Monday, September 28, 2015

One Boy's Journey... Home

In this post, I will endeavour to answer the series of five questions that were posed to me to be used in the Patience Brewster project. On the surface, the questions seemed simple to respond to in a succinct and direct fashion. However... in sitting here at the keyboard endeavouring to do so, I found my thoughts flitting like a hummingbird from flower to flower to gather the pollen of inspiration in order to complete the task in a direct way.

The questions when taken in context together form "a [very] long and winding road" for me. They represent my lifetime journey as both a person and an artist. The two... in my mind are inseparable because I cannot remember not painting... or thinking about it. My earliest childhood memories are constructed of visual related memories and stories that are vivid to me today as they were when they occurred. 

                                    "Me" at four years "sketching".... en plein air... Donnie busy colouring

I have decide to try and answer Marietta's questions using both "voices" to further demonstrate how I arrived on this magnificent seventy-year odyssey at "The Now".

1. As a child, do you recall a significant moment when you felt truly inspired by any particular artwork or artist?

This painting illustration by NC Wyeth from The Last of the Mohicans is the significant image that sticks out in my mind as having had a first and lasting impact upon "Me". I discovered it within the well-worn pages of a discarded  Department of Education High School textbook entitled World and Ancient History. I don't know why it remained in our home... but it did. I held on to it until we moved back to the river four years ago.

In another section of that same history text was the black and white photograph of the classical Greek statue of Laocoon and his sons battling with the great serpent. That image so captivated me ... even at this early age that I chose to replicate in a pencil drawing to earn my Cub Scout Artist's badge at age eight. I still have that drawing... somewhere in my reliquary of early art... which my mother saved for me.

I was as well inspired by my elder brother who was a whiz with a pencil, cranking out copies of GI Joe and Tarzan figures from the weekend funnies. His early influence was to continue as we grew up together... well into my teens and early art years. That common art path would cease in these latter years. Ego and competition seemed to get in the way... for him at least. Too bad for us both! I miss him.

The Fight in the Forest - NC Wyeth
illustration from The Last of the Mohicans

The iconic Classical Greek statue of Laocoon and His Sons

                                             The Canadian classic book Paddle-to-the-Sea

Another source of inspiration for me has always been my books... most with accompanying pictures. One that was a particular favourite was the Canadian youth classic Paddle-to-the-Sea. I still own a well-thumbed copy of that special book. The heightened sense of adventure and inspiring love for my Great Lakes home that this book gave me has followed me throughout my entire life... and remains.

Ironically... Paddle-to-the-Sea's long and dangerous journey very closely approximates my own life story in many ways. It is a tale of adventures, dangers and survival... thanks to the kindnesses of many people who followed us both on our separate journeys. It is indeed a veritable template for most lives and journeys... Life really.

2. As an artist, what do you hope to convey with your work?

During the seventies and eighties, when I was a pure water colourist my role models were The Wyeths (especially Andrew) and Canadian water colourist Ken Danby. What attracted me to the work of these realist masters was the common fact that each conveyed that use of the same narrative essence as was portrayed vividly for me as a child in The Fight in the Forest, Laocoon and Paddle-to-the-Sea.

It is the strong inner need to present that narrative in paint which continues to fuel my interest as an artist-communicator. That remains for me a seminal goal in my painting process. I hope that my paintings always invite conversation with my viewers. Slick techniques at the expense of the other goal greatly diminish viewer involvement, simply because the painting becomes a monologue... rather than an opportunity to dialogue. Above all, I aim for storytelling as opposed to simply creating "pretty pictures".

 3. What memorable responses have you had to your work?

The most memorable... and personally treasured responses to my work generally can be attributed to children. I value their evaluations and responses greatly. I do so, because they are pure and they "see" what adults miss because their minds and opinions are uncluttered by detail or biases. Generally... their appreciation is purely based upon how things strike them - pure and simple.

I very much value my family members' opinions because they have seen and understand the broad spectrum of my work as it has developed and changed. Their critical opinion again has no need to prop me up. They are always encouraging me to grow further. My children or spouse asking to own one of my pieces of work is my greatest compliment.... and I always offer it to them because it has strong meaning for them and forever connects them to "Me".

The Important Role of Mentors

My parents were my greatest mentors They encouraged through the examples they presented in the way they led their lives. They were hard working... loving ... generous and sacrificing individuals. Each of them added an art they practised in their separate lives. My Dad was a pianist- musician extraordinaire who loved the music he played and shared during his lifetime. All Shermans have had that gift passed to them... and they value it greatly in their own lives.

"Thank You... For the Music" - oil on panel - 14x11 inches

My Mom was a "domestic engineer" of the highest order. She produced special event meals and decorated tables for every occasion. She knitted, crocheted, preserved and crafted every hour of her spare time... and late into the night to make clothing and gifts for us all. She hiked with us every Sunday after church... and toted along all other neighbour children wishing to go with us.

Her greatest gift however... was to take on a clerking job to singlehandedly make possible the purchase of our family cottage here on the river that we all love so dearly. That single gift transformed my life forever. That gift of the River formed the very crucible which forged my artistic journey... and it continues to this day. 

A simple cottage... heated by wood stoves and a granite fireplace... plunked centrally in an Eden of Island beauty and adventure. What a Huckleberry Finn story!

Many teachers were mentors to me and their words of encouragement have followed and guided me to today. One in particular was my Grade four teacher, Miss Evelyn Mott. This rotund and usually very stern and much-feared "marm" hugged and encouraged me to look at the world I lived in with passion and discretion. She even  alluded to the distinct possibility... that I could make a living with my art... if I chose to work at it. I have never forgotten... or doubted that sentence whispered in my ear so many years ago now. Nor have I ever forgotten her love... her kindness... or her faith in my artistic potential.

This painting I made for my dear Mom is a tribute to this rare mentor and friend. I shall never forget "Her"..... This is my desk in her classroom painted from memory. It is a narrative... a story of one small boy's journey and the impact that one caring teacher had upon his life... and the lives of the many students he had in his care during his twenty-seven years of teaching. Love passes forward!

                                              "Love ... is" - acrylic on panel 14x11 inches

In high school, I met another rotund Falstaffian mentor Donald Taylor. He was my English teacher and  introduced me to literature as well as testing my writing mettle. Robert Frost and Death of a Hired Hand led me into a lifelong passion for the type of woodsy narrative prose and poetry which Frost's genre defines. This mentor really defined and cultivated my ongoing incorporation of prose and poetry in my painting and thinking processes.

4. What is your dream project?

My dream project is to create a children's book which creates a simple narrative that any creative-minded child might understand to help guide and encourage their journey.

5. What artists, of any medium, do you admire? (famous or not)


I admire the iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson's ruggedly authentic Algonquin Park landscape interpretations and his wonderful use of light and colour. I deeply admire AJ Casson's design and unparalleled use of greens in both oil and watercolour. I still admire NC Wyeth's book illustrations and the soulfulness and honesty of Andy Wyeth's in such watercolour projects as Kuerner's. I admire the story telling narrative of the fifty odd gouache illustrations that Clarence Gagnon created in his fifty -five small paintings that chronicled everyday Quebecois peasant life in the book Marie Chapdelaine.


I greatly admire the marbles of Michelangelo and Bernini for their evocative and deeply humanistic rendering. I on the other hand deeply admire the natural beauty of the ancient Haida totem carvers of British Columbia and the goldsmithing in native traditions of Canadian the late master Bill Reid.

In closing...

Clearly, I am driven and inspired by my Canadian heritage and the artists who interpreted that same landscape and tradition. If I had any advice to offer other individuals in the pursuit of their own craft, it would be to simply paint what you have a passion for... from your own heart and in your own terms.

Do take the time to visit the website . You will discover that her journey... though different... runs strikingly parallel to your own. In particular, check out her ornaments and blog sections while you are visiting the site. My deepest thanks to Patience Brewster, for encouraging me to share my journey.

I am at odds however... to see the relationship if any that my post has in doing more than hosting Patience Brewster on my site. I had felt that there would be a reciprocal sharing/linking in both directions??? HMMMM...

Their intention to encourage sharing with other artists is met.... however, I feel that I have always had those bases covered prior to this particular post. If any of you are curious and feel inclined to follow suit.... do feel free to get in touch by contacting the folks at Patience Brewster for further details.

Good Fall Painting!... to ALL!!!

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