Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Off the wall".... Crazy?... Yes!... But Creatively So! - Part One

The term  or phrase "off the wall" can have many connotations or usages. It can be used to infer something to be markedly unconventional... bizarre... odd ball...unpredictable... eccentric... or, simply crazy in the truest sense. It has even been suggested that the expression perhaps has its origin as a handball or squash term used to describe a shot that is unexpected.

However one wishes to interpret the phrase, it carries with it the notion that the act being described lies well outside normal usage and expectation. In this post... I wish to push that idea yet one level further. In artistic terms of usage, it might well describe alternate ways to present one's creations. or. It might well be used to describe the fact that a creation ... hung on the wall has been purchased and that it is indeed now... "off the wall."

Our Summer 2015 opening here at The Paint Box Gallery was a roaring success... with almost five hundred visitors visiting our shop over the three day weekend. Thank you Queen Victoria! I so9ld six paintings and one of Deb's beautiful large stained glass window creations also left the building for a new home. Along with these major purchases, numerous gift cards and other smaller and portable purchases also walked out of the Gallery. One could reasonably assert that weekend business was indeed quite... "off the wall"!

Amongst those sold paintings was one that was dear to my heart because it embodied a principle that I strive towards on rare occasions. It is easy "to simply follow the plow" in creating art.That is to say...  to emulate the work of others, or to play it safe and simply paint to what sells in the marketplace. It takes courage to plod under one's own steam and vision in a new and untested direction... without guarantee of success or even possible sale of what has been undertaken.

I knew fully that the scale and the technical ability demanded in this mammoth project had lain outside my grasp for almost twenty-five years. Despite this fact, the "Idea" kept creeping into my psyche and my paintings and sketches continually for that that same period of time. However... I lacked the courage and the time to step up until one precise moment of decision.

In early January of 2011... that fear was overcome when I spontaneously I purchased the four four by six foot white canvases on which to lay out the design and composition for this project. It even caught Deb by surprise... because I had not discussed the project with her. She must surely have thought at that particular moment in the art supply store... that AWB  was indeed..."off the wall". But to her credit, she never questioned the large ticket price... nor my creative intent. I needed those things from her! She never fails to deliver those necessary encouragements.

She even kicked in.., agreeing to tone the large gallery wrapped canvases with black acrylic paint - a huge job applying three separate coats of black acrylic paint on all tops and sides. All the while, I "played around" patching together photo and ink sketch pieces in readiness for laying down the composition.  It would take many very early morning coffees of staring blankly at the huge "blackboard" strapped together by 1x2 inch strapping au verso... and sitting up on four plastic milk crates to garner the courage and confidence to proceed.

Finally... the "Idea"  became distilled and revealed what seemed a logical plan of attack. White chalk carved out compositional lines roughly to create a very basic mapping. Very active vertical slashes and diagonals broke up the undulating rhythms of the restful horizonals: water ... hills and sky.

Painting seem to follow without a need to pause because I had "seen" these aspects physically and in my mind so many times in this special landscape. The trick would be to create the subtlest seasonal transition that was required between each of the  the four panels to make the landscape read as real.

It required eight solid days of studio time for the work to reach its satisfying conclusion. But it truly took nearly thirty years of active painting and observation to permit/equip me to paint it. Now that this act was completed came what I knew from the onset would be the hardest part of the project - to market and to sell it. A canvas of this immense scale required a specific and very ample space to house it. It would also require a client who shared my painting taste and passion in creating this painting. Add to these limiting factors... that the cost would be "off the wall" to the average client.

This painting had opened shows in three good galleries and had hung in two very prestigious corporate spaces since its creation in January of 2011. I had never lost hope that it would find just the right home... a home where a heart like my own dwelled and would take full custody and enjoy it. This past weekend... my "off the wall" thinking and effort was finally rewarded. The quadriptych..."The Magnificence of Algonquin Park in All Seasons" was purchased by a long time pair of friends and avid collectors of my work. And with that purchase came permanent and unconditional "visiting rights" HA HA!

It has been purchased to be the central focus for their new home... soon to be constructed on their lake front garden property north of Barrie, Ontario. It will anchor the collection of eighty of my works that they have purchased over the years. I am greatly blessed!... Thank you Rolly and Grace - you do me a great honour in this gesture!


Post Script

Ironically... Deb successfully owned and operated a gift shop in Brockville, Ontario at the time that I met her. I was blessed to become her creative and life partner... when she left her lovely shop... Off the Wall... to help me build The Paint Box Gallery into the successful and joyful enterprise that it has become through our joint passion and hard work together.

This quadriptych is but one of many "off the wall" artistic projects that I have concocted to "spread my wings" and to fly beyond my daily thought and creative patterns. I shall add a second post soon to share some other more zany and unconventional undertakings that I have enjoyed creating along my journey. Perhaps... they might inspire some of you to risk taking a new path and direction in your own work.

A mantra borrowed from a gifted thinker that I have long admired, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is one that I have heartily embraced and practised in both my creative and personal lives. It perhaps seems to me to be a fitting thought upon which to close today's post: 

"Once you make a decision, the Universe conspires to make it happen."

Good Painting... to ALL!!! ... Make it happen!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Captain... Oh My Captain!

"M" stands for Mother. But it stands as well as for "Mentor". I was blessed to have had a Mother who as well doubled as my mentor. Her constant and unconditional love and her sense of generously shared creatorship form the basis of the grown up I have striven to become. Her unrelenting willingness to sacrifice for me and my siblings have helped me pass forward her legacy to my own children and friends... just as she taught me to throughout her entire life.

The title for this Mother's Day Post might first appear to be ill-selected... for it is powerful line from the film "Good Will Hunting", starring the late Robin Williams, That film stands today for me as monument to my continued belief that there can exist "good men"... Fathers... who can acknowledge the presence of a feminine side within them that is capable of nurture and a kind of love usually set aside for Mothers only. They are men capable of responding with emotion... and a kind of love usually ascribed only for mothers.

Robin Williams was such a person. His ability to cross vast differences of opinion and touch the heart was his gift. It was not always about ribald and off-coloured humour and language. And when it wasn't... "He" plucked the tender strings of all hearts. His mentorship and sense of humanity remain forever with all of us who have watched his craft and embrace its message of Hope and Humanity.

Standing up for what you believe is a great gift from any source. I learned this well from my dear Mom and Dad... and the likes of Robin Williams. I think of them each and every time that I feel challenged... or besieged in my daily life.

I am deeply blessed... and on the is Mother's Day, Sunday, May 10th, 2015... I thank all of these mentors... who "mothered" me... and made a difference in my journey.

Happy Mother's Day... to ALL Moms... Dads and Mr Keatings ... wherever you are!!!

Thank you... and God Bless!!!



"Cherry Pink... and Apple Blossum Time" - acrylic on canvas 14 x 12 inches

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Primavera... The Awakening

This rich moment in the year has always triggered a sense of Hope and Purpose for me. It marks renewal and the much anticipated release from the icy grasp of winter. The woods are filled with magical sounds... sights and smells. All the world is alive. How can one not celebrate the marvel of this season!

Here is a rather eclectic "gathering" of my spring word thoughts this year. Let's call it prose for the lack of a better word. I offer with it a visual tribute which celebrates it in my other "tongue" for your enjoyment.

Primavera

Scarcely is the the sugar rush emptied from the bush
When new life emerges everywhere.
Gone is the the drab tawniness the lingering leafy remnants of fall,
Strewn half hazardly... helter-skelter,
Their once radiant glory now long gone...
The woodland awakening begins.

Magically... almost mystically, the drabness is pierced here and there
By slight green fingers ever reaching upward.
Seeming to grasp for the sun itself ,
In open places, cradled shaded spots neath pine and oak,
Spreading their broad three leafed emerald loveliness...
To form rolling blankets of green.

Thousands of three petalled habits nod gently in unison
Nudged ever so gently by the playful spring breeze.
Presided over reverently by the cardinals of their order and creed.
Perhaps my Romanticism gets the better of me,
And my imagination makes me the fool to think thus...
A cathedral beyond compare.

But today I covet the simple sanctity and peace
That this woodland congregation share.
Not concerned about their brevity of bloom,
Nor possessions, nor any earthly care,
Content only to feel cloistered in the warmth of each other's presence during their short days...
A full season without complaint.

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



"A Tribute to Trilliums... and Spring" - a triptych - oil on three canvases 44 x 16 inches

Monday, April 27, 2015

Transition... and the Waiting

The word transition itself is a process in all of our lives. In fact, during our lifetimes... transition actually becomes a succession of events which become fused together and form new episodes or         chapters to create the novel of "Us".

During this unceasing and ongoing process... the transition can be influenced... let's even call the process editing. This influence may occur through inward reflection, or through events and individuals that we meet and admire. That said, it then becomes our individual responsibility to filter through and evaluate the potential impact that these influences might bring to bear in determining new changes in our thinking and actions. Hopefully, we can enable and activate transition smoothly... and gradually.

Simply put... Awareness of need. + Action(s)  = CHANGE

For almost a year now... I have felt an uncertain and rather nagging need to activate some form of change within my own artistic and personal lives. I feel that during preparations for the solo show which closed on Saturday that I realized the deep awareness phase fully and did in fact move... ever so slightly into the activation phase. I think that each of us must decide upon and establish our own individual time frame for change... being ever mindful that both time and urgency should play a secondary role in that change being brought into reality. Speed kills!

This blog is a part of the need for change that I have been struggling with. I feel that the blog was created for, and truly serves honourable purposes. Comments back to me underscore that the contents do immense good where it is received... and "understood". However... every coin has two sides.  Today... I wish to address both equally.

I blog and teach out of a deep compassion... and compulsion to reach out to those I see around me who are struggling. I offer transparency through publicly revealing sensitive portions of my past and current lives... in the hope that it removes that protective barrier that drops down when one feels that their problems are are peculiar to them alone. Such a stance has always been effective for me in forming relationships of trust with people who lack that in their makeup... for whatever reasons.

I promote optimism and my own success in creating effective changes to promote both healing and growth. I promote the true value of and necessity for absolute and unconditional truth in all relationships. I shall maintain and continue to offer that - it is not subject to change!

However... this method works best and most truthfully for both sides when face-to-face contact can be a part of the interface. Body language is an invaluable tool for me in discussion... decision-making and "reading" inner doubts... fears and yes... even deception. Emails, telephone calls, letters... and yes... blogs can contribute to worrisome areas of doubt and lead to misconception. One can create whatever persona one wishes to present on the Internet and that fact can be seen clearly in the preying upon youth online and in ongoing online scams that target unwary seniors.

In reading each of the comments that I receive after each post and in carefully responding... I have come to realize that perhaps my constantly optimistic presentation of being blessed and in harmony with my entire world might possibly discourage and cause those that I seek to encourage to be feel less adequate in solving their own problem... with their own mind and resources.

In short... perhaps I have  unwittingly have set the bar too high... and in fact cause further despair and paralysis. Worse... maybe my continual claim to bliss might suggest a perceived as a rather smug position of superiority which is far from the actual truth. I too struggle... just as everyone must... but I choose "to look at the glass as half full, as opposed to half empty"... and not complain. Just a chosen difference of perspective.

So following this post I intend to strive towards a template in which I will:

1. shorten the post and make it less personally driven in content
2.display new works or projects... sans the "play-by-play" commentary
3. leave the teaching/ preaching/proselytizing to the teachers... therapist ... and the Pope

Post Script:

I welcome any feedback that any of you might have in regard to this decision because I remain open to people's opinions who have supported my journey and have freely contributed added their own thoughts and opinions along the way. I would truly value your input in this undertaking. It has been a hard decision to make alone. Perhaps... I am off the mark entirely.

Tranisitioning

Let's consider this short post below to be the kind of post that I might anticipate presenting.

I painted outdoors a couple of weeks ago with my longtime painting companion Frank Edwards. Thank you for your patience... as I segued  (transitioned) up to this point. I felt the chronology of my own past art transitioning to be a good path to use to describe the process whereby I have arrived stylistically at today.

I will show you the impression that I created of my day out with Frank first and then I shall include a jpeg of the actual site... as it lay before me.

This 16x20 oil on canvas entitled "Spring's Tawny Coat" depicts that transitional "Blah" of dead grasses dominating the landscape immediately following the departure of winter's snow cover. The lively new greens pinks in the tree tops are shown here as a mere whisper here and there of what is to come. Most artists stay home until Spring actually unfolds.



Shown below is the actual site... as it existed . Hardly as colourful as I have depicted above and the foreground... is simply a fabrication... the much used expression "artistic licence" quickly comes to mind. And yet... this very foreground has found its way naturally into many of my landscape paintings in the past. It is indeed a powerful visual echo derived from many other treks. This demonstrates the value of the plein air experience in formulating a pool of strategies to deal with less than interesting compositions.... and "bluebird days".



Ironically... this landscape does accurately symbolize seasonal transition and my composition as well... demonstrates the value in transitioning your painting approach away from merely copying nature to playing and making your own statement. Therein ... lies "fine art"... in my own mind!

Good Painting... and Playing!... to ALL!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"The Smallest Things... Have the Greatest Potential"

"For substantially all ideas are secondhand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born out of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except with the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral caliber and his temperament, and which is revealed in the characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men- but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his."

From Mark Twain's letter to Helen Keller reflecting upon an incident years earlier when she had been charged - and - acquitted - of plagiarism



I stumbled upon the title for today's post while glancing through a glossy magazine. It was a sentence used by Kashi to introduce and encourage the inclusion of their quinoa cereal as a healthy supplement to our daily diets. It seemed a simple sentence at first... but being the eclectic gatherer that I am... it seemed to piece together seamlessly with the thoughts and directions that I wished to put forward regarding the importance of tradition in our personal and creative lives.

I thought... how appropriate it was that Spring was the perfect time to validate this sentence. In every corner of creation... at this very brief Spring moment, small and previously dormant things have been coaxed by the new sun to emerge. Though most are but mere green fingers at this moment in time... pointed skyward in hope, a few like these crocuses have already sounded the first notes of fanfare that the world will again... suddenly be transformed. Is this the first occasion? Hardly. It is a cycle... part of a plan we look to repeat.

Is it the same transformation repeated? Not exactly. Each year can... and usually does vary somewhat from others. However, the cycle can easily be predicted to follow a trajectory which leads through the the blazing intensity of growth and colour in summer through to September... and the return of sleep. That doesn't change. Tradition.... reshaped and refined in each separate cycle.


Crocus... first ... as expected... in full bloom!

I incorporated the timely phrase "old traditions... through new eyes" (with permission) from a comment sent to me by Dorset (UK) artist, Lisa Le Quelenec. I used it to create the foundation for my last post which focused upon the evolution and development of the maple syrup industry in Ontario. That post traced that annual rite of Spring in these parts from its meagerly rudimentary origin in First People's culture... through European influence and into the modern era of today's high yield and "sanitized" and high yield production.

Certainly... "modern" maple syrup is a misnomer because one can easily trace its development to from rudimentary heated stone birch bark containers to today's gas-fired high yield evaporators. Yet despite the superior technology... the original process and tradition is driven by climate and remains virtually unchanged.

I mentioned in the concluding moments and lines of that post that I could clearly discern parallel thoughts and application of that "timely phrase" in reference to creating art and the evolution Western Art History itself... as it arrived and was transplanted into Canadian culture through European settlement influences.

A comment related to my "Good Thoughts...  on Friday" post and a further interest in Tom Thomson from my Scottish watercolour artist friend, Keith Tilley prompted me to offer today's post which aligns itself perfectly with Lisa Le Quelenec's wonderful phrase "old traditions... through new eyes."

In the "Good Thoughts..." post, I shared some of the work of the iconic Canadian landscape painter, Tom Thomson... in the absence of the availability of new work from my own easel. Several decades of emerging and aspiring Canadian artists like myself were "educated" and shaped by Thomson and his Group of Seven associates. Together, they blazed a brave and highly colourful  new trail for Canadian Art away from the earlier established and grayed tonalist tradition of lowland European landscape painters.

This sudden cultural shift in Canadian landscape painting was inspired through a chance exposure by Group of Seven members Lawren Harris and J.E.H MacDonald to Scandinavian work in an exhibition at the avant-garde Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY in 1913. This fateful experience could be said to be "the flash point for the formation of the Group of Seven".

It was from this moment forward, and through their example that Canadian painters have focused their energy and interests on the Canadian landscape,. Was this accomplished in an entirely unique fashion? Hardly. Their very manifesto was created and driven by what they saw in that Scandinavian exhibition... and Canada was "ripe" for such a change. She had reached a respectable station as a recognized nation because of her significant military role in World War I. The stars were aligned perfectly to usher in revolutionary change on the shoulders of this new feeling of nationalism. All that was needed further was a powerful mythic catalyst.

The Role of Tom Thomson in the Emergence of The Group of Seven

Tom Thomson was not a member of the Seven. The group was formed after his mysterious and tragic death by drowning in 1917 on Canoe Lake in the Park. He had worked side-by-side with many of them at the advertising-illustration firm in Toronto called "The Grip". It was here that he met J.E.H MacDonald who took him under his wing and provided the critical knowledge of art and painting. Thomson, unlike the others tended to paint mostly by himself... seeking solitude and quiet. He was complex and for the most part not very comfortable or secure socially.

Though he was awkwardly shy...  it would be this woodsman (by myth only) and loner-by-choice who would bring the Group... and Canadian landscape painting into the wilderness of Algonquin Park. It was his discovery of the unique beauty of this immense and as yet untouched wilderness which proved to be the catalyst to encourage the better educated members to enter this intimidating, unforgiving and alien environment from the city where they dwelled in its forests of restrictions and confining spaces.

His work can be seen to be different than each of the other members whose work undeniably reflects their close proximity to each other and their shared academic training and travel in Europe. What he brought to them was a process of making unfettered sketches on location... by the hundreds in his short tragic life span.


Petawawa Gorge - The on site sketch on 8X10 inch  1/4 in birch panel


In the winter months... he chose specific sketches which he felt deserved a larger format and further thought and development. Hence... he was a "plein air" artist... a century before the term would become the fad that it is today. He painted these while "wintering" in a Rosedale ravine (now a posh enclave for the Toronto elite) adjacent to "The Studio Building". This modern art complex was built by Lawren Harris with all of its trappings to accommodate artists like Harris and A.Y Jackson as studio-residences. Thomson shunned this comfort... preferring to replicate his woodsy lifestyle... alone. The Shack now sits on the property of the McMichael Canadian Collection... a cathedral to the Canadian landscape tradition. But that's a story for another day..



Petawawa Gorge -The finished studio painting on canvas

Though Thomson admittedly chose to  follow his own path... I feel that it can be argued that he was influenced merely by the presence of the other Seven ... a couple of its members like MacDonald and Lismer whom he admired greatly. They freely shared their own learning and techniques with this eager up comer. it can be seen in his oeuvre as well... that he shunted back and forth experimenting with new styles emanating from Europe.

 I will also guess that this influence was peripheral and unintentional ... except at certain points in his program of self- learning and study. Here are some examples that I feel show directly the presence of European influences and interest by Thomson. At best, it can be seen that he experimented with and then left these influences to move forward under his own creative power and specific interests. Many of the Group maintained a closer adherence and preference for the Impressionism, Cubism and Surreal that were in vogue in avant-garde European cities like Paris.


Thomson's Emergence As An Artist


I have chosen Thomson to demonstrate a belief I have in the hopes that his example will encourage you to truly believe that "the smallest things... [do in fact] have the greatest potential"... and that each of us does in fact possess a "voice" of our own. However, that voice within which is vibrant... free and  trusting begins to be dulled and is diminished the moment that we are forced to leave childhood to "grow up".

Few of us can resist that social expectation and we conform out of a need to claim acceptance and to pursue careers. In so doing,we abdicate our right to freely choose and to maintain a truly creative spirit. Simply put... we conform... or we settle. It is not usually until much later in life... usually after career and parenting responsibilities have been met that many hearken back to a former feeling that they had very much enjoyed doing creative things.

Though it is never too late to commence a creative journey and to reclaim that creative inner spirit... it is however... in my humble opinion unreasonable to expect to enter any arts program and to achieve the level off success and accomplishment that other working artists have achieved over an entire life time dedicated to their craft. Could one reasonable expect to pick up a violin and practice for a year and expect to play or tour with a symphonic orchestra? Could we call ourselves a classical musician?

What can... and will be accomplished is a gain in satisfaction... a further incentive to better one's skills and contact with other people who stimulate and encourage further exploration. Each of us can achieve these valuable commodities and find purpose in our adult learning. Learning is a lifetime pursuit... with no final destination. Each day presents a new opportunity to discover more about our creative spirits. Paint on!

Thomson represents one of those rarities in painting for which there seems no complete answer. He entered into commercial art joining The Grip in 1907... completely void of training. His initial oil paintings beginning in 1906 mimic those of every beginning artist in oils... my own included. They are, as one one would expect... undistinguished and lack vision... or any visible sign of exceptional talent.


These are samples of early works completed circa 1907 when he first began his apprenticeship and work as an illustrator at The Grip. This would then mean that Thomson was a late starter in his early thirties. However... it was his exposure to competent and trained artist-illustrators and designers in his midst daily who were willing to share their knowledge freely with him that most likely account for his sudden accelerated rate of artistic growth and development. Add to that part of the equation... his compulsive need to paint. These two factors in my opinion fueled his uncanny rapid mastery of painting.


More rather "ordinary" or at least undistinguished smaller paintings at this point from his early days circa 1907


 This sketch ... though dark in timbre indicates a shifting into a higher realm of understanding and the capacity to paint what he genuinely feels from within. It is an early precursor of the mature work for which Thomson is remembered and revered.


These paintings shown below record his brief interest and experimentation with the "new" and avant-garde ideas coming out of European Impressionism


 Definitely an attempt to include Art Nouveau decorative flourishes and organization ... BUT... within a Canadian landscape birch format... a favourite subject for Thomson throughout his brief career.


"The Fisherman". Here in this mid career painting mimics the Impressionists Sislay, Pissaro and Monet revolutionary break from traditional realism through the use of small strokes of "broken colour" to create form and movement in their work.



Thomson's famous broken colour large studio canvas rendering of "The Pointers"... which depicts log drivers with their long log driving poles being barged our to build the booms of timber to be floated down the main rivers on their long voyage to saw mills. After being squared... the timber was loaded aboard large sailing vessels bound for overseas markets.


This painting "Jack Pine" is perhaps the most iconic of Thomson's studio work. Broken colour can be clearly seen again as the fabric and underpinning method of this tapestry-like master work.

The questions which have arisen to address the mystery of his untimely and tragically young demise at forty years of age are of little interest to me personally any longer. I completed an in depth study based upon reading all the literature early in my own self-study program. In the field of art history... one can easily see that this unfortunate end is hardly unique. One need only look at Van Gogh to see this history repeat itself.

Perhaps... they even shared the same affliction... bipolar disorder because of their high level of creative energy and solitary nature. I wonder? But after a century... these things matter little.

The obvious answer for the mercuric rise of these artists' work from completely average and awkward beginnings to exceptionality can most likely be attributed to their compulsive need to make paintings and being able to sustain their pace of work for long periods of time... before needing to stop and regain energy or inspiration.

Having devoted my entire lifetime to painting... my work has yet to... and perhaps never will mature to their level... or even beyond my own humble talents and abilities now.But that matters little to me as well. I simply "am"..... and will continue to struggle and learn as I am able... until I am either unable... or do not wish to proceed.

I have created this rather large post specifically for my friend Keith Tilley. But... I hope in some fashion... that it offers new insights to others in their searches who might find it interesting and useful too.

I will close out the post... and I could go on forever.... BUT... I have many other projects and issues in my own world to address immediately. I will offer some of my own favourites from his mature works... all completed in this truly unbelievably short period of  of 1915 through to 1917... the year of his death.


"Spring in Algonquin Park" - oil on birch panel 8 x 10 inches


 "The Drive" - I love this painting for its sheer dynamic energy and superior strength of composition. I covet its innate simplicity and rich colour. This painting... as much as any other.. captures the rough and tumble wilderness to which Thomson was drawn and its defining industry... logging.


Once again... his mastery of rich colour and innate good design activate this waterfall of autumn colour... as it fairly tumblers into your lap. It is the Canadian maple wood splendor... unmatched anywhere in my experience!


A somewhat confrontational vertical landscape which is tamed through his mastery of pastels and juxtaposition of complementary colour.

Final Brush Strokes

These last three on site sketches fully discern that Thomson has begun to leave behind his interest in simply painting what was in front of him. In these intuitive panels can be seen his movement towards abstracting the landscape and making it into his own liking



Frost-laden Cedars, Cauchon Lake


 "Tamaracks"



"Petawawa Gorge -  Look at the use of rich colour and contrast to create volume... dazzling light and shadow to create grandeur... mood and depth of space.


"Woodland Interior in Winter" - Note the increased abstracting of form and reduction of space to a  two dimensional interest.

 I truly feel that I owe a great debt for my own painting achievement and knowledge to the Group of Seven... and particularly Tom Thomson. We have painted and shared a common pride and passion for our Canadian landscape. Though others may consider our efforts pedantic... and dated... I choose to paint on and to leave that final judgement using the words of a group member A.J Casson:

"Time... is the only critic."

I pay homage to the wonderful book chronicling Tom Thomson's Life by David Silcox and Harold Town... "The Silence and the Storm". This is one of that small grouping of books that I own that I refer to as my Bibles. I pour through it from time to time and I never fail to come away without new energy and an uplifted creative spirit.

David P. Silcox is a respected Canadian art historian, writer of many texts, arts advocate, educator and President Of Sotheby's Canada Art Auction Houses. Harold Town... now deceased was one of the founding members of The famous Canadian Painters Eleven, a group of internationally respected abstract expressionists.

Town's Preface to this wonderful publication... loaded with highly accurate pictorial and historical background to Thomson's life ends with this appropriate quote which I think sums up what I have tried to present in this very precised post for you:

"At the time of his death a perturbed Thomson was poised on the crevasse between figurative and non-figurative art. Whether he would have survived the jump is a matter of conjecture; that he would have jumped is, to me at least, a certainty."

What do you think?...




Good Painting... to ALL!!!

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Old traditions... through new eyes"



           A Brief History of Maple Syrup Production in Ontario


The phrase I have chosen to use for today's post is a phrase shared in a comment by fellow blogger Lisa Le Quelenec of Dorset, UK as a reference to how traditions of a previous generation can be seen to be passed forward through exposing them to the "new faces" in their early childhood years. Such is certainly the case in our family... which compelled Lisa to send along her phrase while viewing our annual spring adventure in the sugar bush.

Such an undertaking by our family can be hardly be viewed as totally unique. But it is not at all a "main stream" practice by any means, nor is it an outrageous act either, It is more as a localized response to Spring's much awaited arrival. For our family... it represents our distillation of the practices and responses practised by earlier generations of Ontarian inhabitants to mark and celebrate this rite of Spring.

The earliest of maple sap gatherers were the numerous tribes of Woodland First Peoples. In order to survive the harsh winters, they separated into smaller family groupings to lessen the pressure upon hunting and to reduce the spreading of deadly illnesses. Starvation and disease hung over these wintering nomadic peoples.

It was during Spring that waters were finally freed of their thick winter ice... hunting trails were again free of winter drifts too deep to penetrate... and the maple tree sap was coaxed by an ever-strengthening sun from the roots upward through the trunk to the new buds high in the canopies. It was a time of renewal... marked by the return of separated tribal factions to shared summer fishing and hunting sites. It was a time of returning plenty where fish ran abundantly up creeks and into shallows to be snared and speared easily and in great numbers.

First People Tapping and Boiling Traditions and Methods

The native peoples long recognized the value of the clear white maple sap and most likely discovered it in a purely accidental fashion... perhaps simply by tasting the "sapcicles" that often hang off sapplings and then heating it to make a warm drink for winter consumption. Through some unknown method, they began gathering the sap by gashing the trunks and catching the sap in birch bark vessels and gourds which could be hung under a wooden peg driven into the trunk. I have seen very ancient trees in maple stands where very deep notches had been cut into a lower root... on which a bark vessel had been set to collect the sap from the wound.




Boiling was accomplished in one of two ways. Round field stones were heated in large open fires and were then dropped into large birch containers... or into hollowed out tree trunk troughs. In this way,the process was continued until the sap was boiled down to the desired rich syrup.




However these First Peoples arrived at commencing this annual rite of Spring... we are today indebted greatly to them for the knowledge of it that they shared so willingly with first explorers and settlers. Though these indigenous first tappers collected and boiled their syrup in the crudest of containers and processes... the method remains the same. Just the process has been updated and improved.

Pioneer Syrup Gathering and Boiling Methods

Early European arrival and influence completely changed and replaced the native traditions almost immediately... even for the First Peoples. The French introduced iron to the native peoples in the form of trade axes and iron kettles, morphing the maple syrup production into a whole new and more efficient production method.

At first, the sap was gathered in handmade wooden, or metal pails which were used to collect the sap. Wooden spigots or spiels were driven into drilled holes in the trunk... from which the sap bled freely into the bucket attached below. Sap was gathered in large wooden barrel-like tanks aboard a sled pulled by a horse or an oxen. Gatherers traversed the deep snow in the woods on snowshoes to ease the gathering process.




The sap was then delivered to a wood-fired central boiling site, where it was reduced to maple syrup through a long and tedious boil in a very large cast iron kettle hung low over a continuous hardwood fire. These fires often ran continuously throughout several days and nights.

Production was low using this method... given that it requires forty gallons of clear sap to produce a single gallon of maple syrup. There was also the very high risk that the syrup could be burned... as it reached that critical time when it thickened rapidly into the desired syrup form.

Early settlers most often created maple sugar from the syrup by pouring into unique and finely crafted and decorative wooden molds. These molds today fetch huge amounts of money from eager antique Canadiana collectors. The sugar could be stored and used in baking as well... or as a sweetener.




Sweet maple relics... handmade hickory or butternut pails... maple candy molds and sumac spigots... a reverence for things wooden... which I share and collect.



Here is an "updated" version of the original single pot boil -  the three pot. In this new process, the syrup was moved at specific intervals to lower heat in each of the other pots... to lessen the chance of burning the gold. Shown here are two "early pioneers" tending the kettles at Sheppard's Bush circa 1997. Bryn and Liam loved our annual forays to the different bushes. "How sweet it was..." when we were the Three Musketeers - "One for all... and all for one!" We even ate... and settled sibling uprisings and disputes... around the family "Round Table." We had such fun growing up together!!!



The single flat pan in the bush setting was the next improvement to the process. The larger boiling surface reduced the boiling time significantly and greatly increased the volume of syrup that could be processed. Being located centrally right in the bush greatly reduced the time factor in gathering to the site for boiling. and reduced the labour in the deep snow.



Eventually... the pan was covered in with a rough shanty structure which prevented unexpected weather elements and airborne debris from ruining the boil. They as well afforded the gatherers protection from the elements and the cold.  Wood for the seasonm coul be kept dry and cut during the summer for the next season's fuel supply.

The boil offs would continue uninterrupted... day and night during the entire month (or so) of sap producing. Some shanties even operated with two pans operating simultaneously... one to boil fresh sap. It was then  transferred into the lower second pan at the time it was starting to become syrup for a slower boil and finish into syrup to cool. So production was then continuous.



This ink sketch documents clearly the various components and functions of a tradition sugar shanty in Ontario. This sketch portrays one located at Glen Smail, Ontario near Ottawa. It was continuously operated by Willy Smail" family from United Empire Loyalist land grant time (circa 1812) until the late 1980's. It is now a ghost... disappeared into history!


Here is a photo of McCutcheon's... "under full steam"... in April

This is the McCutcheon Family's modern gas-fired evaporator operation located in Horseshoe Valley in the Township of Oro - Medonte north of Barrie Ontario. This family business produces world class maple syrup, tapping over 600 trees annually to produce the hundreds of galleons that they sell yearly.

Syrup along with Ken's honey operation and Rene's artisan pottery permit them to operate a self-sustaining family business based upon their maple syrup production. They often gather in excess of 2500 gallons of sap daily through the miles of tubing that brings the sap from their maple stands directly to their boiler and pans. They have separate areas in their shed displaying and selling their products to visitors, as well as space set aside for bottling the syrup and making the maple butter and candy that they are known for.



Maple shaped maple sugar Candy... a much sought after favourite of many children and tourists




This shows the large pan receiving the boiled syrup with cloth top filter out any impurities before they bottle the product.



Here is a sample of the maple products of McCutcheon's Maple Syrup displayed with the numerous honours and awards... including World Championship Awards from The Royal Winter Fair Competition. Truly... "Canadian Gold"... par excellent!!!


Concluding Thoughts...

I decided to use this opportunity to acquaint those of you who have never visited Canada ... or have never visited a bush with some insight into the origin of this sweet Canadian Spring harvest. Not only did annual production of maple syrup serve to provide farmers with additional revenue from their land... it created a much anticipated opportunity for entire families to come together early in the year to work and play together... both adults and children. It was a family social occasion fondly looked forward to. Even school took a back seat.

Maple syrup could be found at roadside stands everywhere one travelled on rural side roads... and signs like these announced that they were in business. That tradition continues today... but as always... the government has imposed controls and hovers over producers... limiting maple syrup sales to the large producers... or worse... corporate... mouthwash!.... Not even maple syrup! A pity!!!




There is a broad comparison that I will address in my upcoming post. That comparison will examine my view that the production of art can well be compared to the growth and development of maple syrup. Interested to find out?...... Stay tuned!


Sweet Buckets of Spring ... from The Paint Box Gang...

Good Painting... to ALL!!!!


Post Script

The above title for today's post is a phrase borrowed from a comment sent to me from a regular blog friend, Lisa Le Quelenec... a Dorset, UK artist whose site I visit and enjoy. You can make your own way there at seasidestudiosblog.blogspot.co.uk  The phrase spoke to me of in inner "conversation" I had been having in preparing for this post.

Thank you Lisa... for the phrase,... and for the permission to use it here!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring Tonic.... Simply Breathe In!

Painting has been set aside lately to allow for other important things on the spring "to do" list... to get done. The first of these was to catch my breath after a few too many months tied to the easel and a bad dose of the flu/cold.

That was accomplished on Easter weekend with a weekend long celebration with family. Eggs and chocolate really had but a small role to play in this year's fete... for all of the "wee ones" (as the pictures of this post will clearly show)... have either themselves become Easter Bunnies... or have moved on to newer adventures.


Some Bunny's... having Easter fun!

This year, we... as a whole family shared Easter together in Kingston... taking turns walking... reading to and entertaining Mr Mac... the newest member to our Sherman tribe. Each contributed to the sumptuous Easter feast that we enjoyed together on Good Friday. It was a perfect way to put Spring into my step!



Joan sets the very finest of festive holiday tables... always has! A cook... extraordinaire!




Grampa reads funny guys!....




Mac sharing smiles... double chins... and his Easter train with Grampa...complete will bell... whistles and animal noises at every press of another gaily colored button.There is no greater gift for a life fully lived than the warmth of a grandchild that tells one... you have lived a good life and will leave the world a special gift to say so... for years to come!

On Sunday, we all met again and traveled to the Cataraqui Regional Conservation Authority's nature preserve to visit their Syrup and Pancake Festival. They have created a tour on site that chronicles the full history of sap gathering... from the First People's methods right up to the present day steam pan production.


Gramma Joan... ridin' shotgun..


Saddle up Pardner!... It's Giddy-up time!


"Snuggles"... with Dad... He's my main man!

The sweet adventure commenced with a tractor ride through the snowy woods in covered wagon replicas... much to the delight of Mr Mac. His eyes never left the sight of those behemoth tires as they edged us slowly... but surely on the muddy road bed. Two BIG Easter eggs for wee Mr Mac!


"Lookit them big wheels turnin..."



The 2015 Sherman Sugar Bush Troupe... note the "borrowed" plaid Canadian tuxedo on Andrew! Now... you're in  official "Dad" uniform Son!


The Three Rockwood Shermans chowing down! Melissa, Mac... and Andyrewster!


The sweetest rite of Spring!... BIG pancakes... fresh from the griddle... topped with creamy butter and a pouring of hot... freshly made maple syrup... served in the grandeur of the very bush it comes from!

I mentioned that "other things" have taken over in this man's world, but I think that these photos well demonstrate the wisdom of this necessary "stepping aside". Even a creative spirit needs frequent and new nourishment to remain fresh and fulfilled. A man cannot live by the brush alone. I have learned that!

However... all of this said, I feel that it would hardly be appropriate to close out a post without at least one painting. I concluded the last post with a sharing of the iconic paintings of Canadian landscape painter Tom Thomson. Today ... I have selected the work of yet another Canadian painter I deeply love and admire... for his kind gentle, generous spirit... his loyalty... and his intellect. it is an early work... completed en plein air in my company that still stands the test of time.


This painting was painted in the small village of Newton-Robinson on a plein painting trip together in the late fall of 1998. Newton - Robinson became a "honey hole"... as we jokingly called our favourite spots to paint. This wee gem of a sketch hung in my own home for many years... and I greatly miss it now. I had traded it for the canvas that I had painted alongside him that day. It now hangs, back where it rightfully belongs... in my "wee" son Andrew's own home ... along with mine. Not bad... EH???... for a twelve year old's painting!

A regular art collector and dealer who purchased only my best sketches and paintings once asked if this one on my wall could be for sale. The answer was as expected... but it speaks to an unspoken truth. An artist is one who paints what's before him, or her using the eyes and hand. But he, or she only produces an exceptional and truthful painting... when it comes from the heart!

The run is over for 2015 in our area... but I will post a series based upon the dioramas that were present at The Cat sugar bush. It really graphically illustrates the evolution of maple syrup production. Stay tuned.....

Good Spring Painting!... to ALL!!!