Thursday, May 27, 2010

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?...

Not at all a strange question for this time of year when spring wildflowers quickly appear... then disappear just as quickly... to be replaced by the next succeeding flower in the spring cycle.The lilacs... like the trilliums have waned... and faded... leaving only their greenery to remind us of their earlier exhilarating presence.

During my last post... it must surely have been evident in my description of my Barriefield Village experience with the solitude... the lilacs and the sense of Home Coming... that "I" would be off and running back to the Paint Box Gallery to dive headfirst into a series of paintings based upon this adventure... and lilacs.

"I" did exactly that over the next three days...but strangely for "Me" and my usual painting process... "I" could not settle down to finish a single piece. I ended up with three pieces... in a state of partial finish looking back at me from my easel.I had two still lifes set up nearby my easel... and the whole studio and Gallery space to myself... since Deb was visiting her family in Saskatchewan.One particular set up struck a deep chord... and "the Idea" had been lying dorment inside "Me" for three years at least, so I decided to settle down to that one... to the finish!

It has been my normal practice in both my teaching and painting processes over the years to plan and work employing a "thematic approach". While that is neither a novel nor a unique method of working... many teachers and artists work from that same base... it has always been my own personal approach where "I" feel comfort and energy to begin working.

My approach begins with my seizing "an Idea".... sometimes a single word like Lilac... or perhaps a season... an activity like maple syruping as the basis for the next step in the process... which is a "hunter-gatherer" search which hopefully links images ... ideas... thumbnails... poetry perhaps. Anything from which one can create an image that relates to the theme. Often these ideas never appear during the initial series... but they are recorded and stored safely for later use in my sketchbooks.

After this initial gathering comes selection of the "Idea" that most excites "Me"... and it is here that "I" begin mining the materials gathered. Surprisingly... the initial "plan" can be changed radically... even abandoned... if the energy takes "Me" elsewhere... and very often beyond the earlier scope of the series. In my classroom, if we as co-learners agreed then the direction and time allotted could shift over and over again until we lost the energy flow... or tired of the theme. Thus, the learning is open-ended and learner-centered ... just as it is in my painting sessions.

The painting that bears the title of this blog was not a part of the series as "I' had earlier "forseen" it. It was triggered by both events at Barriefield Village on the day... and then early in the morning as "I' had coffee and planned for the day. The painting originated from no thumbnails or studies... it was ..."imagineered"... when two separate experiences meshed... creating a more unique and certainly more emotional subject for "Me".

Barriefield is not just a lovely quiet solitude... heavily laden with lilac scent...nor my own personal historically significant artistic enclave. No... it is much more than that to "Me". My children Allison and Andrew had attended J.E.Horton Elementary School along with all of their neighbourhood pals. Lower down from the Village... "I" could see Constantine Arena... a morning meeting place for Andrew's peewee hockey team that I helped coach with two other dads.

Barriefield is a field of memory in my life and my family's. But the single most vivid memory that filled my heart on that morning... alone in the studio... was the beautiful memory of a hockey pal of Andrew's... a "Flower" plucked "too soon"... by the treachery of a distant war in Afghanistan.

Captain Matt Dawe, 27 years old was killed along with five other Canadian soldiers and an interpreter by a roadside bomb on Wednesday, July 5Th, 2007. He has left behind his parents Lieutenant-Colonel and Mrs. Peter Dawe(retired and Head peewee hockey coach), his wife Tara and their now four year old son to grieve. "I" know that a part of all of us who had the privilege to have shared even a brief part of our lives with Matt is missing forever as well. He was a born leader... even on the ice as a peewee hockey player... we was witty ...bright and had a wonderful full life ahead of "Him". But now... like our spring flowers... "He" is gone from us... we know not where.

I had wanted... in my own way to record not just the sadness that we all share in the loss of many Matts to us. "I" wanted to create an image that was not maudlin... not heroic... one void of the politics that led "Him" along with too many others to their untimely ends.

"I" DO support the young men... troops we send... FULLY... as peacemakers and re builders! But "I" question the combat role that we seemed to have slipped into ... and why we continue to sacrifice the cream of our society... over and over again. It is not our mistakes that define us. It's what we learn from them.

The words that form this title come hauntingly from an anti-war anthem of the 60's by Peter, Paul and Mary. I ask "You".... What have we learned?

I hope that beyond the tragic circumstances that "I" have revealed to "You" in this post... one can see that we must be motivated to paint whatever is in our soul. For "Me"... its conclusion brings a sense of closure to a painful experience... and at the same time... it offers "Me" the opportunity to share this painting as a token of my respect with Matt's family... and others... who might closely share this experience in their own lives.

Ironically, on the day following the completion of the painting... we lost a 20 year old Horse Shoe Valley resident Pte. Kevin McKay... two days before his tour's end.

My message is not intended to be bleak and mournful. Perhaps what each one of us... can learn... and apply in our own lives... is to be thankful for the many small blessings that surround us all in our own daily lives.Love your children. Spend time with them... and above all... allow them to enjoy their childhood. Their flowering is a joy to behold... and it is too short!

Good Painting to all!

I will post the other three of the series "Lilacs" that I have completed later next week.

Stay tuned!...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lilacs... Fortune cookies... and Life

How do the subjects mentioned in this post title relate you might ask... and how do they relate to art? They do in a strange way... but perhaps just in my own world... or maybe not. Let's move ahead.

"Life must be lived forward, but can only be fully understood backwards."

I try very hard to live fully planted in the Present... as I suspect most of you try to do as well. Every self-help guru and their writings... every therapist... every minister... any counsellor offer that "moving ahead"... "not living in the Past" are essential to conducting a healthy and productive life. They all especially offer this advice in the face of major life crises such as loss of employment, failed personal relationships, serious physical illness, death and divorce. In these cases, the advice is sound and will eventually lead one to personal growth and healing.

The quote I have inserted in this post comes from a fortune cookie... a treat at the end of a meal at a favourite Chinese restaurant. Usually, I don't take them seriously at all... finding their quotes "hokey"... even barely humorous at the best of times. But in this particular case, the quote struck a chord within "Me"... resonating a Truth that "I" hadn't expected.

At my particular age... I must admit that I do enjoyably spend a fair amount of time searching back over my life and counting its many blessings... and disappointments to indeed try to understand how "I" arrived where "I" stand at present. I have already alluded to the fact that "I" am both grateful and satisfied with the outcomes of my life. "I" have made peace with my Self... and "Others" in regard to events that might have been carried out and dealt with better by "Me" earlier in my life.

A very poignant and insightful response to one of my postings prompted "Me" (in the last week) to take a "trip down memory lane"... back in time through the places I had lived in... seeking out and speaking to people I shared life with in those places. That trip... "alone" in my car over two days... with my own eclectic mix of music blaring... was truly a satisfying and uplifting experience. I was "alone" because my wife was visiting with her good son Spencer... his wife and Deb's two precious grandchildren, Ava and Ella in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. I had to go to Brockville, the hometown of both Deb and I... to pay a visit to my dentist. I needed to have my three month checkup and help staff there hang artwork. Some of that artwork was my own. Dr Peter Culp was my student in grades seven and eight and we have remained connected as friends since then. "I" admire Peter deeply for his achievement,loyalty and generosity to his family, staff and community. "He" stands as a living monument... that my teaching life was worthwhile... and that "The Power of One"... matters. Each of "Us"... can make a difference... even just with a simple kind act... a group of encouraging words... or a constant SMILE! These no-cost gifts DO... pass forward!

Since I had two days and no particular schedule except for my Tuesday 10:50am appointment... I "weaseled my way" along familiar back roads arriving at Camden East...a small hamlet where I had lived happily during the eighties. Both Allison and Andrew were born during those years and our home was the location of "The Gingerbread Gallery"... my first self-owned gallery. I talked to a couple of old friends... caught up on "all the dirt and dust" and then proceeded down the road to Kingston where we lived and I taught elementary school for twenty years. I revisited many of my old haunts... the "Home" on Grenadier Drive and Barriefield Village where I literally lived painting outdoors with my easel and my good painting pal Frank Edwards throughout every season during most of those twenty years.

Barriefield Village was, and still is... a quiet, off the beaten path space... an architectural throwback to Canada's earliest pioneer beginnings. Nearly all of the homes and buildings dated to 1812-50's and were the dwellings and businesses of the garrisons stationed at nearby Fort Henry. This large limestone fortress was constructed by the British to protect Kingston, the Rideau Canal and Upper Canada from the perceived imminent threat of American invasion. Today.. as a Parks Canada destination... it fully embraces the annual American and world traveller invasion... of tourists who visit to catch the breath-taking precision marching drills of its world class summer student "garrison". Today, the village has been restored and developed into a much more manicured enclave for Kingstonian professionals and their young families... but it retains its solitary nature and its Eden-like beauty... a sanctuary from the din of the city seen clearly below.

Spring is indeed my favourite time to be in Barriefield because lilac perfume is pervasive... no matter where you go in the village. Lilacs are everywhere... and in every hue of pink, purple and rich burgundy. The air is simply... intoxicating! Returning warblers and every variety of songbirds nest in the lilac thickets and fill the aroma rich air with choruses of song. It is an annual ritual that I have looked forward to every year in my painting life. "I" was overcome by the memories... sights... smells and sanctity of this truly magical homecoming experience. Every place... every person had indeed changed... but "I" was not at all affronted by these changes. Everything in life must change... as must "We"!

"I" look back over my journey and my experiences in these places and feel the richness of having had all of these life opportunities. "I" feel no sadness... melancholy... or regret in having to move forward... back to my current life. My Present is as well... rich and fulfilling, so "I" am most happy and thankful to return... "Home".

"Home" to "Me"... is not just a house. I have personally had many "Homes". It is a place in time... where one can return to spiritually... to reflect... find solace... and to feel the "Presence" still... of departed parents and friends of that space... even though Time has pulled "You" along. It is a sacred place "Within"... a compass point to guide one to a better understanding of their Present... with gratitude and closure.

I share a wonderous and constantly changing daily life with my truly wonderful and supportive wife and Soul Mate, Deb. We are both healthy in the Present... and now take joy in watching successfully launched children move out into their own unique and exciting worlds. Perhaps my writing might seem rambling... romantic and "too personal" for cyberspace. But it "is"... who "I" am... and wish to remain. "I" value Family... Friends and Children above all things. I have made a host of new and stimulating friends whom I have connected with through this blog. It is for this reason that "I" choose to post "Lilac Lullaby"... a bouquet of wonderful spring lilacs... as a personal "Thank You" to ALL of "You" for making my life richer.

None of us are ever truly "alone"... whether we were an "only child"... or whatever... unless we choose to be so. By reaching out and sharing our Time... our truest feelings... and our Art... "We" are "One" with the Universe... and with each other! To borrow a line from Neil Diamond's anthem Sweet Caroline:

"Touching "Me"... Touching "You"... and "We" do!

Good Painting to all!

PS The "sketch" included today is the first in a series of paintings that will owe their origin to the Barriefield adventure. Stay tuned....

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sometimes... Life is just about waiting... patiently!

Spring has apparently (by a few normal indicators).... arrived, but still seems to be taking its own sweet time deciding whether or not it will remain. Temperatures remain unseasonably cold... April showers and rain come and go... heavy killer frosts have greeted commuters and gardeners cruelly most mornings.

The woodland trilliums are fading quickly to their final pink phase... lilacs have just this week showed any interest in undertaking their annual May colour and perfume spectacle. Apple and strawberry blossoms have succumbed very quickly to the nasty icy finger of the numerous overnight frosts.In short... Spring seems very confused... as are the humans who revel in planting and recreational activities in the Oro-Medonte Hills region.

As for Yours Truly... "He" has been nestled under the warmth of his easel lights... "putzing around"...that's painting... in Nova Scotia using sketches and photo references to lift his dampened spirits. I must admit that "I" go as the weather goes... "I" very much depend upon sunshine to maintain good Karma. This "easel light therapy" tactic is my strategy to deal with depressing weather or stresses in my life. "I" simply retreat to my inner space (below decks)... and work away until the storm clouds disappear.It works for "Me"!

The two pieces displayed in this post are the last of five paintings that departed by courier yesterday for my gallery rep in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They had asked me to send along some more pieces for the upcoming summer influx of visitors... soon to descend upon the province... they were down to one last Sherman painting in their inventory.

Ironically... my visit to our post office yesterday yielded a pleasant surprise - a nice big cheque from the same gallery covering their latest sale of one of my larger works... "Mare's Tails Over Ironbound Island". All too Strange... "ships passing in the night".Storms do come... and pass. Fair weather does return
... in its own good time. Just keep sailing!

"Everything comes in its good time... to those who wait" (patiently)!

Good Painting to all!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Creation... and the importance of "Motherhood"

May is an "M" month... may flowers... and most especially... Mother's day! So why must Ol' Man Winter... and his discouraging weather try so very hard to not cooperate? As I am writing this post, it is snowing and blowing viciously outside my window.

Oh well... Happy Mother's Day!... anyways... to all of "You" who are mothers!

We set aside one day in the year to honour the people in our families who are caregivers.... nurturers... confidantes... counsellors... healers... therapists... and lifetime Friends. "You" are indeed worthy of this honour bestowed upon each of you by your individual families and their varied rituals of celebrating this yearly occasion.

"I" envy each family who is still able to carry on this tradition face-to-face with their Mom....Ma... Mum... Mother tomorrow. "I" will be visiting my Mother's grave... flowers in hand... to spend a few quiet moments reflecting thankfully.... reverently... to offer forever my undying love, respect and need... to "Be"... together and "one" with the Soul who made my living possible... and blessed.

While the deep pain and sorrow that visited "me" initially with her passing has ebbed away over time..."I" do experience moments in my daily life when my need to be in touch with "Her"... to feel the comfort of her presence... generous spirit and her unconditional love which "She" offered each member of our family. Strangely... I will often find my Self reaching for the phone to call "Her"... silly ol' Bear!

What my post underscores.. is that a GOOD mother's work is never done... even reaching beyond the grave. My Mom's gifts to "Me" over our shared lifetime will be "passed forward" by "Me"... unconditionally... by "Me" to my own five children... and to every student who sat within my classroom over twenty-seven years.

"I" am indeed blessed to have had such a Mother - capital "M" fully intended and tomorrow my thoughts and my heart will belong to "Her" in gratitude and love.

In closing... I offer another look at a still life painting that "I" created in her memory entitled "Summer Reliquary". She loved all things wild... birds... flowers and her cottage which we summered at for over 50 years. This painting is my reliquary box... to hold all of the sacred memory objects from that riverside "Church". It is included in my book along with this poem that is written on the back of the painting.... my love expressed in my "Two Voices"

I send out my personal best wishes for rich blessings and long life to ALL Mothers!

Summer Reliquary

All the lessons have been taught
But all are not yet learned.
Though all the pages have been written,
Each day I find a new page turned.

A simple smile... or daisy face
Conjures up sweet thoughts of "You"-
Lost words once spoken fall into place,
Come peace and wisdom too.

Though Time and earthly matters do conspire
To blight sweet memory treasures rare,
I only have to look about me,
Or in my heart-
And I always find "You" there.

"I" love "You" forever Mom!

Sunday, June 9Th, 2009

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Value of "Imagineering"....and Mentorship at the highest level !

To dare to dream... to think outside the box... to go where others fear to go..."to Imagineer"!...and to be willing to share your "Light"!

My last post discussed the "possibility" that taking risks and facing new challenges could open doors we could never dream of... if only took courage... and "We" listened to our Inner Self... sacrificed... and trusted that the Universe is indeed a vast and limitless realm where ALL dreams can come true!

Today... my second eldest child Allison Morgan successfully defended her PhD (Art History) dissertation at Cambridge University, England! Henceforth... "I" teased... it will be necessary for "Me" to address "Her" as... Dr. Jemima Puddle Duck. All teasing aside... "I" am so VERY proud of her unique achievement and the "Imagineering" that was involved in her eleven year personal pursuit of excellence... and the continous level of scholarship she maintained to self-fund her goal.

From the time when "She" was just five years old and accompanied "Me"... along with her younger brother Andrew (Andyrewster)... on plein air painting forays and "go to shallow waters"... (minnowing and frogging... "She" fiercely maintained that:"She" was going to be an artist when she grew up"! Both she and Andrew are indeed fine artists in their own right.... having painted with me on many, many occasions right into their teens and high school. They shared my dream and journey... but both had their own dreams... and both, I am proud to say... are well on their way to achieving them.

In accomplishing her own dream... "She" brings great honour to her beautiful Self... to her Sherman Family (particularly her Mother who has been her guiding light)... to the memory of her two marvelous and enabling mentors Ms. Ann Stevenson... her Grade Six Teacher and her high school art teacher Berkley Brean. Sadly... neither is here to bear witness to and share this proud and joyful moment with "Her". Their unselfish and unconditional "gifts" of their time and counsel exist... and will be "passed forward"... well beyond their earthly days by the equally capable and committed actions and contributions that Allison will "create".... and "imagineer" to prepare her own charges for the world they must live in.

I take time away from my usual "Art Talk" today... though both are strongly related to share this event in our Family life with my readers. I do so, to acknowledge the importance of the presence of family in the holistic "picture" of a successful and healthy creative journey. I can't imagine any personal degree of Happiness or Success without the mention of the presence and and role that all members of my family... my mentors... my Friends and my peers have contributed to make my life productive,full and meaningful.

"I" would suggest to all of my readers that we must always remember... that the greatest gifts that we leave behind are firstly our children to carry forward in our name and on our behalf. Secondly, we leave our accomplishments in the Arts... whether contributed singularly as individuals...or collectively as a culture. Finally... we leave our own kind acts to encourage Love... Honour... Generosity... Fairness... Loyalty... and above all...TRUTH! These are truly Life's "Masterpieces"!!!

In closing this evening... "I" salute "You"... Doctor Allison Morgan Sherman... aka Jemima Puddle Duck not only for your accomplishments in achieving this milestone Doctoral Degree... but as well "I" laud "You" for your diligence... for your loyalty... intellect... and for your Humanity!

"I" wish "You" fair winds, good health and prosperity... wherever Life and The Universe draws "You". Know that "I" am VERY proud of..."You"... and am with "You" ALWAYS!!

"I" would close by repeating Berkley Breene's last mortal words to his family members:

"I" am deeply blessed!

All my love ALWAYS!

Postscript: The top jpeg was my gift of a "personaized" side table for Allison's undergraduation from Queen's University, Kingston in October, 2002.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"Imagineering"...Creating beyond photo reference

Be creative!... Do one thing each day that scares you!

I customarily create my larger paintings either from oil "sketches" done completely on location in the field... or from pencil and ink renderings that I make in my sketchbooks from field experiences. I find that these sources help me to simplify and work out compositional, colour and value structure that inspire me to take the preliminary experience to a higher level.This is my usual approach to working on larger paintings in the studio... and usually after much time has passed since the first record.

I refer to a different process which I refer to as creating using "imagineering"... or forming an altogether new interpretation... allowing the imagination to override simply copying, or scaling up the original "sketch". The change can take the form of a seasonal change... a compositional shift in focus... or a more dramatic lighting effect to create another mood.

On odd occasions... if I'm bored or stymied... I visit my extensive digital photo reference files in my computer to find something to stir the embers... and light the creative fire within. I use the photo simply as a springboard to get off the ground initially... and I usually create a couple of loose ink thumbnails to get the feel for the composition. I will stress... that at this point I toss the photo aside and direct my process totally based upon intuition... and the vast experience I have gained and stored in my plein air work over many years.

As I work my way along... ideas or directions regarding format,lighting, colour and composition never fail to emerge. When one "idea" strikes me strongly enough... I quickly move to a toned canvas and lay in the idea lightly with vine charcoal... or with a burnt sienna or umber linear drawing.

I might go forward with a monochromatic tonal study in the colours mentioned... creating patterns and masses of form or lights and darks. This accomplished, I then proceed to a lay in of colour... working up more solid tonal relationships. The final stage is to tie together these other steps by adding detail and balancing lights and darks... working towards finish.

Today's subject "Morning Has Broken" (24x30 inch oil on canvas) derives from a photo taken many years ago at Stonehurst South, Nova Scotia... a favourite haunt of mine during my years living in that area. It is one example where this "imagineering" process focussed upon creating a glorious early morning light which I believe totally transcends the original digital image. You will readily note that I have added and subtracted... stretched and pulled at will to create a "new take"... on a rather ordinary initial digital image.

One area of the painting required considerable care and thought. The addition of the cape boat could have well produced a disastrous result for the otherwise successful painting... if its scale and placement had been incorrect in relationship to the rest of the subject matter. One jpeg illustrates how I avoided this pitfall using a grid as a device to compare scale.

I hope that my readers find this painting attractive... and that my post might encourage others to "imagineer"... and to use photo reference as yet another useful tool in their creative tool boxes.Remember! The camera is NOT a substitute for outdoor sketching and painting. A camera has a finite realm for creating based upon its limited optics... whereas your eyes... palette and brain form a Universe of "possibility" for Creation!

Good Painting to All!