Sunday, June 5, 2016

Learning from the Classics...

Ironically, all "classics" in every in every human discipline were once new and every master in each of these disciplines was once a beginner. Therein lies the first lesson to be learned from classical study:
Exceptional skill and excellence develop in relationship to time spent practicing and in an unwavering persistence and desire to grow.

A small few may be blessed with an innate "gift" in a particular discipline that may accelerate growth and development early in life. But most of us must independently search out and discover our own passion and pursue it doggedly under our own steam. It becomes a lifetime pursuit that often must be blended with securing an education... raising families and earning a livelihood.

Often, this pilgrimage leads right through our entire lives and if we are fortunate, we meet special people along the journey who encourage and facilitate our growth. Sometimes, we actually meet these individuals/mentors personally and their presence enriches our artistic lives exponentially. In other cases, we "meet" these influences through books that we read... in instructional dvds or through online contact on social media sites like Blogger.

However, it must be said that the largest responsibility for personal growth in any discipline lies squarely in the hands of each individual. Self-education and determination remain the greatest single factors for personal growth. It's like following a "pick-a-path" basal readers approach where choices must be made based upon intuition and personal interest. Outcomes are dependent upon those singular choices... and outcomes vary greatly among participants.

I would like to share some of the choices that I made along the way in arriving where I now find myself.

Like most of you, and out of pure economic necessity... I was an ardent pencil n' paper freak in my earliest years. Art education opportunities were very limited in my community, but I was blessed to have had two teachers in elementary school who did nurture my artistic spirit and did affect great change and further searching that remained with me throughout my entire life.

I basically taught myself to draw and from late adolescence onward, I read and voraciously developed that skill at every opportunity in many sketchbooks. I moved to oil paint in my teens briefly, but abandoned it until after I was married. That interest was revived by the chance discovery of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg ON. This fateful introduction led me to resume my study of The Canadian Group of Seven members' work and that journey continues right  up to now.

I began my "home education" at a kitchen table after putting my children to bed and vigorously copied paintings by Thomson and AY Jackson. I found their paintings easy to read because of their textural and lyrical treatment of line and color. Both were designers by trade, so that composition was obvious and textbook in quality.

I learned my lessons quickly... and at my own speed. Jackson was a master in collecting pencil sketches on location and translating them later into fine studio paintings. I greatly admired their mutual need to paint outdoors. I believe that I was very much in tune
with Thomson's moody and restless nature then. That remains unchanged today.

Within the body of work that the Seven produced are monuments that remain as pivotal influences in my own searching. "At the Maple's Edge" and "Scarlet Maple" by Jackson are two of these. "Northern River" and "Jack Pine" from Thomson's oeuvre are two others of particular weight and significance for me.

"At the Maple's Edge" - AY Jackson

                                                   "Scarlet  Maple" - AY Jackson

The rich color and light in Jackson's outdoor painting and his loose, shorthand style of sketching both bear testimony to his designer strength... strong composition and pictorial design. His draftsmanship, though dramatically downplayed to facilitate his painterly style and outdoor preference... nonetheless clearly demonstrate his drawing ability. You can also find within the sketch... color notes and numerals from 1-10. Therefore bs 6 would later mean burnt sienna value of six in the studio and guided his own color choices later in the studio.

     "Pencil sketch of Quebec from "AY' s Canada"

It was Thomson's seminal studio masterpieces before his untimely end however, that continue to haunt me with their magical tapestry-like patterns of light and color. I feel that his work possesses a kaleidoscopic quality - never static... always shifting as your eye in an ever moving search across and around the canvas.

His field sketches seemed simple and honest... and yet, in his final years there was a reaching out... a searching to re translate the ordinariness of the landscape before him into a surreal and deeply personal new reality. Sadly, his life ended tragically and far too soon for us to ever fully comprehend where his journey might have taken him.... and us as Canadian artists.

My favorites of his studio masterpieces were "Jack Pine"... an Art Nouveau influenced canvas for certain and "Northern River" first painted in Algonquin as a sketch and then adapted in a larger and more finished canvas format in the studio during winter. This painting more closely follows the tradition of his plein air studies and panels painted as he tripped about Algonquin Park fishing, canoeing and painting alone in his canoe. Perhaps... "He" and "I" shared deeper similarities... and inner secrets... beyond making art...

I wonder...

"Jack Pine" a very large canvas in Art Nouveau decoration and light. It bears a strong similarity to stained glass produced by Tiffany and the like working in the same time period.

"Northern River" is a canvas that has periodically entered and re-entered my life since elementary school. A large silk screen version which hung in my elementary school across from my grade four room now hangs in my bedroom. It continues to add pleasure every day that I look at it.... and draws me to Algonquin... and back to Thomson each time that my eye picks it up.

I believe that we as artists are sponges of a sort. We absorb and carry the juice and energy of things and events we experience and value... long after they have passed by. I believe that this image bears this out and I will try to share my reasons with you... in paint.

I painted this 30 x 24 inch canvas in 2009 in Algonquin Park on Opeongo Creek. The golden light and mood reminded me...somewhat of Northern River. I wondered at the time... could this be the same spot... one hundred years later? Just an uncanny feeling...

I still wonder...

As the years passed and the canvas hung about... I became increasingly uneasy with the painting. One morning last week, I thought that I would see what happened if I pushed forward with an experiment to see how much I would need to change my painting to match Thomson's effort... without setting out to fully copy it.

I lessened that possibility by intentionally limiting my palette to cadmium red, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow light, burnt umber and of course titanium white. I laid in some guide lines with a large stick of vine charcoal and set to work... using only two brushes... a one half inch bristle and a quarter inch bristle... start to finish.

I will let these pictorial records of my painting process do the talking now and you take care of the reading... and deciding.

"Northern River" by Tom Thomson

                                             "Evening Quietude"- Opeongo Creek (2009)
                                                             oil on 30x24 inch canvas

Charcoal "mapping" - note intentionally compositional deviations in trees... especially the serpentine spruce

   One hour lay in with one brush and left overnight to reconsider and dry

Finished... and as yet... unsigned... What to do????

The exercise in my mind supports my belief that we assimilate knowledge from things that resonate within us... or that we are attracted to and admire from everywhere in the world that we visit. I am the combined product of a healthy and supportive middle class upbringing, a university education experience... and the "School of Life".

However...  I continue to deeply believe that "significant others"... and their work have presented me with huge influences and opportunities to learn from. It is this belief that continues to fuel my own desire to blog and post my thoughts... process and paintings to share with those who might think as I do. It is my way to pass forward the kindnesses that were bestowed upon me generously during my own journey.

Take what you will from my ideas and put it with your own. Perhaps. One idea might transform your own thinking..,. and give you new direction in your own. One voice can become a choir when combined with others who dare to believe... and act in unison! Dare to dream! Join with me!

Good Painting!... to ALL!!!


  1. A very interesting read, I can see why you were inspired and admired Thomson's work, beautiful. I really like your last painting inspired by him, the foreground is brilliant and I like the way the trees on the right have been softened. Please sign it, it's perfect!

  2. Good evening Diana!... Thank you ever so much for your encouraging remarks and for taking the time to read the post.

    It is exactly because of artists I admire like yourself that I continue to share my thoughts and process using this blog. We can learn so much from each other... and can inspire others on their journey.

    Thank you so much again for your uplifdtinmg response!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. I think you may be done Bruce. That was a nice transition into the finished piece. Give it some mantle time but it will stand up as is!

  4. Hi there Karen!... Good to hear from you!

    Yup!... I truly enjoyed painting it and was really surpried how small the changes needsed to be to transition from the original to Tom's wonderful version.

    We really are influenced... without ever truly realizing... by everything and everbody in our storybook. Somewhere in that mis... you'd find bits of Poul Thrane..., Frank Edwards and yes... Karen Fox! I have long admired your design and drawing talents... as well now... your painting accomplishment.

    Thanks for dropping by and the encouraging words.

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

    1. Congratulations on your new granddaughter!!! Beautiful!

      You're right about all those that influence us Bruce. Little pearls of painting wisdom strung together on a chain you can take with you every time you go out. How lucky are we????
      ( Keep posting your steps Bruce, love to see the process, never gets old!)

      Karen xo

  5. Good Morning Bruce. Copying from masters is a useful way to learn, I think, and it's a pity that it tends to be frowned upon these days. So much can be learned about composition and colour-mixing and brush-strokes. The only danger is that students may not move on; I see some people who continually try to copy paintings and become frustrated when their efforts don't look like the original work. The trick is to take what you need from various sources and then be confident in developing your own style.

    You have clearly succeeded in forging your own path, even though it is rooted in the tradition of Canadian landscape art. You see the World in much the same way, but you bring to it your own style and palette.

    Your reinterpreted painting is beautifully successful in capturing the spirit of the place. It's a painting of our times as much as Thomson's was of his.

    All the best,

  6. Good morning Keith!... I am deeply touched and grateful for your visit and uplifting comments.I greatly admire your own work... plus the spirit of your creative intent.

    Often ... lately... I question the value of continuing to post. So many folks are just into blogging for reasons other than mine. Not wrong for them... but certainly not encouraging at all for me.So these words coming from you mean a great deal to me. It makes the sharing all the more meaningful and worthwhile. Thank you Keith!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Hi Karen... Sorry that I missed your second comment about this post and influences we all experience on ourseparate journeys! Life has sort of taken over here at the Gallery. Business does that because the season here is so abbreviated.... Heads down!

    Nicely said! Your pearl necklace metaphor is a perfect piece of imagery to descfribe that journey. No need to add further to it. It's well constructed and a propos!

    Thanks for dropping by and for adding your own little gem and personal insight!

    Good Painting!
    Warm Regards,