Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Value of the Plein Air Experience

Before discussing the plein air experience... "I" must digress for a moment to attend to a more important matter:

Happy Father's Day Dad!

My Dad has been gone now seven years... but his "Presence" remains strong in our Family and in my Soul in particular. My Father was my mentor... my counsellor and my my Friend."He" was a gifted musician... a pianist who proficiently played and enjoyed every form of music. He was awarded his seventy five year pin by the local Musician International Union of his peers for his lifetime contribution to music. But more than that... "He" left each of his Family with a lasting legacy of musical appreciation and accomplishment... that we all use in some form... and cherish.

So... Happy Father's Day Dad!

"We'll meet again... don't know where... don't know when
Some sunny day."

God bless and keep "You" and Mom!

Thought that I would leave you with some thoughts regarding the value of making the effort to work outdoors... before headin' off to have my Highland Fling!

My painting pal from Algonquin Park, David and Diane Kay visited us for a couple of days. David and I managed to "get out there" on two days and really found some exciting subjects to sink our teeth into. All sites were within ten minutes of home here in Hillsdale... so no time was wasted driving around. It was just a case of arriving ... setting up... and getting down to work. I had scouted the sites out beforehand because of the short duration of their stay.

We were challenged by threatening rain and bouts of gusty wind... but we persevered... skipped lunch and managed to get in four successful pieces. Because David and I work very quickly... we only spent two hour periods for three. For the final of three on the last day... we limited ourselves to a 45 minute window, due to the fact that David wanted to travel into Barrie to pick up necessary art supplies that aren't at all available in his neck-o-the-woods.

David usually leaves his work to finish back in the studio... but I prefer to reach a final stage of finish for my plein air sketches... otherwise... "I" usually work them to death... and "Shermanize" them with detail that reduces the spontaneity. My four works will simply receive titles... go to the frame... and the Gallery wall... "as is".

This painting experience really "revs my engines"... and prepares "Me" for the trip to Scotland... to the numerous fishing villages ... and new "Horizons" that "I" will see. "I" have chosen to work/sketch only in watercolour... another "Horizon" shift to make the juices flow.

See "You" in a week! Until then....
Good Painting to All!
Warmest regards,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Horizons - Sky's the limit! Part Two

This post specifically directs itself towards further examining and applying the second possible application for the term "Horizons" to creating one's art. As I previously suggested... "extending the limits, scope and knowledge"... or "horizons" of one's own creative ability and potential can only take place when one is open to risk making changes in one's process and thinking.

The first step in achieving this goal is to look carefully and objectively at the process you currently work with... identifying the "hallmarks" of your style... preferred mediums... the genres, or subject matter that you feel most comfortable with... sizes or formats that you feel comfortable using... reference materials you work from... even the artists and friends you admire and allow to influence direction(s) in your work.

If you consider these "attributes" of your process objectively... a pattern will likely emerge which best describes your working process. It is not necessary to create a change for the sake of change alone. Make a change if, and only if.. you feel a strong need "within" to make one. I often do this when I feel myself..."running out of gas"... or enthusiasm... for the act of painting. Some might call it a "painter's block".

I deliberately choose a "change of pace"... a change selected from any of the "attributes" mentioned above in my own painting process.IE doing a lino cut for a few days... therefore undertaking a change of medium. This change forces "Me" away from my oil painting preferences... and forces "Me" to use a very different vocabulary for my picture making. Simply working en plein air is usually the most effective way for me to recharge my batteries... and to regain my enthusiasm and fresh new ideas. Any one of the "attributes can become the focus of a change... and from it comes new experience and learning... not only about the medium, or your process... but more importantly... about "You"- the Creator!

My latest painting project is a very large 36x48 inch commission for an interior designer and their clients. It originates from one of the five "Lilac Series" panels from the last few posts. The series arose when I "chained together" dissimilar ideas or sketches based upon a common theme. I had not planned to complete a large canvas from any of them at this juncture... but it "happened"... simply because I had "shuffled the deck" and created a focus that excited 'Me" to think "outside of the box"... and theme..."Lilacs". It obviously struck a similar chord with the clients.

The large canvas derives from the sketch "Barriefield Village at Lilac Time" on a 10x12 inch panel. Since this subject lined up with my usual landscape interest... I could easily apply my usual process of "moving-from-small-to-large" with ease. I chose to work on my usual burnt sienna acrylic toned ground... but began with a looser initial "searching" for shape and design. I added darker accents with the burnt sienna to accurately create a good drawing and then blocked in masses broadly with only approximate value interests. I began the real painting... by pushing and pulling tones and values in all areas the painting simultaneously to create unity and coherence in the overall design.

It was at this juncture that my usually dependable process seemed to be
"missing the mark" somehow... and I became increasingly frustrated and disinterested in the painting as a whole. The painting surface and mood was too "quiet"... so I stopped painting and set it aside for two days... only visiting it in the early mornings and late evenings to "look" at it... all the time hoping to discover something to rekindle my enthusiasm.

This morning... it struck "Me" that it completely lacked any texture. So I decided to take drastic action... one out of the ordinary for "Me" in my usual comfort zone. I took up a palette knife... laid out a very huge amount of titanium white... mixed it to fit the paint colour on the sunlit part of the road. But I intentionally lifted the value much higher and I worked with an "alla prima" abandon... creating a higher key and very impasto texture... in contrast to what I had accomplished earlier using my usual "big brush approach". The effect was immediately uplifting for "Me"... and the canvas took on new life and vitality! I believe that this excitement comes out of the contrast between "the quiet"... and the "alla prima" techniques... side-by-side.

"I" am... "back in the saddle again!"... eager to continue... thanks to a calculated risk... and the addition of a new strategy for enhancing a "quiet" painting!

The old adage "A change is sometimes better than a rest" sums up what I am trying to present in this example. Rather than abandoning your painting process... being driven into discouragement and inaction... Step back! Evaluate! Try another activity!... Set a new course that encourages success and doesn't wallow in defeat.

Early morning coffee "alone" in the quiet of my studio... with my creative Self has on more than many occasions given "Me" insights, solutions and new directions in those fallow periods. Often I "sip n' read" my way through old sketchbooks and I often stumble upon a hidden kernel... waiting to be fertilized and grown into reality.

Just some ideas folks! We ALL travel the same or "parallel" artistic paths... in different locations and under slightly different circumstances perhaps... but we suffer the same uncertainties... have life intrude and impose upon our creative spirits and energies and often are paralyzed by self-doubt.

Take joy in the fact that "You" are not... "alone" in this struggle. Know too... that nothing worthwhile can occur in life ... except through personal struggle. Adversity is the greatest teacher... and lessons learned from this process build character and lifelong positive change.

Good Painting to All!!!

PS Horizon... Sky's the Limit Part Three... will examine the term "horizon" from the perspective of travel... and how travel through its broadening influence and exposure to new cultural and physical landscape... broadens the scope and limits of one's artistic process.

Stay tuned for my next travel-influenced posting... featuring my new plein sketches from around St Andrew's, Scotland... where I will be celebrating my daughter Allison's receiving her PhD in Art History. "I" have done some preliminary scouting... and have a few choice painting destinations already in my cross hairs.

New Horizon..... much anticipated!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Horizons.... Sky's the limit! - Part One

By simple dictionary definition "horizon" can mean... "an apparent line that divides earth and sky" or conversely it can be used to denote... "Limits of scope, interest, or knowledge".

As landscape artists, we all make use of the first definition as a crucial starting point from which to build the structure of each painting we begin. That use of "horizon" is finite and is universal in its application by us all.

However, the second definition of the term "horizon" can allude to infinite possibility... given one's willingness to explore and grow as a creative individual.

An artist from Quebec... whose work and personal creative philosophy "I" truly admire is Richard Monpetit. I only came into contact with his beautiful work through my own visits and work in Baie-Saint-Paul in Charlevoix, Quebec. There, I saw a few original pieces and was immediately drawn to his masterful application of paint and the quality of luminous light in all of his work. I managed to procure a copy of a catalogue of a hugely successful solo exhibition that he had been given at The Roberts Gallery in Toronto, Ontario. The title of that show was "Horizons".

I wish to quote the forward that he wrote for the introduction in that catalogue in this post verbatim... because, in its totality.... it might as well express my own personal philosophy regarding the act of painting. Perhaps "You" might also feel a sense of personal "recognition" within his words:

"On the whole, I am a traveler. No matter where I am I look with a certain distance to see and feel. My gaze on the present moment is possessed of a certain nostalgia, as if I were observing old photos.
Then everything is clear and I really see. Of course, I am painting the light, but studying the light is looking at time through days and nights, seasons, etc. So in a way my subject is time; time passing in our life, time that I would like to capture or at least remember when magic was present and express that I was there... I am there."

- Richard Monpetit

Aren't these wonder filled... beautiful thoughts to consider? Does it matter if the painting is "good" or "bad".... completed "en plein air"... or in one's studio... is saleable or not... is award winning or rejected?

What is so important is that each and every piece that you complete is unique... one-of-a-kind... an expression that records your personal view of a moment in your own journey. "You"... "alone" are the Creator and there should be value and "honourable mention" for that in itself. Be proud of that accomplishment and build upon it painting-by-painting... and by always reaching beyond the horizon as "You" presently see it. Paint... explore... read... workshop... share... and grow... all to become better and to increase the scope... the limits and the knowledge that you currently have gained.

Are "We" all... not on "Parallel" journeys... all headed towards the same limitless Horizon? Hope that "You" never "arrive". For it is the wondrous journey and not the destination that is important!

Fair journeys... and Good Painting... to all! Make... and discover your own "Magic"... and share it!

PS: Today's jpeg is last week's effort arising from a trip to Terra Nova, a smallish crossroads community located in the Blue Hills region near Collingwood on Georgian Bay. It is Terra Nova's proudest claim to be the highest point of land in all of Ontario. I could easily see the famed CN Tower in Toronto .... "on the distant horizon"... nearly 100 kilometres away. I go there because of the panoramic vista opportunities it provides... and to feel the always present prairie-like winds atop these vantage points. It is indeed a Heaven on earth... with buildings and barns like the one depicted... clinging on for dear life in spaces not yet bulldozed or beseiged by developers. Heaven on earth!

More to come... stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Looking Beyond Lilacs... and the Obvious

In the last post, I portrayed a very personal interest in employing lilacs as a backdrop really in the votive memorial piece "Where Have All the Flowers Gone". I intentionally issued the lilacs a secondary role to other more important elements in the composition. I did this by decreasing attention to detail to the lilacs and by employing finer detail to the stronger red elements which really were the main focus in the painting. Here the use of lilacs supports a purely emotional resonse other than landscape value as was the case in the post before in Barriefield Village.

The second of three jpegs used in today's post again revisits a purely landscape interest and treatment, as is the most common approach in plein air usage. Plein air painting is much more than an outing to create one painting. It is an opportunity to be immersed in an environment that is stimulating... an environment that offers one the opportunity to see... think... smell and touch... an environment to hunt and to gather in. "Ideas" can be carried back to the studio to "trigger" deeper thimking and development of the theme... in this case "lilacs".

Two such studio extensions come out of this same plein air experience arise from two very different sources. The middle jpeg ... is a more traditional floral still life incorporates one of my "collectibles"... in this case a Crown preserve jar from my Mom's Kitchen "equipment". In this situation I have given emphasis to detail in all parts of the composition... in an attempt to visually link the notion of a lasting fragrance of Spring,2010... and of my Mom's memory....hence the title"Preserving Spring 2010".

The first of the three jpegs is a kind of "still life" that I captured in one of my early morning walks in the village. I noticed this old Fargo truck... a veteran of WWII... "re-tired" as a makeshift tow truck... and now ... fully retired to waste away amongst a lovely grove of fragrant purple lilacs. The two juxtoposed in contrast made "Me" think of.... "The Beauty... and the Beast".

Perhaps my Romantic side does run away with "Me"... some might say. But "I" would argue that the thematic way "I" approach painting keeps "The Flow" ever moving. "I" never am at a loss for ideas to paint... nor do "I" find myself needing breaks that often lead to vacant hours or much worse... discouragement or Self-doubt - the slayer of many artists.

So at the conclusion of "The Lilac Series"... I offer this approach as food for thought to anyone who might feel challenged by the "piece-by-piece aproach"... each done in isolation to the next. Might be worth a try!

Good Painting to all!