Monday, January 26, 2015

Developing A Dialogue... Using the Landscape as a Medium

For the past several weeks now, I have been devoting my thinking and energy to the process of getting ready for my fast-approaching solo show. I met last week with the curator Kate from The Glass House Studio and Gallery in Kingston to discuss mutual ideas to guide my selection of theme and subjects for this undertaking. We agreed upon the theme "Coming Home to the River". It seemed comfortably "right" to me ... given the fact that my personal and artistic lives have come full circle back to the Saint Lawrence River.

The basic theme of theme of the landscape will predominate throughout the selection process, but it at this exact point where my own working definition and use of the landscape deviates from the traditionally accepted notion of the term "landscape" as a static reference to the term as a genre... that is painting subjects which involve only the natural setting.

In my own view, "landscape" of course surely begins at that point. However, I feel that it is impossible to consider the purely natural landscape while ignoring  the effects of human activity on it. The impact of our presence has created what I recognize and paint as the human landscape. This arm of landscape painting presents both architecture and activity within the natural landscape. To me ... they are inseparable. They have always formed an underlying context in my painting process. Quite simply... this point of view defines why I paint.

While I have certainly painted my fair share of urban landscapes, I have preferred to focus my painting interests upon the what I refer to as... The Vanishing Landscape. That does not necessarily the painting of heritage buildings per say... but rather to the disappearance of natural space and  a way of living... where thought and consideration was given to containing sprawl with planning.

Such a painting method, I believe reaches out to the viewer in a manner which approximates forming a conversation ... firstly... between the landscape and myself and then secondarily through a dialogue between my Self and my viewer. Within the context of each painting, I try to engage the viewer (from my perspective) to look at the world that we share in a more reflective and respectful manner. I hope that they examine... and carry with them a greater appreciation for the Natural World we are blessed to enjoy.

I have two very separate voices or painting styles...  one for each painting situation. When painting en plein air my style necessitates quick decision-making... expressive brushwork and a heavier impasto "alla prima" character. This approach is largely determined by rapidly changing and unpredictable weather conditions and transient lighting conditions.

Time is rarely on your side... but spontaneity reigns supreme and (usually) saves the day. I prefer this exuberant and expressive painting style... but many clients... and my wife Deb lean towards a preference the "quieter" voice. "Different strokes..."
Neither style depends upon hyper-realism. Both embody my pure interests ... based upon impressionism.

I have several larger painting formats that I must create to fill such a large space. Those will in all likelihood be representative of the quieter... more planned canvas. Never the less... they will always find reference to a sketch deriving from earlier field work... either in oil, ink or pencil media. Such is the case for my current work in progress... a largish 24 x 30 inch gallery wrapped canvas which I have already entitled... " Morning Comes... Delta Mill".

The "Idea" originates from an ink rendering dated May 10th, 2013. It was cloudy and cool... as is noted on the sketch and I was waiting in Delta for Deb to come out of a day long conference. I parked in the parking lot near this beautifully restored and now fully operative grist and flour mill. I could not resist the urge to sketch it in fuller detail than is usually the case.

Perhaps my reason then  was that I foresaw this day and an opportunity to take the "Idea" to a larger plane... or carry the enjoyable conversation forward to share it with "more elegance". Or perhaps... I simply wished to acknowledge the original gift of a now vanished builder and owner... and as well the magnificent gift of heritage that a dedicated committee and small community had made possible for future generations... and "Me" to enjoy... and paint!

Depicted here are the stages that I have moved through to this point in the process. I feel that this certainly resonates clearly what I have tried to describe above in terms of my painting mission... my process and my clear desire to converse... to dialogue... with those who as well feel blessed... and cherish this beautiful Natural World... and Our Eden.

In closing out today's post... I urge that denying our responsibility for stewardship... we do not merely deface and misuse the land... we diminish our future here... and that of our children. Something to think about dear Friends!

Plein air ink rendering serves as one of the original references used to commence this larger painting. Note that I have swung the vantage point intentionally more to a fully three quarter view... to eliminate a feeling of looking directly down the mill race... the rear building taking away the prominence and impressive and more accurate scale of the mill building itself.

Day One - The Drawing Process

As is most always my starting point... the canvas is first toned with acrylic burnt sienna. The drawing was completed carefully in vine charcoal... allowing the substantial "playing around" and correction that was necessary to arrive at this finished drawing. I still wasn't certain at first that I would proceed... the building seemed to loom so. I finally decided I neither could erase a full day's work... nor abandon the "Idea" that had been kicking around in my head since 2013. Dive in!.....

Day Two - Lay in of Basic Color

I glazed in all of the areas using a soft squirrel hair brush with approximate values of transparent color until all areas were somewhat covered but not opaquely in  all areas.

Day Three - Modelling the Stonework of the Mill

My main goal was to create a feeling of the magnificent stonework... without painting it hyper-realistically replicating every stone in the process. I first lowered intensity of the light on the stonework by covering its entirety with a very thin wash of reddish orange... giving it a reddish glow to approximate the early morning light that I wished to portray. I then changed hue... value and lighting of individual stones to create the shadow and light interplay on the walls

Next I did a bit of light on shadows on the snow around the base of the mill. I ended the session by adjusting the first sky covering in the direction I wished to go across the entire area of the sky and then added darks to the evergreens to the left... adding sky holes as I felt they were needed.

I will continue the process of building more detail and finish gradually across the entire painting surface... moving randomly as I feel the urge to increase the level of finish. Still much to be accomplished! But I am happy with the outcome at this point.... glad of my decision to forge ahead... and not give up!

Stay tuned... I'll post further change!

Good Painting!... to ALL!


  1. Hi Bruce, I think you were right to turn the view a bit: there is a much better feeling of the bulk of the building. I like the light on the upper part as well, allowing the mill race to disappear into the shade.

    This should look impressive in the exhibition, and will be another piece of St. Lawrence heritage 'backed-up' for posterity.

    All the best,

  2. Good morning Keith!... Thank you for your thoughtful... and insightful remarks and evaluations of the painting! I very much appreciate your "stamp of approval"... because I greatly admire and value your own works and preservation principles.

    This painting... in all likelihood will find itself hung on the "main" wall" ... a retained inner limestone stone wall... how very appropriate!

    I very much enjoyed the challenge(s) and joy in painting it ... and there is now room... for yet another painting "Idea". That is the "Weekly Challenge" that I choose to adhere to. Something based on ideas and thoughts that are begging to be released from within "Me".

    Thanks for taking the time to drop by and comment!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,