Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sticks n' Stones... and Other Day Dreamings

This post will bring to a conclusion my "off the wall" wanderings... notions and ramblings - at least on line. I cannot promise at all, that the practice itself will ever end for me. My search for freedom of expression will continue unabated within the framework of each of my "voices".

Today's projects will address unusual places and surfaces to paint on... and most to be paintings found in places other than where they are least expected to be found... or executed. Within each new format lies a new challenge to think outside of the box and to create variety... and to infuse new life into a tired vision. It works for me anyway. Call it... "recess". Remember how much they were looked forward  by you and your childhood school chums? A time to play for the pure sense of enjoyment... setting aside all of the rules ... and making up your own!!!!

Sticks n' Stones

The Stones

You might recall this twiggy diversion... where I whittled/ roughly fashioned a couple of drawing tools with varied points to intentionally lay down an imperfect and intuitive line drawing with india ink. At no time did I attempt to allow "old" habits to conform to engrained pencil, pen, or brush methods. I simply pushed ahead... and accepted every unruly line and unplanned run until I had a structure that pleased "the child".

I then applied burnt sienna... not as the perfunctory tonal ground... but rather as between the lines - a "filler".... somewhat akin to the route that a child learns to travel.. "to stay within the lines" laid down in a colouring book experience. And I intended that it looked rather "unmannered"... to indicate my adult-guided struggle to not seek perfection.

Then, with this point reached, I shifted gears back into my usual painting mode with the challenge now being to make sense... and retrieve a landscape that responded to the earlier play. Could I attain better finish? At the time that seemed impossible. Look at the third jpg and you be the final judge.

The Stones
Back in the late seventies and early eighties, I found a necessary diversion from my watercolour ways in playing with india ink and black and white imagery. Having arrived via the lead pencil and sketchbook portable express... the ink with its visually appealing sharp contrast on white paper seemed an easy fit. I purchased a handful of Rapidograph mechanical pens... complete with easy-to load cartridges and headed into the field and up to my drawing table,

I was totally in a thrall for months... creating sketch and drawing after drawing... even sets of highly rendered historical prints and cards. It was a heady time for me and suited the limited times in my too crowded teaching and family responsibilities. It also vastly improved my draughtsmanship!

 A perfect fit - for a time! Then colour once again came-a-calling... as it always does for me. I merely put the two mediums together and launched my public sales career... alone on a local farmer's market. There amongst the cabbages... carrots and berry pushers, I began selling... hold yer hats ... 5x7 inch hand matted historic barns and homes. I demanded a handsome $12.00 a heave and sold out each time each time that I appeared on the market. I was inspired to continue this "lucrative" path for a period of two years.

The rest is history. Step -by-step... my garden grew gradually to where I am today. I was invited to one gallery after another to exhibit, until I finally reached a conclusion I would saddle my own horse and ride... solo. I have learned that history merely repeats itself. The appearance of the 6x6 and 6x8 craze today does not surprise me. It merely follows a path dictated by a crowded market place and a weak economy.

Glad I am... that I am on the other side of the rainbow this morning! And folks... there is no pot of gold... on either end. Just the simple joy I feel from having travelled freely and on my own ticket to here.

At one point I found found an unusual segue for my ink fetish. It arose from a rather humiliating experience I had suffered in high school... at the hands of a teaching tyrant in front of the entire class. He called me out for daring to draw in his geometry class in the back of my own text book... to break the monotony of his dreary presentation. He had admonished me saying that I would never amount to anything (like my older brother)... and that I would likely end up (like him)... "on the rocks". We both became full time artists.

At our 25th high school reunion... in full earshot of his colleagues and students... I "respectfully"presented him with a smooth limestone rock bearing the image of the high school.  I thanked him (honestly) for guiding my life and art career. I told him that I had found success and a reputation for producing ink renderings on smooth Lake Ontario limestone rocks... and that in his honour... I advertised and signed them as "Sherman... on the Rocks!"

I seldom get angry... I creatively try to step up... and get even! HA HA!!!

This is one of those many stone monuments to earlier days that I prepared as a Christmas gift for my folks. It depicts a view from our cottage lawn at The Narrows ... not a "stone's throw" from Rockport! How strange this Universe!

Each stone carried an personal inscription au verso that the customer wanted added for their gift rock. I sat at the Acadia Shop in Kingston during an entire Christmas season cranking these out for customers who went elsewhere shopping and returned later in the afternoon or next day to pick them up! Live out your dreams. Make them come true!

Other Day Dreamings...

I will close out an already too long post with jpegs which project more insight into my Magical Mystery Tour. I will continue to dream... and to post as I please. I do so ... hoping that in some way I inspire someone to reach out for their own star.

Table top for side table I did for Allison's undergraduate  gift

Full artist's palette presented off the wall and on a table easel

Photo collage Xmas gifts under gel coat textured of Andrew's Dogs Tilly and Maggie. They are included in a nightly bedtime ritual for Andrew Melissa and wee Mac. Sweet Dreams!!

"Opening and Closing" from my solo show Summertime Dreams ... a repurposed cardboard suitcase to hold cottage board games. Two canvas cut outs depict cottages opened and closed. My sister Chris has this in her home in Edmonton, Alberta.

Two of the four personalized painting paddles that I Xmas gifted to Andrew... as my bow partner in numerous Thousand Island Annual canoeing trips and campouts.

One of a number of paintings that I painted and configured to fit recycled storm windows. This was a wedding present for a Muskoka Gal. She had seen it... coveted it... couldn't afford it because of an upcoming wedding date. It was a surprise gift presented to her on her wedding day by her Mom and Dad. Paddled right into the right home!

 One of two plaster sculpture projects which I truly enjoyed. HMMM!.... Going back in that direction one day! Think I'll get "plastered"... but I don't drink alcohol!

This is an MDF panel I made of several... to commemorate Canada using a postage stamp format. This one commemorates Muskoka... and my birthday. Can you find the hidden 1944 that I started the painting with????

This is an old cupboard and window combined to make a kitchen spice cabinet. IT houses a painting of McFadden's Sugar House... hence the title.... "Sugar n' Spice!

This is a ladybug decoration for Deb's bedside table

This is a sign given as a wedding gift to this couple ... displaying an old barn on their property

Well... you get the picture. Being off the wall can offer rewards, adventures and unforgettable chapters you could never write... find... or enjoy otherwise... without wandering off the main road. I guess that I could have offered "off road" experiences as a theme title as well.

Hope that your journey and discoveries bring you the same amount of joy that these wanderings have offered me during my own!

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Off the Wall... Intentionally!"

Creating in an "off the wall" fashion can be accomplished in a myriad of  diverse and different ways. I would contend that the act of being "off  the wall" is indeed intentional in my own case for a variety of different reasons and situations.

From a purely personal artistic point if view... from time to time, I tend to simply tire of my usual painting processes... and in painting "pretty pictures." That is, painting predictable landscape subjects which tend to become the chaff for my own painting interests and for those of a host of many other landscape artists I meet in my daily life and on line.

It is very difficult to stylistically separate ones self from market-driven subjects and the seeming dependency upon "old paths" which can... over time become personal compositional loops, or traps. Such blinders impede artistic growth and development, but worse yet, they can become dispiriting and often lead to artist's block.. creative stasis...becalment. Call it as you like... it is artistic paralysis.

When I feel the symptoms of this condition creeping into my work and psyche, I simply stop and go to a file folder where I store the "sugar plums that dance in my head" from time to time. These are simply project "notions"... that run against the grain of my usual thinking and planning. "Ideas"... that challenge the idea of simply painting out of reflex. They demand deeper thought which I refer to as "Imagineering" to pull them off. They demand a totally  new approach... new materials... new tools perhaps... or simply an unusual format to present and build the "Idea" upon.

One Madcap Collaboration... The Paint Box Gallery with Mad Michael's Restaurant

Here's one "notion"... that caused quite a commotion at Mad Micheal's Restaurant in Wyebridge, Ontario. Michael and Kay, who own and operate this "madcap" smokehouse eatery offered Deb and I the opportunity to undertake a zany project to compliment the outrageously different dining experience that they offered their always full house of summer evening dining patrons.

We jumped at this opportunity because we enjoyed the complexity their menu offerings... combined with highly eclectic decorating tastes and their relaxed and welcoming  dining ambiance. The decor was simple... but intentionally outrageous. Michael's puckish humour and food mastery was ever present... and never more especially noticeable than during the meal... when he came from the heat of the oven fires of the kitchen to greet diners... table side. One felt important. How off the wall this dining experience.

Did I mention that you could stroll the paths that passed alongside the gently flowing Wye River? Or that you could sit and have drinks inside the full-sized Plains Indian Tepee that Michael and Kay slept in during those hot summer nights while you waited to be called for dinner? Always wacky and "off the wall" presentations... new ones throughout the entire season. Little wonder that they could shut down for the winter and head south to rest... play... and find a plethora of new spices and recipes to infuse into the next season's offerings. It also left time for Kay to carry our her road managing duties for the very popular "Blur Rodeo" musical group on their tour circuit.

Michael's challenge thrown at The Paint Box Gang: create a unique... one-of-a kind chess board on which folks could play chess inside the tent. The pieces stood just over one foot tall. He gave us full artistic licence to come up with this mammoth board game. We were thrilled!

Deb took care of the actual basic board top design and colour. Her unerring draughtsmanship precision with line and eye for colour worked the outer colours of mad Michael's magically converted General Store and Post Office building... dating back to 1863. You can Google Michael and Kay's web site at  to really get the real scoop on their business and genius... and as well... see where we drew our own "off the wall" interpretations to satisfy Michael's vision and purposes. Not easy!

We had the winter to consider our concept and to carry it out to open their next season. I actually did some plein air work around the premises on the outside to gather ideas. Gradually... the ideas came to fruition... one by one they tumbled out... as they came to mind... until Deb's solid graphic was edged with my own contributions. Here's a quick look at our game plan outcome

Get the idea(s)? To repeat one overheard kitchen at Michael to match my own "off the wall"phrase:

"Doing the wrong things... for the right reasons"

We are very proud to be a part of Michael and Kay's quirky dining establishment and outlandishly successful dining alternative. Long may they serve food... "off the wall"... and exquisitely unique!

PS I did get to play one game on the board on one late fall afternoon over a wonderful piece of apple pie  and freshly brewed java! Thank you Michael and Kay!

Sunscreen... A Functional Installment Piece... Simply A-maze-ing to complete!

This difficult and challenging project was by all means completely "off the wall." It would function as a screen/room divider...paintings one one side based upon summer themes... and clothed on the other side in cafe curtain style by an exquisite summer fern fabric in varied summer greens. That art form... beyond my grasp was jobbed out to an accomplished seamstress.

This "Idea"... or undertaking required a great deal of thinking... planning and and execution of a concept which reached well beyond my painting ability and process. It required visualizing... the constructing the armature or framework before undertaking the first step in the painting part. Talk about walking backwards through the process!... Talk about thin ice... start to finish!

I began by going to a swampy area where I had first noticed these very straight and lithe chokecherry saplings alongside a large beaver dam. I harvested a number of select pieces... some of which I maintained the overall structure of twigs and branches. These would form the three panel lattice frame work upon which I would insert the canvas panels of varied dimensions.

I decided upon the following make up of regular 3/4 inch stretcher bar canvases. The central panel stood tallest of the three panels. It featured a natural Gothic arch... with twiggy branches slipped into drilled apertures creating a natural web effect. The arch housed a vertical 14x11 inch canvas depicting a late summer closeup I had done of a milkweed plant. Complete with opening pod and yellowing leaves... it suggested the end of summer.

Below that is a summer wildflower bouquet... symbolic perhaps the "canning"of summer's harvest in all its richness and diversity.This canvas measured 24x20 inches... and below it both canvases had to fit the now imposed twenty inch width of the panel they were within. Both scenes represented swamps laden with lily pads... and one showing the first flash of fall colour.

The right side panel has a 30 x 24 inch plein painting focused upon a reddening stag sumac and a July swamp filled with lily flowers. Below it is a cascading waterfall on a 20x24 inch canvas... again a plein air piece completed at the Newburgh ON mill site on a sultry July afternoon with my pal Frank Edwards. The overall width of this panel measured 24 inches.

The left side panel was again 24 inches in width to create symmetry. It did... however vary from the opposite side in that it housed but one canvas... a deck view composition created from the pool area of two teacher friends when I was house-sitting for them. The screen was completed in Ray's workshop in one week of full days and nights.

When it came time to mount the canvases to the lattice frame I realized (too late) that the uneven sides of the chokecherry staves would not allow for flush mounting. So... after some deliberation... and a lot of sweating... I came up with the idea of cutting individually sized chokecherry discs... each center drilled to create a kind of washer/spacer to allow flush mounting. I used black drywall nails to fasten the canvases directly to each of the outer edges of the staves.

Mission accomplished! This installation drew a lot of attention and raves at the solo show "Summertime Dreams" in which it was the tour de force... and that pleased me. Sadly... however... it never sold as a whole. It languished in our Hillsdale Paint Box Gallery for a couple of years until my pal Rolly Hallyburton suggested that I break it down and sell it as single paintings. I admired his salesmanship and business ethic... so I reluctantly agreed to do so. Before we shipped out of Hillsdale to move to Rockport, all pieces had been sold and their total sales value exceeded the original asking price of the screen itself. How strange the marketplace at times!

And the latticework? It stands proudly the centrepiece in a floral focal point in Grace and Rolly Hallyburton's lovely and peace-filled lakeside Eden - the garden in which Deb and I were married.

Was I defeated? Hardly so. I will end this second "Off the Wall" post with two quotes that best share my philosophy about creatorship. From one of my favorite inspirational authors Paulo Coehlo in his masterwork "Manuscript Found in Accra".

"The defeated are those who never fail."

From the words of my all time favourite Beatle-Lennon Anthem... "Imagine" comes another closely followed personal mantra.This project does indeed demonstrate clearly the presence of an unusually masochistic side of my creative spirit. Sometimes... I crave the need to dream and fly beyond my Self. Long have I been called a "day dreamer"... by those who did not understand. Lennon speaks for "Me" in every respect... and all of my "Be"- ing:

"They say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one."

Read any paper or watch the news this evening...

And just pause and  Imagine!.... Join me... next time for "Off the Wall" - Part Three

Stay tuned....

Good Painting... and "Imagineering" ... to ALL!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Off the wall".... Crazy?... Yes!... But Creatively So! - Part One

The term  or phrase "off the wall" can have many connotations or usages. It can be used to infer something to be markedly unconventional... bizarre... odd ball...unpredictable... eccentric... or, simply crazy in the truest sense. It has even been suggested that the expression perhaps has its origin as a handball or squash term used to describe a shot that is unexpected.

However one wishes to interpret the phrase, it carries with it the notion that the act being described lies well outside normal usage and expectation. In this post... I wish to push that idea yet one level further. In artistic terms of usage, it might well describe alternate ways to present one's creations. or. It might well be used to describe the fact that a creation ... hung on the wall has been purchased and that it is indeed now... "off the wall."

Our Summer 2015 opening here at The Paint Box Gallery was a roaring success... with almost five hundred visitors visiting our shop over the three day weekend. Thank you Queen Victoria! I so9ld six paintings and one of Deb's beautiful large stained glass window creations also left the building for a new home. Along with these major purchases, numerous gift cards and other smaller and portable purchases also walked out of the Gallery. One could reasonably assert that weekend business was indeed quite... "off the wall"!

Amongst those sold paintings was one that was dear to my heart because it embodied a principle that I strive towards on rare occasions. It is easy "to simply follow the plow" in creating art.That is to say...  to emulate the work of others, or to play it safe and simply paint to what sells in the marketplace. It takes courage to plod under one's own steam and vision in a new and untested direction... without guarantee of success or even possible sale of what has been undertaken.

I knew fully that the scale and the technical ability demanded in this mammoth project had lain outside my grasp for almost twenty-five years. Despite this fact, the "Idea" kept creeping into my psyche and my paintings and sketches continually for that that same period of time. However... I lacked the courage and the time to step up until one precise moment of decision.

In early January of 2011... that fear was overcome when I spontaneously I purchased the four four by six foot white canvases on which to lay out the design and composition for this project. It even caught Deb by surprise... because I had not discussed the project with her. She must surely have thought at that particular moment in the art supply store... that AWB  was indeed..."off the wall". But to her credit, she never questioned the large ticket price... nor my creative intent. I needed those things from her! She never fails to deliver those necessary encouragements.

She even kicked in.., agreeing to tone the large gallery wrapped canvases with black acrylic paint - a huge job applying three separate coats of black acrylic paint on all tops and sides. All the while, I "played around" patching together photo and ink sketch pieces in readiness for laying down the composition.  It would take many very early morning coffees of staring blankly at the huge "blackboard" strapped together by 1x2 inch strapping au verso... and sitting up on four plastic milk crates to garner the courage and confidence to proceed.

Finally... the "Idea"  became distilled and revealed what seemed a logical plan of attack. White chalk carved out compositional lines roughly to create a very basic mapping. Very active vertical slashes and diagonals broke up the undulating rhythms of the restful horizonals: water ... hills and sky.

Painting seem to follow without a need to pause because I had "seen" these aspects physically and in my mind so many times in this special landscape. The trick would be to create the subtlest seasonal transition that was required between each of the  the four panels to make the landscape read as real.

It required eight solid days of studio time for the work to reach its satisfying conclusion. But it truly took nearly thirty years of active painting and observation to permit/equip me to paint it. Now that this act was completed came what I knew from the onset would be the hardest part of the project - to market and to sell it. A canvas of this immense scale required a specific and very ample space to house it. It would also require a client who shared my painting taste and passion in creating this painting. Add to these limiting factors... that the cost would be "off the wall" to the average client.

This painting had opened shows in three good galleries and had hung in two very prestigious corporate spaces since its creation in January of 2011. I had never lost hope that it would find just the right home... a home where a heart like my own dwelled and would take full custody and enjoy it. This past weekend... my "off the wall" thinking and effort was finally rewarded. The quadriptych..."The Magnificence of Algonquin Park in All Seasons" was purchased by a long time pair of friends and avid collectors of my work. And with that purchase came permanent and unconditional "visiting rights" HA HA!

It has been purchased to be the central focus for their new home... soon to be constructed on their lake front garden property north of Barrie, Ontario. It will anchor the collection of eighty of my works that they have purchased over the years. I am greatly blessed!... Thank you Rolly and Grace - you do me a great honour in this gesture!

Post Script

Ironically... Deb successfully owned and operated a gift shop in Brockville, Ontario at the time that I met her. I was blessed to become her creative and life partner... when she left her lovely shop... Off the Wall... to help me build The Paint Box Gallery into the successful and joyful enterprise that it has become through our joint passion and hard work together.

This quadriptych is but one of many "off the wall" artistic projects that I have concocted to "spread my wings" and to fly beyond my daily thought and creative patterns. I shall add a second post soon to share some other more zany and unconventional undertakings that I have enjoyed creating along my journey. Perhaps... they might inspire some of you to risk taking a new path and direction in your own work.

A mantra borrowed from a gifted thinker that I have long admired, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is one that I have heartily embraced and practised in both my creative and personal lives. It perhaps seems to me to be a fitting thought upon which to close today's post: 

"Once you make a decision, the Universe conspires to make it happen."

Good Painting... to ALL!!! ... Make it happen!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Captain... Oh My Captain!

"M" stands for Mother. But it stands as well as for "Mentor". I was blessed to have had a Mother who as well doubled as my mentor. Her constant and unconditional love and her sense of generously shared creatorship form the basis of the grown up I have striven to become. Her unrelenting willingness to sacrifice for me and my siblings have helped me pass forward her legacy to my own children and friends... just as she taught me to throughout her entire life.

The title for this Mother's Day Post might first appear to be ill-selected... for it is powerful line from the film "Good Will Hunting", starring the late Robin Williams, That film stands today for me as monument to my continued belief that there can exist "good men"... Fathers... who can acknowledge the presence of a feminine side within them that is capable of nurture and a kind of love usually set aside for Mothers only. They are men capable of responding with emotion... and a kind of love usually ascribed only for mothers.

Robin Williams was such a person. His ability to cross vast differences of opinion and touch the heart was his gift. It was not always about ribald and off-coloured humour and language. And when it wasn't... "He" plucked the tender strings of all hearts. His mentorship and sense of humanity remain forever with all of us who have watched his craft and embrace its message of Hope and Humanity.

Standing up for what you believe is a great gift from any source. I learned this well from my dear Mom and Dad... and the likes of Robin Williams. I think of them each and every time that I feel challenged... or besieged in my daily life.

I am deeply blessed... and on the is Mother's Day, Sunday, May 10th, 2015... I thank all of these mentors... who "mothered" me... and made a difference in my journey.

Happy Mother's Day... to ALL Moms... Dads and Mr Keatings ... wherever you are!!!

Thank you... and God Bless!!!

"Cherry Pink... and Apple Blossum Time" - acrylic on canvas 14 x 12 inches

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Primavera... The Awakening

This rich moment in the year has always triggered a sense of Hope and Purpose for me. It marks renewal and the much anticipated release from the icy grasp of winter. The woods are filled with magical sounds... sights and smells. All the world is alive. How can one not celebrate the marvel of this season!

Here is a rather eclectic "gathering" of my spring word thoughts this year. Let's call it prose for the lack of a better word. I offer with it a visual tribute which celebrates it in my other "tongue" for your enjoyment.


Scarcely is the the sugar rush emptied from the bush
When new life emerges everywhere.
Gone is the the drab tawniness the lingering leafy remnants of fall,
Strewn half hazardly... helter-skelter,
Their once radiant glory now long gone...
The woodland awakening begins.

Magically... almost mystically, the drabness is pierced here and there
By slight green fingers ever reaching upward.
Seeming to grasp for the sun itself ,
In open places, cradled shaded spots neath pine and oak,
Spreading their broad three leafed emerald loveliness...
To form rolling blankets of green.

Thousands of three petalled habits nod gently in unison
Nudged ever so gently by the playful spring breeze.
Presided over reverently by the cardinals of their order and creed.
Perhaps my Romanticism gets the better of me,
And my imagination makes me the fool to think thus...
A cathedral beyond compare.

But today I covet the simple sanctity and peace
That this woodland congregation share.
Not concerned about their brevity of bloom,
Nor possessions, nor any earthly care,
Content only to feel cloistered in the warmth of each other's presence during their short days...
A full season without complaint.

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

"A Tribute to Trilliums... and Spring" - a triptych - oil on three canvases 44 x 16 inches