Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nostalgia... is the salve of old age

The term nostalgia is defined in the dictionary as... "a sentimental longing for the past."

I don't quite prescribe literally to this definition. Within the context of this post title lies my own personal measure of the term... and my feelings surrounding its meaning and presence in my own life. While I do admittedly embrace a healthy respect for the past, I choose not to live in it... or be governed by it. I have painfully learned over the course of my own journey that tradition has its place. But that it should be pliable enough to offer new "possibility" in one's life for the enjoyment of it in the Present... and Hope ... for the future.

The tradition(s) of celebrating Christmas, above all other Christian rituals creates the greatest sphere of influence for nostalgia within our lives. From home decorating... through to carol singing... card sending leads right up to the gifts around the tree and the sit down Christmas turkey dinner... nostalgia grips all of us in similar fashion. Christmas too encourages a yearning for those we have lost .Christmas is a time fully dedicated to childhood and for many... childhood lies quite distantly in the Past... Nostalgia!

For many reasons, until most recently, Christmas was always a difficult season for me. The celebration of Christmas always seemed to be that single moment in the year... when the disparity between the fortunes of the "haves" and "have nots" eclipsed any feelings of "glad tidings" in my own heart. In our family, since my maternal grandparents created and taught us to celebrate Christmas... generosity through sharing with others has always a part of our tradition.

Individuals whom we met during our daily lives who would be alone at Christmas were offered a place setting at our Christmas table. Simple acts of charity were quietly offered to bring "Christmas cheer" to those whom Christmas offered little prospect of providing warmth and happiness. To this day, this part of Christmas remains more meaningful to me than the receiving of gifts. In practising "giving"... through small, simple acts of kindness and unexpected gifting, I find a truer sense of meaning beyond the commercialism that is thrust upon us by societal influence.

These unexpected gifting and simple acts of kindness can take many forms. Volunteerism is one source. Visits to those who cannot get out is another. Small unexpected gifts... such as a Christmas card requires only sitting down... writing and sending it. An unexpected Merry Christmas to a passing stranger can add warmth to the world we travel in daily. One's time can be a powerful and meaningful source for giving... and each of us has a larder to draw from.

I will always choose to celebrate Christmas in the manner in which I was taught. Those traditions reflect my healthy remembrance of "Those"... who first taught me about the true meaning of Christmas. However, each year I try to add to tradition by creating and adding something new and unexpected. I try to "pass forward" something new to add to what was before.

All families are finding themselves increasingly strung out far and wide. For many... it is virtually impossible for all family members to return "Home". We must devise ways to retain connection and to keep our family circles unbroken. Here is my new tradition... just launched... hopefully upon a lifetime trajectory of annual Christmas journeys into a "universe" of Christmases that I shall perhaps never see, or be present to celebrate. Or will "I"... at least in spirit?


                                     "River Spirit of Christmas" - oil on canvas 20x16 inches

This whimsical painting subject... though out of character for my painting "style"... embodies within in it so many aspects of my journey and my approach to living. Building snowmen with childhood pals and all of my children lives in this subject. So does the powerful spirit of this River that I have been blessed to have been raised on and lived on for the greater part of my life... is the very core of my "Being". The natural and unparalleled beauty of "Manitouana" continues to drive my artistic imagination. It as well offers "Me" a state of inner peace and contentment... and in a single word... the greatest blessing that an artist can retain... or have bestowed upon him or her - Wonder!

I believe that through living my life in this fashion... I have created an "extended" family of five highly unique and creative children. But just as importantly to "Me"... I have created five children who go out into life daily willingly sharing their generous spirits. And for this gift... I am exceedingly joyful - and proud!

"River Spirit of Christmas" has been placed in the hands of my daughter Allison for its first Christmas stay. Ironically... it will be within her home and will be sharing another 1st Christmas event. Our newest grandchild, Wee Malcolm Justin Michael Sherman will most likely celebrate part of his first Christmas with family there. His father, Andrew will "have custody" for the painting for next year's celebration after Allison's year own short term "ownership".


Was there ever a more beautiful... and puckish elf in Santa's Workshop? One more beauty... to join the other three Sherman "Elves".. Ryan, Mica and Braden! Great adventures ahead Andrew and Melissa... much Joy and memorable Christmases to come! You are fortunate Wee Mac... to have been delivered into these two capable sets of hands. They adore you so... and I know already... will always "have your back". You will be a great Santa Andrew!!!... Get a good suit! This guy will be equally hard to hood-wink and bamboozle! HA HA!!!

Its passage to the next recipient late in 2015 will require that the two share time, or a meal to create the opportunity to pass it along. My "Hope" is that this painting will form the mucilage which will bind our family together in love and true Christmas Spirit... for years to come. It journey has at least begun safely. I have done my part. "Time"... will be the final critic to its true success.

I have used the image for my "annual"... my Christmas Card gift to family and friends who have shown me love and generosity on my journey. I have almost completed my sizable list. The writing process takes me a while because I add a Christmas "cartoony" ink rendering coloured with pencil crayon to the envelope of each. Many of my friends have a rather large collection arranged upon their walls or on view throughout their homes each Christmas. Christmases passed... remembered!


Here is an "eclectic mix" of my Christmas "toons" - Couldn't resist.. HA! HA!


Here is Allison's 2014 Card. Symbolically "Me" and "Mr Peter Penguin"... one of Allison's many childhood alter egos... who refuse to disappear. May they live on... in our hearts forever Allison!


They are indeed... "priceless"... or rather "price-less" because they are true gifts offered from "Me".with no price attached. They simply offer my humble gratitude to those who are amongst my greatest life blessings to recognize and reward them for their gifts.

In my mind..."Tradition" need not be viewed as static. It can become a living thing... if one chooses to add to it with purpose and creative thought. In so doing, it remains a healthy force which encourages growth and makes it timeless... and less likely to be set aside and forgotten. Create your own tradition for Christmas. "build yourself a snowman"...and share it within your world.

In closing out this post...it seems appropriate that the intended joy of "River Spirit" be sent out to many more Friends through this marvellous blog medium - to those Friends that I have yet to physically meet. Your continual presence and encouragement continue to inspire me to share my thoughts and "dreamings" with a much broader audience of artists.

May your lives be richer in spirit. May your imaginations remain fertile catalysts in 2015 for new works that make the world a better place to live in. My sincere gratitude for your loyalty and honesty.

Merry Christmas... and Good Painting... to ALL!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Commissions Completed... on to Christmas Cards

I finally brought my last of four pre-Christmas commissions to a close. I must admit... that I was happy to see the painting signed... always my final act in the process. That only occurs when I have determined that I have nothing else further to say. One could, of course... continue to add more finicky details... but such slight changes detract rather than add to the overall impressionistic goal. One stroke more or less...matters little to the overall picture.

I painted the canvas around the edges which gives a better look for the actual gift presentation on Christmas day. The client has decided to leave the choice of framing for the piece to his wife afterward... a good decision. That way they can choose it together using their combined sense of tastes and budget. Wooden moldings are very pricey these days and framing style choices have changed dramatically within the past decade.

I will provide the canvas with hanging wire already installed... so that it can be viewed on the wall as soon after Christmas as they would care to hang it. I have suggested a reputable local framer who I know will treat them as fairly and competently as I would. I am happy to be outside of those decisions completely.

Here is the finished version of the commission. I am pleased with the result. Movin' on...

I have two rather large panoramic commissions still remaining... but they are on hold until after the Christmas break. Some minor details still to be discussed and ratified with my London, England client before I launch into the paintings. I am most eager to begin them however... they are more "landscapish" in nature and the client really wants them handled in an impressionistic manner. Suits me!

I have an interesting story to relate with regard to the gathering of reference material for this project. But that's a post for another day.

Stay tuned...



"Final Breath of Autumn Grandeur at Swarbrick" - oil on canvas 24x20 inches
Old River Road, Rockport Ontario

Good Painting... to ALL!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..... "

Yes... this opening line from this iconic and beloved piece of Christmas music correlates the onslaught of chaotic human activity with the "winter wonderland" landscape which lies out our window this morning. The give-or-take ten to twelve inches of freshly fallen snow merely adds icing to the Christmas cake. The hectic mall traffic yesterday further deepened the growing anxiety that prep time for Santa's annual visit was rapidly coming down to the wire. Thankfully for us... that shopping sortie out into the mall madness completed our gifting. No future rush or hype will be necessary. Just the wrapping... shipping or delivery of our gifts.

On the annual pre-Christmas commission front... I am at the lay in stage of the third commission of those promised to be completed prior to the New Year. I will likely be able to complete this one fully by the week's end... if nothing breaks the rhythm of my current pace and schedule. I have two larger ones remaining, but those will not be begun... until after the Christmas turkey has made his "guest" appearance at our table. Time to relax and enjoy the break with family and friends!

It seems a bit strange to be painting fall colours today... given the "blank white canvas" that this morning blankets our quaint village... all overnight. There is a sense of great warmth and comfort though... in being able to work under the warmth of the studio lighting at my easel during the day... and to retire for the late afternoon to play our daily Scrabble match in our kitchen... a warm fire a-cracklin' and burning bright in our fireplace hearth. We both... are deeply blessed!

Here are some images to offer you insight into my commission progress as of yesterday evening. I will add more as the painting takes shape further. Nothing startlingly different about my approach being taken. I am working from a number of digital photo references.... not my favourite strategy. Careful rendering and observation to eliminate errors in basic structural forms details... angles and compositional decisions is the first order of business.


Here a fairly clean line/contour drawing to establish placement of compositional elements is shown drawn on to the 24x30 inch canvas toned with my usual choice of ground.. acrylic burnt sienna. I encountered considerable difficulty achieving the proper proportion of the house in the picture plain... going from the 8x10 inch photo to the larger canvas format. On some days... and with some subjects... this inexplicably occurs????

I overcame this barrier by developing a simple grid using vine char coal that divided the canvas equally vertically and horizontally... and then diagonally through the centre... to create points of reference to guide my drawing more accurately. This helped immensely.

Day# 1


A bit of shading is added to provide some darks to "couch" the house... then lights out for the night.

Day# 2


First colour added to the subject without concern for correctness of value.


I ended the second day by quickly washing in the ground, sky and tree elements roughly in colour. At this point... I have clearly established the intended path of light through the picture plane from high left to right. The main thing achieved with this rapid intervention... is that most of the distracting rustiness of the ground has been covered, leaving a clearer understanding and direction for the painting and my thinking to proceed.

Day# 3

I spent my morning coffee hour... just sipping and dreaming about the finished appearance:

"With visions of sugar plums.. dancing in  my head"!  HA HA!!

Ready to get at it... after the shovelling and bird feeding! They're calling aloud frantically... and I can't resist getting out there to reward them for the constant joy they bring Deb and I on each and every single morning! We... are deeply blessed!

Stay tuned... more action coming your way!

Good Painting ... to ALL!

Day#4 - Friday, December 12th

Spent most of the day simply "frigging around". In my own terminology... this is a tedious process of many checks n' balances between digital reference views and the canvas... measuring and remeasuring... adjusting colour in small areas. However, this is an important part of commission work because you are responsible to the eye and tastes of the client as well... and most often... they are particularly "sensitive" in respect to "artistic licence". It is after all... their castle!

By day's end, I feel that I have sailed through these uncertain and troubling waters. Tomorrow will be the day when I work more freely and broadly to tie in the landscape, foliage and tree elements to reduce the feeling of formality created by the the architectural. I now feel free to inject a more impressionistic flair into the painting.


At this early stage of the "friggin' around"... my focus was on the white framed in porch... discerning parts and angles... roof line and shadows. Some shrubbery was introduced to couch the porch into the ground.


The afternoon was spent the facade entirely. I worked up better colour and texture on the brick face and coined corners... and finally dealt withe window and elaborate classical entrance doorway and fan-shaped window elements. I completed the window frame on the frame addition... added the pathway  and some of the foliage in the upper right to get the feel for further treatment tomorrow. By supper time... I called an end to the "friggin" process. Bring on the BIG brushes... and glazing. I'm ready to rock n' roll my way through to an end on the weekend!

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Mindin' my P's n' Q's"... and other Things

Though I'm very busy... and deeply embedded in my thoughts and actions in completing a list of commissions, I am pausing this morning to share thoughts that I am most certain all of us in the Boomer-Zoomer time warp have surface in our mid to late journeys.

I recently read an article profiling the iconic Canadian songster Bryan Adams in the October edition of Zoomer... a broadly-read and equally iconic Canadian magazine. There were a number of interesting facts and quotes in the article regarding maintaining creative... handling of success...  maintaining reality... and one's humility!

Here is one quote in particular that struck me as important. Music, without any argument is a "trigger" for nostalgic wanderings backwards in life. A single song has the uncanny ability to link itself and a generation to a specific moment... event, or person in our lives.

Why? According to Adams, "Nostalgia tends to run deeper when it's triggered by an obscure, half-forgotten memory, rather than a fixture on an oldies radio." Music has always been a part of my family's tradition for as long as I can remember... and on "both sides of the fence." So nostalgia runs rampant in our common conversations... and music is indelibly the trigger. But... "other things"... such as "family sayings" achieve the same effect for me as I think... work and play with my paints.

The oft- used colloquialism, "Mind your P's and Q's"... is but one of many that my Mom threw my way whenever she felt that I needed direction... encouragement... or admonishment. All of these, I was to come to better appreciate at this current stage of in my life... are ongoing and deeply held convictions of all parents for their emerging adolescent and adult children.

Another one... which is likely a synonym for the one used above was : "Get your ducks all in a row before jumping into things." Yet another was derived from my Scottish grandparents and their era. "If you're nae with the corbies (crows)... then you'll nae be shot at." The list seemed ... too endless... during those painful growing up years and yet this morning, upon reflecting backwards (as I have of late) in my life... I have come to more fully respect her caring... and considerably wise intent. Some folks regard these as merely "cliche". I choose not to view them in that way. They remain for me... "road markers" set down by her for me which still today... encourage me to reflect and consider my actions more carefully. And the "Speaker"... has long since left the room!

This morning, as I enjoyed my (first) morning keyboard coffee, I turned the November page of the Norman Rockwell calendar from Newell's Garage to December's Waterman Pen Santa. How much nostalgia seeps out in that one page gesture and reflection? HA HA!!

Waterman Pens?... I wonder if Santa uses a "Sharprie" these days! HA HA!!!

Nostalgia is most certainly at its zenith in all of our lives at this time of year, as we shift trajectories from thoughts of Remembrance and Thanksgiving... orbiting towards that Christmas Star... and all the while maintaining... "visions of sugar plums" (and Santa thoughts)... that dance through our heads"!

I will close out today's post with a few extra "P" words that I have come up with to help move my thoughts and my actions past this hopefully joyful season and into readiness for my New Year calendar of events and responsibilities... already filling up too quickly. A very bright and promising start for 2015 has already masnifested itself for me. But that's a story ... for another day!

Here are my list of "P" words that I have been  considering:

Plein air paint more often... and Persevere.
Paint only the things that I have a Passion for.
Exhibit only those paintings which encourage inner Pride.
Paint with People who share my Principles and Passion... in new places.
Practise moderation...
Do "Push ways" (from the table) sooner...  and shave smaller Portions! ha ha!

As for the "Q" parts...
Increase Quantity... but... maintain and improve Quality.

I wish to share a holday trip down memory lane - a looking back at a collection of Twelve Christmases Passed.
Hope that you enjoy this joyful reflection!



2002


" The Family Gathering" - oil on canvas 30x36 inches

2003


"Team Canada One" -oil on canvas 48x60 inches

2004
\

 "Eldorado Gold": oil on canvas 48x60 inches

2005 


"Winter-locked... at Workworth" - oil on canvas 36x48 inches

2006


 "Embracing Winter... and Life" - oil on canvas 30x24 inches

2007


"Minuet d' Hiver" -oil on canvas 36x30 inches

2008


"Not a Creature was Stirring... Hillsdale" - oil on canvas 12x16 inches

2009



"Winterlude" - oil on canvas 24x30 inches

2010


"Winter's Back is Broken" - oil on canvas 12x16 inches

2011


"Afternoon Recess" - oil on canvas 36x36 inches

2012


"The Real Hockey Night in Canada" - oil on canvas 24x18 inches

2013


" L'Heure d'or - Les Eboulements, Charlevoix, Quebec
oil on canvas 20x24 inches


2014 ?????

 Stay tuned!!!.....


An early Happy Holidays from Bruce and Deb
Good Painting!... to ALL!!!







































































































































Thursday, November 27, 2014

Profiling My Latest Commission Work

The weather vane continues to swing erratically in ever hour of each day. Winds gust to gale force in one instant. Then leave the river mirror-like in its usually placid... sombre November gun greys... broken only by the long dark reflections of the rugged white pine spars on the mid river islands. That striking contrast is what one who maintains a "river watch" knows... is typically November. Ice forms overnight in back bays and low water creeks. Melts the next day. Freezes again the next night. Everything... it seems... is "off and on".

November brings river traffic abruptly to a halt. Its viciousness is but a forerunner to the angrier and more dangerous winter days of thick ice... driving snow and sleet that will make seeing... or navigating impossible. Even the veteran "river rats" shy away from river travel... except in noisy... but safer ice boats during these long, harsh months.

Yesterday, I completed a 20x24 inch canvas commission. It truly mirrors the attention that must be paid to such undertakings... at least in terms of my own approach to commissions based upon my style and medium. This commission involved creating a surprise Christmas gift for my friend's wife of their modest... yet beautiful home. He is a lover of gardens ... plants and gardening, as am I.

He even has his own green houses and an indoor "man cave"... dedicated to hydroponic vegetable and plant cultivation. "He" is truly a "Renaissance man" ... from my perspective - a man living "outside of  the box"... in terms of every social fashion and "local" expectations. We share that position and philosophy in life. I much enjoy and appreciate his generous nature... wonderful sense of humour... and our Friendship.

Back to the commission. I digress. (as usual) The man's wonderful "green thumb"... his energy and his attention to smallest detail and precise thinking had to be made clear in this commission. So I decided from the outset to place a great amount of energy and attention to both rendering and painting the main focus of the painting... his picturesque home and grounds. I think that this is evident in the final result.

To compensate for this stringent and almost photographic focus on the house/subject itself, I intentionally used a much more painterly handling of the landscape which engulfs the subject. I feel that these diversely different treatments... when seen together help to release the tension that I normally don't find pleasing in hyper realistic works. To me ... most lack energy and leave nothing to the eye or mind of the viewer. (Thank you Caroline... for your kind and observant reminder in my last post that I was running that exact gambit myself between sketch and finished painting). Point made... and accepted... without prejudice!... HA HA!!!

I believe that a nice balance can achieve a  kind of symbiotic relationship between realism and impressionism. I hoped to achieve this goal in this finished commission. The house stands out in its "correct" perspective and detail... mainly because of the "rest area"/ relief that the back drop landscape contributes. I am most happy with the outcome... and my Friend was ecstatic when we saw it together for the first time.

Herein lies the joy in producing a successful commission result. This occurs when both the painter and the client are on the same page at its conclusion. That warm feeling of total success can never be measured purely in dollars... by either side of this equation. In this case... it further strengthens a wonderful friendship... and most certainly will make this Christmas "special" and memorable... in two separate houses!

Here are some in-process insights into the progress and my process during this commission.


The commission subject reference chosen. Unfortunately, the undertaking was offered after the leaves had fallen  and the real threat of winter's arrival  was smack on the doorstep. "Fish...or cut bait time" !!!


Luckily ... the sun came out briefly the next day and I raced about to see if a similar maple might still be ad for further reference. I was lucky enough to find a similar sugar maple... still dressed in fall attire up at the top of my hill!

Day One


Semi- accurate rendering in vine charcoal on an acrylic burnt sienna toned 20x24 inch  quarter inch thick MDF panel. I use this heavier weight material because it won't warp and I like the feel of the more rigid surface to glaze on.

Day Two


Primary application of turpentine-thinned washes or glazes of colour... working all over the panel. I have lightly introduced the lighting on the house itself to develop a sense of separation and contrast between the subject and background. This is always my process ... whether painting inside or outside.

Rule #1
Establish the lighting and subject as your primary goal. Both are transient when painting outside.

Rule#2
Maintain the same lighting effect!!!  .... Don't switch horses mid race! You will lose! Check that you have maintained the same direction for the light as well.

Day Three


At this stage my goal was to deal with the surrounding landscape elements in a loose fashion in both the foreground and back ground ... simultaneously.

Day Four


Adding detail to the house elements and to those parts of the painting that had received no attention

Day Five


This final stage is what I call my "push n' pull". It is a period of about one painting session dedicated to "surfing" the picture plane... first visually... then visiting here and there to adjust values ... colours... lines and even details that are either overlooked... or that loom too large. "Checks and balances"... until there is overall harmony. Usually, I will leave it over night and then return to it in the morning with a cup of coffee to look at it with a final and fresh eye. The last act... is to add my signature. Commission... accomplished!

 Later today, I will go over the reference photos that I have on file to begin a second pre-Christmas home commission. While the process will in all likelihood be similar to this one... the two houses are really polar opposites. The second will require the same "buy in" by me to meet the client expectations. It is as well... a well kept and valued home and property in this picturesque village. I will attempt to deliver the same feeling and quality of this commission.


Some helpful suggestions that I use personally in consideration and  in acceptance of a commission:

1. The process always begins with a discussion where the objectives and subject of the commission are presented to the artist by the client. They might take the shape of photo references or might involeve visiting the actual site if possible. Often,a preliminary sketch which more clearly defines the artistic direction to be followed is presented for final acceptance and a "green light" to proceed.

2. Never create a position of compromising your own creative spirit. Say NO!... empathetically... if you sense that the commission lies outside of your own tastes or abilities. If you can honestly say to yourself that the subject is one that you would select within your own choice... then proceed. Accepting without this stance will help avoid embarrassment... hardship and disappointment for both parties.

3.Set clear objectives for the execution and completion of the commission to include: expected date of completion... dimensions... medium... support (panel, linen or canvas, etc)... delivery method and costing, if applicable, extra specific details or instructions which reflect your client's tastes or wishes. A substantial non-refundable deposit to "secure" the agreement at the beginning of  the commission should be added to the discussion. This amount can vary for an artist up to 50% of the final amount to be received.

4.In regards to framing. If you have the facilities to offer in-house framing, the cost and choice of framing might be discussed after the commission is completed. Otherwise... it is my rule-of-thumb to place that choice and decisions surrounding this issue back into the hands of the clients. Because this choice involves dramatically varying degrees of taste, it can become a nightmare... again leading to dissatisfaction and disappointment.

5. Meet the deadline... or get in touch as soon as possible if it appears that the deadline can't be met on schedule. Be up front with your clients.... start to finish. But... demand the same in return. This sets up a professional relationship and a "contract relationship" that is friendly... but not based upon friendship by itself !

6. Set up a calendar... or keep a journal which comfortably schedules anticipated completion for all commissions that you accept. Don't overcrowd your schedule... nor disappoint!

7. Record each of your commissions in progress... and in completed state. Keep them in digital files... or in a photo album to share with prospective clients either at shows or in your home. It helps direct the process and educates the client to your process and what can be expected in clear terms! Win- win!!

Hope that these suggestions might encourage you to step  up and accept a commission more confidently.

Stay tuned...

Good Painting... to ALL!!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More... on Adapting to Seasonal Change - Part Two

Sneaky November continues... even its gasping moments... to precariously straddle winter and autumn - undecided as to which direction to proceed. For almost a week, we were snow-covered in an ermine winter coat of fresh snow with temperatures hovering in the low minuses. Yesterday, temperatures rose to +6*C and the sun made you feel like spring had arrived. The plein air dude in me... yearned to flee the studio easel. Discipline...Come to my rescue!

Despite these dramatically divergent weather swings... the vicious and predictable "winds of November came a'calling"- the kind of dreaded November 50km++ gale force winds described in Gordon Lightfoot's iconic Canadian ballad,"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Even today, all Great Lakes and River mariners fear... and respect these phenomena of November. Those who don't lie at extreme risk and peril!

I am in the "commission" mode at present... locked in the studio at my easel... working feverish to complete three of the five commissions on my books required before Christmas. I am at the time of writing in the final stages of completing the second. Commission work is not my favourite venture. That lies simply in the fact that the "Idea" is not solely my construct. However, I must, out of respect and necessity accommodate and blend the tastes of the client(s) with my own. Not always an easy task for me!

However, on the positive side of the ledger, having to take into account such "outside" influences in my working process is broadening. This requirement forces me to approach painting in a significantly different manner. In that respect, commission work causes one to think "outside the box"... and that is good for any artist. Often real tangible growth comes out of adversity and deep challenge to one's own "sacred cows" and traditional values.

The first commission, as described in the previous post demanded that a plein air sketch to finished studio work approach be undertaken. The differences between the two genres in  that exercise are clearly evident when one observes the finished state of both. Clearly... one is created quickly... almost intuitively on location. The sketch readily reveals the spontaneity and bravura of rapid brushwork. It appears fresh and painterly... unpretentious and loose in attention to detail. These are the hallmarks of the plein air genre and they appeal most strongly... usually... to the trained eye and heart of other plein air advocates and highly educated eye of those who share the passion for art on a high plane.

The more finished studio painting incorporates and maintains the strongest elements of the original sketch such as composition and basic colour. But often, the artist will choose to elevate this painting to a higher level by playing with elements of lighting, colour and values to create what might appeal more to those who choose to look at the world more photographically. A more complete and accurate representation of "reality" is what they search for. It reaffirms their own sense of reality and their own personal experiences.

As the artist... I have no real preference for one over the other... except to say that I prefer to paint on location because I find the other elements experienced when outside add further pleasure to my painting for me. I feel that the plein air process with oils accommodates the spontaneous nature of my own personality and the solitude is something that I crave from time to time. Painting/ creation by its very nature... is an individual pursuit. Both are painting challenges... and both form an integral partnership in my painting life.

Here are a few jpegs which might assist you to better understand how I work in this sketch to finished painting method. Enjoy!


The plein air sketch "Last Vestige of Winter, Algonquin Park" oil on panel 12x16 inches


Day one objective was to translate the composition on to the larger 20x24 inch toned  panel. I decided to maintain the surface "feel" by using the panel rather than canvas. The panel offers a smoother surface on which to glaze in initial colour washes. Note the sparse "mapping" as opposed to actual drawing used to establish preliminary guidelines. I then proceed, as I most often do in the field to use a "blocking in" of main masses of colour to achieve a lay in. I try to cover most of the entire painting surface within the first 30 to 60 minutes. However... I stopped at this point because I was uncertain as to how much detail I would include in the foreground. In studio practice... when in doubt... Sleep on it!


Pretty much everything is in place at the conclusion of painting on day number two. I have clearly established stronger lighting effects and have clearly set a more direct course for the finish of the foreground... but not quite. I rested again... pausing to consider values... specific details that would provide further interest and "colour surprise" which I customarily add to trap the eye of the viewer's attention in certain areas. Fewer... "miles to go... before it sleeps".... akin to Frost... as he so beautifully described his own snowy encounter with his Vermont landscape.


Winter's reluctant March... into Spring... in the bucket! Completed with a few "hot spots"... fore-to middle- to back. I feel pleased with the final result. More importantly... so are the clients! They are anxious for deliver... after a period of time to dry the surface. The Winsor and Newton Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying White that I use in my palette is fully compatible with all regular oils. It greatly hastens the drying process and allows reworking quickly.

I sincerely hope that this post helps you to better understand my own painting practices and process. Perhaps, in some small fashion its contents might assist you in supporting your own work and vision.

Good Painting!... To ALL!!!!

Post Script Observances... on my travels this week... here for your enjoyment. Joy... can truly come from the smallest of unexpected blessings. These are a few of those that raised the corners of my mouth for a brief instant... but they lessened the gretness of my own day considerably!

"I" ... am greatly blessed!


Winter... Rockapulco-style... out of our kitchen window. Not a creature is stirring!... Suits me! HA HA!!


"Which way is south from here Mister?"... No GPS  on board this creature!


"Trick-or-treat Deb? What'd ya mean... it's all over till next year?"

Shortly after this picture was taken... I carried off the two big Hallowe'en pumpkins into a quiet wooded area near my daughter's home. I knew that there were several deer "yarding up" in there for the winter. I knew that pumpkins are a huge treat for them... so I took them to the path they use regularly and chopped them into bite-sized pieces with my hatchet. A return trip to the spot yesterday revealed that they had enjoyed my better-late-than never Hallowe'en treat. A fit end for those BIG orange fellows! Twice their worth!


Who said winter is without warmth? You simply have to go just a step or two past mere looking to "see"... and "feel" its beautiful warmth! "Seek... and ye shall find.".... "Who"... said that... when?????

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Adapting to Seasonal Change - Part One

As we have sat watching... and enjoying our resident regular bird... chipmunk and squirrel  populations at our several feeder locations, a noted aggressive change in the feeding behaviours of all species. Even the usually playful and placid chipmunks have been going "nose-to-beak" with the five noisy and "bully-by-nature" band of blue jays to defend their favoured feeding territories.

It is most plain to see that the new skiff of snow... bitter cold temperatures and gale force gusting of sou'west winds off the river have forced them into new patterns of behaviour that deviate drastically from the expected norm. I firmly believe that the fear of hunger and competition for prime feeding territories fuels this change. These changes are based purely upon survival instincts. Even the jays display of aerial warfare with each other drew them away from their usual voracious pack feeding habits.

New arrivals to the yard... woodpeckers to the awaiting hanging suet station... juncos... cardinals... finches... and even a pair of wary crows necessitated an increase in the regular portion of feed. We now have five squirrel ":regulars"... and I dislike them immensely because they put the hustle on everyone... especially Deb's beloved Mr Chips (short tail). I routinely leave him private "lines" (ya... he's addicted!) of his fav food... small black sunflower seeds on the deck near his main hole. That spot offers Deb a front-row-centre view of him... filling his"bulging-to-busting" cheeks without stop... until not another single seed will fit in. A big gift... from a very small and shy  friend... for very little seed!

I pondered how much this change in all parts of the natural world seemed to parallel the new changes... preparations and activities of the human world as well. Gone are our thoughts of strolls in the colourful leaves... lounging on the patio deck soaking up rays... or sporting our best beach shorts, sandals and tees. Snow tires... winterize... wood pile and yard clean up form fragments of the new human vocabulary. Soon... one can add more ominous and dreaded nouns of winter to include:  shovel... salt... snow blower... storm warning... sleet... ice and blizzard... and FLU!!!

Buffalo NY and area is more than fully engaged in that conversation with these elements. The change there arrived viciously and without warning over two nights. What they face this weekend after the two meters of snow... a return to abnormally higher temperatures and rain might well lead to a horrendous and catastrophic situation of flash flooding for the region. Fingers crossed for the people in this area!

In Rockport... we have the yard clean up out of the way... a new more efficient fireplace insert in place (and tested) and a full bush cord of wood split and stacked in the dry Gallery space. Snow tires and winterising for the van were completed on Wednesday... so that we are as ready... as one can be to face the usually long and most often dark winter months in this part of Canada. Let it snow!

I have been fortunate to get in a few last "comfortable" plein air outings in the past two weeks, but the last one with Frank confirmed that future treks must include warmer clothing... weather watching... more careful planning... and common sense. Winter painting can become much more than simply uncomfortable. Under the wrong conditions... and with careless choices painting "off road" and alone is both fool hardy and perhaps... even life-threatening. Those are definitely NOT in my own personal winter vocabulary list!

Here is my first "snow painting" for 2014. Ironically... and truthfully, it was painted in the warmth of our common downstairs winter studio space with the rousing strains of Andre Bocelli's magically inspiring voice-instrument in the background. Now that's "winter" painting!

This "winter landscape painting" derives from an Algonquin sortie to Rock Lake on March 25th, 2010. This 12x16 inch oil sketch on panel was my favourite sketch of five completed during that paint out trip with my Whitney painting friend, David Kay. No one else seemed to agree until this past October. A young couple from Mississauga, ON (near Toronto) were vacationing nearby and happened to discover our Gallery.

They purchased three paintings and took them with them... but the husband was captivated by my "Group of Seven" ... as he described the sketch. He felt it too small for the space he wished to put it in his business office. He asked if I ever created larger paintings from existing oil sketches done previously. I "tongue-in-cheekily" responded., "Yes... just like the group of Seven"! I agreed to "biggen" the original 12x16 inch panel into a 20x24inch painting. I did caution him however... that the new painting would not be an exact facsimile of the original. It would be an extension of the "vision" I had wished to create at the site... that was diminished by a cloudy and ever-changing light source that day.

In this jpeg below you can see the original plein air sketch entitled "Last Vestige of Winter" - which it did depict accurately.... minus any lighting effects and rich colour. The compositional structure of the sketch is absolutely what I wanted and I maintained it... for the most past in the second and larger version. I think that the substantial changes from the first to the second speak for themselves. I believe that the use of the first sketch as the creative "springboard" to a warmer... more universally appealing and eye-pleasing painting for a home or office supports my ongoing commitment to paint en plein air.


The sketch  faithfully records the attraction that I felt to this landscape and despite a rather iffy and ever-changing light... I feel that it "gets full marks" as a successful painting. I would hang it in my own home... simply because I have a certain affinity for "the raw" and unrecognized beauty... not usually appreciated by most other people. Simply... personal taste!


Here is the more finished version. While it conforms exactly to the compositional format and structure of the first... it can be easily seen that additional detail has been added... from front plane to back. One also can readily see the dramatic shift from diffuse lighting in  the first to a more direct and I feel... dramatic use of lighting used overall on the painting surface. The client loves this version... and has asked for "first right of refusal" to purchase the original sketch. A given! Now can you see and completely understand yet a second reason for sketching en plein air?

Whether the added income possibility lights up your heart... or whether... like my Self, you revel in the opportunity to "play" further with one already pleasing idea to extend it into yet another realm of "being"! All the "spade work" has been done in the first one. All you have to do... is PLAY in the second round. And that never fails to make my heart sing!

I will soon post a slide show of images in a second part to help describe how I developed the sketch into the finished painting. Perhaps that post will inspire and equip you to do the same in your own painting process.

This next post will also reveal my shifting into the "commission mode" further. I have five commissions to be completed by Christmas. Lots of work ahead. I am greatly blessed... and thankful !!!

In closing today... when one is open to change... whether in one's personal life or creative life and  is willing to adapt to it... the outcome is more likely to be positive... and certainly less stressful . In my own life experience, I have discovered and learned this... the hard way! Bonne chance!... Carpe Diem!

Good Painting!... to ALL!