Archive for the ‘digital imagery’ Category

Lucy Adams

June 20, 2009

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Reflections on Lucy Adams’ work at the Fort Gallery

I was over at the Fort Gallery on Tuesday. Once again, your intrepid art sleuth did not check times and found herself in front of a closed gallery. I did, however drop in at the Birth of B.C. Art Gallery and there is an interesting watercolour show on there.  It’s all representational, and some of it is hyper-realism, if you like that kind of art. There are lots of flowers, landscapes, seascapes and a few animal paintings.

I had lunch with the woman who manages Gallery Direct – blog that I show my art work on, especially my watercolours.

Being hard headed, I returned to the Fort Gallery afterwards. I don’t know if I thought I would find a stray artist in there who would let me into the Lucy Adams show or not, but there wasn’t. There are long banners showing this month. They appear to be done on canvas and hung from rods. I’d say they were about 8 feet long.

It’s a very appropriate show for summer. Each banner has a specific garden flower painted on it, cascading down the length of the canvas. It’s a bright and happy exhibition, a little unusual in the display and therefore more interactive than paintings hung flat on the wall.

Framing is always a major issue for artists. To frame or not to frame. The problem being, most artist as struggling to pay for materials. Framing for an exhibition can easily be over $2000 unless the artist is in some way creative in the framing department. Hanging these as she has, she has found a more economical means to display, and it’s very effective, even startling, which is a good thing when you want people to engage with your art work.

I took photos through the window and with all the reflections on the glass, I got these photos which I found very interesting as photos. The reflections obscure the actual paintings too much for you to tell. But I loved the photos and how they cut up the colours and allowed the flowers to peek through sometimes and then not.

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I’m hoping to get in touch with Lucy to see if she has some photos of her work to add to this blog. Until then, you’ll have to do with my reflections.


This week

March 20, 2009

This week I haven’t been inspired. The words don’t flow. This evening, though, I downloaded a few recent photos from my camera and here they are:


We had about twenty seconds of sunshine this week and it came pouring in my south window right onto my kitchen counter and blessed these cut up yellow peppers with a dash of light.

Then I was out raking some of last autumn’s leaf mould which I leave on the garden until the threat of frost is over. I was raking it away from my crocus garden because they are struggling to show through. I found this leaf skeleton which I find fascinating – the structure remains but the flesh is gone.


We had had a week of sunshine and temperatures in the ten above range. I was going out with just a nice heavy sweater – no need for a jacket nor scarf nor boots. On Monday, the temperature dipped down to below zero again and there was a late snow fall of an inch or so, all crusty and clean white. Maybe my crocus wanted that leaf mould protection  still, but it was too late. Here they are – and isn’t the transition from the yellow to purple just magnificent. How does the petal do that without getting the colours muddy? They are opposite colours, and if you tried to duplicate that in watercolour, it would go all muddy and create a grey.



And there it is. Crisp snow, good light and a great shadow to boot. I think it’s the last we will see this winter.   It has been raining heavily ever since.

Spring has sprung.

Photos through the windshield

January 28, 2009


I have been chastised for taking photos through the windshield many times.  From a photographic point of view,  this activity comes with built-in hazards, especially since car washing is one of my least loved chores.

Taking photos through glass is already not cool, but glass with mud spots, insect splatters, rain and dust drops, et cetera, gives photos that may actually focus on windshield texture rather than your intended point of view. However, when travelling at thirty clicks on the highway with nowhere to pull over, it beats not getting the picture at all. The results are somewhat random. I throw many of them out (which is the blessing of digital photography).

Luck is in if you hit a red light with traffic backing up far enough that you don’t have to include the mechanical aspects of the intersection – wires, traffic lights, lamp standards, walk and don’t walk signs, and the like.

On my trip to Vancouver the other day, I managed to take full advantage of the zoom capacity on the camera to isolate some pictures from the industrialization of our byways.

Also, my friend and I went to a concert of Spanish flamenco music out here in the boonies. The venue is a very modern “farm” house built in the post and beam ‘Sixties style with a huge “family” room that is used to seat about eighty people. There are 30 acres of farm surrounding it.

The day was cold and crisp. After two days of low lying fog and this freezing weather, a beautiful coating of hoar frost covered every little twig and branch. Driving up to the entrance,  I could see a million opportunities for beautiful photos that I knew I would not get to take. My concert companion was driving and after the concert was in a hurry to go elsewhere. There would be no patience to let me click my way to heaven.

I must say that the scenery was of the “pretty picture” variety – grasses coated in rime, hoar frost on the branches,  traditional farm fencing, trees in the distance with a light coating of white, a pale blue wintery sky.

Parking at this place is limited so we got there a half hour early so that we could park close to the house, it being very cold out and neither I nor my companion wanted to risk the icy walk to the front door from any appreciable distance.

The concert and demonstration of flamenco dancing was awesome.  No wonder the lady who was dancing was svelte. Foot stomping with such determined and complicated rhythm must just pare you down in a hurry! She kept it up for an hour and a half with only little breaks in the program for a guitar solo and then, midway, for a costume change. The dancer was  Michelle Harding and Juan de Marias was the flamenco guitarist.

I took a few photos before the concert from inside the concert hall through double glazing – the small greenhouse and the plant pots.  When we left, I begged my companion to slow down so that I could take pictures through the windshield.

“There are cars coming behind us. I can’t just stop. I’m going as slowly as I can. Are you done yet? Can I go now?”  I was happy that some decrepit looking seniors got in front of the car and we had to progress at their walking speed.  Digital photography does not like fast movement.

Click, click, click. It was a prolonged moment of frustration as the camera insisted on showing me what I had taken before it would let me take another. I couldn’t reframe and refocus fast enough!

Despite all that I got a few very nice pictures, not photographically clean – a few mudspots in the way –  but I have something adequate that I can use as references for painting, which is the chief aim of my photographic endeavor.

Here they are, farm ones first and then the last few were on the highway:




















Which came first (And let there be light)

October 9, 2008

Whistler and I were breakfasting the other day when a shaft of glorious sunshine came through the semi-sheer drapes and joined us. Whereas we had eaten all the eggs for breakfast and there was nothing left to eat, Sunshine decided to light up the shells.

My theory in art has long been this”

It’s not what you paint, but how you paint it. You can make a composition from the most mundane things. It’s the underlying beauty of forms, texture and especially light, that make things sing. Capturing the effects of light as it happens is my favorite thing in photography.

So here it is. The “getting-in-the door” present of Sol, our breakfast visitor – magnificent light. And who would have thought that a broken egg shell could be beautiful?

Never on a Monday

September 30, 2008

All photos posted on this blog are posted with the permission of the artists, and they hold the copyright. All rights reserved.

I was in Vancouver today looking after some business.  I finished earlier than I thought I would  so I took about an hour to look at current shows on Gallery Row just south of the Granville Street Bridge.

I parked just in front of the Diane Farris Gallery and when I got to the door, I was not permitted to enter. They were in the middle of changing shows. “We have a lot of glass around, you understand, and we are concerned about breakage,” said the nice young man who was contributing to the installation. I handed him my calling card and asked him to tell Diane that I had come by.

“Oh, you know her then?” he asked. “Well, come in. There are a few paintings in the back to see. But be careful of the glass. ”

Once in side the door, I could see why they might be worried about glass breakage! The Dale Chihuly exhibition that was going up and the art glass pieces were huge and delicious. At one end of the gallery, a series of Chihuly’s drawings were already up, flamboyant, direct and gutsy. If you can get out to see this show, it really will be worth it.  Just being in the presence of these monstrous, luminous vessels is awe-inspiring.

Next I walked down to the Heffel Gallery, primarily an art auction house. Again I met with an apology. The most recent auction exhibition had just been taken down and they were installing the next batch of work to be auctioned off. The only paintings left up were those that had not met the reserved bid price.
The Equinox Gallery was closed but it had a large Gordon Smith painting in the display window. His paintings are uncannily realistic in the small version, but when you see them in their large dimensions, they are very expressionistic and abstract. For his snow pieces, he works with a restrained palette of colours that is almost greyscale in nature so that when he throws in a  dash of leaf green, it sings. It’s like playing in a single note on the piano and then listening carefully as it slowly vibrates into nothingness. What resonates for me on his snow pieces is the way he has captured the silence of freshly fallen snow in the depth of the forest.

For examples of his work, take a look at the Equinox Gallery website at:

Next, I walked uphill to the Atelier Gallery where the new show of David Edwards is on. I had come especially to see it. Unfortunately, the Atelier was also closed but one David Edwards painting hung in the window. I was really sorry not to see the rest of them.

David Edwards Working River, Oil on Canvas, 45 x 72″

The pictures posted on the Atelier’s website show the David Edwards’s genius in handling paint.  When I received the invitation, I could have been bowled over. Photo images that I have been collecting to do a series on urban landscapes could have been superimposed on the ones Edwards chose to paint and there would have been no difference. It was as if he had somehow gotten inside of my brain and extracted this series wholesale. He’s painted them with such luscious, painterliness that I wish I had done them myself.  Again, this painter appeals to my preference for a very restrained palette; and I firmly believe that an artist who can handle greys in all of their variations is a master of his craft.

His art website is noted below and links to the Atelier Gallery web site which has examples of his work for this exhibition.

I passed several other galleries and they were all closed, so I retraced my steps and went home. I was glad that I had seen Hycroft Gallery at the University Women’s Club of Vancouver earlier in the day. If I hadn’t seen a show in any other gallery, at least I’d had a good half hour viewing the works on display there.

Two photographers are showing – Wendy Deakins and Michelle A. Demers. There is also a showcase of hand made jewellry by Elizabeth de Balasi.

Wendy Deakins “Jackpot” Photograph (copyright)

Wendy Deakins has used a grid-like pattern to digitally collage photos of  plant forms together. She’s fascinated with nature and likes to look at it with a macro lense. It produces an interesting mix of imagery when she compounds photos of one single plant from different angles or different lighting.

Having singled out one of Deakins’ photos for this post, I realized how rich these photos are. As a note for the gallery’s hanging committee, I found that the space was too small for these photos. There is so much to be seen in a single photo that when they are grouped together closely, it’s overwhelming. I would have like to have fewer at a time with more spacing between them.

Michelle A. Demers “Anthurium” digital photography

Michelle A. Demers is also using digital photography to alter her photos. She enhances them by pushing the colour to  limits. They are rich and lively. I don’t really know how she accomplishes the transformation but they were stunning – crisp, crystal clear, colourful- and she has a way of emphasizing the rhythm of the petal edges to create a flow in the images that keeps the eye engaged.

Elizabeth de Balasi Seed Bead Bracelet.

Hycroft Gallery generally shows two artists concurrently and has a small display of hand crafted jewelry on display as well. For the month of September, Elizabeth de Balasi has had this coveted spot.

She crochets ropes of seed beads with a tiny number one crochet hook. The ropes are so precise and beautifully crafted it’s hard to imagine that they are hand done. Her web site only has a few images on it, but it will give you an idea of the jewellry she creates.

Next time I have a business appointment in Vancouver, it’s going to be on a Thursday. Then maybe I can  steep myself in the work that is being shown in our very active artistic community.

More on old photos

September 23, 2008

Fencer ( commented on one of my posts that made me do a little more thinking about early photography; Suburban life ( commented about an old family photo that I had recently scanned. They got me thinking about the pioneers at the beginning of the 20th Century who immigrated to Canada.

An earlier discussion on this blog concerned the early photographers’ use of the Golden Mean, the Golden Ratio or Divine Proportions, alternative descriptions of a geometrically based compositional method.

As I rummage through and scan family documents to preserve, keep,  and record the family history, I find a mix of professionally taken photographs and then lots of amateurish ones too.

I realized that the advent of photography launched an enormous revolution in the world of imagery. No longer was a middle class or poor family proscribed from having portraits of themselves done. Imagery became affordable for the common person. Previously, a person who wanted to record their family history in imagery had to do it through getting a portrait painted. This was costly (and still is) so most could not afford it. But in the 19th century as photography became more known as a method of recording an image, there were many who found the process fascinating.

Some became professionals, selling their photography from studio shops with props that looked like classical backgrounds for portraits. The sitter had to stay still so long in order to get a sharp picture that their poses looked very formal and dignified. Most photographs were posed with the photographer’s props – a beautiful Gothic styled chair, a rich pelt of wolf or bear; a background of some lovely painted forest. All the sitters took on the aisance and dignity of class that the aspired to (but often as not, could not afford).

As photography improved, people with a penchant for this avant garde method of image making and a modicum of chemical knowledge were able to develop and print their own photography at home in a darkened bathroom or a purpose built room. With the untrained eye, the quality of composition was somewhat haphazard, sometimes good sometimes downright bad. The photos were like our Reality TV programs – what ever was happening in the moment was recorded – but a little less artificially contrived.

The results of this amateur photography are interesting today because they captured a time in our pioneering country’s history with a candidness that had never been available before; and as a result, we have the privilege now, as in no era before us, where we can look back at what our parents and our grandparents were doing, where they were living and capture a fairly explicit feel for their times and their lives.

My grandfather and his brothers came to Canada from Holland in the early days of the 20th Century. They homesteaded in the Interlaken district of Manitoba and then moved to Winnipeg. Although they could provide food sufficient for their needs, cash was rare. Also the distances were great between communities.

I drove up to the homestead with my Mother in 1995. Some of the communities were fifty or sixty miles apart. In the early days, the only thing that connected them was the railroad. Prior to the railroad, people paddled boats or rode horses. The vastness of the country was daunting. There weren’t many maps to guide the way and when you got wherever you stopped, there was no restaurant awaiting you to freshen you up, nor a hotel to sleep overnight in.

Once the homesteaders settled in, they could not go down to the corner store and pick up some milk, flour or sugar if the larder was bare. When communities were established, a trip to the store might take a full day or maybe more, depending on season, the conditions of roads or the distance from the town where the store was located. Merchandise could be ordered by catalog and it came by train or by mail.

So when a young lad out in the wilds of Manitoba became enamoured by a hobby like photography, all the essential chemicals, papers and equipment would have to come from afar. Yet, my father’s generation was fascinated by popular photography and my collection of his photos makes me realize how the addition of photography opened up a whole new world to them (and now us).

I add “and us” because we can now go back and see for ourselves what our ancestors looked like, back as far as our great grandparent’s generation. A century ago, the middle class was only starting to be served by this extraordinary medium.

Note, in this photo just above, that there are several people assisting in the building of this church. I know it’s a church because some kind soul marked it on the back. That leads to another whole discussion of how the pioneers worked so cooperatively because they really had to. If you couldn’t get along with your neighbours, you were in trouble. You never knew when you would need them. And of course, you couldn’t just call in a contractor to build the church. The community was neither large enough nor diversified enough to afford those luxuries. Everybody helped. In our North American cities, much of that spirit has become lost.

And when I see how many formal studio portraits there are in this collection, it makes me wonder what was foregone in their daily living so that they could partake of the photographer’s service to preserve their image in sepia.

Father recounted that, in his family of six children and two adults, there were only seven plates. At dinner time, his mother waited until all had eaten and then she had her dinner. (Remember, there wasn’t a corner store to get another one from and don’t even think about why they didn’t use paper plates!). A plate was less important than an education in our family. Saving for an education was the most important thing. There had been a school teacher in every generation.

I don’t mean to say by this that our family was so dreadfully poor. Rather, the whole generation was cash strapped and they hardly had contact with stores. My father grew up in the Great Depression. Mark Twain’s saying that “We were all poor; but nobody knew it” was one that described the family’s position to a “T”. There was no cash for frivolities. But obviously, someone in the family had a camera.

Later, my father continued to be fascinated by photography. When stereoscopic cameras came out, he had one. Each new development in the manufacture of cameras had him envious of its promises for better photographs. He just had to have the newest thing. I realized eventually that that was his only folly. He was a thrifty, frugal man. Home, family, church, and education continued to be his priorities. Even in his later years, these remained most important. But next priority to tack on the list was Camera, and that too remained at number five on the list all his life.

The nature of photography has changed with the times. Photography is no longer a novelty. Subject matter, though, has changed tremendously. Yes, we still get group photos at school and group family photos; tourist shots, and landscape photos; but the sheer amount of photography we do is staggering. It’s not uncommon to go out in a day and take one hundred photos with our digital camera. Afterall, we don’t have to print them to see what we will get, so it costs nothing to take several similar photos and then to choose amongst them for the best one. Not so long ago, simply the cost of development and printing would have been prohibitive for such abandonment in our picture taking and our method of choosing a shot and ensuring that it would be good was far more careful than our current trend to covering each situation we want to with ten to twenty shots.

This last photo is of my grandfather working on his market garden just outside of Winnipeg in East Kildonan. Long gone are the farming days of this family. When I was in my thirties, my father pointed out that there were twenty-six university degrees held by the descendants of this man. We’re a long way from farming to earn our living; but there are a great number of us still fascinated with photography.

The Rouge Gallery – Rossland B.C.

September 12, 2008

I’ve been in the Kootenay Mountains this last two weeks, mostly house painting, but unbeknownst to me, my calendar was marked with an opening to the Rouge Gallery in Rossland, B.C. It’s a brand new gallery, a cooperative of several Rossland area painters and craftspeople.

I just wish I had a similar turn out to one of my openings. There must have been 200 people coming to see this group show, men, women, children and even infants – a real family affair; a real community event. The gallery is small; people were spilling out into the street, engaged in conversations about the artwork, but also about family events and the Golden City Days. That started the next day with a parade and a lively rural Fall Fair complete with a harvest competitions for best baking, best produce and best home arts.

There were paintings hung at eye level throughout, and ten feet up, another row of paintings. There must have been about 70 works in all by 20 artists.

The Kootenay area is well known as an area with a mature artistic community. The work is highly individualistic and of good quality. Before I get into detail, I must say that I took photos of these works in the gallery under less than perfect conditions and the photos are offered here as pretty good representations of the individual pieces but the colour may be a bit off and I had to skew some back into shape in order to show the work as rectangular rather than the irregular quadrangles that I took.

Also, I may have missed mentioning an artist or two and if anyone from the Group Show can supply me with a photo, I’d be glad to update this post to include them.

So here goes:

On one hand, Anora Fisher paints small trompe l’oeil canvases – Books and Wine; Shenango Canyon; Bridge Lake. The compositions are perfectly balanced, the effects of light are perfect and the detail in the Dutch Master’s tradition, is amazing.

Left: Books and Wine Right: Bridge Lake

At the other end of the spectrum, there were some pleasant, dreamy abstracts (Spring Banks) by Claude Stormes, with little clue as to their inspiration except the title which left much up to the imagination. In these, there is no detail or specificity at all.

Claude Stormes

Louise Drescher is one of four artists driving the creation of this gallery. She managed the hanging of the works and prepared a fine wine and cheese nosh for opening night visitors. She is primarily known for her folk art paintings. Her commissioned work, a view of Rossland, maintained this style but showed her work moving towards a more subtle tonal range and rounded forms than her usual, flat shaped works. Huckleberries, another of her new works, followed on this trend – a new departure.

Left: L. Drescher Rossland Right: L. Drescher Huckleberries

Below: Ingrid Baker Shimmering Leaves

Ingrid Baker who has established her reputation on English style watercolour adapted to the local landscape, is moving forward into imaginative works in a new highly colourful and abstract style.

Stephanie Gauvin Rossland

There were several other landscape painters – Stephanie Gauvin’s work in a previous incarnation was quite expressionist and gestural with a Soutine-like quality to it. These new ones have more defined and flatter shapes and seem more calculated than her earlier ones.

I rather liked Jennie Bailie’s interpretive landscapes which are hard edged and linear in the detail. There is sufficient interest in the abstraction of the tree shapes with their curious texture and the mountain planes which have been reduced to four tonal values represented by individual colours. It works!

On the other hand, she showed two floral canvases whose compositions were uninteresting. Free-form splotches of colour pure hue represented the flowers that were just too unhappily accidental to retain me in the image. If this is a new way of working, it needs more attention to developing a good balance between positive and negative shapes in the overall imagery.

My favourite was a large oil painting by Lasha Mutuel. Backed by a clear blue sky, three women in highly decorative dresses stand passively. One holds a large Savoy cabbage in a highly realistic style as if it were a sacred offering. The realism of this object contrasts with the flatter, decorative aspects of the dress patterns and the flowers floating in front of another of the women. Her iconography is symbolist and outstandingly individual. She showed two other works Tara’s Boat and Adrift that were more illustrative than the large painting and while interesting, packed less punch.

I went back into the gallery two days later to take photos of some of the paintings, but the big one had sold. It was gone and in it’s place was another original composition, a woman very much like a portrait of Lasha herself, standing with a large ginseng or mandrake root in her outstretched arm. It appears to symbolize the male force and uprooting and the woman’s struggle to hold on for dear life.

Lasha Mutual

Andy Holmes exhibited several bright coloured paintings in mixed folk art and surrealist style. I found his Cycling Crow fascinating. A large black crow stands atop a red bicycle that is going nowhere. In the wheel where the spokes should be, a whole other story is going on, scratched out in a white line drawing.

Andy Holmes Left: Cycling Crow Right: Hundred Waters

Hundred Waters, a surreal portrait, is a take off on Friedensriech Hundertwasser’s style. While the imagery was very interesting there is progress to be made on painting quality and the recycled framing does not enhance the work.

Karla Pearce – Bouquet of magnolias

Karla Pearce displayed two large expressionist bouquets which were more about joyously moving thick paints about than about the specificity of flowers. I rather enjoyed these strong, direct works. There is a good command of colour in defining white and shadow which is not easy to do. She handles the tonal arrangement with ease. Her frontal approach to the bouquet could give her compositional difficulties with the background, but she has broken up the ground with large patches of colour – sky blue, grey for shadow, and white – that make the eye travel around comfortably. Despite the looseness of the painting, she has defined the flowers sufficiently that we know they are magnolias, no doubt about it.

There were several other works by Pearce, two of them in water media and some large canvases with landscape theme.

Jennifer Smith showed two large landscapes, Moss with Red Flowers and Rocks and Roots. Smith’s painting has a predominant linear quality with blocks of colour underneath. These large and highly detailed works show a maturity and uniqueness of style, a good command of composition and a sense of drama with the strategically placed red flowers. It’s because of them that the eye continues to shift throughout the painting, and they lend a warmth to an otherwise cool palette of colours.

I have to apologize for the quality of this photo by John Lake. There’s quite a bit of glare on it, but it was the best I could do. He had three photographs with a theme of the figure in motion. For a photographer to deliberately show three photos that are primarily out of focus because the figure was in action takes a bit of courage; but I personally like these very much. They make the viewer search for the figure; they have motion and dynamism to them.

” Daisies”- Charlene Barnes – Acrylic

Charlene Barnes showed a work entitled “Daisies”. You can see influences of Chagall with the flying daisies in the sky, and van Gogh, with the swirling sky and the thick paint. It’s quite pleasantly imaginative in the manner of the Post-Impressionist Naive in style.

Heather Good: Wild Flowers

Heather Good showed two large canvases, Italy and Wildflowers, with writing superimposed on an abstract image. The work shows a maturity and comfort level with experimental imagery, using bothopaque and transparent colours, with a good contrast of apparently free form strokes (almost dribbles) and controlled images. Her sense of colour is strong though subtle. What could have been a very cool-coloured painting is offset with warm oranges and reds and blues tending to warmth (the turquoise and sky blues). Despite there being few vertical elements in the painting, Heather quietly leads the viewer through the painting with a variety of different items – the white gizmos in the middle, the writing, the complicated orange and red passages. It’s curious because it defies some of the compositional standards and works in spite of that.

Sarah Zannussi’s blue and white pottery and Robin Otteranger natural coloured stoneware provided some works of form. There were a few felted works and woven blankets of beautiful tactile and visual beauty by Trish Rasku. I apologize to these fine craftspeople that I did not get photos of their work while I was there.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I was a bit surprised to have been invited to this show, but I was really pleased by the quality of work that was shown and I hope you’ve vicariously been able to enjoy some of it with me.

Happy accidents

June 19, 2008

In photography as in drawing and painting, there are happy accidents. This photograph, above, was one of my photographic happy accidents. I must have taken about sixty photos of my white rhododendron. Many were on cloudy days and I was not happy with the contrast of light and shadow. The forms were alright but there was no “oomph” to the photos, nothing that made them sing.

I finally got a sunny day while the blooms were still fresh and crisp, but all the photos that resulted were blaring with light. Yes, I was getting light, but the overexposure did not allow the shadows to delineate themselves as I wanted. The camera didn’t seem to handle looking directly into the sun, even if there was a rhododendron bloom in the way. I managed to find a shady angle to shoot from and the camera seemed to like that better. Anyway, I liked the results better. The resulting photo (above) has less white, less clarity but somehow the gentle blueness of the overall effect is moody and there are subtleties of a warm yellow colour and some lime green lurking behind the pale-blue-or-is-it-green of the shadow side of the flowers. It works!

With happy accidents, if we can figure out what happened, we have the likelihood of being able to reproduce the effect again and to use it to our advantage.

In drawing and painting, learning from our happy accidents can be a real blessing. It can take us on a journey of exploration and even give a new direction to our work.

In another medium, this time digital, I was scanning some drawings that I made at the theatre while listening to the symphony. My seat was close to the front giving me a very good view of the orchestra, but over to one side where the bass fiddlers were directly in front of me. I like the form of the instrument very much, and it being large, it was easy for me to see the detail of it. I’d come with the intention of listening, not drawing, but the desire to set down what I saw grew and grew. I just had to make a note of it. Of course, I hadn’t come prepared with any paper to draw on, but I had the program in my hand.

I flipped to a page that did not refer to the evening’s entertainment and began to sketch the fiddlers’ forms. Being close to the stage gave me sufficient light to draw with. When I came home I had a few primary drawings of a certain directness and liveliness. They certainly were far away from being finished drawings. I didn’t want to lose them; however, I didn’t want to hold onto the whole program in order to keep one page of drawings, either; so I decided to scan them and throw away the program. I knew I couldn’t ever make a finished drawing with the original. The paper was acidic. It was also glossy and unlikely to take any colour medium.

I liked the drawing as it was, but I also wanted to see what it might be like if I added some colour. What better opportunity than to take the scanned image and try some variations with the program Paint or Adobe Photo? And so, on a copy of the image, I filled the face with a skin tone colour. If you’ve ever worked images with this medium, you will know that if your shape is not entirely closed off, the colour will “escape” out into the surrounding area, even filling the entire page if there are not any completely enclosed, shapes.

I know this now because, when I filled the face with skin tone colour, the whole drawing became skin toned. The paint acts somewhat like a water leak. It spreads out the easiest way it can and unless it is dammed up, it floods everything.

Now, the digital drawing medium is somewhat forgiving. When you make a move that results in something you didn’t intend and you don’t like it, then you can hit Edit, Undo and you go back to the previous stage. You can then fix your image so that it will do what you want (in this drawing, like closing off the head shape by adding a line where the “leak” occurs). Then you can proceed to re-fill the shape and hopefully it will be contained in the manner that you wished for.

When I filled this drawing, I found that I really liked the texture that arose from filling the printed portions of the page with colour. The enclosed shapes of the letters did not allow the colour to invade, leaving tiny islets of black-rimmed white peppering the background colour.

This discovery led me to experimenting with several more drawings and I ended up making a whole series of Symphony and Theatre drawings. It was lots of fun experimenting with the medium. It makes me feel as happy as a child in a sandbox, mucking around, trying this, squashing that, watching beetles trundle across the ragged sand over valleys and moats that one has created. And that, my friends, is what I think drawing is all about. The excitement of finding an image you just have to record; the decision to take an image and develop it; the experimental messing around with the image in a free and childlike spirit until one finds a spot where you say to yourself “This is it. I’m stopping here. It’s fine as it is. I don’t want to spoil what I’ve done and I don’t want to add anything to it.”

This happy accident – the filling of an shape within an image that spilled out into the text instead of staying within its own borders – led me to a whole new way of working. The first drawing was no prize winner, but the technique served me for many more drawings and a whole new type of imagery.

I could go on, but I’m sure you know what I mean. If ever you have spilled ink on a drawing and then found, in trying to mop it up, that you have found something you didn’t intend but that you like, and you add to it, or disguise it. Then, next thing you know, you are spilling ink on purpose and getting backgrounds you like. Or a piece of plastic food wrap or of facial tissue falls on your painting and when you pick it up you have accidentally created a random texture you like; and next time you do it on purpose, in a more controlled manner. Or your painting has dribbles because the paint is too liquid for what you wanted to do and then you find that the dribbles add a dimension you hadn’t expected – but quite like…. Or, in figure drawing class, you don’t like your first charcoal sketch and you rub it all out; but since you don’t have more paper with you, you draw right over top of the first try; and you find that the rubbed in “ground” you have created actually assists your drawing; and next time, you start your drawing with a sketch that you intentionally rub out and then refine because the method gives your drawing more depth, more substance.

If you are an avid sketcher, painter, drawer; If you are an impassioned photographer, you know these moments. You’ve been there before. You’ve had these epiphanies, these discoveries that you like and then start to use as a method or device.

So, my friends, in a spirit of discovery, go play with your pencils, your paints, your cameras, or your computers and enjoy!

Fiji clouds

April 19, 2008


Late afternoon the clouds would cover the sky bringing the landscape to a grey and green combination that seemed quite constant, the most prevalent leitmotif of Fiji colour, for the time of year that we were there. Then the clouds would build into deep, dark menacing shapes that scudded across the sky, dumping water in tropical proportions, like God dousing the land with a giant bucket, slopping it all at once and then being done with it.

Everyone runs for cover. There are ample overhangs and huts to shelter under.

The rain flattened all the colours, making sihouette shapes of all the trees. Like cut-outs. Then the rains would stop, not exactly suddenly, but the transition from super-dump of rain to dry – no more rain at all only took about five minutes once the storm was over. The clouds gather themselves back into high piles of fluffiness and move their way out across the bay, taking center stage, and blocking out the setting sun.

People come right back out again and resume whatever they were doing. It’s lucky when the rain dumps just after you’ve arrived a happy hour. You can sit with your preprandial drink watching the clouds transform before your very eyes.

I took this photo of clouds because something rather curious was going on up there in the post-rain clouds. See how the dark mass of clouds is backlit by the sun – and then there is another dark mass flaring behind it? Here’s a close up of the flare.

So here’s what baffles me about this flare:
The dark one in the foreground is backlit, presumably by the sun. So then, is that second dark shape behind it a cloud? If so, why isn’t it backlit also? While several of us watched this phenomenon, no one could come up with an explanation of how it was lit.

How could the sun get in behind one cloud and not the other one? If it did it would be the cloud most in the background that was backlit, but that is not what is occurring here.

It’s curiouser and curiouser.

White rock photo

April 15, 2008

I took this photo in White Rock. The sun was glaring and I could hardly see the screen display to know what I was getting. When finally I got it home, it was one that I felt really quite thrilled with for a number of reasons. A happy accident. I didn’t even have to crop it.

First of all, I love subtlety and for that reason, I rather like the reduced palette of greys with only small amounts of subdued blues to heighten it. The balance between light and dark is sufficient to make the picture work. And then, despite many of the compositional rules that I generally go by, this one defies them or plays with them in an elliptical way (in the sense of omitting parts while still providing the meaning – I hope that Elliptical is the adverbial form of elide – to abridge, to omit ).

If you use the rule of thirds, the vertical left hand third and the vertical right hand third have activity going on in them but the center one has none. Already that trangresses the geometric compositional rule of putting something in the critical centre square.

Horizontally, the top two bands form a third; the middle, the major sandbar, forms the second and is enhanced by the small sandbar the two right hand figures are standing on. The bottom third is composed of the pool of water broken up by reflections echoing the figures.

If you follow the compositional rule of reading the picture like you would read a book, there is a strong entry point on the left hand side that is just, and only very minutely so, interrupted by the camera man’s head so that the eye can connect to the downward force to take its journey into the picture and thence again to the right. All the other horizontal lines are interrupted with vertical images, helping the viewer stay in the picture. Even if the directional force is strongly moving to the right, it’s always comfortable to shift down into the image and work your eye around the various figures.

Each of the figures acts as a vertical force that stops the eye from going out of the picture, and yet, because the reflection elides the figure shape, there is no continuous line, just one that is constructed by the eye of the viewer; and yet it reads as a continuous vertical “stopper” in the picture. That is, the viewer has to do some work to connect things together and this is a good thing – the image becomes interactive.

The small sandbar on the right edge acts as an arrow that is a strong counterweight to all the horizontal lines driving rightwards. It volleys the eye back to the left of the image. So, although there is nothing going on in the center, the eye comfortably can undertake a tennis match in the image, going back and forth, back and forth.

There are good contrasts – light and dark; texture and smooth; and activity and stasis. That being said, this might not be as captivating a photo without the adult form on the left who is taking photographs. His posture with the camera and his flapping coat make him the most interesting figure and his activity assists in pushing your eye to the right; and yet, your eye wants to keep going back to him. In this way he is perfectly positioned as a counterweight.

II superimposed a geometric grid on the picture plane and discovered it is not a Golden Rectangle. To my surprise, I realized that digital cameras have a new standard – it’s the 8.5 x 11 inch format that is standard to computer office paper. It’s not the 4 x 6 inches of standard non-digital photography. If it were, the closest would be 8 x12. It’s not far off, but it makes a difference. Of course, with the programs we have now for modifying digital photos, it would be very easy to stretch out or squish the picture to fit a Golden Rectangle proportion and hardly anyone would ever notice the difference

Using the geometric principle of composition, I drew a square on the left using the smaller side as the length of the square and then did the same on the other; then proceeded to make some critical center lines, major diagonals and then connected intersecting points. I came with this:


It’s a photo not a drawing. You get what you get, although when you zoom, when you frame things up before taking the photo, you have some control over composition of your image. So was it by hazard that I got a good approximation of a geometric composition? I think not. I think that the amount of time I’ve spent analyzing this kind of composition helps me to select and frame up images that are already approximately fitting the Geometric composition grid.

There is some good correspondence with the grid to the image – water meeting sand lines in the horizontal direction. a good diagonal on the right side; the figures hovering around a principal vertical on the left side and the figures on the right contained in a major right hand rectangle. The reflections are pretty close to being in the lower third. If I were to plan a painting using the geometric method of composition, it would take very little to adapt this picture to the grid to reinforce its geometric harmony.

Now look at this image again from the Spatial Relationship theory of composition:

The figures act as focal points. I’ve simplified the picture to show how they draw your eye around the image. I’ve traded the denim, (the mid-tone blue) for orange for illustration purposes only; and black as the dark tone. If you cover over the left hand figures you will see that your eye no longer is interested in travelling back and forth over the image. Or vice versa, cover over the right hand figures, the same thing happens. The picture becomes boring and ill-balanced. Also note here that when I modified the picture to make the principal focal points stand out, I lost the horizontal lines of the sea meeting the sand. This modified version of the photo now lacks any horizontal driving force except those lines from the grid itself!

Mostly only artists and photographers are interested in the underpinnings of the picture. They are like the compulsory figures of the figure skater. When they are doing their long skate, you’d never know they spent hours on the compulsories, practicing, practicing, practicing. If I were doing a painting from this picture, I would be searching out the harmonies and balances all the time, at the same time as I was painting the figures with some degree of representational form. Both need to be there – the form and the composition. I would move figures over a bit to make the composition work even better. I might even cut out a shape of one of the figures in paper of approximately the right colour or tone, then move it around the picture and consider where it would best be placed in order to give harmony to the whole.

Good artists understand these rules and regs. They are conscious of what’s going on in their drawings and how they are keeping the eye of the viewer engaged, seemingly effortlessly.

My last comment on this picture has nothing to do with composition. It has to do with subject.

I like this picture because it caught people doing what they like to do, not posed, not stiff. They are enjoying themselves. It’s idyllic.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

If some of this seems esoteric to you and it’s the first time you’ve visited the site, then go back through some of my recent posts. I’ve been writing about composition.

Happy painting!