Margret puts brush to canvas

I decided to go off topic again this week and share a project I worked on over the Easter weekend called Margret puts brush to canvas.

A little over a year ago I attended my first Paint Nite. For those who are unfamiliar with Paint Nite, it is a commercial venture to sell drinks and get people who do not think they are creative to paint. A bar hosts the event and a Paint Nite instructor leads the group step by step through painting the same picture.


I wasn’t crazy about the picture we painted that night (First Snow) and have been thinking about starting fresh with something of my own. I have played around with acrylic paints but have never had any formal instruction. I knew I wanted to create some sort of impressionist landscape but wasn’t sure exactly what.

Then one day I was inspired by a painting a saw in a display of student work in a University of Alberta Faculty of Extension exhibition. I liked that it had a lot of texture to it but wasn’t really sure how they got that effect. Usually when I try to paint with acrylics, my pictures seem kind of flat. Then I was reading an interview with artist Carole Malcolm in The Artist’s Magazine where she said she prepares her canvas with watered down modeling paste instead of gesso to get a “chunkier texture”. I just happened to have some modeling paste from a Golden Acrylics demo so I gave it a try as a base over my Paint Nite picture.

I meant to take lots of pictures as I went along but once I got going I forgot so just have one intermediate picture.






I am still not sure if I am finished this but as it is sitting in the crafts room I’ll have lots of opportunity to consider what it still needs as I work on other projects.


I think I first learned about pysanky when I worked as a student at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs and word pysanka means egg-writing in Ukrainian. The “writing” is done in beeswax with a stylus called a kistka which creates a wax resist for the dye.

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Supplies needed (dye not included)

Traditionally, the motifs and patterns used on the eggs are highly symbolic and are chosen to send a message to the recipient.  

My sister and I watched a demonstration of psyanky being written by Oksana Zhelisko at the Paint Spot earlier this month. This egg was a fairly simple example because it was just two colours, green and black.

  1. The kistka is warmed in a candle flame melting the beeswax in it. This is applied to the egg.20170402_130927
  2. Once all the areas to be left white are covered with beeswax, the egg is dipped in dye (in this example it was green) and then beeswax is applied to all areas that will be green. 20170402_132948
  3. Then the egg is dipped in the next dye bath (this time it is black dye).20170402_133832
  4. To remove the beeswax, the egg is gently heated with the candle.20170402_134709
  5. Finally the wax is wiped off with a paper towel (or cloth).20170402_134851

I have tried it myself and know it is not easy so I have a lot of respect for those who can do this well. I thought it would be cute to take a picture of my pysanka with the cat when he promptly knocked it onto the floor and broke it. As my daughter said “How could you not see that was going to happen?”


While it is usually considered to be a folk art, a local artist, Neil Lazaruk, elevated it to fine art in his exhibit at the Alberta Craft Council, Neo-Ovo: New Directions in Egg Design. These fascinating eggs still use symbolic motifs but go beyond traditional Ukrainian designs.

   asianinfluence DCF 1.0

If I was to write an egg for the readers of my blog it would say have a very happy Easter with health and good fortune to come.

Carbon Paper

The problem with the ReUse Centre is that because you pay by the visit, not item, I often end up picking up stuff I really don’t need but am intrigued with. My stash of carbon paper is a result of this faulty thinking. To be honest, I didn’t think you could even get carbon paper anymore but it turns out you can still buy it through a number of websites including Amazon, Staples, Walmart, and Office Depot. I guess someone must have a use for it.

Carbon paper was first made in the early 19th century to be used with machines that were invented to assist blind people to write but its potential really wasn’t recognized until typewriters began to be used in offices. The development of the photocopier, and later the computer, spelled its demise as a common office supply however its memory still lives on in the cc on emails and letters. Most sources say cc stands for carbon copy but I did find one source that claims that cc just means more than one copy in the same way that pp means more than one page but let’s discount that theory for the sake of this blog post.

Originally carbon paper was paper with an ink or pigment coating but modern carbon paper isn’t paper at all but a polymer. Although it is a declining industry, it is not gone altogether. Canada still has Form-Mate in Toronto who manufacture three types of carbon paper. Sure, it’s a niche product but someone must be still buying it. In contrast to their limited offerings, take a look at the old package I got from the ReUse Centre. It offers seven types of products.


Carbon paper is used by putting a sheet of it between two pieces of paper and then writing or typing onto the top sheet, leaving an exact copy on the lower sheet. It must age well as it worked fine in my test. A few sheets in the package had already been used in a typewriter several times, a testament to a thriftier era.




Yup, exact copy

If you want to learn more about the history of carbon paper (and who doesn’t?) you may want to check out The Exciting History of Carbon Paper at

The oddly feminine graphics on the back side of the carbon paper makes me think that if carbon paper were a person, she would be a woman. Miss Cici Paper started her career idealistically helping the visually impaired to write but she really hit her stride in the office. However, after years of faithfully, if unoriginally, carrying out her duties she is now retired and is only vaguely remembered by her colleagues. She is occasionally asked to help out on crafts projects but otherwise just hangs out with her other retired workmates, Mr. Rolo Dex and Mrs. Mime O’Graph, née Gestetner.

Coming up next week:  Egg Writing


Brush Pens


I am going to give another shout-out to my big sister again this week. She lent me her brush pen for testing comparison and helped me review all of them.

Ink brushes, like the ones used in Asian calligraphy, are believed to have been around since 300 B.C. Brush pens work much the same way and can be used for the same purposes without the inconvenience of requiring liquid ink to dip the brush into. Instead, the brush tips are fed by an ink reservoir. These pens are also great for western calligraphy and sketching.

8 mine

I first tried out a brush pen last year when my daughter brought me back one from her visit to Japan. This Akashiya pen is beautiful – pretty to look at and nice to hold. I have done a little calligraphy with it but mainly have just had fun sketching. You have to get used to the feel of this type of pen since you control thick and thin lines through pressure.


Elisabet’s pen is a Pentel pocket brush pen. It has a classic plain black body so is not as attractive as mine but has the advantage of being refillable by buying ink cartridges. The ink in it also seems to load into the brush part a bit better than mine but that might be because it is newer. She purchased it locally at the Paint Spot when she took a brush style calligraphy workshop there. Both pens have nice dark ink.

16 su

Similar to these pens are brush markers. The ones I have are from a company called Stampin Up! that sells rubber stamps and paper crafting products through direct sellers in the same way that Avon or Tupperware do (and to a similar demographic), although mine were purchase from a garage sale. They have dual tips so one end has a brush and the other a fine marker tip. They are fun but are more like markers than brushes so you don’t get the same feel of a brush stroke.


Finally, I have a Pentel Color Brush that came in a box of random calligraphy supplies at a different garage sale. This one is quite old but newer versions of it are still on the market. The casing part of the pen is a soft plastic that can be squeezed. The whole casing on this brush pen is the ink cartridge and to replace it you need to buy a new one and screw it onto the brush tip.

All of the brush pens, even the markers, are from Japan and the type of line you get depends a lot on the type of paper used. Smooth paper gives a smooth line while rougher paper gives a rougher line. I personally think it works best on a smooth surface like tracing paper but there is also some appeal to the quality of the brush strokes you can create on slightly coarser paper.

Overall, I have a bias towards my own brush pen but if a trip to Japan is not in your future, the Pentel pocket brush is a great refillable pen.

If these pens were people, they would have to be Japanese with a respect for tradition but a love of modern convenience.

Greys Paper


Last week on an outing to the Edmonton ReUse Centre, my sister and I came across a big stash of note pads and envelopes from Greys Paper Recycling. Greys was a local recycling company that unfortunately went bankrupt last year. Their products were made from used office paper and textiles without chemicals and with less water than traditional paper mills. The company got its name from the look of the paper.


While there were no doubt a myriad of reasons why the company went under, a big part of the problem was that they just weren’t able to get enough consumers to buy paper that was not satiny smooth and white. This is really unfortunate.

In order to get recycled paper that looks the same as paper made from pulp from trees, it has to be chemically bleached and often is not made wholly of recycled materials but instead is a mix of virgin pulp, pre-consumer (leftovers from the lumber industry), and post-consumer (stuff from our recycling bins) materials. The more post-consumer content in recycled paper, the better for trees and the less waste in landfills. So Greys Paper, with its 100 percent recycled content, was a real winner environmentally.

Wouldn’t it be great if consumers could get over their expectation that all paper should be snowy white? Earlier in the week I was at a lecture by Japanese artist Akira Kurosaki who favors coarse, handmade Korean paper for the uniqueness it brings to his printmaking. I actually first came across Greys paper at a Edmonton Calligraphic Society mark-marking workshop at the Paint Spot with Carrie Imai a few years ago. It worked great with the watercolours we were experimenting with.

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So how does it fare with pens? I was amazed that there was no bleed through, even with the Sharpie! I will enjoy my stockpile of Greys Paper and hope that another company can take over their facility to resume making this recycled paper.


As it was my sister who had the sharp eye to spot this paper at the ReUse Centre, I asked her to help me describe the Greys Paper person. With the Greys name in mind, this is an older person who is frugal and careful with their waste as a way of life, not as a higher ideal but rather the way they were brought up when patchwork quilts were made of bits of cloth cut from worn out clothing and when insulation consisted of old newspapers.

InkJoy Ballpoint Pens


On the opposite end of the scale from fine fountain pens are the Papermate InkJoy stick ballpoint pens I bought a few years ago when Target was still in Canada. While there are fancier versions of these pens that are retractable and have grips, the whole pack of these ones were on sale for only a dollar. One of the nice things about inexpensive pens is that you don’t care if the cat knocks one off your desk and takes it to his secret hidey-hole.


Cheap pens come with low expectations. As far as performance goes, as with many ballpoint pens, the ink does not always start flowing immediately but once they get going I do like their vibrant colours. They come in black, orange, red, magenta, purple, blue, turquoise, green, brown, and lime green. My favourites are the turquoise and purple. The black one is missing but as I recall the ink colour was unimpressive, more of a dark gray than a true black. You could find nicer black or red pens but the novelty colours are great.


I haven’t had any serious problems with smudging, blobbing or leaking. I also like that there is no bleed through to the other side of the paper, even on relatively thin, inexpensive paper. In fact, these are the pens I use for my daily journal because the one I am using right now does not have great paper so fountain pen ink leaks through to the reverse side. Plus I like adding colour to the page. These colourful pens have a great fun for price paid ratio.

As for how they rate environmentally, they are lightweight and came together in a plastic bag so I give them enviro points for less packaging, although that is cancelled out by their disposability.

If these pens were people they would be a group of giggly ten year olds who love to pass notes containing copious exclamation marks.

UPDATE:  A reader pointed out to me that no pen needs to be disposable in Canada as there is a pen recycling program While that is better than ending up in a landfill, I still think it is preferable to buy products you can reuse like fountain pens.




As the word ‘paper’ comes from the word papyrus, I was thinking of calling this week’s blog Margret Puts Pen to Papyrus. Although papyrus is associated with ancient Egypt, it is still made today (mainly as a tourist item) and my work buddy Neil got a hold of some for me to test. This sample also came with a handy guide to hieroglyphics.


First of all, I noticed how stiff and thick it is. You can clearly see how the fibres have been layered in such a way that it almost looks woven. Because the texture is quite coarse, I was surprised at how easily I could write on it. The fountain pen, sharpie and brush pen all went on smoothly with no feathering and did not bleed through to the other side. It also folds sharply without breaking. No wonder it is so durable that samples of papyrus thousands of years old still exist today.


When I was in grade six our class studied ancient Egypt and we were each randomly assigned a different topic to write a report on and then illustrate on a large class mural. My topic was papyrus, both the plant and the paper made from it. I recall sketching in many clumps of papyrus along the banks of the Nile River, a much easier assignment than the Temple of Karnak.

As my memory on my grade six research is a little fuzzy, I did an online search of papyrus and found lots of information about the plant and paper, as well as other things called papyrus. For example, there is a font called Papyrus which surprisingly has several hate blogs. Sure, it’s not a font you want to use everyday but it’s no comic sans. There is also a comic book called Papyrus which spawned an animated series and Game Boy video game. In his graphic memoir, Shenzhen, French Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle shared his experience working on this series while living in China. It’s not his best book (I really liked Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City) but if you keep a special journal where you list all the books you’ve read in a year like I do, you find graphic memoirs are a great way of upping your book count.   

Fun fact from Wikipedia: Papyrus can also refer to a document written on sheets of papyrus joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, an early form of a book. The plural for such documents is papyri.

Although it seems too obvious, but if this sheet of papyrus was a person, it would be an Egyptian with olive skin, shiny black hair, eyes lined with kohl, a sly smile and great dance moves.