Back in March and April of this year, prior to going away for the month of May, I worked on a number of water reflection paintings for a show in which I would be participating four days after my return from Venice. So I am reaching back a bit here and posting something that is not exactly of the moment. Still some catching up to do…Here’s one of the pieces I made for that show. It was, in fact, the last one I painted and is the most abstract of the group. My site’s in need of some updating and I’ll get all of these newest reflection works onto it soon. In the meantime, here’s a teaser. I’ve also finally begun a couple of new paintings inspired by my trip. Stay tuned…
Becoming a water colour artist has never been something to which I aspired. Unlike acrylic paint, water colours are unforgiving and therefore, to me, restricting and frightening. Typically, when I stand before a canvas applying acrylic paint and am struck by uncertainty, the voice in my head assures me that, if I don’t like what I do, I can always paint over it. It is very forgiving and therefore very freeing. Not so with water colours. The idea of moving away from the familiar territory of acrylics makes me very nervous. However, a fabulous European trip and art course in Tuscany is on the immediate horizon so, among other things, a tiny water colour set along with a couple of small tablets of the appropriate paper will accompany me. In preparation for this exciting adventure, I have started experimenting with this new and foreign medium so that, once I get there, I won’t be completely over my head. Today’s posting is accompanied by an image of my third foray into the uncertain world of water colour, a 4 ” x 7″ painting of the medieval town of Certaldo Alto where I will be staying for a week of painting, pasta and pleasure. The only hotel in town, where we will be housed, taught and fed was built in the 1300’s (for God”s sake!) and overlooks the expansive, rolling countryside dotted with cyprus trees and olive groves. Ask me how excited I am. Go on…ask me.
A little diversion from the water reflection piece here…For the past few months, I’ve been working sporadically on a commission which has been a real pleasure to do. The 36″ x 36″ painting, commissioned by a wonderful woman in Kingston, captures the playful relationship between her husband and their two young daughters and was given to him on the occasion of his birthday. I recorded its evolution by photographing the painting as I went. The nine resulting photos were presented to Susan along with the finished work so that she and her husband will have a record of how their painting came into existence. Prior to beginning this commission, Susan sent me many photos that she had taken of her husband and children and she told me of her ideas for the piece. We sat down together for a couple of hours one day at which time we not only looked at some of the images that I had short listed but I asked her to tell me about the characteristics of her “three loves”, as she so sweetly called them, so that I might more accurately be able to capture their essences on the canvas. Then she gave me free rein for which I am enormously grateful. She did not interfere in any way but instead trusted me to make a piece that she would be happy with. And it worked! On the day of the Big Reveal, Susan and her adorable mother (for whom I also have developed a great fondness) arrived in the morning and they were beyond happy with how it looked. Whew! Apparently her husband was overjoyed with his gift too. Even better! Now it’s back to the wedding gift…
Conversations that occur between me and a painting I am working on can be quite fascinating. The way this plays out for me is this…When I start a painting, I have an idea of how I ultimately want it to look and I make marks on the canvas that will take me ever closer to that goal. I work away in my own little creative bubble, blissfully focused on my intended outcome. But at a certain point, with some paintings, a dialogue begins whereby the piece takes on a life of its own, begins to speak to me and it is necessary for me to negotiate just how we move forward. It becomes a bit of a dance, at times gentle and other times fairly vigourous. It is a batting back and forth of ideas, a negotiation between nudging/convincing and surrendering/accepting. Sometimes I get my way and other times not. It’s at this point that the reference photo(s) lose some importance and the piece itself becomes a guide. The challenge is to know when to put my foot down and take the piece down the path of my imagination and when to allow myself to be carried along by some unseen wisdom. It takes a fair amount of trust on my part. With this painting, the dance has begun and who knows where it will lead? I embrace the uncertainty and welcome the conversation. I never have all the answers.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to paint. Sometimes life gets in the way of creativity. It’s been great to get back at it and here’s the latest update. At one point during this latest pass at the painting, it looked as though the piece was becoming a little too busy. So I stepped back a few metres from the easel to get a perspective on how the painting was evolving. Doing this makes it much easier to see what’s working and what isn’t, what needs to be changed and how. I got out my chalk and started marking up the surface where I wanted the changes to occur, thus making it possible to move in close again and know where and how to make new marks. There’s still a lot going on here but I have plans to bring more cohesion to the piece. Can’t wait to pull out the brushes again today.
I’ve cleaned up the lines at the top of the painting and started to find the darker shapes within the water now. This means looking carefully and using a smaller brush. At this point, it is necessary to alter my mental focus; detailing requires a completely different mindset, a more specific way of seeing and mark making. It is less generalized. It means narrowing my view and zeroing in on tiny areas of my reference photo. It means really seeing what is in front of me. For me, one of the challenges here is not to tense up and stop breathing while doing this. I find myself constantly checking in with my body to see if I need to drop my shoulders, relax my cheekbones and take a few deep breaths. Never a bad thing to do but still, it can be a bit surprising to discover that my mental focus has translated in such an unhealthy (and unhelpful) way to my physical body. Yesterday, I picked up three more colours at the art supply store as I’ve had trouble mixing just the right shades for certain areas. There’s a specific colour across the top of the piece as well as the deep shades of blue at the bottom that I’ve not quite been able to find by mixing the colours I currently have in my paint box. I’m looking forward to playing around with colour mixing today and eternally grateful that I don’t have to spend time sourcing out just the right minerals to pound into powder in order to make my paints from scratch as was the case many years ago. Tubes of ready made paint in a huge range of colours awaits me at any art supply store I care to visit. It boggles my mind to imagine the effort required by the old masters simply to amass the tools of their trade in order to begin a project. Sometimes it took months or even years before the first mark was made on a canvas.
I am old enough now to recognise that life’s voyage continuously takes one over mountains and into valleys of various sizes. The disappointments inevitably pass and better times follow. And then the pattern repeats itself. So it goes. It’s a flow that bothers me less and less these days. (Maturity is a wonderful thing.) Day two of painting was much more satisfactory and I now harbour hope that this painting could be a worthy gift to my daughter and son-in-law.
Starting a painting is always exhilarating. The newness of the project at hand makes me want to get up in the morning and get right at it. To be honest, day one of this particular painting was surprisingly difficult as that insidious monkey mind kept whispering reminders of my inadequacies. By the end of the day, I wasn’t entirely happy with the results but it’s early days and there’s tons more paint to throw at the canvas before it is done. I will not be deterred! Here’s what the piece looked like by the end of day one.
The marriage of one’s daughter is a moving experience, fraught with myriad emotions which can sometimes assault one when least expected. Because of the profound nature of such a celebration and my deep love for my first born, the choosing of just the right wedding gift for her and her fiancé was of some importance to me. But despite my ponderings, I was, for the longest time, unable to come up with the perfect offering, something unique and personal, something that would give them lasting pleasure throughout their lives together. I was very pleased, therefore, when Heather bailed me out by telling me what they’d like – a painting! This I can do, I thought to myself. I was excited when she told me that she wanted a BIG one because I really like doing big. However, she told me she knew exactly what she wanted me to paint and that’s when it started to feel daunting. She’d always been attracted to a water reflection photograph that I’d taken in Nova Scotia awhile back. Since she and Nick lived for two years just outside of Halifax, this image seemed fitting. However, the thought of actually trying to paint it was completely unnerving for me. It’s a beautiful photograph, if I do say so myself, but the rich variety of colours, the sense of movement and the complex shapes left me feeling quite baffled and inept. I didn’t know where to begin. Hence, it has taken me many months to mentally prepare myself for this task. The photo has lived on my fridge for the past year, calling to me, assuring me that I am up to the challenge. And finally, I actually think that I am. Finally my insecurity has morphed into the kind of excitement necessary to begin a project such as this. I’m ready to jump with both feet now with a certainty that I can make this work. This is me with the big blank canvas, 36” x 48”, ready to begin. Watch for more posts as I work away at this project.
When the husband of my sister-in-law died suddenly and tragically a few months ago, I felt compelled to honour him by painting his portrait. Jean and Paul had been together since they were 14 and his loss was profound and immeasurable. Paul was a very fine man – always kind, the epitome of laid back, a loving father to his three children, a warm and caring grandfather, a man with a gravely voice, a twinkle in his eye, a warm smile and a great sense of fun. I dedicate this post to the memory of Paul Lawson, who always treated me with kindness, was always interested in what was going on in the lives of others and who enriched my life in many subtle but significant ways.