Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Balancing Truth... and Fantasy

"One and all, we at some time fabricate a 'world of our own;' a world in which we are both creator and participant. Infants play happily with 'friends' unseen and unknown to anyone but themselves. Older children are able to weave highly descriptive tales, and delight in the intricacies of costume, character and plot. However, in only a few of us is the creative intimacy of these fabulous worlds kept alive, and nurtured, through the years that lead to adulthood.

To a select few is given the gift of recalling, revisiting and, thankfully reproducing their worlds of fantasy."

From the introduction by Leo John De Freitas
Arthur Rackham
British Illustrator
Edited by David Larkin

What a beautiful passage to encapsulate the core of most artists! We are without exception, members of a powerful fraternity of 'Peter Pans'... who refuse to relinquish their imaginary worlds and visions for the sake of gaining entry into the comfortable and 'taken- for granted' milieu of adulthood. How often have you been challenged and reminded sarcastically... "to grow up!" or to... "Act your age!"... from every corner of your life? We choose to live in harmony with each other , for the most part... and with an unusual and abiding respect for... and dependence upon the Natural World in which we dwell.

Recently, one of my Blogging Friends suggested that artists... including her Self... have larger than life egos and insatiable appetites for attention and notoriety. To some extent "I" could agree... if the use of the word ego corresponded to the dictionary meaning I found... that ego meant self-esteem. Then this would be so. Having the courage (out of a positive sense of Self) to create and display one's creations without fear of criticism or comparison is a positive attribute... that I only wish others could feel and practise in their lives.Obviously... like in other places of endeavour ... there are the others... but they are not from my own experience the average.

The Truth is that there is a distinct and radical difference between the term ego and egotist. An egotist is one whose elevated sense of self-esteem reflects only an interest in themselves and their less than realistic, or fair evaluation of their own self-importance. This being said... let's get back to Arthur Rackham.

I have singled out Rackham's work because so much of his illustrative mastery and oeuvre dedicates itself to less than Disney depictions of the his Faeries... or their magical kingdoms in which they dwell. The elves and sprites he creates are really... as De Freitas suggests "derivative of the bark and branches of the trees in which they live, and of the earth upon which they trod." Gnarled and exposed roots of massive beeches "are to be found in the long, knotted fingers of woodland imps." Beyond the forests of trees harboring these mythological peoples, "the trees themselves are often personified."

Perhaps it was this early introduction to the thought that Faeries and forests could be constructed... if only in one's mind that has caused "Me" to search out... record and trees and elements in the Natural World that support vision and extraordinary opportunities to let one's mind loose... the way that children do. I find it easy to find these "mind benders" - they seem everywhere... if one cares to "see."

I continue to collect old and out of print books about the great illustrators of the past. People like Rackham... Howard Pyle... NC Wyeth... Joseph Leyendecker... Everett Shinn... to name but a few. I was raised on their classic illustrations in classic literature from my earliest childhood reading experiences. Treasure Island...The Christmas Carol... Robinson Cruse... The Drum... Last of the Mohicans.... just to name a few I have in my collection.

The work of those brilliant illustrators provided a keyhole for "Me" to peer through... guiding "Me" to worlds which used art as a vehicle to transport "Me" beyond the blase and restricted world of a small community and limited school curriculum... into vast and limitless worlds of adventure.... fantasy... mystery... courage... and imagination.

As well... in my journey I have met a number of other kindred spirits who share my pleasure and my love for "things wooden." I have included some jpeg images to showcase their visions. I thank woodland hunter-gatherer Maia... for her wonderfully and meticulously beautifully crafted Forest Folk... my wood sculpting fellow artisan on the 7th Line Oro-Medonte for his forest filled with Woodland Spirits... which brighten my day on many an otherwise dreary winter day. They are but one of many kindred spirits who pass forward the love for our forest and tree legacy! Thank "You"...all!

The stump fences which profusely dot the rural landscape in our area and indeed across most of Ontario are the relics left by our settler forefathers. They were pulled and propped along property lines to mark land grants given by the Crown. They are natural sculptures... beautifully twisted... gnarled and weathered by hundreds of silent years of sleep along fence lines. I love to look at them... and realize the effort of the settlers... and the raw beauty of Nature's work.

This site is a forum to share ideas and discoveries in a non-critical fashion. It is meant to encourage sharing... positive discussion and to increase the awareness that the making of Art is a form of expression... deserving the same value as is placed by society... as reading or writing.

I truly hope that my "segway" journey devoted to Trees... encourages others to devote some time and energy to studying forests and trees. They are really often... still life... landscapes... portraits ... and sculpture... in their own right! And they live all around us... no matter where you live!
My last Tree post will show my own playful use of trees using what "I" call my intuitive style where reality and fantasy knit together to create opportunities for me to play... and work outside of the box... and my usually predictably dependency upon detail and what is in front of "Me". Stay tuned!

"I speak for the Trees!"... said the Lorax. And so have "I"!!!

Good Painting to all !

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving... to my Artist Friends in the USA

Our Thanksgiving Day celebration occurs here in Canada during the month of October... so it is well passed... and celebrated. But today... I wish to reiterate my thanks for the blessings of Friends... and share in the celebrations of those of you who are seated around "the bird" everywhere in the USA... or in foreign bases where your young men and women are deployed in the service of their country. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I had planned another focus for today...having forgotten the fact that Thanksgiving festivities did not belong to us alone. So I am sending along one of my Tree images to commemorate your occasion. It is a sugar maple... in all of its blazing autumn glory... a symbol of our own unique heritage. I think it a very appropriate image to enjoin us in giving thanks for the peace that we share within our separate countries... and across a shared and common border.

It brings to mind the wonderful and tender modern day parable "The Giving Tree" by the beloved children's literature writer (now deceased) Shel Sylverstein. This heart warming touching story... tinged though it is with sadness... presents through the relationship over a life time of a tree and a boy and poignantly demonstrates the power of the gift of giving... unconditionally... and the serene acceptance of another 's capacity to love in return.

Call "Maple Glory" my own "Giving Tree" gift to all of "You" in the USA on this Thanksgiving Day ocacasion... who faithfully encourage and share my own artistic journey!

Richest Blessings upon your houses... and Good Painting!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Finding Truth... Through Trees


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow hast lain,
Who ultimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

- Joyce Kilmer

This post is inspired by blogger friends Caroline in Scotland and Karen in British Columbia. Caroline has undertaken a personal challenge to devote a block of her creative time and energy towards studying and sketching trees. Karen chooses to live quietly with her husband and four dogs with trees. I have always been drawn to trees... all kinds because they represent perhaps one of the most adaptable species on our planet and can be found in nearly every type of landscape in all parts of the world.

Throughout the history of man... the tree has commanded the attention and respect of many great thinkers and creative individuals. Trees form the basis of our architectural needs... are sources of heat... sources of food and are the basis of so many utilitarian products that we depend upon in our homes and businesses. Trees serve an even more important role to all living things by creating necessary oxygen which we must breathe... and the elimination of carbon dioxide.

And yet... in spite of the necessity to protect and respect the role of trees in the survival of the of all life on this planet... mankind continues to arrogantly clear cut... slash and burn... and eliminate old growth forests at alarming rates and without any concern of the obvious consequences of this path to destruction for our delicate ecosystem.

As my regular blogger companion Karen so aptly put it in her most recent posting... "We", as artists are "the canaries in the mine"... so to speak. No other group is more closely attuned to the environment and the massive detrimental influence that we as a species are exacting from the planet. In our painting lives ... in all realms... we bear witness to the grim reality that precious natural wild spaces are rapidly disappearing. Sadly... these spaces are lost forever to the sprawl of unrestricted development and the greed of corporate entities... who seem not to have any conscience or sense of responsible stewardship for the interests and well-being of our children of the future.

I have always believed that education of the young is the sole hope for the future... but we are approaching a critical point where recovery could be impossible. We will simply run out of time... and resources will not matter any longer. Life... as we know and enjoy it at present... will itself be in dire jeopardy.

This simple... but eloquent poem by Joyce Kilmer is a relic from my childhood... and the early childhood diet of poetry of so many school children on this continent. I used it effectively, I think... to introduce the importance of trees into elementary education. I added other great creative children's literature like Shel Silverstein's classic "The Giving Tree"... and the Dr Seuss standard... "The Lorax" to create opportunities to cause children to think about and embrace "Green" ideals such as stewardship to carry into their future worlds.

With Christmas quickly approaching... we are a little more than a month away from burying our traditional central image.... the Christmas Tree with gifts for our children. Electronic toys and games... gifts for "thumb monkeys"... will likely be the main fare on Santa's List. Why not throw in a couple of these book titles under your family tree... and some time over the holidays sit in a cozy corner or chair... and share the joy of being together... and the message of hope and optimism that these classics offer to readers of any age. They're timeless... especially... for the "Child Within"!

I intend to join Caroline's challenge and will take up the challenge in my own way. I have done so in the past... gaining a strong personal a feeling of accomplishment and artistic growth. Today... I offer a few examples of previous Tree Adventures from the recent past!
Why not dedicate a few hours of your own time to offering tree images from your part of the world? By enjoining our energies and our brushes... perhaps we can paint a brighter picture of Hope... that others might see and support. What is to be lost? What might be gained?

"I" wonder!!

Good Painting to All !

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance.... Reflection... and Gratitude

No other day in the year ushers in stronger feelings of Gratitude for "Me"... than Remembrance Day. It is a day in my year where I always take time to reflect upon the blessings in my life and upon those individuals who have actively created those blessings.

Amongst a very large list of those countless friends and acquaintances who have actively contributed to my Happiness and Well-being are those names who live eternally in the hearts of all citizens of our nation - those who offered and laid down their precious lives and futures to defend and make possible... even in other remote reaches of the world, the precious daily gifts of Freedom that we enjoy daily in the Western World.

"I" am forever Grateful... and will always remember their precious gift to the living!

I have always gone to the cenotaph in whatever place that I have lived in to join with others in Remembrance and Gratitude since I was a young lad... when we were marched en masse as a school to the town centre to be part of this November 11th ritual in Canada. I will without embarrassment admit that I have never been able to participate without being tearful. I have seen family members "fogged out" and misty-eyed as they laid wreathes in memory of lost sons, brothers, daughters, fathers, uncles and grandfathers. Their loss... has always been shared... and is mine.

However, despite the fact that I had two uncles who served in World War II serve and return home wounded... it would not be until July 4th, 2007 that "the face" of war came to visit me personally. Twenty-seven year old Captain Matthew Dawe became that face... when he and five of his comrades simultaneously became names on Canadian casualty rolls and cenotaphs.

Matthew and my son Andrew had been team mates on a team in The Fort Henry Minor Hockey League during the late 1990's... and even then Matthew displayed that magical leadership quality and wonderful sense of loyalty that would place him in a position of military leadership. His father Lt. Colonel Peter Dawe, now retired was the coach of that team. Jan MacDonald and I helped out as assistant coaches... and lace tiers on many early, icy practice mornings. We were a family... not just a hockey team. When Matt was lost... we felt that crush and disbelief as well... and not just for that single tragic moment.

I think of Matt many days.... Andrew and I often reminisce about those frosty morning practices and breakfasts. How ironic is life... that Matt's very large public funeral would take place in The Constantine Arena -- the very place where our relationship began. Fitting I think.... but hardly "fair"! The Universe does indeed work... in mysterious ways! Life continues with reflection and sadness on this Remembrance Day... for Mattew's family... his wife Tara and his wee son Lucas... and each of us.

Today... I head to Midland... a place I have travelled to for seven consecutive years... to honour these fallen heroes. Be sure that "I" will cry... but not totally out of sadness. I will cry because I am proud to have known Matthew and to have shared a part of his meaningful life.

"I" will never forget! "I" am blessed... and Grateful and will pass forward your gift to all of us!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Risking Putting Re: .... Into Your Vision

I have one of my regular followers of this blog to thank for "kick starting" this post. She was curious and asked how I managed to part with, or sell works such as "The Dimming of the Day" since they seemed to have such a strong personal meaning for "Me."

I will honestly admit from the outset, that "I" tend to hold on to objects and feelings that are important to "Me" far too long and that "I" experience great difficulty "letting go" of these things. I carry them about both... with and within "Me" past practicality and reason. With my paintings however... things are a bit different in this regard.

Painting for "Me" is a passionate pursuit and coming up with ideas to sustain my interest and my productivity has never been a problem. Once I have produced a painting... and have seen it in a frame, I no longer feel any affinity for.... or compulsion to keep it around... no matter the content or personal statement. As a matter of fact... having them lay about makes me want to change them... even to eliminate some or all of the original ideas expressed.

I have long believed that my passion to paint had to be sustained and financially supported by the sale of what I paint. Sales permit me to continue... and to not be resentful of the money and time that I spend to travel... work and paint. That has how I have always viewed how my painting life should be conducted.

"Letting go" ... of an underlying original idea, concept or motive is more difficult for "Me" than selling the piece. I have even been able to overcome that barrier to a large degree since owning and operating our own gallery. Seeing them framed... and on the wall for longer periods of time has offered me the unique opportunity to "live with" pieces longer... even in different light. This new situation has caused me to take courage to... in some cases drastically... rework... or revise what I had considered a strong and finished work.

I felt after looking at these for prolonged periods of time and with ample time to reflect that there were two and very conflicting centres of interest. I spent time carefully reworking areas carefully to remove the "offending" less important focus over the past two weeks. Looking back at the experience, I got carried away with implementing too many ideas simultaneously. It is best... as I have learned through this freeing experience to say what you really mean to say... and say what you need say. Let go of the extraneous... support the obvious!

I am posting "before-and after" jpegs to illustrate just how I attempted to risk adding Re:... into a previous vision. The top one in each case is the original image... the second is the corrected and revised edition. I'll let "You" be the judge of how successful my actions might have been. I'm curious! Look forward to hearing your ideas!

Thank "You"... to Caroline in Scotland for the "nudge to post this idea!

Good Painting to ALL!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Dimming of the Day... A Different Road Taken

My goal as an artist is to always be open to learning... and to risk new pursuits ... to make me think and work... "outside of the box". It is sometimes a long reach of faith... and imagination to work completely in "the dark"... without the safety net created applying my usual rituals... "ploughing" in the same fields... guided by the same team. On this occasion... I really stepped into darkness when I painted an entire 36x48 inch gallery wrap canvas with a coating of acrylic ivory black as an under tone. Even my wife was confounded by my actions.

So began a much different approach to creating a large canvas... "turning on the lights"... changing night into day... a real live... in my face... Genesis! I will say that right from the first mark... with white chalk on that blackboard space... I experienced an epiphany of sorts... a sense of creative power that had visited "Me" only on a very few occasions before. And that feeling of power and energy never left "Me" ... from start to finish on this work. All of my synapses seemed to be firing simultaneously... I could hardly pry myself away from the easel over the four day period that it took to fully complete the canvas.

There were so many personal things from my own life drawn into its structure and making. Firstly... the site is White's Falls, Muskoka ... a very sacred and special place for my family. Deb, the two lads and I had spent so many hours together there.... fishing, hiking, wiener roasting, exploring and sketching... in all seasons. We even enjoyed our New Year's Day dinner there at the fire pit... on the last occasion... in a full blown blizzard under a tarp... drying snowsuits, mittens, socks and boots over a roaring fire. This is indeed a place of many memories... a sacred, spiritual place for "Me"... forever. A landscape that needed to be painted and recorded!

I kept the drawing part of the process very loose... limiting expression only to basic curves and lines... a map really. The entire activity took only a matter of minutes with the resulting drawing leaving "Me" with a feeling that I remembered fondly... akin to my being at the head of my very first class... chalk in hand... and in charge... full of purpose learning to be passed on... or so I hoped! I liked the direction right from the start!

I began the lay in process... deciding to pitch into the sky area first... the applying a generally similar lightest yellow light in the whole sky area and then moved quickly into applying patches of various green foliage values to the background area of the canvas. Next, I lightly established the vague presence and suggestion of the rock outcroppings in the painting.The greens were then introduced slowly into the reflections in the middle ground water area... finally tying that into the foreground area foliage.

At this point, most of the canvas had been worked on to some degree. I decided to add a few more highlights to the rocks... grasses and introduced a few orangish trees to break up the vast amount of green. My next step was to create some individual forms to represent specifically placed fir trees... massing them as I felt a need to create a unifying rhythm within the painting. Note how some of the black is intentionally left to form line and crevice. Colour is compartmentalized carefully to preserve this intent.

I then directed my attention fully to the foreground which had been ignored really to this point. I had used a digital image blown up to 10x8 inches as a reference along with a small pen and ink sketch that I had hastily laid into a sketchbook a year prior to doing this painting. I knew even then... that some day I would make this exact painting. The scarlet maple so attracted my attention on that day... as the sun retreated and we prepared to depart. It dominated the scene... even beyond the beauty and strength of the fading sunlight. It was exhilarating when the reds and oranges were gingerly added... and reached almost raw-from-the-tube alla prima application to the leaves. The complimentary colours really worked well together to create a very strong foreground image.

I played around with the "muddle" of dead juniper branches that were present... but didn't really help the compositional flow that I had envisioned. So... I improvised... "let it all hang out"... just like a jazz group loves to do when they "jam". The result was again pleasing... and seemed to contribute to the direction that I was hoping for. Much of the rest of the remaining two days was devoted to that "push-and-pull... adjusting of values and hue... "tweaking" areas with darks and lights... to enhance and create sparkle and finesse. The last focus was on remaining "black holes" that remained here and there around the canvas. I did not not want opaque blackness appearing dominantly... so I added darker values... but with colour... in the shadowed areas.

As the final painting session was coming to an end... and I was in the process of resurfacing from the subconscious level that one visits ("The Flow" takes "Me" there)... I became aware of the music that Deb had been listening to. Strange how the Universe speaks! The raspy, plaintive voice of a "regular" songbird in our studio ... Bonny Raitt was in the midst of one of our favourites...The Dimming of the Day. All the world was right! Mission accomplished! From darkness into the light... and back. The end of a great day... and a great learning experience!

"You" might want to give this one a try... on a dreary... no direction kind of day... that we all suffer... from time to time! Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul !

Good Painting to All !

PS Do Google....Boonie Raitt and get an earful and soul full o' Dimming of the Day!