Thursday, April 8, 2010

Last of the Springtime Algonquin Adventure...the Demo

It was my considerable honour... and a privilege to have been asked by my friend and owner of Algonquin Adventure Lodge, Gertrud Sorensen to attend her Winter 2010 Paint Out and to give a painting demonstration and critique of the works of the attending artists. It offered me an opportunity to paint in the Park free of any costs and in the company of good painting folk whom I admire and have known as friends for many years.

I took my responsibility to reach out to those attending very seriously... as "I" always have done both my painting and teaching lives. I prepared beforehand... very carefully the method I would use in the demo and the painting technique that I would highlight in that activity. After all... it was indeed a "heady" and accomplished alumni of past presenters that "I" would follow... one being my own significant mentor and friend Poul Thrane... who would be observing.

I decided to start with a bare white canvas... not my usual choice. I paint on canvases and panels that are most always toned... in my tone of choice for the season.Usually an acrylic burnt sienna ground is my winter and spring choice.

I am well aware of the current trend in the use of non-toxic pigments and solvents. I have come up against much resistance and complaint in this regard in other situations... so I decided to use only odourless mineral spirits (OMS) in the demonstration to try and avoid... or at least reduce any possibility of complaint or real discomfort for those attending.

To demonstrate how the subject must first be visualized... simplified... or seen before the painting process is undertaken... I selected one obscure and unrelated India ink sketch dated April 2003 to use as my subject for the demo. I would be relying then purely upon memory and a line guide to lead "Me" forward into the painting process.

I quickly covered the entire 16x20 inch canvas in a thin... very transparent OMS wash of burnt sienna. Mistake number one! Immediately two complaints about the "odour" were registered... along with the departure of the odour-offended from the room.

I pushed ahead at a more hurried pace.... using a shop towel to remove (subtract) areas of tone to create light... while using raw burnt sienna to establish (add) darker areas in the composition. I elected to not use the "odourless spirits" further to again reduce its "noxious" presence.

I jumped into the lay in stage... prematurely, I believe... to again speed up the demo process. Mistake number two!

Mistake number three occurred almost immediately after... when I placed a tree smack in the middle of the picture plane cutting it almost in half horizontally! A "no-no" compositionally!!! YUK!

Without anything to act as a medium... or anything to clean my brushes... I began a fierce struggle to establish tonal values and distinct patterns of dark and light... for me to feel good about the painting. The demo had become a trial and I realized that a finished painting was out of reach... at least for that evening. I added some very pure lights and darks to at least indicate where I might go with the painting under better circumstances.I laid down my brushes and simply conducted a discussion based upon questions and answers to conclude the evening. After a full day of painting... this one number three for me... all of us enjoyed the remainder of the evening in conversation and reminiscing.

The critique on the next evening went along very smoothly... due to the fact that there very good pieces in both watercolour and oil and a varied range of subjects and techniques. Everyone went away encouraged by the suggestions and comments by the group and myself. Everyone a winner... with some new "food for thought".

I was very discouraged with the "orphan" and tossed it carelessly into the carrying case I have in my vehicle... not worrying at all about harming its surface. And harm it I did... causing scrapes all over its surface. I tossed it into a corner of the studio and pretty much wrote it of as a "scrubber".... a casualty of a demo gone bad.

Anyone who knows "Me"... will tell you that I NEVER give up on anything in my life... except for people who are intentionally hurtful to others. The "orphan" deserved better treatment than it received by me. I will leave it to you to decide whether my afternoon of work... long after the initial "disgraceful showing" merits a badge of "Redemption". Note the changes and decisions that could still be made... even after the start was completely dry.

The message? Never give up the ship! Rethink! Reshape! Revise!... Then Resolve... to win! I feel I did here !" Sweet Dreams" has been given a second chance... and "I" a valuable lesson about assuming ownership and captaining my own ship.

I have always maintained that in the process of teaching... one can become an active part of the learning process by simply being open as an equal member of the "circle of learning" in that process. By setting aside the notion that one is directing learning... and replacing it with a position of receiving knowledge, allows one to grow along with all others in the process.

I learned a very useful personal lesson during this demo. I will not use solvents during teaching sessions. I will instead use acrylic paint to complete the initial composition and toning portion. I will conduct the layin and finish parts of the process using mineral oil in the place of any solvent. It is vegetable oil based and is non-toxic and odourless in nature.
Good Painting and Happy Spring ... and "Sweet Dreams"... to ALL!

PS: It should be noted that ALL of the "friendly" solvents in the marketplace... as
"odourless" as they are advertised to be... or as perfumed as they are packaged ARE in fact TOXIC and harmful to one's health. They are best used outside the studio in the open air ... if used at all.


  1. Ha Bruce, how human we are!
    You have reminded me of a few storys myself.

    1st I want to state that paint thinner is not as dangerous as some things.
    Being next to a campfire for instance, everyone enjoys that right? The smoke can cause
    health issues...
    Drinking pop from a can will too!
    Just about everthing today has everybodys underware in a knot! Relax, please,I tells ya!
    Working smart is being smart. So how do you Get Smart? Call Don Adams! (ha)
    My little nephew is all growen up now, he has 4 boys of his own. Recently he's been teaching sunday school and was commenting about it.
    "So are you learning anything?" I asked. At first he thought I was trying to be a smart ..
    but then looked up and said, yes! How did you know?
    The old saying about when the student is ready, the teacher appears is correct. Who is the student, and who is the teacher can get pretty philosofical indeed.
    Either way, it takes two to play checkers. And both are learning from different perspectives, yet not always.
    Experience is a good teacher also. Practice, practice, practice.
    I have to get myself an apple from time to time, as I think I'm my best teacher.(ha)
    I also get upset with myself, as I can be a bad student.
    Anyway Bruce, see what you did!?
    That's why I always like stopping by, you get me going! : )

  2. Hi Bill!... Thanks for dropping by and for sharing your ideas... and lending your (humourous) support!

    Sometimes.. the best thing to do in a seeming "crisis"... is just to ... "grin and bear it"!HAHA!!

    Glad that you are stimulated by the site and enjoy it... that's its sole purpose!

    Look forward to chatting and sharing with "You" again soon!

    Good painting my Friend!

  3. Hi Bruce,
    So happy to find your blog. Great painting and I totally enjoyed the story behind the art. I will learn from your blog, thank you so much for sharing. All the best to you.


  4. Hi Joan!... Thank "You" for dropping by. "I" am so happy as well that "You" found my site!Art is about expression... communication and sharing. What other reason is there for creating it... or exhibiting it?

    I look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas with you again soon.

    I am off to have a look at your site... looking forward to seeing your "stuff"!

    Good Painting!

  5. Thank you so for this blog; it has provided positive thoughts I so need right now as I attempt to return to painting from a torturous dormant stage where I thought I might just 'quit'. I've posted your words...Rethink, Revise, Reshape, Resolve in large letters on my cork board where I can see them and be inspired.
    Thanks again. So enjoy all your blogs.

  6. Hi Ruby!... So happy that my site enabled "You" to strive further with your own journey. By the looks of your own work on your lovely site... "You" need little advice or direction... except:

    "Never give up the ship"... EVER"!!! ... and
    PAINT!...PAINT!...and PAINT some more!

    Good Painting!