Saturday, March 22, 2014

Changes... A Spring Tune Up!... Drink Up Your Spring Tonic!

Newly arrived signs of the approach of Spring seem timely... now two full days after the actual "official " date of arrival as registered on my calendar. I have learned over the years not to put much "cred" on that calendar pronouncement... and especially this year as the annual tug-o-war between Spring and Winter has see-sawed teasingly for (too) many weeks. But there are encouraging signs that I have observed in the past... which now are abundantly appearing day-by-day... all around me which give me heart to believe that... Spring has sprung!

Large pans of river ice are being flushed past us throughout the day, as the too long frozen and quiet river resumes her animated and ever eastward moving journey to the Atlantic. Bald eagles, waterfowl and gulls have returned to patrol the shoreline on their morning fishing trips. New birds have begun to appear at our feeder... and our winter feeder residents have been unceasingly displaying their plucky spring courtship rituals and associated territorial displays.

I have seen my first flocks of robins... the raucous crows are flocking about. Yesterday, I heard my first cheery red-winged blackbird notes... a sure harbinger of Spring. The uninvited and pesky squirrel mobsters... both grey and black have caught the fever as well and are deliriously carried between whether to eat-or- mate antics. Our resident chipmunk characters... and most especially Deb's beloved short-tailed "Mr Chips" provide endless morning entertainment for us both at our morning Coffee Club with their tag and hide-and-go-seek antics. Spring... is truly... in the air!

Though the increasingly warmer sun is voraciously rotting away the snow in tandem with the ever present March wind... snow most everywhere except on southerly facing planes... remains deep below the ice barrier formed during our December ice storm. Travel in the sugar bush is nigh unto impossible and proves exhausting even to attempt to walk in as I have done recently. The necessary -5F overnight to +5F daytime temperature range which allows the flow of maple sap has not been there. The season which at best ends mid April has yet to begin in most bush operations. There is a question of whether or not there will even be a season or not.

"There is no such thing as work - life balance. There are work - life choices, and you make them. and there are consequences."

- Jack F. Welch, Jr
Chairman and CEO at General Electric from 1981 to 2001 when he raised value for the company by 4000%

These are my recent work-life decisions which Deb and I have taken to prepare for our summer business at The Paint Box Gallery. Deb is at her creative post just west of my easel in the basement. Together ... we are working earnestly as a team to create and build upon  last year's reasonable success. Life is indeed about choices... and team work. I am indeed greatly based to have such a life partner... and best Friend to share life with! Combining work and life choices is surely made less painful... even joyful... when one has Andrea Bocelli carrying you off with his special voice/instrument... to "Tuscana."

Despite this reality... my mind and thoughts are locked into my own spring cycle of change. When the River ... the creeks and the "sweet water/sap" begin to flow my need to paint these is compulsively aroused within me. The series of sugar bush paintings that I have recently posted attest to that fact... and I yearn to continue. Yesterday's "perfect" plein air day was more than difficult for me to ignore. Despite the blue sky... the warm sun and very little wind...I found myself at work in our winter (basement) studio space. I was there because... I have to be. Time for a necessary "Spring Tune Up."

That tune up refers to switching from my preferred oil medium for the next few weeks from to water colour and pen and ink used in combination. I have an impending deadline to produce images for our new line of greeting cards for our shop and for a corporate customer. That end of April date is predetermined by an April deadline for the printer fast approaching. Though I was specifically a water colour painter at the start of my career (and I do much enjoy working with it still) it presents a different thought process. Along with this hurdle exists a number of unique challenges and specific techniques to achieve the effects I want for these card images.

Getting into the flow"... pun intended... is difficult and can be only achieved through diligent practice... and "play". So I have chosen to commence that process with a full sense of playing... using images from my sugar bush and local landscape files to work out the glitches. By Monday, I hope that I will actually be ready to set to work on the necessary images to be delivered at the end of April. Ready or not... Let the games begin! Keep your fingers crossed for me.

                                               "Change... before you have to." (JFW)
                                      "Control your own destiny, or someone else will."

Limbering Up

I have continued to select the acid free Canson Montval 140 lb Fine Grain Cold Press watercolour paper because of its whiteness, its ability to allow correction without damage to the paper and its overall ability to hold both the pigment and ink. Its heavy nature allows me to dry it quickly using a hair dryer, at the same time maintaining its original flatness to the finished state. I provide a frame of sorts using Frogger Painter's Tape to mask in the image are which ih this aprticualr case is a 5x7 ich rectangle. This keeps a crisp edge to enhance later framing and offers clean... trouble-free tape removal at the conclusion.

Here you can readily see the fluid and simplified light mapping in HB pencil that I have developed initially to guide my painting process. I did not use "Frisket" or other masking techniques to reserve white throughout the painting process. I used a medium pointed sable brush lightly loaded at first to wash in colour into areas that I wished to establish colour. I intensified... or blotted out that colour to create my own particular response to the colour on the paper. This was carried our across the entire painting surface to create a lay in state. At this point I used the dry to fix the washes... after which I began to add details in ink... but not to any state of complete finish.

Here is the finished watercolour... intentionally very pastel in nature to create a late spring afternoon...  moody and nostalgic... which was my intent. it can be noted here that some areas of the paper have retained their original whiteness and are crisp and sharp... as I wished them to appear. In the process of working very spontaneously without trying to reserve every white aspect of the painting... some areas did indeed lose their whiteness. I recovered those... especially in the background areas by implementing the use acrylic titanium white... mixed with water colour where desire to achieve the values that I wanted. While this is hardly an entirely "purist" approach to watercolour... it serves my purpose and sensibilities. This will never see a juried watercolour show... so who cares??? The image has been created for a gift card usage and it will justly be designated a "mixed medium" pedigree... should that matter to anyone!

What matters most is that all of my initial goals for the activity were accomplished. I re-entered the watercolour arena comfortably... no... more to the point... joyfully. I had fun and very quickly felt like I was back in the company of an old friend. You all know that feeling. A "place of meeting" between two lifetime friends... where there exists no need for busy talk. You simply go forward very naturally from where you last left off. Ain't that a wonderful feeling???

Well... back to the drawing board folks! Anxious to get back at it! Early on this week, I will post a demo of sorts to share the process along with images from start to finish in my next post. Hopefully these offerings might offer you some insights in regard to my approach.

Stay tuned...

Good Painting... and Happy ALL!


  1. Wow, Bruce. I just love your watercolor work. I think even moreso than the oils. I guess I am a watercolorist at heart. I still thrill to that windmill on the sidebar.

    Everybody is talking about the return of the robins. I'm not sure I've seen any yet this year but I'm guessing they are out there if they have shown up where you live already. Even I, one who prefers autumn and winter to spring and summer, am ready for this spring to make an appearance. Really brown and icky outside and we still have ice on top of lakes and ponds out where I live. Still can see a few patches of snow too. Most of it is gone however, so maybe we'll start seeing a few buds on the trees soon.

  2. Good morning Sherry!... Happy spring to you! Thanks for your rousing endorsement of my "Spring Tune Up" water colouring project. The Sap's runnin' for certain - in my heart at least... not by a long shot in any of our local sugar bushes!
    Glad to hear that spring is making some kind of an appearance in your quarter as well. It's all about patience in March Sherry. Listen for those cheery robin voices... they will soon appear when the snow disappears and rthe warm thawing ground cover is available to their probing. Geese are active in the morning here as well. I love those sounds... all precursors to that Spring we adore and look forward to so fervently... hopefully!

    Glad that the water colours please you. Stay tuned... more on the way... later this morning!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. How delightful your watercolor is so lovely. I completely understand about the different mind set for watercolor painting, I used to be a watercolor painter myself and switched to oils as they are so expressive and flexible to use, there is nothing quite like oils. Watercolors are so delicate and gentle I need to totally calm down and be so serene in order for the watercolors to do their magic, they certainly have a mind of their own! Have you thought about having your oil paintings made into cards via the printing process?

  4. Hi there Caroline!... Thanks for visiting and for sharing your personal thoughts and good ideas!

    Both mediums have their own way with me... but you are correct about water colour. You need to constantly pay attention... and "go with the flow" making opportunities almost immediately as they occur. I do try to make use of their crispness and expressive qualities and quite enjoy the contrast between the watercolour and the ink.

    A number of my oil paintings are already available in in commercially printed form... with more to be added this season.

    Thanks for dropping by Caroline. Always great to talk!

    Good Painting!... and Happy Spring!
    Warmest regards,

  5. Hi Bruce, this is beautiful work. It jumps off the page at me, even in the thumbnail size. I like the free ink lines, which are really effective in suggesting all the spindly trees and providing a suggestion of detail on the shed. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

    All the best,

  6. Good morning Keith!... You see... once again we share so many preferences for the good things in art... and life! Freedom remains a prized possession for "we" Scots. The power of suggestion conquers the need to copy labouriously. Less suggests more ... and adds a dash whimsy. Watercolour excites the curious!

    I have much enjoyed the necessary shift away from my oils... it has surely lifted my spirits away from the weather. Onward!

    Thank you for your enthusiastic response Keith. Your comments mean a lot... given you own mastery of the medium!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,