Monday, March 9, 2020

March... the Time When Spring Tosses Winter to the Side of the Road

March is such a mysterious month. A month like none other really. It seems to change day to day... and if one is attuned... one will easily note that changes do occur hourly.

Looking into the ravine located just to the east of our building a new pink haze dominates the crowns of the trees. That haze is attributable to the newly opened buds... all within the same hours today.

Other new "happenings" coincide with these just mentioned. Every day this week, skeins of noisy, excited Canada geese... migrating to northern summer nesting grounds high overhead signal yet another annual change.

Noisy American robins dart here and there perhaps in search of food... but more likely are establishing territorial claims.

I could go on with observations that tell me... that spring is in the air. However, I have chosen to couple up my most recent painting completed this week with a poem entitled March... ironically written exactly eight years ago on Friday, March 9th, 2012.

Ironically???... I wonder!


Yester week's deep drifts of powder are all but vanished,
Bone-chilling cold... by a warmer sun has been banished.
White isles of snow in a tawny ocean of brown,
The air is perfumed pungently by the smell of bare ground.
Winter's ermine mantle has become rather ruddy,
Sullied by the rain and by thawing fields muddy.

High winds play tag through the now budding bough,
The quiet of winter replaced by new birdsong now.
Long quiet streams awaken from their sleep,
The dark rushing waters have a promise to keep.
Together... these harbingers trumpet the arrival of a king,
The coronation of Hope... and the arrival of Spring!

Here is the initial white chalk drawing on a 24 x 30 inch birch cradle board  panel, toned with black gesso. I find such mapping easy to interpret and easy to change randomly if necessary'

The painting process nearly always begins for me with a lay in of the lightest area... the sky. I work slowly through the middle ground... leaving the forground to be resolved last. Here, the greater amount of detail and exact colors are placed  to draw the viewer deep into the background.

Here I have "danced in" the snow patches and posts which create an interesting visual composition and pattern. All that remains to be done now... is "to push and pull" tonal values to balance and correct earlier interpretations. I also take time to add in what American Impressionist Master Emile Gruppe called... color surprises, This strategy encourages the brain of the viewer to search for these bits of eye candy.

Here is the final product... "March... a Time When Spring Sets Winter By the Side of the Road."

I hope that you can feel the joy that Spring delivers to my soul. Whether in verse ... or in paint the Natural World and its wonders continue to sustain me and to help me to continue to believe... the "Goodness exists. (Thank you to a fav Quebecois writer/novelist, Louise Penny for this wonderfully uplifting thought,)

Happy Spring Painting... to ALL!

Rich blessings of Joy and Good Health!

Monday, March 2, 2020

"What a Difference A Day Makes... " Part Two

And what a difference - when one is prepared physically and mentally to paint... be it inside or outside. It is the state of mind that sets the tempo for success in creating anything.

Certainly on this occasion, the weather was more than cooperative... providing sunny conditions and without gusting winds to provide further discouragement.The extra snow that had fallen overnight further created interesting contrast and shadows to enliven the dull grayness of the previous day.

I considered scrapping the first misfire, but decided against it.. just to prove to myself that something positive is gathered simultaneously along with "failure." It is a point of view really. Is it really total failure... or could it be changed into a... learning opportunity.

I had seen David's quick and successful response... even in the drabness of the first outing, so why not keep the perspective and shape into my own new view using the positive aspects offered today! Onward...

I will fast forward the process right to the finished result. One two and a half hour session... and done. Sign it!

"Spring... is just around the Corner" - oil on canvas 10 x 12 inches

Sure is beginning to feel that way...

Good Spring Painting... to All!!!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

"What a Difference... A Day Makes..." Part One

Yes... the title of my post for today is derived from a soothing hit pop single by Dinah Washington in 1956. Today... some forty-four years later her soothing voice "speaks " still to me and rekindles a sense of peace and possibility.

Combine this with the plein air painting experience that I was blessed to share with my long time friend David Kay and one can easily understand how painting... and music can shape one's state of happiness.

Today's post comes with  a strangely unexpected  twist. Scarcely one day after the huge success we enjoyed together at Smuggler's Cove, David and I came face to face with winter weather that was much less encouraging, or forgiving... especially for me!

Heading out to our second site located right across the road in historic Barriefield Village, we recognized immediately the challenge ahead of us. The wind strafed our roadside set up. So we decided to paint under the overhanging lid of the trunk. It was indeed a very cramped space, but despite this fact David immediately launched into his usual setup... including two bungee cord straps to secure his easel to the trunk of my van.

I, on the other hand tried to summon enough courage to even kick start my own set up. So blustery and punishing was the wind and drizzle, I even considered just watching David work. But I finally and reluctantly, I decided to join in "the fun" with him.

Though I searched diligently, I found no success in finding my own kit... including my paint box, or my paints. Then, I pictured them... nestled together in a warm corner of my small apartment studio.

Euchred - is the word that comes to mind. Another "E' word.  Embarrassed also comes to mind. David doesn't rub it in... but his puckish smile achieves a similar result. What a gaff!

At least I had my easel and a burnt sienna toned 10 x 12 inch canvas. David graciously offered a small pointer bristle brush and permission to dip into his titanium white on his palette. I did so and managed to carry this failed orphan home at the end of a very much shortened on location session.

Here is that misfire... unabridged in my studio. David came back with something much more substantial. Good on you David! Your inspiration will power me to step up to save face at least... on another day!

                                                       The drab site...

                                   The unfinished  "Black Sheep" version

Look at the rich color... dynamic composition and certainty of his brushwork! Bravo David! I'm inspired!!!

Stay tuned...

Tomorrow... and I'll be prepared!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Sugar Moon = Spring Tonic

                                                        Sugaring Off

                             "Sugar Moon" - oil on canvas 22 x 18 inches

We are entering that magical and long-awaited time of year - Spring. Daylight arrives earlier each day... and lasts longer before giving way to darkness. Bird and squirrel behavior suddenly takes on overtones of chase and mating. Dormant trees show flashes of pinkness in their canopies and budding at the tips of each branch.

The waiting game imposed by winter's cold loses strength... thawed by the increased warmth of longer days and more direct sunshine. Spring has announced her short, but grand entrance bringing new hope and promise to all living creatures - even to humankind.

The moonscape, "Sugar Moon" shown above truly captures the magic of this season of change. It captures ever so eloquently the annual rite of spring which we celebrate here in Canada. A rite which has faithfully played itself out since the indigenous beginnings of settlement.

Later arriving European settlers learned the techniques from First Nation gatherers and have carried forward the ritual right through to the present day, introducing production and quality to higher levels.

As a plein air painter, I have been privileged over many springs to join in to this spring activity in many maple bushes around rural Ontario and Quebec.  It signals a sense of renewal for me as well... and confirmation that Hope lives on in my own heart for the planet  and for the survival of such natural wonders of "maple magic."

Plein Air Painting

In so many ways, plein air painting mimics the process of gathering maple syrup. Both activities are carried on in the outdoors in winter... both "tapping" the energy and resources found only in the natural world.

Sap is gathered from the spiles driven into the maple trees in the bush. It is gathered into buckets... or relayed by a series of plastic hoses back to a central gathering shed called a shanty. Here it it is fed on to pans, or into boilers for several hours. This reduction of water content, or boiling down creates a thicker refined sugary form we call maple syrup syrup... aka "Canadian liquid gold."

As plein air artists, we follow a similar pathway outdoors to gather information that we find "sweet" to the eye and imagination. We reconstitute the forms, contours, planes and colors which lay before us into a rough, sketchy outline which we usually carry back to the studio. Here we can adjust reality... to suit our tastes... "warming it by adding our own flavor/style. Sometimes... we even use this sketch to create a much larger and more powerful statement or record.

On Thursday, my long time plein air painting pal, David Kay arrived with his lovely wife Diane for a visit... and painting trip to my neck of the woods. We packed our gear into my van and headed to a favorite location of mine... "Smuggler's Cove" located at Ivy Lea Provincial Park. The site is a fair way off road, so we had to pack our gear in and out over a distance on snow covered trails.

                                                  David at the easel

AWB... in full winter armor... oblivious to all else save what lays silently before me.

I will leave the language path here at this point and will leave you to enjoy the pictures and paintings we made to record our activity. You can be the judge of our success. I will end by simply adding, "Though Mother Nature did her very best to challenge our enjoyment and mettle... both David and I reveled in the warmth and pleasure of each other's company... and the deep silence in "Manitouanna" - God's Garden of Eden."

"He leadeth me beside  still waters... it restoreth my soul."

And it truly did! A veritable "Spring Tonic" which my generation applied at winter's end to regain new energy and vitality.

Stay tuned for the adjusted final edition...

Here's my subject source...raw to the eye... accompanied below by my interpreted field version.

               "Spring...Carving Into Winter" - oil on canvas 11 x 14 inches

Plein airing in winter can be as pleasurable as in all of the other seasons. The trick is to be dressed or the weather that presents itself... and to be in the company of that special friend with whom you can share it. In this case... I had chosen well.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Ti amo Allison!

Today is Valentine's Day.. the day when one reaches out to those individuals who bring the most Joy and Happiness to you in your daily life. Today, I dig deeply in an effort to embrace the contributions of those in my life who make me feel most complete.

There lies little question in my mind that I am indeed blessed to have a host of cherubs and angels who continually offer me their unconditional love and support. My own children and my beautiful Deb and several special friends are such examples.

In spite of these continuously supportive and important presences, today is tinged with deep sadness. A part of my heart is empty and I realize that no matter how hard I try to replenish that space... it will remain empty forever.

I even try to convince myself that I am ungrateful and should feel shame for this feeling. But I have learned over time not to feel so. My grief belongs to me alone and I am entitled to express it as I feel necessary and without feeling a need for apology.

I try not to inflict it upon people at will. And I choose who to share it with. Only a few .. and when it is most appropriate.

I wish to share a card sent to me by a "significant" blogger Friend with whom I share a similar sense of deep loss. I choose to share the card she sent my way to encourage my healing. She included with this special card two magnificent portraits of Allison. One hangs in our bedroom... the other on Allie's mom Joan's mantle piece. I cannot begin to express the Peace and the Joy that these gifts continually offer we Sherman's.

This beautifully crafted computer-cut card is by itself a powerfully poignant
Valentine sentiment... but I will include a few of the handwritten words that my wonderful Friend added:

"I think this card is perfect as it symbolizes hearts joined as one. And even tho some of the hearts have fallen from the tree, they are still very much part of the whole. In time they will be rejoined. But until then, the emptiness can be shattering - if we allow it. And sometimes we must if we are to begin healing."

A one line "Valentine" arrived in my Inbox this morning ... via the Twice Weekly Newsletter from Robert and Sara Genn to which I subscribe. It read simply... but powerfully:

"To be free of fear is to be full of love."

- Adyashanti (Spiritual Teacher)
  Way of Liberation

This liberation is accomplished through following teachings which come directly to you through one's own experience.

As strange as it may seem... though Allison's tragic and shattering passing has left confusion, sadness, grief and even a sense of hopelessness within me at times. It has as well stirred significant spiritual growth and a lesser feeling of fear for death.

I accept them as legitimate emotional expressions. I am not ashamed of them. I choose not to wallow in them either. Allie taught me that during her courageous struggle with the wretched disease within her. I try to work through them and to learn from them...  as they come to me from time to time.

She pulled this tarot card for me which directly follows the teaching of Adyashanti:

 "Replace fear... choose  Love!"

Joan and I meet as the need arises to reach out and share some of the gifts that Allison created and left with us. As well, we share some of our gifts that we shared lovingly with her while she was with us. We are sending this next painting "valentine" that I created specifically for Allie.  This oil  painting that I sent her for Christmas, 2006 recorded the familiar view from a bridge that I crossed every day during my own eight week adventure in Venice.

My own adventure zeal that I experienced there would propel Allison to search and follow her own camino in many subsequent trips to live, study and teach in many parts of Italy. Venice captured both of our hearts. We were.. and always will remain kindred spirits under her spell.

I am proud to say that this small painting will arrive this week... close to Valentine's Day at the door of her "bestie"/soul mate Jill Weinreich Luppi.

We are indebted forever to Jill for spearheading the massively successful online fundraising project which helped fund Allison's trip to Austria to receive advanced cancer treatment. She also deposited some of Allie's final ashes into Venice's historic Lagoon... thus a part of her spirit remains in her beloved city.

I know that Allie would share our excitement and joy to send this Valentine oil gift to Jill for her home. It rightfully belongs with her!

"Campo Santa Maria di Formosa"
      12 x 16 inch oil on canvas                                                                       
I have embraced Allison's wish the I "live my life fully... in her honor."
It is my honor to do so... to the best of may ability.

On Sunday, my painting buddy David Kay and his lovely wife Diane will arrive  to share three days with us here at The Barriefield. David and I have painted together for several decades in his home turf, Algonquin Park. We will spend most of those three days plein air painting together in my special places here.

Got the winter garb and thermals at the ready! Stepping away from my Lunar Landscape theme for a bit. Let's just call this plein air junket into this current -23C "winter wonderland"... "Pure Lunacy"!    LOL

Stay tuned...

             Happy Valentine's Day... to All!!!

                            Ti amo Allie... Forever!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Grey Skies in your life??.

The grey landscape after the pageantry, lights, colors and excitement of the Christmas season generally contributes greatly to one's lack of direction and motivation. Simply put... it's a downer!

While the weather this winter has been anything but "normal", the dipping one day and rising the next... fluctuations of the thermometer's mercury derails any attempt aimed at active engagement with paints and brushes and easel - for me.

So, I decided to attempt to inject a dose of enthusiasm into my studio efforts by choosing an unusual  thematic  approach which incorporates some unusual format/focus with it to push the envelope wider. Throw caution to the wind.


I have decided to continue my warm up play adding to my earlier moon based theme. Lately, the moon has been receiving a lot of attention... this being the focus of the Chinese New Year celebration in the Year of the Rat. The first full moon of the New Year has long been wrapped in importance to story-telling within Indigenous cultures around the world. These peoples refer to this first  January lunar event as "The Wolf Moon."

The moon has always drawn the attention of creative human individuals to it. Hence such wonderful music as... "Clair de Moon"... "Moonlight Sonata"... "Harvest Moon"... "Sail Along Silvery Moon" to mention just a very important cultural cross-section of works we enjoy.

I have chosen to undertake exploring the above theme further using a few simple introductory watercolor and ink studies ... akin to my to my earlier VIA Rail series. I hope these smaller sketches will lead me towards a larger format, one which hopefully will grow into a larger space to encourage broaden my ideas and my brushwork into becoming a more emotive undertaking.

Who knows... it might perhaps inject into my final statement some new and unexpected element for my viewers' pleasure and interest. At the very least... it might allow the trapped inner spirit to reappear... and the clouds to move on.  Let's see where it takes us.

  I wonder...

                                    "Wolf Moon" - watercolor with ink

                                  "Moon Shadows" - 5x7 inch watercolor

              "Luv ya ... to the moon and back" - water color and ink 5x7 inches

When I completed the above study, I recognized the potential  to push this smallish water color into the Light... to make something entirely new. By using the same techniques that I always put into play when working en plein air... I create my own version of reality that serves as a template for my own creative vision. Yes... I do call this technique... Imagineering.

Here is the final outcome of my easel foreplay. You can easily compare back and forth to discover what is changed and the effects of the unusual format I created to house the final new image., using a process of "give n' take".

I pulled forward a previously used format based upon the commemorative postage stamp. I think that it accomplishes two purposes simultaneously. Firstly, the perforated border draws attention to the inner image. It is both clean and interesting to the eye. Symbolically for me, it subtly suggests my ongoing feelings of awe and peace for natural occurring events like this which are free for anyone to enjoy... time after time... year after year.

The previous title for the smaller version uses my lovely wife Deb's phrase which she shares with her treasured Grand Gals, Ava and Ella. The title chosen for the larger version reveals the homage that I owe the great classical geniuses of composers like Debussy and Beethoven. Their moonlight tributes are timeless... just like the celestial circus of the night sky.

Hope that this sharing inspires you on one dark day in your life... or studio. Paint your way through the gloom... bring music together with your brushes to... "play on... encore une fois."

Happy Painting to All!

"Clair de Lune" - oil on perforated MDS panel  (inner image size 24 x 13 inches)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Moonlit... "Sail Along Silvery Moon..."

 A couple more moonscapes... as I earlier promised. Moonlight has been the inspiration for so many creative individuals... in so many art forms. Musicians, writers, poets, dancers and painters have since earliest times been drawn to observe and to try to capture the celestial power the moon. It has captured the human spirit... imagination and created wonder in us all. That enrapture in earliest childhood... "when the cow jumped over the moon" and for many in my own generation led right up to that landmark marker on  mankind actually stepping for the first time on the lunar surface on July 20th, 1969.

At that time, mankind for the very first time had a reversed view and forever changed perspective of Earth relative to the moon... and the Universe really. Seeing the Earth... as no humans had ever done before, for certain changed our view of "possibility." Certainly. this "one small human step" by Neil Armstrong does represent an epic scientific stride "for all of mankind." But we, as artists have long been dreaming and reaching out to places where no other men or women have ventured through our individual sand our collective expression.

I will move towards the conclusion of this post by sharing a tabletop painting that I created for Allison to mark her successful completion of her undergraduate studies at Queen's University. Ironically... it bespeaks a Truth that we couldn't envisage. My words... at hat time... were simply words of pride and encouragement back then.

But today... those words stand as an epitaph and testimonial to her accomplishments and endearment to her many students.

Nocturrno a la Salute, Venezia - oil on canvas - 12 X 12 inches

 It has always been my custom to scout an area before finding my way there to set up and paint en plein air. In so doing, I am able to eliminate some of the numerous variables that lead to a lack of success and hardship. That is especially so during the winter months when one faces the hard cold, wind and shortened period of light.

Most times in winter, I will begin with a smaller canvas, say 11x14 or 16x20 inches. These sizes permit plenty of time to completely accomplish the painting in the two and one half hours needed. Occasionally, that first painting moves more quickly than expected. But there is not sufficient time time to find and relocate quickly enough to step into another subject

"Dying Light, Godfrey, Ontario" - 11x14 inch oil on canvas

So, I look 360 degrees around my easel setup to see if something interesting catches my eye. Usually there is something that fills the bill nicely. So , I gather my thoughts.. fully knowing that there will be no fancy-dancing about. I begin, in earnest what I refer to... as "my run for the sun." It describes perfectly the goal of my attempt here. Simply to out dual the rapidly dying sun on the horizon. Here is such a panel measuring 8x10 inches. The composition is simple... the colors muted or contrasting. But what catches my attention and becomes the central image in the painting is...

"Pale Moon Rising"- Godfrey 

This scene directly followed the one that you see above it... within mere minutes really. Note the rapid brush works.... " A stroke laid  must remain a stroke made." 
Strangely enough... the smaller rapid sketch left my hands much sooner than the larger more finished canvas. Why would that be? Luck? ... "circumchance" ???

I wonder...

I would like to end this blog post today with this bright and optimistic canvas that I created in homage to heritage and hard work. This 24 x 30 inch oil on canvas captures the crisp early golden light of a new day. Perhaps... such a bright, snowy day best describes the new beginning of a brand New Year.

             "Morning Comes! The Delta Grist Mill" - oil on canvas 24 x 30 inches

Wishing all of you... a Happy New Year... filled with the richest blessings of Joy, Health, and Happiness. May 2020 bring inspiration...  adventure and Good Painting into each of your lives!