I’ll have a Plate of Creativity with a Side Order of Passion.

This was a post I wrote for another blog, but I think it’s perfectly applicable here. Enjoy.

Sometimes I hear people comment that they’re just not that creative. I often wonder what makes them think that. Why would anyone be comfortable living with that idea? As a creative person who works with graphics all day, I’m here to tell you that everyone is, and has always had the potential to be creative, and I’m going to tell you why.


Creativity is not just pretty graphics or designs. Creativity is more than that. It’s multi-layered and multi-levelled. It’s relative, and we all can do it. Maybe we can’t all create pretty pictures, but that doesn’t mean you are not a creative person.

Each of us has heard a quote where at least one person has remarked “I have to write that down”. That’s because language can be beautiful. Words and phrases that are strung together like pearls on a string can be memorable if done with care. They roll off your tongue like they were meant to be together.

We’ve all read literature where the author’s abilities in word-smithing made the material enjoyable to read. Advertisers have known this for a long time. It’s called copywriting. They use it to write text for products and services that draws consumers in to read more and to buy the products. Since the forties, the big deal was writing slogans because they were bite-sized consumer information that were written to be memorable. Sometime, more often than not, they used humour to generate silly sayings like “where’s the beef?”, because as long as it was memorable, the consumers would buy. It didn’t even have to be grammatically correct.

Sometimes these phrases were so powerful they actually became part of the cultural lexicon. Here are some examples: “Don’t leave home without it” (American Express), “It keeps going, going and going” (Energizer), and “Good to the last drop” (Maxwell House). Slogans waxed and waned like the tides in the ocean, some lasting a generation or until events made them distasteful and others spanning multiple generations.

Language is like that. A well-written book is a another example of when thoughts and ideas are conveyed in such a succinctly perfect way that it’s more than just pleasurable to read. A well-crafted story is a thing of beauty. The point is that language, specifically writing, is an art form. Anyone can do it and with a little care and common sense, produce something that is memorable. It’s also the reason why some people, such as some politicians and presidents of large firms hire specially trained people who write many of the words that come out of their mouths. They recognize the power of words and want what they say to always be memorable and have some level of importance. That not exactly creativity, but they do recognize the word-smithing abilities of the people they hire.

Art form aside, creativity doesn’t have to involve art at all. Take the lowly potato chip. This now commonplace little demon of our waistlines was invented in 1853 by chef George Crum at Moon’s Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York. Crum created the snack in reaction to a customer who continuously sent his fried potatoes back complaining that they weren’t crunchy enough. Crum sliced the potatoes as thin as possible in reaction, fried and salted them. His customer loved them and “Saratoga Chips” were born. Crum’s solution was a stroke of high-cholesterol genius and it was his creativity that got him there.

Let’s say you work with numbers seven days a week in a cramped cubicle on a crowded floor and when the five o’clock bell rings you can’t wait to get home. You’re not rushing to get out because you hate your job, but because you can’t wait to get home and work on your garden. Creativity doesn’t have to be what you do with your time, but the passion you feel for it. You could be a horrible gardener who unceremoniously kills everything you touch, much to the horror of your neighbours. But that passion you feel, that fire in your belly to get going, that excitement is a form of creativity.

You could be a golfer who has one particular shot that you’ve perfected, and everything else you struggle with. You could be a golfer who is an amazing putter. It could be the one shot that you can cut through like “budd’ah”, but you couldn’t chip your way out of a paper bag. Some might argue that’s just skill, but I would counter that it was your passion for the game that fuelled you to invest the time to perfect that shot. It was your creativity that helped you find the solution that worked best for you.

Passion learning is something many of us do outside of work. It’s a yearning to learn something unrelated to your day job, a personal pleasure if you wish. We’ve all heard of people who have taken cooking courses after work. Passion learning is directly connected to creativity. You do it not because you have to, but because you want to. That yearning is the start of the fire that will become a passion. You don’t have to be great at whatever you do, just have the desire. That’s also creativity.

Here’s another example: You’ve just invited a guy you swear looks like Fred Flintstone into your home to fix your fuse box. Fred stays an hour and a half and charges you what can only be described as “close to your mortgage”. You might be freaking at your bill, but what you may not realize is that, according to his co-worker Barney Rubble, the work that Fred just did for you, to any other electrician, is in itself a work of art. To you, you can’t see that level of workmanship because you are not an electrician. It’s something that is outside your scope of aesthetics. Sometimes, you can’t see creativity when it’s right in front of you because creativity is relative.

Forget the graphics and pretty pictures. Take a closer look at your own life and I will bet a mortgage payment, you ARE a creative person. Take a look at your accomplishments in your work life and I would expect you to see much of that was driven by your passion, and it was your creativity that got you there.

(PS. I take Visa.)


Linen versus Cotton Canvas

The word canvas does not refer to any specific material in the field of textile fabrics but is applied to a number of closely woven materials of relatively coarse fiber that are used for sails, tents, awnings etc. In painting, the term canvas generally refers to the material upon which artists paint, stretched across a wooden frame. It can be pre-primed or unprimed.


Unprimed linen and cotton canvas


Linen is by far, the better-quality support material because of its strength and resistance to decay. Woven from flax, the weave can show throughout many layers of paint. Most paintings created before the 1850s were made from linen which includes almost all of our most celebrated paintings in museums today. Since that time, Cotton has replaced linen’s popularity due to low manufacturing costs.

Primed with an oil primer this is the classical standard for oil paintings made using linen. An acrylic primer which is less expensive than oil primer, can be used with either acrylic or oil paints. Linen is difficult to prime and stretch properly, but it offers the smoothest and stiffest painting surface, one with proven longevity. Typically, an artist would not use a low cost primer on linen because it is so expensive. It would be similar to setting a rather large, high-grade diamond in a brass ring. If you’re going to invest

Some of the qualities linen has that makes it so attractive to painters are:

  • Linen is the most durable fabric to put paint on. Linen’s warp and weft threads are equal in weight so less susceptible
  • to the expanding/contracting problems created by moisture
  • Linen is very receptive to sizing and priming applications
  • Linen retains its natural oils which preserve the fiber’s flexibility and keeps the canvas from becoming brittle
  • Linen has a more “natural” weaved finish than cotton and is available in a variety of textures, weights and smooth or
  • rough finish

Cotton is desirable because of its affordable price and its ease of stretching.

Much less expensive than linen, it has become the most popular support for oil and acrylic painting. A properly prepared cotton canvas has longevity similar to linen, and is more flexible and easier to stretch properly. However, cotton is considered too flexible for very large paintings and is prone to sagging.

It is possible to stretch cotton tighter than linen, without straining the wooden support, because cotton fibers stretch more easily than linen fibers. Although not as strong as linen, a heavy grade cotton can make up for it’s lack of strength with its weight.

  • For both oil and acrylic painting, an acrylic gesso primer is generally used

Cotton duck. There are 10 grades of cotton duck which distinguish from one, the most heavy, to ten, the most lightweight. The grades refer to the weight and thickness of the cotton duck, and are standardized across most of the textile industry. Grades are assigned on the basis of how much a piece of fabric of a specific size weighs. Individual traditional names for each grade are still
used by some people, but they do not have specific grades attached.

Typical cotton duck for artists are:

  • #8 Extra-heavy: difficult to stretch)
  • #10 Heavy: stretchable but requires strength)
  • #12 Medium: typical weight for paintings)
  • #14 Light: easiest to stretch, prone to ripping under tension)

Students should never use linen unless the quality of their work and skill is comprable to that of a top selling artist. Even some of the most established artists don’t use linen as a support due to its price. This material also demands you use the highest grade primer and oil colour, which adds still more to the cost of linen.

There is also a PDF version of this post. Download it here.

Now you know.

How to make painting vanishes, mediums, balsams and resins

Here for your reading pleasure are a list of pdfs I’ve collected over the years. These files contain recipes for painting mediums, varnishes, balsams and resins. Included in this list of goodies are century-old master recipes. Some of the ingredients can only be obtained through the net, but it gives you something to add to your arsenal and a better understanding that the varnish you may be using is not all that there is out there. They contain definitions, techniques on how to make and use and drying times times of resins, oils and balsams. Some of these recipes claim to create jewel effects in the varnishes and resins while others claim to create a depth of field effect unlike any commercially available varnish.


  • Larch, Venetian and Strasbourg Turpentine
  • Canada & Copaiva Balsam


  • Fast-drying painting mediums
  • Copal concentrate and Canada Balsam
  • Canada Balsam And Copal
  • Cananda Balsam And Sun Thickened Oil
  • Canada Balsam, Double Mastic, Copal Concentrate & Oil
  • Canada Balsam Medium (Basic)
  • Copal Concentrate And Stand Oil
  • Copal Varnish Basic
  • Damar And Double Mastic And Wax
  • Damar-Oil Canada Balsam
  • Double Mastic
  • Egg And Damar Emulsion
  • Egg And Beeswax Emulsion
  • Gelatine Solution For Paper
  • Gesso For Panels (Technical Gelatine Formula)

Personally, I think it’s important to at least know how our predecessors worked with paint, before this information is lost to time forever. Some of these recipes have been in use for centuries before the advent of modern commercial varnishes and resins. Remember, I cannot verify their longevity but I can verify their authenticity.

Download the PDFs here:

Lens Correction in Photoshop

As a painter, I’m cursed. One of the things I have to always consider is documenting my paintings. What curses me is the curvature of the lens. By virtue of the curve, straight lines always come out curving around a bulge in photographs.  That’s the lens doing that. It’s called field distortion and it drives me crazy.

I could fix it by buying a lens for my camera that would correct it, but they’re expensive.

I could buy software such as DxO Optics Pro. It too can be expensive. DxO Optics Pro retails for $253.00 CAD.

I have Photoshop already… and guess what? It comes with a lens correction filter already (as of CS2). As it turned out, I had the perfect image to try it out on. I did a painting of Queen Street in Toronto from a series I’ve been working on of a row of buildings. As you can see in my original image, the distortion isn’t bad. But enough that I’m not happy with the way it is.

The second image shows guides to see just how far off it really is. Not much… but enough. Click for the enlargement to see the detail.

Original image

Original image


From the Filter menu, go to Distort -> Lens Correction.

That calls up a workspace window with controls on the right hand side and tools on the left.


The Workspace

The Workspace

Closeup of Menu

Here’s a closeup of the controls.

Remove Distortion is a setting that controls which way the distortion will operate, convex or concave.

Chromatic Aberration is when your channels or areas in your channels are not aligned and you get an offset occurring.

Vignette is when an area of your photograph is fuzzy and out of focus.

Transform refers to the entire image tilting in perspective top to bottom (vertical perspective) or swinging left to right (horizontal perspective).

The Edge and Scale settings refer to when the image is distorted to correct the aberration, the filter will squish in the image, pulling it away from the original edge of the image. This setting tells the filter what to put there in its place. The default is transparency, or in other words nothing.

So the first thing I need to do is straighten the image by rotating 1 degree. You can see the canvas exposed along the edges after the rotation. Had I changed the Edge setting to a fill colour, the exposed areas would be solid and not transparent.

Then I changed the horizontal perspective to -4 and the vertical to +6 to align the front picture plane to the viewer.

This was the result. It was enough that it represented what I wanted. Just enough to remove most of the distortion. I’m not going to fuss too much with it. The more I fuss, the less people are going to believe that this is what my painting really looks like.

From here, I used Free Distort to align and straighten the edges more

The final image

The final image

My finished file. 🙂