Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Perfect Space

Tuesday's class offered some new surprises. Firstly... Robin and I had two new enthusiasts decide to join us  for the final class in August on Little Hebrides Island. Fred Guild and his wife graciously offered us the keys to their private space to roam over and paint as we pleased. Given its privacy... its many panoramic vistas of the River and beautifully designed clutches of garden... this Eden was indeed the "perfect space" to inspire good painting!

The weather forecaster had offered less than perfect conditions for the day with partly cloudy conditions and the strong possibility of thunderstorms and rain. Those conditions failed to materialize and we enjoyed a "bluebird day" (blue sky and sun) for the entire paint out. The perfect place also offered many places and opportunities for shade, including a lovely gazebo complete with comfortable and strategically placed Muskoka chairs.This site offered a protected location and three magnificent river views. The scattered gardens along the pathways leading to the south side of the island and the home's entrance afforded not only interesting painting subjects... but shade as well.

In my initial planning for the day completed days before setting out, I tried to encompass a lesson goal which was both achievable... but challenging for each of the participants at their particular levels of experience. I had previously painted with Robin and Jane, so I had a handle on their strengths and basic interests. I knew that they could fend for themselves with minimal worry. The two new ladies were friends and came together... with enthusiasm to discover what this plein air painting was all about... and whether they could cut it. And they did admirably achieve that goal with panache!

Here... is the essence of the brief introduction. lasting a mere ten minutes that I offered as they sat under the gazebo. I wanted to keep it simple and succinct... open-ended, but with enough structure for each person to begin their day with confidence. I would then be able to evaluate strengths and weaknesses as they revealed themselves without holding anyone up and offer help as it was required on an individual basis. The main goal for the day coincided with the reality that we were painting in a "perfect space"... in terms of the numerous motifs and solitude that this island paradise offered each of us. The theme I chose focussed upon "Creating Your Own Space." Here are the cogent points in my short presentation to the group:

Space... on a purely technical level can be achieved by understanding and employing these tasks:
1. Space on your canvas or sheet of paper is two dimensional... possessing only length and width
2. Depth is the third dimension... and is "illusionary" in nature and must be created
3. Depth can be created in the picture plane using light and shadow, colour (warm and cool) ie aerial perspective  and elements of linear perspective ie size relationships through scale
4.The use of all three in combination result in the creation of the illusion of deep space ie. foreground... middle ground and background

Finding your own "perfect space"... in the face of the complexity of Nature in her fullness is a daunting task each and every time one goes "out there." Trying to replicate all that is in front of one can only lead to disaster and discouragement. One must learn to look for the abstract patterns... the larger masses... which are in their essence those strong compositional elements which pique our interest and form the design in our paintings.

Secondly... and most importantly, we must learn to simplify the elements... to translate them into an impression... as opposed to making an attempt to create a  photographic reproduction. Avoiding this pitfall can be overwhelmingly challenging to the novice plein air enthusiast.  I gave each member a 5x7" view finder cut from a piece of mat board to crop out a section of what lay before them. It would serve as a tool to help them focus and refocus their attention as they sketched and painted. Three made use of them... the other person didn't feel a need to use it. The three found it very useful in both the drawing and painting stages.

The painting session began with a laugh. The two new ladies chose a shaded site along the path with many floral opportunities and lots of colour. They had just completed their drawings and were laying out their palettes of colour... when the timed sprinklers went off... trapping them as they sat in the midst of geysers of cold water  - not great with acrylic paints! A "baptism-by-fire" entry into the business of plein airing! HA HA!! They were wonderful sports about it and quickly shifted gears... and locations... coming out into the sun to dry off. We all enjoyed the comic relief... and the nervous relief of being "out there" melted away for the remainder of our wonderful outing together. Plein air always provides unforeseen challenges.

Here are some of the opportunities that I introduced as  available possibilities for a painting. Each selected their own study and we got quickly under way.

 Robin and Jane under the Gazebo... deep into the Flow!

Both painting this garden theme that both found interesting

Over the shoulder and into Jane's Space

 Marsha at work...... before the sudden deluge!

 Marsha at work in the zone...

Nancy with the world to her Self!

We broke for lunch at noon and during the break I completed a "quick draw" watercolour demo to the lay in stage... promising to complete it at home later under my own steam and by memory to illustrate my belief that one must use the subject only as a springboard to begin the process and rely on the inner spirit and feelings to carry it to the conclusion. In this fashion of working... the work becomes truly creative in every respect.In summarizing... The space you create depends upon physical choices and specific knowledge as to how space can be created visually on a two dimensional surface. Your space as well has a spiritual aspect... if you have the courage to let your innermost feelings guide your brush and pencil in the process. Always remember. As Philip Jamison reminds us: "that the mind paints... before the brush!"

I am passing along some memorable highlights of our day together on Lesser Hebrides in the form of jpeg shots which illustrate grandly some of the island's beauty and the the great enjoyment and work of our participants We bid farewell to Nancy ... as she departs for home. Hope that this inspires and encourages you to follow your heart and to continue the great success you enjoyed on your first plein air outing! Good luck with it! As for the rest of our group... we'll see you next week! It is necessary for me to reschedule from the Tuesday, as I have a previous appointment. I'll email all to find the best common alternative day for next week!

Our deepest thanks to the Guilds for so graciously sharing their Shangri-la with us! Hope to return again real soon for another island adventure there!

Good Painting to ALL!!!


  1. What a beautiful day for painting, Bruce! A gorgeous location that your friends offered you for that day too. What fun! And I love the little nuggets I can take away from your posts and try to use them in my own work. Thank you.

  2. Good Morning Sherry!...It was really a special day for us all!

    Both painting and blogging have been wonderful sources for me to share my ideas and thoughts and to build new friendships.

    I am glad to call you a friend... and to share whatever I can... nuggets, as you call them! It gives pleasure and purpose to my life to know that you find something of use for your own journey!

    I always look forward to hearing from you... and about parts of your own life and many talents like weaving... etc!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. What a truely fabulous location Bruce, I wish I was there too joining in and painting alonging with you all. Weather is better here now but autumn has really arrived with berries out on the shrubs and golden light shines everywhere. Keeping full of hope as usual. Happy painting laddie!

  4. Hi there Caroline!... It is a magnificent band inspiring place to paint! Subjects everywhere one looks... and a constant breeze to carry one into the zone!!

    Autumn has indeed arrived here as well... colder nights... lower water levels and even the leaves have started to change early due to the drought conditions. Cat tails have already started to assume their autumn golden colour... lily pads are long since dead - no water!

    Keeping busy... and full of hope here as well!

    Good Painting to you as well!
    Warmest regards,