Friday, February 25, 2011

Inside ..... Outside

This week found "Me" a little at loose ends... between projects, but steeped in some commitments that kept me away from what I had hoped would be a productive week. Life has a way at times with getting in the way of serious thoughts and creativity.

The weather didn't cooperate much either. Cold is one thing... but high, gusty winds that continually come from every direction and driving snow are quite another. Those conditions simply discourage and punish... so I spent Tuesday afternoon at the easel... "plunking away" at a smallish 11x14 canvas. I really don't find these smaller canvases much fun because the format tends to make me tighten up and they always come across as controlled and too..."quiet".

Perhaps those qualities were okay for this subject however... since the barn complex no longer exists. It was simply bull dozed and burned unceremoniously... after over a hundred years of use and service. Progress... "They" call it!

The Second piece came out of an on location painting foray on Wednesday. It was a perfect day to be "out there"! Sun... no wind... great shadows and light everywhere one looked. I only required 10 minutes to find this site very close to home... one that had not caught my eye even after dozens of trips down Ingram Road. In the deep background... one can see the ski slopes of Horseshoe Valley Ski Resort.

I simply couldn't resist the woodland tangle and play of light and shadow in the foreground. Luckily... I decided to spend the first hour simply establishing the patterns of light and shadow in the foreground.Good thinking... because this area would change over and over again during my two hour stay at the site.

The background remained constantly lit during the entire two hour session. Good decision! Because I had laid in white very thickly at the beginning... I found it necessary to adjust some of the vertical twigs and some clumps of snow later that evening in the studio... but just a few changes. I think that it faithfully records "the moment"... which was my sole objective!

Two inside... one outside. Which is yer cup o' tea?
I have my favourite!!! HAHA!!

Good Painting! Spring's a' comin'....get "out there"!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Family Day In Canada!

Our government... in its infinite wisdom created "Family Day" ... statutory holiday for working Canadians and their families... except that they didn't create one that applied to all people Banks are closed... federal offices and services are closed... yet stores and Canada Post are open for business! How strange!

We are at home however... sharing time with two of my family... just chillin'... quite literally! Winter moved right back into our area with some more snow and sub-zero temperatures... after two days of spring-like weather and double digit temps. The ski resorts and outdoor rink enthusiasts are happy at least... as are the snowmobilers. Our area is well endowed with much-used woodland and cross-pastureland ski trails. Snow is BIG business in our area!!!

I'm not a snow machine owner... or enthusiast. I've never even rode on one! Too much noise and jostlin' about for "Me" and my kidneys! HAHA!! Seriously though, I prefer hiking... either on foot, or on my snowshoes... where I can enjoy the quiet and the varied wildlife and birds that winter in our region. Just a difference in choices!

Here is a large 4x8 foot commission that I completed a couple of years back for the family of Ron Hallyburton family of Hillsdale. They are very BIG fans of any sport that involves speed. Son Travis depicted in the commission raced high performance snow machines until a serious injury to his knee ended his participation. Both he and his older brother Thane also drive stock cars during the summer and fall months! It is a family passion and draws them together to complete... both on the track and in the pit!

This piece was quite a lengthy undertaking... and required a lot of practice on my part to "get up to speed" on drawing these machines and the gear. I had two discs of good digital references with over 220 images to come up with the composition. I managed in a week to "splice together" a couple or related images to come up with the race action composition. In the end... both they and I were happy with the outcome. My last act was to hang the work at the head of Trav's bed... in a room bedecked in motor sport decals and trophies. The "Hallyburton Air Show"... 4x8 feet on a full sheet of cradled tempered masonite was a challenging...b ut rewarding commission for friends!

Whatever your interests... either indoor or outdoor... enjoy the last of our winter in your own special way! And wherever you can... spend some of that time with your Family! Time is very precious... and has an uncanny habit... of slipping away too quickly on us all !

Good Painting and Playing... to ALL!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Getting A Plein Air Feel... in the Studio

Last night I was pleased to present a two hour demonstration to about thirty keen members of the Barrie Art Club in their shared studio space. This opportunity to share arose when several of their members visited Hillsdale on a plein air paint out... and when cold... they came to our Gallery for a warm up... and look around. I was asked if I would accept an invitation to do a demo after Christmas matters settled.

The object of their invitation was to give members some tips and encouragement to increase plein air participation based upon my own working methods. This request is not new to me... most people who choose to paint in the warmth of the studio and in large groups are a bit mystified by my preference to be "out there" in all sorts of weather... particularly in winter.

I geared my presentation and demo towards the aspects of painting outdoors... especially in difficult weather. Firstly... use of Time is really important. Cold can be punishing... but also because Time in winter is unlike other seasons because the lighting is transient... changing constantly with cloud cover and the shorter daylight hours.

So prior preparation is essential. My palette is already in place and ready for use. My canvas sizes are primed... toned and available to accommodate any subject format. I usually have scouted out a subject and therefore have a location in mind... so I waste no time looking for motivation. I do an equipment check to ensure that I have the necessary support to begin quickly. My easel, box and equipment needs are light and easy to set up and carry... in and out.

I allow myself about fifteen minutes to gauge the scene and digest what it is that I want to paint... a great time for a quick coffee and tromp around. I set to work quickly spending as little time as possible to create an accurate ... thought out composition based upon bare bones information and most important linear elements. I then begin a very thin application of blocks of appropriate colour... establishing darks and lights very thinly. I usually allow and use most of a half hour to forty-five minutes to reach this initial state.

I then step back about a dozen paces... coffee or soup in hand... and plan my "assault/attack" on the canvas. I try very hard to work with speed and confidence... alla prima... brushes loaded with almost raw pigment... doing most of the "mixing" of tones almost in an accidental way. Leave "good" strokes... those that show meaningful value... direction or colour and movement. I then focus on the dark-light relationship in the painting. That will inevitably be the subject... or be located surrounding it.
My final task is to fine tune values... and add a few rigger strokes to give detail. Stopping is easy when you are cold... or when the light has faded. If I am not going to meet the deadline in my battle with the light... I will take a digital image to support some extra tweaking back in the studio. I rarely need to return to the site... preferring to let my memory guide the finishing.

I began the "sharing" at 7:00 pm sharp... and was underway painting on the black toned 20x24 inch canvas 15 minutes later. I brought the outdoors... indoors ... using a 10x12 inch panel which I had made in November on location. I answered questions continually throughout the drawing and lay in parts of the demo and we took a break at 8:00 pm for individual questions... socializing... and snacks. At 8:15 sharp I jumped into the "attack"mode to demonstrate how speed and the alla prima method dove-tailed.

At exactly 9:00 pm... I put the brushes down and allowed people to fire questions at me and to come up closer to the "finished" work. All in all... it was a valuable learning experience for everyone... my Self included! I came away with a strong feeling that the work... done under studio conditions did in fact possess the "painterly" freshness that comes from outdoor sketching within similar time and pressure constraints! I was satisfied that people were going home encouraged by new ideas and enthusiasm to perhaps give plein air painting a whirl... whenever!!

A night well spent! New friends.... and another reasonably good painting for the Gallery... with a few tweaks to be added!

Good Painting to ALL! Get out there!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine...

Happy Valentine's Day ! ... to those whose Passion is making and sharing Art!

I am sending this post today... especially to Sherry! "I" truly hope that this post encourages "You" to look beyond the aspect of making art that deals only with draughtsmanship. Draughtsmanship is indeed essential as a tool in one's toolbox... and a very important part of the process of creating Realism... if that 's your cup o' tea.

Like penmanship... it can indeed be taught... and learned over time by nearly everyone with lots and lots of structured practice... and then by merely using it regularly. There are also those precious few who are "gifted" by their nature and passion to do it more than the rest of us. Both penmanship and draughtsmanship have suffered drastically in this society... where shortcuts to success are the focus ... rather than putting in your time... earning your spurs.

Carrying and using a sketchbook daily is a great tool to improve this skill. If you can ever get a copy of Dr Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain"... it is a really useful resource which offers specific short lessons and activities to painlessly teach "You" how to "See"... meaning understand... what you are looking at. There is a vast difference in those two terms. Most good libraries... or book stores would carry this edition.

On Friday, February 11th, "I" celebrated 67 wonderful... adventure-filled years on this beautiful Planet. Deb cooked me my favourite dinner... and I did what "I" love to do most... I painted a commemorative painting to mark the occasion. It was , for the most part completed on the day... with a few tweaks and twitters over the weekend. But in my true quirky fashion... it was created... and now offered to any who can make sense of it... and most especially for my Friend Sherry. It's "My Funny Valentine"... and yes... that tune was a "gold standard" in my childhood home... and still is mine today... joining Star Dust and As Time Goes By as favs on my all time play list.

The format is ... would you not say... off the wall. A postage stamp format. Some of the most beautiful art can be found travellin' around the planet affixed to letters and cards. As a child... restricted in travel... "I" had a passion... no an obsession for collecting stamps. I was able to "Imagine" what life was like in the Belgian Congo... Togo.... Yugoslavia... Trinidad and Tobago... just by looking at and dreaming about the pictures on those stamps.

That love of stamps... commemorative stamps in particular, followed me into my teaching. With one particular class... we studied stamps in Canada... from the origin of the "Idea" to the present day. We created stamp designs... together... and exhibited our "stamps" at the local post office in Kingston. It was such a hit that I decided to create a post office in our school... and we did. The postmaster provided letter boxes... sorting tables... hats .... mailbags and much moral support as we launched our Send A Valentine in our school. Head honchos from Post Canada arrived on our doorstep as visitors... and were so impressed by the enthusiasm that I was hired to write a unit of study for use in schools across Canada. My school board granted me a sabbatical for a year and I completed the task. When I came back to class ... the board offered me a Visual Arts Consultant position to in-service the new unit across the 41 schools in our county. IT led to my being hired to work on th A-Team... The Arts Team for the next two years. Strange... how the Universe speaks... offers unexpected opportunity and direction to one's life... if "You" .... pay attention!HAHA!!!

The purpose of this post is NOT intended to elevate my own position. It was simply a good "Idea" from a child with a "learning disability" (at the time)... taken by a caring individual as being worthy of expansion. A "Child" leading a "Teacher" (Off the wall by some folks standards) . That "Idea" so encouraged and motivated our small group of "misfits" not only for that six month period... but for all of time. Scott... that frail... quiet child... the "Idea" proposer... now teaches Computer Technology at Royal Military College.

Many of his class of "learning disabled" moved on to unexpected and highly successful careers involving leadership skills. All others left with their sense of worth... let's call it...Self Esteem... (capitals fully intended) intact. Their "disability" didn't really exist for many of them. The inability of the system of education to recognize and accomodate the fact that they were leaders... not followers was the main cause of their delayed academic and personal growth. That out of the way... and they soared and returned to the very same "regular" classes... where they and their teachers and peers labelled them as n'er-do-wells and misfits.

The point being in this diatribe? Simple! Self Esteem is primary to personal health and Happiness. Self Esteem comes mainly from Joy and Passion felt within. It can be enhanced and encouraged by others aroung or near us... but "We"... alone are ultimately responsible for creating it! Making art for these reasons... to "Me" should be the only reason for involving one's Self in the melee. If one chooses to beat themselves up because they can't draw... there is little opportunity... or chance that anything good can come out of being involved in the process.

I have included three jpegs which clearly illustrate ,"I" think... how Joy and Happiness can be achieved without placing such a high regard for "perfect" draughtsmanship on the final outcome. I truly enjoyed making this "Valentine" for all of "You". It may not be the best thing I have ever come up with... but it demonstrates my point fully!

"What would painting be without passion in the heart of the painter?"

-Stendal, French Writer (1783-1842)

"Sing! Sing your song... make it simple to last the whole day long.

Don't worry if it's not good enough to last the whole day long ...

Just sing! Sing your song!"

-Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters)

Sing! Paint! Play!... and celebrate "You"! "You" are the only "You"! Love your... "Self"!

Much love... and Good Painting to All! Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sharing the Light

No matter how long one pushes pigment... we all come up against walls.... interior barriers that discourage us. I believe that this probably occurs because the act of painting is mostly a solitary process... a process where critical input an insight are rarely present... or sought out, for that matter. Painting is a highly personal act... akin, I think to raising children. We don't wish to be told we are not doing it right... but at the same time we also realize that we in fact aren't doing "something" right.

In today's world, there are many ways to find knowledge to encourage one past these hurdles and plateaux. Self-help books abound... guru workshops can be sought out... painting groups can be formed and joined... local evening classes can be attended. All of these resources can... and do greatly enhance and encourage one's artisic journey.

Blogging has presented a new avenue to share ideas and processes. If used properly... it can be a wonderful artistic "connector"... across the entire world... instantly. It is (usually) a safe place to share... to reach out... to gain encouragement.. to grow in spirit and in confidence. I truly look forward to interfacing with kindred spirits who genuinely are serious about sharing... and growing... together!

I do not surf looking for sites... or seek out Followers. I choose to connect and share with people who by their interests... comments and their sincerity display goals and a work ethic similar to my own. While certain aspects of our work and our processes will continue to be divergent... we seem to run in parallel at least, in our motivation and passion for what we enjoy doing - creating Art!

Recently, I was honoured to be asked to present a demo for a group of artists I have known for many years. I have not been as active in the group over the past decade... having been located in the Maritimes and places distant from the group. I continue to enjoy my connection to the group... both old friends and newer members.

"Sharing the light" does not however... come without its pitfalls and discouragements these days. For the first time in my many years of attending and giving workshops and demos... I face situations where people cringe at the mention... never mind the use of solvents and toxic materials. Often their complaints lead away from the direction intended and can be distracting to the painting process. One should always pay attention to... and be aware of the dangers of prolonged exposure to these hazards... especially in closed quarters. That is a valid concern to be paid attention to! If highly sensitive... avoid situations entirely in favour of water-based materials... and demos!

I demonstrate using no solvents... employing titanium alkyd white and a walnut alkyd medium... both non-toxic quick driers and only shop towels to remove pigments while I paint. In the studio, I clean my bristle brushes with Sunlight Dishwashing Detergent and warm water. Outdoors, I use turps to thin pigments... kerosene to clean my brushes and to add to my white to slow down thickening due to cold temperatures. I keep rags and brushes away from my mouth and wear thin cotton gloves to protect my hands from the cold... and the solvents. At a cost of less than a dollar per pair... they are disposable if soiled. I buy them in packages of ten and always have extras in my box and in my van. All soiled rags are taken immediately to the outside garbage container... not only because of fumes... but more because of the very real possibility of spontaneous combustion causing fire to occur. Linseed oil is well known and feared for this hazard.

Each of us has a unique voice... no matter our experience... or our level of painting expertise. I learn so very much from talking with and watching students work. Having to look at my own process and adapt it to a different viewpoint causes me to think outside of my usual box. Doing the demo at Bark Lake did... I feel encourage most everyone attending. But "letting go" of the demo piece sooner that I would have liked to... sent me home with an "Idea" that encouraged a me to work in an entirely new direction arisng out of that experience. Therefore, I owe the creation of this new piece entirely to the discussion and process that came out of the demo. In this case... "Sharing the Light" resulted in a growth in my own process.

This piece "Minuet d'Hiver"... completed on a larger format 36x 30 inch canvas is certainly derivative in nature to the demo. However , it is plainly evident that it goes beyond the goals and final appearance of the initial piece in terms of form, composition and handling of paint.

I'll leave it to each of "You" to decide and to mull over my ideas and to add your own thoughts and comments if you so wish to. They are always appreciated!

Always being open to new ideas and learning is essential to artistic growth and development at any point in one's journey. Every day and every painting offers an opportunity to grow. Those with an elevated sense of themselves and their abilities cease to grow. Change is necessary ... and good for everyone. Sharing your Light changes the light of others... without diminishing your own.

"None is blinder... than those who will not see! "

Eyes open! Brushes dancing! Sharing!... Good painting to All!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bark Lake Weekend - Part 2

As a follow up to my last post... I am posting the five paintings that I produced on the weekend ... aside from the demo... which has been displayed. Despite the VERY cold -22C temperatures, I managed to make decent sketches around Bark Lake, Salerno Lake and Irondale... all fairly nearby. On most occasions... I shared time with my long time friend and mentor, 86 years young... Poul Thrane from Belleville, Ontario.

I first met Poul and his wife Audrey at an outdoor show at Ameliasburg in Prince Edward County in the mid 1970s. Poul had immigrated to Canada after a stint with the British Army in India. While stationed in Great Britain ... he met Audrey and they moved to Toronto seeking a new life. It was while living there that Poul began honing his painting skills as a landscape artist at evening classes at the Ontario College of Art. His day job as a tram operator for the Toronto Transit Commission held little challenge for him... so they moved to Actinolite, north of Belleville and he began teaching evening classes at Loyalist College.

This fateful encounter converted me from a hobbyist to a serious student of painting. It was Poul alone who took "Me" to the outdoors to paint in Algonquin Park... and forever changed the direction of my journey. "I" am... and will remain an outdoor... yes "plein air" painter too... because of his encouragement and his sharing. Many other artists owe "Him" this same debt as well. "He" is... our own (Canadian) Richard Schmid... if you get my drift! Talented beyond others... but generous with his time and knowledge beyond comparison!

I learned a great deal about painting on location with Poul, but I learned a great deal more about living a disciplined and committed life as an artist through observing him relentlessly pursue excellence and continual growth. This was achieved... I would come to learn only through unsupervised personal study... regular painting practice and contact with many other fine artists. The pure imitation of his "stylism" was not the intent of either the "student"... or the "mentor during the many years we shared painting together."

In my next post, which will be entitled Sharing Your Light... I will attempt of share what "I" learned about the process of mentoring... and finding mentor ship. Both afford valuable growth experiences and opportunities... but as in all parts of life... can be harmful if used to the extreme by either party involved. Making art should be always an individual pursuit... driven by the passion, skills and the initiative of the artist. Even conducting a simple demo for a group can provide gain for both the presenter... and the group being presented to.

This post is motivated by a comments/questions offered by my Scottish blogging friend Caroline Simmill... check out her wonderful . You' ll be glad that you did!In my last post, I alluded to the fact that I rarely look for acceptance or praise to direct my thinking or my work. That may be true on one level... but on another... making art is in fact an attempt by the artist to "express" an inner "idea" or feeling... so that others viewing the work can be caused to at least respond in some way... or on the higher level to want to purchase a work. "I" make art for my Self at first... but I really always hope and intend... that they will find their way into the hands of others to appreciate and enjoy.

I will close this post with the words on a plaque in our studio which is a mantra/ credo of sorts for "Me":

"The artist is nothing without the gift. But the gift is nothing without the work."
-Emile Zola, French Author

Zola knew what he was talking about... both as creative writer and a confrere of many of the French Impressionist movement. Our "work"as artists... is painting. The simple act of painting more than anything... creates artistic growth and development beyond work shopping... reading "how to" books by gurus and lessons. All of these admittedly do improve any one's painting, but there are lessons that can only be learned alone... brush in hand... in the studio and in the outdoors.
Do your own work... in your own way... with passion... and regularity... and "You" will... without fail... grow artistically towards your own unique style.... OVER TIME!

As Nike's logo puts it: "Just do it!"

Good painting to all !

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Outdoor Adventure at Bark Lake - Part One

I returned from my weekend sojourn spent partly in the company of twenty-nine painting friends from the East Central Ontario Association of Artists... a group that I've had the privilege to share time with for over thirty years. We meet regularly in various locations to share our passion for outdoor... yes... plein air painting in all seasons. Algonquin Park, Geneva Park in Orillia and Bark Lake have the necessary facilities and wilderness space to accomodate our lodging, meals and painting needs for the thee to four day events. Each location also has large studio spaces to acccomodate both watercolour and oil painting spaces. As well... each has a main area with fireplace and comfy furniture to meet in the evening for social get togethers and music. In simple terms... we are an extended family who happen to share a passion for art ... made in the outdoors!

This year I was honoured to be asked to conduct a demo on the Friday evening... and to deliver a "friendly" critique of one piece chosen by each artist immediately after the Saturday evening meal. I felt somewhat intrepid about both activities... mainly because some of these artists certainly were beyond criticism from my humble position... but more importantly, because I choose to work mostly alone as of late... and never did look for opinion to really guide my painting process. Painting is such a personal act... perhaps the only part of my life which is not subject to the ideas of others.

I decided to create an exercise for the demo which focused on my firm belief... that even when outdoors painting... one must not be coerced into simply "following the plow"... and copying what is in front of you. "You" are the Creator... in charge... free to interpret and make of what is in front of you in your own unique way... both in choice of colour... design... even season... if you dare to go way out on a limb.

I chose a sample of what "I" refer to in my landscape work as my "Intuitive" genre/style. In this method... I create flourish and rhythm in the landscape... colour that isn't necessarily there to create my very own landscape. I chose an autumn sample as my reference for the demo... stating from the beginning that my goal was to make use of the basic structure of the fall piece to create a unique winter version. I chose a vertical canvas 24x18 (larger than most work outdoors on)... and painted with a black acrylic ground.

I promised to paint as I do... quickly and with a bravura that is driven by rapidly changing light... and extremely cold temperatures. The highest for the weekend was -6C... and on two days the temperature was well below -20C for the entire day. Speed is essential to "getting things down"... choosing the essentials and making rapid decisions re: tone and value. In these temperatures, I usually allow n0 more than an hour per painting... anything beyond that can be filled in later in the studio... or when you return to the same location... warmed and ready to work comfortably.

It should be noted that while the demo borrows strongly from the basic design in the other two versions... my treatment and certain elements change or are replaced at will to create a new version. I can... and often do change the season right on location... just to keep me away from simply copying the scene. In this way... there is complete freedom to create. I'd rather a blank sheet than a colouring book... always have.... even as a child. Guess I'll never really grow up! HAHA!!

I completed the demo piece... as you see it here in the jpeg posted... in just over an hour. In my own mind it was "unfinished"... and I wanted to bring it home. But the group begged me to go no further... they loved the loose ... painterly quality as it stood. Four people wanted to purchase it... one lady in particular was really taken by it... so I signed off... my signature and she took the piece home with her.

I had completed one 10x12 panel earlier on the Friday on my scouting trip prior to my arrival at the Centre... just to warm up. I managed to complete a total of six paintings... all done outdoors over the weekend. There were subjects everywhere one looked... and when the grey skies on Friday gave way to sunny blue sky for the remainder of the weekend... I was in my element and really got my fix for sure! I returned home... pumped to get on with my work... energized by my painting and by my contact with kindred spirits!

I will post the other five paintings in Part Two... towards the weekend... for your enjoyment and interest. WE have another storm in the area and another foot of snow on the ground already... and more predicted to be on the way! Let it snow!...Let it snow!... But don't tell Deb! She hates the cold!

Good Painting to All