus pen on an Ipad, paintings in caves. We see the world in images and we connect with each other by drawing. Like music, it's one of our international languages.
All artists do it. Some don't admit to "just sketching," but if nothing else, they draw with the paint they are using to plot their canvas. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched people in pubs. He used them as models in many of his paintings, including the Last Supper. Michelangelo sketched people on street corners and he used those sketches as models for the Sistine Chapel. Can you imagine the fellow he used as his model of God?

We have all sketched something. It's a part of our nature to communicate our ideas, our dreams through the creation of images. It's a way to create understanding. It is something that everyone knows and in its simple form, it's a way of passing time in a fun, instinctive and creative way.

In small ways, I have been sketching all my life. Like most, I started at school with scribbles. But thinking back through my life, I have sketched to get a point across or to design a pictorial, to draw a map or to simply pass a moment or two by sketching a building or a relative.

Since moving to Victoria and being inspired by the worldwide Urban Sketchers movement, I felt as if I had found my tribe. Hence, my wife and sketching buddy and I decided to start a sketching group. Island Sketching started with the two of us. We have now expanded to more than 250 members and it's going strong. Thank goodness they don't all show up at once. We average about 20 enthusiastic members at a meet-up in the summer and about 10 -15 in the winter. We now both feel compelled to sketch, at least, once every two weeks on our meet-up days. 

Picture a group of dedicated sketchers sitting around a subject on small camping stools. Quiet and in a meditative state, they are drawing, scratching, marking and staining small pads or books of paper with graphite, pen, watercolour; and what emerges is art. Wow. What an amazing thing to do.

People who pass by glance and wonder what's going on. Some don't understand and would rather be golfing or watching football. Some show respect and walk on while others wave. Others, oblivious to our purpose, walk in front and totally block what we are trying to sketch. Some take pictures. Some take selfies. Some stop because their kids feel the basic human instinct to want to sketch. Some are curious. Some are jealous or envious. Others gasp in astonishment at something of beauty emerging from a blank sheet of paper. However, there are a select few who show total interest and want to politely chat. They ask how to join the group, how often we meet, what tools they will need to start sketching. I usually tell them a pencil, a piece of paper and their brain. 

"Is that all?" they ask.
"Yes", I say. "The rest comes from observation, learning and practice, practice, practice. The more you do the better you get. After that, and as you get better, you will need to refine your tool set and grow your creativity."

There are no rules. Like most sketchers, over time I have developed a set of tools that I carry with me. Artists are very different individuals and we all have our own unique style, but many of us use the same or similar tools. 

So, other than your brain, what are the basic tools of today's urban sketcher?  
Well, as this blog is from me, I will tell you my own personal approach.


I use an F pencil. This is the middle of the graphite range. It gives me a medium look without being to light or too heavy. I don't want my lines to be overpowering because I pen over the pencil lines later. I need the pencil to make fine lines and marks that will draw my intent and vision, as most of my sketching time is spent plotting out my composition and perspective with a pencil.

Pencil sharpener.
I like a sharp pencil so I carry a tiny Staedtler sharpener. I also have a mini Swiss army knife that is very sharp and is great for graphite pencils. I always collect the shavings in a paper towel or napkin for disposal later, or throw them in a flower garden as they are bio-degradable.

This is a very important tool for me. It helps me see. It helps me find and unify my composition and perspective. And, of course, it helps me correct my mistakes seamlessly. I use a Staedtler PVC free eraser. Good for wide swaths and to eventually get rid of the pencil marks that I cover with pen. I also have a pull-on eraser that fits on the back of pencil. Great for those quick corrections.

Fine tip pen.
An extra fine tip Micron 005 Archival Ink pen is my pen of choice. 500 signifies the sharpness of the tip. Sometimes I use a Lamy fine-tip fountain pen for just pen and ink sketches or sketches where I intentionally smudge the line of the ink with a water pen or brush.

Sketch book.
I prefer the Pentalic 5 x 8, 140 lb, watercolour sketchbook or a Moleskin 5 x 8 watercolour sketchbook. These books are a wonderful archive of your drawings and as a matter of personal observation, I truly think that some of the best art is hidden in small sketchbooks on peoples shelves and in boxes around the world. I also use larger watercolour books, pads and blocks including: Arches and Fluid brands. For quick pen & ink sketches I use a Robert Bateman 5 x 8,  90 lb sketchbook.

I purchased a couple of small, tin paintboxes into which I squeeze fresh watercolour paint out of the tube. I use Winsor Newton watercolour paints. I also experiment with M. Graham and Daniel Smith watercolours. I usually work with basic colours because I can mix almost any other colour with them. But, I do like a good selection. 

I use a small Nalgene screw top jar in which I carry a small amount of water. I also carry a drinking bottle of water. Good for replacing my watercolour water, should it get too murky.

Paint Brush
I have a couple of good travel brushes and a small set of synthetic brushes. On occasion I use a water brush. This is a nylon brush that has a mini water reservoir within it. You squeeze it and you have as much water as you need.

Some people think, and adamantly so, that sketching is just sketching with a pencil or pen. They will almost fight you for this basic idea of sketching. However, many of us, including some of the great masters who sketched, i.e. John Singer Sargent, J. M. W. Turner, Winslow Homer, etc. also used watercolour. Watercolour is easy to transport, it has rich colours, it's adaptable to different styles and it dries fast. And for the dedicated amateur, like myself, it looks good. It adds a fresh completed look and its amazing what great effects you can create on your drawing with a varied approach to watercolour.

I have a canvas school bag which is good for an over-the-shoulder, relaxed outing. It carries everything for the small quick sketch. I also have a typical back sack for larger trips. As well as having three, good compartments, it has two side pockets for containers. These I use for an umbrella and a small camping type stool.

Other notables
A floppy hat to keep the sun off my face.

Sun glasses, because drawing with the sun on a white piece of paper shining back in your eyes, leads to eye strain. Sun glasses help cut the glare.

Rain poncho. This is good for those wet days when I feel that I must complete that sketch on location.

Umbrella, for those pesky little showers. But the way, I love the rain. To learn to sketch and paint different weather patterns is a wonderful way to educate myself.

A camera, to take pictures for reference of the colours and location. This, so I can complete the painting process later at home.

Sunscreen. It's amazing how time flies when you're sketching in the same place for two hours. You get burnt and you don't notice it until later when it's uncomfortable.

Small camping stool. It's always good to have somewhere to sit or somewhere to put your tools.

Extra layer - sweater or jacket. Your body can cool down when you sit still for a couple of hours. Extra layers can go a long way for comfort.

Bottle of water - keep hydrated. Also used to replenish your watercolour water.

Energy bar or snack to help keep you alert.

A pack of tissues or a roll of kitchen paper towels. I use these when working with  watercolour. 

So, where do I start?

I am often asked how I choose subjects. What do I sketch? Well, anything is sketchable. As a creator, your job is to create something out of nothing. It is for the individual artist to turn, what some see as, a mediocre subject into an inspired piece of art. Some like sketching buildings while others like to draw trees and flowers. One of our artists in the sketch group has spent the last couple of years sketching faces. Subjects are everywhere; the cows in the pasture, the ornament on your desk, the fire-engine around the corner, the fancy hotel downtown, the kids on the swings, the washing hanging on the line, the knots in a tree trunk. I like unusual structures; airplanes, antique cars, curved buildings, grave yards. However, find something that has a unique flavour where you can attempt to capture an interesting angle with your sketching tools. If it doesn't inspire you, use the occasion as a practice to turn nothing into something.

After I grab my tiny, traveling, camp stool, I sit where I can see my composition perfectly. Sometimes it's better if I stand but I like to sit.

Usually, I find a composition with my eyes first. This comes with experience. I have been a photographer and cinematographer all my working life and I can place a camera in a good spot at a moment's notice. This skill I carry through to my art work and sketching. After I have found my subject, I usually find a composition quickly. For others it may take some time to find a subject that inspires them to start a sketch. There are many books that you can find on the subject of composition, as well, you can study the great masters; how they formed their compositions, what makes a balanced picture etc.

In pencil, I draw a border line around the paper onto which I will sketch the composition. This leaves me with a frame and some "spill room" in case I need to extend my composition or painting outwards. I then plot out the composition and pencil sketch it lightly. Here I can make mistakes that I correct later with an eraser. I sketch the perspective and the background and later add foreground people or objects. The pencil sketching process takes me the most time as this is my blueprint for the whole art work. 

The sketcher sees, draws and captures things that most people never see or even comprehend in front of them. People go about their daily process and pass buildings, people and areas, yet they rarely take the time to see the life around them. Whereas sketchers study the things they draw, they ponder the shape, size, colour, contrast, dimensions, connections of every little corner, crevasse, join and detail they want to include in their drawing. Some sketch more detail than others, while some scribble a likeness of something to be shaped with colour later, and somehow it ends up a masterpiece. Go figure. 

Only the sketcher knows what he or she sees, because we all see things differently.  I am truly amazed at the varied quality and styles within our sketch group. Everybody is truly unique when it comes to art. It's very refreshing to see.

I am very much a realist with my drawings. Although I do like to use artistic license and not include items that get in my way. I use a light pencil sketch as a basic outline drawing of form and light, and when I am happy with it, I pull out my  fine lined ink pen and go over the pencil lines. Here, I also add some shading and nuances that I have missed before. I then take my eraser and rub out all the pencil lines leaving a pen and ink drawing, which will be improved upon later.

So this is the sketch. Here, I decide if I am going to keep it as a pen and ink drawing, or move on to create a watercolour painting. If it's to remain a drawing, I will add more intense light and shadow and refine the elements that will bring it to life. If it is going to be a watercolour painting, then I will plot the colours, the light and shade, and all the elements needed to accentuate the painting.

With watercolour, I usually start with a wash; sometimes with the sky where I might add threatening storm clouds, sunshine or sunbeams. I next add colour, shade and texture to the sketch. I am forever trying to emulate English artist John Constable's, puffy clouds. He was a master at clouds. He studied them endlessly. 

Am I ever satisfied with my sketches? Sometimes I can find a rare piece of which I'm proud, but mostly there are sections in each drawing that I like, but not the whole piece. From my point-of-view, I am learning to control the medium and that takes time. It's a hobby and I enjoy the learning process.

Do I ever use other mediums? I have used coloured pencils in the past but I really enjoy using and learning watercolour techniques for now. Sometimes I will not use a pen. I will use the pencil sketch as a form to create a watercolour painting.

For me, sketching is better than golf or any other hobby I can think of. Although I do like to ride my street bike and listen to great music. This I can do while I sketch. I can bike to a good sketching location, get out the tools and the ipod and find a good composition to sketch. I often listen to some classical music while creating something special, or I put it away and listen to the sounds from the location. 

My goal with sketching is to enjoy the moment and get better. Yes, it's the journey not the destination that matters. It's about doing it, it's not about the finished sketch or painting. I have sketched some interesting places and my sketchbooks are filled with great memories. But the best memories are of actually sketching.

On a recent visit to England my wife and I sat down among the reeds on the banks of the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon. There we sketched a spring scene in the shade of some willow trees with the river flowing beside us. We were immersed in a landscape of perfection. Swans were taking their babies for a swim, while a tiny, man-powered, ferry boat was plying back and forth across the river. And the focal point of the sketch was the church, just down river, where William Shakespeare was buried. Yes, I value the sketches, but the memory of that moment is so very precious. 

When I sketch, all my senses are alive. I hear the seagulls or the crickets or the waves lapping on the shore. I smell the salt air, coffee brewing or I get a sniff of the hotdog vendor barbecuing a smokey. I hear the kids playing or the skateboarder wiz by. I feel the cool wind on my face and sense the approaching rain. And I see things that others pass-by and miss. I am a slow sketcher. I don't do it for speed and I don't do it for anybody's approval. I do it for me. It's very much like a meditation. Being in the zone.

Sketching is a revery, a muse of contemplation, concentration and application. It's an art and as a creator you can turn it into anything you want. You can move buildings to enhance a composition, you can remove ugly power lines to show a mountain top, you can add colourful people doing colourful things. You can be as creative as you wish.

As with all things creative, art is a freedom where the only limitation is my own ignorance of the technical task of working with the tools and the medium. But I'm learning. I may not know as much as I want, but I'm getting better. And who knows where these many practice sessions will take me? Someday I may crack the creative wall and paint something of significance. Until then, "doing" keeps me happy. When you find something interesting to spend a few hours of undivided attention on, you really do experience life at the speed of sketching.

Here are a few items to illustrate the sketching tools I use.


Pencil Sharpener
Staedtler├é® Handheld Metal Pencil Sharpener 510-10

Staedtler STD525B30 Lead Pencil Eraser, Latex-Free, Smudge-Free, Small

Micron 005 Archival Ink
Sakura 50034 6-Piece Pigma Micron-005 Ink Pen Set, 0.20mm, Black

Watercolour sketchbook
Pentalic 100-Percent Cotton Watercolor Journal 5-Inch by 8-Inch

Watercolour Paint Box
Empty Metal Watercolour Box : will hold 12 Half Pans or 6 Full Pans

Watercolour Paint
Winsor & Newton Artist Watercolor

Watercolour Brushes
Jack Richeson Plein Air Travel Brush Set

Water brushes
Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush Assorted Tips, Pack of 3

Nalgene screw top jar    

Small camping stool 
ALPS Mountaineering Tri-Leg Stool



“I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.” 
~Robert Henri

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” 
~Vincent Van Gogh

“The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” 
~Junot Diaz

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” 
~Pablo Picasso

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. 
~Thomas Merton

“The earth has music for those who listen.”  
~William Shakespeare

"Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation."
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Jul 30, 2015

T. E. Lawrence

The gravestone read: Died 19 May 1935.
"But isn't it May 19th today?" I queried.

That morning we had stumbled upon the 80th anniversary of the death of T. E. Lawrence. There had been ceremonies at the gravesite, his birth place, the hospital where he died and the place where he crashed his motorcycle. It was a significant passing; 80 years ago, to the day.

We were in a small churchyard in Morton, Dorset, not too far from the Thomas Hardy area of Dorchester. We had visited Hardy's home and had wandered the country lanes of his childhood but I was more interested in Lawrence.

Like many, I first learned about T. E. Lawrence from the David Lean film "Lawrence of Arabia," starring Peter O'Toole.

Thomas Edward (Ned) Lawrence had been a young British Army officer, advisor and the western energy behind the Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire in the Arabian Desert during the first World War. He had made quite the impression riding the deserts on camels, dressed in the clothes of an Arab Sharif and helping the Arab leaders strategize and win their war. American journalist, Lowell Thomas met him and was so impressed that he created a traveling road show where he spoke about Lawrence and his story. This contributed in making Lawrence one of the most famous heros of World War One.  And Thomas gave him the title Lawrence of Arabia.

It must have been the early 1960s when I first saw the movie, and it inspired me in many ways. I was a teenager and I was caught by the epic story, the adventure, the man, the music, the film. This was a spectacular introduction to great movie making; it was well directed, well written, well photographed. I wanted more, and it was an encouraging prompt for me to want to become an adventurer and a photographer.

Of course, adventure was the draw. I had always been inspired to travel and photograph distant places within the pages of the National Geographic Magazine and other such periodicals. However, it was the great films that solidified some of my goals and challenges.

As I found my way within the photographic and movie industries, I always looked back to "Lawrence of Arabia" as my favorite film. When I saw the next two films from David Lean, "Doctor Zhivago" and "Ryan's Daughter," I was smitten with the photography of films. So-much-so that when I was asked what I wanted to do with my life, I answered in such a way that inspired my mother to help find me my first job in the photographic industry.

Over the years, I saw "Lawrence of Arabia" many times. I bought the script and all the video versions. But the movie was not the man. As I aged, I began to find interest in the character of T. E. Lawrence himself and I realized he was so much more interesting than the character portrayed in the film.

I bought books about his life, his death and his many adventures in-between. T. E. Lawrence was a character haunted by passions. He was very personable, liked and conversed with almost everyone. Although he could not stand the puffed-up, self-centered, English buffoons or military types with whom he worked.
On his return to England, after the war, he was hounded by the press, as are all celebrity heros. He hadn't realized the impact of Lowell Thomas's "Lawrence of Arabia." At first he loved the portrayal, but he began to despise the character as something other than himself.

Lawrence gathered his robes for one last time when he joined the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, taking the side of the Arabs against the imperial ambitions of France and Great Britain. He had always told the Arabs that they would rule their own lands. But, eventually, the lands were split between the European powers.

He was devastated. He felt so betrayed by his own country. He wanted to hide.

He had been promoted to Colonel, received the Order of Bath, the Distinguished Service Order, the French Legion of Honour, the French Crox de guerre. He was offered and refused the post of Viceroy of India and he refused a Knighthood of the British Empire in front of the King.

He resigned as Colonel from the British Army and bought a hill top retreat next to Epping Forest where he built a small shack. Here he worked on his biography "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" and he set up a Boy Scout camp. For a while he also worked for Winston Churchill in the Colonial Office, but to get away from the press he decided to re-enlisted in the RAF under the name Air Craftsman John Ross. Of course the press found him again, and would not leave him alone. He moved to Dorset and joined the Army's Royal Tank Corps under the name of T. E. Shaw. Here he found a tiny cottage "Clouds Hill" where he was able to complete his biography and author a couple of other books. But he didn't like the Tank Corps so he applied to the RAF again. He was sent to a remote base in India for two years and upon return he was stationed at an RAF base in Yorkshire, specializing in speed-boats. He eventually retired at the age of forty-five and moved permanently to Clouds Hill,  his tiny Dorset cottage.

At Clouds Hill he was out of sight. Just the way he liked it. But he was never forgotten. In fact, he became a legend in his own time. His book became highly successful and well received. Winston Churchill said "it ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English language."  George Bernard Shaw said, "The work is a masterpiece, one of the few very best of it's kind in the world."

Lawrence loved speed and was comfortable on his "top-of-the-line" Brome Motor bike. He had owned many. On the 13th May, 1935, on the way back from posting a letter, he swerved to avoid some kids in the road and he was hurtled head first onto the ground. No crash helmet. He died of his wounds a few days later, 19th May, 1935. He was forty six years old.

For me, it was time to experience Lawrence first-hand. On a planned trip to England to deal with some family matters, we traveled through Dorset. My wife is a Thomas Hardy fan and I am a Lawrence Fan. Hardy and Lawrence were good friends and lived only a few miles from each other.

We spent some time at his grave, found the place where he had crashed his bike and slowly wandered around his cottage. The cottage is really tiny with four small rooms on two floors, but it was furnished as if he'd left it yesterday. Here was his favourite reading chair, his bed, his bath and the room upstairs where he entertained friends and listened to music. It was a small connection but a connection.

T. E. Lawrence, the man, I always found fascinating. I own many books about Lawrence and his great life, and am pleased to have the 1922 text edition of "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," the memoir written by Lawrence after the revolt in the desert. This version is the complete book before he started to edit it down for public consumption. And as you read about the man, you very quickly come to understand that a movie, no matter how well conceived, could never do justice to a person as complicated and as interesting as T. E . Lawrence. Lawrence was just so much larger than a movie character.

I just started reading "The Young T.E. Lawrence" by Anthony Sattin. Yet another book to shed light on his adventurous life. This time following his path as an awkward youth, and an Oxford University student plotting his life as an archaeologist.

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."
- T. E. Lawrence

"At this moment, somewhere in London, hiding from feminine admirers, reporters, book publishers, autograph collections, and every species of hero worship, is a young man whose name will go down in history along with those of Sir Frances Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Gordon, and other legendary heroes of Great Britain's glorious past."
- Lowell Thomas

I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time... We shall never see his like again. His name will live in history. It will live in the annals of war... It will live in the legends of Arabia."
-Winston Churchill

"I am not much of a hero-worshipper but I could have followed T. E. Lawrence over the edge of the world."
- John Buchan

Jun 3, 2015

Salt of the Sea

Mother's ashes had been sitting in a hat box next to my sister's desk since she died. It was now time to sprinkle them.

She had been a Wren (WRNS - Women's Royal Naval Service) during World War II, and her wish was for a military burial at sea.

After much research, we found a small Royal Naval detachment that performs sea burials from Nelson's Dockyard in Portsmouth, England.

On the morning of May 13th, my sister and I had taken the ashes to the Royal Navy Chapel of Saint Ann's in the Portsmouth naval yards. Here, all the ashes for the day's voyage were assembled. Five ceremonies were going to be performed this day, one of which was our mother's. We paid the clerk for the carved pink salt urn and the ashes were gently placed inside. The urn itself looked like it was carved from pink Himalayan rock salt, but it was actually mined in England. It was beautifully shaped into a simple, yet elegant, pink urn. The reason for the salt urn was for a quick dissolve as it entered the salt waters, allowing the ashes to quickly dissipate into the sea and the undercurrents to  spread them far and wide. For our benefit, the urn was placed on a small table beside the chapel's main altar so we could inspect it, take pictures and pay our respects. As my sister and I left the chapel, the urn was still sitting on the table.

Our family of mourners consisted of sisters, cousins, aunts, wives and husbands, and we assembled in the lobby of our nearby hotel at the local seaside town of Southsea. Southsea is a lovely spot over-looking the Solent, the body of water that separates the mainland of England from the Isle of Wight, just a couple of miles from Portsmouth. We had a most spectacular view overlooking the water with the old Southsea Pier across the street from our hotel.

Our family left the hotel and soon arrived at the naval dockyard and awaited the chaplain, the last remains and the motor launch to take us to sea. When all the families had arrived, we followed the chaplain (Chaplain Ned Kelly) down to the dock to await the vessel.

The families' urns and packages of ashes had arrived with a Navy honour-guard of three sailors and all were draped with the Union Jack: Very Royal Navy. However, upon closer inspection of the draped ashes, my sister noted that mother's urn could not have been included as the urn was much larger and it would have protruded above the rest. She asked the chaplain to have the flag removed so she could see if the urn was there. He told her that this could not be done as it was a sacred ceremony. Somehow, he found a way for her to peek under the flag without removing it.

"She's not there!" my sister exclaimed. "She must still be on the table beside the altar in the chapel."

The chaplain immediately despatched the sergeant from the honour-guard to quickly go to the chapel and retrieve the urn as we waited for the boat and for Mum's ashes.

Talk about being late for your own funeral! Mum would have liked that. She could always be counted on, when at a solemn occasion, to spread a giggle or two.

My problem was that as we waited for the sergeant to return with the delicate urn, I had images dancing in my head of him tripping over the gang plank on the way back, dropping the urn, and having the ashes fly into the air in a puff of cloud, and spread over the waiting crowd. Fortunately, that didn't happen and we boarded the boat with the ashes intact in her pink urn.

Our motor launch sailed out of Nelson's Dockyard en route to the open waters of the Solent. It was a beautiful day. The sky blue, the sea calm and along the way we hugged the shoreline of Portsmouth and Southsea; the same stretch we had driven from our hotel. As we approached the Southsea Pier, the launch slowed the engines, turned and drifted toward the afternoon sun for the funerals and dedications to take place. Here, we drifted in the water very near to our hotel. Unknowingly, we had picked the right hotel.

Each family was called, one at a time, to the aft of the vessel for their particular ceremony and each took about ten minutes for the burial at sea of their loved ones. Then it was our turn. We were called and we gathered at the stern. Out in the sun were two Royal Navy sailors holding Mum's urn on a wooden plank to be tipped into the sea when the time came. As we arrived we saw the pink urn, glistening in the sun for the last time, then it was draped in the Union Jack. The Chaplain said a prayer for the souls of the Women's Royal Naval Service and then held out his hand to bless Mum's ashes. The sailors were then given the order and they tipped the plank. Mum's urn slipped out from under the flag and dropped into the ocean. It was a heavy urn and it made a good splash in the green-blue waters. The salt urn quickly started to dissolve and spread the ashes as it sank to the ocean depths to be carried far and wide with the prevailing currents.

Farewell Mother. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


"And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
Hamlet - William Shakespeare

"I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over."
Sea Fever - John Masefield

Apr 24, 2015

Will's Birthday

William Shakespeare, the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, was reputed to be born on April 23rd, 1564.

Happy Birthday, Will. What would the world be without you?

Last year, while on a quick trip to England, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the last performance of the season at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. Shakespeare built the Globe and wrote and performed all his plays there, but the original Globe Theatre burned down centuries ago.

Skip forward a few years. Some time ago, when I was in the film business, I worked with many interesting actors, some of them famous, but most of them I knew very little about. However, one name cropped up a number of times and I remember him well; an American actor named Sam Wanamaker. He played the husband of Debbie Reynolds in one film I did, while in the other he played a mad scientist.

While chatting on the set, I got to know him a little. We had a few quick conversations and he told me he lived in England, near Regents Park. He was extremely gracious, but that's all I knew about him.

Later, I researched his history. He was born in Chicago and grew up in the American theatre. In the 1950s he joined the American Communist Party and got subpoenaed by the UnAmerican Activities Committee. He was blacklisted by Senator Joe McCarthy. So, he decided to move to England.

There he acted, he directed, and he had a project; a dream, of bringing Shakespeare's Globe Theatre back to life.

It took him years of fundraising, planning, cajoling, and he founded the Shakespeare Trust to finance the rebuilding of the theatre. He also found the building site beside the Thames, just a few feet from where the original Globe Theatre had been.

Unfortunately, it was a dream Sam never saw come to fruition while he was alive. He died of prostate cancer in 1993.

But his dream lived on.

Sam's hard work had inspired the rebuilding and it finally opened in 1997 with great fan fair and a production of Shakespeare's "Henry the Fifth."

Last year, my wife and I enjoyed "A Comedy of Errors," at the Globe Theatre.  It was a fine production with great audience interplay. The theatre is a round, wooden structure with many floors of balcony seats and standing room in the middle, in front of the stage. Of course, that is where the real drama unfolds, for if you're standing and it happens to rain, you get wet. The middle is open to the elements as in Shakespeare's time.

As we were walking into the theatre, I noticed a blue plaque on the wall.

Last year beside the Globe another theatre opened and they named it
The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

So, here's to an inspiring man I shared some time with, Sam Wanamaker, 
who helped Shakespeare live on, on this, the Bard's 451st birthday.

Jan 10, 2015

Sunrise 2015

This year, as with many previous years, the compulsion to get out and greet the first dawn of the New Year was a guiding force. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, at least enough to see the sun beams rise while we embraced the cool Canadian air.
Victoria's Clover Point was a short drive and a perfect place to observe the sun's trajectory out of the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea. Although I've seen dawn break, and even filmed it many times in my life, it remains life-affirming to experience nature's spectacle at dawn.

Looking east, the blue twilight slowly gave way to patches of gold as clouds caught the glow of dawn. As we watched the light slowly brightening, I reminisced about a time when one of my filming assignments was to capture a sunrise for a television documentary. The opening of the film called for an actor to sit on a rock reciting a poem as the sun of the new day slowly rose behind him.

It was mid summer, and we were on the shore of Lake Ontario in the Cherry Beach area of Toronto. I had seen the location a few days earlier and had determined that I needed a big light to fully illuminate the actor and compensate for the brightness of the sun as it appeared from the lake behind him.

On the day, we were set and ready. We had selected the rock where the actor would sit and established just where the sun would rise. The camera was set, the sound man was in readiness and we had placed a large six-thousand-watt light aiming at the actor's spot.  All was set for the sunrise, but, as I looked over at the director, I could see a heated discussion between him and the actor. Somehow the office had neglected to tell the actor that he was to learn and recite a full four minutes of dialogue in one shot. The camera would be continually rolling; a one take deal.

The actor hadn't memorized all the lines; merely one page.

"Couldn't you cut the camera?" he asked.

"But, the reason we are all here is to have the sun rising behind you. How can we cut away from that?" answered the director.

I felt for him. Richard Monette was an excellent Shakespearian actor and well accustomed to learning great soliloquies and speeches for multiple plays; but not in five minutes. This day, I could see the panic on his face as the glow from the east grew brighter. We were all anxious, wanting the sun to slow its entrance as we watched Richard pace the shoreline, nervously trying to cram lines into his head.

"Richard, we need you now," called the director.
Richard, his head full of partially memorized sentences, slowly took his place on the rock.

"I'll try," he said, shaking his head.

The glow brightened and I rolled the camera. The director called, "action."

And as the sun reared its fiery head above the horizon and shone brightly toward us, Richard looked toward the camera and spoke.

He recited every word of the four minute poem. It was flawless.

I was looking through the camera lens. It was beautiful. Very Shakespearian. Very dramatic. Very epic. The sun was spectacular and so was Richard.

At the end of the speech, we cut camera and sound, and Richard sat in silence. Suddenly and spontaneously, all the crew broke into a very enthusiastic round of applause: Richard was the hero.

A few years later, Richard and I met on the set of another film and we talked about the sunrise shot. He told me that he had never been so nervous, neither before nor since: It had been a pivotal moment in his life. He then proceeded to tell one of his fellow actors the story; yes, of how he had learned the words quickly, but also, of how he was inspired by the sunrise, itself, and his need to get it right.

Richard went on to become the one of the most successful and longest reigning Artistic Directors of the Stratford Ontario Shakespearian Festival. He died in 2008.

Our New Year's sunrise this January 2015, was spectacular and very inspiring. For,  to witness something as magical and magnificent as the world turning is more than a physical experience; it is a deeply spiritual and conscious connection with the infinite. It is our life cycle. For me, I look upon a new day, a new year as an opportunity, a possibility to do something that I have never done before; to find another part of the world, or myself, that I never knew; to gain new knowledge on the way to learning some new wisdom; to connect and create with different human beings; and to find that there really is much more to life than the ordinary.

As I look back on the splendor of all the years when I have witnessed a new day rising, I feel for those who can't find their way to get up in the morning and experience the magic, or those who are so tied up in our man-made matrix that they can't find their way to witness the glory of nature: They truly miss the real essence of life itself.

We are so connected to the turning of the planet and the pulse of day and night that we are nature itself. Watching the sunrise is nature observing itself and being at one.


"What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?
- E M Forster

"The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is at the root of all true science. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, is my idea of God.
- Albert Einstein.