Saturday, January 31, 2015

Open to Comment....

The past week has been challenging. The Delta Mill canvas required as much looking... thinking and planning throughout the process... as actual painting. Gradual glazing of colour in thin layers is a long... and time-consuming process, but the end results do indeed reward one in the end. The rich reddish "glow" on the mill face itself was achieved in this way.... as well as in the shadowed areas of the painting.

In closing out the post today, I shall not belabor the post with needless descriptive detail. I believe that the painting should now "speak" for itself. The "dialogue" process of which I spoke earlier is completed ...from this direction. I will leave it to any of you to respond with your own comments or ideas... should you wish to comment. I value your opinions to guide future posts to share my thoughts in this open (I hope) forum.

Good Painting!... to ALL!... and Good luck with your own challenges! Paint what you love!

" Morning Comes"... Delta Mill - oil 24 x 30 inches on gallery wrapped canvas

Monday, January 26, 2015

Developing A Dialogue... Using the Landscape as a Medium

For the past several weeks now, I have been devoting my thinking and energy to the process of getting ready for my fast-approaching solo show. I met last week with the curator Kate from The Glass House Studio and Gallery in Kingston to discuss mutual ideas to guide my selection of theme and subjects for this undertaking. We agreed upon the theme "Coming Home to the River". It seemed comfortably "right" to me ... given the fact that my personal and artistic lives have come full circle back to the Saint Lawrence River.

The basic theme of theme of the landscape will predominate throughout the selection process, but it at this exact point where my own working definition and use of the landscape deviates from the traditionally accepted notion of the term "landscape" as a static reference to the term as a genre... that is painting subjects which involve only the natural setting.

In my own view, "landscape" of course surely begins at that point. However, I feel that it is impossible to consider the purely natural landscape while ignoring  the effects of human activity on it. The impact of our presence has created what I recognize and paint as the human landscape. This arm of landscape painting presents both architecture and activity within the natural landscape. To me ... they are inseparable. They have always formed an underlying context in my painting process. Quite simply... this point of view defines why I paint.

While I have certainly painted my fair share of urban landscapes, I have preferred to focus my painting interests upon the what I refer to as... The Vanishing Landscape. That does not necessarily the painting of heritage buildings per say... but rather to the disappearance of natural space and  a way of living... where thought and consideration was given to containing sprawl with planning.

Such a painting method, I believe reaches out to the viewer in a manner which approximates forming a conversation ... firstly... between the landscape and myself and then secondarily through a dialogue between my Self and my viewer. Within the context of each painting, I try to engage the viewer (from my perspective) to look at the world that we share in a more reflective and respectful manner. I hope that they examine... and carry with them a greater appreciation for the Natural World we are blessed to enjoy.

I have two very separate voices or painting styles...  one for each painting situation. When painting en plein air my style necessitates quick decision-making... expressive brushwork and a heavier impasto "alla prima" character. This approach is largely determined by rapidly changing and unpredictable weather conditions and transient lighting conditions.

Time is rarely on your side... but spontaneity reigns supreme and (usually) saves the day. I prefer this exuberant and expressive painting style... but many clients... and my wife Deb lean towards a preference the "quieter" voice. "Different strokes..."
Neither style depends upon hyper-realism. Both embody my pure interests ... based upon impressionism.

I have several larger painting formats that I must create to fill such a large space. Those will in all likelihood be representative of the quieter... more planned canvas. Never the less... they will always find reference to a sketch deriving from earlier field work... either in oil, ink or pencil media. Such is the case for my current work in progress... a largish 24 x 30 inch gallery wrapped canvas which I have already entitled... " Morning Comes... Delta Mill".

The "Idea" originates from an ink rendering dated May 10th, 2013. It was cloudy and cool... as is noted on the sketch and I was waiting in Delta for Deb to come out of a day long conference. I parked in the parking lot near this beautifully restored and now fully operative grist and flour mill. I could not resist the urge to sketch it in fuller detail than is usually the case.

Perhaps my reason then  was that I foresaw this day and an opportunity to take the "Idea" to a larger plane... or carry the enjoyable conversation forward to share it with "more elegance". Or perhaps... I simply wished to acknowledge the original gift of a now vanished builder and owner... and as well the magnificent gift of heritage that a dedicated committee and small community had made possible for future generations... and "Me" to enjoy... and paint!

Depicted here are the stages that I have moved through to this point in the process. I feel that this certainly resonates clearly what I have tried to describe above in terms of my painting mission... my process and my clear desire to converse... to dialogue... with those who as well feel blessed... and cherish this beautiful Natural World... and Our Eden.

In closing out today's post... I urge that denying our responsibility for stewardship... we do not merely deface and misuse the land... we diminish our future here... and that of our children. Something to think about dear Friends!

Plein air ink rendering serves as one of the original references used to commence this larger painting. Note that I have swung the vantage point intentionally more to a fully three quarter view... to eliminate a feeling of looking directly down the mill race... the rear building taking away the prominence and impressive and more accurate scale of the mill building itself.

Day One - The Drawing Process

As is most always my starting point... the canvas is first toned with acrylic burnt sienna. The drawing was completed carefully in vine charcoal... allowing the substantial "playing around" and correction that was necessary to arrive at this finished drawing. I still wasn't certain at first that I would proceed... the building seemed to loom so. I finally decided I neither could erase a full day's work... nor abandon the "Idea" that had been kicking around in my head since 2013. Dive in!.....

Day Two - Lay in of Basic Color

I glazed in all of the areas using a soft squirrel hair brush with approximate values of transparent color until all areas were somewhat covered but not opaquely in  all areas.

Day Three - Modelling the Stonework of the Mill

My main goal was to create a feeling of the magnificent stonework... without painting it hyper-realistically replicating every stone in the process. I first lowered intensity of the light on the stonework by covering its entirety with a very thin wash of reddish orange... giving it a reddish glow to approximate the early morning light that I wished to portray. I then changed hue... value and lighting of individual stones to create the shadow and light interplay on the walls

Next I did a bit of light on shadows on the snow around the base of the mill. I ended the session by adjusting the first sky covering in the direction I wished to go across the entire area of the sky and then added darks to the evergreens to the left... adding sky holes as I felt they were needed.

I will continue the process of building more detail and finish gradually across the entire painting surface... moving randomly as I feel the urge to increase the level of finish. Still much to be accomplished! But I am happy with the outcome at this point.... glad of my decision to forge ahead... and not give up!

Stay tuned... I'll post further change!

Good Painting!... to ALL!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Independently Discovering One's Voice - A Journey... NOT... A Destination

While the noun "voice" is generally attributed to sounds made either when speaking or singing...  it also is used to describe the personal expression of a painter or artist which makes his or her work unique from others. Even inanimate objects... musical instruments such as a violin are often referred to in terms of their unique sound aka "voice". Voice can also be used to describe the collective opinion, or position of a group ie. the "voice" of a nation.

It is the clear desire of all human beings to discover a voice... or vehicle of expression to comfortably and confidently represent their feelings and thereby earn a modicum of group approval for their views, opinions and talents. We need only examine how each of us has acquired vocalization skills with which we express our ideas... thoughts... wishes and needs.

Acquiring A Working Vocabulary to Begin

Babies learn to speak and "read" human behaviour as it is presented to them by their parents and siblings. It commences with them creating mimicking sounds which approximate the word sounds. Gradually... their brain development and manipulation of vocal cords and tongue lead to success with rudimentary oral expression. Necessary blocks of vocabulary slowly emerge... beginning of course with Mum and DA-DA... the primary caregivers... siblings ... pets and food.

The need to advance those newly acquired oral verbal skills suddenly leads to an interest in printing letters... if only those that identify themselves with awkward scribbles and personally created "symbols". These first glimpses of human ability to express ideas in symbolic language mark a pivotal point in child development. Eventually... as more learning and practice is acquired... and success recognized...l skill using written language can potentially deliver an inspired and prolific writer to a "best seller" status.

Setting Reliable Goals and Expectations For Success

The truth of the matter is however... that most of us cannot hope to reach these iconic levels. Such fortune is based upon the presence of a primary "gift" and is combined with an obsessive-compulsive drive to succeed... for interior gratification. We can hardly call  ourselves successful "artists"... "musicians" ... "actors"... "dancers"... "novelists"... etc. Though we struggle and do improve greatly, we are mere hobbyists in comparison.

Realizing this fact is not by any means a put down... nor should it discourage any of us from continuing to grow as we are able in concert with our separate daily lives and responsibilities. Most off us essentially create for the right reasons. We enjoy the process of creation... and it adds purpose and pleasure to our lives. That is all that should matter!

I have hovered painfully over the writing and rewriting this post for too long. I even considered deleting it entirely. But I felt it necessary to share this view... and perhaps a glimpse of my own journey to further encourage other enthusiasts to continue their struggles and enjoyment of creator ship. Following my journey point-by-point would go against what I believe and practise. I choose simply offer some guides and sign posts that I discovered along the way... upon which to hitch your own star.

Assuming the Responsibility For Personal Growth and Development

Like most of you, I am self-taught. I have combined my art within my teaching career and it has carried into our tight family relationships. I do have a university degree in art history and within those studies, I took several studio courses and was fortunate enough to have even studied and painted briefly in Europe. Basically, however my painting voice and process are built from thirty odd years of plein air and studio painting.. and a predilection to paint that dates back to earliest childhood.

Value of Mentor ship in Learning

I have indeed had many mentor-friends to whom I owe much in my growth and development as a painter. I as well had inspiring teachers and peers in my school experience who added much to my human development and success in the world. I owe them much... and never forget that fact or their gifts. But again... I contend that I alone am responsible for my current place... good and bad in life and in the world. I have never copied or patterned my own forms of expression or opinions upon that of a group opinion ...or mentor..real... or virtual.

The Importance and Value of Reading and Books

I have read continuously... and enjoy a varied taste for books. I love history and heritage-related books, philosophy, natural science, poetry, autobiographical novels and short stories. I have a very large collection of art-related hard covered books. Many are of the "how to" genre and really... now just gather dust and take up space. They are soon to be purged. Their value was useful to gain basic understanding  ... but soon lost value in further directing my interest or my growth. What I will retain... and read and re-read are certain what I call "Bibles" - works by iconic artists to include those written by the American and Canadian individuals.

If your medium is water colour... then my recommended "go to" book would be "Making Your Paintings Work" by American Philip Jamison. It brilliantly bridges actual painting techniques with his painting philosophy... and with a heaping and helpful side dish of pencil sketching tips.

If you wish a foundation course in landscape painting techniques, materials, valuable lessons in drawing and perspective and a concise overall in painting for all mediums... then one need look no further than (John) "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting." It was my first purchase in my painting journey... and it still is at hand and used often near my easel and computer desk. It is an indispensable tool for any beginning painter.

My favourite book of all at this particular part of my journey is "A. T. Hibbard - An Artist in Two Worlds" by John L. Cooley for The Rockport (Maine) Art Association. Though scant in colour reproductions of his work... the few masterpieces shown and the compendium of knowledge that is shared in regards to how he conducted his painting and personal lives leave one in awe of his stature and wisdom. I try every day to read some part of his book and particularly about five well worn pages which help remind me about the value of  .... Dedication... Discipline... Original Thought... Experimentation... Plein Air Work... Sketching.... The list is endless. It is a MUST for any painter in any medium.

I have recently been offered a solo show at The Glass House Studio and Gallery in Kingston, Ontario and have accepted the honour... and the weighty responsibility that goes along with my decision. I have walked this path many times over my career. Each undertaking advanced me as an artist... and led to new directions for me in my ongoing quest to discover and refine my painting "voice". I embrace the task with joy... but a certain mount of trepidation... though that pressure does not come from the gallery owners. It comes ... as always...  from within "Me".

Challenge means Change!... and Sacrifice!

I would like to share my first painting just created... explicitly for the show. It is a smallish 20x16 inch canvas which has its origin from my many plein air experiences at Ivy Lea Park painting refuge. I decided upon this subject simply because I enter the process in a complete state of joy... and understanding of my subject - the Canadian Shield landscape. I am offering this as an example of how my process and thinking parallels Hibbard's. Hopefully... by including some direct quotes from those precious five pages within his book you will be understand the significance of his influence in aiding my own self-directed journey.

"Sun... Snow... Silence... and Solitude" - oil on canvas 20x16 inches

Here are some direct quotes from Hibbard's book... pages 151-155 which I feel are visibly present in this painting.

"The first fundamental is drawing."

"Composition and design are everything."

"In the early days I tried to put everything into a picture I saw. But I soon learned to leave many things out."

"Nature, of course is the basic reference."

"Avoid using Nature photographically. Many adjustments re usually necessary."

"The foreground of your picture should be the lead-in to what  beyond."

"Focus on the dominant part of your subject, whether sky, distance, middle distance, or foreground."

"Be honest in your own conviction about art- and more power to you!"

"Be yourself. Don't make the mistake of trying to imitate another's work!

In closing out this post today, I genuinely hope that my blog continues to empower and inspire each of you to reach out... and become the best you can be. Read voraciously... visit exhibitions... experiment with as many mediums as you find interesting to your own tastes PAINT!... PAINT!... PAINT!... Inside and ut!

Avoid being drawn too heavily into competing in challenges decreed by others. The most worthwhile personal learning comes from discoveries made... while you are "captains" of your own Destiny...  steering your own vessel with excitement and confidence.

You possess a unique... one-of-a-kind "voice".... no matter how you value its strength or quality. Let it be heard... and seen. You might be truly surprised when it is added to the "choir" of artists who share this magnificent art journey!

Good Painting!... and fair winds!... to ALL!!

Stay tuned... for new additions as they emerge.....

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Value of the Whisper In Art

A strange concept you might think... when reading the title for this post. None the less... I believe the concept worth reading further... and worth considering when creating your own works.

We live in a society that seems to worship cacophony. Where the act of "making noise" is considered a necessary tool to draw attention to one's self or their endeavours. Worth is determined and measured in decibels it seems. Cars, boats, snow machines push the decibel levels to uncomfortable... even potentially dangerous levels for the human ear.

Sound levels in theaters... "music"... television...  sporting events and especially the gaming world of our children have reached intolerable levels of constant noise. And we seem oblivious to its presence... in all parts of our lives.

Strange... how at a certain level of awareness... we value solitude and quiet and we pay particular attention to those individuals who can effect absolutely astonishing changes in animal behaviour through "whispering" - the use of the whisper as a therapeutic tool. ie The Dog Whisperer... The Horse Whisperer, etc. Why then... do we not recognize that that same device might actually be a tool for the artist to employ in creating appeal for their work?

I wonder...

What is a "whisper" in art... and what is its intrinsic value to the overall process?

I choose to apply the word "whisper" into reference to planning composition and design... and the application of paint. So many of the paintings we make attempt to capture the eye solely through boldness of colour and dynamic line. While these are indeed necessary ingredients to grab your viewer's attention... they can be overly used and over stated to actually confuse the visual senses. Many of the attempts at "abstraction-ism" that I have seen on line lately simply overwhelm me... and leave me shaking my head as to the purpose of the work.. except to relieve tedium and boredom with painting in general.

A "whisper" as I see it... is a strategically selected place in a painting where the viewer's eye can simply rest. A place where the viewer can contemplate a change in the path of viewing. Such a precisely planned and laid passage in music is simply called... a rest. As well as indeed providing the listener a rest... this interlude creates a dramatic, but comfortable tension between the area of pause itself and the surrounding action and intended direction. This makes it an effective creative device.

Lost and found edges and the use of adjacently placed complementaries as devices suggest intent... without spelling out every detail. The skillful and careful use toned grounds on painting supports uses the underlying tone to act as a colour guide to neurologically "pull" or lead the eye around the painting surface on a seemingly random viewing adventure. But its use or presence within the painting is intended... though mutely so. Therein lies its magic.and its ability to capture and hold the viewer's attention.

"The Spruce Pointers" is a 16x20 inch plein air canvas painted on an acrylic burnt sienna ground. If you search around the entire painting surface you will ideed find many"rests"... intentionally retained areas where the ground colour remains and helps create a warm tonal harmony with the selection of varied earth tones which make up my limited palette.

"January Thaw" is an oil painting on a matte black acrylic toned wooden panel. It is a subject directly in front of our home and was painted exactly one year ago... totally en plein air in one go. The value and presence of lost and found edges can readily be seen in this work. What is more important though. is that the limited palette of colour edudes warmth and pleasing colour harmony between the bluish purples and warm rose-oranges.

It totally represents the picture of a typical mid-January Day on the Saint Lawrence River. This is why I have no difficulty donning my plein clothing to head out headlong into winter to paint whatever is there. Nothing is imagined... it is perhaps... borrowing a recent newspaper heading from the Toronto Star... an impressionistic painting containing my "imprecise truths, [but] inspired by reality."

What is a "whisper"... in reference to life?

The "appropriate" use of the whisper is well ingrained in us as children early in our lives. We are taught that there exist specific places where only a whisper can be used. Why? The underlying tell-tale evidence for its socially accepted use in churches... libraries... funeral homes and services... public lectures... schoolrooms... theater performances to name but a few is quite evident. The whisper is a gesture of respect for those others gathered for a specific event... and the whisper a prescribed gesture and action designed not to interrupt

Traditions that we celebrate in our family lives indeed reflect remaining and deeply embedded whispers of the teachings we received from our parents. They speak softy to us during the remainder of our lives. Memories are gentle whisper as well... reminders of important places, events and people in our lves

As human beings living in this too noisy chaotic society we can become numb to the "possibility" and the presence of beauty which surrounds us. As artists and painters we cloister ourselves in places we call studios - places where we can find quiet, or at least some degree of control over the din from outside. Some of us chain ourselves to easels and seek inspiration from digital references we either collect ourselves... or... draw from on line libraries. The wonder we wish to share through our paintings is first interpreted from a screen or monitor... then reinterpreted to our canvas with our brushes and pigment.

In closing off this New Year's Day sharing from me I would share with you on yet one more occasion... one more strategy for your own tool box. While I do indeed paint in a studio... I do so quite unwillingly and with a feeling of constriction. I total enjoy... and choose to be outdoors throughout all seasons. The Natural World has always been (since early childhood) my playground... my classroom and my spiritual cathedral. It is here ... where I feel a sense of complete freedom... to think... to learn... to act... to play... and to create.

" He leadeth me beside still waters... it restoreth my soul."

Many of my sketches and paintings are created totally en plein air.Some are developed in the studio at a later date into a larger format/scale painting to extend an idea or an experience that I feel I have more to say about. On other occasions my plein air trek becomes just walk to either enjoy an area simply for its beauty... or to record scenes digitally for future reference ... if I shall not be able to return.

I would like to offer you with one thought and a question to contemplate during 2015. The first is derived from a Russian tradition, while the second is derived from a 15th Century Japanese school of Zen Buddhism meditation and thought. Perhaps they may advance you... as they have "Me"... since they were first posed to "Me" many years ago now in a sociology course at Queen's University. They have directed and advanced my personal and artistic growth and development immensely since that time.

"The fall of a leaf is a whisper to the living." (Russian proverb)

The second thought is an example of a "koan". A koan in Zen philosophy, is a story, dialogue, or question to create great doubt at first. Contemplation can lead to enlightenment. Here is my question passed to you to think about. 

Everyone has heard the sound of two hands clapping. But have you....?????

Heard the sound of one hand clapping?

I have... and with that knowledge I now understand how to travel beyond the din and noise of every day life. Give it some further thought if you wish. I would dearly enjoy hearing what you "read" in either... or both of these meditations on life.

"I". and greatly blessed... and have finally found Peace for my once greatly troubled soul.

I wish to thank all of your who have supported my journey and this blog in past years. I wish  each of you...

Good Painting... Rich Blessings of Health... Prosperity and Peace... to ALL in 2015!!!

PS Here are some things "old" which I think speak to "art whispering"... as I described it above.will add something "new" ASAP

Stay tuned...