Original Book Reviews, Recommendations and Discussions

The trolls Ūgh and Bõögâr are getting their own perfume

In the previous post I discussed Ūgh and Bõögâr, the creations of Berlin-based Icelandic artist Egill Sæbjörnsson. The two trolls are huge, ugly, temperamental, artistic, and very fond of Egill, coffee, and eating tourists. They are also smelly. At 36 metres tall, they need a lot of deodorant and perfume. In the interests of cleaning up the trolls before they stink out all the tourists whom they haven’t eaten at the Venice Biennale 2017, the trolls are getting their own perfume called Noise. Continue reading

Mythology Meets Art in Venice – Trolls and Gods

Sometimes artists use themes or characters from Mythology, and currently, two artists have done this in Venice, Italy, in exhibitions running concurrently. In one case, Iceland-born artist Egill Sæbjörnsson has created two enormous and ugly trolls, which are a staple of Nordic Mythology, and in another, British artist Damien Hirst has created sculptures that depict many well-known Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Nautical myths. In this post I take a look at the references in the exhibitions of both artists and hazard a guess at what they may be trying to say. Opposing arguments are to be expected at important art exhibitions but these two have caused a particularly high level of puzzlement and publicity. In the case of the trolls – the hullabaloo is, well…because they are trolls. And in the case of the classical myths, it is because it is a huge exhibition by a very famous artist. Continue reading

Good news for a wannabe painter

Kootenay River near Fort Steele, BC, Canada

Kootenay River near Fort Steele, BC, Canada, Winter 2015

Today I had some good news – I was approved as an Active Member of the Federation of Canadian Artists. This was tricky for a couple of reasons. 1) It is juried. You have to present your work. You can get turned down if you aren’t good enough, I suppose. (I wonder if people ever do get turned down…) The submission form referred to the jurors looking for “works which contain a working understanding of the use of line, color, composition, perspective, shape, light, proportion and positive and negative space.” Negative space – that expression worried me a bit.

2) You have to have a “body of work”. This  is tough for “weekend painters” like me, especially since I only started painting again a couple of years back, so I was glad to make the grade.

3) It is the biggest association of artists in Canada, and the oldest. So hooray! for me. I am an amateur but earnest painter amongst the professional and very impressive artists who are members of the “FCA” (which I’m not allowed to call it because people get it mixed up with being a Certified Accountant).

2016_CFA Active_badgePart of the submission process was to have a “professional artist’s website” displaying your work. After many toings and froings with trying to get images of my paintings to display properly on this website (ultimately, I still don’t like the way it looks – this website template is designed for lots of text, not image displays), I tried out a local (Vancouver) initiative called, which was a not-for-profit website for artists. This eventually became the monetized site, direct2artist, which has a lot more functionality and is international rather than Canadian. My paintings can now be seen on this website, here:



New paintings – A summer walk in Hagley Park, Christchurch, and two tankas

Title: Summer walk in Hagley Park, Christchurch | 16 x 16 x 0.78 inches | 40.6 x 40.6 x 2.0 cm Acrylic on canvas, varnished Signed on front; titled, dated, signed on back No. 31

Title: Summer walk in Hagley Park, Christchurch, April 2015 | 16 x 16 x 0.78 inches | Acrylic on canvas

Spring Snow (tanka)

Springtime petals drift
down into blushing flurries
Passersby raise their
faces to the rosy breeze
of snowflakes that don’t dissolve






Title: Sunset over Revelstoke I |12 x 12 x 1.5 inches | 30.4 x 30.4 X 2.0 cm Acrylic on canvas, varnished Signed on front; titled, dated, signed on back Sides of panel painted No. 32

Title: Sunset over Revelstoke I, April 2015 | 12 x 12 x 1.5 inches | Acrylic on canvas

Things get better (tanka)

Like that black river
I felt, and to graven wood
lay my future, but
I know now the sunset glow
is the promise of the dawn






(Tanka: A Japanese form of five lines with 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables—31 in all.)

New paintings – Gull on a Stump and Foggy Station

23 Gull on a tree stump at Rialto Beach_Whacha looking' at boid?

Title: Gull on a tree stump at Rialto Beach | 16 x 16 x 0.78 inches | 40.6 x 40.6 x 2.0 cm Acrylic on canvas, varnished Signed on front; titled, dated, signed on back No. 23


The seagull sits and looks
far out over the sea
I look back, turn to find
your footprints following me
The seagull sits and looks
at what there is to see
Blue, white, sea and clouds
And you, following me
Waves break, the seagull looks
And waits for what I cannot see
But still your footprints carve the sand
And still you follow me


30 Cityscape Series_Foggy Station

Title: Foggy Station | 15.7 x 12.2 x 0.78 inches | 40 x 31 x 2.0 cm Acrylic on canvas, varnished, framed Signed on front; titled, dated, signed on back No. 30


This morning, ghastly yellow,
the train howled past, into the fog,
another emerged from the depths
like a tree floating up from a bog.

Lights like gassy blobs in the murk,
People’s blurry silhouettes.
The ochre light of pre-dawn drifted
down in smoky pirouettes.





The creative process is a pain, but…


Waterfall, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16” / 21.5 x 21.5” framed, October 2014 (On my portfolio on

The creative process is a mixture of self-doubt, anxiety, technical struggles and an inexplicable compulsion to continue. Heck, this sounds like some mental affliction!  But at times, just now and then, you get something right, if only in your own eyes, and that makes you very happy. And those little moments of satisfaction are worth the weeks and months of difficulty (all those ripped up canvases, wasted paint, and over-done, un-workable flops with something-wrong-but-you-don’t-know-what).

The stuff that does work – a poem, painting, analysis, critique, design – acts like little sign-posts that say: Hey, you might not be as “fecking ‘orrible” (as Mrs. Agnes Brown would say) as you think. Or more prosaically, there are others that are worse!

And of course, paintings that work look better when they are properly framed – like this one here. We often go wandering up the foothills behind our house (The Hills Are Alive with the sound of middle-aged people panting!) and often I see these little waterfalls and streams, so different from the very dry country where I was born. And here is my attempt to show the richness, wateriness and greenness of the landscape.

Hopefully, you don’t think it is fecking ‘orrible either!

The visual language of painting – Landscape Painting by Mitchell Albala

Update, Jan. 7, 2017

Corrected spelling of “[en] plein air”, French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ plɛn ɛːʁ], which is from the French equivalent meaning “open (in full) air”. Thanks to auto-correct in Word, I had it as “plain air”. Blush.

Update, 29 May 2014

Mitchell Albala, the book’s author, commented on this post:

“Dear Marthe, Wow! I get emails from happy readers quite often, but they don’t write such complementary blog posts! Thank you very much for all the kind words. It’s nice to be appreciated on both the artistic and literary levels! What serendipity that you discovered my book in the bookstore, and didn’t hear about it elsewhere first. It’s such a fabulous review that I’m going to link to your review from both my regular portfolio website and my blog site.”

As always, it’s a thrill to hear from an author, but let me be the first to admit that it’s easy to write a positive review if a book is good. It is difficult to write a negative review of a book that is badly written, especially when you’re trying to be polite and at the same time trying to figure out why you didn’t like it. Hardest of all is lying in a review. Lying takes concerted effort and consistency.

Albala’s book, like his paintings, is really good. So writing this review was a pleasure – and simply the plain truth.

Landscape Painting, by Mitchell Albala

Landscape Painting, by Mitchell Albala

Landscape Painting – Essential concepts and techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice, by Mitchell Albala

(Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2009)

I do not like self-help or how-to manuals. I’ve bought a few over the years, diet books, home decor, how to survive break-ups and get a flat stomach. But I read none of them and left all of them on a forgotten shelf in my bookcase. Why? Because they were not well written. The subject matter was more important than the writing style. And the fact that it was a printed book made the transfer of practical skills almost impossible. How do you adequately demonstrate – say – decoupage on a piece of furniture, with only 1 paragraph and a photo?  It’s like writing a cookbook without food photos. Mitchell Albala’s guide on landscape painting techniques broke my embargo on how-to books. It is different, it is useful, and I read every word.

Continue reading