What a joy to be out painting with friends again. Finally. With everyone having their two COVID-19 vaccinations and taking precautions, we were able to get started again. The W.A.Taylor Conservation area on the Rideau River was our first destination. A number of the MAA members, who attended, told me how good it felt to be joining the group once more. The last scheduled session will be the 30th of September.
After greeting everyone, I wandered over to the foot bridge that passes over a small creek, thick with vines and undergrowth. The first impression that struck me was like staring through stained glass. I had to try it. Went back to my vehicle, grabbed my easel, paint box and backpack and returned to the site. I setup, sketched in a rough composition, and became totally absorbed in painting for an hour or so. Lighting the Way 16x12 is the result – after several days of studio adjustments until it felt right.
When I am visiting the forest, either going for a walk along the Poole Creek for exercise or looking for a composition, I occasionally get a fleeting inspiration – when time and the moment stands still. This occurred recently on a day painting trip to the Ferguson Tree Nursery in Kemptville. I was standing alone at the time on a forest path when the sunlight and silence were shrouded in the mist of light rain. I was inspired to paint while the moment lasted. It never does of course. By the time I had set up and painted a 11x14 sketch the midday sun had broken through, shadows were appearing and foliage was becoming opaque, losing the translucent effect.
Back in my studio, the sketch provided detail. It was also useful to me as a medium to help with my recollection. Reproducing the vibrant colour at my feet, the silence of falling mist and the intimacy of the transient moment was the artistic challenge.
I had to be there – that's the very essence of plein air painting.
Blakeney Village Park is located a short drive west of the town of Almonte. It's a favourite destination for landscape artists, (watch for poison ivy), where the tumbling waters of the Mississippi River storm through ancient rock formations under a canopy of giant spruce and pine. I get that same feeling of insignificance every time I go there - mesmerized by fast- moving waters, and wishing I had the skill to paint the thundering sounds that echo from the rapids and waterfalls. Blakeney Magic 30 x 30, painted from an earlier sketch, comes closer.
Did I mention that I really enjoy painting outdoors? That's what we called it back in 1980 when I ventured out for the first time with my friend and mentor, Grant Tigner. Forty years later, I still get a big kick from plein air painting – as it is called these days.
So, just what, you may well ask, is so great about standing in a field in front of my easel and canvas, defying blinding sun and circling black flies? Given time and practice, artists at any level can learn to discern colour shifts and patterns in nature that is difficult to find in photographs and other sources, other than just being out there. We learn to take the time to listen to our inner selves and develop skills needed to record our instincts in our own creative genre. Break-through inspirations come unexpectedly, leaving us breathless at times, with the recognition that comes with surpassing personal expectations. When we fail, we learn by our mistakes. Fascinating!
There are other rewards of course: making lifetime friendships, sharing adventures and gaining knowledge from watching others paint, to name a few. They are high on my list of treasured memories.
One of the few benefits we get from this COVID 19 pandemic is plenty of time for Zoom visits with family, friends and reminiscing. Forty years of working non-stop at being an artist, packs away a lot of memories - of workshops and shows and painting trips.
Thinking back on those times - painting in Old Quebec City, setting up along the Icefields Parkway in Banff - I periodically ask myself “What have I gained from those experiences besides good memories?” Certainly, I acquired a serious respect, for the limitless ways artists go about their life’s work, and many long-lasting friendships.
And a burning desire to discover better ways to express myself through my art. It’s what keeps me painting.
Recently I was pleased to be asked to be one of several jurors, for an art exhibition; to grade, all the entries without the benefit of interviewing the artists. I dutifully applied my experience and knowledge in making my judgements, but in each case,I could only guess at the artist’s intent. I find it difficult to separate the work from the artist. Similarly, when I am asked to critique someone’s work. I need some dialog with the artist so that my remarks can be both personal and thoughtful.
But I digress, memories and nostalgia are important to me. They give me a foundation on which to move forward. I am convinced that the work I am doing now is the best work I have ever done. It’s been a great road to travel with no end in sight.
One of Patricia and my special treats, before COVID-19 that is, was dinning at Cabotto’s Restaurant on Hazeldean Road in Stittsville. Not only is the food and presentation at this award-winning restaurant special but just walking through the front door of this 155-year-old stone Ontario Heritage building is a warm and welcoming experience. The restaurant offers six dining areas and two fireplaces surrounded by stained glass windows and white tablecloths.
The building itself has a lot of history, I discovered. Originally called Kemp’s Tavern, it was built in 1868 to serve as a respite for horse and buggy travelers. It survived the Great Carleton Fire in 1870 that ripped through 250,000 acres, from Ottawa to Smith Falls and Carleton Place two years later. With the advent of the CPR railroad in 1871, there was a reduction in traveling customers and the building was eventually sold. Following a series of owners, in 1982 it became Checquer’s restaurant.
In 2003 Mr. Vinncenzo Pucci purchased the property and relocated Cabotta’s Restaurant there. It remains owned and operated by the Pucci family.
May 1, 2021
Sadly, I just read of the passing of Vermont artist Richard Schmid at the age of 87. There will be some artists that won't recognize the name. He was not the type to seek publicity, even though his paintings have become very valuable. I have followed his career for many years. Primarily a plein air painter, Richard Schmid took his Impressionist realistic work to the highest levels in his studio. His art and painting process has been a beacon for me. He led by example, demonstrating plein air techniques without short cuts or showmanship. Today, his art books and teaching videos are widely treasured, including myself.
Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet this quiet gentleman. I admit that his beautiful paintings derived directly from nature – alla prima - have had some influence on my work. His memory will remain for as long as I can lift a brush.
For more information, go to: www.Richardschmidofficialsite
In the April 13th bi-weekly Painter’s Keys post, the late Robert Genn’s blog explored the positive feedback artists perceive when they are painting. To read the full story go to Painters Keys.
I experience a lift while painting. Not all my efforts are successful of course. But oh my, especially when painting in the field, when I step back for the n’th time and see my painting coming to life, I feel a rush. In fact, I have been caught doing a two-step to the jazz floating from my car radio when I believed that no one was watching.
After many years painting plein air I have learned to avoid copying exactly what I see. I settle on a narrative and try to rearrange things to develop a composition. I purposely paint in a circuitous way so that good things may happen on the canvas unintentionally. Sometimes I surprise myself.
Back in my studio, the euphoria has worn off. The challenge is to rekindle the inspiration with minor adjustments while preserving the moment. This is the final step in the process.
A shaft of sunlight meets the day on our couch in the sun room these mornings; a welcome harbinger of warm spring days as we struggle to get past COVID-19. The gift of light has a special place for artists as we learn to appreciate the incredible sunlight spectrum reflecting from everything we behold as colour. Like dogs and cats sleeping in the sunlight, we draw on the light for a sense of well-being and inward pleasure.
I have watched the sun’s rays gaining strength day by day as we move into April. Out in our sun room, I look up from my book, to see the light reflecting across the couch and pillows and glass tabletops. I am moved get my sketch book. As I start to outline a composition, I perceive evidence of the effects of the light on a vase of flowers, the pastel shades on fabrics and glass surfaces. These are the elements that put life into a painting.
I am pleased with my recent website make-over. I wanted to update my Weebly site that many know at www.cspratt.ca rather than start afresh. I have been managing my site for years including Charlie’s Blog, Art News and my paintings. Don’t need any more systems than necessary.
Janet Watson, Mejan Graphic Design in Merrickville was recommended to me and the result is more than satisfying. Thanks also to Paul Powers for the photography and Ottawa author, Barbara Robson for editing my CV information.
On a frosty morning in February, following several days of snowfall, I pulled my van over and stopped to admire the sunshine finally breaking through heavy clouds. The effect of sunlight warming the laden boughs, gave me a strong impression that all was right with the natural world. That this Covid 19 pandemic will just be a memory soon.
It was far too cold to paint with acrylics outside. But, from the warmth of my vehicle, parked safely and with a canvas propped up on the steering wheel, I was able to get the essentials recorded enough that some finishing touches, under studio lighting, caught the effect I wanted.
The Art of Charles Spratt