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!


  1. Thanks Bruce! I think I'm becoming presbyopic in my old age. I love that analogy, that we see things in light of all our past experiences and associations, and then as artists, we try to portray the emotions and stories that we have associated with the subject. Thanks for the post!

  2. Hi again Katherine!...It was my pleasure to address your questions in s fuller way! They were great questions!

    Hope that the post in some way advances your own work and fortifies your own resolve to... paint from your heart!

    Good Painting! Happy Autumn!
    Warmest regards,