Thursday, January 15, 2015

Independently Discovering One's Voice - A Journey... NOT... A Destination

While the noun "voice" is generally attributed to sounds made either when speaking or singing...  it also is used to describe the personal expression of a painter or artist which makes his or her work unique from others. Even inanimate objects... musical instruments such as a violin are often referred to in terms of their unique sound aka "voice". Voice can also be used to describe the collective opinion, or position of a group ie. the "voice" of a nation.

It is the clear desire of all human beings to discover a voice... or vehicle of expression to comfortably and confidently represent their feelings and thereby earn a modicum of group approval for their views, opinions and talents. We need only examine how each of us has acquired vocalization skills with which we express our ideas... thoughts... wishes and needs.

Acquiring A Working Vocabulary to Begin

Babies learn to speak and "read" human behaviour as it is presented to them by their parents and siblings. It commences with them creating mimicking sounds which approximate the word sounds. Gradually... their brain development and manipulation of vocal cords and tongue lead to success with rudimentary oral expression. Necessary blocks of vocabulary slowly emerge... beginning of course with Mum and DA-DA... the primary caregivers... siblings ... pets and food.

The need to advance those newly acquired oral verbal skills suddenly leads to an interest in printing letters... if only those that identify themselves with awkward scribbles and personally created "symbols". These first glimpses of human ability to express ideas in symbolic language mark a pivotal point in child development. Eventually... as more learning and practice is acquired... and success recognized...l skill using written language can potentially deliver an inspired and prolific writer to a "best seller" status.

Setting Reliable Goals and Expectations For Success

The truth of the matter is however... that most of us cannot hope to reach these iconic levels. Such fortune is based upon the presence of a primary "gift" and is combined with an obsessive-compulsive drive to succeed... for interior gratification. We can hardly call  ourselves successful "artists"... "musicians" ... "actors"... "dancers"... "novelists"... etc. Though we struggle and do improve greatly, we are mere hobbyists in comparison.

Realizing this fact is not by any means a put down... nor should it discourage any of us from continuing to grow as we are able in concert with our separate daily lives and responsibilities. Most off us essentially create for the right reasons. We enjoy the process of creation... and it adds purpose and pleasure to our lives. That is all that should matter!

I have hovered painfully over the writing and rewriting this post for too long. I even considered deleting it entirely. But I felt it necessary to share this view... and perhaps a glimpse of my own journey to further encourage other enthusiasts to continue their struggles and enjoyment of creator ship. Following my journey point-by-point would go against what I believe and practise. I choose simply offer some guides and sign posts that I discovered along the way... upon which to hitch your own star.

Assuming the Responsibility For Personal Growth and Development

Like most of you, I am self-taught. I have combined my art within my teaching career and it has carried into our tight family relationships. I do have a university degree in art history and within those studies, I took several studio courses and was fortunate enough to have even studied and painted briefly in Europe. Basically, however my painting voice and process are built from thirty odd years of plein air and studio painting.. and a predilection to paint that dates back to earliest childhood.

Value of Mentor ship in Learning

I have indeed had many mentor-friends to whom I owe much in my growth and development as a painter. I as well had inspiring teachers and peers in my school experience who added much to my human development and success in the world. I owe them much... and never forget that fact or their gifts. But again... I contend that I alone am responsible for my current place... good and bad in life and in the world. I have never copied or patterned my own forms of expression or opinions upon that of a group opinion ...or mentor..real... or virtual.

The Importance and Value of Reading and Books

I have read continuously... and enjoy a varied taste for books. I love history and heritage-related books, philosophy, natural science, poetry, autobiographical novels and short stories. I have a very large collection of art-related hard covered books. Many are of the "how to" genre and really... now just gather dust and take up space. They are soon to be purged. Their value was useful to gain basic understanding  ... but soon lost value in further directing my interest or my growth. What I will retain... and read and re-read are certain what I call "Bibles" - works by iconic artists to include those written by the American and Canadian individuals.

If your medium is water colour... then my recommended "go to" book would be "Making Your Paintings Work" by American Philip Jamison. It brilliantly bridges actual painting techniques with his painting philosophy... and with a heaping and helpful side dish of pencil sketching tips.

If you wish a foundation course in landscape painting techniques, materials, valuable lessons in drawing and perspective and a concise overall in painting for all mediums... then one need look no further than (John) "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting." It was my first purchase in my painting journey... and it still is at hand and used often near my easel and computer desk. It is an indispensable tool for any beginning painter.

My favourite book of all at this particular part of my journey is "A. T. Hibbard - An Artist in Two Worlds" by John L. Cooley for The Rockport (Maine) Art Association. Though scant in colour reproductions of his work... the few masterpieces shown and the compendium of knowledge that is shared in regards to how he conducted his painting and personal lives leave one in awe of his stature and wisdom. I try every day to read some part of his book and particularly about five well worn pages which help remind me about the value of  .... Dedication... Discipline... Original Thought... Experimentation... Plein Air Work... Sketching.... The list is endless. It is a MUST for any painter in any medium.

I have recently been offered a solo show at The Glass House Studio and Gallery in Kingston, Ontario and have accepted the honour... and the weighty responsibility that goes along with my decision. I have walked this path many times over my career. Each undertaking advanced me as an artist... and led to new directions for me in my ongoing quest to discover and refine my painting "voice". I embrace the task with joy... but a certain mount of trepidation... though that pressure does not come from the gallery owners. It comes ... as always...  from within "Me".

Challenge means Change!... and Sacrifice!

I would like to share my first painting just created... explicitly for the show. It is a smallish 20x16 inch canvas which has its origin from my many plein air experiences at Ivy Lea Park painting refuge. I decided upon this subject simply because I enter the process in a complete state of joy... and understanding of my subject - the Canadian Shield landscape. I am offering this as an example of how my process and thinking parallels Hibbard's. Hopefully... by including some direct quotes from those precious five pages within his book you will be understand the significance of his influence in aiding my own self-directed journey.

"Sun... Snow... Silence... and Solitude" - oil on canvas 20x16 inches

Here are some direct quotes from Hibbard's book... pages 151-155 which I feel are visibly present in this painting.

"The first fundamental is drawing."

"Composition and design are everything."

"In the early days I tried to put everything into a picture I saw. But I soon learned to leave many things out."

"Nature, of course is the basic reference."

"Avoid using Nature photographically. Many adjustments re usually necessary."

"The foreground of your picture should be the lead-in to what  beyond."

"Focus on the dominant part of your subject, whether sky, distance, middle distance, or foreground."

"Be honest in your own conviction about art- and more power to you!"

"Be yourself. Don't make the mistake of trying to imitate another's work!

In closing out this post today, I genuinely hope that my blog continues to empower and inspire each of you to reach out... and become the best you can be. Read voraciously... visit exhibitions... experiment with as many mediums as you find interesting to your own tastes PAINT!... PAINT!... PAINT!... Inside and ut!

Avoid being drawn too heavily into competing in challenges decreed by others. The most worthwhile personal learning comes from discoveries made... while you are "captains" of your own Destiny...  steering your own vessel with excitement and confidence.

You possess a unique... one-of-a-kind "voice".... no matter how you value its strength or quality. Let it be heard... and seen. You might be truly surprised when it is added to the "choir" of artists who share this magnificent art journey!

Good Painting!... and fair winds!... to ALL!!

Stay tuned... for new additions as they emerge.....


  1. Bruce, Thank you for a lovely blog post. Painting is so much more than the act of applying paint to surface. I started out four years ago with the simple challenge to myself to improve my painting ability. One thing led to another and I started trying to sell them which led to a bad gallery experience. I have only made one painting in the last 16 months. Your post has inspired me to maybe return to my original reason to paint. To enjoy the process and challenge myself. Thank you.

  2. Dear Karla.... Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment!

    NEVER!.. lose faith in your Self ! If you honour that Self... and trust that Self implicitly in everything that you undertake in your life... you will maintain your esteem and the basic energy that propels each of us through daily life.

    I cannot begin to relate to you...the number of "bad experiences" I have endured in my own career. The proof I offer as solice and encouragement to that if you continue to believe... be dedicated in developing your painting skills... that you will be rewarded. It comes when you least expect it!

    It inspires "Me"... that my words and blog inspire you to reach out yet again. My own mantra works like this:

    Me"... enabling "You".. to enable "Me" - a continuous circle of sharing. Pass it forward... in the form of your own unique and important "Voice"

    Please stay in touch and let me know how you are doing!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Thank you, Bruce, for this very insightful and informative posting, and for sharing your painting (congratulations on the upcoming show). Happy painting in 2015!

  4. Good evening Rhonda!... Thanks for visiting and for sharing your complimentary comments!

    Glad that you found the post informative and useful.

    Continued Good Painting to you in 2015!

    Warmest regards,

  5. Beautiful painting Bruce. I had a look at the gallery where you have been invited to exhibit online and I think it is a lovely place, all the best for that! I have just ordered the watercolour book you recommend by Philip Jamison and look forward to that arriving soon! Carlson is wonderful isn't he I always have his book to hand in my study and have never forgotten his notes on the different colours that appear in the sky in the different parts of it. So much to reread and learn! it is a constant thing! A great post laddie!

  6. A very thoughtful and quite personal post, Bruce, and very much appreciated. Congratulations on the show - if that first painting is a harbinger, it will be a smashing success!

  7. Good morning Lass!... Sorry for the late reply... but I have been off line for a few days... I purchased a new computer. You know the drill on this event HA HA!!

    Finally have it all figured out (for now).

    You will not be disappointed with your Jamison "Bible" purchase Caroline. I read and re-read whenever I need inspiration and a break from my usual fare! It will join Carlson in your favorites... I' m certain!

    Glad that you enjoyed the post!

    Good Painting... and reading!
    Warmest regards,

    1. Hi Bruce, the Jamison 'Bible' arrived yesterday and it has lots to read and of great interest. I do like his almost monochromatic watercolour landscapes they really are moody. Many thanks again Bruce for letting me know about this wonderful book.

  8. Hello there Susan!... Thanks for dropping by and leaving this encouraging comment!

    I am really looking forward to building the exhibition... and am already underway with it!

    Stay tuned...

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  9. Thanks for visiting and for your gracious and encouraging comment Karen! Hope that you are able to get in some winter plein airing... the cold weather has put the brakes on that for most folks... including me for the last few weeks.

    No matter... I'm up to my hubcaps in painting larger format stuff for my show! Hope to get out there after the latest which bis drawing rapidly to a close.

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  10. Good evening Susan!... For some reason????... my earlier response to your comment didn't appear. Strange!

    Like you... it will be nose to the grindstone to meet the show deadlines! I know that you show will yield new... exciting and higher opportunities! Good Luck with preparations for it!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,