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.
Come On In! 20x20 acrylic on canvas. On a chilly October morning one can feel the warmth of the sun's rays radiating from the ancient stone walls of the historic Code's Mill Building in downtown Perth, ON. In the painting you can find the Big Ben Memorial Statue standing tall across the road in Stewart Park.
The painting began on this year's final outing of the Manotick Art Association's Plein Air Group. I set up my easel across Herriott Street, facing the Code Building with the sun warming my back; drawn there by a compelling vision of the warm respite offered through the inviting doors of the Fiddleheads Restaurant.
The rest of the MAA artists were spread out in Stewart Park painting other subjects. At noon we stopped by the Big Ben Memorial to admire each other's work of the day before proceeding to the comforts of lunch within.
Hopefully we will all be back next year.
Some of the plein air painting sketches I did on field trips with members of the Manotick Art Association this past summer will be on display at my booth at Expressions of Art 2017 in Carp this weekend. Each Thursday morning, starting in June, we would travel to preselected spots in the Ottawa area to paint the outdoors. There is always a nice mixture of seasoned professionals and biginners. Our final trip for this year was to Perth, ON last week.
Plein air painting is a great way for artists to learn to see colour and to practice organizing shapes into a meaningful composition. Artists new to painting outdoors can learn first hand from watching the way seasonned artists effeciently pack and layout their equipment and how they set up quickly to catch light effects before the sunlight and shadows shift around.
Not all plein air attempts are successful. Many artists, like me, take their work back to their studios to adjust it under studio lighting conditions. What we are trying to accomplish is to capture a record of the day, and our impression of the moment, in our own style. It's never easy - but oh, so satisfying when successful.
I will be showing my paintings for the first time at the West Carleton Arts Society Annual Juried Show and Sale - Expressions of Art 2017 - October 6 - 8 at the Carp Agricultural Hall. The show opens with a vernissage on Fri. Oct 6 from 7 - 9 pm and runs Sat Oct 7, 8 am -4 pm and Sun, Oct 8, 10 am - 4 pm.
This is a good way for me to meet new people, renew acquaintances and converse with clients who already have one or more of my paintings. Being an artist means spending a lot of time at an easel and with other artists on painting trips and meetings. Having my own booth to show my work and the time to talk art with clients and friends gives me an opportunity to keep a perspective on my painting progress.
It's a good time to rekindle friendships and make new friends too. If you have a chance to see the show, please drop by my booth and say 'Hello'
For more information on the show, go to westcarletonartssociety.ca
Plein Air Ensemble 30 years and Still Going!
I am very proud of the fact that Plein Air Ensemble, started 30 years ago next year, continues to organize spring and fall plein air painting trips for artists. I remember vividly discussing the idea over an extended lunch in Ottawa with two painting buddies, Andrew Lyall and Pierrette Dulude Bohay when we were thinking of ways that we could share our passion for plein air painting with other artists.
Originally, we pictured each of us demonstrating different aspects of outdoor painting in an outdoor setting. But after the first trip that we organized to Calabogie Peaks in the fall of 1988, we realized that many of the 22 attendees were competent artists and that what they really wanted was a few days of freedom from everyday life to paint outdoors and share experiences with other like-minded artists. The three of us understood, from personal experience, that being an artist can require spending many hours alone at an easel but even so, we acknowledged that there are many benefits from working along side othe artists: benefits such as learning through the exchange of knowledge and picking up new skills from watching others paint. Generally, most artists are happy to share what they know about art.
So the instructing idea got dropped and we decided to join in the experience ourselves. We also decided to invite artists recommended by other participants - with the proviso that everyone was expected to work independently. And we looked for interesting locations that would suit groups of artists.
The trips extended to locations in the Gatineau Hills, the Eastern Townships, Charlevoix and Quebec City. And after 13 years the organizing duties were taken over by artists Mette Baker, Deborah Czernecky and Malcolm Cowell, who directed the group for a further 13 years. During that time the name was changed from Artists Painting with Artists to Plein Air Ensemble to reflect the fact that a number of the participating artists also played musical instruments resulting in many evenings filled with music
In the spirit of sharing the work, Helene Martin and Kirsten Peters next took over the organizing duties for several years, and in July 2017, those duties were handed over to Mary Moore and Tom Lillico, the current administrators.
Sadly, two of the founders, Andy and Pierrette have passed. Yet, while the leadership of the group has changed, the trips continue without a break. Just thinking about those many trips brings back a flood of fond memories of painting in all kinds of weather, making new friends and talking art and playing music late into the evenings.
I am looking forward to the next trip: one with good friends, good painting opportunities and new experiences.
For more information, go to: pleinairensemble.ca
I am very pleased to have four paintings accepted for consignment in the commercial gallery space in the new Ottawa Art Gallery. The doors to the new Ottawa Art Gallery are scheduled to open in the fall of this year as part of the 150 years celebrations.
I have had my work represented at the Ottawa Art Gallery, art sales and rentals section (presently closed) for a number of years and await the opening of the brand new facilities with high anticipation. Pictures of the exciting new expansion can be seen at www.ottawaartgallery.ca
Watch for news media announcements!