Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nostalgia... is the salve of old age

The term nostalgia is defined in the dictionary as... "a sentimental longing for the past."

I don't quite prescribe literally to this definition. Within the context of this post title lies my own personal measure of the term... and my feelings surrounding its meaning and presence in my own life. While I do admittedly embrace a healthy respect for the past, I choose not to live in it... or be governed by it. I have painfully learned over the course of my own journey that tradition has its place. But that it should be pliable enough to offer new "possibility" in one's life for the enjoyment of it in the Present... and Hope ... for the future.

The tradition(s) of celebrating Christmas, above all other Christian rituals creates the greatest sphere of influence for nostalgia within our lives. From home decorating... through to carol singing... card sending leads right up to the gifts around the tree and the sit down Christmas turkey dinner... nostalgia grips all of us in similar fashion. Christmas too encourages a yearning for those we have lost .Christmas is a time fully dedicated to childhood and for many... childhood lies quite distantly in the Past... Nostalgia!

For many reasons, until most recently, Christmas was always a difficult season for me. The celebration of Christmas always seemed to be that single moment in the year... when the disparity between the fortunes of the "haves" and "have nots" eclipsed any feelings of "glad tidings" in my own heart. In our family, since my maternal grandparents created and taught us to celebrate Christmas... generosity through sharing with others has always a part of our tradition.

Individuals whom we met during our daily lives who would be alone at Christmas were offered a place setting at our Christmas table. Simple acts of charity were quietly offered to bring "Christmas cheer" to those whom Christmas offered little prospect of providing warmth and happiness. To this day, this part of Christmas remains more meaningful to me than the receiving of gifts. In practising "giving"... through small, simple acts of kindness and unexpected gifting, I find a truer sense of meaning beyond the commercialism that is thrust upon us by societal influence.

These unexpected gifting and simple acts of kindness can take many forms. Volunteerism is one source. Visits to those who cannot get out is another. Small unexpected gifts... such as a Christmas card requires only sitting down... writing and sending it. An unexpected Merry Christmas to a passing stranger can add warmth to the world we travel in daily. One's time can be a powerful and meaningful source for giving... and each of us has a larder to draw from.

I will always choose to celebrate Christmas in the manner in which I was taught. Those traditions reflect my healthy remembrance of "Those"... who first taught me about the true meaning of Christmas. However, each year I try to add to tradition by creating and adding something new and unexpected. I try to "pass forward" something new to add to what was before.

All families are finding themselves increasingly strung out far and wide. For many... it is virtually impossible for all family members to return "Home". We must devise ways to retain connection and to keep our family circles unbroken. Here is my new tradition... just launched... hopefully upon a lifetime trajectory of annual Christmas journeys into a "universe" of Christmases that I shall perhaps never see, or be present to celebrate. Or will "I"... at least in spirit?

                                     "River Spirit of Christmas" - oil on canvas 20x16 inches

This whimsical painting subject... though out of character for my painting "style"... embodies within in it so many aspects of my journey and my approach to living. Building snowmen with childhood pals and all of my children lives in this subject. So does the powerful spirit of this River that I have been blessed to have been raised on and lived on for the greater part of my life... is the very core of my "Being". The natural and unparalleled beauty of "Manitouana" continues to drive my artistic imagination. It as well offers "Me" a state of inner peace and contentment... and in a single word... the greatest blessing that an artist can retain... or have bestowed upon him or her - Wonder!

I believe that through living my life in this fashion... I have created an "extended" family of five highly unique and creative children. But just as importantly to "Me"... I have created five children who go out into life daily willingly sharing their generous spirits. And for this gift... I am exceedingly joyful - and proud!

"River Spirit of Christmas" has been placed in the hands of my daughter Allison for its first Christmas stay. Ironically... it will be within her home and will be sharing another 1st Christmas event. Our newest grandchild, Wee Malcolm Justin Michael Sherman will most likely celebrate part of his first Christmas with family there. His father, Andrew will "have custody" for the painting for next year's celebration after Allison's year own short term "ownership".

"River Spirit"... already hung... "in situ"... chez Allison and Joan... Christmas 2014.

Was there ever a more beautiful... and puckish elf in Santa's Workshop? One more beauty... to join the other three Sherman "Elves".. Ryan, Mica and Braden! Great adventures ahead Andrew and Melissa... much Joy and memorable Christmases to come! You are fortunate Wee Mac... to have been delivered into these two capable sets of hands. They adore you so... and I know already... will always "have your back". You will be a great Santa Andrew!!!... Get a good suit! This guy will be equally hard to hood-wink and bamboozle! HA HA!!!

Its passage to the next recipient late in 2015 will require that the two share time, or a meal to create the opportunity to pass it along. My "Hope" is that this painting will form the mucilage which will bind our family together in love and true Christmas Spirit... for years to come. Its journey has at least begun safely. I have done my part. "Time"... will be the final critic to its true success.

I have used the image for my "annual"... my Christmas Card gift to family and friends who have shown me love and generosity on my journey. I have almost completed my sizable list. The writing process takes me a while because I add a Christmas "cartoony" ink rendering coloured with pencil crayon to the envelope of each. Many of my friends have a rather large collection arranged upon their walls or on view throughout their homes each Christmas. Christmases passed... remembered!

Here is an "eclectic mix" of my Christmas "toons" - Couldn't resist.. HA! HA!

Here is Allison's 2014 Card. Symbolically "Me" and "Mr Peter Penguin"... one of Allison's many childhood alter egos... who refuse to disappear. May they live on... in our hearts forever Allison!

They are indeed... "priceless"... or rather "price-less" because they are true gifts offered from "Me".with no price attached. They simply offer my humble gratitude to those who are amongst my greatest life blessings to recognize and reward them for their gifts.

In my mind..."Tradition" need not be viewed as static. It can become a living thing... if one chooses to add to it with purpose and creative thought. In so doing, it remains a healthy force which encourages growth and makes it timeless... and less likely to be set aside and forgotten. Create your own tradition for Christmas. "build yourself a snowman"...and share it within your world.

In closing out this seems appropriate that the intended joy of "River Spirit" be sent out to many more Friends through this marvellous blog medium - to those Friends that I have yet to physically meet. Your continual presence and encouragement continue to inspire me to share my thoughts and "dreamings" with a much broader audience of artists.

May your lives be richer in spirit. May your imaginations remain fertile catalysts in 2015 for new works that make the world a better place to live in. My sincere gratitude for your loyalty and honesty.

Merry Christmas... and Good Painting... to ALL!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Commissions Completed... on to Christmas Cards

I finally brought my last of four pre-Christmas commissions to a close. I must admit... that I was happy to see the painting signed... always my final act in the process. That only occurs when I have determined that I have nothing else further to say. One could, of course... continue to add more finicky details... but such slight changes detract rather than add to the overall impressionistic goal. One stroke more or less...matters little to the overall picture.

I painted the canvas around the edges which gives a better look for the actual gift presentation on Christmas day. The client has decided to leave the choice of framing for the piece to his wife afterward... a good decision. That way they can choose it together using their combined sense of tastes and budget. Wooden moldings are very pricey these days and framing style choices have changed dramatically within the past decade.

I will provide the canvas with hanging wire already installed... so that it can be viewed on the wall as soon after Christmas as they would care to hang it. I have suggested a reputable local framer who I know will treat them as fairly and competently as I would. I am happy to be outside of those decisions completely.

Here is the finished version of the commission. I am pleased with the result. Movin' on...

I have two rather large panoramic commissions still remaining... but they are on hold until after the Christmas break. Some minor details still to be discussed and ratified with my London, England client before I launch into the paintings. I am most eager to begin them however... they are more "landscapish" in nature and the client really wants them handled in an impressionistic manner. Suits me!

I have an interesting story to relate with regard to the gathering of reference material for this project. But that's a post for another day.

Stay tuned...

"Final Breath of Autumn Grandeur at Swarbrick" - oil on canvas 24x20 inches
Old River Road, Rockport Ontario

Good Painting... to ALL!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..... "

Yes... this opening line from this iconic and beloved piece of Christmas music correlates the onslaught of chaotic human activity with the "winter wonderland" landscape which lies out our window this morning. The give-or-take ten to twelve inches of freshly fallen snow merely adds icing to the Christmas cake. The hectic mall traffic yesterday further deepened the growing anxiety that prep time for Santa's annual visit was rapidly coming down to the wire. Thankfully for us... that shopping sortie out into the mall madness completed our gifting. No future rush or hype will be necessary. Just the wrapping... shipping or delivery of our gifts.

On the annual pre-Christmas commission front... I am at the lay in stage of the third commission of those promised to be completed prior to the New Year. I will likely be able to complete this one fully by the week's end... if nothing breaks the rhythm of my current pace and schedule. I have two larger ones remaining, but those will not be begun... until after the Christmas turkey has made his "guest" appearance at our table. Time to relax and enjoy the break with family and friends!

It seems a bit strange to be painting fall colours today... given the "blank white canvas" that this morning blankets our quaint village... all overnight. There is a sense of great warmth and comfort though... in being able to work under the warmth of the studio lighting at my easel during the day... and to retire for the late afternoon to play our daily Scrabble match in our kitchen... a warm fire a-cracklin' and burning bright in our fireplace hearth. We both... are deeply blessed!

Here are some images to offer you insight into my commission progress as of yesterday evening. I will add more as the painting takes shape further. Nothing startlingly different about my approach being taken. I am working from a number of digital photo references.... not my favourite strategy. Careful rendering and observation to eliminate errors in basic structural forms details... angles and compositional decisions is the first order of business.

Here a fairly clean line/contour drawing to establish placement of compositional elements is shown drawn on to the 24x30 inch canvas toned with my usual choice of ground.. acrylic burnt sienna. I encountered considerable difficulty achieving the proper proportion of the house in the picture plain... going from the 8x10 inch photo to the larger canvas format. On some days... and with some subjects... this inexplicably occurs????

I overcame this barrier by developing a simple grid using vine char coal that divided the canvas equally vertically and horizontally... and then diagonally through the centre... to create points of reference to guide my drawing more accurately. This helped immensely.

Day# 1

A bit of shading is added to provide some darks to "couch" the house... then lights out for the night.

Day# 2

First colour added to the subject without concern for correctness of value.

I ended the second day by quickly washing in the ground, sky and tree elements roughly in colour. At this point... I have clearly established the intended path of light through the picture plane from high left to right. The main thing achieved with this rapid intervention... is that most of the distracting rustiness of the ground has been covered, leaving a clearer understanding and direction for the painting and my thinking to proceed.

Day# 3

I spent my morning coffee hour... just sipping and dreaming about the finished appearance:

"With visions of sugar plums.. dancing in  my head"!  HA HA!!

Ready to get at it... after the shovelling and bird feeding! They're calling aloud frantically... and I can't resist getting out there to reward them for the constant joy they bring Deb and I on each and every single morning! We... are deeply blessed!

Stay tuned... more action coming your way!

Good Painting ... to ALL!

Day#4 - Friday, December 12th

Spent most of the day simply "frigging around". In my own terminology... this is a tedious process of many checks n' balances between digital reference views and the canvas... measuring and remeasuring... adjusting colour in small areas. However, this is an important part of commission work because you are responsible to the eye and tastes of the client as well... and most often... they are particularly "sensitive" in respect to "artistic licence". It is after all... their castle!

By day's end, I feel that I have sailed through these uncertain and troubling waters. Tomorrow will be the day when I work more freely and broadly to tie in the landscape, foliage and tree elements to reduce the feeling of formality created by the the architectural. I now feel free to inject a more impressionistic flair into the painting.

At this early stage of the "friggin' around"... my focus was on the white framed in porch... discerning parts and angles... roof line and shadows. Some shrubbery was introduced to couch the porch into the ground.

The afternoon was spent the facade entirely. I worked up better colour and texture on the brick face and coined corners... and finally dealt withe window and elaborate classical entrance doorway and fan-shaped window elements. I completed the window frame on the frame addition... added the pathway  and some of the foliage in the upper right to get the feel for further treatment tomorrow. By supper time... I called an end to the "friggin" process. Bring on the BIG brushes... and glazing. I'm ready to rock n' roll my way through to an end on the weekend!

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Mindin' my P's n' Q's"... and other Things

Though I'm very busy... and deeply embedded in my thoughts and actions in completing a list of commissions, I am pausing this morning to share thoughts that I am most certain all of us in the Boomer-Zoomer time warp have surface in our mid to late journeys.

I recently read an article profiling the iconic Canadian songster Bryan Adams in the October edition of Zoomer... a broadly-read and equally iconic Canadian magazine. There were a number of interesting facts and quotes in the article regarding maintaining creative... handling of success...  maintaining reality... and one's humility!

Here is one quote in particular that struck me as important. Music, without any argument is a "trigger" for nostalgic wanderings backwards in life. A single song has the uncanny ability to link itself and a generation to a specific moment... event, or person in our lives.

Why? According to Adams, "Nostalgia tends to run deeper when it's triggered by an obscure, half-forgotten memory, rather than a fixture on an oldies radio." Music has always been a part of my family's tradition for as long as I can remember... and on "both sides of the fence." So nostalgia runs rampant in our common conversations... and music is indelibly the trigger. But... "other things"... such as "family sayings" achieve the same effect for me as I think... work and play with my paints.

The oft- used colloquialism, "Mind your P's and Q's"... is but one of many that my Mom threw my way whenever she felt that I needed direction... encouragement... or admonishment. All of these, I was to come to better appreciate at this current stage of in my life... are ongoing and deeply held convictions of all parents for their emerging adolescent and adult children.

Another one... which is likely a synonym for the one used above was : "Get your ducks all in a row before jumping into things." Yet another was derived from my Scottish grandparents and their era. "If you're nae with the corbies (crows)... then you'll nae be shot at." The list seemed ... too endless... during those painful growing up years and yet this morning, upon reflecting backwards (as I have of late) in my life... I have come to more fully respect her caring... and considerably wise intent. Some folks regard these as merely "cliche". I choose not to view them in that way. They remain for me... "road markers" set down by her for me which still today... encourage me to reflect and consider my actions more carefully. And the "Speaker"... has long since left the room!

This morning, as I enjoyed my (first) morning keyboard coffee, I turned the November page of the Norman Rockwell calendar from Newell's Garage to December's Waterman Pen Santa. How much nostalgia seeps out in that one page gesture and reflection? HA HA!!

Waterman Pens?... I wonder if Santa uses a "Sharprie" these days! HA HA!!!

Nostalgia is most certainly at its zenith in all of our lives at this time of year, as we shift trajectories from thoughts of Remembrance and Thanksgiving... orbiting towards that Christmas Star... and all the while maintaining... "visions of sugar plums" (and Santa thoughts)... that dance through our heads"!

I will close out today's post with a few extra "P" words that I have come up with to help move my thoughts and my actions past this hopefully joyful season and into readiness for my New Year calendar of events and responsibilities... already filling up too quickly. A very bright and promising start for 2015 has already masnifested itself for me. But that's a story ... for another day!

Here are my list of "P" words that I have been  considering:

Plein air paint more often... and Persevere.
Paint only the things that I have a Passion for.
Exhibit only those paintings which encourage inner Pride.
Paint with People who share my Principles and Passion... in new places.
Practise moderation...
Do "Push ways" (from the table) sooner...  and shave smaller Portions! ha ha!

As for the "Q" parts...
Increase Quantity... but... maintain and improve Quality.

I wish to share a holday trip down memory lane - a looking back at a collection of Twelve Christmases Passed.
Hope that you enjoy this joyful reflection!


" The Family Gathering" - oil on canvas 30x36 inches


"Team Canada One" -oil on canvas 48x60 inches


 "Eldorado Gold": oil on canvas 48x60 inches


"Winter-locked... at Workworth" - oil on canvas 36x48 inches


 "Embracing Winter... and Life" - oil on canvas 30x24 inches


"Minuet d' Hiver" -oil on canvas 36x30 inches


"Not a Creature was Stirring... Hillsdale" - oil on canvas 12x16 inches


"Winterlude" - oil on canvas 24x30 inches


"Winter's Back is Broken" - oil on canvas 12x16 inches


"Afternoon Recess" - oil on canvas 36x36 inches


"The Real Hockey Night in Canada" - oil on canvas 24x18 inches


" L'Heure d'or - Les Eboulements, Charlevoix, Quebec
oil on canvas 20x24 inches

2014 ?????

 Stay tuned!!!.....

An early Happy Holidays from Bruce and Deb
Good Painting!... to ALL!!!