Sunday, 18 October 2015

 Traveling a small watercolour set and a good brush opens the opportunity to work just about anywhere.  In September I was the presenter for three days at the "Master Artist in the Library" event here in town.  Armed with a small bag of pebbles, and my trusty 12 colour watercolour set,
I painted these little guys

Each is about 3" x 5", on  5" x 7" precut watercolour paper.  I tend to travel with sheets rather than blocks if I am painting inside.  The blocks are great when painting outdoors, the wind does not catch at the sheets and I find the paper dries out more quickly outside, so there is more wetting needed.

I generally don't use resist, relying instead on marking key points in a very lightly wash before defining shapes more heavily.  I like how this lets the compositions enfold and breathe rather than being tightly drawn beforehand with pencil.

Monday, 12 October 2015

"The Studio"

One of the most helpful insights since coming back from vacation pertains to the studio, on keeping it clean and having distance from the world.   I have since recommended to a fellow artist that she create just such a space in her studio. One wall  not cluttered with other paintings, or paint splotches.  A clean wall with a single nail on which to hang the current work  and a comfortable chair to view it from.

Let me back up. Travel always opens up the eye as we are jolted out of our habitual environment and are forced to see afresh, but my little epiphany comes found the work I did while on holiday, perched on a stool in the corner of a kitchen.  The paintings came so easily.  The watercolours lay down smoothly, cleanly, with  a clarity of mind and purpose that made me feel in love with painting again.  In comparison my home studio is crammed full of bits and parts. Oil, Acrylic and water colour mediums, books, brushes and paper, canvas, models and paintings; it all sits around chaotically grabbing at my eye and brain.

Ahh, the brain.  Here is the meat of the matter.  It isn't just that all the stuff grabs at your eye, but that it grabs at your brain. Each empty canvas suggests a painting. Unresolved work silently asks the question, what if?  Half-hearted efforts  whisper, why didn't you spend more time with me? Poor work shouts at you, YOU CAN"T PAINT!

Having a clear work space, encourages a clear conversation with your work.  Let go of the relics and remnants around you and focus instead on the process.  What did you experience, what did you discover, what did you learn?  Where are you going next?

To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. (Joseph Campbell

Watercolour work from my holiday this summer.
This is the order I painted them in.  
I plan to do them in oil over the winter.


Monday, 5 October 2015

Welcome back! I hope your summer was what you needed it to be.  That lovely summer sun is slowly making it's way back to the southern hemisphere and it is time to gather up loose ends and make preparations for winters shorter days.

This summer, I accompanied my mother (89) to her home town in Europe.  We spent our days visiting with folks well over eighty and taking slow walks through the orchards, vineyards and cobble stone streets. Away from the internet, the combination of a different place, the slow pace and looking at life through the eyes of the old provided me with a very different viewpoint than my life back home.
My little holiday studio 

I set up a rough studio in the unused kitchen   and happily painted a portion of each day away. For the most part the world shrunk to the elements directly within my immediate surroundings. Unhooked from almost all media sources: television, radio, newspapers and internet, the peaceful, patient, matter of fact, capable aura that hung about the farming people we visited seeped into the fabric of the passing days.

Now back home, I have switched back into hunter gatherer mode, actively on alert for what is new, sorting what is relevant or not,  consumed with deciding what has to be done next, what needs to be addressed now. I find myself checking the internet whenever I pass the screen and building stacks of newspapers with passages circled for further attention. I make lists of phone calls to return, commitments to follow up. I am sure you all could all add to this list of frenetic hunt and search behavior.

The difference between the two worlds is more than just having more to do.  I feel a  profound and physical shift in my brain, as if my grey matter is literally working from another area.  There is also a shift of operating modality, as thought is now charged with a resolving a different equation and is searching for a different balance. I sense that the farm-time-paradigm allowed for a different route of thought, not just a different scope of thought. 

As the holiday fades, my access to this route of thought is slipping away and I feel the sharp keen of an important loss. Perhaps, if I can pin enough of it down in print, it might amount to a map, or maybe it is a compass, to carry me back and forth between both states of thought.

Post Script:

One of the circled articles in my pile of newspapers bears the heading  Douglas Coupland, The Internet, how it's changing us, and the acceleration of acceleration itself. Our Brains, Rewired." The article features an excerpt from Coupland's book, Kitten Clone: Inside Alcatel-Lucent  The following lines caught my eye:  
"Time is moving too quickly these days and yet, at the same time, it's moving too slowly. Quite simply, by brain no longer feels the way it used to; my sense of time is distinctly different from what it once was and I miss my pre-Internet brain... What's really happening is that, after more than ten thousand hours of exposure to the internet and digital technologies like my iPhone, my brain has been rewired, -or rather, it has rewired itself. Science has a name for this process: Hebb's Law.  When neurons fire together, they wire together.  It's no coincidence that the ten-thousand-hour rule has recently entered our culture's popular imagination, explaining to us that after doing something for ten thousand hours, you become an expert at it, because that's how much time your brain needs to fully rewire itself to adapt to a new medium.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Endurance Winners

The alstroemeria ( peruvian lily)  and the tulips outlasted all the other 
blooms in the bouquet. The varied yellows and the pink make good companions.
I like how the alstroemeria blossoms unfold like a fan in contrast to the 
solid ovals of the tulips.

Oil on canvas

Saturday, 28 March 2015

HERE WE ARE - all done!
Final edit is on right.  You can do the cartoon thing where you check the differences between the images.  Comments are welcome. 

Work is 20 x 24 inches, oil on canvas. 
Available for purchase at

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Oh, all the things one should know by this time:
Don't start a new project when you are tired and hungry.
Don't hack around on a painting that you have already moved on from.
Don't work from a dirty palette.
Don't work from memory.

There.  That just about summarize all the things I should not have been doing just now.

It is interesting how a brain sees different things at a different scale and/or media. At about four p.m. today I was at  the computer editing the last of the three large still life paintings from the last post.   On the computer, it seemed to me that the  painting had ungraceful 'hole' in the middle (dark with little detail) and that a spear ( a single brightly lit leaf) was cutting a straight and unnatural line to the sunflower.  No problem, I thought.  I'll just whip that in the studio and put some variation into that leaf to make it more interesting.
Well, here is, an hour and a half later and, I think this painting might now be a good candidate for a bonfire.  Oh my goodness.  Is my stomach complaining from hunger or is this feeling in my gut because this painting is now a hot mess?
The eliminated tulip on the left and moving the other further behind was a good move,  but the darkening of back ground has muddled up the congruency of the leaves.  Also still not happy about the lower midfield of the painting, while the two carnations are really bothering me now.

Sometimes valuable information can be gained by continuing to adjust a painting.  Will have to decide tomorrow morning if i want to hack at this one any more. I welcome feedback.

Monday, 23 March 2015

In the quest for a looser, more impressionist expression of these still lifes, the move from small itsy bitsy 5"x7" paintings to a more robust 20"x24" inch  format would help.  Besides using a much larger brush with the commensurate longer handle to keep me away from the canvas  surface, standing instead of sitting also seemed to give the strokes more oomph.  Here is the set up for the last two paintings, I am sorry that I didn't take a photo of the first for you to see.

The goal in these three paintings was to understand the relationship between the underpainting and the final highlight hits in creating the form, where to place vanishing edges, and what details to eliminate, what elements to include, to produce a stronger composition.

As you can  see, This first one painting has it all, flowers, carpet and details. IN a way, I enjoy all the bits of colour as it creates both the scene and a pattern.

 In the second painting, I took out the 'whites' partly to reduce the amount of colours included in the work, but also because I started thinking how odd it was to have tulips, asters, sunflowers, gerberas, lilies and orchids all at the  same time when they don't bloom in the same seasons.  I have wondered about this in other paintings as well, should one aim to have the elements of a painting be 'in season' with each other? Or is this just inevitable evidence pointing to a culture that supplies almost everything at anytime?


For this third painting, the canvas has been swung around to vertical and the still life has been cropped in closely to create a more stripped down composition.  I do miss the wild patterning of the first painting even as I enjoy the quieter look of this arrangement.  The darn tulips and the gerbera kept moving while I was painting even though I thought I was painting really quickly.  Hazards of painting from set ups rather than photos I guess.  At a workshop I attended this weekend  the presenter, a landscape artist said, that it is a real problem when painting outdoors!  I can imagine.  

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Painting in stages:  Bowl of Fruit with Orchid backdrop
My first step is to do a quick prep  sketch 5x 7 inches   This allows me to work out the composition and figure out what is important to include in the painting.  At this stage I am mindful of how the eye will move through the work.  I find branches and stems are quite important when working with flowers and foliage

First stage of painting (above, 12x16 ") After getting the painting to this stage,  the patterns of the cloth on the left side of the bowl seemed to take focus away from bowl

Second stage (above) I wiped clean the detail in the cloth  and now can go back in

Third stage (above): I eliminated the folds in the cloth at the left of the bowl completely. I also toned down the contrast in the white napkin.  The partial leaf that was behind the left rim of the bowl has been eliminated as well to give greater clarity to the bowl edge.

This is the original still life set up with cold light source       

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Adventures in oil 
As I am becoming more familiar with the properties of oil painting, I am 
becoming more aware of the potential for the medium.  Alluring, sensuous and
life-like in it's glossy transparency, it can create stunning realism works
as it did in the 17th-century Baroque period when the Dutch painters in
particular used it to great effect. 

 Johannes Vermeer
circa 1665
17.5 x 15 inches

Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Oil  has physical body so it can sit upright on the canvas surface to create
a truly three dimensional, textural surface such as in the abstracts of
the Canadian painter, Riopelles (1923 - 2002).  This attribute of body
also reveals the strokes of the artist's brush, revealing the direction of
application.  This evokes a sensation  of movement in a work, keeping
it alive rather than static.

 Jean Paul Riopelle
Noctourne, 1954
14 x 9 inches

The young American painter, Daniel Keyes  paintings employ this last attribute to
great effect.  His painting style lends the sense of movement to his work. Light seems
to flicker on his models rather than just illuminate it's mass. His aim is not to illustrate
the subject, but to convey to us the joy of a moment in front of it.  Some say this is to
give an impression of the subject, but it seems to me, a more accurate statement
would be to say that it presents the subject as we ourselves would apprehend it. 

Our ability to mentally process all the visual data present in an element is not equal
to the ability of our eyes to see all the data, unless we take long periods to look and
analyze form, colour, tone, line, shape, texture,and space. We tend to scan rather than
look, a tendency exacerbated by the ever more complex and speedy urban environments
in which we increasingly live.

In my practice, I already have the ability to execute work with watercolours in a
 hyper realistic style that presents how, exactly, something looks. Viewers of these
 works are presented with the opportunity to really see the subjects in all their detail
and subtle beauty.  The promise of oil painting then is that it presents the potential
to paint in a deliberately dynamic style with a focus on light.

Daniel Keyes  
Roses & Lilies
11 x 24 inches, oil

Thursday, 12 March 2015

 Scottsdale Blush of Roses
10.5 x 8.5 
oil on panel
Available on Daily Paintworks

Scottsdale, fourth Day:  Daniel Keyes loves flowers. He told us the story 
of how, when his parents would allow each of their children to select something
 to purchase, he would ask for a flower.  This love for blooms is evident in his paintings
Our third demonstration was  painting roses.  I finally got the fact 
through my head that one can blend the oil paint on the painting, instead of
 trying to mix it all on the palette.  This allows for the soft edges and lovely 
blurs of  reflected light.  Really enjoyed painting this one and makes 
me wish I had planted more roses in my garden.

 Phoenix Second Set Up
12" x16"
oil on panel 
For sale on Daily Paintworks

Second and third day in Scottsdale, we worked on a more extensive still life set up, shown here. Working again all prima, I ended up focusing on the fruit and missing out on the sunflowers above. Never the less, I quite enjoy the optical effect of the grapefruit reflecting in the vase, the way the silver pot lurks in the back ground and the movement of the patterns in the background cloth.  Of note, I changed the composition of the white napkin at the left foreground as it cut the orange from the composition and added an apple to keep the eye from flicking to the white rectangle that was there. This works better in my opinion.

Back to Phoenix
Oil on Panel

This January I was back in Phoenix taking another workshop.  This year the instructor was Daniel Keyes, a young man who paints with astounding care, lusciously  loose works.  His name is linked with Richard Schmidt, a truly premier painter with a long career of creating master works.  Look them both up for a shot of gorgeous painting.

We started the week with this little set up of fruit. Painting all prima, the goal was to focus on the tonal range, not the hues.