Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Plein Air Dividends...

While the act of painting en plein air guarantees neither consistent success... nor comfort, it does support growth opportunities for those willing to endure the at times cruel weather and the elements. Add to those things the additional discomfort inflicted by the insect terrorists such as black flies, mosquitoes and midges, who... in the warm months punish the outdoor enthusiast far worse than the the winter cold. One often wonders why one seeks to place themselves in such circumstances.

From an artistic point of view, the answer is quite simple. Nature has such wonderful lessons to teach us not only about painting. It presents first hand lessons about qualities attributed to humankind such as  nobility... perseverance... loyalty... cooperation... conflict resolution and tolerance to name just a few. Many of these attributes present themselves to the outdoor artist through observing birds... forests and flowers in their natural habitat. One gains a substantially more objective view regarding our own own plights... in our daily lives and problems. Somehow... one always returns more grateful for the gifts of life... of sight... smell touch and taste. All of these senses are heightened... while simply listening... and seeing Nature in its rawest form.

A huge dividend in my own plein experiences over a lifetime... has been the copious and enriching opportunities to meet unique people, most of whom I would never have encountered, except through my painting experience and encounter in their realm. I am the richer for having met them... no matter their circumstances... or their social standing. Whether "simple" or "well off"... "educated" by standard social measures... or by the "school of experience", each offers me insights into life. All seem willing to invite me into their lives and is most often the case... no matter where I go, I am always welcome to return - and I do! Here is such a recent story of this past week that I can share with you.

On my ritual daily walk, I pass an old homestead which certainly has seen better days. But it has always beckoned to me to paint it. This past winter... on a very cold day during that "Thirty Day Challenge"... I did undertake to do so at the end of a bitter day. Mid way through the hour or so that I was painting... the owner emerged from the front porch of the house and ambled slowly towards me. He asked if I minded his "having a peek"... and I offered a welcome to him to do so. Over the course of the last half hour, he recited his entire personal life history... family history and that of the house.

As it turned out, he was related to two of my Narrows Lane childhood pals. Their mother was his aunt. Sydney (and I'll exclude his last name to protect his privacy) had lived his entire life in this home which had been his mother and dad's.... his grandparents and his great grandparents. He now lived alone in the home after his mother became blind and too physically challenged to remain in the house. He had to place her in care at a nursing home. He sees her only occasionally.

By his own reckoning... he was a "failure at numbers", but he was proud of the fact that he could take apart and repair his aged farm tractor as was needed - no problem! He lives totally alone... from bottle to bottle, with only his mongrel bull terrier for company. He heats his one room in the lower storey of the Victorian era wooden home with wood that he draws from his 200+ acre woodlot that surrounds his aging home. His housekeeping has been lost in this imposed state of bachelorhood. Time has passed him by and the life he grew up in and knew has all but disappeared here... and in most other parts as well. There is an Wyeth Olson - Kuerner ambiance here... and I bask in it and in learning about his past... and present lives.

Back to the present. Sydney had asked back in February if the painting was for sale, but both of us knew that my customary asking price for such a sketch was not within his means... or needs. But today, as I passed, he suddenly rushed out to ask if I still had the sketch.He blurted that he REALLY needed to have it. I learned that he had been charged multiple times for DWUI and had lost his licence to drive any motor vehicle (including his tractor). On the last occasion, he was ordered by a judge at trial to serve a term of sixteen months for his ongoing refusal to stay off the road and public endangerment. Fair enough! He was to report for his jail time on Friday of this week and had been given time to set up arrangements for his dog and house.

The dog has a new home across the road with neighbours. But his family have told him that the house will be sold... and likely be gone before he comes out of jail. Everything he owns and has around him to say that he is a person... will likely have disappeared by that time. The only benefit as I mentioned to him frankly , was that he would be sober finally and have another chance to finally start afresh. Needless to say, those words presented a  very shallow sense of hope for him. He was simply overwhelmed by despair... in a word - hope-less!

What seemed to give him some sense of solace was in having my sketch. I guess he felt that in a small way he could still maintain a piece of "Who" he had been. I reflexively offered the sketch as a gift, but he countered that he couldn't accept it that way. He wanted to pay. .. and asked if I'd take $60.00 and something of value from his house. It was a request for Dignity... and I knew it. I said that I would accept those terms, but provided  that I would choose the pieces from his home. I didn't want any of his family articles of worth... just a remembrance of the short time we had spent knowing each other. I chose a small sealer jar and a small oval litho print in a small metal frame. We shook hands... and he seemed very pleased that we had worked out a mutually fair trade.

I shook hands with Sydney... and said my reluctant and sad goodbye at his front door. He will never likely know that I got the better of the deal in the transaction. I have in my heart a memory of being able to add comfort to a fellow traveller. And yes... many years ago now... I too lost everything... except my gift to paint. I feel deeply blessed for that gift... and every day that I wake to a world filled with opportunity for Joy... and the opportunity to share my gift... I feel blessed. I am deeply honoured that Sydney cared so much for my gift too! It goes much beyond $$$$$ and prizes.

"What goes around... comes around!"

I am deeply blessed!....

"Long Afternoon Shadows at Sydney's Sunlit Homestead" - oil on cradle board 10x12 inches

Good Painting to ALL!!!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Absence ... makes the he(art) grow fonder"

The title for this post at first glance perhaps comes off as sounding rather cliche. It is certainly well worn with use... but the wisdom contained within it should neither ... in my humble opinion be disregarded, nor should it be underestimated in its intrinsic value to the creative individual. Rest... or stasis is a valuable part of the creative process.

Stasis can be defined as a state of stability, balance or equilibrium during which no evolutionary growth is either noted or felt. In art forms like painting and literature it is referred to as a "block." In the sporting world this condition is described as a "slump." In either case... it simply means that the usual vigour and predictably high standards expected in terms of performance... is noticeably absent and is viewed as unacceptable. Such is the condition of human expectation. We falsely lead ourselves to believe everything in life can be measured in an linear upward curve... a new zenith always in sight.

Common sense should tell us that such an expectation is unrealistic and unachievable. The creative growth of anything is carried out in bursts... in huge jumps and gains. But this is the moment is when that universal law "that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction" takes effect. We tend to "plateau"... even off in performance... just as occurs in attempts at weight loss dieting regimens. There comes a natural time when such growth and development must grind to a too abrupt halt. Learning to accept the fact of its existence within and deal with it in a positive light... rather than becoming overly critical and self-deprecating should become the goal.

As an artist, think of the situation as an actual painting project. Each painting is composed of various necessary and predictable elements. When used carefully and in concert, we achieve harmony, colour, temperature and mood through the application of pigments of varied hue, chroma and thickness... hopefully with a variety brushwork. Within that painting... harmony... balance and equilibrium is created through a push n' pull process which weaves together these elements in a tapestry-like composition. Then consider what influential mentors never fail to employ in their own work... or to mention to their students. That cardinal rule goes like this:

"Always leaves spaces and places for the viewer to rest as they explore your painting surface. Those spaces are as important as any other of the above-mentioned ingredients for success"

In music... that halting... intentionally placed rest creates excitement. The preceding dazzlingly beautiful crescendo of most classical music... is drawn emphatically to a halt... either with an abrupt ending... or a correspondingly sweet decline into that glorious state of absolute silence... which in my own mind... is indeed.... golden!

As I visit various blog sites... even some whose works I greatly admire, I have become increasingly aware of individuals beating themselves up... or berating their work as "skippers"... "unfinished symphonies"... et al. Others whine and complain... some even give up entirely. To them, I would offer that the creative process in truth is a journey... not a destination which can be arrived at on any predictable schedule... or by magic overnight success. Basing one's success upon the flow of greenbacks in one's direction is a huge mistake and offers little more than discouragement in return... especially in today's tough economy.

If I have anything to offer to fellow artists, it would be this short list of principles that I have tried to embrace and live by:

  • Paint what you love most. 
  • Always paint from within. 
  • Trust your own good heart, for it knows the way. 
  • Choose a dream to work towards... then live it.
  • Risk failure. Failure is merely an opportunity to learn.
  • Make room and time in your life for family and other interests outside of painting.
  •  Be open and eager to integrate ideas from these external sources into your work.
  • Avoid those who are unduly critical and negative in spirit. Better to travel alone.

Make a joyful noise... celebrate... SMILE!... and be happy because you choose to be so!

I send out this message to my blogging Friends who have encouraged my journey. Know that my own recent "quiet" in my own life and blog posting is merely what I have just described. I am busy with necessary non-art tasks like yard work... family... creating the new card designs for the printer... taking regular walks alone and sharing time with Deb... watching the birds and our magnificently beautiful River in front of us every day. Does that sound negative... desperate or discouraging to you? It is not... because I choose to feel otherwise! By the way.... during the carrying out of all of these above ideas... I have two new projects already in the works. Here is the "start" for the first one. HA HA!!!

Good Painting to ALL!!!

"Light"... cannot exist... except that one has experienced and fully understands "Darkness."

"Let there be Light....!"

Stay tuned!....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Off Line... Life Gets in the Way... or... "Off the Wall "

It should come as no surprise to most of you that at certain times, life and a myriad of external infringements eats away at our precious easel time and creative intentions... despite our best intentions. That has been the case for me during the past two to three weeks. I have literally been taken totally away from my painting and from posting as well.

Several months ago, I agreed to assume the responsibility for coordinating a spring juried show for an artist group that I have been an off and on membership relationship with, dating back into the 1970's... when I first began my career as an emerging young artist. Due to the fact that I taught school and chosen to move about a lot... far away from Eastern Ontario, I never really had the opportunity or the time to contribute to the actual organizational functioning of the group.

When I moved back to the area, I agreed to assume an area representative role... which meant that I would feed any information about events in our area to the executive to be passed on by quarterly newsletter to the membership at large. Seemed simple enough. However... soon after I was "asked" to coordinate this show and felt somewhat obligated to accept... since the show would be hosted by a local college with a beautiful gallery venue.

This soon burgeoned well beyond a "simple" operation because of changes to the entry process from actual painting (the prior method) to digital image submission. Three situations factored into the equation to increase the level of difficulty and the increase of time required. Firstly... I made a one letter "typo error" in the Rules for Entry submission to members ... in my own postal code.... YIKES! This error could not be rectified after the fact and necessitated my kindly gallery curator friend and colleague and I having to extend the entry deadline date by two weeks.

The second factor was the digital entry business in itself. Many of us in this art family are seniors.... and some, believe it or not.... do not have a computer let alone the savvy required to make a disc or create a storage device entry to be submitted! Pure pandemonium ensued, further complicating the submission process.

The third situation had to do with the actual jurying and the postal delay fiasco. Three entries arrived after the jury deadline date which had to be met unchanged. Those entries had to be disallowed... and I have since eaten three VERY large pieces of humble pie... through a letter of personal apology to each. Don't know yet whether that will be sufficient penance...  but hey!

"Life is complicated... and I truly have done my best!" I don't know the results of the jurying as yet. Those will be revealed at the opening reception for the show.I received and processed each of the paintings submitted and judging by that alone, I feel that the association should be very proud of the resulting exhibition. All of the jurying aspects were handled by a selected independent panel of three jurors... with the actual hanging of the show being in the capable hands of the college and the curator. She is a cracker jack curator... creative herself... affable... flexible and a joy to work with. That has been the one very positive aspect of this experience for me personally. We have forged a new relationship and will meet as artists... when she comes to Rockport in the summer to paint with Deb and I... tagging along her "better half "... a fella named Bruce! We should really hit it off! HA HA!!

So, while this experience brought with it some unpleasant moments and responsibilities, it as well has been growth oriented for me personally. I have learned much about the process of "organizing" such an event and the tricky business of handling the "eccentricities" of an artistic collective of egos. I have learned how to skate on thin ice... and continue to stay upbeat despite the probability of failure which can arrive with a single phone call... piece of mail or telephone call. The jury is out... the decisions made... and "I" am but a lowly artist who as well submitted his own work to the jury's whim.

Stay tuned... but until then, here are some examples of projects ... or creative undertakings that I have undertaken in the past. Each of these might well be considered ( beyond pure tongue-in-cheek)... to be totally.... "Off the Wall." They seem to fit the occasion and since I haven't paint for ever too long now, I offer them in lieu of an visually empty post! Back to the easel soon.... I Promise!... my Self!

This is a Lady Bug decoration I added to a bedroom side table that I had made for Deb as a birthday gift.

This is an antique window frame which I converted into small kitchen or bathroom cabinet.... "sweetened up" with a Hillsdale sugar bush scene.

This is the top of an old antique side table that I repainted and hand decorated to commemorate Allison's undergraduate Arts degree. A personal tribute to the first... of her now three her special  graduation days on her educational journey!

This weathered ol' storm window boathouse portrait was a surprise wedding gift by a father and mother... presented to their daughter after she raved about seeing it at the opening of one of my solo shows. She came back... to give me "a big hug around the neck" later in the show. Who'd have "thunk it"...? Such a pleasant ending for a discarded and unwanted ol' storm window! Beauty is indeed... in the eye and the mind of the beholder!

These are two of the four paddles that I created as Christmas presents for my paddlin' adventurer / son Andrew some years back. My canoe belongs to him... when he releases my ashes from the canoe ... into the River. That's in my will! Don't know that he'll ever wet any of these paddles. They now hang in his "man cave"... home office!

This is a sign I was commissioned to paint for a couple's house warming gift from their close friends. A favourite old Oro Medonte Barn of mine that was located nearby their home. A gallery setting ... with no walls!... totally en plein air! HA HA!!

Here's a sculpture that I carved and casted using plaster of Paris poured into geometric shapes that I cut from plastic sledding carpets that kids use... duct taped and twisted and stapled on to wooden armatures until they dried. I then used a rasp and sand paper to further form and  smooth the separate geometric objects. I joined them by drilling holes and gluing them together using epoxy glue and wooden dowels.

Voila!..... "Gull ... Waves and Rock!"  Art... that stands on its own three feet!

This was a "BIGGY" project called "Sunscreen". It was an ambitious undertaking which unfortunately never did sell as a whole unit. It was a cherry twig frame which I collected en plein air and assembled... constructed to serve as a screen in a summer home living room. It had a 48x24 inch canvas on the left wing... a 24x20 and two 16x20 inch canvases in the median panel ... crowned in the Gothic arch by a 14x11 inch canvas. The right wing consisted of a 30x24 inch over a 24x20 inch canvas. The canvases were all fastened using 2 inch screws to the cherry frame. All canvases relected a summer theme both in the home... on the patio and in Nature.

The wings were movable and could be folded or at various angles using forest green coloured raffia cord. The reverse side of each wing and panel were covered by a lovely green and black fern forest motif on brass  cafe style curtain rods. It received high compliments over the three years that I kept it around. I finally removed each of the paintings and they have since been sold separately. The frame???? ... It is now located in the beautiful lakeside garden of our very special friends Rolly and grace Hallyburton on Orr Lake. Deb and I were married in that garden ten years ago in June. Special memories!

Was its lack of sale viewed by me as a failure? Not at all! There are some things we choose to do in life... purely out of a sense of passion. I learned a lot about myself and realized something more important than makiung money from the process.

"That except through my eyes and my hands... it might never have been seen." Ring a bell???? Check out Allison's table top!

This old cardboard suitcase lives with my sister Christine in Edmonton, Alberta. A spring scene is depicted on this side and a second circular-shaped painting... a fall cottage scene on the other side. The two symbolize the process of ... "Opening and Closing" one's cottage... a ritual our family carried out joyously together.. not far from here for over fifty years. Chris keeps board games in it... the kind we played with our cottage chums nearly every night at "Sherman's Shangra-lai" at Narrows Lane Road. Perhaps, whenever she has the occasion to open and close this suitcase... she will relive those magical cottage evenings shared in laughter and friendship with our cottage colony chums. Grand days and nights... pals never forgotten!

This 24x30 inch canvas is entitled "River Boy." It could well depict "Me"... back in the day, but it is a painting I made of Andrew with our canoe on one of the islands near Rockport on one of our six Annual Thousand Island Canoe Trips. Sweet memory this one! This hangs in Andrew's home in Rockwood... in good strong paddlin' hands. This "Lad"can handle any "rough water" or "foul weather"... "I" know that for certain.... and moreover... so can "He"!! The song of the paddle will always remain strong in my heart and has carried me through my entire life... and led "Me" always.... "beside still waters." Life is really.... just a river. One must simply get on it... and paddle!


Good Painting to ALL!!!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Springing Into Action"...

Everywhere one looks there is evidence that Spring is in the air! Every species of bird life is "tweeting" their signature (sp)ring tones... and are engaged in their unique spring dancing marathons.Gulls in large numbers circling high above... European Starlings line dancing... one over top of the other all along the telephone wires. Robin males frenetically squawking... drive off competition. Red wing blackbird males perched on their bull rush parapets... wings spread wide to display their scarlet epaulets. Even the usually sedate mourning doves ... now paired... resort to uncharacteristically aggressive behaviours. Geese and mallards are paired and have already set up spring housekeeping in smallish swails and puddles. Soon nesting will get underway. Yup!... Spring has definitely sprung!

There are some signs that Spring is on the minds of human kind as well. While waiting for Bryn's bus to arrive at the Kingston station... I (casually)... noticed a pair of real life student "love birds" in a tight clutch.... nuzzlin' n' bussin' continuously... unaware of a throng all around them. That's a sure sign... that spring... and love are in the air! However... as I make my rounds in my daily life, I continually hear nothing but harping complaints about the cold hanging on... low water... snow coming and going... high winds... dampness and rain. Hey!... these are the perennial parts of the process which leads us out of winter and into the long-awaited idyllic days of summer.

I spend a lot of time out doors throughout winter and all of the seasons. Each and every day that I make my way "out there" to enjoy the peace and solitude which being there offers me, I usually am joined by groups of chatty... inquisitive and ever- friendly black-capped chickadees. They talk to me constantly.They engage me as one of their own... and though I am larger and am a stranger, they welcome me unconditionally to join them in their simple pursuit... of just being alive. This is the very reason that this wee bird is my favourite of all songbirds. Oh... that there more chickadee-like individuals ... in the human world! Life would definitely be a happier place to live and work in..

If Life be about "choices".... then choose to be a Chickadee!

This painting is a deeply felt tribute to my black-capped plein air pals!

The basic point of lay in has been reached.... but considerations and tweaking of details and values are still required. I was unhappy with the nebulous feel of the upper band the very top of the painting. It lets the eye escape the composition.

You will note that I pushed the detail in the treatment of the birds. I felt this necessary for two reasons. While the birds can indeed be treated somewhat broadly... they must be clearly defined in terms of the characteristics of this bird... and especially in the upside down pose of the one. I feel the treatment does not enter into the magic realism genre at all... and that the birds have a painterly flare... which is accented by the background... most definitely painterly in treatment. Birders will be looking... and perhaps they are potentially the ones most likely to buy this piece.... should I wish to offer it to the market. Not a given this morning!

Overheard in the sugar bush!

My turn pal!........

Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!.... Yummmy! Yummy!

"A Sweet Taste of Spring" - oil on toned Masonite panel - 20x16 inches

Note the extra distance achieved by simply adding yet another and more distant plane of slightly different snow cover. It combines with the ridge of bright snow just ahead of it... to stop the eye and carry it along that bright plane and back into the painting composition... as the eye pleases. It is trapped!

Happy Spring !.... to ALL!!