This Thursday, June 7th, marks the first outing of the Manotick Art Association Plein Air Painting group for 2018. The Paint-outs, which have been a feature of the MAA for many years are for those members who enjoy the challenge of painting outdoors. There is no instruction given. Everyone is expected to work on their own and are free to decide whether to join the group each Thursday.
There are many groups that operate this way. I have painted with similar ones in Victoria, BC, Fort Myers, FL, Algonquin Park and Eastern Ontario for example. Some of the more obvious benefits are the enjoyment of meeting new friends and getting outdoors; but also, the experience gained through watching seasoned artists paint and learning how they pack their equipment for plein air work is pivotal.
For painters at any level there are artistic benefits from plein air painting too. Through direct observation and guidance we can learn to see colour in all its shades (values) and intensities. In time we grasp how to focus on shapes and forms and come to understand how we perceive things and how they relate to each other. In short, we learn about ourselves in the context of our surroundings.
The Canadian landscape with its four seasons is a pure gift just waiting to be explored and painted to the best of our abilities, each in our own unique way. Outdoor painting is always a challenge. Often the painting results are unsatisfactory due to the complexity of the surroundings. When we get it right, though, the plein air painting can be very special - as a stand-alone painting or as the bases for a studio work.
So on Thursday, with paints and canvas in hand, we are off to face the challenge: to abandon ourselves to the inspiration of time and place, totally uncertain of a successful painting. That is when we rise to surpass ourselves. Magic.
Opening Saturday, June 16th !
The Applecrate Gallery is now approaching its second anniversary in Manotick. Situated on the west side of Main St., a short block south from Bridge Street, it features the work of local and out-of-town artists with exhibition openings every month. If you haven’t had the chance to drop by, I’m sure you would be delighted with the ambiance and the wide variety of paintings and sculpture. For more information go to: http://www.applecrate galleries.ca
On Saturday, June 16th from 6 to 9 pm, gallery owner Jean-Guy Brunet and Patricia and I will be on hand to show you around. Everyone is welcome. Feel free to bring your friends.
The West Carleton Art Society is a very active group. One of their major efforts is the popular long -running juried show, Expressions of Art, held at the Carp fairgrounds each fall. I enjoyed having a booth there last year and hope to be accepted for this fall.
Another of their programs is called Fireside Chats or Articulate. Once a month a visual artist is invited to give an audio-visual presentation on their work to WCAS members and guests in an informal setting in Carp. I have been to a number of these popular events and I was very pleased to be invited to be the guest artist for this May past.
In a nut shell here is what I presented:
My story begins back in 1978 when purely by chance, I met Grant Tigner, a long - time professional artist and past president and instructor at the Ottawa School of Art. Grant invited me to go painting and he could see that, although I was a complete novice, I showed artistic talent. The timing was pure serendipity. Over time Grant showed me how to paint the landscape and taught me how to see the effects of light. I learned from him about the value of cataloguing my work – something I do to this day – and what a professional working studio with stacks of canvases in various stages, a studio easel and drawers full of painting supplies felt like. Together, we painted in Algonquin Park, Gloucester Mass. and the Ottawa Valley. During that time, I met and befriended the well-known Arctic traveler, geologist and painter, Dr. Morris Haycock who had been a great friend and painting companion to A.Y.Jackson.
Some ten years later, when an allergy forced me to abandon oils, I chose watercolours and joined the Ottawa Watercolour Society. Under the influence of Morton Baslaw and many other very fine painters, and with the experience of OWS juried exhibition competitions, l attained fellowship in the Ottawa Watercolour Society and the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour (CSPWC). I began to teach other artists too - first locally and then for Ontario College summer schools in Ottawa, Brockville and Haliburton.
After 15 years of painting with watercolours, I began painting with acrylic and remain using them exclusively today. My work has evolved to an interpretation I call Contemporary Impressionistic. I consider myself very fortunate to have met so many wonderful artists who have helped me along the way. Some of those contacts and far-flung places where I gave workshops, led to gallery representation in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa - and Charlevoix where Baie-Saint-Paul painter, Bruno Cote’s guidance immediately comes to mind. But that’s another story for another time.
My hour-long Fireside Chat was over before I knew it. Afterward, there were a lot of smiling faces and artists coming forward to thank me. I hope that they understand what a pleasure it was for me to have the opportunity to tell my story. Thank you!
Many thanks to the WCAS organizers who ran the overhead projector system, served coffee and made everyone feel welcome.
Charles Spratt, May 2018
I was very pleased to receive notice from the Society of Canadian Artists that two of my paintings had been accepted for their 2018 International Juried Open On-Line Exhibition that will run from March 15th to June 15th, 2018. The two selected painting are Quiet Moment 24x24 acrylic and The Model 16x20 acrylic. Both painted in 2017.
The 2018 International Open Juried ONLINE Exhibition can be viewed at
When you stand before a painting, has it ever occurred to you that you would like to know something about the artist? Unless you recognize the painter’s name, the signature at the bottom will be of little help. If the painting is being shown in a gallery, the staff may be able to assist with some information.
I have heard of artists that refuse to sign their work or place their signature out of sight on the back of the painting. I suppose they would prefer that their painting stand up to scrutiny on its own. I have trouble understanding the concept.
When I come across a painting that intrigues me, I am interested in identifying the artist and learning more. When I visit an artist’s art booth and am impressed with the work, I introduce myself (when the artist has a quiet moment) so I can learn more about their career and how they arrived at the painting. I imagine I have lots of company, judging by the number of art books being published these days on the lives of artists, past and present, and the events that shaped their work.
Being an artist means being creative. Creativity is personal. Back when I taught plein air painting workshops for artists, I came to realize that everyone observes and experiences things differently. Under my guidance the artists were introduced to the idea of seeing landscapes in terms of shapes and design and then encouraged to express their individual ideas and impressions in brush strokes - no painting was the same. I have always believed that the journey to be a painter means learning about oneself. It’s a principal that I taught at every workshop and remains a guiding force for me and my work.
Take portrait painting for example. Through practice, I know that I can produce a reasonable likeness. But getting surface detail right is only one part of the process. What I strive for and what makes a painting superior is interpretation. Whether it is a horn player laying down a jazz lick, a sculpture assessing a block of granite or Vincent Van Gogh expressing the colours that he felt as he struggled with mental illness, it’s all personal. Inescapably.
When one of my paintings is purchased, it’s good to be able to converse with the new owner, if possible, so I can explain how and where the work was painted. It also gives me the opportunity to learn about what the client appreciates about my work and if they own more of my paintings (my catalogue number is written on the back of each painting so that I may identify it without actually seeing it). The impersonality of a print is why I have avoided making copies and why I choose fine galleries to represent my work, ones that are knowledgeable about me and my art.
Happy New Year to everyone: my friends, painters, musicians and all. We are never sure what life will bring with each coming year. Let’s hope it is filled with good health, first and foremost. And let there be time for sharing with friends and loved ones.
I look forward to enjoyable times painting en plein air with friends and new faces and reaching out for occasional break-throughs that can appear at any time while I paint.
The painting Christmas Tree 30x36 began as a sketch one snowy afternoon in December when the sun broke through overcast skies. After time for contemplation in my studio a new 30x36 canvas was chosen to expand on the theme. What I hope you see is the synergy of that special moment, recorded by sketch and painted with the resources of years of practice.
The Model 16x20 acrylic
At times, the inspiration for a painting begins with a fleeting image of a moment in time: a setting sun, a flash of sunlight framed in a dark foreground. But not always. Sometimes the process starts with a dialogue between myself and my painting as I work. The discussion continues until I reach a conclusion about ‘what I really want to say’ – the words echoing in my ear from Cape Ann, Mass. master painter and teacher, Charles Movalli. When I arrive at that point I rethink the composition, rearrange detail to fit the message – the statement.
The painting Model 16x20 acrylic is a good example. As I sketched the model during a recent life-drawing session, I intuitively placed the figure on the left of the canvas, awkwardly facing away from the centre - as if she was either drawn towards the light or conversely, repelled by the sight of the jumble of easels and art work to the right. Gradually the distractions from other artists painting the same poise dissolves. I focus on the model, sensing that her stoic, carefully held poise is solely for my benefit. The peripheral casually-stacked studio easels become immaterial: their presence noted, but subjugated to the developing painting statement.
In that moment, highlighted by the natural light, the model appeared to rise above the creative activity and studio clutter surrounding her. I had found what it was that I was trying to express.
Much later, satisfied that the painting was truthful to how I felt about the subject, I signed it.
Quiet Moment – Blackbird Café, Burnstown 24x24 acrylic
In from the cold, the cozy interior of the Blackbird Café is a welcome sight. Nestled in the hills, looking over the Madawaska River at the junction of the Burnstown Road and the Calabogie Road, the Café is a well-known drop-in stop for Ottawa and Renfrew County travellers.
The inspiration for this painting took place on a break from outdoor painting in the Calabogie area this November. Several onsite sketches and a photo for detail, taken over coffee, accompanied me back to my studio at the end of the day - where the painting would began to take shape.
After four wonderful days painting with the Plein Air Ensemble group in Westport, ON, all 19 of us packet our paints and headed home after breakfast. We were weary, yet feeling content from the long days at our easels on Foley Mountain and around the town, and yet fresh with images of evenings full of music and conversation with friends old and new.
Westport is situated in the Rideau Lakes District between Kingstown and Ottawa. It’s been years since I spent time there, back when I had a booth at the Rideau Valley Art Show that ran every summer for many years. I had forgotten just how paintable the town is with its numerous churches, waterfront docks, stores and quaint historic homes. On this trip we stayed at the rambling Cove Country Inn and Spa, dating back to 1876. The rooms were very comfortable, the dining excellent and the big country welcome, warm and friendly.
On two evenings we had art demonstrations by two capable Plein Air Ensemble members and on the last evening we were treated to the foot tapping gyrations of country and blues in the spacious bar and salon of the Cove. Even our very own Mary Moore nailed two renditions at the open-stage mike to choruses of rousing applause from a packed house. Absolutely memorable!
All agreed that, considering the comfortable, affordable accommodation, proximity to Ottawa and Kingston, and so many varied choices of places to paint, Westport was a great choice.
Now in my studio with four fresh Westport paintings propped up for inspection, I can sense the energy and exuberance felt as each one grew from an inspiration to composition to a painting on site. I can’t wait to begin to carefully rework them, correcting colours under studio lighting, and reassessing – a process that can take weeks at times. The last step is to add my signature at the bottom, but only if I feel confident that the work is truthful.
Plein Air Ensemble continues to be successful because it provides the opportunity for artists to work en plein air independently, without pressures of competition or judgement, and with time for discussion and exploring other painting options with like-minded artists.