Sunday, October 29, 2017

First Person... or Sitting... Face to Face - Portraiture - Part Three

The term "first person" in language infers that the speaker himself, or herself is the narrator of the conversation or story being told. The expression also usually assumes that the content of the writing relates to the personal thoughts and experiences of the speaker.

Could one not then contend that portraiture is a "conversation" created by the painter which focuses upon feelings and interests that are somehow stirred by the sitter? If those same feelings or interests occur as a result of a relationship between the two people could one then rightly concur that now three individuals... the painter, the sitter and the viewer are active participants in this conversation?

This premise is what makes for successful portraits in my mind. The image intends... and reveals more than a physical likeness. Costume... backdrop and expression also contribute to making the portrait reach out to the viewer's eye and mind.

The genre and tradition of portraiture can be seen not only to span thousands of years in time, but as well it can be seen to have successfully crossed social barriers of class, culture, religion, politics and tastes as it moved through time. The tradition predated photography but shared many of the same functions.

Today, in this digital age the "art" of portraiture has been has been handed over to any person with a hand held phone. While the quality of the lens and camera function are superb and make possible portraits of quality... in the hands of sensitive and thoughtful user.

What seems to have become the standard for portraiture is 'the "selfie". Mostly... the resulting self- image or snapshot lacks everything that a good portrait  aims to capture. In both photography and the art of painting, we have democratized the playing field and done disservice to both art forms.

I must admit that my experience in the art of portraiture does not match that of my landscape and still life interest. But I did the necessary study in draftsmanship, anatomy to create acceptable results. I will conclude this evening's post and my portraiture review with these samples which I am proud of... and that support my beliefs. You can be the judge whether my journey seems to enter the genre valid and the results of value. After all... it is the viewer's eye and opinion at the conclusion of the "conversation" that are the best judge.

A portrait of young friend Kayla... the free spirit  GIFTED

"Listen to the Guitar Man  - a gift to a blogging friend  GIFTED

"Sugar Daddy, Ken McCutcheon"- friend and World Champion Maple Syrup Producer  SOLD

"Cold Hands... Warm Heart" - portrait from the rear of long time painting friend  GIFTED

"River Boy" - portrait of my son Andrew on one of our canoe trips  GIFTED

 Ode to the Triple Portrait genre.... my only "selfie" HA HA   (me and my shadow)

"Lost in the 60's" - a study of an inhabitant on Salt Spring Island, BC   SOLD

This is a "memory" portrait of Allison "Jemima Puddle Duck from memory done c.2000 while I lived in Chester NS. It was a section of a larger work entitled "A Home Isn't Just a House". It featured a characterized memory of Allie and I strolling past my favourite home in Chester, NS. There never was such an event. Isn't the memory a wonderful tool... especially in making art???

I wish to assure you that my ramblings about portraiture and my journey into the genre were not intended to emblazon my abilities in any way. The reason for this series of posts was to review my journey to revitalize what skills I have used in the past in preparation for re entry into this difficult and demanding genre after a long absence from working on such a project.

The idea to take on another portrait came out of a chat and comment that my long time Blogger Caroline Simmill of Scotland made to me recently. She remarked how smitten she was with Allison's beauty and wondered if I had ever had her sit for a portrait.

Sadly, my answer was no. More sadly still... there exists no physical possibility that this can ever happen. That reality forms a very cogent part of my "new normal" that I am trying to develop and live by for the remainder of my time here. Don't put off today... what might be impossible for you to complete tomorrow.\

Caroline's question stirred something deeply within me and would not go away. At first I could not wrap my head around looking into her eyes so intensely... nor could I spend more than mere moments keeping my head and heart separate from those desperate and painful last moments with her. I was quite simply... paralyzed and the act seemed outside possibility.

Over several weeks, I decided to use this approach based upon my conviction that this could really be valid and self-healing exercise to begin exercising evidence of,  and confidence in my "new normal". It did require much soul-searching and many hours of research to find just the right backdrops and ... most importantly ,the most comfortable photo reference to work from. After much deliberation... and the help of these posts... I am ready to proceed.

One last bit of encouragement came as a result of attending a recent book signing event in Kingston. The event was the launch of a book by her peer and long time photographer friend, Peter Coffman. But that is a part of a story... for another day>

Stay tuned.. and wish me luck!

Good Painting... to ALL!... and Blessings!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


I feel it absolutely necessary to break here in my posts devoted to the art of portraiture. Perhaps... it is not a total departure because the post represents a portrait of sorts of my daughter Allison's life. Friday, October  20th, 2017 marked what would have been her thirty-eighth birthday.

Our family and a few special friends close to Allie visited  the site of a young ginkgo tree planted in her memory on the shore of Lake Ontario directly across the road from the Kingston General Hospital. Ironically, it can be seen from the very window where Allison received all of her chemotherapy. I could almost see her irreverent and defiant "finger" gesture to Mr. C (as she defied his presence in her body and life). It seemed an entirely appropriate site to honor her life and passing.

Each of us tied a purple bow (her favourite color) to the tree. Joan, her Mom added a special poem plasticised for protection against the weather at the base of the tree. I added a number of naturally occuring stone hearts that I collected... to maintain a ritual I always practised when I came to visit her. Deb tied on two small silver hearts further up the tree.

It was a simple ... yet moving gathering. It was a bitter-sweet mixture of tears and laughter- the very stuff of Allison's unique character. Her presence often oscillated continuously between ribald humour... to serious conversation and then back without warning to unbridled laughter and joy. Her spiritual presence in the group was manifested by a seemingly curious and determined monarch butterfly who seeemed intent upon being a part of our gathering.

It circled the tree several times... disppeared momentarily and then rejoined us out of no where. Strangely... that butterfly appeared twice more as we walked the block to get into our van. Then... without hestitation... it disappeared. On several more occasions while I conduct my nightly walk about along the Parkway... I have been joined by monarch butterflies. But that's just me being a romantic... EH???

I (choose to) wonder...

We met as a group afterward at Allie's favourite brunch joint... the fabulously delish "Toast and Jam". There... the mood swung into similar tenor that would have been present with Allie holding court. It was a fine and fitting end to our celebration of her special day. I felt my Self in her presence... and sensed her joyful spirit... that we remembered her... together!

The plaque says everything...

 Ginkgo... bedecked in purple... Allie's fav color

I find hearts wherever I go... and bring them to live in Allie's Garden of Love... here at the River

Grief is such a faceless thief. It sneaks up on you... even out of a crowd and tries to defeat you. Finding strength and warm memories from the simple joys of life that abound in each of our "ordinary" lives can set you free. Free to remember what death cannot rob you of... ever. Memories of loving ... and living moments with your loved one.

Rich blessings to ALL!!

Allison in Rome... 2016. A full life... Breadth over brevity!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

My Journey... Exploring Portraiture - Part Two

In my earliest painting explorations the figure was always an active element in my picture-making interests and attempts to record what was around me. I believe that  was also the case for many of my young friends who shared my passion and predilection for expressing their ideas in various mediums. One received very little, if any criticism as to the "correctness" of line or anatomy in their pictures. Pictures told stories that centered around our own life's happenings and our family members. That was the primary function... and high realism was not the focus.

The pencil was my initial rendering tool... and I used it with wild abandon and joy... on any blank surface that begged to be filled. I used whatever paper was available in our house, cereal boxes or rummaged shirt forms... evening the smooth pink coloured waxed paper used to wrap meat in my Uncle John's meat market. My greatest joy was to be making pictures... and often in a comfy chair listening to the "family entertainment center" of our day... the Roger's Majestic Radio. The ritual hasn't changed much... but the ante has as a working artist. "Correctness" now matters" a great deal, as does my choice of medium.

I have explored the use of a variety of different mediums broadly and for the most part, I feel comfortable working in any that I choose to work from. But my strong preference remains in using oils for any project... both in the field, in the studio and in any scale or format.

While I did undertake to paint reasonable portraits of most of my teenage girlfriends, looking back their handling lacked a sense of  proper finish and worse, they lacked any sense of emotional understanding connection tho the sitter. I believe that quality and goal to be the ultimate "holy grail" for any portrait maker. A portrait should indeed capture a good representational likeness of the sitter... but it should somehow reveal a deeper understanding of the personality and an inner connection to the spirit of the sitter.

Second Stage of Foundation Work

I decided to develop a more highly evolved and sophisticated ability to handle still life subjects which incorporated more realism, but at the same time characteristics which evoked human comparisons and traits. These usually were amplified by a very careful chosen title for the study. Here is a cross-section of work that might offer insight to my motivations and outcomes visually. There is an inference intended that the goose in both of these similar paintings has feelings very similar to humans.

"Lady in Waiting" - water color 22x 30 inches on 300 lb Arches Paper SOLD

Version II - "Lady in Waiting Revisited" Artist's Collection

Some shared elements... some different. Very different formats and moods.... Why????

I wonder... Wanna hazard some thoughts???

                                                                     "Allison"  GIFTED
Allie never failed to return from her Venetian travels and adventures bearing gifts. This was a gift back to her from me... using her gifts to me as elements.

"A Cup Full O' Summer" SOLD

Wild flowers in their summer cycle speak aloud to the person who pays attention of a specific moment and month in summer. They seem always to me to be story tellers whose tales are the stuff of good poetry and verse. They are perennial recorders of summer's passage.

"A Few of My Favourite Things"  GIFTED

This tempera still life painting records that moment in my artistic coming of age... where I spent most of my attention and time scouring the countryside... with pencils and sketchbooks in tow recording ancients farmhouses and barns. Many of those sketches evolved into major water colours at much later dates. The painting is really... a painting of me with my gear back in the '70s.

                                                "Embracing Winter... and Life"  SOLD

This tree portrait came as a result of the impression it left with me of the struggle that all living things encounter during their brief life span. How appropriate that impression and lesson recently in my life...

                                      "River Dance"- oil on canvas 40 x 30 inches  SOLD   

A favourite painting of mine... very different in style from most of my other paintings - a departure for that matter. Again the landscape creates a conversation... one which engages parts of the painting, but at the same time extending an invitation to the viewer to join in "the dance".

All of these paintings make use of  non-human characters whose function is encourage the viewer to step beyond reality for the sake of reality. These efforts are but one step from actual portraiture as we carry it out as a genre. Are they not really... "portraits" of my inner thoughts???

I wonder... 

Stay tuned for some actual portraits.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My Journey Into Creating Portraits - Part One of Three

Early Foundation Work

Several interventions or suggestions that have clustered together during the last week have led me to lend some thought to stepping away from my usual landscape interests. The first intervening thought strangely occurred during a recent morning plein air session along the Parkway. I had decided upon the location because the subject, a long vacant two-storey stone Georgian home suddenly became a sudden bee hive of activity. It seemed that the long neglected interior was undergoing significant  stripping out and the stone exterior was being repointed... from the chimney tops... right to the basement level.

What had long appealed to me was the unusual character of this landmark along the river. It loomed as looking misplaced in comparison to other wooden architecture in the area... all of a lower architectural pedigree. In passing by it each time over many decades, I never stopped feeling that the building had a story that it wished to share with me... that it possessed a spirit and personality that made it seem more like a person than a building.

During the three hour plein air session, I discovered a great deal of historical information about the Gray House, its owners and its early history. The last surviving member of the Gray family, a bachelor had passed away during the recent  ice storm.

It relieved me too, to learn that this elegant Georgian-style country house was being prepared by developers for potential buyers... a much gentler fate than I had worried about - demolition. and another loss of heritage. Instead... the house would record another chapter of renewal and beauty for visitors along the well-travelled Parkway.

"Seen Better Days -The Gray Homestead- Landon's Bay" - oil on canvas 20x24 inches

Over a lifetime of sketching and painting I have searched out such unique homes and buildings that spoke to me of lives lived or functions of an earlier era. Their names still denote their specialness and distinct character and historical origin. MacPherson House, Gildersleeve House, Bedford Mill, Larue Mill come to the fore easily. However... simple homes and outbuildings with their simpler brand of distinction were as well a consuming interest in my paintings.

One could truly call these paintings portraits because they contained details that easily identified them as unique structures to people who live in the area. Though the paintings are often rendered in an impressionistic manner they maintain the distinct personality traits which separate them from other buildings around them.

Here is an ink drawing from a three print series, "Kingstones" that I created and sold in 1976 for visitors and residents in Kingston. The city of Kingston is fondly referred to as "The Limestone City" because of its multiplicity of stone buildings. The sum total reflect a cross section that easily spans the entire range of architectural styles in Canada. The  limes stone used is found locally and was easily quarried and put into use directly from within the city limits .

This building is known as Gildersleeve House and is located very centrally in downtown Kingston. It currently houses legal firms .It was originally built in 1825 as the prestigious Georgian-style home of the prominent Henry Gildersleeve family. Directly behind it you can see another exquisite limestone masterpiece... St. George's Anglican Cathedral.

The list of important limestone construction buildings is endless in the City and environs. Not only was the availability of the material to do so present locally... so was the numbers of skilled trademen. They were Scottish master masons who had been brought to Canada to construct the Rideau Canal from Kingston to Ottawa, Fort Henry and the KIngston Penetentiary by the British.

India ink and pen rendering on lithograph paper - 24 x 30 inches

Rideau Street Row Houses - Pen and India ink on lithograph  paper 24 x18 inches

Grand Trunk Railway Station - pen and India ink on lithograph paper - 24 x 36 inches

Enough said about buildings being treated as portraits. My view of buildings as "sitters" for portraiture opportunities yields one great benefit to the artist - They don't move and can hold a pose for a long time. Another plus lies in the fact that most are constructed of lines and angles that are easy to read as you construct them.

Buildings were a lead in which supported practice and variety for me as an artist. I felt comfortable and unobserved while I worked. There was no scarcity of willing subjects... where I chose to live, or set up my easel. I view the study and comparison of these subjects as a launching pad for entry into later human portraiture attempts.

My journey proceeded slowly into another genre of painting... a step closer to human portraiture... but still distant for someone as yet unskilled in anatomical and figure drawing experience. The elements of this genre were "kindly" to a newbie too. Though not yet human in their form... they did elicit human comparisons- in my mind at least,

Onward the journey...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving... or Being Happy... Giving Thanks!

Thanksgiving represents that moment in the year when the busy-ness of our lives reaches a natural conclusion. For eons, the changing of the seasons and the celebration the abundance of harvest have given mankind around the planet the urge to recognize and to share the bounty ceremonially with those around them in celebration.

That ritual often physically brings together the young and the elderly in most families to sit around a common table prepared and shared by those we cherish. Thanksgiving has remained a precious moment of giving thanks and reflection that I have always looked forward to  sharing with my family members and special friends. This Sony moment from 2015 captures such a momentous occasion and clearly illustrates the tenor of such celebrations for the whole Sherman clan.

What a difference time can make... as it passes silently without notice or warning. Thanksgiving 2017 will indeed shape-shift, as it must to accommodate changes that none of us could have imagined at the time that Andrew took this photo.

This year's Thanksgiving will be moved to Andrew and Melissa's home in Rockwood, an hour west of Toronto. Allison, Deb and I will be attending... in spirit only... for Thanksgiving 2017. What is important to acknowledge... is that the tradition must prevail to preserve Allie's precious memory and the need to ... give thanks for the daily blessings... past and present.

Our other family members will be celebrating in other places with their own loved ones... which left Deb and I with a "short list" of attendees at our table here in Rockport. I learned from the experience of my Mom and Dad's Thanksgiving observances that I attended here on the River... that there were always friends in our lives who would face being alone as well.

One such wonderful friend in Allison's life and our own is Chris Howitt. Chris has been an ever present supporter of all Shermans... so reaching out was easy. His willingness to be included at this year's Thanksgiving table brings Deb and I both great joy and happiness. I'm sure that Allison will smile upon... and be present in spirit both Sherman gatherings.

A glass of Prosecco will be hoisted by each of us to begin our Thanksgiving meal... to toast her continuing and ever lasting presence at our table and in our hearts...

I love you forever dearest Jemima

Strange how the Universe works its magic... mysteriously... moment by moment. A comment via my blog from a very dear and supportive Scottish contributor, Caroline Simmill jumped out at me and has (perhaps) shifted me artistically... in a slightly new direction.

Stay tuned.

These three favorite paintings depicting past "thanks - giving" moments and sentiments add three small clues...

                                        "Bounteous Blessings" - oil on canvas 30 x 24 inches 

                                                      "Memories of Allison in Venice"

A table top painting gifted to Allison to commemorate her undergrad convocation and first experience in her beloved Venezia. Again... the words that I chose to include on its surface ominously (now) foreshadow events ... as they unfolded in her later life.

Happy Thanksgiving... and rich blessings of Health, Joy and Happiness to All!!!