Saturday, September 28, 2013

Embroidery... as an Act of Painting

When you are perplexed by your painting... Play! Joy and freedom can often combine to lift your painting to new heights.

The juxtoposition of the two terms in this post title might seem unwarranted... even ill-considered. But let me put forward further thoughts to stitch the two together, so that they make better sense. I would offer that both are indeed creative art forms... though they are different mediums. Both use colour applied in short, but considered stitches, or strokes that are applied to a blank, neutral and often white ground... both being cloth of a sort. The goal in each process is to either adhere to... or to create a pattern or composition... usually sketched or pre-printed on the cloth ground. While both are most often viewed with a pictorial intent... each can be used to decorate three dimensional surfaces and functional objects... to include costumes and clothing. It can be decidedly agreed that the two terms share many commonalities.

However, the underlying reason for my choice of the terms to introduce the post lies much deeper than what has been stated in the opening paragraph. In order to further my thoughts and my underlying reason for using them... I would like to shift away from the grammatical use of the two terms as nouns. I would like to use their verb form as my focus for the remainder of the post... for within this framework arises an important and necessary consideration in referring to every artist's development. To paint then means to cover with colour... an expected answer... BUT... to embroider infers to decorate fictiously, or to embellish. Here is the main thrust of my post this morning.

As beginning artists, all of us are naturally tied to... and are dependent heavily upon the image or scene that lies before us. This does not change, neither when we are painting en plein air, in our studios... nor when we choose landscape or still life motifs or themes. The fact remains that we remain slaves to that which visually stimulates us to paint. Further to these limitations... many times we use photographic reference too directly as a tool to make paintings. Rather than creating in its truest sense... we are rather copying, or trying to lay down or reproduce as accurate an impression as our eyes and painting proficiency will allow. The danger in this mind set, is that we are (virtually) unable "to see the forest for the trees" and truly deprive ourselves of the truest opportunity to Create... which translates bringing forward into being in an imaginative or inventive fashion.

Let me make it clear... that I am not at all exempt from the compulsion to "copy" rather than  to "create." But I do recognize more quickly when I am slipping into that old mode and I have devised strategies that I use to discourage such sliding back into old and unproductive habits. Many accomplished and respected artists prefer to paint exactly what is front of them. They have developed a fully creative and painterly approach that allows them to paint effectively and accurately reconstructing and translating the scene before them. It is then about choice.

In my latest large canvas "River Magic", I have approached painting it slowly and thoughtfully. A canvas 48x36 inches demands initial planning to even step up to it to paint. My subject attracted my attention and interest immediately. But I wrestled with which season I wanted to paint it in... and which elements I would use in my final composition. I took digital references in all three seasons and after deciding that autumn would prevail... I added some quick ink on paper notan sketches to my study. I then developed a more fully developed concept from these in the form of a more refined ink rendering to establish darks and lights.

Notan sketches in ink to work out compositional possibilities and masses. Note the date of Feb 26th, 2013 on the lower left notan sketch. Her one can see the value of a sketchbook. The "Idea" is born... and not lost... left to distill in the mind until one is ready to come back to the idea to push forward with painting.

Here are the two reference side by side on the easel... ready to support my start on the painting. Even at this critical point in the painting process... details mean nothing and can be altered as my thinking shifts around.

I have more or less followed the basic structure or composition of the two references, but you can see that my interest in adherence to specific detail has already "left the room." A searching for, rather than following a set direction is underway... right from the onset. The white conte line on the black toned canvas in itself is a reversal of the ink on paper rendering.

Here... I am into the layin part of the process... with attention to sky and middle ground and with absolutely no inclination to deal with the foregound area of the painting where I might shift away from big brush painting and deal with the rocks in a too focussed on actual detail approach. I have reached about a half hour point in the painting process at this moment.

This photo reveals a downward movement working outand exploring with actual rock shapes and texture. I have also directed my attention to defining texture and colour in the white pine trunks. Still no finalized decision-making in any area of the painting! Working over the entire surface to totally cover the black underpainting.

Here the layin is rapidly completed by scumbling colour thinly to give tanbible... yet unfinished form to the foreground. The ferns enter the composition from my immediate right of our driveway. They give a better visual feel than the existing rocks slipping down heavily and out of the picture plane. Besides that... there were ferns at the original site... just not where I needed them.

Here is the finished painting. The last half hour was spent balancing values, edges and textures. I will set it aside overnight and then return to it tomorrow... with a fresh eye... open to changing passages if necessary. I do feel an overall sense of accomplishment though. The final outcome... if you compare it to the original sketches and photo reference is vastly different in a number of areas. I feel that this final impression captures the universality of landscape structure in the Thousand Islands. 

This setting could well be felt to exist on most any one of them... and none in particular. My intent was to capture and "embroider" a piece of that "River Magic"... that one can enjoy everywhere in this wonderful part of the world. It better reflects the sense of harmony and joy that I constantly feel here... rather that a laying down of a single accurate view of one particular place.

Do you feel that magic?.... Get back to me!

"River Magic" - oil on gallery wrapped canvas 48x36 inches

Good Fall Painting!... to ALL!!!

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Harvest Blend... Celebrating the Summer's Bounty

Early this summer, I was approached by manager Debra Marshall of Eagle Point Winery to consider joining forces with her to create an event that joined plein air painting with the fall harvest activities in the vineyard. This newly emerging vineyard is located in a pastoral farmland setting just eight kilometers north of Rockport,... far away from the summer tourist din of  Rockport. While I enjoy (and am dependent upon) the bustle and action of the hordes of tourists visiting our small village and the constant view of the River.... it is refreshing as well to retreat at times for a brief few hours to think... and of course paint.

It took all of one moment to respond to her request... since I had walked the grounds of the vineyard and well knew of the variety of landscape subjects that were available to paint on the 300+ acres owned by the winery. A road could easily carry painters to the very back of the acreage to visit creeks, rocky, wooded and more remote painting sanctuaries and to the large beaver dam which sprawled across the main creek that slowly meanders throughout the entire parcel of land.

My answer was immediate, so Debra and I needed only to sit down together to share ideas to create this event. We first decided that the event be held on the weekend of October 4th-6th... to avoid conflicting with our Canadian Thanksgiving Day celebrations on the next weekend. It was agreed, that because of my contact with the plein air scene, I would be be responsible for the selection of invited artists. I would also assist with constructing the weekend itinerary and creating advertising materials such as a poster/flyer and a media release. The winery would handle all of the media contact and actual physical details surrounding the public hosting and artist entertainment.

Here is a preliminary special "tasting" ...  "Harvest Blend" of Fine Art and Fine Wines that we will be offering at this unique Thousand Islands regional event.

On Friday and Saturday, the participating artists will enjoy the privacy of the entire The Eagle Point Winery grounds and facilities. At the conclusion of the actual painting part of the event Debra has generously offered to "wine-and-dine" the attending artists in true "harvest style"... informally from the kitchen table in the original farm house located on the property.

On Sunday, October 6th, the entire body of  plein air paintings created during the previous two days will be exhibited at the Sunday Reception and Exhibition... open to the general public from 1: 00-5:00 pm. This event will combine wine tasting with mingling opportunities between the public and the artists present. It is hoped that this unique blend will forge a stronger public relationship and understanding of the art of wine making and the creation of paintings made ... en plein air. It is hoped as well... that perhaps its success might lead to it becoming an annual event at the Eagle Point Winery.

This is a view of the main winery building down some through some of the vines... offering visitors a view of what lies in the acreage deeper on the property.

"Hanging On" - oil on panel 24x20 inches

This is another plein air painting that I made a week ago along the creek at the back of the property. Lots of exciting landscapes to paint ... as well as the opportunities at the actual winery site.

The Fall Equinox has arrived... the die cast. Autumn no longer waits on the wings. Rich autumn colour has bled slowly... but now more prominently into the fast-fading summer green of the landscape everywhere in our area. Though this season is too short, it provides some of the most exciting painting opportunities for the plein air painter.

I will be using the time between now and the winery event to play with my new palette of colour... in readiness for the fast-approaching weekend "Harvest Blend paint Out."

If you happen to be within our region, why not plan to drop by taste some fine Eagle Point wines... and at the same time taste the visual harvest of our ten plein air painting friends! Come join us! If you are unable to do so.... stay tuned....

I'll keep you... "posted!"

Happy Fall Painting ... All !!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Autumn... On the Gallop!

The 3rd Annual Plein Air Paint Out in Rockport is now History! Even the cold and damp weather on Friday... did little to dispel the festive mood of anticipation, or the painting spirits of the more than twenty artists who came to Rockport this past weekend to paint on... and beside this marvellously beautiful St Lawrence River.

Friday, September13th

After a breakfast of pancakes and sausages, I toured a group of ten very ardent fellow painters aboard the Rockport Cruise Line's Chief Shingwauk to Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island in New York State. There... we spent the complete day painting at that world-famous tourist destination. Needless to say... there were fewer touristas on the island... so we artists were kings and queens of the Castle for a day!

My long time painting pal, Frank Edwards and I wasted neither valuable painting time, nor energy searching out a painting site. We set up immediately... out of that nasty wind and painted the power house from a very picturesque vantage point. I had eyed up/scouted out... on my two earlier visits to the castle this summer. I had chosen a rather largish canvas format of 30x24 inches for the day, so I had a lot to deal with... in a very short period of time. I was pleased with the result however. It required only minimal work back at the studio to the bottom foreground area to close it out on Sunday morning before the exhibition.

In the evening, all of our group gathered for a social hour and sumptuous dinner at The Boat House Restaurant... once the site for the the first business in Rockport, The Cornwall General Store. This relic and architectural jewel of Rockport, was established in the 1840's by Charles Cornwall, a US citizen from upstate New York. His brother had a stone general store... still up and running directly south of Rockport in Alexandria Bay, NY. Our after dinner speaker, Brian Phillips shared an interesting historical power point presentation based upon the Cornwall heritage in Rockport to close out the day's activities. My bed sure felt comfy... and sleep came easily - a fitting end to a highly productive and thoroughly enjoyable day with my ol' sidekick Frank!

This view shows the bow of the Chief Shingwauk in the fore... and the Boat House Restaurant and Inn directly behind

Saturday, September 14th

All artists were required to paint within the village to offer the invited public to visit the village, to watch the plein air painters fully in action and to visit local businesses and eating establishments. In many cases, this was their introduction to Rockport and to the plein air movement. Everywhere one went... one could feel and hear the connection that folks were making with artists and many permanent village residents... who had generously opened their properties to artists and the public for the weekend. Win-win ... for everyone involved!

After the full day of painting... artists, their guests and interested public observers met on the dock at The Rockport Cruise Line and boarded the Ida III for a complimentary one hour Sunset Cruise into the Islands... courtesy of The Rockport Cruise Line in generous support of our weekend adventure. Mother Nature... put on her best dress and bathed us with the beauty and light so characteristic of Autumn in The Thousand Islands region. All aboard were smitten with the golden ambiance of this initial entry of Fall into the region. Plenty of  "oohs and ahs"... and a barrage of steady camera clicks filled the cool night air. It was a wonderful end to another days together... "out there"!

Here are some pre dinner visual "hors d' hoeuvres" we enjoyed...  leading up to another evening get together at The Cornwall Pub and Grill

The Boldt Castle Power House and bridge... "at ease" after a hectic day

The Castle Dock and Facade

The Triumphal Arch and Children's Play House...

Sunken Rock Light ... guarding the treacherously narrow International Seaway Shipping Channel

The "Skull and Crossbones Secret Society " Fraternity summer house on Deer Island. George W. Bush was a member. Wonder if he ever partied here with the other many "Yalies" who have visited and stayed on the island over the years?

Two magnificent summer houses located on world famous "Millionaire's Row" west of A-Bay!

A modern replica of the gaiety and High Victorian grandeur of "The Golden Age" in The Thousand Islands

After filling our bellies with "whatever we pleased"... our artistic spirits were satiated and uplifted by a wonderful water colour demo by my new painting friend, Paul Taylor, who hails from Henrietta, NY.... a suburb of nearby Rochester. The presentation not only enriched the thoughts and imaginations of the water colourists present... but for everyone else too who enjoyed watching this creative individual sharing his passion and his skills. Thank you Paul... for your presence and your contributions to the success of our Rockport Paint Out!

Paul... on location at Fish Rock painting the tug work boat Ishpeming

Another maritime theme... from "the other side" of the River... subject for his evening demo piece

The demo at closing... structure there... can be finished at any time

Sunday, September 15th

The sun continued to shine... and spirits ran on "high beam" as well. Artists finished up some of their works while others chose to add another small one before the noon deadline for submission of works to the Patio Deck Restaurant location for the final public Reception and Exhibition scheduled for 1:00 pm.

The event was formally opened by Chair Person Wendy Merkley... assisted by Township Mayor Frank Kinsella who passed out the Awards to the winners. Since our event is deemed an "artist-friendly" event... all awards were based upon "People's Choice" principle, and were decided by public voting.

Surprise!... Surprise! The Grand winner was.... Paul Taylor for his acrylic painting "Ishpeming" shown below! Congrats Paul!.... Well deserved!

A sunny... sparkling... loose portrait of Ishpeming (Thundering Waters)... a plein air  Gem!

I will close out my post issuing my thanks to all of my fellow friends and committee members for their hard work... to Kathleen Allen, President of The Rockport Cruise Line and all of her staff for their friendliness and generous contributions to the success of The 3rd Annual Rockport Plein Air Paint Out. Thank you all! Thank you to the Rockport Development Group non-artist members, who  generously offered their time and energy to the event's success! Thank you too... to Frank for joining me this year! What a blast to be "side-by-each" again!

I will add one sentence ... borrowed from Paul Taylor's web page. It is a quote he feels and obviously adheres to strongly in his own work. I deeply believe this mantra to be true as well. It derives from Edgar Whitney, a revered and charismatic American water colourist... now deceased:

"[A] Painting must be a love affair - you cannot paint half-heartedly."

No one that I watched did less than that during this painting adventure! Thanks for participating all!  See you  next year... I hope!

Good (Plein Air) Painting!... to All!

PS Despite my responsibilities... I managed to complete two nice paintings 

Time ... at a Stand Still... on Heart Island - oil on canvas 30x24 inches

The Loner and Tonto... reunited... en plein air

Ishpeming... At the Ready - oil on canvas 24x20 inches

Saturday, September 7, 2013

When Autumn Blushes...

On location in the village of Rockport... Grout's Garden

When the allure of Summer suddenly fades... and Autumn first blushes, the heart of the plein air painter palpitates with the same sense of excitement and anticipation as the geese clans... now rafting into larger gatherings all along the St Lawrence River. They all gather... adults and young for the last stage of their preparation to migrate southward to far off and warmer wintering places.For the young, newly born here on the shores of the St Lawrence... they have never seen these places. Their "honked up" frenzy of excitement is orchestrated by their elders... who better understand the ardour and grave danger of the long trek lying before them. Constant communication is an absolute... as they fly at great height in formation over cornfields and marshes studded with gun-toting hunters hidden in well camouflaged blinds... decoys laid out... ready to spring into action when unwary young drop too low... too prematurely due to fatigue, hunger and rest.

In my mind, each year.. I wonder. Do the geese understand or have a concept of "Home"... such as mine? Is that the driving force? John Keats wondered too:

"I do not know where the geese go when they leave the River in fall, or what they do when they are wherever they are in winter, or which of their residences seems more real, or more like home to them, or if they have a home at all, or if they feel generally at home in all the world."

But John Keats and I both felt and understood that our shared sense of "Home" was always embedded here amongst this archipelago of Thousand Islands... and that sense of "Home" and belonging never ceases to fuel our imaginations or sense of creativity- he in words... and mine in my paintings. This Truth is recorded on the inside cover of the hard cover edition that I was given by the Keats family. It is not at all a shiny, new edition... but rather appropriately a "recycled" copy... a copy stamped WORN, SOILED,OBSOLETE-  WITHDRAWN from the San Joachim Valley Library System. It had been discovered... rescued and was redirected into my grateful hands by Peter Frost, Grandson of John Keats and his "Gal Friday"/ Soul Mate Kelsey Boesch on the West Coast of the USA.

The inside cover reads as follows:
This copy of this book "Of Time and an Island" is for Bruce Sherman- a fellow river rat who understands as we do that "as soon as we return to the river, we feel as if we had never been away."Our father has written the book and you Bruce, have captured the meaning in paint."

Vicky (Keats) Frost
Magsy (Keats) June
Chris Keats

This book and its inscription mean the world to "Me." No monetary or art award, or jury's appraisal satisfies me more than this mouthful of words. The Universe knitted or lives and souls together in one single meeting... and it shall keep us so over our life times. That is the way of the River. Once bitten... River blood runs in your veins and you are instantly related to all inhabitants along its shores. All of us feel that communal sense of "Home"

The weekend following this one... a migration of another sort will descend upon the rustic and beautiful village we live in. The 3rd Annual Rockport Plein Air Paint Out is being staged by our Rockport Development Group in support of plein air enthusiasts who are interested in coming into the Thousand Islands region to paint and share fellowship.

This year, we have lined up some new and exciting features for this year's event to include an opportunity on Friday to travel to by cruise vessel... and  paint on the grounds of the crown jewel of the Thousand Islands.... the world-famous Boldt Castle, located on Heat Island, NY. Water taxi trips to three other beautiful island sites are also offered on Friday. On the Saturday evening, The Rockport Cruise Lines is offering all artists a one hour complimentary sunset tour of the islands. Following the cruise there will be an evening dinner and a water colour painting demo by respected Rochester, NY river artist, Paul A. Taylor. Could you fit it in?... I'd be happy to help you with making it happen.

Registration is FREE!... and can be done totally on line as shown in the brochure that I have posted here! This event is an inexpensive, artist-friendly event, filled with painting adventure and above all,  great fellowship... food and an opportunity for an unforgettable adventure in a world class UNESCO Heritage location. Check us out at our web site!

Good Fall Painting... to ALL!!! 

Below are but a few of the sites that are available for you to see... visit and paint !

On Pine Island... "The Head"... writing sanctuary for John Keats

The Cornwall Lane and Pub... great food.... drink... and painting material all about its grounds

The Gananoque Boat Line vessel passing by "The Head" under the white pines on Pine Island

Cruising thru' the island archipelago... a new adventure around every corner! Cameras... a MUST!!!

 Benson's Rift cottage... one of a myriad of summer places tucked away quietly along the cruise route

 First sight of Boldt's Castle, Heart Island, NY... Time stands still and the splendour holds one breathless here... no matter how many times you have seen it!

The Power Station on Heart Island... a play place for a child's imagination !

Monday, September 2, 2013

September Song... in my... Treasure(d) Islands

 "River Boy" - oil on canvas 24x30 inches
This painting was a painting from a solo show entitled "Summertime Dreams" a decade ago. It depicts my son Andrew with my canoe looking out over our River on one of our six week-long annual painting and canoeing treks into The Thousand Islands. The painting hangs... where it should - in his living room... a magical River memory of our time of (not) growing up together. Precious to us both!

Though at the the beginning of each fresh Summer, it always seems "a long, long time... from May till December"... it always becomes obvious to me in these few August days of rapidly dwindling light... that Summer has fled. Everywhere about you... there lies evidence of ripening... and especially in the flower gardens... there lies ample evidence of Summer's decline and decay.

On each morning this weekend, over at the Andress Boat Works Dock across the road from our "Islesview" home, we have watched boat load after boat load of "summer people" from the islands bring their summer gear and belongings to shore... to be loaded into their homeward bound vehicles. Then... comes that reluctant look out over their River and their summer refuge... before they pile into their cars and head back to their urban jungles and lives.

I well know and understand their feelings. My family made this migration for over fifty years... to and from our own "Shangri-Lai" at Narrow's Lane Road. Our unpretentious... simple cottage was nestled alongside the River on the mainland at the Narrow's on the inside of Tar Island just east of Rockport.  It was but one of a colony of small cottages where everybody played and swam through each two months of summer together. It was a place where one belonged... "where everybody knew your name."

Though Time... Life and circumstances beyond my control swept "Me" away from this Nirvana ... The Universe and its great mysteries that govern us all made possible our return. It was an invitation to take part in the 1st Annual Rockport Paint Out in 2011 and my meeting Wendy (Johnston) Merkley... its organizer which set things in motion for our eventual moving of our The Paint Box Gallery back to Rockport. Everything else which has occurred between Then and Now... is in the Past. Deb and I now live our lives comfortably... contentedly and successfully couched... and feeling deeply blessed in the comfort and joy of being finally... Home!

The word "Home", in my own context and usage is distinctly different from the word house. I have lived in many houses over my life time and called many places temporally home. But The St Lawrence River is truly my Home. "Home" is that special place in each of our lives and souls where.... as John Keats describes in his River classic "Of Time And  An Island"... as a place where, "as soon as we return... we feel as if we never have been away."

Shangra-Lai... which was once "Home" for each Sherman for over fifty summers has been turned over into an entirely new vision... someone else's summer home. I feel no physical connection to that place any longer. Even the anger created by the deceitful way that it was cruelly ripped from us by a family member has finally dissipated and all but disappeared. Life's current must carry one on... without petty bitterness. To continue to harbour it within... robs one of the ability to find new purpose... Happiness and Joy.

This was the Sherman's Shangra-Lai sanctuary for over fifty summers and winters... with our humongous willow ever present with its umbrella-like canopy under which so many August reunions and birthdays were celebrated. It remains recorded in a couple of my small watercolour and oils... gifts for my parents when they were alive... and in my Soul!

This painting entitled "Time Stood Still, Narrow's Lane Road" oil on canvas 20x48 inches captures the very scene directly seen for every summer at sun down from our lawn and under the giant willow friend. I gave it to my daughter Lisa as a house-warming gift when she purchased her lovely home on Kerry Point. It is the view directly seen from her patio/balcony. It truly speaks of the Truth I have tried to express on the subject of house vs Home feelings that I practise.

(my) Paradise... Lost! Someone else's other rightful dreaming!

I have always carried my Home within my heart. It is that sacred space in my own memory and soul where I "house" my treasure trove of life long family blessings. It is portable. It remains untouched by outside influence and change. It remains mine alone to remember... relish and to refresh my sometimes wearied spirit. Just as the River flows, unchanged much really, despite some ugly aspects of modernity... so does my ever vibrant recollections of my yester-years on the shores of my River. "I"... am a River Boy and feel greatly blessed to have shared that very feeling with so many others... who feel the same. I had the privilege to re-acquaint myself with many of these River pals since moving back. I have made  friends with a number of new River Folk. Amongst them... a high honour to have shared time this summer with each of the Keats family of Pine Island... both on their Pine Island Paradise... and our new Rockport Shangra-Lai... "Islesview." But that's another story..., for another time.

Stay tuned!...

 I have chosen a passage (words) from Keats's book to close out this post.... and some (paintings) memories from my easel It echoes my own feelings... and those of all of us privileged to have summered or lived alongside this marvellous and mighty River.

"Nothing has changed in this always new and infinitely old center of our lives. We never feel homeless in winter because we know where we live.We live in a house on a stone in the middle of a river in the center of the world at the very heart of time."

"We"... are greatly blessed!

Good Painting!... and Happy Fall ... to ALL!!!

Two River Boys... enjoying company together... Captain/ Pirate Peter Frost  (JK's grandson and myself) at The Head on Pine Island... the actual site where John K. Keats wrote "Of Time And An Island." The Universe... playing out its mystery and magic!

My People's Choice award winner, 20x16 inch canvas entitled
Sun-dappled Pathway to the Head, Pine Island"... painted at the 2nd Annual Rockport Plein Air Paint Out. It now hangs with honour... in the main house on Pine Island - my gift to all Keats now... and to come!

A smaller 12x10 inch canvas version of the same painting just requested by Megan Kahn, daughter-in-law of Chris Keats. She wanted it as an island memory of her teen aged years spent on the Island..for her new home located  in Washington. I rarely , if ever do an exact replica of any painting. But this a special instance, I relented. It was... for "Family" ! It was completed two days ago... dried and packed for their departure at 7:00 am this morning. I handed it to them and wished them a good winter.... and a see ya in the Summer of 2014!

This painting entitled "Morningshine... at Chimney Island" -oil on canvas 24x48 inches hangs above our hearth in Islesview. It is a personal favourite of mine because it depicts a place where my family picnicked for a number of years on Sundays before we were blessed to own a cottage of our own. I feel that it rather depicts this River view in a cathedral-like manner... somewhat similar in function to a high altar piece. The outdoors is my cathedral... my chosen place of worship of my Creator's gifts and blessings to me!