Saturday, October 4, 2014

Transcendence... Through Distillation Create a Newer and Better Opportunity for... Genesis - Part 2

Occasionally... we all make a painting that fails to initially match the vision we have for the work when we first begin the painting process. I usually spend quite a lot of time looking about a site for potential interesting subjects until I arrive at one that excites me to want to paint. I even mark several points and then travel back and forth gauging the merits of each against the others... until I feel confident that one particular view will provide the best "start".

Beginning the process of creation, in this case... making a painting outdoors requires many considerations and decisions to get things under way. I have just described one of the major considerations and my usual method for addressing what can be the single most challenging moment in plein air painting - "Genesis". At that particular moment one can likely relate ... in a small way to the act of Creation by the Creator Himself.

Surely... even He ... or for that matter... any creator must feel some moments of ambivalence in commencing the act despite the ability... excitement and passion that precipitates the desire... to create. For within the process of creation itself... lies decision after decision... trial and error choices and and moments where the underlying spirit to create is both tested and discouraged.

Spread before one in the outdoor setting is a veritable universe of detail and possibilities. Such a "buffet" set before me... still challenges me to harness and focus my mind and brushes on a single aspect or structure upon which to create an impression of what lies before me. Only occasionally... do I enjoy that start-to-finish painting... "that fairly paints itself ". Most of the time... I struggle. Many times that struggle is with the weather conditions... flies... outside distractions... or worse ... my flagging inner satisfaction with what I am trying to paint. Not with actual painting itself. We have all been there.

The painting that I have chosen to use in this post to further explore the themes of "transcendence and distillation" was begun initially en plein air at Lake of Two Rivers in Algonquin Park. I well recall the day spent painting with my Algonquin friend David Kay and my wife Deb. It was autumn at its best in the Park... and we were "chompin' at the bit" to find a suitably sheltered and dry site to paint from. It was rainy and blustery... just plain miserable. But when you have driven so far... and have a diminishing window of opportunity... one must take risks.

"Genesis"... on this particular day was hardly undertaken in favourable or conducive conditions for maximum success and enjoyment. Deb quickly retired from the site... wisely choosing not to get chilled in the off and on drizzle and the buffeting gusts of steady westerly winds. David and I set up side by side for company and encouragement... and began the process in (half) earnest. The lighting kept changing which made any consistency in that important aspect of any painting veritably impossible. Perseverance by both of us provided at least a "shell " for a good painting.... but not one that we that we would rush back to Whitney to display with any degree of pride.

I do feel that the painting as shown in its original form in this first jpeg has some truth and merit... and does capture a feeling of wetness and an accurate measure of the inclement conditions. I invite you to be judge and jury...

Pretty drab and dull. Despite my attempts to heighten colour and mood... it simply reflects ... the way things were.

This is a reworked version completed in the studio a week after my return from the Park. Brighter... more pleasant perhaps... but it lacks something - some "Idea"... to elevate it beyond being just another "pretty" Park landscape. 

It was some years later when that "Idea" presented itself to me. One again... the "Genesis" thoughts to a possible solution. It came from these familiar words... from deep within my childhood memories...from The Book of Genesis. It commences with: 

"In the beginning God created the heavens and earth..."

Then not unlike an artist making a painting... He patches in water... land and the sky which separates them . He then adds the vegetation and creatures that inhabit this Eden. And finally... He adds mankind to "have dominion over"... which I choose to interpret as... have stewardship for this Paradise.

In reference now back to the painting. Man was missing in this landscape. In terms of the actual function that Algonquin Park serves in our society, I feel that its use by mankind best exemplifies what the Creator intended. We do in fact use the Park... but at the same time and in most cases, we are at the same time preserving and protecting the land area and its creatures in a near pristine sate of wilderness.

So I decided to introduce a figure into the landscape... just to see if it elevated the landscape... or change the overall tenor of this otherwise "blah" and ordinary sketch to make it stand out. I edged into the change in a fashion whereby it could be adjusted... or even removed. I had resolved firmly though at this juncture...  that if it didn't add something to the painting... that the painting should ... rightfully by my own hand "disappear". Here are the stages to the final state Once again... I will let you form your own opinion... without adding my own.

Here is the second rework with figure roughly added with easily correctable vine charcoal. I tried a variety of positions for placement... but liked the manner in which the figure diagonally created a dynamic change from a static state to an active one.

I even considered actually cropping the horizontal format making it into a vertical one. Many picture possibilities existed within that one larger sketch. However... I really liked the relationship formed by the joining of the figure to the panoramic feel of the landscape itself. I have felt this feeling of kinship with the Park since my first visit nearly forty years ago. It remains strong today!

Here in this jpeg the colour is added without any attention to proper values or lighting. I am only interested in how the figure and canoe relate to the landscape. I had considered a red canoe- it would fight the background fall colours. I considered dove grey... the colour of my own cedar strip canoe "River Spirit". But I decided upon a teal-like green... knowing that the grey-to-white shape of a canoe would punch you in the eye.... too distracting!

Here is the final painting... for what it is. Simply titled... "Trippin"... whether it's in... or out? You decide... and tell your own story. I have my own. But yours matters too!

In closing out this post... I leave you with these thoughts to consider. Should painting be about an end product?.... Or should it be about the process... growth and satisfying an inner passion to simply... create - not for prestige... not for approval... or for monetary gain. 

Perhaps... "Genesis" actually occurs far from the actual "beginning"... for each of us. And hopefully will continue... passionately... for as long as we can wish... or are able to create. One is never too late to commence the act of creating.

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

PS A "one-liner" from a song that I heard while reading at Chapters bookstore recently. Sorry that I can't properly give credit... but I use it not as my own thought and  without hope for personal gain.... just to motivate:

"All I've got are my thoughts,
And I just try to be brave."

Do be brave!... Risk! and Stay positive about... and trust in your Self !


  1. Gosh Bruce! I think it is a gorgeous painting, start to finish, and would have been proud to have stopped where you first stopped. That said, the addition of the figure is phenomenal, truly!! I guess for me, the syntax of your question is the issue. It is ALWAYS about the end result. Why? Because this end product constitutes every aspect, thought, and bit of heart you put into the piece. It is you, your feelings at the time you painted, your reflections as you continued to study and feel the piece - whether you made changes or not...Since I do not sell art, I'd have to say it is always a personal thing and that is what makes artists tick.

  2. Good morning Sherry!... Thank you for your visit this morning ... and for your thoughtful comments too!

    I am not at all certain "what makes artists tick".... though they all display huge curiosities... and a need to control their own needs and processes. Beyond that... even after these many years of being with... observing them at work... sharing ideas and participating myself... I can't truthfully say that I understand what leads most artists to be so passionate... even obsessive about their work.

    Due to the fact that they operate and think from so deeply within themselves ... as you have mentioned... the answer to that question remains elusive to me.

    As for the end result being "ALWAYS" the important end to the process. .. I will continue to defend my firm belief that there is no end result Sherry. I have yet to paint a painting... where if left in my sight long enough... would "speak" to me that changes could... or should be made. After a time... they disturb me... even ... the "good" ones! HA HA!

    The conclusion for me comes when I tire of the challenge... and find myself thinking ... or looking to the next painting. Time to move on... and I do.

    I am so happy that the post caused you to pause and think so deeply. Your own "take" on it is as valid as mine... or anyone else's. I do value your good mind and ability to express your Self so clearly... and bravely!

    Thanks again for weighing in!

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

  3. The first painting is quite vibrant and not dull at all.
    Thus the beauty is in the eye of the beholder ;D

  4. Hi Mary!... Thanks for "weighing in"... and for openly sharing your own personal preference in regard to the painting!

    "Beauty is [indeed]... in the eye of the beholder". But the last say goes to the painter in this case. It must please him... above all others. ;D ;D

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

  5. Hi Bruce, the two paintings are so different that I find it impossible to compare them. The first one, before reworking, was an honest plein-air study and I think it conveys your feelings and the atmosphere of the day. I agree that it wouldn't grab anyone's attention though. In the final painting the landscape almost becomes invisible, because there is so much interest in the figure, but then the narrative makes the landscape important again. So in the end I think it was a successful reworking, and one of my favourites of your recent work.

    When you mentioned that Deb was out with you when you were painting, it made me wonder how she works. Does she sketch outdoors to get material for her glass work?

    All the best,

  6. Good morning Keith!.... I agree with all of your observations regarding the effects of each change... and the change in visual focus as the process unveiled itself. The painting itself was completed in the first instance under dire circumstances which lessened the outcome for me.... in my opinion.

    The secomd run at it... as is often the case destroys the freshness. However it was those thoughts that I had about people coming and going to and from their adventures that most captured my inner thoughts while painting.

    The portage idea revealed itself... and I merely jumped in and tried to add it in a fashion that would make it the focus.

    I too think it ranks as a fall fav of mine... along with Blue Quail ... the tug.

    Thanks for dropping by and for sharing your correct observations.

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Hi again Keith!.... Though Deb rarely follows me about because of the cold... she was with me on this occasion. On other trips where she was about... she often painted beside me with her own paint box... and I might add... she is a highly capable painter in her own right.

    She often takes a sketchbook along and jots down sletches and notes which she later might use in her glass or hand made cards.

    She is highly creative and enjoys the outdoors and creatures just as I do. But she really cannot tolerate the cold... so our trips together when they occur... are in warmer weather!

    Bruce and Deb