Archive for November, 2008

Drawing with Robert Landry

November 24, 2008


Had I left five minutes earlier, I would not have been caught in the hail storm that tumbled out of a rapidly darkening sky.  The hail was followed by a gust of driving rain, pelting, melting the ice crystals on the tarmac. It pounded unmercifully as I packed the car with folding easel, drawing board, a few drawing supplies and my evening garb for the musical concert which came after the drawing workshop. I slammed down the trunk lid, lifted my coat jacket over my head and dashed for the drivers’ seat, then sat and waited until the squall had lost its fury.

It only took ten minutes, but when you don’t know that the force of nature is just teasing, it seems like it will go on forever.  “Ha, ha! Could’ve drowned you with all this if I wanted!” Mother nature seems to say, a little maliciously. But I’m just reminding you. You’d better be good. Remember Noah?”

So I turned on the wipers and drove down a perfectly slick, black road – black like dark evening – but it was early afternoon. The wipers flapping furiously at full speed just managed to provide a driving visibility. The traffic lights ahead shone in the pavement in long streaks of colour, red or green accordingly, but peppered, textured with lighter rain sparkles shooting back up from the road.

When I arrived at destination in the underground parking of the community centre, the rain suddenly stopped – I was inside, after all – and the wipers flapped frenetically with nothing to do until they grimaced with the wiper-on-dry-glass, nail-on-black-board grinding sound and I hastened to shut them off.

My destination was the 2-D studio on the third floor where Robert Landry, a sculptor from Detroit, Michigan was about to deliver a six hour drawing workshop. Kathleen Tonnesen, an artist and actress who lives in our community, organizes art events from time to time to bring established artists to our small community. She has high praises for Landry, so it became our privilege to meet him, discover his work and spend an afternoon being inspired by his drawing and teaching skills.


The participant group was a diverse one – several in the late teen, early twenties age group, a few in their mid adult years and four of us old geezers – active retirees ready to draw. Myself having previously taught, I was curious to see how he would bridge the years of experience sitting expectantly before him; and he did this effortlessly. Art is, after all, eternal, and the infectious quality of it knows no boundaries of age, race or gender. Those who get it are held by it for life.

Landry was a young student on an athletic scholarship when he discovered his affinity for art and sculpture. He studied under a classic Italian master, was mentored by him over a number of years as Landry worked for him and now he is a Master sculptor in his own right. In his home page message, he offers his guiding philosophy this way: ” Ultimately I strive for the point where the physical, the mental, and the emotional converge to project the life of the spirit through the beauty of human anatomy.”

His work is grounded in the Classic discipline of anatomy. He uses his highly developed technical skills, whether in drawing, painting or sculpture, to elicit images of life and beauty. In counter-reaction to the commercially advertised ideal, he seeks beauty in aging and emotive faces, in figures living real-life dramas and in events that challenge the human spirit.
One body of the sculptural work has roots in the manner of Rodin. The portraits and figures in this genre carry the imprint of his hands modelling clay, roughly, directly, energetically into anatomically readable forms. It’s realism with a deep dose of spirit. In a more recent mode, he has turned to semi abstraction. If you take the time to look, you will see that his underpinnings of classical anatomy are still there, but the forms are elongated, polished, shiny. The thumbprint may be gone in these, but the spirit has taken solid form, as if the body is less important now than pure spirit made visible.

robert-l-landry-addressing-the-public-bronze robert-l-landry-strength-of-perserverance-bronze

Addressing the Public; and Strength of Perserverance – two classic bronzes by Robert L. Landry

Immediately below, : The Joy of Selflessness by Robert L. Landry – polished bronze


In this workshop, he demonstrated how he takes a waxen clay mix carved into his desired figure, molds it in a plaster cast and prepares it for the lost wax process of casting in bronze. Then it was our turn to draw. We explored the anatomy of human face, following along in vine charcoal with his method to explain classical proportions. This was not new to me, so I did one to follow on and enjoy the process and then did a second on one fine paper that looked more like some of the psychological characters that I’ve been working on lately.

These drawings are ones I did in the workshop:

276-small1 275-small

Later on in the session, a live model posed and we had several stances to work on. I’ve not been figure drawing now for over seven years. I must say I was thoroughly rusty, but on the third try,  I got something quite reasonable, but it’s out of proportion and the legs – well, I don’t think anyone could walk on them.  It is good encouragement for me to get back at it. Life drawing is really the “scales”, the technical work-out for artists. I’d just rather not publish the result!

It was a long afternoon for me. I haven’t stood so long for such a long time that I packed up a little early and headed home. The storm had passed. The sky was opening wide and the last light of day was colouring the clouds with a faint warm grey that contrasted with the deep, deep blue of coming night. The streets were still slick with rain, but the sky was promising better weather for tomorrow; which is now today.

It’s brilliant outside my window. Carpe diem. I must go and seize the day –

I encourage you to take a look at Robert L. Landry’s his sculpture on his web-site at

And many thanks to Robert Landry for his willingness to share his vision, to teach and to spread the beauty of art.


Eri Ishii, The Ian Tan Gallery and me

November 17, 2008


Tokyo, Oil on Canvas by Eri Ishii


Under the Surface, Oil on Canvas by Eri Ishii

All art images on this post are copyright by Eri Ishii who has granted me permission to show them.

I’ve had a web site for three or four years now, and the best use for me was that I never had to carry a portfolio with me except when there was no computer around. It gave a professional sampling of my work to show in response to people’s enquiries as to the kind of work I did.

Last week, I was thrilled that a gallery owner had been surfing and found my work. As a result, I was in Vancouver on Thursday showing the real stuff. I took in a large painting and some watercolours encased in  portfolio books. It really was the worst day to be traveling with original art work. For our corner of the world on this Wet Coast, there was a rain alert on The Weather Network with bright red panels warning of potential flooding and drain back-ups.

We’re used to rain, so when there is such an alert, we expect constant downfall – and not a light downfall, at that. Knowing this, I loaded up the car the night before with my samples and covered them all in industrial-drum-sized green plastic bags. Driving into Vancouver was slow along the highway. Everyone was being careful.

I had a very successful meeting with the gallery owner. She was sympathetic to  my plight concerning the safety of the paintings so, although we took in the smaller items – the portfolios and a few matted and shrink-wrapped originals, she went to the car with me and she crawled right into the back seat of the car where the big canvas was in order to get a good look at it.

As an aside, let me tell you that this was an important meeting for me. I haven’t gone seeking a gallery for almost seven years due to my involvement with family matters and responsibilities; I only have one gallery still representing me in British Columbia and it’s a remote one. I am eager to get back to the business of marketing my work. So, wouldn’t you know, I am carefully exiting my car with my red, collapsible umbrella hoisted through the narrowest opening of my driver side door so that it can pop open and it will protect me from the deluge as I get out of the car. It opens with a bang and an uncharacteristic clack. Something has gone wrong. The umbrella will no longer stay up. The umbrella limply slides back down the center post. If I want it open, I have to hold it up at the top firmly; the spring catch has broken. There’s no question of being able to balance it on my shoulder hands-free, whilst I carry the goods into the gallery! Arghh! Murphy’s law … If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. It’s pouring with rain.

Back to my meeting – the gallery owner was very pleased with what she saw and, since she is opening on the 15th of this month, she didn’t keep anything for now but will call me with her decision in the coming week. I’m confident something will come of it.

She mentioned that although her gallery is new, she is working with an established gallery in the South Granville Street district, the Ian Tan Gallery. When I was finished with all my Vancouver chores, I hied up to the Ian Tan Gallery to see what kind of gallery Ian Tan’s was.

The Ian Tan Gallery is located on Granville Street at Sixth Avenue on the east side of the street. It has the corner spot. It’s a beautifully designed gallery space with very clean, modern lines in its architecture and the paintings are commensurate in quality, modernity and interest.

As most of the galleries in this district are on the west side of Granville Street, one might easily miss this gallery, but I’m firmly convinced now that it will be one of my favorites to visit. The gallery owner is showing important contemporary, local work and giving the art work the marketing that it deserves.

I feel very fortunate that I saw the Eri Ishii exhibition. It was the last day, and I really like this artist’s work.

The majority of the paintings in this exhibition were landscapes although I own a small sketch of Ishii’s that has children as the subject.  I hadn’t really ever seen a body of this artist’s work before – I’d just seen photos in magazines and a few very small drawings not bigger than 5 x 5 inches. It’s definitely not the same. The impact of size and tactility are overwhelmingly important in the appreciation of a painting and the photos in magazines just don’t come anywhere near capturing the subtle  beauty of Ishii’s work.

I recommend that you take a look at the gallery of her works at this web site:

In general, the work shown was of large landscapes, many presented from a high view point, a birds eye view. The work is representational but done with such liberty of brushstroke and form that a sweeping rhythm is formed that, combined with a tremendously good sense of composition, keeps the eye moving through the imagery, flowing back and forth.


Wherever you go, Oil on Canvas by Eri Ishii

“Wherever you go” is pictured above, a description of highways and interchanges. It’s a perfect example of the rhythms she sets up. Though it’s primarily grey in colour, it’s light and fresh with the sap green of the winter grasses. It has a good balance of light and dark and there is a certain frenetic energy that captures the speed and tension associated with highways.

“Highway to Surrey”, a two panelled diptych, uses more road imagery from a viewpoint of the on-ramp. It’s early spring. The tree branches are bare but infused with some joyous reds and burnt sienna colours. Adding to the promise of spring, a large bank of cherry trees in bloom form counterpoint of calm light in the foreground of an otherwise busy picture. Is it boats or construction on the left hand side? They are sufficiently defined to make one wonder, but vague enough to keep the viewer interested, finding their own answer to the mysteries of the imagery.


Wall Street Midnight, Oil on Canvas by Eri Ishii

“Wall Street” both I and II are pictures of Vancouver’s industrial rail yards along the waterfront. These two paintings glow with artificial night light – lights provided in the 24/7 container port sorting areas. She captures an interesting balance between large calm, solid colour areas and the energetic business area of lights and industrial activity.

These aforementioned images are large – four foot by six, for the diptych, five foot by eight. There was only one relatively small painting, that of “901 Main”, the famous home of Basic Inquiry (now relocated) and many artist’s studio spaces.


901 Main forever, Oil on Canvas by Eri Ishii

Over the years, I’ve done hundreds of figure drawings there. I even sublet one of the studio spaces for almost a year. It’s a seminal art hot spot, arguably an historical landmark,  slated for demolition soon as Vancouver is undergoing its mordernization and transformation for the 2010 Olympics. Growth and progress must go onward, though I recognize that the building would have been impossible to renovate to current building code and safety standards.

Ishii’s painting of this iconic building captures its historical feel and energy while contrasting the old with new – the old brick building in the foreground complete with mid century telephone and electrical wires on sturdy west coast wooden poles and in the background, beginning to encroach, the multi-storied, high-rise housing.

Ishii is one of the gallery’s regular artists, so if you’ve missed your opportunity to see this show like I almost did, surely there will be one in the upcoming year. Watch for it; or go down to the Ian Tan gallery and ask to see some of the work that is in the storage areas. The next show, already hung, is Tanja Gardner. It’s worth a look, too.

So there it is. From a rainy miserable day, I had two good experiences – a good meeting with a prospective gallery and a visit to the Eri Ishii exhibition at the Ian Tan gallery.

More Yupo experiments – you need a level playing field

November 14, 2008


My neighbour drove me to his office yesterday so that I could size up the vast amount of wall space for a possible location for some of my art work. It will help me get organized – reduce a few bits and pieces from my over-stuffed basement storage.

The day was simply yucky – rain, rain and more rain. All the colours were muted and grey with the exception of a bit of autumnal yellow produced by the brave leaf-souls that are still hanging on for dear life to the tall cottonwoods along the Mary Hill bypass.

I love it when someone else drives. I get out my camera and take pictures even though the car is moving, even though rain drops keep falling on the windshield. Because I take photos more for informational purposes, it doesn’t matter to me if the photos are perfect. If the windshield wiper gets in the way – well, I can always paint it out in my drawing, if I use that photo for reference.

So once I got back home, I chose one of these photos of the highway cut with the yellow trees against a rainy day grey and did a watercolor on Arches, same methods as described before – a light wash to place major shapes; when that’s dry, then some detail; and when that’s dry, more detail and some adjustments to tonal value and correcting colour.

That painting went like this (stages 1, 2 and 3) :

fall-colours-in-rain-state-1-small fall-colours-in-rain-state-2-smallfall-colours-in-rain-small

Concurrently, I was working on the Yupo paper with the same colours. This time, I found it entirely unmanageable. The same consistency of paint on Arches soaks in, but on Yupo it stays on the surface. It’s like a marble on a floor that isn’t quite level. The paint just slides off the surface. By the time I’d finished putting down a layer, it had all migrated to the bottom and the lovely fresh leaf yellow had melted into the dark grey I’d used for darker shapes in the foreground. I shook my head! It looked like a tawdry girl whose heavy mascara had melted down her face as she bawled about a lost love. It just wouldn’t do.

So I tamped up the liquid goo with a Kleenex. Now, that produced an interesting result! The texture on the paper was quite interesting, but I’d essentially lost all the colour on the paper.


An hour or so later, the paper seemed perfectly dry. I’d given it a Kleenex to wipe away the mascara, after all.  I reapplied basic shapes in yellow and then the grey. I left the painting to dry but immediately, I could see the shapes losing form, losing edges.

I gave up on my thoughts of making another landscape with this page, but I thought I might just go forward with whatever came out of it, just to get the hang of the paper; so I let it dry again. The shapes were quite amorphous; but digging into the creative soup in my brain, I managed to visualize a couple of yellow shapes that seemed to be floating in the bit. With a few lines using a fairly dry brush, I clarified where I could see these big balloon bodies and gave each one of them a head at the bottom of the body shape. There is no significance to them. They don’t represent anything. It’s just like I’ve named a cloud and said it looked like a squirrel or a boat or a mushroom.

After this whole wet mess had dried again, I decided that the yellow body shapes did not show up against the lighter yellow background, so I thought perhaps if I painted the background red, the yellow would come forward and be more obvious, more readable.

This is an experimental piece so I can do anything I want with it. In goes the red. I let that dry. With Yupo, it really does have to dry if you expect to put anything on top of anything else, and you can expect that even a slight moisture will pick up any colour you had underneath the new layer – it just lifts off.

Now when I look at it, the red predominates. It’s taken over. The figures seem to be red and the yellow has become background. It reminds me of those optical illusion figures where if you look at it one way, you see candlesticks, and when you are told it is two faces looking at each other, the candle disappears and you can only see the faces.

Here is my masterpiece. Not what I expected. I don’t know what to think of it, so I’ll put it away for a while. I understand from the experiences I’ve had with it so far that I should be able to wash the whole thing off entirely and start again, just like on a chalkboard with an eraser. I haven’t tried that yet (I’m only on piece of paper number two) so if I don’t like this painting a week from now, I might just wash it off and start again.


Go figure!

Folk Art at Laity Farm

November 10, 2008


I’ve been a little short on time for writing lately, so this post refers back to pumpkin time a few weeks ago when the fields were gloriously covered with orange gourds adding a brilliantly warm element to the landscape, and a great counterpoint to the not so distant Coast Mountains.

In Maple Ridge in the farming flats around the Alouette River, one of the pioneer farms was originally settled by the Laity family. They still own and operate it. Over the years, when harvest is in, the Laity Farm celebrates fall with its pumpkin patch and corn maze. It has become quite an attraction for families and for schools. There are lots of activities –  a small forest preceded by Disney like animated characters, a minature frontier town within the forest, a petting zoo,  special farm animals in the barn, a corn maze and of course, a grand pumpkin patch.

If, as Charlie Brown attests, sincerity is what counts in attracting the Great Pumpkin, then Laity must be on the short list. It’s a wonderful place to go.

I was especially interested in their rarish collection of farm birds. There were two kinds of poultry with ruffled feathers covering their talons. There were two male peacocks, a big turkey, several varieties of other exotic fowl – ducks, Guinea hens, a raptor. These were kept in cages in the barn. A few cages had rabbits and some pens out in the open area held a young calf, some goats and two varieties of sheep.



In the compound garden next to the barn there is a patch filled with fancy cabbages in various purples and pale greens. Just beside this garden, there are some free standing figures cut from plywood. These caught my fancy and I photographed them for your pleasure.


There’s something rather charming about folk art. It’s not precise. The colours are often very primary – no shading, no mixing, no texture.

So here are some images of the great plywood and painted characters and animals for your enjoyment.







November 2, 2008

Sounds like a cheer, doesn’t it?

My sister who is a fine watercolourist, attends workshops from time to time. She came back from a recent one singing the praises of Yupo paper. We took a trip to Opus Frame, the mecca of art supplies in British Columbia, and came back home with a prized pad of 10 sheets.

Truth be told, we would have to have a definition of paper to decide if that is what this is. It’s one hundred percent Polypropylene, acid free, 74 pound with a smooth finish. Yupo is a manufacturer of synthetic water resistant papers. It sounds like a thin sheet of plastic to me – but somewhat useful for commercial printing processes (it’s original intention) and afterwards, found useful for artistic endeavors.

I know what acid free implies in rag paper or even wood pulp paper; in rice paper, I don’t even think there is a question about acidity, but I’m open to correction on that one. On polypropylene, I have no idea what that means. It’s basically plastic. While I appreciate that it’s acid free and therefore might not discolour with age, I wonder about the longevity of the product. Plastics are well know for their ability to break down into other substances over time, to become brittle and friable. Unless Yupo has done tests on the paper to determine its longevity, then the only test that will tell is time.

Last night, I decided to try the Yupo and a sheet of Arches Watercolour rag paper (yes, made from mashed up bits of cotton rags).

I chose a photo from my afternoon travel to Opus Frame in Langley. The fields along Highway 10 are gloriously coloured in ochres and in autumnal reds, oranges and greens. The sky was grey which might sound rather dull, but the clouds made no dent on the brillance of the leaves and fields of grass which has turned to a very comfy Gamboge colour.

As an aside, a colour field in art has a specific meaning. Color field painting became a “school” of painting in which enormous canvases were painted with only one or two predominant colours.  Barnet Newman and Mark Rothko are two well known artists of this school of artistic endeavor.

The large fields in Langley providing a vast expanse of yellow ochre or Gamboge or new grass green were a testimony to how some of this managed nature can be inspirational source for artistic expression.

Back to my studies with the two sorts of paper –

On a sheet of  Arches 140 rough paper stretched on a block , I proceeded as normal (I’ve described this in detail in other posts) with a light rinse of the paper surface done with a sponge. When that had mostly dried, I lay in the general colours I would want for a background – yellow for the foreground (the field) and a light grey mix of burnt sienna and cerulean blue, very washed out. I sketched in the position of the trees and shrubs and left it to dry

I apologize for the quality of this photo – it was late at night and the fluorescent light does not aid in getting colours correctly. Despite a photoshop correction on light levels, this was the best I could do. It does tell you, nonetheless, how loosely and light those original washes are. I am trying to work without making a drawing first with the hope that I will have fresher, livelier paintings in the final result.

Next I took the Yupo paper.

My sister who has  tried this paper advised me to handle it very circumspectly. She tells me that the slightest fingerprint will render the paper resistant to added colour. Also  the paper has memory. If it gets a bend or a fold, the paper remembers it and will not return to the original with a bit of coaxing like you can do with some other papers.

She also told me that the paper is”washable”. In other words, if you put on a colour that you decide you don’t want after all, you can pick up the paint you have laid down and basically, the slate is clean again. You can continue on painting over the area that has been wiped off. It sound much like using a chalkboard and eraser.  I haven’t tried this yet, but that sounds like an advantage.

This results from the fact that the paper has no tooth. The reverse of the coin is that, even after the painting has been finished, a drop of water could transform the painting into something you didn’t intend, creating a pool of lighter area and a line around the shape of the spot when the drop of water dries. As a cautionary measure, you would want to put the YUPO based paintings away in a safe place with a protective sleeve and frame them as soon as possible.

So –

I took wash of yellow and a large round brush and appied it to the paper. It’s quite different from using rough, toothed paper. It feels like pushing slippery melted butter around. It feels like fingerpainting with a brush.  If you take your brush over a spot already painted, then it lifts the first coat away and blends it in with whatever is on your brush.

Lesson learned? Make sure that the first wash is thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly dried before putting on another coat. It still may lift and blend, but if you work with it a while you will find that you get some nice textures as a result.

The painting posted at the top of this blog is what resulted and I’m happy with it.

If you want to keep the colours fresh, work from light to dark, only putting in the dark colours at the end; only putting new colours on after the original has dried.  This applies to both papers.

On the Arches paper, I went back to the soft wash and started to define the trees.putting in firmer shapes for the trees and bushes with a Kolinsky Martin number 5 round brush. These brushes keep a good reservoir of colour and the brush will keep a fine point. Only at the end do I use a number 1 brush for the details indicating  branches and those tenacious leaves that hang on for dear life, twirling in autumn breezes, defying the oncoming winter.

Here’s the second state of the watercolour on Arches paper:

and the third which adds some defining dark tones and a bit more detail:

Finally, I didn’t find the composition satisfactory. It’s rather bland – the shrubs go straight across the page and out the right side. There’s nothing to keep one’s attention rooted in the painting. In the light of day, the yellow field just looks too yellow and a bit pale and the colour was intended to be more ochre than yellow – a winter grass colour, not a sunshiney colour.  The trees and shrubs are freshly described and done loosely enough to not look overworked.

And here’s the final state… unless I ponder for a while it and find something more to do.

I’ve added an ochre mixed with a bit of grey so that it captures a bit (but not too much – I want to keep this upbeat) of grey, to enhance the feeling that this is an autumn day but with cloudy cover.

My advice, after all this? Go play with papers.

The YUPO is an interesting paper to work with and gives such foruitous advantages in texture that it’s worth the effort of getting used to it and creating images with it.