I wish I had a new paint brush for every time I have been asked “How long does it take you to make a painting?” I stumble for an answer trying not to seem disingenuous or flippant. In the case of a plein air 11”x14” sketch, from set-up to packing up takes 11/2 hours or so, not counting the time driving to a location and choosing the right spot plus hours of studio work in some cases.
In the case of a large studio piece, there are numerous contributing factors. Firstly, the inspiration for the work may take weeks or longer before it morphs to the concept stage, followed by composition planning and scaling choices ( ie: 20''x24'' landscape or 40”x40” square) in an effort to create the best statement. Often it means returning, when possible, to the sketching location to reaffirm the original intent. As a result, there could be many hours invested before there's a brushstroke on a canvas. Some might suggest that the conception and planning stages are not part of the actual painting process; I would argue that they are, in fact, integral. It is paramount that as artists, we take time to examine our own impressions and thoughts as we go about creating and sharing our story.
Once the painting takes form on my canvas, it might only be one or two days to set out the basic layout. Then, there is the process of back-checking the sketches to make sure the painting has the element of truth in it, followed by trial and error corrections and adjustments. Finally, the painting is hung where it can be observed from time to time to make sure it can survive repetitive examinations.
In the case of First Light - Version II (above), the inspiration came from recollections of a trip to Algonquin Park some years ago with artist friends when the outside temperature dropped to -40 and I painted a canvas by looking out a cabin window . on Oxtonque Lake. Using that painting as a reference, I began work on a 30x40 canvas this January to show the solitude and energy of the Park in the grip of a cold January day. That painting, unfortunately, did not survive the repetitive examination test.
And so, the process began all over again using a smaller 24x24 canvas. I feel satisfied now, that I got the feeling right this time. It has past scrutiny and received my signature.
How many hours to make a painting? The answer: it is not important. Only the final result counts.
Artists ask me about using acrylics. Often or not, they are interested in trying another medium or looking for an alternative to oil paints and solvents. Many years ago, when I developed an allergy that forced me to stop painting with oils, acrylics were not available and I turned to watercolours. Year's later, I experimented with new acrylic products when they appeared in art stores and I quickly learned to appreciate their many benefits. At first it was all new to me. The painting skills that I developed, with oils and watercolours, helped me to make the transition. Still, I sensed that acrylics were not receiving the respect reserved for oil paintings by artists and the public at large.
But times have changed. Acrylic paint has replaced most of the traditional jobs in our daily life that were done using oil-based paint and any gap between the price of an acrylic painting and an oil has disappeared. I discovered that the combination of professional, light-fast pigments and the versatile, polymer emulsion make for an extremely flexible permanent medium. By some accounts, acrylics are now the most popular artist medium in the world!
Yes, acrylics do dry quickly, specially on a hot summer day, and they are affected by cold temperatures in winter, when painting outside. It's a matter of the artist adopting to the medium. There are a multitude of techniques applicable with this modern-day medium: dripping, pouring, glazing, air brushing and mixed media , just to name a few, achieving incredible effects applied to a wide range of supports. The work is dry in 10 minutes allowing for corrections and changes as the painting continues. Packing up to travel is easy and quick; the clean up with soap and water is a bonus.
Personally, I prefer good old-fashion brush strokes on stretched canvas, using professional grade heavy body acrylics, synthetic brushes, water and an acrylic glazing medium.
Time to get back to my studio and grab a brush. . . .
One place that draws me back to paint in all seasons, is Mount St. Patrick in the Highlands of Renfrew County. Since it is only a 20 minutes drive from Calabogie, I made several painting trips there on days when our PAE group stayed at the Calabogie Peaks Resort this past October.
There is something special there - a sense that time stands still. I am drawn to it by the placid, peaceful Constant Creek winding through the small community with its striking old church and ancient burial grounds. But more than that, I can feel the presence of the heritage left by the Irish settlers that found this place nestled deep in the Madawaska Hills and made it their home.
Would some of the gigantic trees that line the creek have been witnesses to the thriving community with two stores and a blacksmith shop at one time? As I paint I imagine some of the hardships faced by the pioneers and the wonder they must have felt from the natural world surrounding them.
I am told that A.Y Jackson visited Mount St. Patrick as a painting location when he painted the Opeongo Trail from Renfrew to Algonquin Park in the 1950 – 60's, while living in Manotick and Ottawa.
Sources: www.ayjacksontrail.ca, Google: Mount St. Patrick Community Ontario
Just finished. Passing Moment, Mount St. Patrick, Calabogie 11x14 acrylic. The painting began on our Plein Air Ensemble (PAE) trip to Calabogie Peaks Resort two weeks ago where 26 artists celebrated 30 years of continuous PAE spring and fall painting trips, by staying at the exact same location where we kicked off our first trip 31 years ago!
The Art of Charles Spratt