Are You The Artist?

“Are you the artist?”

I get asked this question approximately twenty times per day each summer, and even more so on weekends and holidays. I can understand why people ask it– after all, I’m standing behind a table full of artwork and have a cheery, “Ask me Anything!” expression on my face. However, the question always makes me laugh. Why? Because, sitting less than a foot behind me– on a concrete pedestal, no less– is The Artist Himself, paintbrush in hand, easel and canvas on full display. He might as well be wearing a beret (though a straw fedora lends itself nicely to the artist stereotype as well).

Marty at the Harbour. He is literally right behind me, i.e. I spun around and took this photo of him painting.

Marty at the Harbour. He is literally right behind me, i.e. I spun around and took this photo of him painting.

(It’s also funny because we have numerous “Acrylic Paintings by Martin Machacek” signs plastered everywhere, some of them giant ones. A few of these signs even feature larger-than-life-sized photos of a bearded, blond man on them. With a paintbrush in his hand. I don’t know how much more direct we need to be with our messaging, but it appears the most crucial bit of information– the Not-So-Secret-Identity of the Artist– is still getting lost in translation.)

An actual sign at our harbour booth. This one is about 4 feet tall. (Shakes head in disbelief.)

An actual sign at our harbour booth. This one is about 4 feet tall. But are you the artist, miss? (Shakes head in disbelief.)

Anyway. Sometimes, in response to the “Are you the artist?” question, I’ll state the obvious: “Actually, my husband is the painter”, while subtly tilting my head back in Marty’s general direction. Other times, I’ll let my sweeping Vanna White motions do the talking for me. [In exaggerated pantomime] Wow, right behind me is…. A NEW CAR! THE ARTIST HIMSELF! Would you look at that! [Imaginary clapping and fanfare]

The truth is, I am an artist, just not the capital-A Artist that people are referring to when they ask me The Question. I do lots of creative things, both business-related and in my spare time, but Marty is The Painter and understandably gets the spotlight when we are down at the Harbour. (It would be creepy and disturbing otherwise, no?)

Me being artsy. (Not to mention orange.)

Me being artsy. (Not to mention orange.)

Over the past few months, Marty and I hatched a way to blend his creative energy with my artistic awesome-sauce. After much deliberation and several bad ideas, we came up with videos. Time lapse videos, to be more specific. We figured, “Hey! You [Marty] make super cool paintings, and I [Dana] know nothing about making videos whatsoever! We don’t even own a camcorder (or whatever the hi-tech term is for those newfangled machines that record moving pictures)! Therefore, we MUST make videos of you [Marty] painting! THEY WILL BE AMAZING!”

Ha. This is how I suddenly became great friends with Google. After doing some preliminary research, I determined that:

  1. This would be so much easier to do with a camcorder! But what fun is ‘easy’ when you can make things way more complicated than they need to be?
  2. In the absence of a camcorder, I still didn’t own– or want to purchase– an “intervalometer” to help me time the photo taking remotely on my camera 
  3. I definitely didn’t own– or want to purchase– a graphing calculator to help me time the photo taking remotely on my camera (because, hello— the lack of graphing calculators is the main reason why I majored in Communications in the first place)
  4. I didn’t even want to borrow a graphing calculator from somebody else, because that would mean I’d have to program it to take time lapse photos, and even I’m not that big of a dork
  5. I might want to borrow a camcorder from somebody else, but meh– I was too lazy for that and would rather spend hours on Google trying to figure out camcorder alternatives instead
  6. Time lapse video making was still possible with our older camera. I’d have to rig up a tripod, many random cords, a camera, my laptop, and free software… in our kitchen… but making a time lapse video was still possible. Perfect.

And so (drumroll please), we did it! Marty hunkered down in his painting cubby (you can’t even call it a “studio”), I worked some serious nerd magic on the laptop, and our camera magically started taking photographs every five seconds. It took Marty a while to adjust to having his picture taken by the kitchen paparazzi every few seconds, but eventually, he settled into a rhythm and created his masterpiece. When he finished, I spent some more time poring over DIY video-making threads online and finally figured out how to stitch everything together into a bonafide time lapse video! Behold– my masterpiece:

Hey??? Are you super impressed or super DUPER impressed? Haha! I had caught the time lapse video-making bug– a rare but apparently potent condition. Ahem. So I made another time lapse video of Marty painting, this time taking my nerdiness to the next level and individually screening each and every photo (over 10,000 of them!) before stitching them together in a moving picture. So it could be crisp and perfect, obviously. (And don’t even start: I already know how deep I am into those dork-o-rama waters.) Anyway. I can’t even tell you how proud I am of this particular video (below), because doing so would reveal all sorts of geeked-out layers in my psyche, and I’m not prepared to do that just yet. We’re still at the “taking it slow” phase, right? But check this out:

I know. I KNOW!! I love this video because I can honestly say, “I made that!” at the end. Am I the artist? Hell, yes! Did I figure out a convoluted but effective way to create time lapse videos, without a camcorder or a closet full of geek equipment? Double hell, yes! Now all I need is a beret. And Vanna White. And then I’m set!   


I am so naive sometimes. This is our fourth season selling our artwork on the causeway in Victoria, and every year, August has taken me by surprise. I never learn just how cruel a mistress August can be! Each June, I think to myself:

This is a piece of cake!

I could do this all effin’ year long!

Bring on the sales, universe!

By July every year, I’m a bit wiser and my enthusiasm is a bit, um, tempered. I console myself:

Hey, at least you’ve only got 50 unread e-mails in your inbox, not 500.

Way to keep up with a twice-weekly(ish) workout schedule!

August will be totally manageable. It can’t be *that* much busier than July.

Then August hits.


I go from working out twice(ish) a week to working out two times the entire month (the 1st and the 31st, natch). The unread e-mails in my inbox pile up at an alarming rate, nearly outsizing the monstrous dirty laundry pile in our closet (you know, if e-mails had physical mass and volume). Marty’s parents leave frantic voicemails on our machine, ranging from “Hello? We haven’t talked to you in two weeks!”, to “Is everything okay?? Are you guys still alive over there??” Sadly, most of their calls go unanswered, mainly because a) we’re not home until midnight to check our messages and b) we pity the fools who try to phone us in the morning before we leave for work. Mornings are for silence. That’s our motto. Our other motto is Phone us before 10 in the morning and SUFFER OUR WRATH! Just saying.

Anyway. August is a demanding master, and we are her wretched slaves. I’ve come a long way since my days at the office, no? Scroll down to experience An Ordinary August Day in photos:

8 am

Why are we even awake at 8 am? Normally, I set an alarm for 8:30 and it nearly kills both of us to peel ourselves off the sheets. Don’t judge! This Ordinary August Day started off as it normally does (albeit a half hour earlier than usual): with me preparing our breakfasts (oatmeal and coffee for Marty; green smoothie for me) and Marty loading up our bike trailer for work.

11 am

This clock tower OWNS ME.

I arrive at the Harbour to join Marty, who has been working there since 10 am. (What? I was at home making our lunches.) I check on the status of my knitting (a staple pastime) and restock any inventory that needs touching up from the night before.

Our art booth, and– more importantly– my knitting!

12 noon

Marty paints. I knit and (hopefully) sell stuff. By 1 pm, I’ve devoured my weight in rye crackers and almond butter as a snack, and I’ve finished the first knit project of the day.

These are about the only foods I’m not allergic or sensitive to for the time being. Naturally, I eat about 8 million of these crackers every day now, so I won’t be surprised to see “rye crackers” and “almond butter” on my next allergy printout. Heh.

Tada! Cramp inducing preemie cap!

2 pm

Marty eats his lunch (avo sandwiches), and then I head to Evil Starbucks to fetch him an afternoon caffeine fix. It’s a necessary evil. Upon returning to the Harbour (a whole 10 minutes later), I chow down on a gigantic salad (kale, arugula, bell peppers, coconut ribbons, hemp seeds, homemade dressing– other foods that I am not allergic or sensitive to at the moment.) And just in case you were wondering: yes! I eat all the time. (3 times before 2 pm for those of you who are counting.) Marty and I are actually known to the other vendors and even the security guards on the causeway as the “people who are always eating”. Ahem.

Do you like my money clip? I got it from one of the other vendors at the Harbour. You can check out his shop on Etsy– Wood Bee Designs. Yer welcome!

2 pm to 5 pm:

Selling stuff. Knitting stuff. Painting stuff. Glancing up at the clock tower that OWNS ME every 10 or 15 minutes. You know, just working.

5 pm:

The dreaded Dinner Hour begins, and Marty takes his cue to head home to fetch our battery and warmer clothes for the evening ahead. Dinner Hour is dreaded because everything sloooooooows down for a period– plus, the sun starts shining directly in my face, so I have to whip out the One Step Shy of a Welder’s Mask Sunglasses.

Please, God: I don’t want my face to look 75 by the time I am 35.

6 to 7 pm

Marty returns with the battery. I go fetch dinner… from the mall (groan). Two cruise ships have just docked, so the streets are starting to fill up, and everyone and their dog (including me!) take photos of the local sights.

Look! There’s a horse-drawn carriage on the street! Hark! Those plants are shaped like whales!

Dear Sushi: I love you, but I hate you. Can’t wait to quit you! xoxo, Dana

8 pm

Yes, we kick it old school at the Harbour. We don’t have any electricity provided for us, so we have to hook lights up to our patio umbrella (our only shelter at the art booth) and haul one of those mega batteries to and from work each day. Good times!

The sun slowly starts to set, so Marty sets up our lights and plugs in our battery. The Harbour is alive with approximately 8000 cruise ship visitors (for real), and amazingly, a few hours pass without me even glancing at the clock tower that OWNS ME. I’m too busy selling things and telling people how amazing my husband is. 🙂

9 pm

What the eff? Somebody leaves a “free gift” in one of our display fixtures. Opening it up, I discover that Hell is So Hot. Thanks! (There’s always something crazy going on at the Harbour. Today, it just took until 9 pm for the crazy to start happening.)

10 to 11 pm

Marty is (faking) still going strong after 12 hours at work. Poor lad is still painting, only now it’s in the dark and the paint is taking forever to dry. I’m taking photos of our provincial government building, counting the minutes until we can start packing up for the night.

Can you see him painting in the background? Aw, precious!

11 pm

Yipee! We’re packing up for the evening and looking forward to all the work that still needs to get done at home. This is what the clock tower that OWNS ME says as we’re leaving for the night:

So what, the photo is blurry? It still says 11:30 pm. 🙂

Midnight to 1:30 am

(No photos to show you). We restock inventory, phone in our credit card transactions, wash our food containers, and fall into bed. Now, multiply this day by 31, and you’ll have our August. 🙂

How have you been lately, my dear but neglected readers? I miss you!


Honorary Keepers of the Lighthouse!

Being married to an artist definitely has its perks. For me, one of the greatest parts of being the Less Creative Other Half to a Creative Genius is getting to accompany my beau on some stellar “art research” excursions. We’ve been invited to experience the inner workings of a chocolate factory before, got to hang out at a micro-brewery when Marty’s custom-designed beer bottles were being filled, and most recently, we were whisked away to a nearby island to be Unofficial Keepers of the Race Rocks Lighthouse for 24 hours! It’s a tough job, but somebody has to be a tag-along bride! 😉

Race Rocks: Our new home away from home!

Race Rocks Lighthouse is one of the two oldest lighthouses on Canada’s west coast, and it can only be accessed by boat. (Fisgard is the other oldest lighthouse, and both have been in operation since 1860.) Marty and I had been by Race Rocks Lighthouse before (en route to see the Super Pod of orca whales, natch!), but we never imagined we would ever get to set foot on the sacred island, let alone spend a night at the Lighthouse Keeper’s house! (As Honorary Lighthouse Keepers, even!!) So what if the beacon itself has been automated for decades? Allow me to take a single night’s worth of credit for keeping the passing ships safe… 😉

Don't worry, ships passing in the night-- you're in great (albeit inexperienced) hands!

How on earth did this happen? How did the chance to hang out at Race Rocks Lighthouse fall into our laps?

I’m glad you asked! Last autumn, Marty was asked to donate an item to a charity’s fundraising auction here in Victoria. He generously donated a custom painting of the winner’s choice, and we were thrilled to bits when the auction winner requested a piece of the Race Rocks Lighthouse! Even better was the fact that the winner had actual, physical ties to Race Rocks and could arrange for us to spend an evening there, for “research purposes” obviously. Hanging out at the Race Rocks Lighthouse is not an opportunity that comes along very often or to very many people at all, so you can bet that I dubbed myself Marty’s “Art Manager” ASAP and insisted that I accompany him to the remote island when the invitation was extended. 🙂

I'm the manager. I go everywhere Marty goes.

Getting ready for our journey, I fretted about what to pack and how to prepare. What, exactly, does one wear to be a Lighthouse Keeper? How much food does one pack, especially if there’s a chance of being stranded on the island? Should I bring my own toilet paper? (Was there even a primitive toilet there?) Would I need a book to read? Would I get any sleep at all? (Race Rocks is home to a substantial bunch of migrating sea lions during many seasons of the year and is a notoriously loud and stinky place while they are there. Thankfully, the sea lions weren’t basking on the surrounding rocks during our visit, so we didn’t need to use our ear plugs or hold our noses for 24 repulsive hours!)

We were told by the auction winner to “bring a sleeping bag and food” with us– in addition to our signed waivers, of course– but I had no idea what to expect from the accommodations. Would we be roughing it on a rustic wooden pallet on the floor? Would we be crammed into a storage closet-sized ‘room’? Would there be heat? Could we cook? Call me naive, but I’d never been an Honorary Lighthouse Keeper before and had no idea what awaited me. (For the record: I resisted the urge to prepare all of the remaining food items we had in our fridge and pantry for a 24-hour stay, and instead packed enough food to last us 2 days, just in case. The weather forecast looked promising for a timely exit from the island, so my OCD kitchen tendencies were kept in check.)

On Wednesday afternoon, we met the official Lighthouse Keeper at the docks of Pearson College with our overstuffed (and impressively heavy) expedition backpacks on hand. We were wearing our most rugged hiking clothes, vintage PFD jackets (on loan from the college), and we had warm and dry clothing reserves waiting in our sacks, just in case our very small and otherwise exposed transportation boat left us soaked and freezing before we even pulled up to the jetty at Race Rocks. Luckily, the sail there was dry and mostly warm, if bumpy and a little nerve-wracking. (Did I mention I don’t know how to swim? Heh.) First hurdle: cleared!

On our way!

Our first surprise was encountered right at the jetty, where we were supposed to dock and make our way onto the island. Blocking our only pathway to the island was a moulting (read: cranky!) female elephant seal, who snorted, hissed, and generally threatened to bite us when we made even the slightest move towards her.

Race Rocks is a protected ecological reserve site, so one of the first and most important rules for guests is to not disturb the animals, at any cost to themselves. (In realistic terms, this means that regular visitors to the island have to stand back and witness the normal life cycles of resident animals, including mating, birth, death, abandonment, starvation, disease, stand-offs, etc.) This female seal showed no intention of moving off the jetty, and there was obviously no way for us to move her ourselves, so we ended up having to creep around her while grasping to the outside of the protective handrails on the jetty. Welcome to Race Rocks!

I was terrified as I scaled the very outer edge of the jetty, knowing that a sharp drop into still-tumultuous waters awaited me if that female seal lunged in my direction. (The group consensus, made before we exited the boat, was that it would be better to let go of the rail and fall into the water rather than risk being bitten by a moulting seal– if it came to that, which hopefully it wouldn’t. For the record: this is much easier said and done by people who know how to swim. Luckily, I scrambled past the seal without being bitten or plunging myself into the icy waters. Welcome to Race Rocks, indeed!)

Once we were safely past the Unofficial Race Rocks Guardian, we met our next animal friend around the corner– a gigantic male elephant seal named Misery who had taken up residence mere feet from the door of the Lighthouse Keeper’s house.

Meet Misery. (We are smiling in this pic but we are secretly afraid of waking the beast).

This particular Misery does not enjoy company (as evidenced by his continued maiming and killing of rival males and young seal pups), so we tiptoed gingerly past him while he slept, sending furtive prayers to the universe to keep him snoring until we were safely inside. Thankfully, the universe obliged. (I don’t know if I could have handled two seal antagonists within mere minutes of arriving at Race Rocks, especially one of the 1000+ lb, Alpha Male variety.)

But the lighthouse! Oh, the lighthouse!

Race Rocks Lighthouse by day

I was blown away by the actual light tower! A giddy grin affixed itself to my face and refused to budge or wane for the next 24+ hours. I was overcome by all sorts of romantic notions about lighthouses and spent most of the time on the island either admiring the light tower, photographing the light tower, thinking about the light tower, climbing the 98+ stairs to the top of the light tower, or enjoying the spectacular views from atop the light tower. Marty and I took occasional breaks inside to make tea or grab snacks, but the majority of our time was spent outside appreciating the magnificence of Race Rocks Lighthouse!

Race Rocks Lighthouse by night

The weather was perfect for the outing– not raining, not too windy, and we visited there the night before the Full Moon, too. We stayed up as late as possible, watching the sunset first and then witnessing the moonlight playing on the light tower several hours after our camera decided it could no longer capture the magnificence of the setting digitally. (The brightness of the full moon enabled us to keep a sharp watch on Misery, too. God knows we wouldn’t want to accidentally trip over him while we were skipping around like fools on the island! Antagonizing a male elephant seal in the dark would have been a definite– and probably fatal– Race Rocks FAIL.)

What did I tell you, fools? I OWN THIS ISLAND!

After what felt like a very short sleep, we crawled out of bed in time to catch the sunrise. (Would we have missed our only sunrise at Race Rocks Lighthouse? Never!!)


(In total, we snapped over 1150 photos in less than 24 hours on the island! Our first sweep helped us whittle this down to 500. It was nearly impossible to “just” pick 20 or so for this post.)

If this is what it’s like to be a “starving artist”, sign me up please! 😉

Final notes and details: The Lighthouse Keeper’s residence at Race Rocks is actually pretty classy and modern. (The Lighthouse Keeper offered us freshly baked cookies right out of the oven, which came in stark contrast to my idea of the house as a tiny, uber-drafty campsite.) There is no flushing toilet on site, but there is a primitive, indoor-outhouse-type toilet that more than suffices, especially when I was bracing myself for a day of peeing on rocks. There’s electricity, heat, a fully-equipped kitchen, and even wireless internet access there! (I decided not to bring our laptop with us, though. Contrary to popular belief, I can last for a day without checking my e-mail.)

Fortunately, the moulting female seal left the jetty during the night, so we didn’t have to deal with her menacing presence on the way back to the boat. Our return trip was delayed by a few hours due to wind and sketchy water conditions, but we had more than enough food to tie us over and the delay just meant more opportunities to take excessive amounts of photos! 🙂

What do you think, dear readers?

Was that an adventure or what?

Was the story worth the wait?

PS: A big thank you to everyone who visited Lake Superior Spirit on Thursday when I had the honour of guest posting in Kathy’s absence! Apologies for being a shoddy guest and not telling you I was even there until after the fact. What can I say? I was lighthouse keeping! (Please feel free to check out Kathy’s blog when you get the chance. She is one of my favourite stops each morning, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to guest post there.)


In case any of you were dying to know, the 2012 mantra for Cancer-born people such as myself is:

Letting Go Is Not Loss, It’s Freedom.

I have a bit of a hoarding problem, but mostly when it comes to memories. I’m getting much better at reducing the amount of physical stuff I have lying around (I’m talking to you, Grade 7 Social Studies class notes!), but I find it more difficult to part with the past or tokens that transport me down Memory Lane. Does de-cluttering involve getting rid of old journals and scrapbooks? Photo albums? Pictures that were supposed to go into albums but never made it past the lab sleeve? Photo negatives from the good old days of film cameras? Duplicates of photos I had planned to mail to friends, back in the good old days of regular post?

Me (in the middle) fake-smoking a cigarette that had been patched up with electrical tape. Classy memories to cherish forever!

(Yes, I have a lot of photos.) (And yes, I welcome suggestions re: what to do with a teetering stack of photos from Grade 11. Anyone? Bueller?)

You can’t just throw away your memories, can you? You can’t even donate them to Goodwill or recycle them in the most eco-friendly way possible. (Though my sister did score an XXXL shirt at the Goodwill once that proclaimed “World’s Best Grandma!” and boasted a screened photo of some random granny with a random tot on the front. She scaled it down to fit her rod-thin frame with her mad sewing skillz and then wore it with ironic pride for years.) Doesn’t that feel wrong, though? Can you really subject your should-be-private memories to the gaggle of hipster art students that pore through the aisles of local thrift stores seeking exactly these sorts of hand-me-down gems?

Front of the tin I use to store my crafty supplies

To date, I’ve burned some old notebooks in our wood stove– lined pages that contained countless lists and bullet points of everything I did in the summer of 1996. (Judging from the looks of it, not only was 1996 a stunningly boring summer– “8 glasses of water today, 650 jumps with the jump rope”– but I was also boring enough to write it all down! I wish I was making that particular jot note up, but thankfully, the whole notebook is ashes now.)

I can’t burn photographs, though. And there are some things I would never part with– but can’t, for the life of me, figure out how to save– except for keeping them in a box for eternity. There is the self-portrait that my 18-year old dad created for my 16-year old mother, one that embarrasses him profusely today and that only escaped inevitable destruction at his hands by landing into my piles of random shit:

The board is in terrible condition now, and the paint is fading and chipping, but I hold this painting so dear to my heart.

(By the way, I don’t think it’s the raw emotion or the tender-heartedness of the gesture that causes my dad to blush now. I think it’s the fact that he went on to art college and bid a firm adieu to figurative renderings– and especially self-portraits– forever.)

There’s a stack of posters I kept from the days when my mom worked closely with the design firms in Calgary. I wanted a career in advertising at the time and savoured the pop-art samples that the design firms produced:

Poster since donated, but worked with 3D glasses, too!

There’s the pair of underwear I coveted (but never wore– are you kidding me?) when my sister went to art college. I was working at a sexual health centre at the time and appreciated anything with a uterus on it. (I still do!)

Best purchase... ever? I used to pin these babies up on my bulletin board at work. Most of my coworkers rolled their eyes, but a select few understood my "so bad, it's good!" affinity for them.

(Even better than this was the shirt I bought from the same artist– no photos– which featured a flying uterus on the back! It was like the Detroit Red Wings logo, but with a uterus in place of the wheel. Absolutely righteous in my books!)

I can’t, and won’t, get rid of things like these– even if “letting go is freedom!” Where do you draw the line, though? What’s worth keeping, and what gets tossed, recycled, or donated? What do you do with buckets of old photographs, especially if the “gigantic collage” idea doesn’t seem even remotely appealing? (Seriously. The pics aren’t nearly old or good enough to be considered vintage and cool, but how many pictures do I really need of my junior high and high school friends? Suggestions are welcome!)

PS: I found it! A pic of me with my BFF, Gloria Steinem.