Thursday, January 31, 2013

Making Every Day Count

Today ... we bid farewell To January. The time seems to fairly have evaporated for Deb and I here in Rockport. We both have been very busy... ridding ourselves of responsibilities and  projects that we had undertaken late last year. Christmas is always about Family for us... and we always set that time aside to focus our attentions and joy purely upon spending time with our combined Family.

Now that this hiatus has  passed and our family members have dispersed and returned to their own busy schedules and lives, we can place our focus and energy... starting tomorrow for us both on business preparations for Summer 2013 at The Paint Box Gallery. Our goal in the next months is to design and produce some unique new inventory which relates to tourist interests and the purse of the hoards of summer visitors. That influx will begin to descend upon Rockport commencing in early May... and will run (dependent upon weather) through to late October.

I have been working to complete a painting which certainly did challenge me.  I am most certainly not, by any stretch of the imagination, a portrait painter. But this project was a special one for "Me" because I was emotionally involved in the subject and the circumstances. These factors fuelled me "to step up" and to work outside of my comfort zone. It permitted me as well, to work outside of the kind  of "commission" relationship and negotiation process which in reality is usually necessary in the portrait painting genre.

In this case... I " had the stick" - no time constraints - no expectations from the other side, nor more importantly, no monetary issues to distract or discourage. This painting is a heArt gift to a Friend from "Me", not only because I greatly admire her Art... but more because I admire her generous spirit. I am waiting for the painting to dry enough to allow me to varnish it... and I will then forward it to her!

I hold on to and practise certain "rules" or principles which guide my life... my actions and I which believe govern "good living." All, ironically offer me an immediate degree of return of peace and satisfaction. Unconditional acts of love... and kindness demonstrate the kind of humanity which can only lead to a more balanced and stable world around one."What goes around... come around."Simply... be generous for the sake of being generous. Don't anticipate a return.and you will never be disappointed. Allow the Universe to work its mysterious magic... and in every case... you will discover , as I have... that..."my cup runneth over"
with unexpected blessings!

Tomorrow... I begin my own February Challenge. "Thirty Thousand Islands Paintings... in Thirty Days"
Busy priming panels this afternoon... picking out possible locations to visit. Some will be winter images... but I will also require other seasonal offerings. Not all folks share my love of the Canadian winters... on location!

Wish me luck... and stay tuned!.....

"Listen... to the Guitar Man" - oil on panel 12x10 inches

"He can make you love, he can make you cry
He will bring you down, then he'll get you high
Somethin'  keeps him goin', miles and miles each day
To find another place to play....."

"Guitar Man" by the Band Bread

And "He" has found one! "Listen"... to the Guitar Man!

Good February Painting... to ALL!!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Life... Measured in... Inches

Strange how this contents of this post knitted itself together this morning... how such seemingly unrelated events could trigger this chain of thinking and compulsive need to write! I thought it worth sharing.

It all began yesterday morning when I headed out... coffee in hand to sit on the end of the dock... excited to watch morning's majestic entry just eastward between Grenadier and Pine Islands. In the low light in the driveway, I could make out the shapes of smallish footprints, compared to my own which ended at a big rectangular patch of dark... revealing what had been the presence of a vehicle that had been parked over that space when the slight snow feel last evening. Those tracks and that space belonged to my first child Lisa... our Bajan Island Girl. She had come to have a last visit with us before "She" and her doodle of a dog Clover made the trip to Cattlewash, Barbados to begin a new life in their new home.

My interest for attending  the morning sunrise ceremony suddenly lost a lot of its excitement... and my view "outward'... to the world that I so find Peace and Joy in... reversed "inward" to that place where I store the other treasures which sustain "Me" and from which I make "withdrawals" from time to time to find purchase and calm when Life becomes too much. Memory is but a personal savings account form of banking... all about savings...deposits and withdrawals. My account is more active than most perhaps... and I constantly try not to allow my Self to go overboard in the withdrawal end. "Overdraft'... is never a healthy situation... for any of us!

I wouldn't call my state melancholic at all... but it has most certainly have plummeted before into that painful and deeply troubling state in earlier life... but I have indeed been "awakened" to the possibility of following a path encouraging those feelings for too long, and I have a life plan which I follow religiously which diverts me away from that abyss. Life is good! But I found my Self suddenly thrust back to a time where Lisa was wee... and "We"... our family, at the time were young new to family life. I recalled Lisa's relentless search to earn the title in her own mind of ... becoming a "Big Girl."

"Chattel House, Speightstown, Barbados" - watercolour and ink sketch "gifted " to Lisa...and returned to the Barbados

My eyes and my attention were suddenly drawn across the frozen, now psychedelic strata of frozen river to Pine Island. There my mind back-tracked to the Lisa story and I recalled the moment when Captain Peter Frost... once a pirate "wannabee" there on the Island  proudly showed the inside frame of the kitchen door where his mentor/ Grandfather JK had recorded the Keats children "periodic tables' of height ... to their  inch and by the year growth on each summer stay on their precious Pine Island reserve. I had thought at the time... how wonderful a mark to leave which would in later years to help these children... each of them in their own way to retrace their life backwards in time... inch by inch!

This is "Me" says Peter so proudly ... "Rumpelstiltskin... AGELESS!... it read ... and so true for both JK and Peter. They... during  life, and now in JK's absence Peter continues to travel and sail with a Peter Pan view... of Neverland!..... something which continues to draw the two of us together in spirit!

As I watched... and felt the warmth of the new morning kiss my cheek, I marvelled at how "the same" we are as human family. "We"... all of us, look at the world and reflexively almost tend to measure our lives linearally   by the inch... and worse by the pound. Neither scale should be the scale upon which we place value on our place or feelings of worth and importance. I have had the very good fortune to have shared time and learning with "peers"...  though short in stature were "tall" in their abilities and greater in their knowledge of a certain area of interest. Those differences can be seen... and even tapped into for strength to help us all grow... together... and not apart!

Yesterday afternoon , Deb and I travelled to pick up my second born, Dr (Jemima Puddle Duck) Allison in Kingston. The purpose of the planned visit was to have a catch up on her teaching life... her writing projects and... her return to Venice plans... happening on Tuesday. We enjoyed a wonderful visit... great food and together time catching up at a favourite bistro, The Copper Penny. It was obvious again to "Me"... that the little girl (who always maintained that "She" was "going to grow up to be an artist" and was as much a fixture in my studio as my easel  and on my plein air trips)... had "inched" her own way into the world of Art and had soared well beyond where "She", or any of her family or Friends could have imagined. At the same time, her 'inching out"...  has also meant "inching away from the comfort of Home and Family. But in my mind... that is as it should be... and is good!

"Fondamenta Rimedio, Venice" - oil on panel 7x5 inches "gifted to Allison

I crossed this bridge over the canal to our pensione on the left side ... every day, twice a day for the eight weeks that I was studying and living in Venice

I distinctly remember an incident of total rejection for "Me" and a piece off my work that I felt "special" in those early water colour days. I had submitted "Three Bucket Maple" to a juried show at Queen's University. It is a piece which our family still owns.. I gifted it to Andrew and Allison so that it would remain in the family. Since that rejection, "Three Bucket Maple" has earned a Juror's Choice award and was chosen to be part of a travelling art collection to Germany.

It drew the admiration of two prominent and renowned Canadian artists,  who encouraged "me" to stay with the ship. Despite their critical comment supporting my work, I was dashed to the point where I had decided not to go further with my art... and to focus more on my teaching and family. It was a two word comment penned carefully on the surface of my drawing table which would forever dispel my fear of criticism and send me back to my work relentlessly up until now. Those two powerful... and precious to "Me" even today words... "Be Bold!"... were left there quietly... without pomp or intent to receive praise by... 6 year old Jemima Puddle Duck! How can a six year old child's wisdom and influence be so strong... at such an unexpected time in life? The Universe is mysterious... and wonder-filled!

"Three Bucket Maple" - watercolour 22x28 inches on 300lb Arches Paper

I won't apologize for my trend lately in my posts to talk so personally... or so philosophically. Bare with "Me" that this blog site is called "Journalling With Paint." It is a space where both "voices"... speak and  record. Hence , I feel no real reason to apologize. It is not meant to be preaching... or as I have alluded "teaching. I merely need to release these thoughts to the world... leaving space for expression in paint. My current project is a portrait which will be completed today. It is a deeply personal project just like the content of the post. One "voice" sets the other to work in my process. They always work in tandem. Good... but paradoxically bad. Life gets too busy and crowded.... and goes off in all directions... briefly.HA HA!!!

I will close this post by adding this personal thought for you to consider, if you will. Life's journey can be measured by inches... which for certain becomes feet and then thousands of miles during its course. What line that journey will take depends largely upon individual choice and effort... with a bit of luck tossed in. All lives too... are measured by the number of breaths we shall be blessed to take. Use some of those breaths to create the space and opportunity to be left simply... "breathless"... by the beauty that can be found within "You" and not others... and in the Now, which is within inches of where you now are!

To my loving children Lisa, Allison, Andrew, Liam and Bryn... enjoy every breath that you are given fully... and know that wherever "You" are... "I" am with "You" always ... and forever! Till we meet again... Be safe!... Fair journeys and rich blessings upon "You"! Come Home soon!

All my love ALWAYS Dad

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Inspire.. With Your Art... Heart and Fire!

"I am not a teacher, but an awakener."
Robert Frost, American Poet

The words in this quote are as powerfully clear and evocative to "Me" this morning, as I sit typing this post... as they were fifty seven years ago when I first heard them in Don Taylor's Grade Thirteen English class. They were spoken by Frost himself that May afternoon.... but in a film short that Don used to help motivate us to better understand his own love of Frost's poetry. That love was so very visible(to "Me" at least) through his body language and the lilt in his every word... as he read daily excerpts to us from the curriculum prescribed "Death of a Hired Man." It was in those precious days... now so long ago, that so much of the "Me" was born. It was to be my first epiphany - a pivotal event of enlightenment and the source of the river upon which I have journeyed ever since.

The word has such power and potential for each of us. Most all of us are fortunate to actually have a physical voice, and moreover, we are even more fortunate to have been born in countries and in a democratic society (more or less), where "freedom of speech" exits and is guaranteed in our Charter or Constitution. We are indeed... all of us deeply blessed! However, as in all things in life paradox exists in regard to word power and free speech. Words can be used powerfully in a negative fashion as well and are deeply damaging when used thus. We have all been subject to the pain and humiliation at some point in our lives to such abuse and misuse. It is the tool of the "Bully"... and promotes and engenders only negatives such  fear, hatred, mistrust and humiliation. But let's not dwell on these negatives. Let us rather return and ponder the "Power of One"... made possible by the equal playing field which freedom of speech offers.

Our blog world and the Internet are  powerful agents to encourage and enable any individual to use their voice... whether verbal or visual, as a resource to reach out to and touch the lives of  other individuals who seek knowledge and share a similar passion. In our case, it is the Arts. It is not only a gift or privilege to be able to play an active role in this network, but that privilege also carries a responsibility to contribute... to share and to inspire others. I know only so well, that so many will consider this absurd - that their "voice"... their art doesn't really matter, nor does it "measure up" to the contents of so many of the sites they visit regularly. I'm not so sure that this post can much change that sad state for each individual who might take the time to read this, but I write it to challenge and offer it as more food for thought. I offer it in the same manner which I offered it in each and every class I was a learning partner in over twenty-seven years.

The word "teacher" has always made me cringe... though I possess a certificate which unequivocally states that I indeed hold the qualifications described to characterize such a position. However, on occasions I fell well short of that responsibility for too may reasons... most far beyond my wish for that to have occurred. Like Frost, I have always viewed my Self as "an awakener"... an enabler... an empowerer, or more simply, a resource in the learning environment. This blog site has become... out of pure choice a virtual classroom / studio, a space or forum... where "I" invite people to come out of their own free will... to participate and to share their own ideas and learning  - along with "Me."

In this environment, each of us has an equal ability and responsibility to contribute... without fear of disapproval.... judgement or having to compete. It is my hope... that everyone (including my Self) takes something away with them to consider further and perhaps use to further their own art process and personal lives. The curriculum is not prescribed... it is varied and knows no boundary. It can travel where it must... and will not be subject to testing and grading. The "test" will be "passed"... each and every time that an individual can put into positive use... any piece of learning or encouragement gained here... through their own need...hard work and perseverance.

My purpose today and in each post that I write is to inspire and Empower. I never intend it to impress with my own knowledge. If I manage to encourage thought, I will have passed forward that inner  feeling of joy...elation and success which "I" now possess. Joy is a blessing... found only through sharing. Seeing that Joy felt... in the hands and hearts of others perpetuates that feeling for the Self. It is the main reason why my own feeling of Peace and Contentment has become so consistent for "Me." It is also why I am saddened when I see and meet potentially "good" individuals... yet must withdraw out of the fear of being drawn into their hapless existence.

I know that Adversity plays a huge role in causing those dreaded "D" words... discord... discouragement... dishonesty... distrust... despair... depression, and yes... eventually for all of us... . Death. Again, life is driven by Paradox. In order to feel Joy... one must understand the pain of all of these "D" words. However, I offer that Adversity (and I have created much of my own during my life time), most often is construed as a force acting unfairly against each of us, can be harnessed and used to propel one forward, as opposed to holding one back. Seen in this way, Adversity becomes the fulcrum  -  a point of balance between becoming complacent... or if left unchecked... a state of being overwhelmed. Adversity is then an opportunity to make significant choices, or changes to better one's lot. Adversity can then be viewed as a place to depart in a new direction, using revaluation as a tool to reset our compass and to depart on a new and better journey.

Adversity is no stranger in my own life, but I choose not to dwell upon the Past... it is gone. I worry less about Tomorrow, simply because it has yet to arrive. "I" choose... to live in the Now! Today, I know that I will settle into and likely finish a portrait that I have been working at off and on... for too long. I am NOT a portraitist... which is mainly the reason for the uncharacteristically slow finish for\ me. But it is a He(art) gift for a Friend, and I have as deep a need to send it to "Her"... as "She" has to receive it. Do you see the model and mantra in action here?

"Me".... enabling "You"... to enable "Me."..............a full circle... and this gifting keeps turning and will not end - EVER!

In my last post, I mentioned that I had written it in its entirety because I was so effected by the words, "What's the point?" Since then, Pauline and "I" have shared supportive and encouraging (to us both) emails back and forth. She thanked me for the encouraging words in the post and said that our Friendship meant a lot to she and her husband. That is equally true for Deb and I. She and her husband  is soon to retire from a long  and often arduous policing career look forward to that moment... but that  sense of joy will be significantly tempered by family responsibilities they must shoulder at this time as well. They share much in common with Deb and I in terms of values, need and respect for Family, cooking, the outdoors... and of course painting... which was the initial contact point between Pauline and I. All else has grown from that initial interest... passion and sharing. That is the true power and real magic of creating and sharing one's art. It creates the vast opportunity for Friendship.

I know that Pauline holds my art in high regard... and I am grateful for her encouragement and support. But therein lies a distinct danger. I believe that she rates herself and her art below mine... even though I do not. She has found passage into her art expression initially through tole painting... which dedicates itself out of a tradition to use art decoratively onto objects. It is a precise and demanding form, like calligraphy in some ways. It requires much practice to gain the skills and flourishes which the style demands. Pauline is truly highly skillful... diligent and produces still life subjects which I admire... no covet. HA HA! So strange as it might seem to "Her"... "I"  am in awe of her skill and abilities in that genre. But I continue on my journey... content... and focused on what I love passionately. Painting the Canadian Landscape... and in particular... painting it... en plein air. My choices do not supersede the importance or my recognition of her accomplishments... or those of any other artist in my life

Pauline has encouraged me to think about writing a book. I have already done so... and intend to do so again when the timing is right . Life is ALL about timing Pauline! But the time is Now... and Now I would like to use your words ...and the words ( via a You Tube video that I have included at the top of today's post) that you sent me... the beautiful and eloquent words with which I choose to close off today's post. "I" thank "You" humbly... for this very important story to share with my Friends. Hopefully, if  it strikes the same chord it did for us they might pass it forward for others to enjoy.

Here's my own version of  "The Goose Story"... and the language is purely visual. Can you read the symbols? "I" wonder.................

.""Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever
- Mahatma Gandhi

"And I have miles to go... before I sleep... and promises to keep."
-Robert Frost
"Upon Stopping By the Woods One Snowy Evening"

Whether Poetry... Art... Video or Song... ALL are legimate expressions which united with a common purpose and message form a mighty and powerful alternative to Despair! Let's work together!

Happy Learning... and living... many blessings and...

Good Painting... to ALL !!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"What's the point?"....

This title is a direct quote relayed to me via an email from a friend and fellow painter from our Hillsdale days. The quote is not directly her own... but she admits to having shared these same feelings which her friend had offered as an answer to her meant-to-be-encouraging question," When are you going to get back to your painting?" I'm sure that a good many people ask... or have asked themselves that very same question... and on numerous occasions. What can one say to a friend, or individual who feels so negatively about their creative process and spirit?

There is no "pat answer" I feel... simply because both the creative process and spirit of each individual is dependent upon so many variables. However... I will offer an observation from my own personal experiences that one might consider. It seems to me... that individuals with whom I've been acquainted... who create out of a sense of passion, rarely find themselves harbouring this "cul de sac" mentality and view of themselves. Their spirit is relentlessly in search of new knowledge... and they are never thrown from the saddle by "failure" or the challenge of honing a new skill or direction for their thinking.

There is no point... if one always arrives at the same predictable point where one left off... at the conclusion of the each previous work session. Treating one's process as a formulaic... linear and as a destination to be reached... is from the very onset... dead end. Copying other people's images directly... working from photos... "surfing" for direction and new purpose through other blog sites... is hugely limiting. Often, it is as well hyper-discouraging because the purpose of any art activity is to create self-expression. Interior ally... one always lives with the knowledge that the product lacks originality of thought. It might easily impress those who are not privy to the actual truth... but it is worthless as a deeply personal and motivating incentive to go forward with excitement and anticipation of finding the next piece of the puzzle. That's the whole point in creating anything. The rewards are Pride and Self esteem!

I offered no sympathy... solution or wise words of advice to my friend in my return email. I don't attend "pity parties." I choose to hang out with only those individuals, who by their actions... and not just their words, share the deep passion... sense of privilege and gratitude that I feel within... to be able to pursue and conduct  my journey... on my own terms and in good health... each and every day. I am NOT looking down my nose at... or judging anyone for their choices... but these are mine. Here are my reasons and my strategies for never allowing my Self to arrive at that "what's the point" state.

A Voice... which says ..."ART MATTERS!"
Artistic expression is equally valid and valued by me as a "voice", as are traditional universally accepted spoken and written forms of communication. Pictures were our first means of expressing ourselves and story-telling as children. We ALL made pictures willfully and  exuberantly with unfettered freedom. There were no rules... judgements or personal limitations. Our creations simply "were"..

The rules were introduced and imposed by an adult world. It was at that point when "the child"... playful and free... ceased to exist... or create in such beautiful and personal ... simplicity. At the end of our lives... "Some" of us dare to begin a search... no, a journey back past "the rules" through discouragement and socially induced fear of flying to that original Neverland and Place of Joy. Many... fail to arrive... or pretend... and end up throwing up their hands saying... "What's the use?" Others... and "I" am but one... paint  on... and  anxiously look around the corner in anticipation of the next opportunity to paint-and-learn... think-and -do.

Thinking... and Doing... BOTH MATTER!
At  middle age... and onward into "retirement"... many of us surrender both daily routine (ritual) and purpose and in many cases, lose touch with work relationships... routines and mental activity which basically defined us... and our sense of belonging and achievement. Being "retired" is a much sought after goal - being alive to collect pensions... and more importantly, have increased control over and use of our Time. For many, coming home (to live) is a big adjustment for both spouses... after excitement of the long-awaited promise of that planned long vacation has passed. What to do with the new coin of the realm -Time?

"Retirement" for "Me" is re-tire-ment. Four "new" tires... and on the road again. I used art in my "day job"in the classroom during all of my adult life... sharing my passion with children and other peers who believed, as I did that "Art Matters!" The difference in my "re-tire-ment"... is that I don't have to keep a daily planning book... or be (somewhat)  accountable for the performance of others in my presence. But... I continue to share my creative spirit and process in an open fashion through my classes and my blog site. Each painting and very post that share with you and others in the world gives me purpose and energy to "think-and -do."

There is a greater likelihood that the "D" word... dreaded stalker of old age will have unfair advantage over my capacity to "think... or do."
"Use it... or lose it!" ..... seems completely a sound strategy... to at least delay earlier onset than might occur by neglect. Think... about that... and do something. Maybe that's "point" enough! Even as a hobby... along with other enjoyable activities such as reading, puzzles, games and anything else you might find to be both pleasurable and rewarding.

We are all social beings... in need of meaningful contact... companionship and association with others of our kind. I am blessed to share such a relationship with my spouse Deb. I do get out to paint with others... or share our lovely home and the Islands when they come to visit and paint. Finding... or creating a small group who shares your passion and interest on a regular basis not only offers one something to look forward to on a regular basis... but at the same time exposes one to new ideas and techniques which further inspire and advance further personal development and learning.

Sketch Booking and Journaling
Buy yourself a bound sketch book and whatever drawing or sketching mediums you might wish to experiment with. Carry it with you wherever you go. You never know where an"idea" will present itself... and believe me, at our age... ideas are fleeting and elusive. Develop the sketch book beyond  being a mere drawing exercise. Mine records things which interest me like weather, temperature, a historical fact gleaned, person met, or colour notes to act as reference... should I wish to find the place again on a more suitable day... or to develop it further some day down the road into a painting.Here is a quote on the inside cover of one of my earlier sketch books... now waiting on my bookshelf... to come out of... "re-tire-ment."

Ideas come...
Ideas go.
This is my place
In which I stow.
Those kernels
I harvest
Along the way
In hopes that  they'll trigger...
And sustain "Me"... move me ahead
On some fallow day!

I hope that this post doesn't come off as a pompous tome... from someone with all of the answers. It is not intended... or offered as such. I offer it purely as a further insight into how I continue to journey with Hope and Optimism in my daily life. I paint today... and always, out of a natural compulsion to actively and freely express... and share my personal thoughts and observations as I journey. Painting... and most especially when I am able to paint en plein air... puts "Me" in touch with this Cathedral of Creation... an Eden that we are blessed... each of us to worship and live in. "I" am One" with all of Creator... His Creation... and the Universe.... and "that's the point"... for "Me"

And to my talented fellow "painter"... Paint on!... Keep searching!... And a happy... and quickly approaching retirement to both of you! Thank you for the post idea!

Wishing you all Good Painting... and deep and rich blessings in your lives and Art!

"A Rideau Relic" on  Little Rideau River Road - (as is) oil sketch on panel 8x10 inches
Completed while I waited for Deb to finish up at her Frontenac Arch Biosphere Retreat Day Session at Chaffey's Locks on the Rideau River. A productive day for us both.Her inside and at it... and myself  "out there"... in that "Always Fresh" ... Canadian winter landscape!

Winter became a tad more than fresh today in Rockport and for much of Canada too! What a glorious morning... right from first light! "River Spirits"... my description of the shafts of steam... as they wafted off the rapidly icing open waters... making their eerie way westward. Shore of Canadian ice skates out rapidly to join hands with the American side on the south side of the River!

Would I go out for my morning walk-about? What's the point of freezin' yer sweet --- off? Never entered my mind.  See what you folks huddled warmly in comfort at home missed this morning?? Always a reward... and something to be gained through stepping up....

Made the tea extra special... upon my return! Stay warm!

Ishpeming... iced in for the winter

Jack Frost (no relation to Captain Peter)... at work

Close enough to nip yer nose!

Creation is random???.... unplanned???? Me thinks not!!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Redemption... A Second Chance

The title for today's post reflects a principle which I have tried to practise in my personal, teaching  and artistic lives all the way along in my journey. I believe deeply in this principle because of the fact that each of us is indeed "human"... and thereby both likely to, and necessarily make life choices which lead to errors in judgement and less than happy initial outcomes. That is life!

As human beings we live and grow through the sum total of our experiences. Many of these choices lead us down cul-de-sacs... dead ends, offering no gain or satisfaction, and very often on occasion personal pain and  suffering. The term" failure" springs to the fore much too quickly in my mind... a term that has been so  socially ingrained and integrated into our psyches and our measuring instruments for success and growth... that it serves more to impede growth and development than to improve it. "Fear of failure" is a very negative factor in today's society and carries with it an unhealthy aura of personal inadequacy... "making the grade."

If one can get their head around the fact that all of Creation... like human growth from infancy to adulthood... is a developmental process, built upon uniquely differing and  personal attributes, then the need for seeking "perfection" recedes greatly in importance for the long term. Each opportunity... using painting as an example, is a learning opportunity - a chance to discover/ uncover new knowledge which acts as a catalyst for developmental growth. Using a perceived less valuable result... if only to understand that it shouldn't be repeated then becomes positive. "Freedom"... is such an easy word to say - but to act completely within the parameters of that term is a more difficult task... for us all.

In my own painting life... I am constantly faced with dealing with that old feeling and fear of failure. I often find that I push on too far beyond my intended vision of what I want to paint... or worse still, I respond too soon to a direction without truly thinking it completely through. There is a very thin balance and edge between too much thought and being too slap-dash and drunken with the brush... to create harmony and a "painterly" quality in my process. Either can reduce one's feeling of satisfaction. I always try to reach a goal for each session... whether conducted en plein air, or in the studio and leave the painting "as is"... until I have had the opportunity to rethink and study the results... or possibility of changing or balancing passages. Usually, after this strategy is complete... I sign the work... and move on to a new idea... happy to leave things alone.

I would add at this juncture however, that there lies within me an insatiable appetite to look at "finished" pieces hung... even framed and to discover within me a continued urge to critique and change (in my mind) and I am glad then, to see the painting leave the gallery. It relieves that uneasy feeling (not unlike having to go to the bathroom urgently and having to hold it) when a client "gets the drift" and offers to relieve me of the painting. I paint to have my work go out into the world... on their own merits... just like my children.

Occasions do arise for me... when I do in fact have another go at a piece simply because something speaks to me and demands that I pay attention... even though I am busy at something else. I'm sure that if you have children... you can readily identify with this situation. It is a universal situation in parenting... or teaching. While it may be distracting... you inherently know that the need for your attention is justified... and must be dealt with before you can resume your earlier work. I currently have three such "children" in queue... waiting to be dealt with.

Each painting has merits... which I either couldn't quite get my head around at the time... or that I have since the initial painting experience had other stronger "possibilities" present themselves quietly to me.  If  I feel strongly enough that going forward might offer new insights or potential growth for my self... or the painting... I put it back up on the easel. At this juncture... I leave fear on the sidelines. I promise myself to follow my intuition and to let the cards fall where they may. This act of redemption requires that completeness of freedom to proceed at will toward whatever comes out of the experience. Absolution may... or may not be achieved, but change will have occurred physically and spiritually.

I am currently at work on a 24x20 inch canvas first created in 2006. It was a landscape incorporating a great horned owl. This painting was the culmination of a sketch made on one my winter plein air tramps in the Oro-Medonte Hills and an outing that our family group made to an owl field presentation at Saint-Marie-Amongst-the-Hurons in Midland. I was initially quite pleased with my effort... given that the owl, or wildlife in such detail was not at all my forte. I exhibited it and received luke warm and varying reviews. Despite its outcome and lingering presence in the gallery... I still really liked the landscape part... which was more my strength. I had purposely downplayed the lighting effects and interest in this supportive role for the landscape in a wildlife subject focus.

 So I spent a day and... "made the owl disappear"... with little or no difficulty. I reworked and slightly adjusted my darks and lights and added a few new highlights and signed off on it as done... or so I thought. Over the Christmas holidays, I happened to have it sitting nearby on the floor in the studio after we rehung the interior temporary winter gallery. For some reason... it commanded my attention, so I set it up on the easel and put a light on it. From time to time I came downstairs and just sat staring at it each morning. The landscape quality seemed too bland... and I felt that it needed something "funky"... if I was to spend more energy and precious time on a rehash. So I REALLY jumped off the dock... no wading... into an entirely different direction. I will let the pictures describe the action initially... and then add the necessary text to help those of you who aren't Canadian... EH??? It's purely a Canadian "take" on things!

"Solitude's Sentinel" - 2006

" Winter Solitude" - 2007

New directions... "Off the wall"... Tim Horton's Coffee... available everywhere in Canada

Playing with the landscape and lighting

"Canadian Winters and Tim Horton's Coffee.... Always Fresh!"
Oil on canvas 24x30 inches

For those of you unfamiliar... yet... with Tim Horton coffee here are some facts! This largest fast food chain in Canada ( now entering quickly into the US market place) was founded by NHL Hall of Famer Tim Horton, of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1964,. It rapidly became an iconic part of Canadian culture and has risen to the point where Tim Horton's owns a 62%  share of the entire Canadian coffee market place and 76% of the entire baked goods (donuts) market as well.

When Canadian Forces entered the combat mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan... so popular as moral booster was the chain and its products to both American and Canadian troops... that the chain expanded into the US market and established outlets at Fort Knox, Kentucky and the US Naval Station at Norfolk, Virginia. 
Today, 3355  Tim Horton's franchise outlets are spread across the breadth of Canada... even into the Far North. Currently, 745 franchises now operate in the US and 20 more have recently opened in the Arab Emirates.

What has all of this to do with my adding a cup o' Timmy into my landscape? Firstly... it is a very solid part of any business or pleasure travel itinerary for Deb and I. It is from my own view... a truly identifiably  Canadian cultural feature.... as Canadian as winter... hockey... maple syrup... the canoe... or as of late Roots clothing.

This is the upside of my decision to choose this piece of Canadian iconography for this painting. However, I have a less than admirable reason for choosing it as well. As a plein air painter, I travel a lot of back roads and enter many pristine landscapes on my travels. Rarely, do I make such a trek... that I don't encounter (too) many carelessly discarded Tim Horton coffee cups... tossed indiscriminately out of a moving car window... at a traffic stop... far down remote back country roads and at remote camping sites.

Tim Horton's has taken this issue to heart as a good corporate citizen and readily advertises and encourages a green approach which discourages such thoughtless littering. Tim Horton's also operates a totally funded  active summer camping program which it operates out of their own camp in Tidemark, Nova Scotia for underprivileged children every summer. As well, local Tim Horton franchisees sponsor and support local hockey teams and minor sports programmes.

So Tim Horton does indeed fully attempt to redeem their image as a good and responsible corporate citizen. My hat is off to Timmy... and I salute this truly Canadian cultural entity through this unepected  but I feel "redeemed" image.

My Redeemer liveth... inside "ME!
"Never give up the ship!"... That's my mantra!

Good painting... and ALL!!!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dealing With Fear... Within Art

Fear is a natural and acceptable emotion experienced by all human and animal life. It is derived directly from sensory perception and varies in degree with situation and experience within individuals. In some cases and individuals... fear transforms itself into a phobia... an unhealthy and limiting state of utter paralysis. Often... that kind of fear is gained through personal experience, while at other times it is a completely learned behaviour passively ingrained into the child or adult... seated through well-meaning intentions to shield or protect a loved one from perceived danger.

Fear is as well... a healthy emotional response... when used to forecast and predict imminent danger or harm before those situations can occur. We use it then as a tool to chart our way through a life mine field, often strewn with potential harm. The trick is to learn to control that fear mechanism... using it to positively guide our actions and thus... outcomes in our daily lives. Generally speaking...we as creative artists encounter fear sometimes on a much broader spectrum... mainly because we are more sensitive and more deeply in touch usually with our own emotions and those of the people who live around us. In short... we are usually by the nature of our own creative activity more engaged with our emotions... for more of the time. That is a double-edged sword however. It is both good and bad for us.

In my experience as a parent ...  an elementary school teacher... a consultant and a working artist I have observed and heard so many people who lived in absolute fear of expressing themselves creatively. Those individuals were children... adults and yes, even teachers responsible for delivering a visual arts curriculum as a part of their teaching responsibilities. Teachers... afraid to paint... dance or sing in front of their  peers and charges. How sad that always was for me to painfully witness this unnecessary self-hobbling behaviour! It has mostly to do with an issue of self-esteem, deeply seated in early childhood or family experience for certain. However... it is groomed further into the psyche... by the societal preoccupation with absolute beauty and perfection! Therein lies the main cause for fear in our society! The pursuit of perfection!

"Perfect"-  is defined in my dictionary as having all of the essential elements, complete; unspoiled; faultless; correct, precise; excellent
"Perfection" - means the state of being perfect
"Perfectionist "- a person who demands the highest standards of excellence

Perfection... therefore would be a form of stasis.... meaning "state of equilibrium and inactivity". That hardly seems logical to my thinking. If perfection does indeed mean that no further increase in, or any expectation of growth is plausible... then why continue living, or trying to improve? To me... "perfection" is a Utopian,  purely non-existent and unachievable state... never to be visited or reached by any human in any number of life times.

However... I must add that life offers the opportunity for each of us to rise above those exterior and anterior conditions and perceptions which we  fettered and hobbled  ourselves. Each and every day and on each occasion that we choose to pick up and put a brush to paper or canvas we can grow as artists... and as people. If we view our activities as opportunities to grow, rather than taking one step closer to becoming "perfect"... then fear dissipates and is  replaced by confidence and growth. These lead to deeper personal satisfaction and unexpected  joy.

I would share from my own experience and offer that the studio situation tends to favour the road to seeking perfection, simply because all conditions there seem "perfect" for guaranteed success to occur. I say humbly that painting en plein air... and not just in summer, or on "bluebird painting days" has helped me to grow exponentially as an artist, simply because I must constantly accommodate my painting process to a sometimes rapidly changing external weather or lighting conditions over which I have no control. As well... all of my senses are being fed information which simultaneously stimulates my imagination and my creative response to what lies before me. In short... there is no time or place for fear when painting in the outdoors. One simply paints... usually intuitively and with an emotional endorphin high which never comes in a heated studio with a coffee in one's hand.

I would like to share another observational lesson given me here this winter in my own garden. As I have mentioned... my wife and I revel in watching the actions and antics of our winged Friends at our feeders each morning. Deb has even begun naming certain individual birds by their unusual characteristics and behaviours. We simply can't wait until the first morning light summons them to our 'front-row-centre" window seats. We have particularly enjoyed the infrequent... but always heart-warming visits of our bright red male cardinal. Usually, our three feeders are a frenzy of different species coming... feeding and going.

On one particular day, right after the huge snow storm that our area experienced... our largish bird population completely vanished. At first, I attributed that behaviour to the effects of the storm. However, as that absence continued... with not even the pugnacious and gluttonous house sparrows returning... I decided to go out around the feeders to investigate further for other signs or causes. There... below our furthest  feeder from the house was the tell-tale clue. I had taken a picture of a bird earlier before the storm... but didn't have a shot quite clear enough to make a positive ID. But after reviewing the "print" left at the base of the feeder and the two jpegs that I had taken  along with referring back to my array of bird identification  field guides, the answer to our mystery became crystal clear.

Our jaunty male Christmas Cardinal... in peaceful accord....with Grey or Slate Breasted Junco

 What's this?????

 Note the clear dual primary wing pattern... "mantling" a very large and deep pocket centrally. These distinguish an aerial descent/attack of a bird of prey... wings cushioning the force of the strike in the soft, powdery snow. The Shrike will carry off its prey in its hooked bill... and if a thorn bush is nearby will impale the prey on a thorn to eat at the time of the kill or later.

We had been visited by a juvenile Loggerhead Shrike... aptly nicknamed "the butcher bird." They are quite rare and especially in this region... but the evidence was indisputable. Though I have yet to actually see the Shrike or the cardinal since...few birds have returned, even up until now. They are driven, likely by the fear of further attacks by this predator not to return. Any feeding activity at all takes place at the feeders in safety directly under our eaves at the front window. Maybe the Shrike has moved on... and will never return, but birds can't reason in that fashion. They are all governed totally by the one incident... when their first fears were realized. Survival depends upon not repeating mistakes in their world.

There is a lesson to be learned in this natural event. We needn't be like the birds. Life for us all... at times delivers tragedies... hardships and experiences which often create deep and completely reasonable levels of fear. It is the unexpected in life... or change that we humans fear most. But we must learn from our experiences... and move on, if we wish to live richer, fuller lives. We do not... any of us have the luxury of living in a "perfect" world. It simply did not exist... in the "good 'ol days'...  nor does it now... or in the future either. The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut taught us all that this sadly isn't so. But even in the face of such immense tragedy ... inhumanity and utter insanity... Hope can survive!... It must! And we, as artists can reach out through our Art to break though the Darkness and paralyzing Fear which has gripped us all.

"Life is complicated. Just do your best"!

An empty white canvas, or clean sheet of paper is always daunting. But they are only that and they can be replaced easily. When revisited quietly later, they can offer insight through reconstruction of the cause of  the "failure." There is always someone... somewhere on our journey who 'appears'.... more perfect in their art than our own expression. But that will always continue to be true. Rather than trying to emulate and covet their expression... why not seize the courage and the opportunity... to "go where no other man has gone before"... or ever can. Simply, because... "You" are "You"... and "They" are "They." Create... and Celebrate your own individual style centred around your unique interests and differences!

Dare to dream! Dare to take "the road less travelled by"... and I KNOW... that it "will make all the difference" for you on your journey!

Here are two quick "as is" sketches done yesterday... my first plein air pieces for 2013! They are ... what they are. My impression of something I saw and enjoyed om my journey. Painting them pleased
Me." Hope that you can enjoy them too! How my heart sings... the be... "back in the saddle again"! Stay tuned!....

Happy Trails to "You" and Good Painting to ALL!

"Winter Can Be Warm Too! - oil on panel 10x12 inches

 The "studio... under the hood"... on location at Escott!

"The Andress Homestead... Bathed in Afternoon Winter Sun" - oil on cradle board 10x12 inches

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why I hated school... but love Education

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.
Our brains, our own hearts are our temple; the philosophy is kindness."

-the Dalai Lama

I spend many hours of my time constructing blog posts for this site which I hope... might encourage and inspire "Others" like my Self... have "march[ed] to the beat of another drum" throughout their entire lives. Most people need and thrive in a system whether in the home or in the schools... everything is prescribed... predetermined and measured using a table of "norms"... and is usually based upon language acquisition skills and one's proficiency using them.

Somehow... I never ever really felt myself in sync  with the public school system...  or believed that it prepared "Me" to enter the world off adulthood. It was on those rare occasions when I found myself seated in a classroom , such as the one I described in the grade five classroom of my mentor Evelyn Mott when I was offered the chance to grown on my own terms... yet still at the same time fulfill the prescribed curricula. I knew even then... what "magic" was in her pedagogy which allowed me the free-agency to develop on my own schedule... using my strengths, rather than focusing upon my weaknesses or failures.

I carried that forward with me into high school and there struggled (mostly unsuccessfully for seven years) to stay with my goal to graduate. Disappointment fuelled anger and resentment... and to find approval ... respect of my peers.... acceptance and my own pride in my Self, I found athletics, and mostly football to give me a lone reason to struggle on. I met an English teacher in my graduating year, who recognize3d and acknowledged my skill set... and he alone turned my life around and helped me re-establish positive goals and specific personal work strategies which helped me to graduate and go on to Teacher's College.

Mr. Taylor tragically drowned in the summer of my first teaching year. Four of us who had shared equally in his mentor ship drove to be at his funeral together to pay our respects... and to say our own thank yous. At his graveside, I made "Him" a promise... that I would continue to pass forward his gift to "Me"... with the same dedication to the teaching profession... and young minds... who dared to journey ..." on the road not taken."

And so in fact,,, "two roads did indeed diverge at a yellow wood for "Me"... and the choice I made has indeed... "made all the difference  for "Me" I'd like to believe that I helped make that so for a host of students who shared my classroom and the excitement of sharing an equal partnership in the learning process during my career of over twenty-seven years. Despite the costs I have paid, perhaps remaining too long in the crucible, I would do nothing differently. For "I" am deeply blessed and now can continue encourage and inspire I hope in a new fashion... still acting as a springboard for others to realize and share their own gifts with the same courage... conviction and pride that "I" now feel... finally after so many years!

My youngest children Liam (18) and Bryn (16) finally were able to come to Rockport to share Christmas as they always have with Deb and I. They are fine young men... both have beautiful minds. Both are vastly different from each other in their views... strengths and goals. Booth as well are vastly different from each of my other three older children as well. It is a bit bitter-sweet for "Me" to come face-to-face with the fact that they now stand taller than I... and that like the magical "Puff", have indeed gone on to other toys and fancy stuff... electronic stuff which I neither have the ability or interest to be involved in. They playfully deride my completely dinosaur view of current technology... saying that I'm still back in the R2D2 days... and truthfully... I am!

But we have instilled in all of them a love for adventure both indoors and out... and the  courage to speak their  minds freely and to search for truth-based fact and personal knowledge to back up those words and beliefs. In short, "They" are all ... "Free Thinkers!... and "I" am greatly proud of  them. They will be okay!

Bryn made a wooden tray with folding legs for use on our patio this summer in his grade ten (junior) technology high school  class. He also cooked us a meal... Udon Noodle soup... completely on his own! What pride he showed in presenting these gift offerings to us! There is no greater gift... than to give from the heart... something made with one's own hands and mind in concert.

Brain+Heart = Kindness in action !!!

Independence... Learning ... Taught?????.... or caught! There's huge world of difference... and the "evaluation scale" is open-ended and limitless!!

Liam recognizes and values greatly books ... personal independent study in his own search and journey. "He"... is already the sum total of that hunter-gatherer approach to personal learning. I worry ... yes... but I have no fear or doubt about what he'll achieve. He will achieve what he wants to... and he squarely deserves from his efforts! That's Life!... in a nutshell... for us all!

It is here... at the not-so-round table... where "The Four Musketeers" have shared countless meals... rousing board games... and have cooperatively solved family issues as a family unit. We are responsible for helping to formulate strategies and rituals which will both prepare... and sustain children into an uncertain Future - a future that we cannot envisage... and will most likely not live long into''

"Teach your children well!"
Teach the Children
Crosby,Stills, Young and Nash

WE are all different... and need to be recognized ... accepted... and CELEBRATED for our differences !!!

Liam... our computer techie... builds his own computer hard drives... and now software from parts he buys from eBay. He is fluent in DOS, LINEX and whatever languages he currently uses... but hated French which was mandatory in all Ontario schools??????.... until grade ten. He gifted me with a wonderful book... always a book based upon what he observes... knows I have interest in... ranging from three copies of the Dalai Lama's writings to Canadian Landscape... picture books... this one being a book based upon historically y important Canadian photos from the archives of The New York Times. Such a swell piece of reading and fact-gathering for this ol' Daddy-O!

In closing... much has been offered by me... and perhaps even boringly so at times. Often ... I question carrying on further because I could be painting more. I would close today's post with a You Tube video that Bryn asked me to view with him. He felt that it really spoke to everything he knew about me and my journey... as he saw it. I was so moved... as to be unable to speak. It validated every step which I've taken in my own life... and the words came out out of the mouth of a young mind... who by "perception"... in a hugely "white world"... has left an indelible mark on my soul... and has added fuel to my own goal to continue down this "road not taken"... till it ceases for "Me"!

Google YouTube... Why I hate School but Love Education

And to show that The Arts are indeed integrated in what lessons they offer and teach in "education"... Google Teach the Children Well... and put your ears on ... and listen with your heart! There is Hope... but that Hope depends upon YOU... and your choices!!

If this means something to "You"... please sit and share it with those you love... and pass it forward!

Love (Heart) + and Education (Brain) = Matter (Kindness)... for our Future!

Rich blessings and Peace... and a Happy and productive New Year!

"I"... am an "educated" Man!... I offer Hopefully and humbly... that Children and Art Matter!

Good Painting!... to ALL!!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"First Footing"... encore une fois!

Yes... it is indeed that time in the year... when according to the ancient Scottish tradition of "first footing"... one tries to be the first in the New Year to cross the threshold of a loved one, or dear Friend. It is both a gesture of deep love... perhaps even in computer terminology the act of  pushing the "refresh" button... renewing or updating what has been on the screen for a long period of time.

I wrote a post back on December 31st, 2009 describing this very same practice, a practice passed down from my now long deceased Grandparents Andrew and Christina Birrell and then through my Mother and Dad... as well passed on. The question back then and remains this morning ... "Who do I first foot?... given that I live a very long distance from any my relatives. Lisa, who lives just a short drive from here is spending her first Christmas in her new home in the Barbados. At the time of the original "first footing" post she was living in Jamaica. My daughter Allison at that time was in the process of writing her PhD thesis. She has that doctorate degree now... and at the moment teaches at Queen's University in her home town of Kingston and is marking exams and writing a post doctoral fellowship paper at the moment.

My point? Life changes... as it should. Our personal and business lives have changed dramatically with our move to Rockport from Hillsdale. We possibly risked a loss of revenue or clientele with that decision... and most likely did. But on the other side of the same toss of the coin... we gained a daily view of the River and a life closer to most of our family members. Both of these "pluses"... more than offset any potential and never to be known "losses." We put our heads and hearts together and  decided... then acted upon our intuition and our trust in our abilities and commitment to each other. Life is good... and we feel deeply blessed!

So today... I choose to "first foot" any one of my blogging Friends who visits my site... wishing them the same rich blessings... peace... health and happiness that are ours. Take the courage to see past just dreaming. Activate a plan of action during the next year to enrich your artistic life. Don't be afraid to try new things... with a resolution to pull your artistic plow... rather than merely following it.

And finally... in closing, I offer you lines from a Reggae tune by Bugle:

"Don't blame life.
Blame the way you live it."

Be the hero in your life story ... rather than  the victim of it.

 wish everyone a Happy and Blessed New Year... in every Season of 2013!

Good Painting ... to ALL!

"The Magificence of Algonquin Park Throughout  All Seasons"
  A four canvas wrap quadriptych 6 feet x 12 feet
6feet x12 feet