I own a house that was built over 100 years ago. I know renovations. I have resurfaced, remodelled and repainted almost every square inch of my home over the years. It's an ongoing obsession and if I ever get everything done I will probably have to sell it. Not that it's all bad - I enjoy the results - recently I was riding high after finally wiring proper lighting in my dingy basement (another in a long list of small victories).
I really enjoyed working on this assignment for Indianapolis Monthly, about the nightmarish ordeals faced by a pair of naive homebuyers who picked up a lot more than they bargained for after purchasing a house without an inspection, and doing the renovations on their own. They called the house 'Beelzebub', and were convinced for a while that the house wanted to do them in. Fortunately, both have prevailed.
I'll be getting back to my ongoing projects later this week. Building a workshop in the basement. I like this quote by Jerome K. Jerome:
'I want a house that has got over all its troubles; I don't want to spend the rest of my life bringing up a young and inexperienced house. '
The old barn, with the studio on the upper floor. Drop by any time, but remember - first you'll have to get past 'killer'
I grew up working in construction. Learning how to build is an important asset for me. I use it when I put an illustration together, and it really helped when I built my studio space.
When we bought our house I looked at the out building, an old corrugated metal and wood barn, as a potential knock-down. My brother pointed out the concrete foundation and the relative squareness of the structure, still solid. I rented a studio space for a short while and spent the summer planning and framing the studio on the upper floor, converting the space from an old hayloft. That was eleven years ago.
I liked the layout of the building, so I left the exterior intact. The inside, as you can see from this shot, was a different story. I decided to re-frame an inside shell, and put in plenty of insulation.
The roof of the building is a perfect 45 degree pitch, so I was able to get very high ceilings. I also echoed the line in the stairwell and storage areas that are built into the space. I used recycled storm windows that were left by the previous owners to let in lots of light. I was also able to pick up some used glassed doors for next to nothing.
I asked my dad, the pro, to build a winding staircase. It's a real space saver and it's a beautiful stairwell. I must go up and down this thing about 100 times a day.
I've changed things around a few times. This year I did a major overhaul to get rid of some of the detritus that accumulated over time. I put in a nice antique cabinet to hide away some of the odds and ends.
Clean and shiny
I worked with my friend Mark Guildenhaar, a talented furniture designer, to design and build a computer desk over 15 years ago. That desk has followed me around through a couple of moves and I sit at it every day.
The view from the stairwell. The computer desk sits behind the bookcase.
I know this is cheesy, but I painted a compass on floor. When I first moved here, my sense of direction was a bit off-kilter. I've sorted things out since then, but I like to think it keeps me pointed in the right direction.
The view from my chair
I picked up this old government light table for next to nothing at a used office supply store when I moved everything in. It is solid wood and absolutely indestructible.
It's great to have a space away from the house and kids, and the commute is a breeze. Pants must be put on, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.
With father's day approaching I thought I would post this recent project for Perseus Books.
If you need to know how to fix a leaky faucet, repair a flat tire, replace a broken fan belt or paint a room without painting yourself into a corner, and your dad is not there, unavailable, or keeps putting you on hold, then this book is what you need. It's aimed at the kids moving away from home. So it's not really a father's day item, but something dad might give as a 'parting' gift. (Just before he breaks out the scotch to celebrate his new-found freedom).
This book has a unique feature. Open up the end flaps, pull out the perforated handles, and you have a faux toolbox!
You can check out the author's (Steve Elliot) blog, chock-a-block full of handy tips and regular-guy anecdotes.
No. Not referring to the banking system. I've had a few folks ask me about the rink, so I thought I'd put up some pics. It may not be illustration, but I do see making good ice as a bit of an artform.
The robins are buzzing around the treetops and the sun has broken through. We said goodbye to the rink last week. I put on the blades and played net for the kids. I put on some goalie pads because I have experienced the pain of a wrist shot on the shins. It's been a good season, although I had to rebuild the rink almost from scratch two times. We had some warm and wet storms pass through, followed by bracing cold spells.
As you can see from these shots, the barn and surrounding trees cast a lot of shadows. It keeps the sun from burning through the ice and dissolving it to slush, even on cold days. Makes for good ice and gives me a couple of extra weeks at the end of the season. The best days are the sunny late-season skates when you don't get a chill and can stay out for a couple of hours.
This year I put up a home-made target and painted net. You gotta work on those corners, so extra points for going top shelf or a couple for the five hole. Great for practicing your shot, and saves me having to fetch pucks from the neighbor's hedge. My son Lucas has developed a serious wrist shot this year. He was able to meet P.K. Subban this winter and ask him a few questions. P. K. is a top-ranked defenceman who played for the world-champion Canadian Juniors this year and has been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. Even though he grew up in suburban Toronto, he told Lucas he always had a back-yard rink, where he learned skills and practiced trick shots.
Lucas has turned out to be a solid hockey player, and this year his rep team won the division championship in two hard-fought playoff series. They will be going to provincials this weekend. It's nice to see him be a part of a great team, and being rewarded for his hard work, and all of those after-school sessions on the rink. He is having a blast. Go P.E.C. Kings!
A recreation of Lucas' two-goal shift in the third game vs. Port Hope Phantoms
It's an annual obsession and it's back in the backyard. This year conditions were perfect and I was able to get the rink together in record time. Lucas has skated on it twice and with a couple more floods it should be thick enough to support my bulky frame. I'm looking forward to getting the kids from the neighbourhood over and Lukie's hockey playing pals as well.
Not everybody has the space or the time on their hands to get something like this together, but in Canada, the outdoor rink is the stuff of legend. Countless pro hockey players grew up skating on ponds and backyard rinks. It's even part of our currency - check out the back of the five dollar bill.
In fine print on the back:
'The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places - the school, the church and the skating rink - but our real life was on the skating rink.' - Roch Carrier
Roch Carrier wrote a book called "Le chandail de hockey"(The Hockey Sweater) and a fine animated film was created from the story. An absolute classic for any sports-loving kid and one of my all-time favorites. Even as a kid who grew up a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I could really feel for the film's main character. The cartoon bubbles of Maurice Richard are simply awesome and the story is laced with hilarious send-ups of politics and power struggles. Thanks to You-Tube you can check it out.
For a backyard rink building primer, go here. For photos & stories from previous rinks, you can take a look here, here and here as well. Keep moving & don't stay inside too long - you might get cabin fever!
Löyly is the finnish word for steam. There is nothing like the rush of heat you feel when water hits hot rocks. The only real way to counter is to rush outside and jump into a large body of ice-cold water. And then get back inside and do it again.
The sauna is almost a sacred place. In the Finnish tradition It is a taboo to use swearwords in sauna. Conversation should be relaxed and arguments and controversial topics should be avoided. We keep the lights very low inside as well. Sauna is a place where you can also cleanse your soul. Although I'm not finnish, I have to agree with all of this. You will never feel cleaner than after a good one or two hour session. You can clear your mind and soothe your aches and pains.
One of the best things about our family cottage is the wood-fired sauna. We don't have any plumbing so it is not only enjoyable but also essential. The best time of year to use it is either in the spring or fall when the lake gets icy.
My father built this about twenty years ago. We all pitched in but he did most of the work. We were smart enough to get a good quality finnish stove. This thing really kicks out the heat! It takes a fair amount of work - hauling water from the lake, building the fire but the result is pure bliss.
I wrote a couple of ealier posts about the treehouse project here and here. I thought I would follow up with a few pics of the finished version.
In the midst of all of the volatility and craziness of elections I was lucky enough to get away for a couple of weekends. I spent a couple of nights up in the treehouse. My father did a fantastic job finishing off the railings, windows and screens. My brother also wired up a light and outlet. Waking up you catch the sun rising through the trees.
Only a pro could come up with rooflines like these!
I spotted a strange wooly creature while I was walking around the woods
Being an illustrator is one career path that you can explain easily to a child but not to a grown up. I get to stay at home an draw pictures all day. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but the commute is a 5 second walk and the hours are verrry flexible.What's the joy of being self employed if you can't treat yourself to a day off now and then?
Jacob sanding away the slivers
My kids were home from school on Friday - one of those teacher development days. I asked Jacob what he wanted to do, and he suggested building stilts. One 2 x 4 cut in half width & lengthwise by the guys at the lumber yard and we were ready to go. Everybody pitched in with drills and sanders.
Simple construction - alive for $4.55. Cheapest project ever.
Lucas sets up
Jacob in fine form - it's not easy!
This shot totally didn't turn out but I think it's my favorite
We took the dog for a very long bike ride/walk and built a campfire after dinner. One of those days where I didn't spot a cloud in the sky and we didn't go in the house all day long. Early bedtime for the lads all that fresh air and I was knocked out too.
I do a monthly feature for This Old House, illustrating plans for family projects. I think my posts on building an ice rink landed me the gig. They are great folks to work with and I enjoy doing the technical drawings.
Here's the plans I illustrated for building adjustable stilts.
March thaws almost claimed the rink this week, but I was able to pull it back one last time. This years' rink build has been a real challenge, one that has me questioning my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Some good stuff along the way - we managed a party complete with firepit for the grownups in February. A real blast for the kids.
Jacob added a center line and faceoff circle and built benches and a penalty box
Ready to go
Nice warm fire & cold beverages
With all the frequent thaws and heavy snowfall this year, I learned to handle slush and snowshovels the way a plasterer handles his mud and trowels. I have taken rink repair to a whole new level. A snowshovel is a formidable piece of winter exercise equipment, good core strengthener. The rink covers a lot of ground and my left shoulder is now far bulkier than my right.
Winter blahs. Two choices. The first and most obvious solution is to escape to sunny climes. Every winter this time of year I head north to the cabin and fully embrace winter's icy bosom.
Twenty five below, scary clear skies. Milky way. Sirloin steaks over maple wood coals. It's peaceful and beautiful up here.
Looking forward to dusting off the bicycles and hitting the road. Let the big melt begin. I've had enough of winter.
Did you see that NHL outdoor game on New Years Day? Over 70,000 fans packed Ralph Wilson stadium in Buffalo, which was hit with its usual dollop of lake effect snow. (We got about a foot of the white stuff here as well). Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby stole the show, crashing the net and getting an assist in the first 21 seconds. He also scored the game winner in a shootout with about half an inch of fluffy snow covering the rink. Pond hockey!
Lucas weighing down the shovel to pack the snow. Flekker doing his own thing
During the first intermission we headed outside and began building the rink. The snow makes a great base so that I can get a level surface. It takes a bit of smoothing and my son Lucas was eager to help out.
Ice is rough right now, but things will even out.
The cold is intense and the ice pops and crackles when the water hits the ice. I love that sound. I have been running the hose almost around the clock. I have to hurry to get the ice in, looks like it is going to warm up next week. If the ice is thick enough it can withstand a melt. One or two floods and we are back in business.
When I was a kid the winter lasted for months. Now you have to work like a maniac when it gets cold to get this thing done.
Not a gallery, or the big time. I'm talking about the annual family production known as Christmas.
A little drywall knowledge is a dangerous thing. If you know how to do it, then there is no reason to call in somebody else to do it for you. I have resurfaced most of the walls in my home, over a century old with plenty of cracked plaster and botched renovations inherited from previous owners. Good frame though. Nice lines with lots of beautiful woodwork and trim.
When the heating ducts were installed in 1970, the owners thought they could save a bit of scratch. Rather than bury the ducts in the walls, somebody ripped a few holes top and bottom. Nothing wrong with a galvanized metal stacks is there? My blood pressure would rise everytime I saw them. I never went into the front of the house. Kids domain. Let them run amok and do what their worst.
This fall I decided to tackle the beast and make things right. The boys are bigger now and their hands are relatively jam-free. Work slowed a bit so I decided to take the leap. A nice leisurely pace to it all. At one point in mid-November I found myself saying 'plenty of time before Christmas to get this done'. As soon as the words were past my lips I knew I was jinxed. Plenty of unforeseens along the way - a large hole in my foundation, a huge swath of knob-and-tube wiring and a 10 day wait for the electrician to show. Plus a heap of new assignment work that was too good to say no to (This Old House was one of the big ones, very appropo). Time ran short and the pressure notched up bit by bit. Not that it was all bad. Three beers and an ipod can make taping and mudwork a breeze. Weather cold enough to get the pints incredibly chilled on the front porch. Getting everything together finally.
I went for a massage yesterday and then took a hot bath. Last night I went to a party and then got a good nights' sleep. Let the festive season begin!
I'm rather good at ripping things apart
before - in the process of burying the ductwork
Flekker standing guard atop the drywall
a friend of mine took a look and called it 'divorce dust'
Baby, it's cold outside.. here's the rink setup before the chill set in
An unusually cold winter is forecast this year for large portions of North America. Weather experts cite the Oceanic cooling effects of La Niña, while everyone else blames it on Canada.
The downside of this is whiteouts, slopping through shin-deep slush, scraping your windshield and, of course, shivering. Flipside of the same coin is slipping, sliding, skating, skiing, tobogganing and just plain frolicking in all that snow and ice. Throw a log on the fire and cook up some hot chocolate for the kids.
When your morning commute is a forty foot walk to the studio, winter doesn't look so intimidating. I change my mindset this time of year and sock in to the studio for some serious assignment work. I tend to loose my focus in the summer and book off as much time as I can. Now is the time to get to work. On the ice rink.
A couple of weeks ago I put up the boards. A beautiful sunny day. Glad I got to it then because the ground is frozen solid right now. The wind is whipping snow past my window. My son Lucas wants to know when the rink will be ready-- we could have a nice one for Christmas this year.
This composite isn't quite complete, but neither is the treehouse. This is the view from the big rock out front.
Breezy fall day. Achingly blue sky, trees ablaze with colour. Time to close up the cottage for the season.
Last week I spent a couple of days at the cottage. I lent my dad a hand with the ' fire tower' build. I have a couple of previous posts about it here and here.
Here a view of the complete build, with the roof and windows in place and the staircase enclosed.
For the past three weeks, dad has been closing in the project, a roof safely in place and the windows too. I helped to put one section of the roof on, hanging on for dear life while I shingled it. Dad handled the other 7 sections by himself. (I found out that my mom was recruited to hand up the shingles to him to save trips up and down the ladder - what a trooper!)
When I agreed to help dad with this, I thought finishing the build in one season was a bit of a longshot. Driven by an almost inhuman work ethic, he has accomplished everything he set out to do. As he told me while we were working, it wasn't easy, but it wasn't meant to be. It was something that he built and rebuilt in his head countless times along the way. A challenge - probably the last big project for a guy who made a living as a contractor and carpenter. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with him, being outside in a remote, peaceful setting. So, here's to you dad, cheers!
The view from above. The bottom panels will be closed in by now. The screen door is salvaged from our family camper that traveled from coast to coast.
I love the details he has put into place. A weathervane, windows on the stairwell, and a hand-built door.
Dad found a local sawmill for the pine and salvaged the windows from local sources. What a resourceful guy!
Next spring there will be a proper railing on the front balcony. And a couple of deck chairs. And some beers.
Oh yeah, the kids are gonna love it too.
There was a push to get everything closed in for the winter. Hunting season is approaching and we don't want Elmer Fudd perched on the balcony.
Okay - if you have read this far maybe you could help me out. I need a name for this thing. It's not a tree house, although it is in the trees. It's not a fire tower either.
I'm thinking of 'the roost'. Anybody got a better suggestion?
The back story
I dug up a few old slides while I was up there. I found these pics of a fire tower that we used to visit on day trips in the area. This location was very remote, about an hour's drive off the main highway. Not a building in sight from here, just lakes hills and trees. We would pack a picnic and spend most of the day hiking, climbing and enjoying the view. Towers like these dotted the landscape and were put up from 1920's to the 1950's. In the sixties the sites were abandoned and replaced by aerial and satellite technology.
I was about 8 years old when I climbed this beast. Now that I have kids of my own it just blows my mind thinking about doing this at that age. Looking at these pictures I dream about how much I would love to find a place like this again. I always hope that something like this lies undiscovered somewhere, just around the next corner or over the next hilltop. The tower in these pictures was torn down during the 70's. I've been back to the spot and seen the old footings. That is all that remains.
Mom, trying to look nonchalant, waving to us from the abandoned ranger station
There's me with my big brother, checking out the view.
There was a fixed map in the center of the tower, with armatures to locate the direction of distant smoke plumes.
I like the look of this thing.
I usually don't work with a loose hand-lettered style, and I am having a lot of fun doing these. I put this piece together in a couple of hours tonight.
This is a follow up to an earlier posting, a response to the rumblings about the cold weather around here. I am extremely proud of my home-made backyard rink, the kids have been having a great time and I get a chance to develop slap shots and wrist shots in my spare time. A resounding success and an ongoing obsession.
So here it is:
We had about 4 inches of snow last night, I snapped these photos and put them together after I cleared the rink. It's great to have night lights!
The boys after a couple of hours on the ice
All Drawgers are hereby invited to drop by anytime for a game of shinny!
It's March 7, midafternoon. Still cold enough to skate. I am going out with the kids to hang out and shoot some pucks, soak up the sunshine. This year proved to be most successful build yet, lasting over 6 weeks. My son Lucas perfected his wrist shot and is lighting up the tyke league with his scoring touch! Warm weather is just around the corner. Today should be the wrap up.
I think this was a second year effort (2002). Not bad, the kids were pretty small at the time. My studio light is on in the barn.
I've been watching the long-term forecasts carefully waiting for a week-long freeze. Those of you who know me know that I am an avid backyard rink builder.
Global warming (or maybe a very tired and useless old man winter) has made it very hard to perfect my technique last year and up until now, this 'winter'. Last week the grass was green. This week, we finally have some snow on the ground.
I use plastic sheet laid out on the ground and a hose. I also put up boards as well. The trick is to lay down the ice about a 1/4 inch at a time and build it up. I wait for those icy cold nights that freeze up your nose hairs and you can see all the stars overhead. Put on plenty of layers and go out when any sensible creature is staying warm under the covers or by the fireplace.
The thing is-- if you have kids-- if you build a rink one year, then you are expected to keep the tradition going. Last year, the grass was green in January and I didn't start the rink until February. Before we could skate on it, a major thaw set in melted all my efforts. I was a broken man.
This year I am cautiously optimistic. Watching the forecasts and waiting.
Does anybody else miss winter?
This is what the rink should look like, weather permitting.