Archive for May, 2009

Pig Heaven – Diana Durrand and Jo-Ann Sheen

May 26, 2009

Diana Durrand Pigs 1 detail small

Where are the Pigs, Where are they? Diana Durrand Acrylic on Canvas detail

I was unable to attend the opening, so I marked the first day back from New Mexico on my calendar as a day to go to the Fort Gallery to see the Durrand and Sheen show. I was tempted by the happy pig faces by Durrand, grinning out at me from the invitational poster and the accompanying moody etching by Jo-Ann Sheen.  It took me longer to get there – I was not prepared for the various duties that awaited my return that ended up making me wait a day or two – but I got there on Friday afternoon after a hour-long wait at the Albion Ferry to Fort Langley. Thank goodness, the day was bright, warm and sunny.

Diana Durrand has worked on a theme of pigs triggered by her interest in the Hearts on Noses charity (based in Maple Ridge, B.C.) that rescues and rehabilitates  abandoned, unwanted,  orphaned, injured, abused or neglected mini-pigs.

Diana Durrand Pigs 1 small

Where are the Pigs, Where are they? Diana Durrand Acrylic on Canvas

From a distance, the nine happy pig faces looking out from the centre block of the largish square painting are the same ones I had seen on the invitation. They appeared to be surrounded by wallpaper of some sort, but on closer inspection, the wallpaper effect is made up of many, many pig bodies – the signature, side-on view – in Chagall-like detachment from any reference to the ground. They are upside down, down-side up, and many positions in between, floating on the canvas at all angles, really.  The brush strokes are direct; the layers of colour are subtle and rich.  Durrand is a painter’s painter. Yes, the imagery is quietly funny; the compositions are inventive; but for a painter, it’s the application of paint to canvas – the mark-making, the freshness that makes these paintings luscious, and dare I say, with this porky subject matter, tasty!

Pigs are considered one of the most intelligent of animal species – very close in brain matter to humans. Durrand mentions the contrast between the pigs she has met at the Hearts on Noses pig refuge, happy, able to roam, free within the confines of the property; and she compares them to factory-style pig farming where these intelligent animals never see the outdoors, cooped up in miniscule spaces while they fatten up for market.

Durrand Listening  small

The second large painting of note, Listening, illustrates three pigs with black background and stripes like zebra stripes contouring their shapes. The pigs seem to be enclosed behind bars, like in a cage or in a transport truck going to slaughter. The pigs listen intently to what is going on about them, ears perked and eyes alert.

Durrand Matisse Revisited small

Matisse Revisited, Diana Durrand, Acrylic on Canvas 12 x 16

The third large painting is another with a central rectangular canvas with a van Gogh-like picture of sunflowers.This is framed by a number of ochre canvas panels to complete a larger rectangle, then the total is framed by a simple  wooden frame. At first sight, it’s a copy of van Gogh’s work, but on careful consideration, the pig shape emerges, hidden amongst the pots and sunflowers. It’s a visual joke.

Durrand Klee Revisited small

Klee Revisited, Diana Durrand, Acrylic on Canvas 12 x 16

Which came first, the van Gogh or the Kandinsky, the Matisse, the Klee  or the Mondrian, is a moot point. Durrand uses the same pig form, a profile of the body shape, in each of several paintings where the apparent image from a distance, is a copy of one of these master’s paintings, but the pig emerges, is always underlying it.

durrand Joe the butcher 1

Joe The Butcher retired and took up gardening; Diana Durrand,  Mixed Media 10 x 16 inches

The third theme on our porcine subject is entitled Joe the Butcher retired and took up gardening. These images are mixed media, partly pastel, partly collage. The recurring pig-shaped profile now is the subject for infill with various flowers in colour harmony. The collage pieces are cut much like a diagram of a butcher’s diagram and in doing so, the patterned pig seems to be slightly more voluminous than  a simply flat shape.

I came away from these images with a smile. I liked the whimsical ideas, the historical references  and I admired the meticulous craftmanship.

On the opposite wall, there were five long panels of wood “cradles” which is a popular new support for painting. Topping each of the fifty two inch panels, separated by an inch or so,  are five smaller panels, the same width but eleven inches by sixteen. On each small panel, there is a charcoal drawing of a head. On the five long panels, there is a drawing mid-panel of hands expressing a particular mood.

Sheen panels small

Jo-Ann Sheen,  five wooden panels with charcoal drawings.

These works are filled with stillness, like five  nuns standing in a medieval austerity, although the faces are expressive and lively. Sheen is exploring the perceptions of identity, mirroring the soul of her subjects through their hand gestures and facial expressions.  Body language is not explored – the bodies that the heads and hands belong to are not there.

The remainder of Sheen’s works are complex psychological portraits (heads only) created through a layered process of etching, monotype printing and chine colle, a process of gluing very fine paper onto the etched paper whilst running the etching through the press.  This method produces beautiful surface qualities.

Jo-ann Sheen 3 small

Etching with chine collé by Jo-ann Sheen

The show ended on Saturday. A new one will be up on Wednesday, with the opening event for Betty Laughy happening on Friday the 27th of May. See you there!

BTW I looked up both Sheen and Durrand on the ‘Net to see what kind of web presence was available and to explore a larger body of their works. I only found one for Durrand, and I think you may enjoy it very much. This it it:

Note: Hearts on Noses is a Mini-pig Sanctuary, a non-profit organization in Maple Ridge, B.C.  that rescues, rehabilitates and cares for unwanted, injured, orphaned, abused, neglected and abandoned mini-pigs. Web address?


Taos and Santa Fe

May 24, 2009

Taos Pueblo 1 small

Lizbet and I went travelling for a week (not counting the three days on either end that I needed to get there.

We stayed in a hotel in Taos, New Mexico and we rented a car to explore the countryside. It’s marvelous  new scape for me to absorb.  We both took our watercolours with us but we were so busy going places we wanted to see before we left that we never stopped to paint.

We spent a morning at Taos Pueblo – a world heritage site.  You can find quite a good explanation and a few good pictures of it on Wikipedia.

When we bought our entry fee, they charged us an additional five dollars per camera for the right to take pictures for personal use. They forbid publishing of them, so in respect of that, I won”t post my pictures of Taos Pueblo. I must say though, it’s a stunning place to visit.

Taos is in nosebleed country. My sister who lives on the top of Red Mountain at 5000 feet from sea level spent the first two days recovering from altitude sickness. Taos is approximately 7000 feet up.  I, who live at sea level, felt no effect whatsoever from the altitude.  Well, maybe, a little shortness of breath and a few threats of nosebleed.

The weather was hot, hot, and sunny but with a bit of breeze. The skies are a perfect blue until late afternoon when clouds take a stroll across the sky then dissolve.  At the Pueblo – the earliest multilevel structure continuously inhabited in North America – the warm grey adobe colour scintillates against the cerulean heaven.

When we got back to the hotel, after dinner, my sister retired early. I need much less sleep than she does, so I was up late with my palette of colours and I took out a big brush and painted this painting, above, trying to work from memory. I was happy, not only with the colours but with the impression of the pueblo construction.

Here’s the second one I did:

Taos Pueblo 2 small

Outside our hotel window there were birch trees with brilliantly white bark. With the sun coming through the leaves in the morning, there were such beautiful overlays of the new green leaves. It’s spring there, in the mountains. During the week we were there, the flowers in the gardens started to bloom one after the other in quick succession. It’s the heat. It brings them out much earlier than here in Canada where the succession is drawn over a two month period, not just a week.

So in the morning, before Lizbet was up, I took time to draw a section of the birch tree, trying to capture the light, the beautiful shadows and the overlay of the new green leaves.  It’s a very graceful tree. It shimmers in the late afternoon breeze. It glows with the morning sun and the afternoon sun. It was quite captivating.

Here is my version of it. I must say, I missed the precision of the shadows on the trunk, but I’m nevertheless not unhappy with the result.

Taos Birch tree small

So, there it is. My production whilst on holiday. More about the holiday later.

Elizabeth’s Garden

May 7, 2009

Elizabeth sent me an e-mail the day before her art lesson.

“I finished my Charcoal Landscape. I am so excited about it!”

But the tease! She didn’t send me a picture of it. She made me wait until the next day when she turned up for her next lesson.

Indeed, she had done a fine job.  For a neophyte at drawing she has remarkable skill and she understands the concepts – this time on texture and pattern.


To understand just how remarkable this is, you need to understand that this is her first sustained drawing. She has brought together her lessons on composition, shape, and texture quite wonderfully.

With regard to the texture, you can notice that the grass is different from the plants; she has used pattern repetition in the plants themselves, the texture of the debris in the wheelbarrow is again different; and she has a number of smooth areas, both light and dark.

Having said that, the image you see above is cropped just slightly.

Here’s the full image:


The few problems that she has with it are solvable without doing anything further to the image simply by matting the drawing that crops off the edges or by cutting them off.  Doing so, however, will take away some of the rhythm of the painting and alter the composition.

And what’s the matter with it, you may ask?

These are picky things – but the kind of things that elevate a drawing from good to excellent.

First, on both the left hand side and the right hand side, the drawing trails off in a couple of spots.

It’s important to carry the drawing to edge of where you are working. Just a few more strokes, just a tiny bit of finishing and that bit of unfinished work can be brought up to the same standard as the rest of the painting.

I’ve cropped out the right side of the image to help you focus on the left hand edge, the unfinished spot down by the rocks and really, all along that edge:


The problem with matting that part out is that she loses the lovely climbing roses along the  same edge. Ditto for the shadows from the pots.

Elizabeth discovered in doing this drawing that her sleeve was dragging on the paper and much of the charcoal lifted. She had to start all over in a number of areas. As you can see, she managed to reconstruct so that we don’t even notice.


Midway above the left-most fence panel, there is a smudge mark, darker than the rest of the sky area. It’s an unfortunate mark probably as a result of either a thumb holding onto the paper there as the drawing was being put into its folder. Our fingers have a very fine oil on the surface. If you use your fingers on the paper, the oil sticks to the paper and holds onto more charcoal there than elsewhere.  If you rub it out, the eraser also can leave a fine trace of oil or something and then when you go over it again with charcoal, trying to fix it, it only gets worse.

What’s the solution?  This is such a fine first sustained drawing. That smudge looks even darker on the original (as compared to this photo).  So solution one – crop it out – is a valid response, if it doesn’t compromise the composition.  The other possibility is to extend the foliage to encompass this smudge. Since the foliage is darker, it will essentially disappear – will no longer be noticeable.

In this drawing, the fence exerts a strong horizontal influence. Extending past the fence with the foliage may help to stop the eye from travelling westwards right out of the image.

On the other hand, if the sky is cropped out, then a similar effect happens. With a negligible amount of sky at the top, the fence posts act as verticals to  stop the eye from travelling westwards.

Either solution is acceptable.

Kudos to Elizabeth, don’t you think?

Texture and Pattern 2

May 5, 2009


I’ve gone looking through my photos to see if I couldn’t illustrate the beauty of texture or of pattern. Here are a few:

Referring to the drawing, above, the grasses need a build-up long mildly-crossing strokes. The flowers heads in the foreground need dot like marks,. The pattern of the central shrub is radiating from the central trunk. The various trees all have their own shapes as well as different textural qualities. The sky and the mountain in the background need smooth, solid marks and because they are calm and solid in aspect, they provide a perfect foil for all the non-smooth textural areas.


This close up of a sheer, patterned curtain fabric with light coming through has many opportunities to explore both pattern and texture.


These are blueberry bushes, red with new sap, just waiting to green up for spring. The tangle of red branches could either be represented as an overall shape with a smooth texture, or they could be represented with layer after layer of small red twisted marks that would build up a richness in the textural qualities of a drawing. The trees above have an altogether different texture which also contains the tree skeleton’s pattern. Closely looking and understanding the organization of branches along the trees will help in representing one species  of tree in differentiation from another through a textural pattern that imitates it.


There is a good contrast between the round, smoother big branches in relation to the small dot like blossoms and the criss-crossing smaller branches. There is a busy-ness about the blossoms and a quiet strength in the more massive branch structures.

Texture and pattern

May 4, 2009


When drawing or painting, texture is that aspect of the work that makes you think that you could just reach out and touch it and it would feel just like…. satin or sand, feathers, soft skin or dried, wrinkled old skin.

Artists like Vermeer began to paint images where every fabric and every object was identifiable by a realistic representation of its texture – fur, wool, feathers, wood, tiles, bricks. There are lots of images of Vermeer to be seen on Wikipedia.

Another painter who excelled at this was Dominque Ingres.

My kleptomaniacal talents are not very good. I tried to lift some images from Wikipedia to illustrate these two artist here but was unsuccessful. So you will need to do some Wikipedia-ing yourselves to see examples.

In times of high realism, texture referred to the ability to reproduce the  illusion of an object which relayed the sense of touching and feeling to you.

Come the revolution, which in this case was late nineteenth century, the Impressionists provided texture in a whole new way. Through their goal of having the viewer do some of the colour mixing in the process of looking at the painting, they daubed colour on canvas in small dots of pure colour. The epitome of this was the work of Georges-Pierre Seurat, father of Pointillism. Degas used small cross hatched strokes to build up layer after layer of colour to build up his pastels and then he took this method into his oil paintings.

As the Twentieth Century rolled into view,  artists were beginning to break down the rules and regulations that had contained the expressions of image making. Artists began to refuse all the rules. Still, most of them were all trained in classic art education; so the result was that they couldn’t really toss out everything. Minimalists attempted to bring things down to their most basic forms – and textures. Kasimir Malevich painted a scandalous painting called White on White which had a square white canvas with a second, smaller white square turned on an angle. The only distinction between them was a slight shift in white and the texture of the paint.

(And we all know that this  is possible, that white  – the absence of colour in pure light rays, when translated to paint pigments, has some trace element of another colour so that we get cool whites and warm whites – just ask your house-paint dealer!)

Yves Klein painted  completely blue paintings. The absence of a remarkable (as in, being able to identify it as being there) texture only meant that the texture was completely unified in that piece.

Expressionists expressed textures in wild gestural marks – Willem de Koonig and Jackson Pollock, for instance. The Canadian painter, Riopelle, achieved texture through carefully placed marks, where these became the only reason for the painting.

But you may say, “Get more practical! I want to know how I can use texture and pattern in my drawings; and I’m not going to do those flaky abstract things.”

So how do we explore textures that can serve us in our own image making?

The only way to find what pleases and serves you well in your painting and drawing is to experiment.

First, start with drawing. (See the illustration above.)

Use a roughish piece of paper like a Manila or any kind of paper recommended for charcoal drawing. Use a medium thick vine charcoal because it can give you good dark marks and light delicate ones as well.

On the paper make about five lines from top to bottom and and about seven horizontally so that you end up with about 35  contained shapes which for ease of discussion, I’m going to call squares even if the shape is more randomly formed.  Try to stay within the lines so that you don’t get halos around the texture you have filled in to it.

Start by filling in one with charcoal. Leave it alone. It is your bench mark.

In another one, fill it in and gently smooth the charcoal to see if you can get a velvety surface.  Try and get the charcoal to be even all over. In another square, tap the charcoal tip all through the square.Try doing this in one  square with a light touch and in another , almost pounding the charcoal against the paper. Try putting the charcoal firmly on the paper and then twisting it slightly as you begin to make the mark, then repeat that throughout the square.

You can see, above, that there is a square that is randomly done with circles and one where they are lined up. Textures can be random or organized, as you need for your image.  You can make marks even (all over, just the same) or not, with variations in pressure and tone.

Some of the results will look more like pattern than texture. What’s the difference?  I’d say that pattern is more repetitive of a single type of mark, and the mark would tend to be a specific shape, but then, I’ve always had difficulty separating the two, or defining one versus the other. There are grey areas where pattern is texture or vice versa.

Do you see in some of these textures something that would be suitable to indicate a designer’s beard? grass? polka dot pattern on fabric? felt? fur?

Look at the objects around you that you feel have a rough texture. Try to find a mark or a series of marks that could represent it. Then draw a picture where the various objects represented have a variety of textures.

Elizabeth, my student whom I introduced to you in the blog on Shape, chose a scene outside the studio window with 1) grass, 2) debris in the wheel barrow 3) a shrub just coming into leaf 4) a wooden fence with lattice work on the top 5) some plants in the garden behind the wheel barrow and 6) a nice flat looking shadow.  Each of these six textural areas required different mark making to help them represent the objects in a realistic manner.

We made this exercise into a consolidating one, where not only did she need to express objects with pattern and texture, but she also had to think about her composition, the placement of objects,  and to think about the shapes, and in the overall image, to get a good balance of light and dark.

She had done marvelously well within the hour that she was here, but she took the drawing home and I will just have to wait until next week to see the results!