The Manotick Art Association Plein Air Program had it’s first outing on June 1st at Oxford Mills. Fifteen MAA members attended: the largest first day attendance I can recall over the past years. It is gratifying to see so many artists responding. I recognized some from past years and I met newcomers for the first time. It only took a few minutes for introductions all around and a brief explanation about where we would gather at noon, with suggestions for lunch, before we separated and got down to the business of painting outdoors.
For artists, new to plein air painting, trying it can be a frustrating experience at first. Just learning how to recognize interesting elements while looking around and visualizing a composition is not easy. It takes practice. Improvements in painting efforts can occur spontaneously. Unsuccessful results should be taken lightly. The joy of just being outside and working creatively with others is compensation enough.
Art is very personal. The group makes it a point not to judge anyone’s work. If requested, any member of the group would be happy to discuss it with the artist. That’s how we learn.
It’s Thursday, we are off again to sketch and paint some place different. Don’t forget to bring hat, drinking water and snacks, insect repellent and tick precautions. And, who knows, you might just produce a painting that exceeds your expectations! If you can’t be with us on this day, we hope you can join us on another Thursday.
Algonquin Park Revisited
It feels like it’s been years since I painted in Algonquin Park, mostly because of the COVID pandemic. So with the end of winter in sight, and a forecast of several days of record high temperatures this April, I decided that it was an excellent time to travel to Algonquin Park to catch the last remnants of snow in the forests, the lakes opening up and other signs and sounds of Spring. After I talked to my photographer friend, Paul, who immediately said “Lets go.”, I called to reserve accommodations at the Algonquin East Gate Motel in Whitney and started assembling canvasses, my outdoor easel and ancient paintbox, just as I have done so many times in the past.
Driving west along Hwy 60, watching the spruce and pine forests looming thicker and taller, I recognized familiar towns spread out along the route. A flood of images filled my head: memories going back 40 years when my friend and mentor, Grant Tigner, first introduced me to a group of experienced painters gathered in Whitney at the Bear Trail Inn, now the Couples Resort, getting set to paint in Algonquin Park. While it saddens me to recall the numerous dear artist-friends that have passed, it always makes me feel so very grateful to be able to still make a painting trip like this one.
After two glorious days of painting, I had a start on four canvasses, including a 16x20 that I painted from the back of The Mad Musher Restaurant in Whitney, with the thundering waves of the rising Madawaska River reverberating in my ears.
I finished three of the paintings in my studio. Upon looking them over I was pleased that they resonated with the feeling of power and energy and beauty that is part of the Park. I promised myself another trip before too long.
I must admit that I am getting excited about participating in the Ten Collective Art Show. Over the years, I have exhibited my work in many locations, from galleries to gymnasiums, and for me this show ranks among the best mainly because we limit the exhibition to 10 specially selected artists: all with years of experience and diverse styles.
The Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, in downtown Almonte, is a National Trust Resilient Historic Places Winner, and Canada’s industrial textile history museum. (Google). It is a warm and charming location, offering generous space for 10 artist booths on the main floor, perfectly sized for this annual exhibition.
The artists have been working passionately to have a body of recent work ready for opening day. All of my work, with one exception, was created in the last twelve months. This exhibition offers me a wonderful opportunity to present new work to the many visitors passing through and to take their comments and observations with me back to my studio.
To the visitors I say take time to meet the artists and enjoy their work. You might find something to buy along the way.
Looking forward to seeing you there,
Ten Collective Show
Mississippi Valley Textile Museum
Saturday and Sunday,
April 22 and 23, 2023
10am – 5pm daily
Free admission and parking.
Remembering Painting Trips
A good friend and wonderful photographer commented on an article that I ran across, about travelling to new places to paint. “The only thing that I find limiting in this article is the apparent need to travel to find subjects to interpret. I find Nature so full of magic that there really is no need to travel to discover awesome subjects, they are already right where you happen to be, paint and brushes in hand”.
I replied that a very cool artist named Monet said exactly the same thing a while back. I do think most artists need an occasional change of venue in order to charge batteries and crank up the inspiration. However, when I have travelled with plein air painting friends, it was more about the time away to paint, the sharing of knowledge and experiences with other artists, that re-energized me. And further, I have been reluctant to join painting trips to Europe or the Rockies because I would feel handicapped by the artistic vision of a tourist, and I can't stand cute pictures.
When I look back on some of the more exotic places where I have painted, it is the people that I met that come to mind first; Artists like Bruno Cote who befriended our group in Charlevoix and painted with us on numerous occasions when we returned to the Region; Robert Genn, who parked his truck behind my car in Banff, and stayed to watch me work and chat while I painted; Charles Movalli and Betty lou Schlem, workshops in Greenville NY and Gloucester, Mass. All of them helped me to be a better painter, but the locations were definitely secondary. And, in fact, I was discouraged with my plein-air efforts to paint mountains and seascapes, because I felt like a visitor, and that it would take years to get to feel at home with the subject matter.
And so, I still travel to paint; to the Lanark Highlands, Algonquin Park and Ottawa Valley - places that I have known from childhood. Where memories, friendships and familiarity fill my paintings.
Guess I agree with Monet and my friend,
Points of Interest
It has been said that the amount of time a visitor spends looking at a painting at an art show is around 3-5 seconds. The viewer pauses, glances and moves on. That’s one reason why a point of interest in a composition is important: to grasp the attention of the viewer long enough that they are drawn in to look further, for the message and the beauty and more.
What defines a point of interest? Like many definitions and labels in art the answer is not simple. It can be an object such as a pet, a child, a sail boat?. But what about a painting containing none of these. Take abstract paintings. The artist uses contrasting colours, sharp edges and rhythms for example to make their point. What about abstract impression paintings showing large areas of solid colour? You decide.
There is no particular point of interest in my painting, Temple to the Winter Sun, (above). I suggest, however, the rhythms, play of light and a narrative combine to deliver a message that is strong and intriguing. That was my goal.
Points of interest are a fundamental part of a composition. They are not always positive. Several unintentional intersecting lines can distract the viewer and spoil a painting. Similarly, objects located in the exact centre of a canvas may mix the message. It takes time to develop a trained eye that recognizes problem areas as the painting progresses.
From my point of view, and from what I was taught, the solution is for artists to decide on a narrative and a composition, including a point of interest before paint is applied. I never start with a blank canvas and an open mind but I know some wonderful artists that would rather let their brush decide. It’s all ART in the making.
To artists, I wish you good painting. To those who enjoy seeing good art, I suggest spending a bit more time with each piece, attempting to go deeper, examining the artist’s narrative (story) and the beauty within.
The familiar fall smells of old leaves mingle with muted colours. Red maples, magnificent in full colour only short weeks ago, have dropped their brown leaves leaving bare limbs and branches. The nights are sharply colder accompanied by frost as nature prepares for another Canadian winter. We gaze up to the turbulent sky searching to predict the first snowfall in conversation with our neighbour. It’s a melancholy period for me, a time when I think of artist friends I haven't seen in years and painting trip adventures to locations, now out of reach. Thank goodness for family and friends and the Christmas season to carry us through.
And yet, as I survey the landscape, I feel the gift of a self-fulfilling promise: that after the blanket of snow has come and gone, spring will be in the air and a time of renewal. And so, bittersweet feelings find their way onto my canvas. My palette of colours doesn’t deviate. With time, I have learned to mix and layer the paint to bring out the soft undertones and muted colour that we find by examining the branches and undergrowth closely. That’s where I find a harbinger of things to come, all the while, raising my awareness that I too am part of this natural process.
I suppose the painting, Evidences of Life, 24x30, could have been entitled ‘Hopeful’. It took at least six trips back to the creek location to sketch and photograph the landscape, all the while waiting for the coming of snow and a winter sky, before I decided on a large (for me) canvas. Hope is not necessarily presumed, it effects me in the form of a sense of comfort with my time and place, grateful for the opportunity to enjoy our bountiful country in all seasons.
Is this painting successful? I think it is, and for me that is my first criteria.
Plein Air Painting At Its Best
Rideau Woodlands Ramble 10x12 acrylic was painted on a Manotick Art Association Plein Air outing in September.
It will be shown at the Amberwood Gallery Show.
Too many years ago, I became enchanted with Plein air painting – we called it painting outside – and my enthusiasm for the concept has never receded. It takes a lot of practice before satisfaction begins to set in, and years to perfect it.
Many artists paint from photographs for landscape inspiration. Just being outside with sketch book, easel and paints – any medium - has many advantages. A photograph gives us one perspective; when we are outside we stop and look all around. We examine elements from many directions, we observe the brightness of the sky, shifting shadows on the ground and colours that change as we look around, up and down. And, we form an impression.
Painting plein air challenges us to record what we perceive – everyone’s different of course - in a way that conveys some inner feeling. Our response depends on our level of knowledge and experience. When we have a concept worked out we begin to paint. The experience can mean dealing with frustration, and enlightenment at the same time and arriving at happy resignation in the case of poor result or incredible ecstasy when the painting is special. Later in studio the work can be refined to enhance the inspiration.
Living in Canada affords us four seasons, plenty of opportunity to get out and paint.
The First Day Of Fall
The first Day of Fall! You can see the leaves beginning to turn yellow and there is a fresh smell in the air. It’s a great time to be out and about, as they say, and a wonderful time to paint our Canadian landscape.
The Manotick Art Plein Air group have only a few trips left. This one, to Dickinson Square in the ‘Tick’, was particularly lovely because of the sunny weather and it was great just to see people out walking and enjoying the day, particularly after two years of Covid.
All plein air artists sense the coming of each season in personal ways. For myself, forty years of living with our growing family in Manotick have engendered many great memories: our family by the river, raking leaves, the children’s first day of school, and walking our dog(s) along back streets are all part of my fall kaleidoscope.
When our group came to paint and I walked around Dickinson Square and the Mill, I immediately identified with the tree lined streets and village homes and the strollers enjoying the early morning sunshine. I set up my easel on Mill Street by Dickinson House and my painting developed from there.
Narrative - My Choice
Early on, when I was busy absorbing everything I could from art books and instructors, I reached the conclusion that the business of painting had a lot to do with expressing one's thoughts about the things we see and experience - a narrative: a method that I preached at all the plein air workshops I taught.
But time has a way of morphing concepts. Serendipitous introductions to certain artists opened doors to fresh ideas. Pausing mesmerized, before an unforgettable abstract work, plied me with a huge respect for non-objectivity. Abandoning oils and solvents for watercolours and acrylics set me on new paths to expression. Watching my grandchildren paint red horses and blue elephants offered “What if?” possibilities. I gained appreciation for high realism, but unless I can discern some significance, other than workmanship, I have little interest in the genre. Instead, I turned to work that combined elements of abstraction and centres of interest. Today, I try to paint work that reflects how I feel about a subject in an intangible way so that my painting invites the viewer to join me, employing their own resources and interests.
The tendency for artists to repeat a theme can be compelling if they feel that repetition sells. Many artists, like myself, paint because we feel the need to paint, whatever holds our interest. When I accompany a dozen MAA Plein Air painters outside to paint the landscape, the result is 12 different looking paintings, each one displaying an individual, personal way of seeing nature. In time they will claim their own natural style. To create a sense of a narrative, will take inspiration and fore-thought.
Can't wait to start another one. I have a place in mind. . .
Rainy Days Blues
It's a rainy day at our cottage, two hours drive north-west of Gatineau. The grand kids are busy with crayons and papers flying everywhere. You can barely see across the still lake. The dog wants in. . . Again.
Why don't I just go out and paint something? I can see that the greens, upfront, are vibrant and intense, the hills beyond are blue, fading to grey sky. Still, it's hard to get excited I tell myself, resorting to familiar excuses: I'm getting old, done that before, more boring repetitions, who cares?
Wait a minute!. . . There's a break in the clouds - I can sniff a change in the air. Maybe, if I can find an 9x12 canvas? . . I knew some friends, my age, that gave up painting all-together. I couldn't do that. Much of my time is wrapped up in art-connected activities: outdoor painting, assisting artists, meeting clients at art shows, writing blogs like this one for my website and savoured quiet studio time – reworking old work or finishing new canvases while a jazz fm station grooves in the background.
Where does this enthusiasm come from? In 50 years of painting I've see a lot, from attending workshops and giving them myself, painting trips and gallery shows. I couldn't be criticized if I decided to retire at this age, right? The courage to paint comes from good health and a caring partner, for which I am grateful every day, and a fountain of wonderful memories. Memories of trips to places like Charlevoix, Gloucester, the Maritimes accompanied by exceptional artist who became life-long friends: Artists that supported my dreams with fresh ideas and mutual high praise, urging me - instilling me, with the drive to go on.
Many artists that approach me, these days, are looking for quick solutions to painting problems. I find that I have lost faith in the short answers that I could serve up years ago. Instead, I find words of praise and offer suggestions, offering ways to find courage, practice observation and paint regularly.
Reaching new plateaus in one's work comes slowly and in little steps that often go unnoticed until days or months later. I take great pleasure in trying to improve my own work, accepting both good and poor efforts as par for the course. And learning to recognize the difference! Occasionally, I am shown one of my paintings hanging ion someone's home. I am always struck by the professional look of painterly skill and presentation and I feel so glad that I have always sorted and sold only my best work. That moment is an award all by itself!
“Hey, the sun is breaking through dark clouds. Let's get out there and see if I can put a different spin on today's work. The roadside flowers are particularly beautiful this summer, I've noticed.”
The Art of Charles Spratt