Alison Garwood Jones


September 12, 2015

Fifties Gal

Likes: the rumba, picnics, sewing, Truman Capote stories, crimson nails, her job.

I made this for my friend, Denise Wild


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Bye, Summer

September 11, 2015

Digital drawing of Lake Huron.

Closing up the cottage is a particularly Canadian emotion, unfamiliar to those whose summer months aren’t bookended by snow and cold.

I still have sand in my hallway from a trip to Lake Huron last weekend. I don’t want to sweep it up. When the tan on my feet fades, I’ll get out the broom.

Being Canadian, for most of us, means constantly polishing our sense of gratitude for what we have when we have it. For others, it means moaning through the extremes and timelines our weather imposes on us. Weather has definitely shaped our national character. It’s even held us back. It’s hard to run at life in moon boots, layers of down and hoods that obscure your vision.

For the record, I’m a polisher, not a moaner.

As we head in to another weekend, I’m thinking about Southampton, Ontario this morning. It’s a ghost town now. The cash registers on High Street that had been ringing up ice cream, french fries, sunblock and plastic beach pails one week ago are silent now. The nights are colder and the colour dial on the trees is one shade closer to orange this week.

I’m sad because I’m not going to be there as the sun drops in to the lake. I can see why beauty makes us possessive.

I’ve never seen the sun drop over the edge of the horizon when Lake Huron is a windswept tundra, but being Canadian means embracing it all.

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Vacation message

September 4, 2015


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The Right To Be Forgotten

September 3, 2015

Drawing of the Issue: The Right To Be ForgottenBecause you were young once too. #Google #Search

Learn more about the Right To Be Forgotten. Canada and the U.S. are still lagging behind Europe on this issue.


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Keep it simple

September 3, 2015

watercolour and crayon drawing of a rose

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Stand-up desk

September 1, 2015

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

My solution for a stand-up desk. #standupdesk

A video posted by AlisonGJ (@alisongj) on

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Director’s cut

August 27, 2015

Recently, my friends Nicki and Rogie came to me with a request: “Ali, we need a map of our farm so visitors can find their way around.”

My friends are hosting workshops on equine education and will be moving from point to point around the property teaching things like pasture management, nutrition, hoof care and equi-bow therapy (translation: horse massage).

I’ve been to the farm many times, but have always had a glass of wine in my hand lending to a delightfully vague sense of my surroundings.

The first thing I said was, “Send me pics of all the buildings and a few animal shots and I’ll turn them into drawings.” Nicki roamed the property with her Samsung and sent an entire album of farm shots to my iPhone.

Garage and Coop fixedThis is the garage where Rogie parks the tractors and has a man cave. That’s a chicken coop at the back.

Shelter This is one of many paddock shelters to protect the animals when the sun heats up their coats or raindrops start falling.

Horse PNG

This is Sky.

Barn TransparentThis is the barn where Sky and her friends live, including this wacky character, Tucker the mini paint.


 Don’t say the word “gingivitis” in front of him. (I’m kidding, Nicki takes great care of his teeth).


Tucker’s a little sensitive about the wandering eye.

Shit Pile

Plug your nose, we’re going past the manure mound.

Bees for blog

We’re so relieved the bees are back (for now).

Tree Transparent

I knew I’d need some trees, so I prepared a maple that I could duplicate dozens of times (like a Flintstone background).

Cedar transparentI needed a few cedars too.

Wildflowers PNG

Nicki even planted a wildflower patch.

While I was waiting for my paint to dry, I said to Rogie, “Send me the Google Earth view of the paddocks and barns.” And he did. I drew in the fences in black and the gates in red with a digital stylus.

Corrected Layout

Looking things over, I decided a drawing of the farm would look better if I took the eye over the horizon. So I altered the image in Pixlr to create a vanishing point:

Diagonal shot for Blog

Then I created a base wash drawing:

Tinted Map with Road

Note how you can still see how the wetness of the watercolours created buckles and shadows on the paper. I brushed those out digitally, layered on my renderings of animals, trees and buildings and produced this final map:

27 Aug Version

Ta da!

This post was inspired by one of my favourite books, Austin Kleon‘s Show Your Work. If you think it’s imperative to hide your process from prying eyes, I encourage you to read this book and be open to changing your mind.

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Blogging’s bad rap

August 26, 2015

Social media has scattered blog communities and pretty much killed engagement in blog comment boxes. I’ve seen it on my own site. I average about one comment every six months.

Those two facts alone, some say, are proof that maintaining a blog is (1) old school and (2) pointless. Those same folks say that blogging peaked back in 2010, so why bother crafting fresh material?

By my estimation excitement over blogs peaked well before 2010, but their relevance hasn’t faded. (So why does writing this feel like I’m defending the value of senior citizens?)

I think the best reason for continuing to show your work online was stated by podcaster Neville Hobson in an exit interview he gave last week to Joe Thornley on the Inside PR podcast.

Hobson, a trailblazer in “home brew radio,” is hanging up his mic after 10 years as co-host of the Hobson and Holtz Report to refocus his efforts on blogging. Here’s what he said,

“The big thing about podcasting [and I'd argue, blogging] is that it gives you the confidence to speak about ideas that might not be fully formed; they could even be something that you yourself think, ‘This may be a dumb idea, but I’m going to articulate it anyway.’ You end up developing a greater confidence in being able to share thoughts that aren’t fully formed. Many people won’t do that until they are confident an idea is thought through and they are not going to look stupid. This does away with all of that and lets you take full advantage of your innate curiosity.”

Bubble Girl 2

© Alison Garwood-Jones

Like Hobson, I believe in taking myself and my audience on a journey. And by “journey” I don’t mean going down the path to purchase. We all need spaces that are not about monetization and shares. Sorry, but I don’t want to hang out 24/7 with all those jumpy salesmen on Twitter. The relentless commercialization of Twitter is a big reason why engagement on that platform is down. (Chris Sacca’s love letter/plea to Twitter  nicely lays out its shortcomings).

As we edge past this honeymoon period of “Look At All The Cool Stuff We Invented!!!” some of us are starting to understand exactly what we married seven years ago — I joined Twitter and Facebook in 2008 — and we’ve got the itch. We want to get back a sense of possibility that comes from us, not our gadgets. Why should our phones have the monopoly on possibility? As writer Ursula Le Guin said last fall, “We need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries and realists of a larger reality [than what technology offers].”

I’m here at because I think technology is awesome. The tools we have at our fingertips have given us the entire world. Our ideas are even available to the crew on the International Space Station. But our sense of possibility, even our happiness, are directly tied to how we use these tools. So please don’t squander this opportunity. Give randomness, sales speak and top 10 ways to … (fill in the blank) a rest and commit to doing something worthwhile. I’ll leave it to you to define what that is.

And let this be the only thing I’ve sold you today. You can share it if it meets your definition of worthwhile.

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Performance Art

July 18, 2015

I’ve been doing chalkboard art on the windows at The Merchant Tavern for two weeks now, armed with my ruler, Sharpie paint markers, Q-tips and a bottle of nail polish remover.

The Merchant Tavern, Toronto: Window Chalk Art.

One hundred thousand commuters flood Toronto’s Financial District on weekdays, and during the morning rush hour about ten thousand of them walk past the spot where I’m working (the owner filled me in on the math).

Because I stand right on the sidewalk to do my work, I get a lot of comments. I’ve gone from being a solitary writer to a performance artist and have quickly learned that shout outs, and even a bit of heckling, come with the territory. It’s like having a live Twitter stream marching behind me.

Here are some of the remarks they’ve lobbed at me:

“You spelt it wrong.”

“Taco TOOOSDAY!” (see this post)


“Is that tape coming out of your marker?”

“My kids could do that.”

For my last three windows I wrote “beer” in Spanish, French and Portuguese in an effort to pull in visiting Pan Am athletes and spectators. Last I heard, competitors in judo and track came in with their coaches for heaping plates of protein and carbs.

Chalkboard art on the windows of the Merchant Tavern, Toronto. This says "Cerveza" or beer in Spanish.

While I’m working, I hold my breath to keep my lines straight. Luckily I’ve discovered that if I extend my pinkie across the glass as I’m drawing, it acts as a ballast so I can go back to inhaling and exhaling without veering off course.

On Thursday, a young woman walked up to me and stood at my side as I was outlining the word “CERVEZA.” I didn’t acknowledge her at first because I didn’t want to break my momentum. I planned to talk to her — but just not immediately. Apparently, she couldn’t wait:

“How do you get paid to that?”

“I know the owner,” I said, colouring in the last “A.” But that was too simplistic. She wanted the big picture, the key to survival on this planet. I put down my marker on the granite ledge and wiped my fingers on my smock.

“Do you have a website?” I asked.

“No, not yet. I know I need one  … but I just opened a store on Etsy?”

“That’s a good start. What kind of stuff do you do?”

She pointed to the painted baseball cap on her head, then leaned in and lifted up the costume jewelry around her neck to show off a colourfully painted clay pendant.


“Parents just don’t understand,” she said.  The comment made my heart jump only because my parents did understand. They totally got it. I felt this instinctive rush to share them with her.

“Keep drawing,” I said, “and start building your website this weekend.”

She smiled and shook my grubby hand. “I will.”

I turned back to the wall, drew in a breath and kept outlining.

As I push “publish” on this, I hope she’s uploading her final product shots on  Squarespace or WordPress and showing us what she can do.

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Switching gears

July 4, 2015

I like drawing because it uses a different patch of my brain than writing and makes me tackle math and spatial questions.

For me, drawing is an act of joy — not some predatory career move — although I joked with friends on Facebook this week that monetizing the hell out of ALL my skills seemed like a prudent thing to do in this Age of Uncertainty. I cut hair too if anyone needs a trim. I don’t do highlights.

I’m convinced that the time I spend drawing helps me level up as a writer for the simple reason that it takes me away from my desk, then sends me back with a glow of achievement and a renewed confidence in my problem-solving skills.

This week, I designed and executed a series of event windows for Toronto’s Merchant Tavern (see below, and come down if you love craft beer … and #TacoTuesdays). This assignment reminded me that concentrated effort is the only thing that will take you over a finish line — a lesson for any writer stalling midway through a project.

When you want to advance something you’re constantly focused on (in my case, writing), go out and achieve in another area. This is not about multitasking or procrastination, it’s about giving your all to activities you care about. For someone else it could be gardening or cake decorating or playing in a band. Concentrating on pure pleasure is healthy and life affirming.


Restaurant Window Art for The Merchant in Toronto

Photos: AGJ at work by Ana Cunha. The rest were taken by the author.

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