Thursday, December 31, 2009

First footing...All of my Friends

The term "first footing" comes from my Scottish tradition and pertains to celebrating the New Year in that tradition. It simply describes being the first to enter a house by crossing the threshold in the New Year. It was always something I observed my Grandparents initiate... and it has been carried on in my parents house... and in my own way as well. Usually "I" most often "first foot"(ed) my parents if possible... but if not..."I" would carry it over to my closest friend.

Sadly... when Auld Lang Syne is sung this evening... both my Grandparents and my beloved Mom and Dad will not be present... as they have passed on.So "I" have decided to use cyber technology and my blog to "first foot" any one of my newly found Blogger Family who visits my blog. "I" bring Good wishes for Health...Happiness and Prosperity to your Home... wherever it might be located.

"I" completed my last plein air sketch of 2009... a pastoral 5x7" oil on toned mat board completed late this afternoon... using my trusty pochade box, along side the road not far from my home and gallery.

"I" set this goal to finish a very full and successful year of painting.I returned home and put the final touches on my earlier promised 24x30 canvas version of the 5x7 inch panel featuring a snow-laden fir on my Dec 18Th post.Changes occurred in the final version... for the better "I" think!

The creation of my blog has brought much joy and pleasure into my life through meeting those individuals who have encouraged my blogging effort. Writing the blog posts and responding to comments has offered much challenge and has made "Me" examine and evaluate my own artistic process. "I" so look forward to writing new posts... and to have people from all over come back to "connect"... some from a vast distance.

"I" have genuinely tried to make this more than a mutual "pat-me-on-the-back" kind of site, offering encouragement and sharing ideas about my artistic and personal life to perhaps offer encouragement and knowledge that "I" have garnered along the way. "I" am overwhelmed and warmed by the "presence" of the vast number of skillful and dedicated artists who have visited my site... and who share my values and passion for Art.

"I" will endeavour to continue to share my thoughts and ideas about making and selling your art in the New Year. "I" have been blessed to have enjoyed good success in a career doing both... including a rewarding teaching career that spanned close to thirty years.

I have made a "Bucket List (not of resolutions per say)...but of "10" Goals "I" intend to carry out to improve my daily life. "I" will share these in a future post in the New Year. "I" will only state at this time that "I" have earnestly tried to identify achievable goals... ones that "I" can achieve... and therefore motivate further goal-setting and growth.Some of them are personal lifestyle goals... others pertain to my artistic growth and development... while some enjoin "Me" with my good wife Deb to set couple goals to bring us together more closely.

Too many times in our constrained schedules, we often set goals too lofty... or goals which lack initial planning and study.... and when we fail to achieve them... we blame life for "getting in the way"... preventing us from completing them.

My eldest child Lisa, is in Jamaica... her favourite place on earth. "She" has lived there for a large part of her adult life... but personal circumstances and her young family... necessitated her return to Canada... for the most part to offer them a better chance at an education to allow them to live in Canada ... if they so choose. "She" loves the culture... its people... food... warm climate and especially its wonderful Reggae Artists and Music.

"She" sent me the lyrics to a Reggae song by a favourite group Bugle. They sort of some up my feelings about life:

Don't blame Life.
Blame the way you live it!

My second born, Allison... writing her PhD thesis as we speak... and yes... in Art History responded to my New Year's email sent to all 5 of my children with this:

"Lovely picture that you sent along dad-a tree in a clearing is a great way to think of ourselves on the brink of a new decade. Fresh start, lots of room to grow and change".

Thank "You" dear Allison!... Couldn't have said it any better my Self!

Much Peace and Happiness in the New Year! Thanks for your support and encouragement.Keep the Faith... and ....

Good Painting... everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to ALL

Being out in the "rush n'crush" is over for us. All of the gifts are wrapped and under our beautifully decorated fir tree. As is my own personal Christmas ritual... I rise early... most often between 4:30 and 6:00 am... make coffee and then turn on the Christmas tree lights... sit sipping hot coffee.... thinking... and writing in my favourite comfy wing backed chair.

It is only then... that one can reflect back into time and fully understand the fuller meaning of "having" light... or in waiting and hoping... as ancients did... that "Light" would return. We now refer to their vigil and this celestial event as Winter Solstice.We often arrogantly refer to these celebrations as "pagan"... a poor choice of a word in my thoughts... meant to devalue what was simply earlier knowledge and understanding.

Even in the Christian celebration the heavens play a huge role in that "story".The much awaited birth of the baby "Christ"... the Messiah... or Light which the world waited for is the central image in this pageant . Wise men guided to the Nativity site from across a vast distance by a "special" star....a "star of Wonder". Skies were filled with glorifying angels descending upon shepherds. All of these events were squarely located around this Winter Solstice time frame... in more recent times at least.

My point here is that no matter whether you are a "believer" in this Christmas story... its underlying message should be clear. We still live today ... all of us in hope of seeing the light of another day. There are no promises of that... no matter your age or address. We live in uncertain... too rapidly changing... and volatile times. Let us make a conscious attempt... each of "Us"... to choose to live in Hope...Peace... and Harmony with our friends, neighbours and those we simply meet on our journeys. To make choices to assume some role... no matter how minor it might seem... to assume stewardship for our planet... so that our children with others around the world might enjoy its fruit and blessings in their life times as we have.

I will end this post with a quote from a newspaper article I recently enjoyed written by Mary Ormsby for the Toronto Star. It reads as follows:

"If you believed in Jesus Christ then any signal(from the heavens) that supports your beliefs would be looked upon fondly.
I'm not saying that I don't believe in Jesus Christ. But if you're a religious person, sometimes you gain the feeling of satisfaction or comfort knowing there are other signals that support your beliefs.
Perhaps everyone has their own star of wonder, just waiting to be found.Where? That's easy.
Look up from the keyboard,into the clear night sky, and pick one."

Referring back to my previous post. "I" have found my own personal star of... "Wonder". I can "see" and enjoy it by night or by day... as do many of "You".Each and every time "We"... as artists look upon the ever changing face of Creation while we are "out there" painting... we feel "Wonder"... and Hope!

"I" am truly and deeply blessed... and my Hope for blessings upon your house goes out to each of "You"

Merry Christmas to All... and Good Painting in 2010!
Much Peace,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An unexpected Christmas gift

I had a totally unexpected visit to the Gallery by our local veterinarian. I say totally unexpected... simply because we don't have a single animal under our roof and care.

Drew Hunnisett and his wife own and operate the Hillsdale Veterinary Services and live in the Oro-Medonte Hills... for the same reason that I do. They love the space and the people of this wonderful region of Ontario.They live in a straw bale and stucco constructed house at the end of Line 5 Oro with their eight year old daughter. She can often be found "on-the-job"with her dad in his portable clinic truck anywhere in the Oro-Medonte.

Drew is the quintessential old country vet... as depicted in the popular British "All Things Big and Small"... right down to the pork pie hat... rubber boots... shirt and tie... plaid tweed coat... and a broader than usual grin and sense of humour that warm you up to him... even before he utters a word in conversation.

We often exchange "Good mornings" and a bit of friendly banter when I encounter him at the crack of dawn at the local variety store. I am fetching the morning Star... and he a tea and sweet to kick-start his daily tour of local farms.Beyond that, all we seemed to have shared in common was our postal address and a wave here and there as we passed.

Being a methodical man of purpose... he immediately led the conversation by asking what I was painting on the side of the 6Th Line as he he had passed by back in early November.He said "that he was curious... as to why I would be painting on the side of the road looking into a pasture... when there seemed to be so many more tempting subjects close by".

I told him that I had passed this place hundreds of times and in all seasons and that it was the beautifully sunlit copse of birches on the slope of the hill that always commanded my attention. On that beautiful late fall day... it was the combination of the stridently white birches, scarlet sumac and the khaki-coloured strands of juniper all in harmony and all clinging to that diagonal slope... that caused me to stop and set up on that day.

He offered his reason for belatedly dropping in to see what I had painted there... and if I might still have the piece around. I brought it out and showed him... and his reply was, "Oh my!... That's exactly why my daughter pleads with me to drive back home past the "Tree Place". She loves this place!"

He enquired as to the price and told me that he and his wife would drop by later in the week to look at it together. He felt he would like to surprise his daughter...under the tree. They returned... both loved the painting... but the wife argued (reasonably)... that this is quite an unusual ,... if not expensive single present for a small girl of this age. They asked us to put it on hold for a day or two until they mulled it over together.Good idea!Don't buy.. or sell on impulse!!!

Out of the blue this past week... Drew blew into the Gallery late in the evening and said, " I'm here to fetch that painting... we've decided she'll be thrilled and delighted to have it. It will make a fine keepsake of our days here for "Her"... it's lovely"!

I was touched that they would recognize and encourage this young soul to value the world around "Her".That it mattered "She" did! This is my greatest aim as an artist... to educate viewers and collectors that these natural blessings are enjoy... and to assume stewardship for! It is not ironic that this family "practises" this respect and love for things wild in their daily lives. I could not help but add my share to their gift... firstly by reducing the retail price ... but as well.. by writing a short poem which ties together our mutual passion ... and our "seeing" together.

Pasture...or Pageant???

An ordinary pasture to many who daily pass,
To them just another patch... of drab coloured grass.
But to some who "imagine" it's a circus that unfolds,
A visual kingdom rich in reds... greens and golds.

Brightly lit birches ascend the slope too,
Stretching tapered, crooked fingers towards a canopy of blue.
Khaki-coloured junipers toboggan the hill,
While the deep magenta shadows pierce the foreground at will.

The smell of the pines in the crisp autumn air,
And the song of the wind, as it gusts here and there.
The silence of this pageant without warning gives way,
To the shrill, mocking call of a resident jay.

The last vestige of warm Summer massages the Soul,
And all of your being... seems contented and whole.
How can one miss this... yet another can "see"-
I guess "Imagineering" and "Wonder" are what enjoin "You"... to "Me"!

In closing... it is reassuring to "Me" that some "special" children and their "special" parents ARE, in fact, continuing to recognize the value of this blessed Eden we call the Earth. More importantly, they passionately embrace the Resonsibility for their role in its Stewardship.... and work actively to add their commitment.

True... that "making art"... can bring one financial return... awards... recognition and offer personal satisfaction. But to see your work fill another human being's heart with joy,... or wonder... is the ultimate "Gift" back to any artist!

Paint your heart out... and share it with another!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter arrived... with a vengeance.

Winter rolled into the Oro-Medonte region off Georgian Bay with his usual fury. A two night dump of almost 30cm... combined with -16 C temperatures and transformed the ashen and ochre countryside with an ermine white covering that reminded all that Christmas was closer than we had cared to believe... just hours before.

I had risen early (4:00 am) that morning... having heard the driving north-westerly wind howling at our windows... and looked out on the highway to discover telephone lines encrusted with heavy snow... fir tree boughs ladened with snow and cars struggling to make their early morning commute into Toronto on deeply drifted roads and white out conditions.

I put on the coffee and went down into the studio... deciding I might as well get a jump on the day. I had laid out pigment the night before... but was too tired to start anything. I decided to "putt away" this quiet time at a small 5x7 inch burnt sienna toned panel... just to play a bit.I chose a photo I had taken of some flooded willows earlier in the fall. Things went along smoothly and within an hour and a bit, I had a sketch that I was satisfied with.

Here is the result of that early morning session...completed... nothing to be added... and framed by nightfall. After lunch, I completed a second 5x7 panel... this time a sunrise subject at Coulson... a small nearby crossroad settlement.

Around 3:00 pm I went up Mill Street West... camera in hand... about two kilometers and discovered this last subject.I immediately and excitedly set at it upon returning to the studio.It fairly... "painted itself"... in less than hour. I am really pleased with its outcome. So much so... that I think it might make a real nice subject for a larger format... perhaps a 24x30 inch canvas next week.Stay tuned!

Sometimes it takes a drastic change in weather to motivate you... to lift you to stretch your energy limits. I will sleep tonight.... with dreams of snow scenes... dancing in my head! Can't wait to get "out there"!

Good painting!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Never Give Up... the Ship

It is always discouraging for "Me" as an artist when patrons do not seem to see the good qualities "I" see... or feel for a piece of work I feel pleased with. It is... I suppose like having your child undervalued when you know the potential and the good spirit of that child.

This week I had the good fortune to see such a plein air painting I had valued(which I had painted back in 1998, while living in Nova Scotia) be chosen along with three others by an art dealer... whose tastes and knowledge of painting I admire and trust. He immediately recognized the very same qualities in the work that I had tried to create... and had been satisfied with in the final work.He was excited by it... and was more than pleased to buy it.

That two hour plein air sketch had been exhibited in a couple of good galleries in Nova Scotia and in Ontario... but had failed to interest, or catch the eye of a prospective buyer.The argument... complaint...or reason for its lack of appeal was the "grey quality of the day" it depicted. I never could quite buy those reasons... simply because it really did depict the day as I had experienced it... and the very barren and bleak landscape that is found around Stonehurst North. I had "nailed it"... in my own mind.

"I" am not writing this post to laud the quality of the art.. or "ME" the artist. "I" write only to encourage any other artists who might read this blog NOT to be discouraged from expressing themselves ... or to judge a work as a failure... simply because it doesn't sell quickly... or satisfy the objectives of the "critics". This applies as well to the rejection we ALL have received in entering juried shows,in approaching galleries to represent you and the like. Such rejection can being paralyzing to your creative energies and self-confidence.Always remember the reason that "You" (should have) created the work in the first place- was to please your Self and to gain new knowledge!

In looking at this plein air panel... now over ten years passed... it still gives "Me" personal pleasure and satisfaction to see the spontaneous,expressive, confident brushwork... and the good solid range of values that allow this work to possess and exude the "grey quality of that (18th) day" of January in 1998. It gives "Me" personal pleasure if for no other reason... that my impression of that lovely winter day... now lost forever in Time to everyone else... can still be enjoyed by my dealer friend... and by "Me" in my memory. That's the real value for any piece of anyone.

The lesson I think is clear:

"Be true unto thy Self"! The joy and the reward is in act of painting!

Good painting to All!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reaching.... Stretching... Winning

Winter has arrived... and with it the new changes in the Oro-Medonte landscape. Skiing, skidooing and four wheeling ratchet into high gear with the local residents and tourists. Snow is money ...and rives the economy in this hilly part of Ontario. The three major ski resorts draw thousands of ardent winter worshippers into this beautiful region.It is truly a Winter Wonderland... in every respect!

Occasionally the Universe offers an opportunity... one that questions and challenges your artistic limits and interests. "The Hallyburton Air Show"...a 4x8 foot monster is such a commission. My "cartaker"... yes, that's spelled correctly, my local friend and car mechanic/garage owner asked me to produce this large very action piece for his Skidoo racer son Travis to hang in his bedroom.

At first, I was a bit reluctant to accept the commission... due to the real fact that I don't personally like skidoos or four wheeled vehicles.They are noisy and chew up the environment when used without conscience and often are driven without regard for safety or the property of others. However, I decided not to let my own personal biases get in the way of an opportunity to stretch my Self artistically. Besides... it was monetarily to my advantage as well!

I was given two DVD discs loaded with over 200 race images from which I could create my own composition. After several hours of viewing and reviewing possibilities, I narrowed the action down to four images that I was able to "stitch" together visually into a composition which incorporated a real landscape and a group of racers.

The next big task was to create a panel taking into account the large size and the stability required for the work. I decided to use a 4x8 foot clear birch panel and mounted it to a 1x3 inch clear pine frame/support, using a power nailer and glue to fasten the panel to the frame. I then filled the nail holes and sanded them smooth. The frame had vertical stretcher braces at the one and two third distances to insure that it wouldn't warp.

I then applied three coats of gesso on the top side....sides and back of the panel to seal it. The client wished to have a "Skidoo" yellow border around the piece in lieu of framing. I carefully masked a 4 inch wide border and painted three coats of yellow paint. When this dried, I removed the tape and then retaped the border perimeter from the outside... leaving the white area for the picture area. I applied a randomly brushed coat of acrylic burnt sienna to act as a ground , or undercoat.The panel was ready for the under drawing.

Since I had no experience whatsoever in rendering skidoos... or race action.. I wisely decided to use willow charcoal sticks to "play with" the drawing... knowing that I could easily erase and change... feeling my way through this difficult part of the compositional lay in process. I started by establishing the basic landscape framework and then moved to the central figure (Travis) in the right foreground. I then gradually worked my way back through the pack to the background.When I was satisfied that the drawing was correct, I "fixed"it with fixative spray... and I was ready to apply paint.

I began laying in the foundation for shadows, or darks in both the snow and the fir tree line in the background. I introduced and established the direction of the sun in the upper right sky area.I then concentrated on building up the values and differences in the snow colour in the fore... middle and background areas. I moved into the wooded area behind Travis to isolate his shape so that it showed the proper emphasis.

It was at this point that I decided to launch into refining Travis' had to be dead on in structure and detail to satisfy the authenticity and integrity of the whole this one prominent spot.Any failure here... would be glaring...and reduce the overall reality that any snowmobile aficionado would be searching for and expecting. It took a great amount of painting...repainting and adjusting light and shadow on the figure, his clothing and helmet... and the actual details of the machine.

The final [part of the painting process was directed towards developing the other minor race figures... again being careful with the positioning and colour values in the shadows. I added other details such as a marshal... pylons and snow
"splatter" around the moving parts of Travis' machine to add a feeling of more movement.I achieved this by thinning my white with turps... and applying the splatter with a toothbrush... Not too much... just enough to give the idea.

I went over the entire area of the painting in one final evening of "pushing n' pulling" values and adding highlights for a more dramatic effect. When the painting process was complete... I carefully removed the light touch painter's masking tape to real the nice hard edge between the image and the yellow border area. I did this before the drying was complete... just to make sure that the paint didn't adhere the tape to the panel.

Overall... I was genuinely pleased with the final product...and the clients were elated. They could even identify each of the other riders in the distant part of the image. I feel that I achieved a dynamic quality in the design.. and that in Travis... in particular... I caught the energy... excitement and the action of a frozen moment in the race.

The lesson here? Never back away from a challenge offered... because of personal biases. Put them where they belong... back on the shelf... and step confidently into the Light!

Good Painting to all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let it snow....

For a lot of outdoor artists, snow marks the end of their outdoor...or plein air activities. Facing cold temperatures... less dramatic and rapidly changing lighting conditions and limitations for site locations (alongside the roads) discourages any notions to endure these "tribulations" for many.

Winter creates a whole new landscape... reveals many otherwise hidden subjects... and creates highly dramatic shadows and lighting displays. Dead grasses and plants... dull by comparison to fall painters... become colourful centres of interest. Snow is sculpted into marvelous patterns and shapes by the wind and sun... providing exciting opportunities for the avid winter painter.Some of my best... and most sought out work is from this season.The last plus for "ME"... is the absence of other people... and the solitude is mine to enjoy alone!

However... this has never been the case for "Me". I live in Canada... and in the Oro-Medonte Hills ski area by choice. I have chosen to reside and to paint in this exciting hilly and vista-producing landscape... still offering glimpses of its rural and historic past in the many small hamlets and villages like Hillsdale... my own location.

On December 1st, I awoke early as is my usual ritual... to find a thin layer of freshly fallen snow covering my entire environment. The sun was just about ready to lift itself above the treeline... so that the treetops glowed with a magnificent reddish gold hue... while the outstretched branches... laden with snow... shimmered in this momentary lighting effect. Picture perfect... but fleeting for sure!

I ran back into the gallery and grabbed my camera... raced back trembling to the intersection of Highway 93 and Mill Street East... just in time to capture this moment digitally. I returned and immediately made an 8x10 "glossy"... on photo paper to capture as much of the detail and colour as I was able... to guide an indoor painting session after breakfast... and opening the Gallery to the public. My turn to man the "floor and till"!

The resulting panel from about a three hour painting session is included within this post. I think its freshness and direct approach again effectively underscores my belief that exciting and outdoor-looking works can be made... indoors... "IF"... you have "done your homework" in the outdoors many times previously to acquire the visual knowledge and understanding of what you are viewing... and attempting to paint. Gaining that same fresh look and approach as one always finds in the plein air experience is more difficult... but is achievable, if your full range of senses is as excited as they are on location

The painting was painted on a toned burnt sienna acrylic ground panel... my usual preference for winter works. My palette was a "split palette"... a warm and a cool from each of the primaries... plus a couple of my personal oddball choices that I will reveal reasons for on a later post.

Beyond this point in the writing ... "I" will let the painting speak for itself. I am most happy with the outcome... and like all other children... be they young... or old(er) like my "Self"... "We" revel in this magic joyously... tongues extended...and mouths fully open... exhorting the Snow God to.... "Let it SNOWWWW"!!!

Good ALL!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

No Sacred Cows my Art

I decided to use this post to illustrate something I have learned... and now practise regularly in evaluating my own work. It has been difficult for me to know when a work is "finished"... and especially if the motivation to paint the subject has a personal feeling attached to it. Such is the case with this piece "Summer Reliquary"... a 30x24 inch canvas completed (I thought) in August of 2008.
The painting is composed of elements from our early family life at our beloved cottage on the St Lawrence River... each of which symbolically attaches itself to memories of our wonderful Mom.It is a picture that I wish to keep for my Self or my family.

She and that cottage were the core of our Universe... as we knew it in our early lives. Sadly... "She" has passed on from this life and the cottage has passed into other hands. I still have stewardship for four of the eight chairs that ringed our harvest table... the centre of so many happy celebrations of our rich summer family life. I have the beautiful vase as well... and keep up her ritual of replenishing it with wildflowers... as they changed throughout the seasons. Black-eyed Susans... or her "Brownies" were her favourites were field daisies. They are my favourites as well.

Out through the window you can see a "pastiche" of the beautiful Thousand Islands landscape.On the floor is a braided rug which sat in our cottage kitchen.The whole composition of these elements is swaddled in the simple tablecloth... Mom was an exceptionally fine cook.It was painted on her birthday...August 16Th, 2008

The title is chosen to depict the reverence I continue to feel for my Mom and Dad. In Medieval or Renaissance time..a reliquary box was an elaborately bejewelled, sculpted, or gilded box that was donated by a family to their church (in the hopes that it put them in Divine favour). Aside from the obvious monetary value its contents provided... the box was often later used to hold the relics or holy vessels of the altar.

My "Reliquary" box... framed in a simple gilded frame contains my most precious treasures from my early youth and early adulthood... along with the remaining vestiges of my Mom's "Presence"... and what "She" stood for in shaping "Me" as a person.

For over a year I wrestled with making some changes which bothered me... each and every time I looked at it.Last week I broke the inner deadlock... and early in the quiet of my morning painting ritual... "I" took a leap of Faith.... and retouched a few areas...but more dramatically... I eliminated the braided rug totally. The red in it had always tended to draw my eye down and out of the composition.

So here is a picture of it in both conditions. "You" decide... and if you'd care to... drop me a line to let me know what you think.

Good All!!

PS This painting is sent out to comfort my new blogger Friend April! Keep the Faith!

Good Painting!, ALL!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Having tidied up all up all of the outdoor sketches to my satisfaction... I decided to dive headlong into a large scale painting. I wanted a fall subject... and as I skipped through some older sketches, I came across a pair of 20x24 inch canvases that I had always thought would make larger painting subjects down the road.

The interesting discovery or "Idea" here however... was that I would try to incorporate the two into a single subject. This would mean adjusting and eliminating certain parts to make them work as a single composition. That was the challenge right from the onset of the project.Here are the two sketches in isolation... both attractive in their own right... but quite "myopic" in nature.

Start your engines!... Set up the acrylic toned (burnt sienna) 24x48 inch panel on the easel and commence searching out the final composition using willow charcoal. Changes can be made easily with a rag and allow a real freedom in the drawing process. When the final composition is arrived at... I simply "fix" it using a fixative or retouch varnish in aerosol form. It dries rapidly...and... Voila... you are ready to apply paint!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words... so I'll save a couple of thousand by posting four... in an attempt to [hopefully] relate the changes that occurred during the three painting sessions it took to complete the painting. I was in no hurry to finish... and stopped when I felt the need to just stare at the emerging parts and make decisions to guide the next session. It moved along very easily to its conclusion really.

The top image shows the "tweaking"...."pushing and pulling" of edges... the refining process after the bull work is completed. I think that this exercise and the final product validates my belief that outdoor painting vastly educates one and provides material to push forward in the quiet and comfort of one's studio to create exciting works on a grander scale. It does not diminish the smaller work in any way. They are two very different exercises.

I hope that you enjoyed the post!

Good painting to all!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Last Breath of Autumn... Step-by-step

Sorry for the "quiet"... but we have been preparing for our Gallery Open House... which occurred this past weekend. There was much to be done in preparation for that event... ranging from rehanging the Gallery... to cleaning.. to designing and sending out an invitation to clients... and yes... some last minute "touch ups " to a couple of semi-finished outdoor pieces.

One of the outdoor pieces, "The Last Breath of Autumn" was posted in its "raw state"... unfinished... and untouched since its return to the studio. The top photo illustrates the quick start into the painting session.The second photo shows the mid-stage at which I was forced to abandon it in the field... not because it gave me a problem... but rather because Mother nature "played a dirty" on me! I was deep into the painting process when a sudden and unexpected gust of wind blew down through the creek gap... lacing my VERY wet 20x24 inch canvas with a shower of yellow tamarack needles. In seeing the several hundred alien bodies that had buried their golden bodies in my impasto paint... I decided not to try and remove them while the canvas was so wet. Experience has taught me... where that rash mistake leads!

I immediately took a digital image at that precise moment for later reference and hurried my gear and the canvas back to the van... and headed off to search out a new painting site and less precarious position out of the wind ...and the range of the shedding tamaracks. Lesson learned!

A day later... with the paint set up...I was able to brush away the needles with a soft cloth and dry bristled paintbrush... without damaging the paint surface whatsoever. I allowed myself another hour to finish the piece... adding some changes in the darks and lights... and reworking the water surface reflections and edges here and there. Overall, I am pleased with the final result,as demonstrated in the lower photo. It hung as shown... in the show and received a good amount of attention from several visitors. It pays to know when to leave things alone... when things go awry and to not finish under duress. Resume it after thought and under better frame of mind... at a more opportune time!

The Open House was a booming success...with good sales to kick off the Holiday retail sales period... and visits with old friends who dropped by for a look-see ...a visit and in a couple of cases... a few took home one or more of my "children" to live with them... a high honour for "Me"!

Good painting...much pleasure... and sales to all!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Day With Dad ...on his "Job"- Lovingly dedicated to my fine son Liam James

My son Liam joined me for an outdoor painting trip to the small rural village of Kettleby... as a part of a provincial program in all high schools across Ontario on November 4th. It provides students a hands onopportunity to gain insight into the work-a-day world of their Dads. I was most happy and honoured to have Liam join "ME"... to share time with me and to better understand that my making art through painting... is indeed work and an alternative way to earn a living.

The day was chilly...and on several occasions spit a bit of rain... but in general, it was very pleasing... and productive for us both. I had chosen Kettleby as our target destination because I have painted there on many occasions before. Not only are there numerous sites to choose from in this small area... but the whole village is "painter-friendly" and welcoming. There were a few changes since my last visit several years ago... but the hamlet and its people cling to their rural roots and heritage fervently. Many of the homes are restored to their original glory...and bear plaques with the names, occupations and dates on their facades.

During the course of our day-long session... we were visited over and over by inquisitive,interested and friendly citizens... as they came to pick up their mail... or to have lunch at the new Italian Bakery/Bistro located just up the street from where we had set up. I was very proud of the confident and informative conversations that Liam initiated on his own to answer their many questions.Self-esteem... present and accounted for!

We ourselves wandered into the establishment before starting...and found to our surprise that the friendly woman owner...a recent escapee from the "Big Smoke" (Toronto) served a wide selection of "Hot" lunch possibilities... and the full gamut of Bistro beverages. Gone at once was the initial plan to eat the cold lunches that I had brought along!

Liam jumped into the process and selected our elegant century old brick...Ontario central floor plan... with good details about it to support a good painting session. Good eye Son! I offered a little encouragement and a few strategies to get him started into the drawing part. I told him just to "grab on to my shirt tail"... and follow the leader... and to ask questions when he encountered any problems. At first, he was a little tentative and uncertain about proceeding... but within a half hour he was running full steam ahead...seldom asking for more than colour mixing tips. By our much anticipated lunch break... we both were sitting with a good structure... and lay in.

The wonderful, delicious... and HOT "vittles"... accompanied by a steaming mug of Earl Grey Black tea propped up our painting spirits... and dissolved any reservations or reluctance either of us might have had before lunch. We launched directly... without missing a beat into the painting mode. Within another hour and a half... we both agreed that we had enough recorded... to take the studio for fine tuning on the upcoming weekend. We packed up the gear cleaned our brushes and hands and then delivered all of our rags, etc to the bag I keep in the van. I stressed the ABSOLUTE importance of leaving the site as pristine as we had found it. In that way... we insured a hearty welcome ...if we ever returned.

I am including some photos taken during the foray that illustrate the total success of this project...and the Dad Day for Liam and "I". I think that a picture does "say the same as a thousand words". The picture of Liam's radiantly smiling face says it all.

"Art Matters!...and so do our children." Together they say we lived and accomplished good during our given days here on this beautiful Earth. They are our gifts to future generations. Why do our powerful decision-makers in government and educational policy-making continue to underfund..devalue... even worse.. eliminate the Arts programmes in our schools? What kind of society will we project and leave behind without encouraging the Arts? Imagine a world without pictures, music, literature or dance.What a sad and bleak place to exist.. not "live" in...a land void of dreams...or dreamers!

Good Painting to ALL!!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Last Autumn the Park

Yesterday I was up early before the sun rose...headed to Algonquin Park to pick up the three pieces I had exhibited in The Mystery in the Park Juried Show. I hoped to be able to get in a painting foray as well...if the projected rains and cold front expected to move in... held off. I quickly picked up my work at the Visitor's Center and dashed off to an area where I knew I might find a number of potentially good painting sites...and maybe even ...some tamaracks that might have miraculously held on to their golden finery. Right at the entrance to Opeongo Lake Road... I got out and immediately found a nice site...protected... out of the wind...and with a few tamaracks in it! Bonus!

The site was located well off the highway...which wasn't at all busy anyway because the traffic of fall has departed. So I had this ethereal...peaceful place to my "Self"! Well... not quite! I did have to share the spot with a quiet couple...of hooded mergansers who were cruising and fishing the Opeongo Creek.

I set right down to work on the 20x24 inch canvas I had chosen to use. I had prepared my palette... ready to go the night after a short carry I was busy at it. The light was very subdued ...non-existent for most of the lay in... so I merely mapped out a "shorthand" line guide using a mixture of alizarin permanent with ultramarine blue. The photo indicates "drizzling" turps into the dark sap green-Alizarin and the otherwise rough linear guide I developed to begin the actual painting. Looks a bit sloppy...but the weather was not going to remain time to get picky! Onward... the paint!

I quickly massed in the far shoreline with rock tones...greens...reserving space for those tamaracks and developing the beginnings for the distant smoky ...purplish pink hills in the background. I then dropped the dark shadows into the water area...and moved up to the foreground grassed area to throw in the contrasting lights. I added some greens and reds and blended those with the taupe grass colour.

At this point, I decided to drop in some verticals to help balance the totally developing horizontal feel...selecting trees that interested me in colour, shape and height. I then started to work around the canvas randomly...refining forms,colour values and angles. I even added a few of the sticks and stumps that poked out seemingly every-which-way in the immediate foreground.

Suddenly...a gust of wind littered my wet canvas with a dusting of fine gold....yes...tamarack needles! I realized that any attempt to remove these at this time...would result in disastrous markings all over the painting service. I quickly decided to get the canvas out of further harm's way by taking it from the easel and reversing it to face away. The wind continued to build, so I took a digital image of the the new light that had appeared briefly...packed my minimal gear...and headed back to the car. This "start" could be finished up nicely back in the warm... wind.. and tamarack-free studio. After the paint had set up overnight... I knew I could easily and safely remove all of the offending needles and continue with the painting...using the digital image for reference.

I headed down Opeongo Lake Road and again found my "Self" in solitude. I found a wonderful view across a wheat coloured marshy stretch reaching out to the Algonquin Highlands in the distance. A quick glance at the sky told me to set up and to get down to work quickly. I chose a smaller 10x12 inch masonite panel already toned with a dark value of acrylic burnt sienna.

I laid down a very rough line drawing or guide...focusing on interacting lines and interlocking shapes...pure geometry really. I then began the painting process by sorting out of tree colours,forms and groupings on the far shore.I "muddied in" some vague sky references and colours...and then dropped down the dark reflection of the distant hill into the middle ground water area.
I dropped in some (approximate) marsh grass colour...wherever it occurred and then the reflected sky colour...lowered in value into the water area.I finished the sketch by fine tuning the colours and values across the whole composition...tweaked and added a few details 'n sticks in the foreground.I had "said" what I wanted to say and packed 'er up...satisfied with the one hour result. Shouldn't need much ...if any changes back in the studio.

With the weather still at bay...I dared another start...this time a quick study on another 10x12 panel. The subject was a large erratic (glacial boulder deposit) in the middle of Opeongo it enters Opeongo Lake. Locals tell me that the First Nations People... the Ojibway and the Algonkians...refer to it as "Turtle Rock"... a sacred spot because of it mossy, lichen shell shape...sitting in the centre of the creek ...looking like a half submerged turtle.Many of these animals have totemic meanings and applications in the spirituality and clan identity of these people... even up into the present time. They would have to pass by it on this water highway as they journeyed from lake to lake ... stream by stream ...all through their Algonquin Highlands territories.

The sudden drumming of water on the brim of my ball cap...and the water-pocked surface of the earlier dark mirror image in the creek told me that this session was over. I packed up in a hurry...and put everything under the lid (cum porch roof) of my van.I quickly cleaned my palette and brushes...and my paint-soiled hands with automotive orange hand cleaner. Looking at the "start" of this attempt as I cleaned up...I realized that it led nowhere... ever ...for "Me" I "scrubbed" the sucker! Another day!

The day could have ended on a productive two sketch day...yet on a sad...wet,soggy note. But the Universe...and my Creator conspired to make the day end right for "Me". Just as I prepared to get into the van... a bird dropped onto a low-slung spruce branch...just above my head...and then another close by. Two Gray Jays... or Whiskey Jacks as they are more affectionately are known to "Me"... and others who often share our lunch...and their space...with a sense of awe and belonging... in peace and without fear! These are cheerful, friendly and brash harlequins... and are found everywhere in our North. My North country is my Cathedral!....

"I" truly blessed! Good painting to all!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fall Colour Festival Closes

This exciting... but very brief season of dramatic colour change in our Canadian landscape centres totally upon trees. The rich reds, yellows and oranges belong to the maples...predominately the hard maples...and the Sugar maple is "The King of Colour". These the undulating ribbons of hardwood coilour are broken everywhere by the complimentary greens of the stands of various coniferous varieties which share our forest spaces. Needless to say, the artist's eye and heart are overcome the point of colour "drunkenness" under its influence.This effect on the artist is akin to the anticipation of opening day to waterfowlers and deer hunters... or to July for the avid gardeners. It is the "High Holiday" period...the "Passion" for "Me" in my artistic life!

As with all things in the cycle of life... there is a beginning ...and joy with it. Paradoxically... there is an inevitable end as well...and with it comes some bittersweet sadness. Yesterday was that day for "Me". I had a few remaining forays on the planning board board to complete... but the Witch of Hallow e'en blew into our Oro-Medonte Hills viciously overnight on the coat tails of a rainstorm to douse and destroy those plans for the season.

I had found a lovely stand of tamaracks, or larch, as they are called in some parts. They are tall...straight and stately bluish green conifers, but become golden and feathery at this time of year because they are the only conifer to lose their needles over the winter. They are a marker for "Me" in the process of seasonal change... and I always dedicate one foray "out there".... to do at least one sketch of them in their autumn costume. As I approached this stand...I could see golden skeins stretched across the barren grayness of the paved road ahead. I realized immediately, that this opportunity was lost to me.

I had allowed myself two hours for the trip and task combined... planning to make a 10x12" panel study within an hour span. I had to be back to the Gallery to open at 10:00 am...since my lovely wife and partner (in everything) Deb had flown yesterday to Yorkton, Saskatchewan to meet her new Grandgirl Ella... to trick-or-treat for the first time with her beloved Ava... and to spend time with her Son Spencer and his lovely wife Jody. Deb is the backbone of The Paint Box Gallery."She" makes it run efficiently....and brings a peace to "Me"... that permits me to do what "I" choose to do...and must....PAINT! Something to remember for those who aspire to own their own gallery business. Don't be confused! The Gallery owns "You"...not the other way around! You have to be there to sell your work. the gallery commissions gracefully...and "play" by the "rules" of that business arrangement... and be free to travel and paint without worry about the sales initiatives.

With this plan in a way..."gone with the wind"...I moved in thought immediately to Plan "B". I headed back to Rumble's Flour and Feed Mill... a lovely faded red behemoth located about two minute's drive from our home and Gallery. I set up quickly... rain was threatening...and my view was located in the middle of the pasture that adjoins the mill. The dash was too quickly undertaken and I paid for that lack of care... by catching my pant leg as I passed through the hole in fence and falling backward with gear in hand. I caught hold of the fence with my right hand and broke the fall, but in so doing... grabbed the unforgiving barbed wire and punctured my index finger. I passed the gear through the fence first... then followed and got to the chosen spot. I stemmed the blood flow with a clean shop towel and set up quickly. After a moment of deep breathing and "looking"....I launched into the painting process. Everything progressed well after that initial "fall from grace". The weather held off...and I headed home exactly one hour after starting... with the 10x12" sketch in (bloody) hand...satisfied with the outcome.After tending to the wound in my finger, I set up the sketch on my easel and "tweaked" a few areas over ten minutes.... signed it and placed it into a frame. It was obviously a worthwhile morning. "Faded Rose" seemed somehow cheerier... to be "indoors"... surrounded by "Friends"!

I apologize for the lengthy post... but the purpose of this blog is to familiarize and share my thoughts, process and methods. Think of it as a chance for us to chat...or even to be together for a painting session outdoors. Such a wonderful thing is Cyberspace... when that can be accomplished in seconds across vast distances. Forgive my wordiness... and take from the posts what "You" wish.

I wish All...Good painting!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Creating... and adhering to a painting process-Part Three

I have discussed my palette, kit and set up procedures in the previous two posts, so this post will cover how I approach and carry out a painting project. I paint on numerous surface materials ranging from canvas duck, linen to solid surfaces to include masonite, MDF board and birch panel. I work on a range of differently sized formats to include 5x7"... 8x10"... 10x12"...11x14"... 12x16"... 14x18"...16x20"...20x24"... 24x30"... 30x36"... 36x48"... 48x60" and on occasion triptychs which are composed of a combination of three of these other formats.

I work outdoors mainly on 5x7"...10x12"...16x20"..20x24 inch and 30x36" formats. I do not feel at all uncomfortable with larger sized pieces on location...provided that weather conditions are favourable... that the subject deserves a larger format and that it excites my interest. I lay in with a single larger flat inch variety usually....working the whole area of the canvas randomly... until the entire canvas surface is covered.If I am employing a "colour massing" approach...I squint at the subject through my eyelids and apply a broad area of colour using large strokes which are close to the value I "see". However, I do not push to find the most accurate value... that comes later in the session after the entire canvas is covered. I work quickly...trying to find "the Flow" as I will refer to it... a state reached where you are working intuitively... searching... seeking out patterns...and creating gestural passages as opposed to details.At the end of this "fleshing out" focus...I step back, or even go for a short walk to get away from the "path" I am thinking about. When I return to the project... I feel refreshed and start looking for new areas to focus on... to add "specifics"... which include stronger areas of colour... vertical and diagonal lines... value corrections... anything that might contribute a stronger statement. This is especially true in focusing on the main subject in the painting... where the darkest darks and lightest lights should converge to create the highest visual interest for the viewer.

When I am satisfied that I have successfully absorbed and arranged the essence of my subject, I can choose to end the session at this point and use my digital camera to record a useful reference photo to "fine tune" the piece to an ending in the studio...away from the actual subject. Or if time (and my energy level) permits... I can push forward to completion right on location. Both situations do occur frequently and do produce equally good results. Often, I will pull out an 8x10" or 5x7" panel and quickly attack a nearby subject I might have noticed during the session...or on my "stroll" at the mid point. I never worry about creating a "masterpiece" with this effort... I treat it "run-for-the-sun"....stealing time at the end of the day... an opportunity to take home yet another "Idea"...which can be developed further in the studio...or even be returned to at a later date...a "memo" to my Self.

This is but one strategy or appraoach that I employ to work successfully in the field. I regularly use other approaches and create what I call "mental gymnastics"... to refresh my enthusiasm and to avoid systematic and predictable conclusions...all dead ends in the creative process. No learning can occur...when the end is predictable...or defined. I will describe some of these "alternate routes" I regularly include in my own painting journey... in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

Until then.... Good painting... to ALL!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Creating... and adhering to a painting process- Part Two

In this post I will outline my customary set up routine while painting on location. I refer to this routine as my "Two Carry" set up.On the first carry to the selected site, I transport my plastic blue box containing all the loose and spillable items.

I then survey the location looking for a suitable subject... with a fairly level area to set up my easel. After finding these prerequisites I return to my vehicle to select the appropriate paintbox...along with my lunchbox...and if not too far into the bush... a small folding chair that I use on occasion to give my legs a break and to look at the work in progress from a suitable distance.

The blue box snaps shut and prevents unwanted odors or stains in the rear of our van. In it, I pack my Coke carrier filled with 200 ml tubes of colour... smaller sized primed and ready-to-go toned panels of various sizes... 4 liter kerosene supply... small towels...willow charcoal sticks...can of fixative...small length of cord and bungees...brush cleaning can...hand cleaner and plastic bread bags to store dirty cloths,etc. in (to carry out from the site).

AS the picture demonstrates... the box with lid on serves as a place to put my brushes, a drink and toweling during the session. The Coke carrier loaded with the heavy tubes of colour is affixed with cord or bungee to the crosspiece to the legs on my easel to counter the disastrous effects of possible gusty wind conditions. This set up routine usually makes my outings trouble free and enjoyable...and takes only minutes to arrange.Prior planning is a real advantage to painting enjoyably and successfully in the outdoors. Watching the weather reports beforehand also helps lessen the chances for last minute disasters and to guide your choice of locations.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creating...and adhering to a painting process-Part One

The place to begin in first describing my own personal painting process is to examine my choice of colours...aka my "palette". My palette closely follows the palette suggested by John Carlson in his "Bible"...."A Guide to Landscape Painting".I guess you could call it a split palette. I use two reds...two yellows..two blues and titanium white as my basic choices...and add other colours I choose to use occasionally for specific properties or tasks. I ALWAYS place the colours in the same place on my palette...thus allowing me to create a pattern of selecting colour that becomes automatic over an extended period of time.

My reds are cadmium red light and alizarin (permanent). My blues are French Ultramarine(red phase), cerulean blue...and occasionally cobalt or thalo. My yellows are cadmium yellow (mid) and yellow ochre....and often Indian yellow or raw sienna.

I use Winsor and Newton's jaune brillant to heighten colour...burnt or raw umber to make lovely greys and viridian to develop a greater selection of rich greens.

The primary colours obviously include a warm and a cool choice to create values and temperature in my mixing. I use Winsor and Newton Liquin to speed up drying time in slow driers like the cadmiums and sap green. I employ titanium white in alkyd form as well as "Soft Mixing" form. The alkyd aids drying...while the "Soft Mixing" retards tightening up in the sub-zero temperatures I often work outdoors in during winter. I use pure turpentine as my solvent, but clean my brushes in a can of kerosene attached to my paintbox.

My choice of outdoor painting easel is a lightweight telescoping aluminum easel. It holds my canvas and my paint box effectively and is easy to take down and to anchor with the spikes attached to each of the three legs.

My brushes are most always a variety of the flat hog bristled type...with a rigger thrown in for detail work and signing. I find through usage that many of my bristled brushes become "brights"...due to the constant scrubbing they receive fom the canvas.

I guess that I could summarize this post by saying that your choice of colours and equipment will evolve as you progress in your painting as mine has...and will be determined more by your individual needs and preferences than what might be suggested in books and other artists' ideas.Even student grade colours will suffice in the beginning of your search. They are economical to buy...and for my money handle and cover well. You can purchase most brands of oils in 200 ml tubes at a fraction of the expense of a 37 ml of artist grade colour. Those colours are for professional use and work intended for sale.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Creating...and adhering to a painting process

Finding your "voice"..."style"...whatever one calls a lifelong search for every artist. The search is really a sorting out process...trying different mediums... attending some classes... reading/purchasing books,magazines... joining groups to paint with...and yes....reading and exchanging ideas via cyberspace through web sites and blogging. All of these sources contribute to artistic growth and advance one's confidence and information base. is the single act of drawing,mixing colour and painting which advances that growth exponentially overall. Much of this search is...or in my opinion should be conducted alone. It is in this environment that one can risk...experiment at will and study earnestly and undisturbed. Not every artist has the immediate luxury of having studio space or the extra time and money to attend classes...which is why I chose to work outdoors initially. This decision is the single most contributing factor to my own success and happiness in painting. Outdoor painting on a regular basis teaches one everything that you can read in the best of "how-I-do it" books. It is both personal and fitted to your own perception...or way of "Seeing"...either subjects...or colour.

Through sharing this experience with a number of artists who, themselves had this passion for both the outdoors and painting... I joined a fraternity of friends who over the years developed personal and working relationships which continue to this day. Their critical input regarding my painting is both valuable and enriching to my continuing journey. I might never have met them ...had I not reached out... risked and built those friendships.

I do not separate myself from the value that studio painting brings "to the mix" either. In my sense of things...participation in one space supports the other... and neither is more defining in terms of excellence or importance. I cringe at the oft' used and now pedantic expression: " I consider myself to be a plein air painter". It is as if that school ...or method of painting supersedes painting done in any other manner. I do paint outdoors... or "plein air" as I believe the term is derived, but only because as a "hunter-gatherer"... I find resources out there which are portable in the form of "sketches" on panels, canvases or develop a thought or "Idea" further. In short...CHOOSING to paint outdoors...does NOT in any way make me special...just better educated to natural settings and processes... excited visually.... and better prepared and motivated to push forward.

I am going to try and "flesh out" an overview of my own painting methods for two reasons. The first reason is to share with my readers... my ideas that they might glean some insights to help them in their own individual searches. Secondly by going through this self-examination process... I might better understand that process...because after all of these years of painting... I do so almost out of reflex and as a ritual. One can never stop learning... without risking staleness and "stunted" artistic growth.

I will begin this process with a three post series... the first to examine medium/palette/equipment,... the second to address planning and start... the last to describe the painting process itself through to the conclusion.

Stay tuned...and Good painting to All!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Changing Boundaries...and Times!

After completing the Nova Scotian subject....indoors....I honoured my determination by heading outdoors in the sunny...but colder weather to paint around the Oro-Medonte region. There was no scarcity of suitable material...just minutes from our gallery door. I wanted very badly to be alone and uninterrupted so I headed into bush to look for "interior woodland" subjects. I find the play of light and intense colour in this setting exciting visually...and soothing spiritually.

My first subject was a long forgotten...and now overgrown stone fence line...once a distinct boundary for a farm property. I always am overwhelmed and in awe of this type of fence...for it is entirely composed...often miles of it...of "erratics". These large Precambrian stones were deposited during the last glacial age in this region...helter-skelter both above and below the soil of the region.

In order to work the land, the farmer would have to move these stones manually with the aid of a hardy team of work horses pulling a stone sled...or for the larger brutes...a four wheeled mechanical stone raising implement...if it were available. I can't imagine the amount of physical effort required...on a hot June or July day to lift ...then carry these natural Henge objects hundreds of meters to construct a wall.

This would not be the end of this process either. Each year the Earth would cough up another batch of these hidden glacial relics to just under the soil's surface where the single bladed ploughshare would be brought to an abrupt halt...and the removal process would begin all over again. So when looking at the ancient linear is looking at generations of tilling and fence-making activity. In my is a historical link to our agrarian past...worthy of remembering and being left for future generations to appreciate. But in our greedy consumer society...there are those individual "entrepreneurs"...who harvest them and sell them to nurseries for decorative purposes in the yards of urban sprawl...far from their meaningful and rightful place of resting.

I'm a dinosaur ...I guess.I have spent my life learning about the Past...painting and recording it. Perhaps that is enough said in the end.Physical boundaries... even political borders shift. I will not however... shift my view away from a reverence for the efforts in the Past of those who lived, died and built this country with their sweat. They deserve to be accorded honour and Remembrance!

Good painting to All!