Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sweet Hour of Prayer....

"Sweet hour of prayer... sweet hour of prayer
That calls me from a world of care..."

This morning at 5:00 am...  I took my coffee to a chair on the deck overlooking a still darkened river scape... soundless... except for the pleasant drone of cricket choir and an intermittent robin voice here... a cardinal there... and the plaintive cries of several gulls... somewhere on the placid river in front of me. This hour of "prayer" is for me a daily ritual... as necessary and as meditative to my spirit as the practice of going to church is to most practising Christian homes... or to any other religion of the world... no matter how "God" is worshipped. I was taught... from the beginning... how to listen... smell and to see and to interact with  the Natural World with reverence and awe by my Mom.

These first lines of an old hymn were sung many times by my family... and the hymn was a favourite of my Mom. Her Faith and Trust practised while I watched unobserved as a child...forms the cornerstone of my ongoing basis for Faith ... Hope and Trust. Combined with my Dad's reverence for Free Thought and Speech... his "stick-to-it-ive-ness" and his generous spirit, I aspire to conduct my own journey (adding my own upgrades)... in a fashion that "might" serve others... and that "I" might receive the love and respect of my friends and children... even after I have too... passed.

Today is my Mom's birthday. That fact triggered my remembrance of those opening lines to this post. I will add her flowers... "Mums"...  to those I placed for Dad on August 16th at their quiet resting place under the arms of an old white pine at Oakland Cemetery. That act will be followed by yet another few minutes of solitude and sweet moments of prayer. I visit with Deb often. She too shares my love and respect for them... knowing too, that their gifts and blessings to "Me" helped shape and forge the very shared values under which "She" and "I" choose to live our lives together.

Today... they both will be in my thoughts... and my own prayers... offered in the most opulent of cathedrals... Creation itself. Let's call it... "plein air prayer." Perhaps you now might understand... that  my own doxology... my connection to my Father...Creator and God lies within each of my paintings. Each and every one is a hymn... a psalm of praise and gratefulness for the life and the parents I have been blessed with. My heart is my purse... and I carry them... and their precious gift with Me everywhere I go. And like them... I aspire to share them with those I meet... who can understand.

I am deeply blessed!...

Enjoy the richness of Eternal Life and Life together Mom and Dad. I' ll love you BOTH... Forever!

"We'll meet again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do,
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away."

1939 War War II Favourite 
Written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles
Performed by Vera Lynn

Keep Smilin!... and
Good Painting ... to ALL!

"August... on my mind" - oil on canvas 18x14 inches

Prohibition Days get up. Everyone who knows our family well... says that I look like my Dad. That greatly warms my heart... and makes m smile. Would "Him" too... I think!

Prohibitionist... Exhibitionists... "Ave yer ever bin to sea Matey?" HA HA!!

While the weather was too foul the entire weekend to paint en plein air... I did manage this little cartoonish ditty for the kids play section of the festivities. Deb and I were the first "kids" to have our picture taken... but not the last!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Living... and Painting... in Transition

August... by its very position in the natural seasonal cycle suggests an expectation of transition. Though that transition usually seeps in slowly like fog... as Sandburg graphically in his epic poem suggests... "on little cat feet"... it seems less fuzzy and grey this August than is usually the case. Perhaps, it has been the reluctance of summer to actually fully appear in her full heat and beehive busy-ness. That fact likely causes August to appear to skip more than a few beats...and to launch fully into fall. No matter... fall with its cooler nights and heavy, dewy mornings is definitely in the air in Rockport.

As I drive the back roads to and fro on errands and in search of painting material (both occur simultaneously for me)... the wildflower natural gardens alongside every road add further "cred" to the previous paragraph. Day Lily, Chicory, Milk Weed, Queen Anne's Lace, Golden Rod, New England Aster and Joe Pie Weed are in full flower together signalling the last strains of the summer symphony of wildflower splendour which wave upon wave... add richness and colour to leas and fallow fields.

This favourite painting of mine aptly entitled "Summer's Transition" clearly addresses the joy that this period offers to me. Collectively... these late summer blooms join together to create Summer's final fanfare. They make me aware that transition is underway and that preparations are to be made. My thoughts drift towards acquiring dry firewood... before the supply is suddenly gobbled up by frenzied buyers in October. That search is on for me!

On a more personal level... August was traditional month on the Sherman cottage calendar for the meeting of the clan at our cottage to celebrate three birthdays. August 16th is my Dad's birth date... August 19th is my sister Chris's and August 21st is circled to honour my Mom's birth. Making the transition from life to death has necessitated a change in our August celebration. No longer do we gather at Shangra-Lai. It has long been sold. Neither are my parents present to be feted in person. My sister lives miles away... in more ways than I care to admit... so my celebration is reduced ... out of necessity to a quiet personal visit to Oakland Cemetery to place flowers as my ongoing tribute to the memories they created during our family life together.

Gone... but never forgotten!

"August... on my Mind" is an oil on canvas 18x14 inches. This "stillie" clearly embodies my memory fragments of past Augusts to include the ever-present "Mom" wildflower  bouquets and the "Dad" cornucopia of succulent peaches... sweet corn and melon. The carefully injected card from my Dad's "Inner Sanctum" basement hideaway... says it all... "Keep Smilin'"!

"Thank You... for the Music!". is yet another tribute to the gift of music that our folks left us to pass forward... as each of us has in his or her own fashion. The painting now hangs in my son Andrew's home. Hoping that he will pass it forward and make it a part of Wee Mac's journey. Life's a whole lot easier to bear... when you carry a song in your heart... and on your lips!

"....And the Beat goes on!" Thank you... both... for the Music I still treasure and listen to!

I will be out there painting en plein air  this weekend in the company of my ol' paintin' buddy Frank here in the village. It's "Prohibition Days" Weekend here in the village - a big deal! Another kind of celebration...

But that's another story... for another post! Stay tuned...

On a closing note... I offer this salute to another pal of mine... through thick and thin:


Sometimes... Peace lies "out there.. where no man has gone before"

"Nanoo... Nanoo!"...  Good Day and...

Good ALL!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Mork... to Eternity

                                                           Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

"No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me... because you saw a painting of mine"

"Good Will Hunting"

How sad am I this morning ... to learn of Robin William's passing. While it came suddenly like a lightning bolt out of the blue to the world of his admirers... it's occurrence comes not quite as a complete surprise. Robin was a complex individual. He was at times a community of personalities embedded in one body... with each trying to emerge and to separate from the others. Such a conflict cannot be understood... except by those who themselves have lived for too long in the shadow of that curse. Strangely... insanity and creative genius seem to share the same bed.

The words of Bobby Goldsboro's 1964 first hit... "See the Funny Little Clown" best summarize the plight of such individuals:

See the funny little clown
The way he smiles all the time.
No one knows he's cryin'...
No one knows he's dyin...
On the inside
No one knows... No one knows

Those lyrics are not so true in my own case in these latter years. I felt the truth of them... as I played and sang those lyrics myself in 1964. I have come to understand them well... and better than most. Sometimes "the gift"... can ironically... and in the same breath... be "the curse" in one's existence. Too often... the laughing face on the outside in no way resembles actual deep and relentlessly searing pain of the interior resident.

I have found ... or perhaps better choice of words... "made" Peace with my Self. Fortunately, for "Me"... years of therapy.... a medication regimen that works for me... my Art... the consistent influence and love of key family members... and now Deb have encouraged me to step off the gerbil wheel... and "to be".. just Bruce! No need to be everything and everyone else I had convinced myself was required of me.

"I"... am greatly blessed!

I leave these words I penned as a eulogy that I delivered at the funeral of a best friend nearly thirty years ago... as a personal tribute to Robin. They are appropriate for both occasions:

Shooting Star

Suddenly -
Across the darkened fabric of Infinity,
Defying the limitless blackness... mattering not about being seen.
Bent upon a brief... yet blazing journey -


But etched forever into the hearts and Being...
Of Those... who search together for Light
And Truth.


"Some people can never believe in themselves... until someone believes in them."

-"Good Will Hunting"

Share your Light.... and Love!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

August Ambrosia

As I stepped out into the cool morning air for my customary jaunt down to the dock to greet the day... my nostrils were immediately filled with a new smell. A new smell... because my "smeller" and all of my other body parts and brain have been cloistered... and too fully engaged in the completion of a challenging and very overdue commission.

Each month has its own smell for me. Each, as well has an association with change(s) that makes it different than any of the other months. Those associations have been formed and burnt into my psyche over a lifetime of being "One" with the outdoor world. They are not based upon science... but rather my own thoughts and experiences. They are triggers... which reliably repeat and evoke memories and creative painting responses from deep in my Self.

The fragrance of the juggernaut July is chocked full of the energy of growth... freshly mowed hay... green grain fields giving way to rich carpets of fluttering gold... suddenly tall... ripening and  heading up corn... the lemony leaf smell of now bulging tomato plants. This perfume is likely heightened and blended by the deep humidity of days and nights of unrelenting heat, July... quite simply smells of energy... strengthened by visual imagery that tells one that summer is on the move. I'd name the fragrance ... "Ambush"... because it sneaks up on the senses so suddenly and without warning.

On this grey... mist-shrouded August morn, I marvelled at how precisely the natural clock moves. The ever-on-time darkish platoon of red-breasted cormorants sweep soundlessly  by me on the outside dock... wings barely above the placid grey... which is the river this morning. Chattering and excited young barn swallows... flitting and fledging in obvious games of tag... show their new wings and provide their annual late summer aerial display. This to me, is always a sure sign that summer is waning... and they will soon be "Birds on the Wire"... communing before their long flight southward.

The smell in the air this morning is changed. It is an acrid fragrance which melds growth and decay simultaneously. The river smell... of fish and aquatic vegetation ... with an added pinch of the garden's floral down turn... all cooled by the dew and mist of this typical August start for the day create a new perfume... well known to me. I'd call it "Ambrosia"... a nostalgic delight... a bitter-sweet fragrance which both greets the possibility of fall... and bids goodbye to summer in the same breath.

The Commission Project

Now that I have conveyed the notion... true... that I am a bit blood hound by nature... I will get back to the painting aspect of this post. I have spent a very challenging week getting my head around what was necessary to get me to the easel to complete my commission. There exists an irony surrounding commission work. Firstly... a commission must be viewed as a compliment from a patron who views your work to be good enough to invest in engaging your services. A plus!

Then... there exists the other side of the coin. Most commissions... like many emails... come with "attachments". These attachments are quite simply guidelines which include their own preferences and tastes. That is to be expected... since the piece will hang in their space.... and they are paying for your services. All legitimate realities one must consider in undertaking a commission. I came across this tidbit this morning in Robert Genn's Bi-Weekly Newsletter... a constant source of enlightenment and insight for me.

"You need freedom in order to create, and you need creativity in order to pay the price for your Freedom."

Robert Genn's Bi-weekly Newsletter
August 5th, 2014

I am deeply grateful for commissions because they challenge me to step up artistically... and to depart the safety of my own artistic "certainty" to learn and to grow further. However... I must confess, that I never quite enter into the commission under full steam. I must find stimuli that excite me to overcome an inward feeling that "I"... am not in full control of my creativity. Art has been the only area of my life where Freedom wasn't a word... It was in fact a sanctuary where I could retreat to... when the world would hurt me... or the din was too much for my spirit. I often say... that my Art... "leadeth me beside still waters.. and  that has ways been so.

This commission is a panoramic format. In that panorama are included a plethora of shapes, details and personal statements... all housed in this vast landscape. The client wanted the panorama to depict an autumn sunset... which really is an event that the owners consider special in their lives. The trick would be to simplify... yet, without losing important markers which make this scene exclusive to this exquisite and unique riverside property.

In order to sort all of this out, I first began by physically"cut n' pasting the desired sections I wanted to use from three separate digital images. Again... I was out of my zone of comfort. But, the fact was... that I couldn't gather more exact images at the actual site because the painting was to be a surprise gift for the property owners from their good friends and neighbours. Here's the mock up that I worked from.

I reluctantly decided to use pencil to actually lay in a map for the painting to follow. I did so ... against my usual urge to get right into painting... because of the complexity of the scene. In that way ... I could add and subtract until I reached an acceptable place to begin. The drawing took me almost the better part of a day to get everything properly placed. I decided to "fix" the drawing using retouch varnish so that it would not be lost during the transition from toning to final painting.

Disaster strikes!.....

It was my plan to proceed at this juncture... by working up a tonal rough in as I often do using burnt sienna,  "blocking in" shapes and important compositional elements and line. That familiar practice gave me a huge lift of spirit. I could finally see a path through to the finish. My "vision" of the finalized work was in my mind's eye! This reminds me of a quote Bob Dylan made when writing and recording his masterwork "Blonde on Blonde":

"The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my head was on the individual tracks in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound".

I'm sure as creative artists.... we have all yearned for that moment when all the world is right. In my own case, I refer to those halcyon moments... "when a  painting just seems to paint itself and I just hold the brush." Everything seems to fall into place without any struggle.... the act of painting seems seamless.

The opposite happened at this point in this commission. The wheels simply feel off the wagon... caused by a critical error that I had made in the second stage. I knew better... but had laid the acrylic over the retouch varnish which I had applied to "fix" the drawing. The huge problem before me became obvious immediately when I began the applying the initial washes of oil on turpentine washes. The turpentine was removing the acrylic burnt sienna as fast as I laid it down. What to do... other than be angry at myself... and panic?

I decided to preserve the drawing by redoing it lightly in India ink... trace amounts to hold the drawing as I gave the entire canvas a turpentine bath to remove every bit of the acrylic tone and the varnish at the same time. It was a risk... but I had no choice but to get back to the canvas and begin the process again in pure paint that would adhere to the canvas and not cause later problems in the hands of the client.

The process from this point forward and to the end followed a familiar path and the commission gradually started to become encouraging... and fun again... as the scene began to emerge in the gradual addition of each area and finally into full focus. Once I completed the necessary balancing act to unite the  sunset sky to the water and the island tree foliage... I sensed the "vision" that connected both the client's wishes with my own inner vision of this landscape.

Glazing with washes is a slow  and tedious process... but the final results achieved...  more than compensate for the time spent. Values can be checked and altered quickly and accurately as you go.

... and "the light" can be turned on... ever so slowly to almost mimic the rising or setting sun's lighting show... the dimming of the day... that wonderful yet elusive to paint... afterglow.

As I sat looking at the [almost] complete canvas... pondering value checks and balances... edges... the usual last notes in the process... my eye kept being drawn to the too centrally located fir which seemed to over dominate the composition with its presence. I thought about moving it slightly left or right... but knew that such a move when  reshape and overcrowd  reality in either direction. Removing it entirely would leave the client feeling something was missing.

Here  is the "solution" I came up with... one that I feel works to resolve this visual conundrum. I carefully placed and added the Uncle Sam's Cruise Line's replica river steamer... out of Alexandria Bay, NY which I have watched ply these waters at this very time in the evening. It's unique and fancifully nostalgic structure is pure "River Magic"... and adds just enough additional weight to the left of... and inb combination with the fir to appear the draw that mass slightly to the left in weight . It's stark whiteness as well offers a compositional element to drive the eye along the water westward to the distant islands.


Here is the final canvas... "River Magic" - oil on canvas 16x32 inches. The physical magic of each River sunrise and sunset can only be rivalled by the pure magic one feels at the conclusion of a creative challenge.
This morning, I feel a weight lifted... and my creative spirit Up!.... lifted. Now, I can resume my outdoor work and adventuring.

I"... am greatly blessed!..... Stay tuned

A closing note about those nasty "rules"... worth remembering... and practising. From the mouth and Soul of the XIV Dalai Lama:

"Know the rules well, so that you can effectively break them."

Have fun breaking some rules.... PLAY!  The Inner Child knows comformity - NOT!

Good Painting... to ALL!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Yesterday... and Today...August on my mind


Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as if they're here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hangin' over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

"Yesterday" - lyrics by the Beatles

I never really felt... or measured the deeply insightful references to the passage of time and life at the time that I sang and played this hit to many audiences with my The Counts Five "boy band". It was simply, as youth dictates even back then... all about Today... and Tomorrow... a bit. We lived on the cusp of entry into an adult world... with little life experience... or truly challenging moments or tasks... except to graduate from high school. Those days do "seem so very far away"... and yet they are still fresh and full in my own treasure trove of memories. I am indeed blessed... at this moment in my journey... not to be robbed of that wonderful human capacity and gift... to remember. Let us all count our blessings!

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure to once again spend time with John and Carol Philips in their cozy Midland home. We have shared a rich friendship that stretches clear back to grade five at Prince of Wales School in Brockville for John and I. My friendship had its early roots in the high school with Carol added... when we all three attended high school together throughout adolescence.

Music has been a mutual and binding ingredient in the recipe of our rich and lasting friendship. We danced our way gleefully through the fifties and sixties with our friends at "Teen Town" Friday night dances... where John and Ian "Hat Badge" Wilson spun the 45's from their dual collections to keep our feet a-dancin'.

Since then, music has continued to be an integral sharing part of our evenings together. John's passion for collecting music and music memorabilia quite frankly matches my own obsessive-compulsive predisposition to paint. In both of our separate teaching journeys, we have incorporated our passion into our teaching curricula to encourage using the arts as a successful vehicle and tool for learning.

John's entire basement has been dedicated to this Hi Fi preoccupation. All 60,000 of his collection of LPs and 45s are filed by musical genre and artist... just as you would have found or perused back in the 60's at any good record shop. John himself... is an encyclopedic treasury of knowledge of any musical genre... but particularly in rock n' roll music from its first notes. What is more overwhelming to take in... is that he has written and self-published a series of books specifically written as a guide for teachers at any grade level. These lesson plans have been expertly written lesson plans to weave music and life integrally into sure fire strategies to encourage students... of any age to become involved in meaningful discussion and learning.

John self-published... long before the self publishing industry that has burgeoned on line... with the dream of "spreading the gospel" he had practised successfully in his own teaching. Unfortunately, he discovered... as have most current "newbie" selfies that marketing anything requires huge amounts of personal time... specific skills and connections which few of us have at our disposal. He now offers his remaining sets at no cost... except postage costs to any individuals or teachers who might be willing to put "the gospel" to work for children. You can reach him at Tell him Hat Badge sent you!

Now ... back to  the Yesterday part of this post. While I was visiting the Badgers... I found myself surrounded by many paintings I had shared with them ... or that they had purchased. These grace the visually endowed walls and niches in every part of their home. It was an unexpected "rising of awareness" within me which clearly reflected  how much time and change had occurred in my own personal and painting journeys. Each of us lives too closely entrenched in our current daily lives... to actually gain any retrospective insight into these personal passages of time. Retrospective shows most always come after the sudden passing of an artist... much like the visual digital memory presentations... now an integral part of funeral wakes.

If I never am fortunate enough to be feted for my contributions offered in my painting and private lives, I can truly thank John and Carol for this impromptu... and totally unexpected wake... awakening.... Epiphany which I enjoyed on this one night sleep over! I feel greatly blessed to have such friendship and love with me on my remaining journey!

Here is a digital look at those paintings from my past froim their AWB collection ... stretching back to my return in 2000 from living in Nova Scotia. It was there in that beautiful painting-friendly province that I honed my plein airing experience and painting process. I customarily painted at least three days a week in the field and produced at least three paintings each day in formats ranging from 16x20 to full sized 30x36 inch canvases. They were glorious and richly productive times. One could paint three paintings... just turning the easel around... no need to travel looking for new and exciting subject matter. It existed everywhere... and I painted in every cove clear around the entire coast before returning to Ontario six years later.

This is an album cover design that I prepared for the Badger's 25th Anniversary "Hootenanny"... 413 Mildred Street rocked with music and laughter as we gathered to fete this remarkable couple. Though faded... "Oh Carol"... and.... "Johnny Be Good" still remain in their bathtub ship!

This fall swamp tapestry of leaf and water reflections was a type of subject that I often painted in the field. I painted this one at Gould Lake Conservation Park in the company of my long Buddy Frank.

This massive sugar maple painting from Moonstone in the Oro-Medonte dates 1990. A 24x30 canvas done in a single go... no additional work afterward. Again very "alla prima"...

A fog-shrouded "Dockside Conversations"...a 16x20 sketch painted while I lived  in Chester, NS in 2000

"Sunset at Finger Board Farm, Middle Road, Kingston"... a "quickie" 16x20 inch sketch... "run-for-the-sun" painted in 2000

"An Oro-Medonte Fall Moment" - a 16x20 inch canvas... note the heavy impasto texture... a hallmark feature and goal in my daily painting outdoors. Paint expressively... with a loaded brush. No changes ...
What you see is what you got!

"Headin' Up Jones Creek"... a painting that records my memories of spring fishing on that wall with childhood chums in the each year... knitted together with the cottage site that belonged to the Ballance family who lived behind us on Kincaid Street in Brockville.

This is a portrait of the Philip's family home on Sherwood Street in Brockville gifted to John. I painted one of Carol's family home on James Street as well. Same direct approach dependent upon strong and expressive brushwork. Honest... one-shot impressionistic canvases

This nocturne aptly entitled "The Davis Girls and City Hall at Midnight was painted on site... when the streets were empty... except for these two inquisitive strolling sisters... who stood by and watched and talked my ear off. They asked if I would put them in  the picture. I couldn't refuse. Brockville is a place... "where everyone knows yer name"... friendly"!

This last painting... a plein air 30x24 inch canvas created in the beautiful Hallyburton garden... where Deb and I where married. This still life entitled "Bounteous Blessings" features a cornucopia of fall blessings... all held in my Grandfather Birrell's garden wheelbarrow. That wheelbarrow was gifted to our dear friends Rolly and Grace to remain as a symbol of our Gratitude... Love... and our continuing presence in their Eden. I held on to this painting but decide to gift it to Carol and John as a token of our love and support at the Celebration of the Life of their beloved daughter Laurie last summer. John and Carol both sit with the painting in their morning ritual coffee club.. " and the [Friendship] beat goes on... !"

We are deeply blessed... and yet, never free... any of us of the trials... tribulations and challenges that Life offers each of us during our journeys.


Today is the first day 
Of the rest of my life 
I wake a child
To see to see the world begin
On monarch queen
And birthday wonderings
Want to put faces
Walk in the wet and cold

And look forward to growing old.

To grow old is to change
To change is to be new
To be new is to be young again.
I barely remember
When my memories are stolen by the morning
Blotted out by the sun's hypnotic eye.

Album Rhymes and reasons by John Denver

 "Afternoon Delight in Rockport Harbour" -oil on canvas 10x12 inches  SOLD

What a delight it was to be painting in the village... alone with my long time painting pal Frank... high atop the St Brendan' Church promontory. "Nothin' could be finer...". another memory marker on a very long journey shared by the Loner and Tonto!

"Lazy... Hazy... Crazy Days of Summer - oil on canvas 10x12 inches

This is my most recent plein sketch.... this one done "ashore on this side o' the river".. with my painting pal Paul Taylor of Rochester NY. It depicts a typical humid summer day.... in hayin' season! Can you smell the newly cut hay????...... "How sweet it is!".... Memories flooding the picture plane!

I am currently deeply entrenched in a largish commission... "in my smooth style"... per the client's request. Not my favourite... either. But that's a story ... for another day.... and my next post!

Stay tuned!...

I had a young visitor visit me yesterday in the studio. She asked if she could... just browse. During our conversation of a half hour ... we shared many common threads in our parallel lives. She is a biologist... and I...  "just a painter... passin' through"

She left me this wonderful thought which I will carry forward... and I pass along to you in closing this post:

"The only way to fully understand and appreciate Nature... is to take off your shoes and walk in it barefoot for a bit"

When was the last time we did that?

I wonder....

Happy Summer... and Good Painting .... to ALL!!!