Sunday, June 21, 2015

Shades of Meaning

It is indeed strange as I look back over my life, how closely my journey has imitated the very process that we as artists employ in creating our paintings. The term shade, in painting usually refers to the amount of darkness, or absence of light in colour choices. The increase or lessening of colour by degrees. But by dictionary usage and definition the term can also be used to describe less than honest or entirely legal dealings, or places out of direct sunlight.... indeed shades of meaning

During the earlier course of my journey, I had been socially conditioned to believe that Life... and Truth were simply measured either in black or white. In my mind, I had (mistakenly) been led to believe that there were no grey areas... areas that were neither black or white. This system of belief and practice led me to become an individual suffering greatly from a too large dose of (in my therapist's words)... "self-righteous indignation." Such a position made me too critical of the opinions and practices of those around me... and such an outlook... has more often been more crippling to my own growth than theirs. I continue to work on my achilles... daily.

In Life ... as in painting... black n' white will continue to always play a significant and necessary role in determining positive outcomes for us. In my own painting process... the concentration of black (dark) in conjunction with the white (light) determines my main subject of interest. It is my usual habit... particularly when painting en plein air to establish this area first. I do so because lighting changes so rapidly and that often is what I'm chasing.

However... I have come to realize that this important area of central focus is wholly dependent upon the harmony created by the grey, or middle value areas... which combine to form roughly seventy-five per cent of the entire picture plane. The same holds true... I have discovered... holds true as well for both Life and Truth. This realization and a conscious effort to work with that reality has resulted in a more peaceful and less stressful journey for "Me"... and those loved ones who travel in parallel journeys with me.
"Still waters...."

I delivered the small oil sketch "Lilac Liturgy, Barriefield Village" to Allison. She was over the moon with it... as were Deb and Joan. Allison felt that it signified a very significant shift in my working method... as did Deb. All three commented that they would really like to see me push forward with my next works in a similar fashion. That would be easy really because you see... "I" was simply playing. Trying hard to leave in the background, the recent fear and deepening sadness that had quite literally paralyzed me and stopped my painting rituals.

Interpreting... "Imagineering" and Applying the term "Shades of Meaning"

As is my customary strategy to determine "what" I paint, I walked about my village and ended up... as I often do at St Brendan's Roman Catholic Church. It sits prominently perched high overlooking Rockport Harbour overlooking a vast vista of the Islands and the River that I so cherish. It is a refuge for me... though I am not at all catholic... or anything else by religious pedigree. I do share the same God and His Creation.. in this Manitouana / Eden - First People's name for "Garden of the Gods". It is indeed that!

I decided to research my vast digital library for reference ideas with which I could begin my next painting... "St Brendan's Church". I found a particularly interesting fall image, one that I felt that offered enough new colour challenges so that I didn't come up with yet another "Basking in Summer" rendition from two summers ago.

I decided to bring up the table top set up I had made from the downstairs studio, so that I could paint and manage the Gallery while Deb was away at a meeting for the day. It had a plein air feel to it too... so that added further incentive - and great light!

I sat looking at the white 10 x12 inch canvas for quite a long while... again "playing" with ideas that came and went until at last... I placed the canvas in a vertical format to address the height of the church with its central steeple and bell tower. I decided to begin the exercise purely in between black and white... using a mars black acrylic on top of the stark white of the canvas.

I simply painted the areas of the photo reference that appeared dark a solid black this left me with patterns of black  scattered across the picture plane.

This is my comfortable table top set up... it sure does make painting a breeze either here in the gallery or inside at my computer station.

Stage One - This is a closeup of the first blocking in stage... which took less than five minutes because I let the paint and brush do what they wished... an intuitive and indirect approach contrary to one which dictates accuracy. I really didn't know where this segue would lead.

Stage Two - I decided to use a mid grey acrylic pigment to fill in white areas that seemed to be in 
middle values and I purposely allowed the grey and black to run together. I created very transparent mixtures of grey wash and applied them lightly to the sky and white clapboard areas of the church structure What resulted was basically a notan sketch... or grisaille painting in shades of black.

Stage Three - During this stage, I gingerly began adding rock structure using short, dash-like brushstrokes in the most common colour depicted in the rocks in the reference photo. I then added very dark green areas where they appeared in the rock face, water and in the tree areas in the upper left and right. I added some darkened values to the roof of the church. I dashed in a slash of blue sky and introduced some white into the (imagined) cloud areas. 

I then added in the red sumac foliage in a purely summary fashion... along with golds and yellows in the tree areas. Finally... having reached a point where the entire canvas was covered, I took a break for lunch and went away from the painting entirely. That break actually was carried over until the next morning to avoid getting caught up in the unwanted addition extraneous detail.

Closing Act - I promised myself that I would resist any attempt to overwork the piece and in so doing lose the fresh and painterly look that I had earlier tried to achieve by taking a previously untravelled path. I added slightly higher and brighter accents to my reds and greens. I closed out the activity with a few slashes of sky reflection in the very dark water passage and a few choice sky holes in the foliage to add depth and interest. Last addition was the much-photographed statue "Queen of Peace" lovingly holding the baby Jesus... located centrally beside the entrance door to the church. It is but a few strokes... but is present.

A final comparison to the reference above... and the finished piece in isolation below. Mission accomplished. A fun day of purely playing that pushed me further away from the "blackness" that threatened and had put my creative spirit/ soul "in the shade".... out of the Light that is so necessary and precious to finding and maintaining peace and happiness.

 I think that the Faith and Hope that I placed in using this technique to create new meaning for my painting through a slightly different perspective serves to underscore as well... that Darkness, in whatever form it may take in our lives... can be overcome simply through Faith. NO... not "blind faith", as some refer to it. Capital "F" Faith - a strongly held Faith and communion between  a Higher Power... and one's Self.  I activate and meditate every morning at 5:00 am... not just to ask for... but to offer thanks for the copious blessings that I have received here in my Manitouana.

"Hope is not a way around things... it' s a way through things. "We"... are making our way as a family through this period of mutual darkness hand in hand... heart beside heart. I will continue to paint and post regularly. That was Allison's wish and I will honour that. "Art Matters!"

Here is the the unusual source revealed by the Universe which triggered the substance of this post...
and this painting.

"Say what you mean.... Mean what you say! HA HA!

                               River Blessings, St Brendan's Church, Rockport in Autumn'
"Oil on canvas- 12 x 10 inches

In closing..."Keep smiling!"An appropriate phrase on which to end this post. It was a phrase on a card that was tackboard in my Dad's "Inner Sanctum". Thank you for the many blessings that you brought into my life during our time together.  I miss"You" Dad... but you are with "Me"... always!

Happy Father's Day up there!

Happy Painting... and Father's day!... to ALL... of my blogging men Friends!


  1. Happy Father's Day, Bruce and thank you for continuing to post and paint through this shadowy time. The painting has a light and is a real gift, as if your honest comments about your self-righteous indignation (a character flaw I continuously try to work on, too). May the joy of painting never leave you.

  2. Thanks Rhonda for visiting and commenting so generously as well!

    Self-righteous indignation is a shared flaw of most human beings.. if they dare to be honest. In the face of what is happening societally around the world... I question whether or not my indignant response to the growing cruelty... hatred and chaos such as witnessed in Charleston isn't in some fashion fuelled by it... and warranted.

    I wonder...but I'Il keep trying... on my end. Posting and painting do ameliorate my own focus on it!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Churches are so inspirational to paint and that one is particularly beautiful. You have painted it so well!

  4. Good morning Rolina!... Thanks for dropping by and for taking the time to leave your encouraging comments!

    Spires are talismans for "Me". They continually search for Light... ever reaching for a "Higher Truth"... and soar towards the deep and ever-mysterious Universe!

    I think you and I both "understand" these things!

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

  5. Well done Bruce for pushing on through a difficult day. It is hard to make that start on a painting when we feel sad, yet is always so well worth while once the painting is done. Your church painting is fresh and pretty looking with a feeling of sunshine days that we can only wish for here in Scotland, yep it is still raining! take care of yourself and thanks for keeping in touch with us all here in blogging land. best wishes Caroline

  6. Hi Bruce - so true, in life as in art, it's the grey areas that are interesting!

    I like the technique; the early stages almost have watercolour quality, by letting the brush and paint find their own way. I love the finished painting, especially the river: it looks beautifully transparent, at the same time as it reflects those subtle colours.

    All the best,

  7. Hi there Lass! Good to hear from you! It was a beautifully sunny day... an absolutely splendid first day of summer here in the these beautiful Thousand Islands. St Brendan's Church with its spectacular vantage point looking over the River remains a special place for me to paint and to visit. Matter of fact... I'll be heading up there right after this post to you.

    Deb and I enjoyed a wonderful Father's Day spent with Allison and her Mom Joan and my other daughter Lisa. It was truly uplifting for us all. The laughter and camaraderie washed away the sadness and worry... replacing it with the true loving spirit that we all share.

    I am deeply blessed Caroline... as a Father and Husband! Thank you for your presence and kind words of encouragement and friendship. They mean a lot to me!

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

  8. Good evening Keith!... Yes we do travel the same path... share the same philosophy about life and family. As well... our commonly shared deeply held respect for history and responsible stewardship enjoin us. I am so grateful for our friendship Keith and so value your comments and wisdom.

    Glad too, that my new rendition of St Brendan's pleased you!

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

  9. How stunning, Bruce!!! Your work is always magical to me. I too have always been a black and white kind of girl. I'm working on discovering the grays...

  10. Thanks for your always encouraging visits and comments Sherry!

    Believe me... "black n' white is easy" for us all. Unfortunately it is the deciphering of the myriads of "greys" and values in painting... or in life that yield the most potential for harmony and happiness. Discover how to make use of those... and life becomes much more joyful.

    Good luck with your own adventures!

    Warmest regards... and Happy Summer!