Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rained on... But not out! - Part One

I have chosen to post this Algonquin Adventure in three stages... so that I can offer photos of our adventure, as well as images that I painted over the three days. Perhaps the photos might encourage some of you... to "come North" one fall season... for the thrill of a life time!

September in our area and Algonquin Park is outstanding for any outdoor activities... especially plein air painting. The beyond-description change of colour in our deciduous and prominently maple forests is breath-taking and spectacular. Visitors from all over the world congregate in these prime areas to experience this autumnal ritual and to get a glimpse... per chance at the enormous bull moose who are openly "in rut" and ranging widely to challenge other bulls who might venture into an established territory... in search of "female favour".

September weather can be most changing and unpredictable. Rain is always expected... and is accepted as usual fare... and in the northern reaches of Ontario snow can almost certainly be counted on to arrive later in the month in small ground-covering amounts. It is a month of invigorating colder temperatures that sets the tempo for migration and hibernation in the animal and birds kingdoms. Beautiful... but totally unpredictable!

It rained briefly on the Monday afternoon, as we reached the West Gate entrance to the Park. I had been eyeing the long range weather reports nervously... hoping that they were wrong. I had made a plan to go directly to Opeongo Lake Road... knowing that we could at least find suitable material to get off to a good start. That proved to be a good strategy... and both Deb and I managed a decent 8 x 10 in panel in short order.

Painting outdoors successfully during these uncertain weather conditions demands adherence to one strategy. Find a subject that exhibits strong basic structure... and carve it out quickly... in the simplest terms possible. Detail and specific interests can be recorded later when the weather settles down... or back in the studio using data reference from your digital friend. These "extras" can be added more carefully if you wish... to enhance the established structure that is the bones of the painting.

I have included both pieces that we completed on day one. I asked Deb's permission to post her piece to demonstrate what I mean by "getting down the basic structure." In my mind... its unfinished quality is beautiful in its simplicity and starkness. It speaks loudly and clearly to "Me" about the quiet and wildness of this Park. Mine on the other hand... is obviously more finished... but I don't feel hits the mark more than hers. Whether she chooses to liven it up ...or leave it will be her decision. Frankly... I love it... "as is"!

I had not made reservations for accommodations... hoping to scope the scenery along the corridor Highway 6o to decide where we would best be located to take advantage of the best colour. Usually the colour is best nearer the west end where most of the cover is maple and conifers. That was indeed the case this year.

Having noted this fact, we retraced our steps back 60 kilometers towards Dwight... checking for motel vacancies. Luckily, one motel owner phoned around the area for us and we were fortunate to find a reservation for Monday evening. It was quite nice... comfortable... clean and had a lakeside location and restaurant services. BONUS!.... So we booked for Tuesday evening as well... just to insure that we had a place to return to.
The colour is about 75% towards peak... at least two weeks earlier than last year and due to this fact the numbers of visitors and bus tours are in high gear at the moment, putting reservation pressure on those who come expecting to simply walk in. We were exceedingly lucky!
The behaviour of many visitors is often as unpredictable as the weather itself. They seem unaware of the danger they place themselves in when they approach 1800 lb bull moose who are exceedingly intolerant of any intrusion and can administer horrific damage if surprised or cornered. Artists face the same threat as well... so I really try to stay away from the beaten path... easy-to-reach sites. We were fortunate this year!

An above ninety per cent chance of daylong precipitation was posted on the Visitor Centre weather board at the close of the day... so we went to bed hoping that the report might change. It didn't! Time for some "shuffling the deck".... flexibility in planning! If I had been working alone... the decision would have been simple. But I did not want to impose being in adverse conditions upon Deb. She is a real trooper and would support whatever my choices might be... but there is more to having and feeling passion than painting alone! Life has taught "Me" that!

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Commission Accomplished!!!... Short Strokes Launched... Algonquin bound on Monday!

I've had many brushes in my hand over the past few weeks... and my head was buzzing with "to do lists" that awakened me at odd early morning hours, but the large commission is complete and my clients are coming to the Gallery today for the unveiling. So most of the pressure has subsided and I can now look forward to the fall plein air painting season.... sans other commitments.

I am hoping that the Short Strokes addition to my blog and our web site will offer people who might wish to own a smaller "piece of Bruce", an inexpensive but miniature version of my style and commitment to quality art. I hope that my mentioning that I don't choose to join daily groups or take on marathon projects insinuated that I thought negatively of these ventures. To the contrary, I laud the efforts of all artists who share my passion and enthusiasm for making art... no matter the differences in which we each choose to work. I have always been a "loner" really in my thinking... and in my development as an artist. I work best alone... even though I relish those opportunities to work with fellow artists that I meet along the way.

I will continue to post these smaller plein air pieces as they are made for your enjoyment and they will be offered here in the Gallery in the Short Strokes Gallery on line at . Hopefully, they will continue to "fly out the door as they have here at the Gallery. They area part of my daily painting process when I am working in the field.
I usually either begin... or finish up the day (after painting a larger piece) by throwing up these smaller panel formats on the easel and doing a flash dance to capture the arrival or failing effects of light. Sometimes I win... other times the clock does! I laughingly refer to these pieces as "my run-for-the-sun" quick draws!

Early on Monday, Deb and I will head north to Algonquin Park together for a three day painting adventure... based either at Whitney at the East Gate entrance, or at Dwight where we enter at the West Gate.... depending on where we find the best colour. The colour has risen to almost fifty percent... my favourite time because the colour when it reaches its peak is too intoxicating...too raw... "too cadmium" if you know what I mean. I much prefer the softer, ambiant fall colours which occur earlier on... or just before the leaves fall. I will post photos and painting images when we get back for your enjoyment.
Deb is, in her own right a fine painter, in addition to her many other talents and interests. On occasion, she loves an opportunity to get "out there" (in good weather) with "Me". I really enjoy her company... and sharing the time together. Fingers crossed... for "good weather! HAHA!! Stay tuned!

Until then...Good Fall Painting to everyone... no matter where you might be painting!

PS Today's Short Stroke addition is "Basking In the Sun" oil on panel 8 x 10 inches $100 CAN+ shipping... it was the study for an earlier commission "Canadian Gothic" oil on canvas 36 x 48 inches.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Short Strokes!... A new venture!

We have enjoyed much success with our Small Wall Gallery here in Hillsdale since its inception two years ago. The wall features my smaller oil and watercolour sketches custom framed to customers who visit the Paint Box Gallery. Although we also made these sketches available to anyone on line... framing and the additional cost and security for shipping paintings framed likely discouraged sales for these reasons.

Several artists whom I admire have recently introduced the sale of smaller works in the "Daily Painter" formats of 5x7 and 6x6 inches and have shipped them unframed, adding the necessary shipping costs to their asking price. I have always firmly believed that despite the usually much higher price of one's larger canvases... artists should offer opportunities to clients who might like to begin collecting good art , or who might wish to acquire a piece of one's work at a lesser price or more apartment sized proportion.

Though I do not choose to join groups like the Daily Painters, or paint "marathons"... I have in fact painted daily for many years... and often when I am painting plein air, I customarily paint in 5x7 ...8x10 and 10x12 inch formats. Therefore... I usually have daily offerings in these formats of the same quality as my larger work hanging framed in the gallery.

We have decided to offer my 5x7 and 8x10 inch sketches in a new Gallery which we have dubbed...." Short Strokes ". Both formats are being offered at the single price simply because they take the same amount of time to complete and in my opinion... as paintings are equal in quality and value. These smaller paintings will be available for $100 CDN plus shipping. Anyone wishing to purchase a posted work can contact my wife and agent Deborah at to make the purchase and to receive detailed information regarding the payment methods we offer and the additional shipping costs. We offer payment opportunities using PayPal....VISA and MasterCard.

Paintings will appear first in the blog and will be moved the following day to the Short Strokes Gallery on our web site at for sale from there. This will happen in the very near future when our web master creates the embedded gallery. We will consider the painting sold to the first email received by Deborah. All other emails will be promptly notified that they were unsuccessful in purchasing that particular piece.

I am very excited to offer these paintings to people who might admire my painting style and philosophy about painting. I am proud to sign my name on each one of them because each one registers and records moments and places on my journey that "I" have always wished to share! My blog has increased my ability to "connect" and share with so many fine people who share my zeal and passion for making art.

The first offering is a moody reflective painting which records a time and place when movie going was not colossus driven... but rather had a certain style and class all of its own. This theatre is still operating in the nearby community of Uxbridge... and is titled: "Two For Midnite Madness at the Roxy!" - oil on panel 10x8 inches $100 CDN + shipping

The second sketch is a hay wagon located at John Rumble's farm just east of the village. I saw this at 7:15 am on a morning walk... and tip-toed back the next day to record that very moment when the wagon emerged from behind the barn's shadow to be bathed in the early morning light. It is playfully... but aptly entitled: "Rollin' Up Summer!" - oil on panel 8x10 inches $100 + shipping

The third sketch is "Harold's Gone!"... an oil on panel 8 x 10 inches at $100 CDN + shipping
The fourth sketch is one done in the harbour in nearby Barrie. It is an oil on panel entitled; "Buoy and Girl" and lists at $100 + shipping

The colours are well underway... my commission is nearing its end... so Freedom calls! Lots of work ahead... two fall workshop jobs... a solo show for February and much autumn colour painting is on the horizon! Stay tuned!

Good Fall Painting to All!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Juggling Many Balls...

So much to do... so little time! The Paint Box Gallery is humming with activity. Deb is preparing new stained glass tree ornaments, handmade... funky gift tags and cards and I am working on a commission and "filling in the blanks" for numerous paintings that have left the Gallery this month... and we love this! Together... we are making the final changes on our web site to introduce a new online gallery where direct purchase and delivery can be made that will be directly linked to my blog. It will be exciting and offer a very new and excellent opportunity for interested parties to purchase my smaller work online. Stay tuned!

As with everyone....Fall brings transition in my life that demands attention... in too many areas at once it seems. I am now back to the large commission piece of the Humber Bridge and Mill that my clients have given the green light... after making changes to the original study on a 15 x 24 inch panel format. The final piece will measure 24 x 48 inch format an canvas... exactly twice the scale and proportion of the study as was the original plan. The clients had at one point expressed concern about the size of the piece given the added dimensions of the framing. But a visit to their home to visually see the space above the fireplace, combined with input from an interior design relative confirmed that the original plan could go ahead safely.

The progress had been earlier delayed by the fact that the clients wanted significant changes that deviated from the study which I earlier posted. Those changes were justified... simply because they live with the result. But from my own point of view, they really didn't reflect my own personal vision of the project. In commission work there exists one simple rule: The client is ALWAYS right when the negotiation process and dust settles. All that I can ask for and hope for... is to maintain control of the painting process and style of the piece. They have approached me on the basis of the appeal of my style initially. That must always remain intact to the very conclusion of the piece for me to maintain ownership and confidence in the work... and to allow me to sign it to conclude the contract.

I am posting the "altered" study in this post so that viewers can see the changes and how they effect the original view and "feel" in the study. I always maintain artistic rights to my completed preliminary studies, but always offer the clients first right of refusal to purchase these at a reasonable cost. Knowing that I was going to own this study at the end and that it was not "my cup-o-tea"... given the changes, I awoke at four o'clock in the morning with a creative solution that would allow the changes to proceed without altering the original feel of the study.

I carefully taped a sheet of clear plastic Mylar that completely covered the area of the study and then easily applied the requested changes over the original. I used my Wingel Medium to increase the flow of the pigment and to speed up the drying. This greatly helped me to work thinly and rapidly without any effect on the original. The clients were very satisfied with the changes made... and really never noticed the Mylar... until I peeled back one corner to reveal what was underneath. The one change that discouraged me most was the elimination of the roof on the mill. I had rendered it historically correct through a lot of research to recreate what had been destroyed in the fire that destroyed the Gamble Mill in 1918. Today,the Mill has been totally restored and changed and is a very upscale and exclusive spa, hotel and event center. The new facility is built upon the lower storey of the original mill, but is completely hidden from view by new growth trees. I heartily agreed with the partial covering of the left hand arch using sumac... aids the composition for sure and takes away the repetitive "bounce" created by the three arches.

The clients wanted "the ruins" feel simply because they wanted to recreate the feel of the site as they remembered and used the site in their early growing up years. Fair ball for "Me"! This is where one's relationship with the clients comes strongly into play. In this particular case, we have a wonderful relationship (though short in duration) that goes beyond my doing their commission. They share a wonderful sense of common taste which is present in every aspect of their home and in the way they share their life together. I very much admire them and consider their choosing me to complete this work an honour... and a pleasure.

I purchased the "oddball" sized canvas and began the final thrust by lightly "mapping in" the critical points, essential forms and proportions using vine charcoal to lay in the basics. Any changes... and there were many... were easily erased and changed using a shop towel. The three span stone bridge was exceedingly difficult to upscale, given that the arches were flattened and very curvilinear in nature. Any deviance from the true form was immediately glaring. After many failed lines and attempts... the final and acceptable form was in place. I simply danced around the rest of the drawing to balance other parts in relationship to the central bridge form. I then sprayed the charcoal lines lightly with retouch varnish to "fix" the lines and thereby avoid muddiness when I applied the colour.

This morning I will begin the lay in portion of the project. Hopefully after today's work in the studio, that stage will be in place and dry enough to start applying the actual final darks and lights on the canvas. I will post the new progress in the next posts.

I hope that the explanation of this commission serves as a guide and aid for those of you who either work on commissions... or hope to begin. Commissions can indeed be rewarding... but they are demanding... and on rare occasions can be downright discouraging and painful to everyone on board. Never take a commission on the basis of $$$$. Take it when "You" can embrace the idea and feel that you will enjoy making the painting. Otherwise...BEWARE... or for my money...PASS!!

Good Painting to all... and Happy Fall! The colour is coming... and "I" will be "out there" or "en plein air"... in my glory! Algonquin Park and The Oro-Medonte Hills will see a lot of "Me" over the next few weeks!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Trails... to You!!

Summer vacation ends tonight and with it a change of clothes... schedules and getting back to school chums! I well remember the excitement of these events in my own life!
The snap of cold weather always meant returning to gridiron action... my passion at that time... and the renewed fellowship of team mates and friends! Exciting times... the beat goes on!

To all of my Sherman offspring headin' back to classes.... sons Liam and Bryn... Grand kids Bradie and Mica... each to their separate school destinations.... Bonne chance!

To my daughter Allison standing at the head of her first class of Renaissance Art students at Carleton University in Ottawa... Knock 'em dead Jemima! I'm so proud of "You"!

Love all of you!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Presbyopic Visioning.... Creating Personal Compositions - Part One

Presbyopia medically describes a degenerative condition of the eye that cause the eye to not be able to focus on objects. It is generally associated with aging. In the manner that I am using it... it is indeed related to aging, however it is not used to describe a disability or disease. It is used to mean: to see with old eyes. In other words... I am suggesting that with age and experience one's vision does indeed become "presbyopic" in the sense that it filters... rather than focusing directly upon what is seen and mixes it imaginatively to create.. or perhaps "see" beyond reality. One's vision and "imagineering" also assembles and forms montages that include earlier life experiences.

I have, in an earlier post used the term "Imagineering" and this is specifically where these two terms describe a process for creating compositions that incorporate many of one's earlier discoveries and interests. The word "nostalgic" often surfaces... and can indeed describe the feeling that is either felt by the viewer... or is assumed to be intended by my art. However, I honestly regard most of my paintings more as expressions of some feeling that is universal to us all... but is composed and expressed through my own artistic sieve or filter and life experiences. Many of these experiences run parallel to many other artists in different places and at different levels of painting ability.
I believe that (undeserved) comparisons of my early dry brush watercolours to Andrew Wyeth... or my oil sketches to various the Canadian Group of Seven members really say more about our parallel interests in subject matter and use of a common technique more accurately describes a basis for comparison. Neither the works of Wyeth or The Group seem at all "nostalgic" to me. "Christina's World" speaks of human limitations ... accidents of birth and circumstance. But does that not also include our own single lives in every sense? I find this painting to be one of those modern monuments that launches great personal introspection... one that records the close of period of early American settlement... without being a lament. It can be seen as nostalgic on the surface... but closer inspection and thought reveal that Wyeth intended much more sadness... pity or nostalgia for this lost part of American coastal life.
"Love Is..." simply records the place and moment where a grade five teacher at Prince of Wales Public School launched my own artistic journey and voyage up to this moment by recognizing and validating my work on its merit... and by offering me suggestions to guide that journey. One statement she made... so many years ago was: "If you worked hard at your art... someday you could make a living doing that!" She "nudged" that child within... and to this day her words still champion my efforts to prove her right.

The basis for the image is taken completely from memory and was supported by my having an actual desk of that period which I bought specifically for the purpose of inclusion in the painting. I sketched it many times to render an accurate facsimile for the final painting. The basic sketch first appeared in my sketchbook on August 4th, 1975 and the final 14x11 inch watercolour was completed on April 4th,1979. It was immediately sold and travelled to Regina, Saskatchewan. My Mom had always loved the piece... so I was able to create a facsimile in acrylics for Mother's Day for her new "home" at St Lawrence Lodge in Brockville. It now hangs in our studio.... Not For Sale! It will become the property of one of my children when I am finished with it.

Back in my "watercolour life", I always worked out an exact and final draft for major watercolours on vellum or tracing paper. I would then coat the reverse side of the vellum with a thin coating of graphite and carefully transfer the finished drawing on to the watercolour paper... avoiding the rigours of redrawing three times- twice in pencil and once in dry brush watercolour.

The watercolour was painted using carefully built up and planned washes, adding detail as I went until the work was completed. Large full sheet watercolours (22x30) inches often required weeks of work to reach completion and often required studies to work out problematic areas before going to the final stage ion the large work.

As a watercolour "purist"... I chose to reserve all white areas by careful brushwork... or by using frisket to mask areas until I was ready to paint them. All of these issues "ran against the grain" of my personality. I loved spontaneity then... and still do. I preferred to work outdoors and tried ever "trick in the books" to get around painting in colder temperatures, so I returned to oils... and have never regretted that decision. I still use watercolours when I travel... they're portable and quick drying (and pass through customs easily)!

My post today is directed entirely towards answering the very insightful and reasonable questions of a regular visitor to my blog site. The contents of this post are for you Katherine simply to say "Thank you" for your encouraging visits and comments. I hope that I answer those questions for you and they serve to add to your own artistic journey.

The first question..."How do you get your ideas?"

Simply put Katherine, all of my ideas come from what I see and feel in my daily life. The "Idea" can originate from a landscape view that catches my eye... it can be an object... or group of objects either in my home and studio... past or present. I tend to keep things (much to my wife's chagrin) that interest for very long periods of time until "I" am ready to deal with painting it. The "Idea" can arrive via a quote from a book I am reading... a radio broadcast as I travel along... or from a conversation or event I am attending. To sum it all up... it comes from the part of the Universe that I inhabit... day-to-day.

At this point I think that I should insert a device that I use and that travels with me everywhere. I keep sketchbooks continually on the go... in the studio... in my van and am constantly recording those "Ideas" as they present themselves in pencil or India ink... carefully noting significant details and finally adding other things of insignificant interest... to anyone but "Me". That includes date... weather conditions... temperature perhaps... people I am with at the time... bits of conversation... trivia I guess.

In the front of one of my sketchbooks reads this "word thought/poem" I placed there that I feel best describes the reason I have for keeping these visual journals:

Ideas come...
Ideas go.
This is the place
In which I stow,
Kernels I harvest along my way
In hopes they'll trigger...
Sustain "Me"
On some fallow day!

My advice to artists young and old... is to use this valuable practice to create this record and resource vault of "Ideas". Ideas do present themselves... and as we get busy... and age, leave us never to return. So many times... years after the initial recording... I am infused with new enthusiasm and energy by just seeing the "Idea". It is invaluable to my process and preparation both in the field where I create small thumbnail impressions to work out compositions prior to stepping into the actual painting process... and in the studio where I will often "play" in my sketchbook for a number of days before proceeding with a major canvas or panel.

So in summarizing my thoughts Katherine... my "Ideas" and compositions come from within and are recorded in my sketchbooks. I work out designs and compositions with studies and in the plein air work... use my sketches to construct larger paintings. In the case of "Farewell to Summer and Joe"... the sketch was done while gabbing with the guys in my neighbour Lyle Lawlor's garage. It struck "me" as a subject that I wanted to work on. When Lyle's Dad, Joe passed away... I was vacationing in Cape Cod and I missed his funeral .He and I were great pals... so I created this piece as a tribute to his life and his passing... and our friendship. Joe's son Glenn purchased the painting... so it is with the Lawlor clan to this day!

Hope this post is of some use to you Katherine... and gives insight into my working method and thoughts!

Good Painting to All!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

September Song

As I previously posted... September is the benchmark or compass point for the transition from Summer into Fall. It is a bittersweet moment... where nostalgia and euphoria clasp hands. For some, the closing of summer retreats and saying goodbye to summer friends brings a note of sadness... whereas for others the excitement and anticipation of moving to a new tier in life... like a youth heading off to college is embraced with verve and unbridled happiness.... laced with a small... but momentary bit of fear and loss of family and place. Parents on the other hand feel a sense of both loss and gain simultaneously. Strange... this September Song!

"I" personally share this bittersweet feeling... saddened at the loss of Summer's grandeur... and yet strangely and excitedly looking forward to the fast-approaching annual pageant of fall colour. It is the plein air painter's perfect buffet! A smorgasbord excuse and opportunity to haul out seldomly used raw cadmium colours.... laid down with the intensity... and racing... soaring tempo of Vivaldi's Four Season violin masterpiece. Life can at times be very manic in nature... especially to artists... simply because... we "see"... and feel life and its patterns differently... and perhaps even more deeply than most!

Vivaldi's music fills The Paint Box Studio and Gallery during each Autumn... it is an expediter of joy and energy... the stuff one needs to work with and match majestic colour of Autumn. Yet strangely... another and diametrically opposite Fall classic shares centre stage with Vivaldi. Other than Star Dust by Hoagy Carmichael... September Song performed soulfully by Willy Nelson remains a standard in my own personal play list. Together ... these two songs weave together artfully the duality of feelings that September brings to "Me" at least... and I would guess, perhaps us all.

"Its a long, long time while

From May to December.

But the days grow short,

When you get to September.

When the autumn weather

Turns the leaves to flame One hasn't got the time

For the waiting game.

Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few...

September, November...

And these precious days

I'll spend with you...."

September Song

Lyrics and music by Anderson, Maxwell; Weil and Kurt

I am posting two favourite paintings "from the vaults"... that best capture these same two feelings in the hopes that in this small way... and from a distance... that "I" can spend (some) of time ... with "You"!

Good painting!... and a Happy... bountiful Autumn to each of you!