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!