Thursday, December 31, 2009

First footing...All of my Friends

The term "first footing" comes from my Scottish tradition and pertains to celebrating the New Year in that tradition. It simply describes being the first to enter a house by crossing the threshold in the New Year. It was always something I observed my Grandparents initiate... and it has been carried on in my parents house... and in my own way as well. Usually "I" most often "first foot"(ed) my parents if possible... but if not..."I" would carry it over to my closest friend.

Sadly... when Auld Lang Syne is sung this evening... both my Grandparents and my beloved Mom and Dad will not be present... as they have passed on.So "I" have decided to use cyber technology and my blog to "first foot" any one of my newly found Blogger Family who visits my blog. "I" bring Good wishes for Health...Happiness and Prosperity to your Home... wherever it might be located.

"I" completed my last plein air sketch of 2009... a pastoral 5x7" oil on toned mat board completed late this afternoon... using my trusty pochade box, along side the road not far from my home and gallery.

"I" set this goal to finish a very full and successful year of painting.I returned home and put the final touches on my earlier promised 24x30 canvas version of the 5x7 inch panel featuring a snow-laden fir on my Dec 18Th post.Changes occurred in the final version... for the better "I" think!

The creation of my blog has brought much joy and pleasure into my life through meeting those individuals who have encouraged my blogging effort. Writing the blog posts and responding to comments has offered much challenge and has made "Me" examine and evaluate my own artistic process. "I" so look forward to writing new posts... and to have people from all over come back to "connect"... some from a vast distance.

"I" have genuinely tried to make this more than a mutual "pat-me-on-the-back" kind of site, offering encouragement and sharing ideas about my artistic and personal life to perhaps offer encouragement and knowledge that "I" have garnered along the way. "I" am overwhelmed and warmed by the "presence" of the vast number of skillful and dedicated artists who have visited my site... and who share my values and passion for Art.

"I" will endeavour to continue to share my thoughts and ideas about making and selling your art in the New Year. "I" have been blessed to have enjoyed good success in a career doing both... including a rewarding teaching career that spanned close to thirty years.

I have made a "Bucket List (not of resolutions per say)...but of "10" Goals "I" intend to carry out to improve my daily life. "I" will share these in a future post in the New Year. "I" will only state at this time that "I" have earnestly tried to identify achievable goals... ones that "I" can achieve... and therefore motivate further goal-setting and growth.Some of them are personal lifestyle goals... others pertain to my artistic growth and development... while some enjoin "Me" with my good wife Deb to set couple goals to bring us together more closely.

Too many times in our constrained schedules, we often set goals too lofty... or goals which lack initial planning and study.... and when we fail to achieve them... we blame life for "getting in the way"... preventing us from completing them.

My eldest child Lisa, is in Jamaica... her favourite place on earth. "She" has lived there for a large part of her adult life... but personal circumstances and her young family... necessitated her return to Canada... for the most part to offer them a better chance at an education to allow them to live in Canada ... if they so choose. "She" loves the culture... its people... food... warm climate and especially its wonderful Reggae Artists and Music.

"She" sent me the lyrics to a Reggae song by a favourite group Bugle. They sort of some up my feelings about life:

Don't blame Life.
Blame the way you live it!

My second born, Allison... writing her PhD thesis as we speak... and yes... in Art History responded to my New Year's email sent to all 5 of my children with this:

"Lovely picture that you sent along dad-a tree in a clearing is a great way to think of ourselves on the brink of a new decade. Fresh start, lots of room to grow and change".

Thank "You" dear Allison!... Couldn't have said it any better my Self!

Much Peace and Happiness in the New Year! Thanks for your support and encouragement.Keep the Faith... and ....

Good Painting... everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to ALL

Being out in the "rush n'crush" is over for us. All of the gifts are wrapped and under our beautifully decorated fir tree. As is my own personal Christmas ritual... I rise early... most often between 4:30 and 6:00 am... make coffee and then turn on the Christmas tree lights... sit sipping hot coffee.... thinking... and writing in my favourite comfy wing backed chair.

It is only then... that one can reflect back into time and fully understand the fuller meaning of "having" light... or in waiting and hoping... as ancients did... that "Light" would return. We now refer to their vigil and this celestial event as Winter Solstice.We often arrogantly refer to these celebrations as "pagan"... a poor choice of a word in my thoughts... meant to devalue what was simply earlier knowledge and understanding.

Even in the Christian celebration the heavens play a huge role in that "story".The much awaited birth of the baby "Christ"... the Messiah... or Light which the world waited for is the central image in this pageant . Wise men guided to the Nativity site from across a vast distance by a "special" star....a "star of Wonder". Skies were filled with glorifying angels descending upon shepherds. All of these events were squarely located around this Winter Solstice time frame... in more recent times at least.

My point here is that no matter whether you are a "believer" in this Christmas story... its underlying message should be clear. We still live today ... all of us in hope of seeing the light of another day. There are no promises of that... no matter your age or address. We live in uncertain... too rapidly changing... and volatile times. Let us make a conscious attempt... each of "Us"... to choose to live in Hope...Peace... and Harmony with our friends, neighbours and those we simply meet on our journeys. To make choices to assume some role... no matter how minor it might seem... to assume stewardship for our planet... so that our children with others around the world might enjoy its fruit and blessings in their life times as we have.

I will end this post with a quote from a newspaper article I recently enjoyed written by Mary Ormsby for the Toronto Star. It reads as follows:

"If you believed in Jesus Christ then any signal(from the heavens) that supports your beliefs would be looked upon fondly.
I'm not saying that I don't believe in Jesus Christ. But if you're a religious person, sometimes you gain the feeling of satisfaction or comfort knowing there are other signals that support your beliefs.
Perhaps everyone has their own star of wonder, just waiting to be found.Where? That's easy.
Look up from the keyboard,into the clear night sky, and pick one."

Referring back to my previous post. "I" have found my own personal star of... "Wonder". I can "see" and enjoy it by night or by day... as do many of "You".Each and every time "We"... as artists look upon the ever changing face of Creation while we are "out there" painting... we feel "Wonder"... and Hope!

"I" am truly and deeply blessed... and my Hope for blessings upon your house goes out to each of "You"

Merry Christmas to All... and Good Painting in 2010!
Much Peace,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An unexpected Christmas gift

I had a totally unexpected visit to the Gallery by our local veterinarian. I say totally unexpected... simply because we don't have a single animal under our roof and care.

Drew Hunnisett and his wife own and operate the Hillsdale Veterinary Services and live in the Oro-Medonte Hills... for the same reason that I do. They love the space and the people of this wonderful region of Ontario.They live in a straw bale and stucco constructed house at the end of Line 5 Oro with their eight year old daughter. She can often be found "on-the-job"with her dad in his portable clinic truck anywhere in the Oro-Medonte.

Drew is the quintessential old country vet... as depicted in the popular British "All Things Big and Small"... right down to the pork pie hat... rubber boots... shirt and tie... plaid tweed coat... and a broader than usual grin and sense of humour that warm you up to him... even before he utters a word in conversation.

We often exchange "Good mornings" and a bit of friendly banter when I encounter him at the crack of dawn at the local variety store. I am fetching the morning Star... and he a tea and sweet to kick-start his daily tour of local farms.Beyond that, all we seemed to have shared in common was our postal address and a wave here and there as we passed.

Being a methodical man of purpose... he immediately led the conversation by asking what I was painting on the side of the 6Th Line as he he had passed by back in early November.He said "that he was curious... as to why I would be painting on the side of the road looking into a pasture... when there seemed to be so many more tempting subjects close by".

I told him that I had passed this place hundreds of times and in all seasons and that it was the beautifully sunlit copse of birches on the slope of the hill that always commanded my attention. On that beautiful late fall day... it was the combination of the stridently white birches, scarlet sumac and the khaki-coloured strands of juniper all in harmony and all clinging to that diagonal slope... that caused me to stop and set up on that day.

He offered his reason for belatedly dropping in to see what I had painted there... and if I might still have the piece around. I brought it out and showed him... and his reply was, "Oh my!... That's exactly why my daughter pleads with me to drive back home past the "Tree Place". She loves this place!"

He enquired as to the price and told me that he and his wife would drop by later in the week to look at it together. He felt he would like to surprise his daughter...under the tree. They returned... both loved the painting... but the wife argued (reasonably)... that this is quite an unusual ,... if not expensive single present for a small girl of this age. They asked us to put it on hold for a day or two until they mulled it over together.Good idea!Don't buy.. or sell on impulse!!!

Out of the blue this past week... Drew blew into the Gallery late in the evening and said, " I'm here to fetch that painting... we've decided she'll be thrilled and delighted to have it. It will make a fine keepsake of our days here for "Her"... it's lovely"!

I was touched that they would recognize and encourage this young soul to value the world around "Her".That it mattered "She" did! This is my greatest aim as an artist... to educate viewers and collectors that these natural blessings are enjoy... and to assume stewardship for! It is not ironic that this family "practises" this respect and love for things wild in their daily lives. I could not help but add my share to their gift... firstly by reducing the retail price ... but as well.. by writing a short poem which ties together our mutual passion ... and our "seeing" together.

Pasture...or Pageant???

An ordinary pasture to many who daily pass,
To them just another patch... of drab coloured grass.
But to some who "imagine" it's a circus that unfolds,
A visual kingdom rich in reds... greens and golds.

Brightly lit birches ascend the slope too,
Stretching tapered, crooked fingers towards a canopy of blue.
Khaki-coloured junipers toboggan the hill,
While the deep magenta shadows pierce the foreground at will.

The smell of the pines in the crisp autumn air,
And the song of the wind, as it gusts here and there.
The silence of this pageant without warning gives way,
To the shrill, mocking call of a resident jay.

The last vestige of warm Summer massages the Soul,
And all of your being... seems contented and whole.
How can one miss this... yet another can "see"-
I guess "Imagineering" and "Wonder" are what enjoin "You"... to "Me"!

In closing... it is reassuring to "Me" that some "special" children and their "special" parents ARE, in fact, continuing to recognize the value of this blessed Eden we call the Earth. More importantly, they passionately embrace the Resonsibility for their role in its Stewardship.... and work actively to add their commitment.

True... that "making art"... can bring one financial return... awards... recognition and offer personal satisfaction. But to see your work fill another human being's heart with joy,... or wonder... is the ultimate "Gift" back to any artist!

Paint your heart out... and share it with another!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter arrived... with a vengeance.

Winter rolled into the Oro-Medonte region off Georgian Bay with his usual fury. A two night dump of almost 30cm... combined with -16 C temperatures and transformed the ashen and ochre countryside with an ermine white covering that reminded all that Christmas was closer than we had cared to believe... just hours before.

I had risen early (4:00 am) that morning... having heard the driving north-westerly wind howling at our windows... and looked out on the highway to discover telephone lines encrusted with heavy snow... fir tree boughs ladened with snow and cars struggling to make their early morning commute into Toronto on deeply drifted roads and white out conditions.

I put on the coffee and went down into the studio... deciding I might as well get a jump on the day. I had laid out pigment the night before... but was too tired to start anything. I decided to "putt away" this quiet time at a small 5x7 inch burnt sienna toned panel... just to play a bit.I chose a photo I had taken of some flooded willows earlier in the fall. Things went along smoothly and within an hour and a bit, I had a sketch that I was satisfied with.

Here is the result of that early morning session...completed... nothing to be added... and framed by nightfall. After lunch, I completed a second 5x7 panel... this time a sunrise subject at Coulson... a small nearby crossroad settlement.

Around 3:00 pm I went up Mill Street West... camera in hand... about two kilometers and discovered this last subject.I immediately and excitedly set at it upon returning to the studio.It fairly... "painted itself"... in less than hour. I am really pleased with its outcome. So much so... that I think it might make a real nice subject for a larger format... perhaps a 24x30 inch canvas next week.Stay tuned!

Sometimes it takes a drastic change in weather to motivate you... to lift you to stretch your energy limits. I will sleep tonight.... with dreams of snow scenes... dancing in my head! Can't wait to get "out there"!

Good painting!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Never Give Up... the Ship

It is always discouraging for "Me" as an artist when patrons do not seem to see the good qualities "I" see... or feel for a piece of work I feel pleased with. It is... I suppose like having your child undervalued when you know the potential and the good spirit of that child.

This week I had the good fortune to see such a plein air painting I had valued(which I had painted back in 1998, while living in Nova Scotia) be chosen along with three others by an art dealer... whose tastes and knowledge of painting I admire and trust. He immediately recognized the very same qualities in the work that I had tried to create... and had been satisfied with in the final work.He was excited by it... and was more than pleased to buy it.

That two hour plein air sketch had been exhibited in a couple of good galleries in Nova Scotia and in Ontario... but had failed to interest, or catch the eye of a prospective buyer.The argument... complaint...or reason for its lack of appeal was the "grey quality of the day" it depicted. I never could quite buy those reasons... simply because it really did depict the day as I had experienced it... and the very barren and bleak landscape that is found around Stonehurst North. I had "nailed it"... in my own mind.

"I" am not writing this post to laud the quality of the art.. or "ME" the artist. "I" write only to encourage any other artists who might read this blog NOT to be discouraged from expressing themselves ... or to judge a work as a failure... simply because it doesn't sell quickly... or satisfy the objectives of the "critics". This applies as well to the rejection we ALL have received in entering juried shows,in approaching galleries to represent you and the like. Such rejection can being paralyzing to your creative energies and self-confidence.Always remember the reason that "You" (should have) created the work in the first place- was to please your Self and to gain new knowledge!

In looking at this plein air panel... now over ten years passed... it still gives "Me" personal pleasure and satisfaction to see the spontaneous,expressive, confident brushwork... and the good solid range of values that allow this work to possess and exude the "grey quality of that (18th) day" of January in 1998. It gives "Me" personal pleasure if for no other reason... that my impression of that lovely winter day... now lost forever in Time to everyone else... can still be enjoyed by my dealer friend... and by "Me" in my memory. That's the real value for any piece of anyone.

The lesson I think is clear:

"Be true unto thy Self"! The joy and the reward is in act of painting!

Good painting to All!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reaching.... Stretching... Winning

Winter has arrived... and with it the new changes in the Oro-Medonte landscape. Skiing, skidooing and four wheeling ratchet into high gear with the local residents and tourists. Snow is money ...and rives the economy in this hilly part of Ontario. The three major ski resorts draw thousands of ardent winter worshippers into this beautiful region.It is truly a Winter Wonderland... in every respect!

Occasionally the Universe offers an opportunity... one that questions and challenges your artistic limits and interests. "The Hallyburton Air Show"...a 4x8 foot monster is such a commission. My "cartaker"... yes, that's spelled correctly, my local friend and car mechanic/garage owner asked me to produce this large very action piece for his Skidoo racer son Travis to hang in his bedroom.

At first, I was a bit reluctant to accept the commission... due to the real fact that I don't personally like skidoos or four wheeled vehicles.They are noisy and chew up the environment when used without conscience and often are driven without regard for safety or the property of others. However, I decided not to let my own personal biases get in the way of an opportunity to stretch my Self artistically. Besides... it was monetarily to my advantage as well!

I was given two DVD discs loaded with over 200 race images from which I could create my own composition. After several hours of viewing and reviewing possibilities, I narrowed the action down to four images that I was able to "stitch" together visually into a composition which incorporated a real landscape and a group of racers.

The next big task was to create a panel taking into account the large size and the stability required for the work. I decided to use a 4x8 foot clear birch panel and mounted it to a 1x3 inch clear pine frame/support, using a power nailer and glue to fasten the panel to the frame. I then filled the nail holes and sanded them smooth. The frame had vertical stretcher braces at the one and two third distances to insure that it wouldn't warp.

I then applied three coats of gesso on the top side....sides and back of the panel to seal it. The client wished to have a "Skidoo" yellow border around the piece in lieu of framing. I carefully masked a 4 inch wide border and painted three coats of yellow paint. When this dried, I removed the tape and then retaped the border perimeter from the outside... leaving the white area for the picture area. I applied a randomly brushed coat of acrylic burnt sienna to act as a ground , or undercoat.The panel was ready for the under drawing.

Since I had no experience whatsoever in rendering skidoos... or race action.. I wisely decided to use willow charcoal sticks to "play with" the drawing... knowing that I could easily erase and change... feeling my way through this difficult part of the compositional lay in process. I started by establishing the basic landscape framework and then moved to the central figure (Travis) in the right foreground. I then gradually worked my way back through the pack to the background.When I was satisfied that the drawing was correct, I "fixed"it with fixative spray... and I was ready to apply paint.

I began laying in the foundation for shadows, or darks in both the snow and the fir tree line in the background. I introduced and established the direction of the sun in the upper right sky area.I then concentrated on building up the values and differences in the snow colour in the fore... middle and background areas. I moved into the wooded area behind Travis to isolate his shape so that it showed the proper emphasis.

It was at this point that I decided to launch into refining Travis' had to be dead on in structure and detail to satisfy the authenticity and integrity of the whole this one prominent spot.Any failure here... would be glaring...and reduce the overall reality that any snowmobile aficionado would be searching for and expecting. It took a great amount of painting...repainting and adjusting light and shadow on the figure, his clothing and helmet... and the actual details of the machine.

The final [part of the painting process was directed towards developing the other minor race figures... again being careful with the positioning and colour values in the shadows. I added other details such as a marshal... pylons and snow
"splatter" around the moving parts of Travis' machine to add a feeling of more movement.I achieved this by thinning my white with turps... and applying the splatter with a toothbrush... Not too much... just enough to give the idea.

I went over the entire area of the painting in one final evening of "pushing n' pulling" values and adding highlights for a more dramatic effect. When the painting process was complete... I carefully removed the light touch painter's masking tape to real the nice hard edge between the image and the yellow border area. I did this before the drying was complete... just to make sure that the paint didn't adhere the tape to the panel.

Overall... I was genuinely pleased with the final product...and the clients were elated. They could even identify each of the other riders in the distant part of the image. I feel that I achieved a dynamic quality in the design.. and that in Travis... in particular... I caught the energy... excitement and the action of a frozen moment in the race.

The lesson here? Never back away from a challenge offered... because of personal biases. Put them where they belong... back on the shelf... and step confidently into the Light!

Good Painting to all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let it snow....

For a lot of outdoor artists, snow marks the end of their outdoor...or plein air activities. Facing cold temperatures... less dramatic and rapidly changing lighting conditions and limitations for site locations (alongside the roads) discourages any notions to endure these "tribulations" for many.

Winter creates a whole new landscape... reveals many otherwise hidden subjects... and creates highly dramatic shadows and lighting displays. Dead grasses and plants... dull by comparison to fall painters... become colourful centres of interest. Snow is sculpted into marvelous patterns and shapes by the wind and sun... providing exciting opportunities for the avid winter painter.Some of my best... and most sought out work is from this season.The last plus for "ME"... is the absence of other people... and the solitude is mine to enjoy alone!

However... this has never been the case for "Me". I live in Canada... and in the Oro-Medonte Hills ski area by choice. I have chosen to reside and to paint in this exciting hilly and vista-producing landscape... still offering glimpses of its rural and historic past in the many small hamlets and villages like Hillsdale... my own location.

On December 1st, I awoke early as is my usual ritual... to find a thin layer of freshly fallen snow covering my entire environment. The sun was just about ready to lift itself above the treeline... so that the treetops glowed with a magnificent reddish gold hue... while the outstretched branches... laden with snow... shimmered in this momentary lighting effect. Picture perfect... but fleeting for sure!

I ran back into the gallery and grabbed my camera... raced back trembling to the intersection of Highway 93 and Mill Street East... just in time to capture this moment digitally. I returned and immediately made an 8x10 "glossy"... on photo paper to capture as much of the detail and colour as I was able... to guide an indoor painting session after breakfast... and opening the Gallery to the public. My turn to man the "floor and till"!

The resulting panel from about a three hour painting session is included within this post. I think its freshness and direct approach again effectively underscores my belief that exciting and outdoor-looking works can be made... indoors... "IF"... you have "done your homework" in the outdoors many times previously to acquire the visual knowledge and understanding of what you are viewing... and attempting to paint. Gaining that same fresh look and approach as one always finds in the plein air experience is more difficult... but is achievable, if your full range of senses is as excited as they are on location

The painting was painted on a toned burnt sienna acrylic ground panel... my usual preference for winter works. My palette was a "split palette"... a warm and a cool from each of the primaries... plus a couple of my personal oddball choices that I will reveal reasons for on a later post.

Beyond this point in the writing ... "I" will let the painting speak for itself. I am most happy with the outcome... and like all other children... be they young... or old(er) like my "Self"... "We" revel in this magic joyously... tongues extended...and mouths fully open... exhorting the Snow God to.... "Let it SNOWWWW"!!!

Good ALL!!!