Friday, February 22, 2013

Making the Most... Out of Miniatures

The title might be misleading... if you are focusing upon the word "most" to refer to the money value of a miniature in my thoughts.That word "most" connotes other essentials for me in committing to painting miniature paintings. I will try to advance some ideas which describe the other aspects of miniature painting for me.

Firstly... my "career" as a selling artist began in 1972 at a kitchen table with a $0.69 set of watercolours which I purchased at K-Mart and a 9x12 inch pad of cheap watercolour paper. Does that sound familiar at all? I punched out a lot of questionable work that today (yes I still have them) reminds me of the point where I began my journey... to arrive at Today. I discovered a process through my own playing and enjoyment of creating 5x7 inch watercolours of barns and other historic buildings... which were the focus of renowned artists I admired at the time... Eric Sloane, Andrew Wyeth and the Canadian Ken Danby. I had always loved barns for some strange reason... perhaps because our area was steeped in a United Empire Loyalist tradition of barn and stone house building.

I came up with an idea to mat these miniature watercolours in coloured mat board... cutting the opening with a Logan hand cutter... and wrapping them in Saran Wrap. I decided to "try my luck" sitting on the local farmers' market on Saturdays offering  my weekly output on the $12.00 a heave. I had a box load of these "puppies looking for a home"... and sold all of them on my first time out. It was not the $$$ which generated the enthusiasm with which I took up the task. It was purely the thought that others valued what I was producing for enjoyment. It was not a job which created this windfall... it was a joyful and enjoyable evening past time. It was like reading - a zone where one receives enrichment of the mind and soul... but you get paid for it - an "Epiphany" !

I joined The Kingston Arts Council and soon became an exhibitor at their three time a year sales events like Fanfayr. I gradually I lifted the price to slow down the demand and began to add pen and ink to the images for punch and detail to in my own mind... justify the cost increase. Later on, I  added frames and experimented with pure white lithographic papers which amplified the contrast between the colour and linear ink rendering. The work continued to sell out... and during the course of these shows, I was approached in 1978 to commit to a solo show with Gallery Francoise and The Glebe Studio and Gallery in downtown Kingston. It was through the encouragement and urging of these two women curators and owners that I began slowly to add "larger" works. And so my career as an artist was launched.

 Over my career, I revisited the production of these small miniature formats... but just to add variety and grouping opportunities to my solo shows. I had run the gamut in producing them solely to gain a reputation and following who were familiar with me and my work and found the small format to be uninspiring... even discouraging as I went to the bigger canvas formats and as well to painting mostly en plein air. My version "small" in the field remains even today to be 8x10 inch or 10x12 inch toned panels. I customarily either begin or end my day of painting with one of these smaller panels... and I always refer to them as "sketches"... "exercises or ideas" which could lead to larger explorations in the studio.

So strangely... I feel that ... in a way, I am "back-tracking", or have come full circle back to where the journey began. However, in comparing samples from those earlier years to these recent examples, I can readily see vast differences in technique and quality. There is a liveliness in these recent pieces that is quite identifiably absent in most of the original prototypes. Before, the object of the activity was to simply fill a quota to be ready for the next outing. While I did in fact try to produce the best work I could... given my limited experience using the medium and technique, it is fair to mention that speed was a considered element in their creation. As a result, bad decisions and outcomes were made... and when rendered in ink could not be eliminated. I would gladly love to have many of them back to give them an unearned Viking funereal ending. But all of us wish that to be true of our earliest paintings.

I am offering a few of the original pieces dated 1974 to compare with the two most recent painted yesterday. You be the judge... and jury regarding what lies before you. The lesson all of us can draw from this post I hope is that one's artistic journey is ongoing.and without end if you wish it be so. By simply painting... painting... and painting some more we grow exponentially. If we add into that painting activity...  mentorship by people whom we trust and admire and travel into the formula, we can see that our growth can be sustained and continued for as long as we wish to reach out... and learn more.

In my next post, I will discuss some plans that I wish to undertake which reshapes my new "taking up of the small format gauntlet" to grow it into something altogether different. I as well will add my reasons for making such a decision and what I hope to accomplish by this venture. I believe that my actions are quite rational and that they are a measured and totally justified response by "Me" as a creative individual to a different economic time and need in my life.

Stay tuned!... Hope that you enjoyed the paintings and the post content!

This is a plein air watercolour of the old blacksmith shop (now gone) in Delta, Ontario. Being too much in a hurry is plainly revealed in the impossible placement of the two second floor windows of the facade... clearly and awkwardly above the roof and attic area. Great detail in the shop itself... not much attention to background points to more hurrying . A dismal effort!

Discovering the Rapidograph Mechanical Draftsman Pens set led me to a couple of years of experimentation with the pen as my only interest. I did large scale pen and ink architectural and still life renderings which really improved my draughtsmanship... and slowed down my too compulsive need to work quickly! Planning was essentail and became  the hallmark of these large scale drawings. I later moved this knowledge into my water colour work and the two married well and created contrasty and colourful artwork.

This is an early pure watercolour study en plein air of a Gothic Revival style home located in the historic "Sydenham Ward" on William Street in Kingston. I really loved the symmetry and balance as well as the "gingerbread" woodwork in the dormer and along the eaves. Much better control inside of two years of work!

 This is a "folksy" rendering depicting our summer home just east of Rockport, where my family and I summered for over 53 years. This was one of a pair which I did as a Mother's Day gift in 1976 for Mom... and a picture of my Dad's family home in Maitland, Ontario. Hurried as well... last moment decision, I guess. Life got in the way... even back then

This is the other of the pair depicting my Dad's family United Empire Loyalist homestead located in Maitland, Ontario. It was a Father's Day gift given in 1975. This combination of water colour and ink better demonstrates the kid of control and attention to detail that I could come up with.... minus the deadline! Both hung together in our beloved cottage until it was sold.


This is again a straight transparent water which demonstrates my found ability to use strong contrasting  lighting effects and the capability to actual dry brush and render with the pigment over layered washes.Pure watercolour can now be seen to hold my interest., The ink run is over.

This is a pure transparent watercolour... and a good example of the kind of watercolour I could produce in the late eighties and nineties. This was a favourite lighthouse and is located in Rustico, Prince Edward Island. I kept this  for myself and I intend to paint this one again very soon... as a memory of my five year residency in Nova Scotia and my travels and adventures  around the Atlantic Provinces.

This is the most recent 7x5 inch watercolour and ink Rockport  Spring painting. It depicts the Captain Carnegie historic house... past home as well of Ed Andress the wooden boat builder, grandfather of my landlords Wendy and Art Merkley. It is light and airy and has the same warmth and good amount of detail seen in the previous day's work.

This was my second effort from yesterday... a winter view of St Brendan's Roman Catholic Church.. high above Rockport's harbour. The same  consistency of warmth... colour and draughtsmanship can be seen throughout the last four pieces... something that would have been difficult for me to achieve back in the seventies. I choose to be loose and jaunty to add to the painting quality. It would appear that time and continual painting can indeed result in learning and proficiency in a medium. Jumping all over will never lead to this point. Focus!... Focus!... Focus!

Hope that you enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane with me! I hope that it encourages you to stay the course... to work hard and to be patient in your desire to grow! It does not come over night to any of us.You get from anything... what you put into it!

Good Painting...  to ALL!


  1. I did very much enjoy this trip with you, Bruce. Quite honestly, I'd be pleased as punch to sign my name to any of them!

  2. Good morning Sherry!... Thank you for being the first to jump in and visit!

    Glad that you enjoyed the "shuffle"... down Memory Lane with me! Wish that you could... anyone could put their name on the bottom line for some of these... and a multitude of others!

    The road to heaven or paved with good intentions... and poor results! HA HA!! It "is"... what is is!... Ancient history and sometimes murky water under the bridge!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Hi Bruce, it's interesting to see your progress over the years. For all their faults even the early ones show a confidence in handling, so that better was bound to come with more experience. The fact that they sold so well means that people must have enjoyed them. I suppose the price of progress is embarrassment with earlier work!

    All the best,

  4. Good Morning Keith!... Thanks for your insights regarding the "Memory Lane" tour! I never have lacked confidence to give anything a full try... so your observations are likely correct.

    We all start and progress as we learn. That is the essence of discovery - it only arrives usually from a concerted effort. They are what they are... beginnings. I review them from time to time... to remind me that discovery and growth are a continuum... with peaks and valleys! Paint on... they say! HA HA!!

    Thanks for dropping by!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,