Friday, August 15, 2014

Living... and Painting... in Transition

August... by its very position in the natural seasonal cycle suggests an expectation of transition. Though that transition usually seeps in slowly like fog... as Sandburg graphically in his epic poem suggests... "on little cat feet"... it seems less fuzzy and grey this August than is usually the case. Perhaps, it has been the reluctance of summer to actually fully appear in her full heat and beehive busy-ness. That fact likely causes August to appear to skip more than a few beats...and to launch fully into fall. No matter... fall with its cooler nights and heavy, dewy mornings is definitely in the air in Rockport.

As I drive the back roads to and fro on errands and in search of painting material (both occur simultaneously for me)... the wildflower natural gardens alongside every road add further "cred" to the previous paragraph. Day Lily, Chicory, Milk Weed, Queen Anne's Lace, Golden Rod, New England Aster and Joe Pie Weed are in full flower together signalling the last strains of the summer symphony of wildflower splendour which wave upon wave... add richness and colour to leas and fallow fields.

This favourite painting of mine aptly entitled "Summer's Transition" clearly addresses the joy that this period offers to me. Collectively... these late summer blooms join together to create Summer's final fanfare. They make me aware that transition is underway and that preparations are to be made. My thoughts drift towards acquiring dry firewood... before the supply is suddenly gobbled up by frenzied buyers in October. That search is on for me!

On a more personal level... August was traditional month on the Sherman cottage calendar for the meeting of the clan at our cottage to celebrate three birthdays. August 16th is my Dad's birth date... August 19th is my sister Chris's and August 21st is circled to honour my Mom's birth. Making the transition from life to death has necessitated a change in our August celebration. No longer do we gather at Shangra-Lai. It has long been sold. Neither are my parents present to be feted in person. My sister lives miles away... in more ways than I care to admit... so my celebration is reduced ... out of necessity to a quiet personal visit to Oakland Cemetery to place flowers as my ongoing tribute to the memories they created during our family life together.

Gone... but never forgotten!

"August... on my Mind" is an oil on canvas 18x14 inches. This "stillie" clearly embodies my memory fragments of past Augusts to include the ever-present "Mom" wildflower  bouquets and the "Dad" cornucopia of succulent peaches... sweet corn and melon. The carefully injected card from my Dad's "Inner Sanctum" basement hideaway... says it all... "Keep Smilin'"!

"Thank You... for the Music!". is yet another tribute to the gift of music that our folks left us to pass forward... as each of us has in his or her own fashion. The painting now hangs in my son Andrew's home. Hoping that he will pass it forward and make it a part of Wee Mac's journey. Life's a whole lot easier to bear... when you carry a song in your heart... and on your lips!

"....And the Beat goes on!" Thank you... both... for the Music I still treasure and listen to!

I will be out there painting en plein air  this weekend in the company of my ol' paintin' buddy Frank here in the village. It's "Prohibition Days" Weekend here in the village - a big deal! Another kind of celebration...

But that's another story... for another post! Stay tuned...

On a closing note... I offer this salute to another pal of mine... through thick and thin:


Sometimes... Peace lies "out there.. where no man has gone before"

"Nanoo... Nanoo!"...  Good Day and...

Good ALL!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Mork... to Eternity

                                                           Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

"No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me... because you saw a painting of mine"

"Good Will Hunting"

How sad am I this morning ... to learn of Robin William's passing. While it came suddenly like a lightning bolt out of the blue to the world of his admirers... it's occurrence comes not quite as a complete surprise. Robin was a complex individual. He was at times a community of personalities embedded in one body... with each trying to emerge and to separate from the others. Such a conflict cannot be understood... except by those who themselves have lived for too long in the shadow of that curse. Strangely... insanity and creative genius seem to share the same bed.

The words of Bobby Goldsboro's 1964 first hit... "See the Funny Little Clown" best summarize the plight of such individuals:

See the funny little clown
The way he smiles all the time.
No one knows he's cryin'...
No one knows he's dyin...
On the inside
No one knows... No one knows

Those lyrics are not so true in my own case in these latter years. I felt the truth of them... as I played and sang those lyrics myself in 1964. I have come to understand them well... and better than most. Sometimes "the gift"... can ironically... and in the same breath... be "the curse" in one's existence. Too often... the laughing face on the outside in no way resembles actual deep and relentlessly searing pain of the interior resident.

I have found ... or perhaps better choice of words... "made" Peace with my Self. Fortunately, for "Me"... years of therapy.... a medication regimen that works for me... my Art... the consistent influence and love of key family members... and now Deb have encouraged me to step off the gerbil wheel... and "to be".. just Bruce! No need to be everything and everyone else I had convinced myself was required of me.

"I"... am greatly blessed!

I leave these words I penned as a eulogy that I delivered at the funeral of a best friend nearly thirty years ago... as a personal tribute to Robin. They are appropriate for both occasions:

Shooting Star

Suddenly -
Across the darkened fabric of Infinity,
Defying the limitless blackness... mattering not about being seen.
Bent upon a brief... yet blazing journey -


But etched forever into the hearts and Being...
Of Those... who search together for Light
And Truth.


"Some people can never believe in themselves... until someone believes in them."

-"Good Will Hunting"

Share your Light.... and Love!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

August Ambrosia

As I stepped out into the cool morning air for my customary jaunt down to the dock to greet the day... my nostrils were immediately filled with a new smell. A new smell... because my "smeller" and all of my other body parts and brain have been cloistered... and too fully engaged in the completion of a challenging and very overdue commission.

Each month has its own smell for me. Each, as well has an association with change(s) that makes it different than any of the other months. Those associations have been formed and burnt into my psyche over a lifetime of being "One" with the outdoor world. They are not based upon science... but rather my own thoughts and experiences. They are triggers... which reliably repeat and evoke memories and creative painting responses from deep in my Self.

The fragrance of the juggernaut July is chocked full of the energy of growth... freshly mowed hay... green grain fields giving way to rich carpets of fluttering gold... suddenly tall... ripening and  heading up corn... the lemony leaf smell of now bulging tomato plants. This perfume is likely heightened and blended by the deep humidity of days and nights of unrelenting heat, July... quite simply smells of energy... strengthened by visual imagery that tells one that summer is on the move. I'd name the fragrance ... "Ambush"... because it sneaks up on the senses so suddenly and without warning.

On this grey... mist-shrouded August morn, I marvelled at how precisely the natural clock moves. The ever-on-time darkish platoon of red-breasted cormorants sweep soundlessly  by me on the outside dock... wings barely above the placid grey... which is the river this morning. Chattering and excited young barn swallows... flitting and fledging in obvious games of tag... show their new wings and provide their annual late summer aerial display. This to me, is always a sure sign that summer is waning... and they will soon be "Birds on the Wire"... communing before their long flight southward.

The smell in the air this morning is changed. It is an acrid fragrance which melds growth and decay simultaneously. The river smell... of fish and aquatic vegetation ... with an added pinch of the garden's floral down turn... all cooled by the dew and mist of this typical August start for the day create a new perfume... well known to me. I'd call it "Ambrosia"... a nostalgic delight... a bitter-sweet fragrance which both greets the possibility of fall... and bids goodbye to summer in the same breath.

The Commission Project

Now that I have conveyed the notion... true... that I am a bit blood hound by nature... I will get back to the painting aspect of this post. I have spent a very challenging week getting my head around what was necessary to get me to the easel to complete my commission. There exists an irony surrounding commission work. Firstly... a commission must be viewed as a compliment from a patron who views your work to be good enough to invest in engaging your services. A plus!

Then... there exists the other side of the coin. Most commissions... like many emails... come with "attachments". These attachments are quite simply guidelines which include their own preferences and tastes. That is to be expected... since the piece will hang in their space.... and they are paying for your services. All legitimate realities one must consider in undertaking a commission. I came across this tidbit this morning in Robert Genn's Bi-Weekly Newsletter... a constant source of enlightenment and insight for me.

"You need freedom in order to create, and you need creativity in order to pay the price for your Freedom."

Robert Genn's Bi-weekly Newsletter
August 5th, 2014

I am deeply grateful for commissions because they challenge me to step up artistically... and to depart the safety of my own artistic "certainty" to learn and to grow further. However... I must confess, that I never quite enter into the commission under full steam. I must find stimuli that excite me to overcome an inward feeling that "I"... am not in full control of my creativity. Art has been the only area of my life where Freedom wasn't a word... It was in fact a sanctuary where I could retreat to... when the world would hurt me... or the din was too much for my spirit. I often say... that my Art... "leadeth me beside still waters.. and  that has ways been so.

This commission is a panoramic format. In that panorama are included a plethora of shapes, details and personal statements... all housed in this vast landscape. The client wanted the panorama to depict an autumn sunset... which really is an event that the owners consider special in their lives. The trick would be to simplify... yet, without losing important markers which make this scene exclusive to this exquisite and unique riverside property.

In order to sort all of this out, I first began by physically"cut n' pasting the desired sections I wanted to use from three separate digital images. Again... I was out of my zone of comfort. But, the fact was... that I couldn't gather more exact images at the actual site because the painting was to be a surprise gift for the property owners from their good friends and neighbours. Here's the mock up that I worked from.

I reluctantly decided to use pencil to actually lay in a map for the painting to follow. I did so ... against my usual urge to get right into painting... because of the complexity of the scene. In that way ... I could add and subtract until I reached an acceptable place to begin. The drawing took me almost the better part of a day to get everything properly placed. I decided to "fix" the drawing using retouch varnish so that it would not be lost during the transition from toning to final painting.

Disaster strikes!.....

It was my plan to proceed at this juncture... by working up a tonal rough in as I often do using burnt sienna,  "blocking in" shapes and important compositional elements and line. That familiar practice gave me a huge lift of spirit. I could finally see a path through to the finish. My "vision" of the finalized work was in my mind's eye! This reminds me of a quote Bob Dylan made when writing and recording his masterwork "Blonde on Blonde":

"The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my head was on the individual tracks in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound".

I'm sure as creative artists.... we have all yearned for that moment when all the world is right. In my own case, I refer to those halcyon moments... "when a  painting just seems to paint itself and I just hold the brush." Everything seems to fall into place without any struggle.... the act of painting seems seamless.

The opposite happened at this point in this commission. The wheels simply feel off the wagon... caused by a critical error that I had made in the second stage. I knew better... but had laid the acrylic over the retouch varnish which I had applied to "fix" the drawing. The huge problem before me became obvious immediately when I began the applying the initial washes of oil on turpentine washes. The turpentine was removing the acrylic burnt sienna as fast as I laid it down. What to do... other than be angry at myself... and panic?

I decided to preserve the drawing by redoing it lightly in India ink... trace amounts to hold the drawing as I gave the entire canvas a turpentine bath to remove every bit of the acrylic tone and the varnish at the same time. It was a risk... but I had no choice but to get back to the canvas and begin the process again in pure paint that would adhere to the canvas and not cause later problems in the hands of the client.

The process from this point forward and to the end followed a familiar path and the commission gradually started to become encouraging... and fun again... as the scene began to emerge in the gradual addition of each area and finally into full focus. Once I completed the necessary balancing act to unite the  sunset sky to the water and the island tree foliage... I sensed the "vision" that connected both the client's wishes with my own inner vision of this landscape.

Glazing with washes is a slow  and tedious process... but the final results achieved...  more than compensate for the time spent. Values can be checked and altered quickly and accurately as you go.

... and "the light" can be turned on... ever so slowly to almost mimic the rising or setting sun's lighting show... the dimming of the day... that wonderful yet elusive to paint... afterglow.

As I sat looking at the [almost] complete canvas... pondering value checks and balances... edges... the usual last notes in the process... my eye kept being drawn to the too centrally located fir which seemed to over dominate the composition with its presence. I thought about moving it slightly left or right... but knew that such a move when  reshape and overcrowd  reality in either direction. Removing it entirely would leave the client feeling something was missing.

Here  is the "solution" I came up with... one that I feel works to resolve this visual conundrum. I carefully placed and added the Uncle Sam's Cruise Line's replica river steamer... out of Alexandria Bay, NY which I have watched ply these waters at this very time in the evening. It's unique and fancifully nostalgic structure is pure "River Magic"... and adds just enough additional weight to the left of... and inb combination with the fir to appear the draw that mass slightly to the left in weight . It's stark whiteness as well offers a compositional element to drive the eye along the water westward to the distant islands.

Here is the final canvas... "River Magic" - oil on canvas 16x32 inches. The physical magic of each River sunrise and sunset can only be rivalled by the pure magic one feels at the conclusion of a creative challenge.
This morning, I feel a weight lifted... and my creative spirit Up!.... lifted. Now, I can resume my outdoor work and adventuring.

I"... am greatly blessed!..... Stay tuned

A closing note about those nasty "rules"... worth remembering... and practising. From the mouth and Soul of the XIV Dalai Lama:

"Know the rules well, so that you can effectively break them."

Have fun breaking some rules.... PLAY!  The Inner Child knows comformity - NOT!

Good Painting... to ALL!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Yesterday... and Today...August on my mind


Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as if they're here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hangin' over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

"Yesterday" - lyrics by the Beatles

I never really felt... or measured the deeply insightful references to the passage of time and life at the time that I sang and played this hit to many audiences with my The Counts Five "boy band". It was simply, as youth dictates even back then... all about Today... and Tomorrow... a bit. We lived on the cusp of entry into an adult world... with little life experience... or truly challenging moments or tasks... except to graduate from high school. Those days do "seem so very far away"... and yet they are still fresh and full in my own treasure trove of memories. I am indeed blessed... at this moment in my journey... not to be robbed of that wonderful human capacity and gift... to remember. Let us all count our blessings!

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure to once again spend time with John and Carol Philips in their cozy Midland home. We have shared a rich friendship that stretches clear back to grade five at Prince of Wales School in Brockville for John and I. My friendship had its early roots in the high school with Carol added... when we all three attended high school together throughout adolescence.

Music has been a mutual and binding ingredient in the recipe of our rich and lasting friendship. We danced our way gleefully through the fifties and sixties with our friends at "Teen Town" Friday night dances... where John and Ian "Hat Badge" Wilson spun the 45's from their dual collections to keep our feet a-dancin'.

Since then, music has continued to be an integral sharing part of our evenings together. John's passion for collecting music and music memorabilia quite frankly matches my own obsessive-compulsive predisposition to paint. In both of our separate teaching journeys, we have incorporated our passion into our teaching curricula to encourage using the arts as a successful vehicle and tool for learning.

John's entire basement has been dedicated to this Hi Fi preoccupation. All 60,000 of his collection of LPs and 45s are filed by musical genre and artist... just as you would have found or perused back in the 60's at any good record shop. John himself... is an encyclopedic treasury of knowledge of any musical genre... but particularly in rock n' roll music from its first notes. What is more overwhelming to take in... is that he has written and self-published a series of books specifically written as a guide for teachers at any grade level. These lesson plans have been expertly written lesson plans to weave music and life integrally into sure fire strategies to encourage students... of any age to become involved in meaningful discussion and learning.

John self-published... long before the self publishing industry that has burgeoned on line... with the dream of "spreading the gospel" he had practised successfully in his own teaching. Unfortunately, he discovered... as have most current "newbie" selfies that marketing anything requires huge amounts of personal time... specific skills and connections which few of us have at our disposal. He now offers his remaining sets at no cost... except postage costs to any individuals or teachers who might be willing to put "the gospel" to work for children. You can reach him at Tell him Hat Badge sent you!

Now ... back to  the Yesterday part of this post. While I was visiting the Badgers... I found myself surrounded by many paintings I had shared with them ... or that they had purchased. These grace the visually endowed walls and niches in every part of their home. It was an unexpected "rising of awareness" within me which clearly reflected  how much time and change had occurred in my own personal and painting journeys. Each of us lives too closely entrenched in our current daily lives... to actually gain any retrospective insight into these personal passages of time. Retrospective shows most always come after the sudden passing of an artist... much like the visual digital memory presentations... now an integral part of funeral wakes.

If I never am fortunate enough to be feted for my contributions offered in my painting and private lives, I can truly thank John and Carol for this impromptu... and totally unexpected wake... awakening.... Epiphany which I enjoyed on this one night sleep over! I feel greatly blessed to have such friendship and love with me on my remaining journey!

Here is a digital look at those paintings from my past froim their AWB collection ... stretching back to my return in 2000 from living in Nova Scotia. It was there in that beautiful painting-friendly province that I honed my plein airing experience and painting process. I customarily painted at least three days a week in the field and produced at least three paintings each day in formats ranging from 16x20 to full sized 30x36 inch canvases. They were glorious and richly productive times. One could paint three paintings... just turning the easel around... no need to travel looking for new and exciting subject matter. It existed everywhere... and I painted in every cove clear around the entire coast before returning to Ontario six years later.

This is an album cover design that I prepared for the Badger's 25th Anniversary "Hootenanny"... 413 Mildred Street rocked with music and laughter as we gathered to fete this remarkable couple. Though faded... "Oh Carol"... and.... "Johnny Be Good" still remain in their bathtub ship!

This fall swamp tapestry of leaf and water reflections was a type of subject that I often painted in the field. I painted this one at Gould Lake Conservation Park in the company of my long Buddy Frank.

This massive sugar maple painting from Moonstone in the Oro-Medonte dates 1990. A 24x30 canvas done in a single go... no additional work afterward. Again very "alla prima"...

A fog-shrouded "Dockside Conversations"...a 16x20 sketch painted while I lived  in Chester, NS in 2000

"Sunset at Finger Board Farm, Middle Road, Kingston"... a "quickie" 16x20 inch sketch... "run-for-the-sun" painted in 2000

"An Oro-Medonte Fall Moment" - a 16x20 inch canvas... note the heavy impasto texture... a hallmark feature and goal in my daily painting outdoors. Paint expressively... with a loaded brush. No changes ...
What you see is what you got!

"Headin' Up Jones Creek"... a painting that records my memories of spring fishing on that wall with childhood chums in the each year... knitted together with the cottage site that belonged to the Ballance family who lived behind us on Kincaid Street in Brockville.

This is a portrait of the Philip's family home on Sherwood Street in Brockville gifted to John. I painted one of Carol's family home on James Street as well. Same direct approach dependent upon strong and expressive brushwork. Honest... one-shot impressionistic canvases

This nocturne aptly entitled "The Davis Girls and City Hall at Midnight was painted on site... when the streets were empty... except for these two inquisitive strolling sisters... who stood by and watched and talked my ear off. They asked if I would put them in  the picture. I couldn't refuse. Brockville is a place... "where everyone knows yer name"... friendly"!

This last painting... a plein air 30x24 inch canvas created in the beautiful Hallyburton garden... where Deb and I where married. This still life entitled "Bounteous Blessings" features a cornucopia of fall blessings... all held in my Grandfather Birrell's garden wheelbarrow. That wheelbarrow was gifted to our dear friends Rolly and Grace to remain as a symbol of our Gratitude... Love... and our continuing presence in their Eden. I held on to this painting but decide to gift it to Carol and John as a token of our love and support at the Celebration of the Life of their beloved daughter Laurie last summer. John and Carol both sit with the painting in their morning ritual coffee club.. " and the [Friendship] beat goes on... !"

We are deeply blessed... and yet, never free... any of us of the trials... tribulations and challenges that Life offers each of us during our journeys.


Today is the first day 
Of the rest of my life 
I wake a child
To see to see the world begin
On monarch queen
And birthday wonderings
Want to put faces
Walk in the wet and cold

And look forward to growing old.

To grow old is to change
To change is to be new
To be new is to be young again.
I barely remember
When my memories are stolen by the morning
Blotted out by the sun's hypnotic eye.

Album Rhymes and reasons by John Denver

 "Afternoon Delight in Rockport Harbour" -oil on canvas 10x12 inches  SOLD

What a delight it was to be painting in the village... alone with my long time painting pal Frank... high atop the St Brendan' Church promontory. "Nothin' could be finer...". another memory marker on a very long journey shared by the Loner and Tonto!

"Lazy... Hazy... Crazy Days of Summer - oil on canvas 10x12 inches

This is my most recent plein sketch.... this one done "ashore on this side o' the river".. with my painting pal Paul Taylor of Rochester NY. It depicts a typical humid summer day.... in hayin' season! Can you smell the newly cut hay????...... "How sweet it is!".... Memories flooding the picture plane!

I am currently deeply entrenched in a largish commission... "in my smooth style"... per the client's request. Not my favourite... either. But that's a story ... for another day.... and my next post!

Stay tuned!...

I had a young visitor visit me yesterday in the studio. She asked if she could... just browse. During our conversation of a half hour ... we shared many common threads in our parallel lives. She is a biologist... and I...  "just a painter... passin' through"

She left me this wonderful thought which I will carry forward... and I pass along to you in closing this post:

"The only way to fully understand and appreciate Nature... is to take off your shoes and walk in it barefoot for a bit"

When was the last time we did that?

I wonder....

Happy Summer... and Good Painting .... to ALL!!!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Using Memories... as Painting Tool - A Two Act Play

This post is dedicated to my longtime musical pals Jivin' Johnny Philips and his lovely wife Carol of Midland, Ontario. Without your love... your friendship and your music... I could not have survived to paint these pictures... or to write this blog. Bless you both Badgers!

"Every man's memory is his private literature."
- Aldous Huxley, English Novelist


I have discovered over the years that there is so much more to "painting" than the simple act of getting the right perspective.... values... colour or capturing the scene before you if you are painting en plein air. The same can hold true if you are painting in the studio. Painting "pretty pictures" is something any artist can accomplish with practice and study... in any genre one would choose to paint in.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have struggled to address a long past due commission... but found myself withering at the prospect of having to deal with a mess of now almost meaningless photo reference images to begin to piece together in my mind... the panoramic view necessary to create the design which the client desired. The short of this sad tale... I was stuck... and finding every reason in the garden... wherever... to avoid the task. The clock has been ticking.

I managed to regain my painting momentum... and courage... with three plein air treks with two painting pals. Stay tuned... and I will post the results of the other two after this post which jumped ahead in my queue of "to dos". I feel compelled to share my wandering path over the past weeks... if for no other reason... to offer credible proof and support for my thoughts in the introductory paragraph of this post. Bear with me!

Two weeks ago, Deb and I were offered a pair of free tickets for an evening at The Thousand Islands Playhouse in nearby Gananoque to attend a performance of the multi-award winning play "Jake's Gift". Both Deb and I were at first reticent about attending... but the critical review on the Playhouse web site piqued my interest, so we decided to have an evening out on the town... a rarity for us in our busy summer season.

The Play House Theatre comprises of a larger Springer Theatre for major productions and a second smaller Fire Hall Theatre... suited for smaller audiences offering more intimacy and contact with the players. Ironically, The Play House was once the home of The Gananoque Canoe Club which was the site for Teen Club dances where my high school chums and I danced the summer nights away... pressed sweaty cheek to sweaty cheek for the "slow ones"... with those lovely Gananoque girlfriends we each had and adored. Mine was simply... Mary.... and could we cut a mean rug together ... jivin' to"Wild Weekend" by the Buffalo Rebels and  all the hits performed by local heroes Brian Onley and the Monarchs from Kingston.

The smaller venue was the perfect setting for "Jake's Gift". We could almost touch Julia Mackey, the play wright and the sole member of the cast. This gifted artist brilliantly and seamlessly shifted from each of the four personas to the other... never losing the tempo of this poignant legacy of remembrance.

Isabelle, the precious but witty old "soul child"... we've all met those encounters a curmudgeon-y, gruff and grumpy old veteran of WW II, Jake...  who is attending the 60th Anniversary of Juno Beach in Normandy. He comes seeking to make peace with himself... and to visit for the first time in 60 years... his brother Chester's grave... before Time has its way with him,  as it has with nearly all of the veterans who served in that conflict.

Along the way, Mackey injects Isabelle's straight-laced Grandmaman... a woman survivor of this epic event, but who lost her husband to the Germans in that same tragedy. Further along in this encounter... enters a high school teacher who has brought a group of band students from Hamilton to participate in the celebration and to visit the vast Canadian cemetery at Beny-sur-mur... where 2048 Canadian casualties during that campaign are interred.

Through vivid insights into the memories and dreams these four characters, Mackey constructed a deep and inner private appreciation of "gifting"... the need for gratitude and remembrance and for "Me"... a confirmation of my belief that as an artist, I must continually search for new projects which go beyond making "pretty pictures".

If you possibly find yourself in an area where Julia's play is playing, I can promise you an evening which will move you tears... swell your heart with pride... and your head to dream new dreams.

Julia... I have long had a desire to visit Normandy and these cemeteries on my "bucket list". However... sadly, it would seem... that this will not likely occur. But because of your brilliance as both a writer and a performer... I was at Juno Gananoque, Ontario... for one brief hour on Thursday, July17th. That defies normal time, space and perspective. The wonder of art... and perfect artistry.I laud and thank you Julia for fulfilling that journey with a memorable evening of theatre.

Beny-sur-mur Cemetery, Normandy. The graves in this vast war dead cemetery is fully maintained by French school children like Isabelle... one grave being that of Chester, brother of Jake. Such a powerful and perfect simile to create a personal act of remembrance... on a stage so very far away.

This small oil painting titled "Where have All the Flowers Gone" was created as my own personal act of remembrance of a young life lost in faraway Afghanistan. Captain Matthew Dawe was a hockey and school chum of my son Andrew. The painting includes a beloved Marine Corp Band Trumpeter from my boyhood... lilacs from the village of Barriefield where Matt and Andrew attended school together... and where Frank and I painted so many plein air paintings together. The other props speak for themselves. The painting is a "universal"- it transcends any need to explain meaning. Its construct... goes well beyond simple reality.

Captain Matthew Dawe... puts a face on each Remembrance Day for our family and those who admired him for his service and leadership... and for his ultimate sacrifice. Never forgotten Matt!

The painting now is in the hands of Matt's Wife Tara and son Lucas... and a facsimile larger giclee of the painting hangs at Matt's Alma Mater in the Band Room at Yeo Hall, The Royal Military College in Kingston,ON... commemorating his sacrifice and presence at RMC. 

There are many ways to serve... and as insignificant as you might think your own contribution / voice might seem in the overall scheme of things.. your thoughts... and actions using your own artistic expression count .
Art matters!!!

Lest we forget....


"Music is a warehouse for your memories."

Last evening we were again gifted with a brace of tickets for an evening out at The Brockville Arts Centre... in my early childhood and growing up years... The Regent Theatre. "Back in the day"... kids ruled every Saturday afternoon matinee. The Bowery Boys, The Three Stooges, Roy Rogers, Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Bomba, Lash Larue, just to name a few... were the fare, Admission was 12 cents... a box of popcorn set you back 10 cents... leaving 3 cents for an after matinee treat consisting of three tar babies, or blackballs for a penny at Howison's Store. Those were the days when a 25 cent (earned) allowance carried a lot of incentive to help out at home.

Last evening... the fare again trotted this pair of Rockport residents and a theatre filled with other greylings... like ourselves down another decade on memory lane. "Feelin' Groovy"... is a show featuring The Music and Times of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel by an All-Canadian tribute band featuring the musical genius of Jim Witter and his sideman Ian Tanner. They are backed by a drummer, keyboard player and guitar man.

Their near-perfect renditions of their hits from the Sixties of Mrs Robinson... Scarborough Fair... Feelin' Groovy... The still haunting Sound of Silence... For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her... The Boxer... I am a Rock... Cecelia...  America... If I Could... were interlaced continually with a mesmerizing light show and projected images of Life Magazine covers ... theatrical marquee posters and iconographic photographic journalism stills highlighting the ordinary... and the tumultuous events during this decade of change. Each song triggered a memory of a person... place or event in my own journey. Quite simply... it was an rich evening of travel in time... backwards.

Music has long had a powerful effect on me and my painting. Coming from a family which embraced music and song in all parts of their daily lives... it was an easy transition for me to use it as a tool to enhance my creative spirit... but more importantly... it was a vehicle promoting spiritual healing... a personal "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The song... an anthem... for me was the "final note" that the evening concert music by Witter and Friends. My heart swelled... as I rose instantly to my feet ... joined with everyone in the theatre who shared this evening of song and brother and sisterhood to offer our gift of applause in return for their minstrel performance.

Judging by the unabashed gyrating that some performed in the aisles in the closing set... and the buzz that droned along with us ... filing out familiar doors to King Street. I was not the only one with music as a fundamental element in my DNA. In that moment... I knew that they and I were... "Homeward Bound."

I offer these musical "painting notes"... all owe their origin to music in terms of subject. But as well...I must confess that I was "under the influence" while painting them... PWI... with music!

This painting could well be the poster child cover for this musical soiree event. 
                                                       "Lost the Sixties."

But then again... so would this small still life dedicated to my Mom  and Dad's legacy of music fit seamlessly with the gift of these talented musical artists.
                                                          "Thank You... for the Music"

My personal portrait tribute to the life and cherished memory of Tim Berry... "The Guitar Man" speaks to a deeply held personal expression... fuelled by the spiritual capacity of music... to transcend even life... and death.

In closing this lengthy meandering and musical interlude... I will share an unexpected occurrence in the parking lot immediately following the show. I recognized a face...much older now... next to me... as we returned to our car. The is always the case for me spoke of my football coach in 1962. I took the courage to ask if he was Bruce Bracken. Much surprised... even startled... he stammered back. "Yes I am. ..Who might you be?"

I gleefully replied..."I am Bruce Sherman... Mr Bracken." The immediate shift from being perplexed... and replaced by a HUGE smile will remain with us both... long after our hug... brief catch up chat and his promise to visit us at the Gallery in Rockport. Time can erase many things in life... but team sports... music and the Arts are the adhesive which binds us forever..spiritually as people and a culture. These entities are what separate us as humankind from other species.

Finally... "As Time Goes By"... my Dad's closing number at this gigs with his band Don and Buddies... also the theme from the blockbuster movie Casablanca. A still life with many memories and moving parts... the soldier from Matt Dawe's tribute... my BCI Ram football treasure which links Mr Bracken and I... and the cup that Mary  "McKetch" MacEachern and I won together in 1959... as Jive Champs at... The Gananoque Canoe Club / Thousand Islands Playhouse! Serendipity????.... Me chooses to believe NOT!

"All my life's a circle..."

The Circle Song
- written and performed by Canadian folk icon Joni Mitchell

Long may they... and we prosper!

Good Painting... and Summer Listening... to ALL!

"Ain't nothin' better in the world you know,
Than lyin' in the sun with your radio."

- Lighthouse

Monday, July 21, 2014

Plein Air Artists... "Without Borders"

In the body of my last post, I stated my view that art crosses all borders: age... language... culture and even great geographical distance. This blog exemplifies and embraces that truth. I have yet to meet many of you who choose to read or to follow Journaling With Paint... and yet I feel a great sense of kinship which could as well be described a familial bond of sorts.

Through our back-and-forth visiting and sharing of ideas ... feelings and processes, we knit ourselves into a virtual community which is bound by a common creative spirit and a desire to reach out and discover more about ourselves..others and the world we live in. In doing so, I have discovered that no matter where we each live... we do share a "parallel" journey which draws us together.

Over my painting life time... I have been blessed to find myself in the company of so many talented artists and artisans. I have learned much from sharing the journey and living creatively in their midst. I could not begin to name all of them... nor could I say that any one of them shaped me more than another. For "I"... am [creatively]... the sum total of all each of their influences. Without any one of them... my creativity would for certain be diminished. I would hope that they could say the same of me and my presence in  their own lives.

Art seeps from a creative spirit of a creative individual and almost through a kind of subtle osmosis enters the spirit of other nearby creative individuals at will. Each of us is is like a tuning fork... we can pick up creative resonant energy when we are predisposed... and open to it. That "force" need not eminate from either the young or the old to hold that influence. That was so ... in my garden party paint out with Hana. I came away supercharged and invigorated by that young spirit... and I am the better for the experience... just as she was. There was a conduit enjoining us... "alternating current", if you will that continued throughout the entire session.

Monday found me in the company of Rochester, NY artist, Paul Taylor. Paul and his family are "river people" like myself. Our families have summered here all of our lives and the River is the cradle of our being. It is safe to say that this common element has largely shaped the adults that we have become. Painting is merely another "intersection" in our separate journeys. Though we work in different mediums... what we translate in our island art impressions bears a strong resemblance one to the other. We truly hit it off... right from our first meeting and I am certain that we will be painting friends from this point onward.

We decided to return to Rock Island Light House near Clayton, NY... which necessitated our doing the "customs conga"... both entering the US at Alexandria Bay, NY... and then upon re-entering Canada at Rockport later in the day. It was a perfect painting day... no win... no humidity like the brutal heat of last year's trip. We painted and lunched "side-by-each" and continually teased and chatted. It was a highly pleasurable and profitable day for us both. We concluded the day... joined by Deb and enjoyed an evening barbecue and soiree at the Taylor compound on Phil Taylor Road... located just west of Rockport on the Canadian side.

While countries have borders and hoops to be jumped through... and I well  understand "the whys"... it is uplifting to know that there are folks who we can share a deeper sense of understanding... tolerance and respect... sans the need for borders and confrontation. We simply embrace the fullest concept of "accord"... and choose to live without a need for rules of citizenship to be accepted for who we are.

We are simply... plein air artists... "without borders"... free to create as we wish... together... on both sides of the River we love.

Below is a compilation of jpegs to offer visaul insights into our day of adventure... and a brief running tour commentary for you to enjoy.

Approaching Rock Island in the very narrow and treacherous main shipping channel

The Canada Steamship "Pineglen" heading upriver into the Great Lakes via The Saint Lawrence

Passed safely through this narrowest of passages on the river... headed next into Lake Ontario

A friendly spotted sandpiper.. joined me and continually played peek-a-boo with me near my easel

My choice of painting site... low with the river out of the picture... something I had misgivings about when I got it back to the mainland

Pushing paint... under the shade of a large oak... greyness gone... but a bit on the "shaky"... given my too long hiatus from my oils and paint box. But it didn't last for long.

Paul doing what he loves when not painting.... gathering photo reference for those long winter studio night sessions back in Rochester... far from his river

We cruised our way slowly back to Rockport, working our way inland through the islands and The Millionaire's Club yachting facility and resort... "dressed to the nines"... with the opulent summer homes of America's summering "Who's -Who"... And the beat goes on!

Paul's Boat... and our water taxi for the two hour tour homeward to Rockport

Pullman's Nobby Island... its Victorian traces still to be found

Sunken Rock Light... sentinel... midway at the other end of this treacherous shoal region

An example of Island wooden boat traditions... "Pardon Me Too". Yes... there is a much larger and more costly ""Pardon Me One"! There is an old adage that struck me during this cruise and in particular at this sight:

"The only difference between some men and boys... is the price of their toys."

"Afternoon Delight... at Rock Island Lighthouse" - oil on canvas 10x12 inches

I was not at all pleased with the view, as painted on the island. Neither the light... nor the keeper's house seemed to be in a proper relationship to the river they sit on. Nor did they display clearly the function that they have served for over a century. I took a huge risk and decided (without photo reference) to make a drastic compositional change by lifting the river and far shoreline into view... and at the same time dropped the ridge of foreground land slightly to accommodate a deeper sense of space. I feel that the resulting painting better accomplishes a lighthouse feeling for the painting. Once again... be in charge of your painting. Take risks... change is continually possible... even well after the plein air session... when the blinders come off! HA HA!!

I will be back out with Paul this morning. Where ... I don't know.???... But it will be another adventure for certain.

Stay tuned...

Good Summer Painting... to ALL!

Friday, July 18, 2014

No "wifi" Necessary

Summer continues to offer up many of us a much looked forward to hiatus from the drudgery of daily life in a work-a-day-world. No where is that more obvious to me than here in our village... where the daily spectacle of the loading of "summer people" to awaiting boats bound  for beloved  island haunts repeats itself daily over the entire summer months. Kids bearing jammed back packs, duffel bags, travel cases trailing on wheels... with a personal pillow under the other arm shuttle personal gear down to the docks. Often... follows groceries, golfing gear, tennis rackets, or occasional fishing equipment. Within brief minutes... vehicles are parked... locked and simply abandoned on land as as these folks set sail for pirate adventures and dreams... which have been passed from generation to generation.

These sights harken up sweet memories from within  me of decades of that same act in my own life- our family's annual return to Narrow's Lane Road and "Sherman's Shangrai-la". Summer meant "Freedom"- the relaxing of routines... living in bathing suits... running shoeless until September... rising each morning at 5:00 am (rain or shine) to scull myself about in our wooden punt to fish alone... or just to explore the many islands. After lunch (ashore) and a few set chores... we headed with friends to the "Deep Hole"... the gathering place for our cottage colony to swim... dive and net minnows. By mid summer... we were all "brown as berries" and completely oblivious to school or town things. Evenings usually found our cottage kids around the hardwood harvest table with birch log legs in our living room. One half of the table was busy playing Monopoly... the other facing off at multiple ends of Crokinole. The room buzzed with gleeful interaction and laughter... lit by a single brace of bulbs in an overhead light fixture. This was our summer "Shangrai-La"!

It distresses me to no end to watch the seemingly endless number of individuals... locked on to a hand held device of choice... walking or sittting alone... oblivious to the beauty of the place they have come to visit. Some have come from faraway places that I will never see. Most likely... they shall never return. I wonder... what memories will they carry of this grand place?Wireless?.. yes in the modern sense of its technological meaning... but unplugged in every other "sense" of meaning in my understanding. It implies to me a sense of technological addiction that is both unhealthy... and rude behaviour when it is imposed in social situations that demand a group awareness.

Enough of my reminiscing and moralizing. Fast forward to the Present... and to the pleasant event that precipitated my earlier rambling reminiscences... and wifi rant. Enter Hana... a beautiful... sweet... eleven year old sprite... who must have been here before. She's an "old soul"... a peer for this aging child. When in her company... the barrier of age and experience does not exist. We operate on the same plane... and in our own language and terminology... "We are wireless!

Hana and I first met for the first time last summer in the same place... our Islandsview garden. Her grandmother, a friend of mine had asked me to give her a surprise art lesson during her visit with her near Rockport. They arrived... "dressed-to-the-nines"... with Hana expecting to visit my gallery on the way to a "girly-girl-only" lunch. Dressed in a lovely dress... she intrepidly jumped into my planned collage n' paint exercise. It was a grand day of sharing... for us both. Her completed painting/collage clearly displayed her artistic skills... natural sense of colour and design. It was... in my mind... an artwork worthy of  adult merit and expectation.

Hana's Garden Art Party... Summer 2013

 "No fear" approach... start to finish. Only odd moments of personal reflection... punctuated with an odd question. "Wired"... into that space reserved only for creation... contemplation and meditation.

 Such natural beauty... and honesty - in both the Art... and the Artist!

Hana's Second Annual Rockport Garden Party

Last Friday afternoon, Hana arrived with her grandfather to spend the day making art... and conversation with me here at Islesview! Since the garden was resplendent with colour and subject matter, I had planned an acrylic on square canvas project. Now aware of Hana's strengths and flexibility of thinking it took mere minutes and a hug to jump back into last year's comfort zone for us both.

As we sat together with a faceful of lilies and other blooms to choose from... we both organized and "mapped" out a charcoal compositional pathway for our intended painting. I fixed it with fixative spray and then jumped into palettes of colour which had been laid out on two white recycled styro meat trays. The painting moved surely and rapidly... blended with catching up conversation and news from both easel mates.I can truly state that we were indeed both... wireless... and seamless... despite a vast age difference during the two hours that we were painting together. It merely proves... that Art knows no barriers such as age... culture or geography. All arts  provide universal bridges which enjoin people in peace and harmony. 

Hana and I... "wireless" friends connected through Art!

All in two hours of fun!

I painted the edges black all around and put a wire hanger on the back of each. I thought it fitting... that both should hang together in Hana's room back home. Besides... it is her birthday! Happy Birthday Hana!

See you next summer! Keep smilin'... and doing your artsy things - piano... guitar and painting!
Hugs!... and be safe!

Your painting Pal,

Stay tuned...

Finally... back to plein airing. On location at Rock Island Lighthouse, Clayton, NY