This November, right after a lovely snowfall, I rushed out with my painting equipment to catch the light. I had in mind a meandering creek not far from where we live. I found a spot to set up and in a few short weeks the result is what you see above. How did I get to this point? It was partly due to good luck (finding a great subject), lots of experience and practice (the painting part) and much more (allowing artistic instinct to guide me). Let me try to explain.
Whenever I attempt a large canvas, (such as Catch the Light, 30x30 shown in progress above) the process seems to fall into two phases. The first is finding a subject and creating a working sketch; it is critical to choose something that is imaginative and catches my interest immediately. After I have settled on a subject and worked out a concept, I set up my easel and get started. Over a two-hour period, I work quickly and give it my best, recording the event in acrylics, on a 11x13 canvas. Sometimes the outdoor work misses the mark and I pack up and move on. Occasionally, a sketch will resonate with the energy of the impression. The sketch (on the right above), chosen for this larger work, is a good example.
I call the second phase, interpretation. Once back in the studio I examine the sketch under studio lighting, similar to what we find in our homes, and make minor adjustments. I take time to reflect on the moment when I started painting the sketch. I clearly recall, for example, that the only thing that caught my eye was the mesmerizing effect of seeing the late-afternoon sun’s rays flooding the creek and the surrounding forest. I remind myself, that I was oblivious to the foreground, other than the feeling of being immersed in its darkness. However, when I paint en plein air I can’t always set up my easel at the location where I would have chosen to stand; in fact, this time, I was obliged to remain at the roadside. Another concern is that the longer one paints a subject, the more time is available to become distracted by superfluous detail that originally went unnoticed.
The interpretative phase may take weeks to coalesce into an artistic statement or it may fall into place quite quickly. It often develops through trial and error as I paint. In this case, I decided that I must incorporate the mysterious dark foreground as part of the composition giving the effect of watching through the trees and undergrowth. (I have unconsciously repeated this technique in other paintings because I feel comfortable being integral to the forest as opposed to someone observing from a distance.) I deliberately made the foreground shapes and patterns vague to complete the feeling of standing there fixated by the wonder of the last rays of sunlight.
I still have a ways to go in finishing this painting, but the statement is strong and my interpretation is truthful in respect of the inspiration. The real job is done.
Catch the Light 30x30, finished and signed, is now posted, along with the original 11x14 sketch.
Just off my studio easel and signed - two works from my trip, two weeks ago, with Plein Air Ensemble, to Westport ON. On the left, Preparing for Winter 18x18 was painted on Foley Mountain and on the right, Westport Retreat 16x20 was painted near the Cove Inn, on the day following our first winter snowfall. I hope you can feel the energy and anticipation that I was experiencing as I set up my easel at each location to try and catch the moment: a priceless feeling.
Back in the studio after examining each canvas under studio lighting conditions, I spent time adjusting the colours and cleaning up each painting, being careful to preserve my original inspiration.
After two, four-day, painting trips to the Westport area, I feel that I still have hardly begun to discover the painting possibilities available. Love to go back.
Charlevoix 10x12 acrylic painted near Baie - St. Paul 2002
The other day I sat down at my computer, coffee in hand, to read the latest posting from Painter’s Keys, my favorite blog for art-lovers. The letter, first posted in 2007, entitled Conservative Tendencies - by Robert Genn, was all about artists and their art in the Charlevoix Region of Quebec.
I’m pretty sure Robert wrote that piece during the ten days, back in 2007, when we both were invited to participate in a special symposium in Baie-St. Paul, Charlevoix, called 10 (artists) -10 (provinces) -10 (days). The invited artists, each from their respective home province, were asked to demonstrate their painting skills by producing major paintings to be featured in a subsequent cross-country traveling exhibition.
As I read Robert’s blog, memories of painting in Charlevoix: a vast region located east of Quebec City and bordering the north shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River, made famous by artists such as A.Y. Jackson, Clarence Gagnon and others, came tumbling in my head.
When our group, Plein Air Ensemble – formerly Artists Painting with Artists – traveled to Charlevoix sometime around 2000, we met Bruno Cote there, a National Canadian icon known for his Canadian landscapes. Bruno’s work was represented by Galerie Art et Style, in Baie St. Paul, as well as fine galleries in major centers from coast to coast. Bruno immediately took a liking to our group and often painted with us whenever we visited the area. My work was accepted at Galerie Art et Style and I was represented there for a number of years. Tragically, Bruno Cote passed away in 2010. It has been some years, now, since our last trip to the Region.
Before my coffee was cold, I saw myself navigating the steep hills in a late spring snow storm while driving to Baie-St. Paul; standing transfixed on our hotel balcony, high above the St. Lawrence River, silently in awe of the brilliant sunset unfolding and watching the toy-like seaway ships plying their way too and fro. And I remembered, too, the incredibly blue mountain-range vistas; the quaint villages and artist studios that dotted the countryside; a truly remarkable place to visit and to paint.
Just off the easel - After the Rain – 36x36 acrylic on canvas, using images from two canvasses painted in Gloucester Mass. around 1990 – a collection of memories of painting on Cape Ann with treasured artist friends.
According to Wikipedia, Gloucester, founded in 1623, is the oldest sea port in the United States. The filming for the movie The Perfect Storm took place there some years ago. The City of Gloucester and its companion town of Rockport are located on Cape Ann, north of Boston. The Cape has been a haven for artists for many years. Painters such as Winslow Homer, Emile Gruppe, John Sloan, Paul Strisik, Charles Movalli, Don Stone and many, many more either made the Cape their home and/or were attracted to and inspired by the area. Both Gloucester and Rockport are renowned for their art associations. The North Shore Art Association (Gloucester) and the Rockport Art Association and Museum (Rockport) each have permanent spacious galleries. The Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester is deemed to be the oldest art colony in America with numerous artist-owned galleries in the area where one can visit and purchase the artist’s work.
Sometime around 1985 I was introduced to Gloucester by my friend and mentor, Grant Tigner who knew the area and some of its artists. A few years later I returned with Grant, Bruce Heggtveit and Poul Thrane - wonderful painters who shared their knowledge with me. The last trip was with artist friends, Andrew Lyall and Pierrette Dulude-Bohay (my co-founders of Plein Air Ensemble) when we studied with Nationally recognized watercolourist and teacher, Betty-lou Schlem from Rockport.
While the magnificent age of commerce under sail has long passed, the community remains a major seafood industry center. I remember painting the ship repair facilities and boats in dry dock along Rocky Neck; the schooners, sail boats and fishing trawlers docked along the Gloucester and Rockport wharves; I recall rising before dawn to paint the sunrise over Bass Rocks; visiting artist’s studio galleries, and the art arguments and discussions going on into the night over a beer and freshly caught seafood. After painting on location all day (oils at first, then watercolours and acrylics) and evenings shared with good friends, it felt wonderful to fall asleep with the surf pounding in my ears.
Such great memories.
ck here to edit.
The Manotick Art Association plein-air painting trips continue every Thursday to the end of September. Our group, usually consisting of 15 or so members, meets at pre-arranged locations within a one-hour's drive of Manotick (Ottawa).
On a recent Thursday morning we traveled to Hoggs Back to paint the power of the Rideau River falls. While most artists preferred to remain in view of the tumbling falls, I chose to wander on down the path that follows the river until I came across a giant ancient willow leaning out over the water.
Just how old, I wondered, is this incredible tree? For how many years has it survived the ravages of the seasons and witnessed each annual renewal? The evidences of late spring were everywhere, bathed in the colours of a clear blue sky and the soft green foliage; the reflected light shining off the water, rocks and on the living skin of that ageless tree.
I put down my back pack and set up my easel in front of the willow, short steps from the river's edge, allowing me time to consider how I could go about creating the feeling. In a short time, with the sounds of rapids in my ears and before the shifting sun had changed the light too much, I sketched in the massive willow and its surroundings.
At noon the artists gathered back at the Hoggs Back pavilion to look at the day's work. Everyone was pleased with the location and happy to share their unfinished paintings and drawings with the others.
Later, in my studio, after some quiet assessment of my sketch, I selected a 30x30 canvas, and got to work. The memories of the experience still fresh in my mind.
I call the painting 'Ageless'. (SOLD)
The plein-air trips are priceless. Can't wait for the next one!
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