Friday, January 27, 2012

Back from Algonquin Park... with a new sense of renewal... a changed state of mind

Final sketch # 4 "Madawaska Water Music" oil on canvas 8x10 inches

Note: the "porridgy" areas. Use of strong impasto hides a lot... and adds real strength and movement in the foreground water.

#3 "Through the Cedars"- oil on panel 10x12 inches

Tuesday #2 "January Thaw" oil on canvas 12x16 inches

Monday # 1 "Winter...on the Rocks"- oil on canvas 10x12 inches

I have been trying to find some "get-up-and-go" after my one-sided week long battle with a bad cold/virus. You know that feeling ... I'm sure. Still achy... and living between snoozes... hardly a time to either be... or feel remotely in the mood for creating.

I had mentioned that I often found purely "fun" explorations such as the stick trick to coax "Me" back up into the saddle... without a need for getting into things seriously. Sketching is one of those activities that never fails to enliven interest... no matter what tools one employs. It is portable and freeing... an activity... short in duration like a crossword puzzle that can be put down and come back to without loss of direction. Often this coming and going sparks entirely new direction in thought and a final solution.

The phone rang on Thursday... a call from my painting buddy in Algonquin Park, David Kay wondering... if I felt like a paint up there. My body kept trying to say no... given what you've read above... but my creative half answered yes.... certainly! So we weather-watched over the weekend... freezing rain was in the forecast along with snow. I packed up my gear and clothing on Sunday night and called David early on Monday morning.

No freezing rain up there at that time... so I agreed to head off at 8:00 am towards the Park but with the reservation that if I encountered the FR... that I'd turn around and head back home. The "nasty" never did appear over the entire three days... but I did have to fight my way through some tricky slushy road conditions for half of the journey from the Park's West Gate at Dwight to within a few kilometers of The East Gate at Whitney where David and Diane reside.

I arrived and we had a nice warm lunch... then immediately headed along the Madawaska River Road and quickly found a suitable subject. We had decided to take along my trusty Dodge Caravan instead of David's four wheel drive truck... because the rear hatch door can serve as a shelter from the elements. By placing one leg into the trunk area... two artists can work comfortably under this lid... out of the wind, rain or snow... without fear of the dreaded snow -in-your-palette nightmare that often kills a winter plein air experience.

We did, in fact have snow from time to time... with temperatures hovering around -3 C. But both of us came away with reasonably good sketches... given the less than perfect light and veil of flurries that came and went during our outing. That all aside... I was painting! Back in the saddle again.... Yahoo! Where did those cold symptoms disappear to? Yes... it was indeed a "head" cold... but it went deeper than that in my "head"! HA HA!

We awoke Tuesday to find fiercely gusting northwesterly winds and driving snow - definitely not what one steps out into to paint en plein air! We settled into a great breakfast combination of oat meal and Red River Cereal and chatting that led almost to 11:00 am. We decided that the weather had let up enough to give things a go... again with my Caravan. The Park was really under snow siege... so we opted to return to yesterday's site because there was shelter from the gusting winds... and more importantly... we had scouted out at least three "possibles" for a return visit.

I must admit that the entire day was a constant challenge in dealing with the wind and snow. I was glad of my prior decision to think and paint on the small side! On a few occasions we had to dump off accumulated amounts of snow that had managed to swirl its way around the edges of the vehicle and into our work area.

"Palette porridge"... for us both by the end of the day! We did manage to get in three more smallish sketches... two of which required nothing really when I got them home. The third one certainly displayed the results of snow in the paint! I decided twice during the actual plein air experience that I couldn't brush my way through to a conclusion... so I hauled out my small paint knife and put it to work. Despite this prevailing nastiness... the sun did manage to poke it head through for a half hour... and I seized upon this good stroke of luck to "upgrade my colour and the lighting conditions in Through the Cedars! The gambit worked out nicely I think!

Surprisingly... the knife really did work better... and with the paint conditions of the surface. I managed to save the day with those two... and have since applied the very same strategy to the final 8x10 canvas that I had believed was a "scrapper." I'll let you be the judge of my success... or lack of it! One must be constantly ready to shift gears in the field... adjusting to light ... weather and even new methods/tools for working. This readiness and willingness to act... is often the difference between success and failure in the day.

I returned to Hillsdale with a fresh sense of renewal... eager and ready to jump into the Nova Scotian canvases... which are overdue! Sometimes... pushing oneself beyond what seems to be in the way can rejuvenate one's creative spirit. Nothing does that better for "Me"... than getting "out there"... where every sense is stimulated and fused seamlessly into the actual act of painting. Whether or not we achieve the added good fortune of actually making a "gem"... pales in the face of the spiritual gains that only come from plein air painting... being "One" with Creation and The Universe! Add to that... the opportunity for good and encouraging friendship to share one's passion with!

Good Painting to All !

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stickhandling your way.... When Life seems to take over....

Tools needed: white canvas or panel, acrylic burnt sienna, black india ink, Twigs, a brush perhaps

Quill ends, snub-nosed, chisel-like flats... whatever!

Note the curve of the shaft... again creates opportunity for unpredictable outcomes. Try rolling the shaft slightly as you draw it along... a nice technique!

Note random application of burnt sienna. Note the broken calligraphy of the line with lost and found edges and the unintentional drip of ink in the lower left snowbank. Lots of "mistakes" becoming assets!

Note that despite the application of paint to the sketch... that the original form and integrity of the sketch is adhered to and maintained.

Sorry for the space and silence over the past week... but both Deb and I found ourselves under the weather with very nasty colds... or flu symptoms which required that we simply approach each day.... horizontally! Not fun for certain... but hey!... it's winter and with the ever-changing weather conditions come these challenges to our schedules and intentions!

As well... I have had to put aside my earlier plans and interests to begin the year with a subject that I am very enthused to get on with. Then came a request from the gallery rep at Sales and Rentals at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax... that they wanted to return three pieces and needed replacements as soon as possible in the New Year. So my project dropped down a couple of notches until this request is fulfilled. Not my choice really... but I do feel a sense of responsibility to meet their request first. Then I can play again as usual!

I spent the last couple of days looking over old sketches and photo references and feel that I have zeroed in on three subjects that will fill the bill. Now... all that I lack is the full measure enthusiasm to launch into the work... and to do a good job. Not being able to go outdoors in search of motivation and fresh subjects is a huge disadvantage for me in my process. Going out here in the -26C frigid conditions will not result in my getting a handle on Nova Scotian themes and moods.

So I am going to create a challenge that I have employed before to heighten enthusiasm and to overcome such barriers. I firmly believe challenge stimulates a fresh... loose and painterly approach and final product. This particular approach might seem flaky at first glance... but if you are looking for a novel way to get over a dry spell... then this one is a fun exercise... and will teach you a great deal about "happy accidents"... and going with the Flow!


The process begins with creating new tools for your initial drawing efforts. No costs involved... just some time to go outside and choose some smallish twigs as seen in jpeg one. Then... using a sharp utility knife or Exacto type knife cut quill type shapes that will serve as nibs for your new wooden styluses. Create your very own nibs ... not merelly copying what is conventional and familiar to you. Experiment on paper beforehand to find suitable shapes that work for you. Even this is fun... and surprisingly... you will discover that these tools are in fact... effective drawing implements. Just give yourself some time to gain a feel for their fluidity or individual marking possibilities.


Once you have a specific subject selected you can choose two possible approaches that I have found work for me. I choose a suitable white canvas format... let's say... 20x24 inches for your intended surface.

In method one, you apply acrylic burnt sienna with a large brush or even your fingers or a rag to represent darker appearing areas in your chosen subject... allowing lighter areas to remain the original white. Don't fret over exactness... just treat everything as temporary... and subject to ongoing changes. Once dry..then apply a loose pen and ink sketch/rendering into this new environment... allowing it to have its own life and energy. The use of ink guarantees... that there is no need for an eraser. HA HA!! Simply think first... then have fun discovering new things about your tools and materials. Grasp the twig pen at the end. This allows the new tool to act on its own... and not as a conventional pen or pencil... promoting chance breaks and deviations that encourage a fresh and painterly look.

In method two place your canvas on the easel in the ready to paint position and simply create a loosely constructed line drawing... sketch with your new tools and india ink directly onto the white canvas... again with no attempt to make it fussy. Allow for accidents to happen naturally... ink will drip and run... GREAT! The burnt sienna can be added after the sketch is in place... or the sketch can remain on the white ground "as is."

In either approach changes can be made after the fact to enhance your initial drawing. In method one... if too much burnt sienna is a problem... that can be corrected with the application of pure gesso to "correct" that problem... or even an ink error... just like in typing. It is fun to play... and believe me... it makes one think outside of the normal box for certain. And... on those days when one feels boxed in... and unmotivated... an afternoon or evening of simply playing is rewarding... and enriching!

The final step is to proceed further adding paint in the same fashion... or as is usually your practice. Again... there is much room to carry the experiment further and to explore deeper. It's all up to you! Just have fun... and relax!

This challenge activity is sent out directly to my good friend Joan Sicignano. She thrives on challenges and has "caught the fire" this year which has resulted in outstanding artistic growth and development for her. Hope you enjoy this one Joan! Visit her by Googling Joan Sicignano's Fine Art and see her marvellous sketches and paintings!

I will post some other examples in the next few days... along with my start on the new Nova Scotian drawing-to-painting processes to help you get your head around this novel idea further. I do hope that you enjoy this offering and hope that some of you might take the challenge and go "a-twigging!"

In my own work and process my approach is always open ended. It invites further contemplation and often these can occur long after the initial undertaking. Today's sketch was first presented ... framed and for sale in its original sienna appearance. However.. I was constantly feeling the compulsion to "Shermanize" it with pigment... but hesitated because I so loves its spontaneous and lively qualities. I finally easeled it... and was completely happy with that glow and mood that evolved. The couple who purchased it are Quebecois... and were so very pleased to add it to their sizeable collection of my works in their home.

The lesson to be learned here is again to risk... both accept challenge and create challenge for your Self. Take control of your process and make it what you want it to become. Then have the courage to step out again... and find new challenge. Emerson said it so well:

"Once you make a decision... The Universe conspires with you to make it happen."

Good Painting!... and Decision-making to ALL!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Wisdom of Giving... and Receiving

"Sunset on Bateaux Channel, Howe Island" acrylic on canvas 12x16 inches
A sideline stab at working in acrylics

"Sugar Moon" - oil on canvas 24 x 18 inches
A demo done in one hour on local Public Television -Gifted at Christmas to a special friend

"Jazzin' Up Summer" - oil on canvas 24x20 inches

A couple of musical interludes... from normal landscape interests

"Morning is Broken" Stonehurst South, NS - oil on canvas 24x30 inches

A painting done for The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Sales and Rentals -SOLD

"Tribute to Hope" - oil on canvas 30x24 inches - Gifted to daughter Lisa for her new home at Bethsheba, Barbados

Perhaps there exists no better time in the year to consider the value of wisdom in one's own journey. New Year is a time of reflection back over the events and happenings of the previous year to (hopefully) create a better outcome in one's life in the New Year that lies ahead. This moment is very much akin to a situation that is familiar to all of us who share a passion for painting in our lives.

The New Year... can be easily compared top a blank white canvas... primed and ready for an image that either lies before us in the physical landscape... or perhaps in the creative labyrinth of our mind. Our palette? Well... each of has his or her own personal choice of preferred "colours" that we have in our "tool box..." a set of unique experiences(both positive and negative) to draw upon... and a modicum of personal time and energy which again is unique to our personal lives and situation.

Painting is, by its very nature... usually an act arising out of contemplation... individual thought and actions. Our processes for the most part are deeply personal responses calibrated by varying levels of skill... initiative and goal seeking. For this reason... we spend much of our time cloistered away in studios or in the outdoors working on our own. For the most part, this is an enriching and satisfying experience... something we all look forward to and enjoy... a form of personal meditation... a pleasant separation from the routines of daily and family responsibilities.

But there does arise a time... when one feels stale... when the "old formula" no longer excites and canvas stares back and does not speak to... or even interest you. Every art form has these barriers, or periods of block. This is the time when each of us looks to others who journey commonly... for encouragement and perhaps a thread of Hope to kick start our feelings of paralysis and artistic impotency. It is truly a time ... when we reach out in search of... Wisdom!

Past societies... even "primitive" or indigenous ones depended almost solely upon their elders to provide wisdom... not only to the adult segment but as well significant teaching and rearing roles in the rearing of children. In that hands on fashion... wisdom was literally handed to the next generations in an active and oral tradition. This method of the passing on of wisdom and leadership guaranteed a predictable and stable transmission and reception of knowledge.

Our too rapidly changing and technologically based cultures of today rely almost totally upon the passage and reception of knowledge being carried out by outside the family sources. Our elders are "used" when convenient... devalued... cut adrift and left to their own devices for support... or warehoused in homes and sites where the responsibilities for care are carried out by corporate or privately owned care facilities. Most often these places are either self-funded or underwritten by government assistance.

In these situations all family members lose really. Adults relinquish daily contact and opportunities to gain life knowledge and children are robbed of their familial connection to the process of aging and the value of sharing time with someone who is with you out of choice... and real love... rather than paid tuition as the factor and incentive to give care.

I am not inferring that this is entirely bad... given economic choices in today's costly rat race. Often it is the only choice possible... given the circumstances. However... given the two paths, can there be any doubt that we have indeed lost something important? The oft said phrase:

"Wisdom and stability come with age."... is undeniable. Simply look across the breadth of your own journey... and tell me if you are not more wise now... as an adult or parent... compared to a time when you lived with your parents?

Wisdom is a gift to be given... but for the transmission to take place... it must also be openly received and embraced.... " a give and take", as they say.

This blog and the blogs of others form a conduit for exchanging wisdom. Wisdom is not necessarily "the stuff "that one expects from intellectual sources. I have found that "Wisdom" has its origin from many sources in my own life. I learn from elders... but I also learn wisdom from children... from friends... from radio interviews... from newspapers... from simply observing Nature... people interacting... visiting the blogs of others... and yes, even from my own failures.

In short... "Wisdom" can be gained from a myriad of sources, but in order to receive it... one must be open to and receptive to it. One must be open to change... to shuffling the deck... working outside the normal box we build around us.

Wisdom takes time to assimilate and digest as well. Too often we jump rashly into action... merely preordaining failure... or a return to old devices... which are... "ordinary." Try some new strategies... but allow yourself time to bathe in new prospects... form themes rather than single pictures. Read about other artists and their lives. Visit exhibitions and galleries. Write journals... keep sketchbooks handy. Form a buffet of ideas and activities to taste and experiment with.

I will leave you with my last five favourite images that I promised from 2011. They are already "old"... and have had their day.I have indeed moved on. But in the process of looking over them... I have refreshed my views about what gave me most pleasure in my painting process during the past year. I purchased a large canvas this morning. It's on the easel... looking back at me. But as blank and white as it truly is... I can already "see" the image that will fill it. I am "imagineering!

But I have much more thinking and preparation work to do... and my next post will outline that searching for the wisdom to proceed. I will conclude this post with a piece of wonderful gem of Barbadian wisdom . It reads simply, but eloquently:

"Don't rush de brush and trow 'way de paint! In our culture... this equates roughly with:"Patience is a virtue." And so it is!.... This post began about a week ago... which partly explains the time lapse! HA HA!!

Good Painting to ALL in 2012!