Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Transcendence... Through Distillation... in One's Art - Part One

Autumn has continued to be filled with surprises. The weather in early September was cold... drab and discouraging and with too much rain, especially for weekend gallery goers and local tourists. However, we have enjoyed a beautiful span of four days of absolutely splendid "Indian Summer" days in Rockport. One could feel the energy and enthusiasm return to the village.... and to the visitors to The Paint Box Gallery. Sales jumped dramatically.... and smiles were everywhere. This good weather is projected to stick about during the entire week... motivating Frank and I to plan a trip over to Amherst Island on Wednesday for a day of painting en plein air. Looking forward to that -  so stay tuned...

During my 5:00 am morning visit to my bench dockside for "Operation Sunrise"...  I found an absence of stars in what I expected to be a perfectly clear sky such as yesterday's. Orion was completely veiled from view.... and only a handful of scattered stars could be seen - disappointing. I decided just to take in the view closer to the water up and down the river. Many of the dots of light along the far shore were missing... which meant really that island residents in those spaces had returned south. Amongst those "Summer Folk"... our friend Magsie (Keats) Jenne who came for a dinner ashore at our Islesview on Saturday and bade us farewell yesterday until next summer. That's the way life runs on the river. Life up... and along the river is changed... in just a few days.

Such changes do motivate inner feelings of melancholy or loss and are quite normally felt in Autumn. The loss of light and heat... garden delight... and the freedom from the heaviness of winter clothing and relatively care-free living cause us all to almost "mourn" the loss of summer. Living closely in touch with the Natural World has taught me to accept that life is not "fair".... that is merely a human term. Life quite simply... "is". By that, I mean to say that life changes in a fashion that transcends our thoughts... wishes or actions. In accepting that fact in my personal and artistic lives... I am able to move ahead (most of the time) with little discouragement by using intuition and my imagination to conjure up something more palatable than what reality... and Life has offered me.

Most recently... the unexpected cancellation of our annual paint out... in combination with the foul, rainy and cold weather should have caused me to sulk and remain inside doing something else. However, my friends and I made a time of it together. We enjoyed each other's company... and each of us started or made paintings which made our efforts worth while. My painting of the tug Blue Quail at Anchor found a new home on the past weekend... validating the credibility of this approach to life.

Transcendental meditation has long encouraged those who choose to believe and practise its precepts to think and embrace life based upon a "higher plane"of existing. While I can't say that I fully understand... or believe all of their concepts. I do see the value as an individual... and as an artist in looking past what "is"... to what "might be possible"... beyond the reality that I am experiencing. I will look past the spiritual connotations in this post and apply them to creating art... especially focusing upon making art en plein air.

Transcendence in one's Art

When I first began to paint outdoors, my goal was to copy as faithfully as possible the scene that was before me. My experiences and my reading over the years have taught me that a far superior plane of creation can be reached... and a greater sense of joy and freedom achieved... by aiming at grasping and capturing the essence of structure within the landscape both ahead and around me. I make use of only those elements that "see"... I try to coalesce... or to merge and unify those selected parts into a new reality. This then makes the painting truly a creation... rather than slavishly controlling... and likely less interesting copy.

Distillation in one's Art

Distillation describes the process of extracting the essence from the subject you are painting through interpretation. That process may, or may not be totally completed in a single session... or even at the point of one's initial perception of complete finish. Often... the "Idea" continues to elude a completely acceptable state. Something may be felt to be missing. This is why art should be held back to offer a time for this distillation process to fully take place. Surprising extensions and perceptions... not at first present even in reality may trigger a new and higher level of painting.

Two paintings from my recent posts demonstrate such situations. The first painting... entitled "River Magic" at first had a large Van Gogh influenced sun dominating the rather dark fall river landscape. After much second guessing and encouragement from my wife Deb and daughter Allison... I made some changes to eliminate the sun completely... change the lighting and to adjust textural details in the pines. Those changes certainly must have been factors leading to its sale this past weekend. It will travel to be housed in a London, England collection... with its new title "Requiem".

The jpeg on the left is a picture that I took before beginning to paint. In the middle ground can be seen the actual elements in my chosen composition. One can clearly see that I have extracted the elements that I found interesting... and that I have assumed a higher vantage point looking down on the river to create a deeper sense of space. I have as well been selective and added to the foreground rock formations as well.


"Requiem"... the final painting indicates all of the further changes that I made... a full year after the first stoppage in painting. Distillation... leading to Transcendence - a superior painting. The new owner's immediate decision to purchase clearly amplifies those feelings that Deb, Allison and I myself had... that changes were required to make it a more solid painting.

The 11x 14 inch plein air painting of "The Tug Blue Quail... at Anchor" serves as yet another example of the same process of change. In this case, however... inclement weather conditions forced forced a premature retreat from the setting. The painting was returned to the very next day while the memory was fresh and was completed with some photo reference to complete details to the actual tug. The landscape and water changes were created through responses fueled by pure intuition to the previous structure and the actual setting on location.

These three jpegs clearly point out the changes that I wove together to arrive at the final rendering of this painting. The top one clearly shows what took my attention... the tug against the backdrop of contrasting and varied fall greens. The second shows my intentional elimination of the distracting foreground jumble... replacing that with more interesting reflections... disturbance in the water surface and the introduction of nearby lily pads and reeds. Note too... that I pulled the distant pine-etched point of land and distant shore... minus the tug and barge group right up tight to the tug's bow. To me... the two echoed and visually supported the presence of the other strongly.

"The Tug Blue Quail at Anchor" - oil on gessoed and toned Masonite panel 11x14 inches  SOLD

Both paintings were the result of  "second goes"... or completion incorporating changes either not seen... or intended in the first run through. The one process was brought about through personal thought... but driven more by the responses to the painting by trusted critics. The latter plein air piece came about only because weather forced a premature halt to the on site painting... and the rest of the process came out of an intuitive response... guided somewhat by photo reference for necessary detail on the tug.

Today... I closed out painting for the month of September with yet another example of such an intervention... which I believe again resulted in a superior result. I will post that journey... start to finish later on in the week. I hope this post encourages my friends to re-evaluate having a "second go"... and perhaps with a new eye... and some luck... be able to breathe some new life and vitality into an ol'..."skipper"... as my pal Frank refers to a scrubber / failure. What's to lose???

Another wonderful quote from Julia Cameron's wonderful "Heart Steps" to end this post. I believe that this short quote summarizes wonderfully our common belief about the role of the artist in creation:

"In Nature, God offers questions. We as artists should seek to create our own answers in gratedful response."

I feel truly blessed to walk and paint in this beautiful Eden our Creator has placed us in. I feel His presence and magnificence... and am grateful for His copious gifts and blessings to "Me" and my family!

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


  1. Bruce, I think you spend as much time in your own head as I do in mine. I do so love the paintings, always do. I do not get melancholy over the change from high heat and humidity to cooler temps and warmer clothes. In fact, I love it. I am never going to be a southerner, for sure. Being more of an indoor type of girl, however, that probably stands to reason. Think of the closeness with Deb that is coming!!

  2. Hi there Sherry!... Sorry that the post left you feeling that I am melancholic about fall... just the opposite really. I too hate the heat and humidity of summer... as well as all of the hustle and bustle on the river and the village. I get the river back now... with its quiet... and Hey... Winter is my favourite time to plein air!

    I am close to Deb ... each and every day Sherry. We both so enjoy being together.... doing things together. That is our common and richest blessing.

    I certainly do spend "much time in my head... thinking... or swimming in dreams about future paintings that keep popping out of no where... and everywhere it seems.

    Thanks for visiting and for sharing your feelings and observations here on the site. Always anxious to hear from you Sherry!

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

  3. Beautiful paintings, all! I really like how the tugboat seems to be pushing against the wind, and the background trees are bent to show windy conditions, too. Beautiful. Enjoy those quieter days - more time to paint! - and the beauty of autumn. Hope you get some gorgeous colors to inspire you.

  4. Hi there Rhonda!... Thank you for dropping by and commenting! Always nice to chat!

    The Blue Quail sketch was a favourite painting this fall for me... it was one of those rare ones to " paint itself "... one just has to hold the brush! HA HA! Someone else thought so too... it's gone away!

    Autumn is a wonderful time to be "out there"... with the world all ablaze with colour... the air is crisp and frsh... and all of the summer hustling about has subsided Solitude!

    Happy Fall... and Good Painting Rhonda!
    Warmest regards,

  5. You are up and dressed to greet the new day at 5 am!!! my goodness Bruce that is early, you must go to bed very early during the summer months. Do you always follow the rising of the sun to how you start your day? in the depths of winter you must be able to sleep later. In the summer months here especially in July the sun rises at 2am! I loved your post, lots to think about and yes I was walking out today and thought about the same things regarding the end of summer. Maybe as we get older we feel more mortal. Your paintings are lovely thank you for sharing them. Looking forward to more posts from you soon.

  6. Good evening Caroline!... I have missed your regualr posting and our chats! Life has a habit of getting in the way for each of us at times though..doesn't it?

    Yes... I greet the sun nearly every morning... with very few exceptions throughout the entire year. I so enjoy star gazing while I wait in the early darkness of morning... watching the constellations change as the seasons do.

    It pleases me that you enjoy the contents of the posts. I spend a lot of time thinking about painting and my life in general. I love exchanging thoughts and ideas with those who share my artistic journey.

    As we age... we surely do feel a greater sense of mortality... but in another sense there comes a greater sense of peace and acceptance of our place in the grand scheme of life... and speaking only for my Self.. I feel a greater sense of purpose and gratitude for each day as I begin it. Every sunrise is a banner of renewal for "Me". Now ... what can I do with this gift of "Today"?

    Happy Fall and Good Painting Caroline. I look forward to more frequent posts and chats!

    Warmest regards,

  7. Lovely paintings Bruce and like the seasons weather the art world certainly never runs on a level or straight line. Nature is all...


  8. Hi there Jeffrey!... Thanks for the visit and encouraging and insightful comments!

    "All the world's a circle..." says it all ! Life's easier when you know that!

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