Sunday, April 24, 2016


image via designspiration

When a colleague said with shock in her voice, “Prince is dead” my first reaction was nothing but an open mouthed silence. I was perplexed then a bit angry. It’s been such a year of loss of the kind of artists that lived in your heart and your head. And not just celebrities. Two friends recently lost parents. I guess I’ve reached “that” age. The age when basically the parents of you and your cohort are in their twilight years and a fall, a virus or any number of afflictions could easily take them. Then I thought I guess I’m also that age when the artists who would have affected me as a teen were approaching their twilight years too.

What is that age? A few weeks ago I tried to buy some replacement leads for a mechanical pencil in non-photo blue. I know it sounds anachronistic but it’s a useful sketching tool. You rough out work in non-reproducible colour, such as blue and work your final lines in a reproducible one (say pen or black pencil) so that when you photograph it or scan it, only the dark line prevails. Yet when I went to a nearby art supply store I was told that item had been discontinued. Am I so old that I’ve outlived a kind of pencil? Not just a kind of pencil but a whole process of working now deemed too mechanical and unused to be made anymore. Even my beloved art materials are dying.
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Like a Blister in the Sun 

illustration of runner
Chemtrail - Paul Tebbott via Designspiration

I'm not sure why I kept going when it felt like there was a shard of glass in my foot but I did. I guess I thought if I stopped running then I'm a quitter and I would still have to walk back the rest of the way anyway. It was the first blister on my foot from running I'd had in almost a year. I figured this blister was probably from running over every possible kind of surface you can imagine in a single run (paving stone, concrete, asphalt, tramped earth, wet grass, wooden boardwalk). By the third run of the week, I was sure it was really that the shoes and/or insoles were done. Kaput. After less than 800 km by a rough estimate. Considering I'd only owned these shoes for 9 months, I was impressed I had done that kind of mileage. I think my previous best yearly total was only about 550 km so I've easily eclipsed that number. This fact did not however ease the hot pain from my throbbing foot.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hot Mess 

“spring arrived with summer's hot breath”
Last weekend, spring arrived with summer's hot breath. The house was warm and staid like a cardboard box in a hot attic. My jacket, too cool in the morning felt heavy and restrictive by the afternoon and my feet were sweaty in my socks and shoes. It was such a pleasure to take off the socks and walk around the house bare footed. For some Torontonians, perhaps new to what is considered warm in a northern clime, it was still parka weather but for most, it was the first opportunity to cast off coats and long trousers and winter boots.

One unusual aspect of this winter wasn’t how warm it was, but how dry it was. There were weirdly warm days and skin peeling cold days. Maybe the aggregate temperature came out on the plus side but it was still winter with wind that sucker punched you straight in the face. But there really wasn’t much snow (March and April excepted). That meant when spring was finally unleashed there were no hidden dog turds, or confetti of cigarette butts or any other similar detritus usually hidden under heaps of frozen snow. It’s like the city was just waiting, ready for the sun, ready for a warm wind to remind us what our skin was made for. It was made to soak up the sun and feel the breeze and let us know what it’s like to be alive in the world.

Of course, no one will complain about four or five days of perfect spring temperatures but there’s always a fear that you've let your guard down for a moment and you open a window and before you know it, that window is frozen open with a harrowing gale blowing yet another spring snowfall through it. That’s the new normal. That is what climate change wrought for central North America. Not droughts or floods, but alternating and unpredictable drought and flooding followed by heat waves and freak storms of rain, hail, snow and tornados. Mother Nature just became a hot mess and the only way to be ready, is to get ready.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Cooking With Wine 

Image via Food52 because they take way better photos than I ever could.

It was a typical Saturday. I started with a big leisurely breakfast accompanied by a bowl-sized cup of latte. Then I went out to get some stuff I needed (I don’t know if I’m getting clumsier with age or if I’m drinking too much but I needed to replace some glassware), renew my library card and pick up some groceries. At some point I ended up in the Dollar Store and was side tracked wandering the aisles like it was some minor museum to our glut of consumerism and disposable culture. All that crap made me wonder what if I had designed something that ended up in those aisles, would I be proud or humbled? Probably both.

It was a warm day so I planned to get in a run, actually outdoors instead of a monotonous tread mill run where you stare out the window or watch TV. True to form I left it to the last minutes of daylight. I love running in the last light of the day, when the sky becomes darkening blue and the warm lights of houses and shops are starting to glow. By the time I got back, entered my data (workouts without data are dead to me) and had a shower it was getting late. How did that happen? I suppose the time dwelling over the second cup of coffee in the morning, perusing the wares at the Dollar Store or chatting up the attractive and attentive young librarian all added up. This meant I was running out of time to make the ragù I wanted for supper, which could take almost 2 hours to make.

I decided to push on, with the help of a glass of wine or two. After opening the bottle I realized I still needed a couple of ingredients. The wine needed to breath anyway so I ran over to the grocery store across the street. When I finally started cooking and chopping and prepping it was 7pm. I figure that’s okay, I’ll have some wine, listen to some music, sketch, flip through some magazines and sip some more wine, surf the Net, whatever. At some point I just forgot about cooking entirely. I had gone through half the wine, snacked on a row of crackers, and generally whiled away the time doing not much of anything. This meant the sauce, left to bubble and reduce, turned out absolutely fantastic. It is definitely the best thing I’ve made in a long time. Originally I thought about adding a drop of wine to the sauce but it turns out adding wine to a glass is a much better way to make a great sauce.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Old Growth 

image of Temperance Street, Toronto
What is it about these low-rise brick buildings that is so appealing?

Walking to work is like being in a slow tracking shot of the city. It gives you time to think and notice things. One thing I noticed was the inhumanity of some large older apartment blocks. I thought: did the people who designed these things hate people? Did they not understand people? Did they not “get” people? Why would you want to encase people in steel, entomb them in concrete or imprison people in what is supposed to be their home?

This is the type of photo I would classify as, Toronto not looking like Toronto.

Walking through St. Lawrence Market* I wondered why these older more ornate buildings were so much more appealing and comfortable? I don’t even like old things. I’m certainly no fan of antiques and old furniture and the fussiness of ornamentation. I’m a fan of contemporary and Modernist architecture, furniture and design. What I realized was I’m not a fan of the scale. It’s the inhuman scale of those ugly apartment buildings that makes them so unappealing. And not just the inhuman scale of the overall envelope but that everything is out of proportion. This is what I don’t like in Brutalist Architecture of a certain period too. Columns are too big, setbacks are too small, railings are too heavy and high and windows are like tiny archer slots or just cheap little vinyl or aluminum frames. Which is generally a problem I find with Toronto. We jumped from four to ten story buildings to 20,30 and now 70 storey buildings with nothing in between. It’s one of the main criticisms of Le Corbusier’s version of modernity. He got the scale all wrong. The taller a building is, the more space it needs around it, so it doesn't feel like it’s falling down on you, but the more space you add around it, the less humane, the more isolating the space becomes and the less like a community that space feels. Yet, proportions and ratios are what someone like Mies van der Rohe got so right and while the TD Towers may be considered stark and austere, they feel still feel comfortable and even inviting. The scale of the older city is appealing because the buildings and sidewalks and streets all feel proportionately right.
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Monday, April 04, 2016

Seen in March 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Another month where I probably watched more PVR recordings of Brooklyn Nine-nine, Modern Family, @Midnight, and most importantly Broad City than movies or Netflix series. While this little chart illustrates that I logged 19 workouts, but only logged 6 movies or show titles it doesn’t really show the reality that I’ve been at a bunch of advocacy meetings, exhibitions, sketching a whole lot more and reading a tiny bit more. Regardless, here’s what I did manage to see.
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