Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the Beginning, Part 4: Nowadays

For a while, I'd stopped drawing cartoons and cards for friends and family, thinking I was now an adult and should do the 'adult' thing, which is to buy pre-made cards at the drug store. I was wondering if drawing for others was like a kid with macaroni art, insisting it be put on the fridge.

But, after a while, I came to miss being able to share a laugh over an inside joke or memory with someone. So I started to get back into it. And anyway, who needs to grow up?

I drew about roommate experiences (all good, of course), observations on turning 30... and overall good-natured ribbing and a bit of self-deprication.

I drew Hubs a cartoon about our first date a few months into our relationship. At first I was hesitant, wondering if he'd think it was silly. Then I thought, "If he's the kind of guy who thinks it's silly, he's not the guy for me." Good call. He loved it.

At our wedding, I displayed a cartoon of our proposal. He brought us out to this beautiful spot with the pretense of taking pictures, so of course at the time that's what I thought we were there for.

People ask if I actually said that, although I insist that I meant it as "is this wonderful moment seriously happening", not "are you kidding me, buddy?" Hubs still teases me about it, though.

Here are a few more samples of life in cartoon form:

A good friends' wedding:

This is baby shower card for a coworker who is a big Montreal Canadiens fan. The inside read something like, "Congratulations on the upcoming arrival of the newest Habs fan." (Disclaimer: the real baby turned out to look nothing like my cartoon)

This is a birthday card for a friend following a trip to New York City last year, during the hottest weekend of the year. We melted! It was not the glamourous New York experience that you see in the movies. (Excuse the ink smudges)

Sweat and the City... you see what I did there?

Friends and family have been very encouraging over the years. Recently, I wanted to put together a Facebook album of cartoons, lamenting that I hadn't scanned my old work before giving them away to friends. So I put the word out to see if anyone had kept the cards I'd drawn for them. Guess what...  pretty much everyone did. People still had cartoons of mine that were over a decade old. That was the biggest compliment I could receive! That experience affirmed for me that my cartooning was something worth keeping up with.

My time on maternity leave was the perfect time to work a little more on my drawing while sonny took his naps. My sister introduced me to an Inspired Doodles workshop. It wasn't a drawing course, but rather a month-long online course that let artists of all skill and interest levels to develop as 'doodlers'. The daily prompts and weekly tips on improving were just the inspiration I needed! I met a great group of people, and it's been motivating to network with others who love to draw for the sake of drawing.

Thanks to that course, I learned more about drawing with Wacom tablets and using Photoshop to do my cartooning, as well as blogging to showcase one's artwork (whoa, Janet enters the 21st century!). Let's just say, good thing there is a baby that brings me back to reality when he wakes up, or else I might become a bleary-eyed, knuckle-dragging neanderthal sitting and drawing at the computer for days on end.

So, that brings us to today. So what am I drawing about these days? Well, mostly my adventures in parenting, seeing as how it's how I spend most of my time. So far it has allowed for a feeling of camaraderie with fellow parents (whew, it's not just me!).

Also, because I enjoy looking back at my old work so much, one day I'll be glad I kept this record. Cartooning keeps me looking at many of life's events with a sense of humour... if not right away, then eventually.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

From the Beginning, Part 3: University and Beyond

Still with me? Onto the most recent chapter of my drawing adventures.

First off, I regret to say I don't have any pictures of my Dairy Queen cake creations. Wish I'd taken a picture! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I became the resident cake artist and was often allowed full afternoons to sit out back drawing with those tubes of coloured gel. People would come in with something in a paper bag and lean in to say, in hushed tones, "Word on the street is that you can draw anything on a cake."

Once I was called in to draw on a big slab cake on my day off. They didn't pay me, but said I could 'order anything on the menu' (cheap so-and-sos). I ordered the biggest meal and made the most gigantic brownie sundae I could eat!

In university, I had a small group of good friends for whom I would often draw large cartoon birthday cards and have the others sign. The cards would always pertain to some inside joke or adventure that I didn't want them to forget --usually with my artistic license, of course. For instance, in the cartoon below, my friend didn't actually get hit by the car; just lightly backed into. But I like my version better.

I was commissioned to design t-shirts for pub crawls and even a stagette. Here are a few of the Ghosts of Pub Crawls Past I dug up. One was for a friend who was in IT. The pub crawl was on St. Paddy's Day, hence the leprechauns sitting on the computer. The second was for my Bachelor of Education class's Pub Crawl Tour (we were the role models of tomorrow, after all; the words "Pub Crawl" were not permitted, while "Pub Tour" apparently gave an illusion of mature, sensible behaviour).

It was always such a delight to see a roomful of people, often whom I didn't know, wearing my design! I had to restrain myself from being nerdy and exclaim "I drew your shirt!" to everyone I met.

After I graduated, I began my career as a substitute teacher. It was definitely an adventure! 6 a.m. calls from a mystery school, teaching a mystery grade and mystery subject. The bright, shiny faces of kids trying to size you up. Definitely not a dull job, and definitely lots of cartoon material. I drew a cartoon named "Sink the Sub" for the Nova Scotia Teachers' magazine, Aviso. It won the "Golden Leaf Award" from the Canadian Educational Press Association, so technically I would be allowed to put "Award-Winning Cartoonist" on my business card!

Here is one of my cartoons on 'subbing':

I was not making much of this up. I must've had 'born yesterday' on my forehead. I did have some good memories, though; one day I was in a hurry getting out the door after getting a last-minute call, and I put my sweater on inside out. A 9-year-old took me aside to point it out, and then reassured me by saying, "don't worry. I do it all the time." Kids are awesome.

Teaching was a great avenue for me to use my drawing skills. I could illustrate songs and spend many an indoor recess drawing things for the kids. I had to Google some of their requests at times. I became a pro at Sonic the Hedgehog and Iron Man.

I also taught cartooning workshops for students in grades 3 to 6. A few wouldn't return after learning the class wasn't about learning to draw Stewie Griffin and Homer Simpson, but overall the classes were usually well-received. If only I could have that kind of rapt attention all the time! Here's a "Cartooning Tips" excerpt from one of my original handouts.

"Holy poop, you're good!" - A satisfied grade 6 cartooning workshop student
I was going to continue onto present day, but I'll leave that for next time. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

From the Beginning, Part 2: The Adolescent Years

Drawing was something I continued to enjoy into my teen years, when hobbies were not cool to have. I don't know about you, but when I was a teenager, the only acceptable hobby was "hanging out" (maybe that's always the case). You couldn't look too eager. You didn't learn for the love of learning. You didn't go to the bowling alley to BOWL, for crying out loud. You didn't go to the rink to skate. That's what the cool kids said, anyway.

Luckily, I wasn't one of the cool kids. I found drawing to be a fun pastime, as well as my trademark.

In English class, we were allowed to do cartoons as an option for our creative writing folders. Here is a doozy that I drew in grade eight, where looking dorky in your class picture is beyond embarrassing. I was exaggerating, although only somewhat. Can you guess the time period? Mall bangs! Earlobe-stretching earrings! Pointy white shoes! Steve Urkel reference! Ack!  Please don't judge me.

Good grief. I DID get a 10/10 on it, at least...

I also kept a cartoon journal of sorts based on my family. Ours was (and is) a family that joked around a lot together, and it was fun to depict the daily goings-on to tease one another. They weren't my best work, because the aim was to tell a story, not to show off my drawing skills. I didn't even consider how much fun it would be to look back at how we all were then.

Here is an actual conversation about the future that took place between my sister and me; I was just shy of 14, and she was five.

I don't know why she was so mad; she still had Garth and Bart as options (again, guess the time period!). She's now in her mid-twenties-- no kids yet. I wonder if she's changed her choices? Little Garth will love this cartoon one day.

I also contributed whenever possible at school. I was the resident cartoonist for our high school newspaper as well as our yearbook. Here is a rendering of the Beatles that I was rather proud of:

I found the early-to-mid '90s were a rather grouchy time to be a teenager (Kurt Cobain, grunge, Doc Martens and lots of plaid...), at least in my experience. It was cool to be cynical, and this comes through in some of my cartoons.

Dramatic much? Oh boy, I can't wait until my son is a teenager.

Once I hit university, things got fun again and I lightened the heck up. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 21, 2011

From the Beginning

For the next few days, I will take a break from drawing to share with you my journey as an artist, drawer, cartoonist and doodler to date. I have dug up some of the old work my parents saved and would like to share it with you.

I have enjoyed drawing for as long as I can remember. This is me at 4 years old drawing at my chalkboard with my little brother. Note that I also drew on the walls behind me. My passion for drawing just couldn't be contained!

I enjoyed drawing for others. I became quite good at drawing Pepsi trucks for my Pepsi-truck-obsessed brother. Soon, everyone I knew became victim of my drawing ambushes, whether they wanted a Janet Original or not. My parents and teachers wound up with huge collections.

"Dear Mom: I drew (jroo) this picture only for you. Love from Janet" (about age 5)

When I was six, I entered a "draw your parent at work" contest held by my dad's employer. Every kid who entered won a Crayola set. I was beside myself with delight. Here is my interpretation of Dad writing on paper by his rotary phone at work. Please note his head is somewhat smaller in real life.

One of my inspirations for my drawing and cartooning, I have to admit, came from my love of Archie comics. I must've collected hundreds of them over the years, and to this day I could still kick butt at an Archie trivia game, should one exist. I enjoyed their realistic portrayal of teen life, including how a guy might get a summer job as a bikini rater, or how he might cope when having accidentally made a movie date with two girls at the same time. Watch out, Archie!

Drawn at the age of 10

From my teaching experience, particularly teaching cartooning workshops, I can attest that most kids love to draw, but many don't keep up with it over the years for whatever reason. They maybe either get discouraged when their work isn't realistic enough for their liking, or they just move onto new interests. I was just one of the few kids that kept loving it and kept going with it.

More to come...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Payback Time

Well, we're back from the Maritimes. It was great to be home with my family. It's kinda neat to interact with your parents as a fellow parent, too. I think, even to a small extent, that every grandparent sees their child become a parent and thinks 'it's payback time,' for all the disasters and embarrassment that they endured from their own child.

I was a pretty good kid. I was one of those "a pleasure to teach" kids who followed the rules and enjoyed the praise of adults. I was still a kid, though, and I had my fair share of antics to embarrass and prematurely age my parents. And they won't let me forget a few choice gems:

1. As a toddler, I poured a bottle of shampoo all over my head while sitting in my mom's relatively new La-Z-Boy recliner. Apparently they couldn't get the chair to stop foaming.

2. I emptied a bowl of coins, placing them painstakingly between all the piano keys. Dad had to open up the piano to get them out.

3. I put my favourite stuffed toy cat to bed. In the oven. Mom later tried to preheat the oven and the cat burst into flames. Then she had a flaming cat AND screaming kid to deal with.

4. I pushed the emergency button and stopped an escalator full of shoppers at the mall. Mom wondered whether to play dumb and ask me where my mother was.

5. Speaking of escalators, as a three-year-old with three-year-old social graces, I was on an escalator with my mom, and there was a heavy-set gentleman riding behind us. Upon noticing him, I bellowed, "Boy! Is he ever FAT!"
... right before I promptly faceplanted. The gentleman boo-yahed me with "yeah? And YOU'RE CLUMSY." Touché.

6. I was with my mom browsing the magazines, and someone had put the Playboy down on a low shelf. Six-year-old me opened it to a page where some ladies, wearing only scarves, were warming themselves by a fireplace at a ski lodge. I held up the magazine and proclaimed that if they were cold, why didn't they just put on SWEATERS?

I can still remember Mom's "give me that!" and prompt exit from Shoppers.

Then of course there are the proclamations I seemed to save for extended family visits, such as my observation that my Speedo-wearing swim teacher had a 'lumpy bathing suit'. Or how I once shared with my French-speaking aunts and uncles the phrase I'd  heard my dad mutter. I didn't know why they were roaring with laughter. In my defense, he'd told me "mange la m*rde" meant "too bad" (it very much does not), so you can't really blame me for that one.

Nothing horrifying, but I was just enough of a kid to keep my folks from having too much dignity in public.

Below is a card I drew Mom for Mother's Day on this very topic. Please excuse the quality as it was taken with a camera. Now that I, too, am a parent, Mom knows she will have the opportunity to sit back with a sigh of satisfaction when my son first embarrasses the life out of me. I hope he'll go easy on me, but I believe it is, in fact, payback time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grammie's Boy

Yahoo! I have five members on my blog. I was all excited, then I just came across a blog that has over 55 thousand. But hey, five is pretty good for such a new web presence. Thanks, guys. Please pass the link along to others!

Sonny boy and I are enjoying our time back home (the flight went very well, by the way). I enjoyed a night out having dinner and martinis with my sister downtown while my parents enjoyed quality time with the grandkiddy. The little fella especially likes having a new house to explore; new drawers to pull open, VCRs to try to stick his hand into... (Why? He has a floor full of toys. WHY always the hand in the VCR?!)

It's great to see my folks interact with him as grandparents. I said he's their little Moon Pie (because, for those who get the Big Bang reference, he's nummy-num, and they could eat him up, of course). Moon Pie is loving all the attention as well.

Gone is the chance for me to have a full conversation with my folks, though, because no matter what we're talking about, one burp from him and everything deteriorates into "Omigoodness! Was that a BIG BURP from Grammie's boy?"
Meanwhile, as I was saying about that Nobel Prize I won...

In all seriousness, I completely understand and would do the same. Only right he should command all the attention at his age. I don't make many interesting new noises these days anyway.

I remember visiting my grandparents growing up, whom I didn't live close to, either. I only saw my paternal grandparents every few years. On my mom's side, it was a five-hour drive to Cape Breton to see my grandparents, and I found the wait excruciating. Several times over the trip, I'd hold out my index fingers shoulder-width apart and say, "okay, so if this is home, and THIS is Nana's, where are we now?"

I loved my grandparents, especially my Nana, who'd always tell me I was 'growing like a weed'. She would buy us those little sugar-cereal "Fun Packs" (Although one time she accidentally bought us the "Variety Pack", which contains way too much bran for a kid's liking, and I was not amused).

I used to spend a week each summer there, swimming in the Mira River, picking blueberries, going out in the rowboat with Grandad; all the magical 'kid and grandparents' stuff. They used to make such a fuss over us; they would even listen to every excruciating detail of my 'guess what I had a dream about' narratives with rapt attention. I only saw them a few times a year, but I loved the relationship we had. I wonder if my son will have a similar relationship with his grandparents.

I think my parents will be awesome grandparents, though. They'll make a big fuss over him, take him on great adventures and give him lots of sugar cereals... and then hand him back to me when they're done.

That's the great thing about being a grandparent: all of the hugs and kisses, none of the discipline or diapers. I think my folks are settling quite well into grandparenthood.

"If I knew how much fun grandchildren were, I would've had them first."
-various witty t-shirts, bumper stickers and tole paintings

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Home for a Rest

So my little fella and I are about to embark on a trip to my hometown of Halifax (well, Dartmouth), Nova Scotia to visit my folks. This will be his second trip East to see his grandparents. Though he was born in Ontario, it's important to me that he stay in touch with his "Maritime Roots". I imagine anyone who is raising their child away from where he/she grew up feels some of that.

Nova Scotia will always be 'home' to me, no matter how long I'm away. That sense of pride seems to be a common theme among us Maritimers. It's not often that you see an Ontario flag on the back of a car, but many a time I've seen a Nova Scotian flag on someone's bumper and had to resist the urge to drive alongside and yell out the window, "Woo! Me too! Bluenosers rule!"

Whenever I go home to visit, my to-do list includes:

1. See the ocean at some point
2. Have some good seafood
3. Get a donair (not a shawarma, not a gyro, an honest-to-goodness donair with the sweet sauce).

Please note that it's not as if I did any of these things that often in the 24 years I lived there. I had a donair maybe once every few years. But now that it's not readily available to me, it's a tradition to track one down when I get home. I'm amused to find out how many other expatriate Maritimers also have 'getting a donair' on their visit-home bucket list. Once sonny is older, I'm sure I'll be taking him to Pizza Corner to get him one, too. "Eat it, my son; this is your heritage".

Okay, so Lebanese cuisine isn't technically related to my heritage, but whatever. They're part of the overall culture.

Nowadays, what I call the stereotypical "gift shop" image of Nova Scotia-- bagpipes, fiddle music, Sou'Westers and lobster traps-- also make me nostalgic, even though I grew up in the city and wasn't exposed to much of that myself. I do have fond memories of elementary school assemblies, though, where we'd clap along as the principal would play piano to accompany the custodian's fiddle, so I do come by some of the nostalgia honestly. Also, I did teach hubs how to eat a lobster on one of our first trips home. FYI, lobsters are not good date food.

An aside: anyone remember the Maple Leaf bologna commercial from the '80s where the too-cool-for-school kids from Toronto are "visiting their granny" out East and are rolling their eyes as they are served baloney, with seaweed pie for dessert? Anyway, I think of that commercial when I bring my son home. Pack your bags, sonny, you're going to Grammie's for SEAWEED PIE!

When I bring kiddo home over the years, I will certainly show him all the touristy stuff, as well as the historical sites-- from the Harbour Hopper to Citadel Hill to Peggy's Cove. I'll drive him around the Cabot Trail. I'll take him Tidal Bore Rafting on the Shubenacadie River, something I've done six times now. You haven't lived until you're thrown out of a raft riding muddy tidal bore rapids. Hubs just got initiated to it this summer, and soon it will be a family affair!
But I'll also show my son life as I lived it there too, whether he likes it or not. Walk him through my old neighbourhood. Take him past the car dealership where my elementary school once stood or try to describe what Point Pleasant Park looked like pre-Hurricane Juan. Bring him on a 2-dollar ferry ride across the harbour ("don't say I don't take you anywhere"). Spend a day at the beach during one of the few good swimming weeks at the ocean. Maybe get him deep-fried clams (AKA 'heart attack in a box') at John's Lunch or take a road trip to see the Pumpkin People in Kentville in the fall.

I hope he'll get a glimpse of how Halifax has some charm as 'the biggest small town and the smallest big city', and no matter where you are in Nova Scotia, you're never more than 67 km from the ocean (can you tell I worked for tourism?). The summers are cooler, the winters are milder, life is a little less hectic and people are just  a bit more open to making new friends or waving you on at a four-way stop. Hopefully he will grow up feeling a connection and some pride in his Maritime background. Maybe even get a bit of the accent!

If I do it right, then maybe one day, down the road, my half-Maritimer son will feel right at home at the Lower Deck pub, enjoying a Keith's beer and belting out the chorus to "Barrett's Privateers".

Fun Fact: The tartan on his kilt is the hunting tartan of the MacPhails, my mom's family name.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Full of Beans

Ever been to those Movies for Mommies, AKA Stars and Strollers, AKA Reel Babies? Great program. Love love love that these things are in place for parents. It lets parents get out and see movies at the theatre without having to find a babysitter or get the hairy eyeball for being "that one who brought the $#@& baby". One can tune out the crying and diaper-changing in the background and enjoy a movie with a friend. My son's first movie was "No Strings Attached". I saw "The Hangover 2" and "Bridesmaids" with him too. Parenting is off to a great start.

Well, I thought my days of Stars and Strollers were over when a friend and I went recently. Unlike his newborn days where he'd sleep through the whole movie, little tyke was full of beans and not about to sit on my lap for 2 hours (I know, go figure, eh?), and I spent the whole time standing him up, walking with him and letting him play with my empty cup and the lights on the side of the seats. The good news is, the movie was "Moneyball" (we got the theatre wrong); if ever I was to miss a movie, let it be that one. SNORE!

I tried again the next week-- am I a glutton for punishment? Well, I like to try to see how many activities I can adapt for us so my increasingly active baby and I can still get out there. So this time we sat in the front row of the stadium section and laid a blanket and some toys on the floor in front of us. The babies' time on our laps was interspersed with rolling around on the blanket together, and I got to enjoy "50/50" (much better than "Moneyball", incidentally). Ha! I can still have a bit of a social life, yet!

So on a related note, in a few days I'll be taking kiddo home to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to visit my folks for a week.

How is this related? Well, my movie experience makes me semi-dread the plane ride; two hours on my lap, which is about the same as a feature-length film, and no possibility of getting to crawl around and explore might just cause my 8-month-old to spontaneously combust. Unless I do first.

Fun Fact: I did not draw all eight panels separately. I drew the first and created duplicate layers for the next three. Then I did the same with the seats in the second row (including the baby seat) so I didn't have to draw them four times. Photoshop is awesome!

Friday, November 04, 2011

"Just You Wait"

This is a cartoon I posted a while back.

Expecting a baby is exciting. Big changes! A new family member! When I talk to someone who is pregnant, I am inclined to say one of the following:

1. Congratulations
2. How exciting
3. You look great

And yet, when I was pregnant, I couldn't get over how often I was offered supposedly hilarious doomsday advice. For instance, I had morning sickness for five months. One day I was feeling particularly green and said I was going home for a nap. The response I got was, "Ha, a nap? Well, ENJOY IT NOW, because soon enough there'll be no more naps for you!" Thanks, bud. Rub it in.

The "Enjoy it now" and "Just you wait" advice seems to be quite common, and I'm not sure why. Is it meant to be humour? "Ha ha, no more dates for you and your husband! No more time to yourself! Laugh, because it's funny to think of how much a baby will destroy life as you know it! You will lose your identity and become a sweats-wearing, puke-covered drudge! Mwa ha ha!"

If it's not meant to be funny, is it advice? Because I don't think there's any parent-to-be who isn't aware of the sacrifices that come with having a baby already. "Naive preggo doesn't know what she's in for. Must inform."

WHAT? You mean I can't just flip the baby's 'off' switch when I want to go clubbing? Wow! Thanks for the heads-up!

Also, 'sleep now while you can' is kind of silly. Everyone knows you can't bank sleep.

After a while, I ran out of ways to respond. "Ha ha! So I hear! Yup! Uh oh! Oh yes, what have I done, amirite? Ha ha ha... "

I even had someone say "A boy? Yeesh. Good luck with that." It's a boy, not a 200 lb. rabid chimp. 

Now I've only been a parent for 8 short months, but I have to say that I am having a ball. I still have showers and put my face on before going out. I still exercise, have personal non-baby interests and see my friends, and get out with the hubs, albeit not as often (and don't say "wait until you have two kids". Please read above.)
I acknowledge the camaraderie that comes with the tough task of being a parent, and sometimes it's good to vent to know you're not alone. There are  tiring times, frustrating times and I'm definitely busier. I do wish hubs and I could still take our weekly dance lessons or would like to go out without 45 minutes of prep, but that doesn't mean expectant parents want to hear me rub it in, whether they're excited or nervous or a bit of both. Besides, there's so much wonderful stuff about being a parent that far outweighs any of that, and it's a shame to sit around wallowing in what you're missing out on. I'd never trade my delightful sonny boy back just to have the luxuries of the DINK lifestyle.

So if you see a pregnant woman out there, she's not huge, nor does she want to hear she about to succumb to a soul-sucking life. She's likely heard the joke already anyway and didn't think it was all that funny then. Just say congratulations, and maybe 'you look great'.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Time for gates! The little tyke is getting mobile and is no longer staying where I put him. Yesterday he found his way into the kitchen. He pulls himself along on his arms like a seal. I get tired just watching him. He's got killer triceps for a baby, I must say. I imagine him giving Bamm-Bamm- style handshakes, where the person is flung back and forth over his head.

This is a cartoon I drew a month or so ago. He had developed the new skill of rolling onto his stomach and pushing himself up, which was great except he couldn't get out of it. On some occasions he had to be 'rescued' several times before going to sleep. I guess he takes after me; apparently I used to get stuck under the piano bench. My folks must've thought they had a genius baby on their hands.