Archive for the ‘shadows’ Category

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.







Good morning

August 8, 2008

I woke up at six this morning to find the sun just ready to crest the distant mountains. By the time I got the camera, it flared over the top making this beautiful light:

and this:

Window treatments

August 3, 2008

Blind, curtain and coffee cup

With a little encouragement from Fencer, I’ve gone looking for some of my favorite art photos. Today’s offering is on window treatments (Suburbanlife’s bete noire , the name for curtains n those house fashion magazines).

I like them because they filter light and sometimes create great shadows or with sheers, offer layers of visual imagery that has to be guessed at. It can be clear on one level and obscure and tempting on another. (The verysame reason why I like Canadada’s superimposed photos). I inherited the window treatments in this house and I would never have chosen them myself because they are a bit more baroque than I would normally chose; but I’ve fallen in love with them. The photo above captures the opaque blind with the see-through fringe, the curtain with its two layers of see-through-ness – the mesh and then the embroidered leaf figures. the nature of the fabric when doubled (it’s hem), and then the shadow/light it casts on the window sill. I like the restraint in the colour, almost monochromatic, with the only touch of brighter colour being the peach on the cup’s decal.

Curtain and yellow flashlight:

Same window, same drape: Here I’ve left a large flashlight on the sill. I’m hesitant about all that yellow. It disturbs the austerity of the remainder of the coloring. Is it provocative or disturbing? (That’s an either or question; not both).

Here it is again, desaturated so the yellow is gone and sepia-ized. The photo is less jarring colourwise, but the meaning is harder to grasp. The object behind the semi-transparent curtain becomes less definable and so the meaning of the picture is lost as well. It leaves me doubtful, but the experimentation was worth the try.

Next, I’ve two curtains with light falling through them. It’s like being at the Optometrist. I look a this first one and then the second and ask “which is the better composition” . They are so similar but different. On the first there is a deep shadow on the left hand side. Does that imbalance the image? Does it make the image too vertically challenged without sufficiently strong horizontal action?

Neither one of these photos have been adjusted colour-wise nor cropped. I like the simplified and stylized plant forms embroidered on the curtain and then some very busy evergreen branch (fir or pine?) outside the window casting a precise shadow onto the semi-sheer fabric. The window mullion traversing horizontally is in better tonal balance than the first picture. I think the composition proportions are better too; but there are some nice subtleties in the tonal ranges of the first of these two images where the mullion shadow crosses horizontally. Does one have to choose? Can I have both?

And now for the last image:

As I was playing with the desaturation function in Adobe Photoshop, I was looking for a sepia-making function. I didn’t find it so I went exploring other things and found shadow highlight under Image , Adjustments. Look what it’s done to this picture! I like it. Especially, I like what happened with pushing the shadow function in photo 2 of this series:

Here’s the photo I started with. I used brightness contrast in the adjustments function to lighten up the photo, it being quite dark around the edges. It didn’t improve it sufficiently for my taste. It was too heavy and dark on top and that created an imbalance that wasn’t useful to the image.

When I found the shadow/highlight function, I produced this by pushing the Shadow scale up to 100 p[ercent:

The Money Plant arrangement at the top of the blind popped out of the gloom, making a leit motif of floral movement in that dark space. The dark space was no longer heavy and oppressive in the total image. It also introduced some light tan colour and some warmth into the image which makes it more hospitable, more friendly. So being the curious sort that I am, I wondered what would happen if I pushed the highlight function to 100 percent. I used version 2 for this experiment and here’s the answer for what happens:

It almost polarized the light in the lower portion. It made the picture warmer again and the spiraling figure, if you can call it that, from the wrought iron decoration in the middle of the venetian blind has become more like a shadow than an object. Curiouser and curiouser. I like it.

It’s getting late. I’ll have to experiment some more another day.

It’s fun. It’s grand. Thanks, Fencer, for the encouragement. I hope you enjoyed this.

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.

Snow and Adobe Photo

January 29, 2008


Here’s what I started with – a decent photo with great light and dark balance, and crisp focus. There is some good texture and a so-so composition. It’s somewhat banal, but I was attracted by the light-dark balance and I loved those rose hips holding up their weight in snow caps. With the sunlight, it’s a warm picture despite the snow. I hesitated to show you this photo because it’s not stellar but it provides context.

I also took this next photo, by focusing in, selecting a portion of the image above.


There are things that annoy me about this photo, so I chose it to modify through Adobe Photo, hoping to find the painterly qualities I was looking for when I took the painting. I did some adjustments with the Image (drop down menu to Adjustments, Colour Balance, Hue/Saturation, Desaturation and Brightness Contrast). I also explored the Filter drop down tools which are found at the top of the screen. In this section, you just have to try each offering to see if any will do things that you want them to do.

Here’s the same image desaturated:


And here’s one, much similar, where I’ve erased out the garage door and given it a solid background,aa-270a-paint-background-small.jpg

This next one I pushed the colour all the way into the blue range. You do it by going to Image, Adjustments, Colour Balance:aa-270a3-small.jpg

These next ones, I explored some of the Filter options – Graphic Pen, Notepaper and Sketch Charcoal:




and Sketch/Charcoal


My last one to share with you is this one in colour. After all that subdued colour, this one’s a blast! I got there through Image, Adjustments, Hue/Saturation and its the Saturation scale that I used to get to this colour extravaganza.


It doesn’t matter what tools or equipement you are using to produce images. For whatever your chosen media, you need to explore and familiarize yourself with them to understand what they bring to the equation of your art work.

Some would say that this computer manipulation of images is not art work, but each time you save something because you like it, you are making a visual decision. The mark of whether it is a good one or a neutral/banal one or a decidedly bad one is up to you and your critics.

The same goes for watercolours – your choice of brushes, paper whether smooth or rough, and brands of pigments will all make a difference to what you can produce. You need to explore them thoroughly to know what works best and most comfortably for you. Only once you are comfortable and at liberty with it will the images flow as if they were done by magic instead of a painstaking hand. I often come back to the image of the figure skater who seems to perform with the greatest of ease, but the apparent simplicity is backed up by a lifetime of practice and pushing the limits for excellence.

And so it goes for each media that we choose to express ourselves with.

With that, I’m going off to my materials to play. See you later!

Japanese butterfly

October 4, 2007


Japanese butterfly Chalk Pastel 50 x 65 cm

A positive spin on Kristin Krimmel’s work is that it very diverse, from realism right down to some goofy conceptual collages of banal household stuff sandwiched in plastic. It ranges through oils, watercolours, chalk pastels, collages and photography.

The down side is of her work is that it lacks “consistency” in the gallery definition of the word. That is, if you see one work of the artist, you should be able to recognize all of the work of that artist. It’s a principle near and dear to the hearts of gallery directors.

In my career,I was counselled by one of these directors that if they took on my work, I would have to continue producing in that vein of design on demand if I were to be taken on by the gallery. There would be no shift in style or subject if I wanted to remain in the “stable” of artists presented in the gallery.

I did not conclude an agreement to work with that gallery. I hold dear my liberty to paint what concerns me, what I think needs to be said in imagery, whether it is

  • This is beautiful and needs to be recorded (flowers, still life work, landscapes, sunlight blessing something with it’s presence)
  • This is something that often goes unnoticed (women’s work, construction, electrical and telephone wires dividing up the sky)
  • A commentary on or recording society and it’s foibles (the sandwiching of common household and office paraphernalia between archival plastic; freeze frame capturing human activity in one’s community)
  • A political commentary (cartoons)
  • An exploration of materials and some aspect of the abstract or non representational visual context that results in an abstract design.

If we, as artists, give up our right to express our feelings, our insights, our vision to a commercial demand for visual wallpaper, we become lackeys to commercial interests.

I balance that with: some of the work represented in commercial galleries is excellent work, has vision, meaning and integrity. But when an artist has spent his entire life reproducing the same imagery one of two things happens – it gets stale and meaningless, or the in-depth exploration of a single narrow vision blossoms into something richer.

It’s why I like Lucien Freud’s work. Or Edgar Degas.

What do you think, as an artist? Where are you going? What is the light that guides your path?

Everything has beauty

September 23, 2007

Everything has beauty.

Not everyone sees it.

How often we dismiss ordinary objects as ugly or unworthy of attention when really, there is inherent design form to them. Many objects around our homes are infused with design that has been well thought out, but by force of habit in seeing it, or in it’s lowly and ordinary use, encourages us to think no more about it.

How wonderful it is when a light source bathes that object in delicious light, casting shadows upon it or making it repeat itself in cast shadows. Then, if one has eyes to see it, it becomes something outside of its practical use; becomes a wonderful object.

Chiaroscura – the art of shadows

September 19, 2007


Cara Chiaro, dear light

Scuro, shadow and dark

like yin and yang

balancing delicately, boldly

challenging one

to define the other

Chiaroscura, that lovely word that lilts off one’s tongue, that sounds so esoteric, is simply a question of light an dark. Draw a light bulb on a white paper and if you think about it, it’s turned off. Draw a light bulb on a white paper and surround the bulb with the darkest value you can, then the bulb seems to have turned on, the light having been activated by the dark.

How delightful it is to see a bicycle leaning against a post in full sunlight casting it’s full shadow to the ground. Or a wire shopping cart. Or the sun pouring through semi-transparent curtains onto household furnishings, sometimes bearing the leaf pattern of the foliage on the outside of that window.


In representational pictures, it is not only the balance of light and dark that sets the composition that draws us from afar to explore it’s intricacies, it’s the life of the objects within it.

Light defined by dark, in turn is the definer of dark.