Archive for the ‘sketch’ Category

A game plan and some heart work

October 28, 2009

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I have been grouching about my painter’s block – my inability to get going on something free and meaningful (to me at least).

Yesterday I began with two drawings in chalk pastel on good paper. The advantage is that not much is lost if it doesn’t work out – the materials are expensive alright, but relatively, a way less than the commitment of materials in oil or watercolour.

Yesterday I accomplished these two drawings. The game plan? Use up some bits and pieces of chalks that were too small to use for a big project, and; work as freely as possible to obtain fresh original mark making.
I have a continuing theme of hearts in my art work. I’ve done them when I have been out of sorts and when I am elated. Each one is intended to convey some state of emotional spirit.

Of course, I don’t do this without other aesthetic considerations operating in the background. I’m sensitive to finding colours that go together and finding movement in the work that will engage a viewer who is interested in the drawing process.

The first that I produced is up above and the second is here:

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By the time I had finished the drawing yesterday, I felt the work was without substance. The colours went together alright, but they were a bit saccharine and the image too explicit. In the morning when I looked at it again, I thought it was still too pretty, too sweet, and the drawing lacked any depth of colour or tone. It wasn’t worth keeping, as is, so I thought I would just continue on – writing Far too calm, Far too pretty on it. That was my critical feeling about it, so it was fair game to continue on with some text over the insufficient image.

My internal jury is still out on this piece.

Then I went about cleaning up my little tray of  chalk pastels. It must have been sitting in the sun during the summer. Two cough candies had melted in one section and the whole thing needed cleaning out.  I set aside the pieces of chalk that were viable for a bigger project and took the ends and crumbles to work with.

I started on a different kind of paper. The first was Ingres paper and the second was a bit of Canson’s Mi-teint.  On the half sheet, I took some larger crumbs of red and put them under my thumb, moving them around freely, not trying to obtain a shape. I did this with about three different hues.

Just by the rotational movement there were some marks that could be pulled into heart shape, but I didn’t want to impose that shape. It defeats the purpose of working freely and seeing what comes. Along the way, I was unsatisfied with the lack of tonal contrast and I wanted to cover over any obvious shapes, so I chose a light tone – a pink – to draw wider, more gestural strokes. The result helped give tonal contrast and an added benefit that the marks resulted in a figure-like form that appears to be dancing. Had I tried to draw a dancing figure, it would have been stilted and awkward.  This figure carries a feeling of joy with it and the freedom of the marks gives the drawing a lot of movement.

So for all that verbiage, here’s the image:

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On the full size sheet, I started by the same process, using crumbs under my thumb.  It was a large format and demanded more attention to where the marks were going.  I’m afraid this one came out too sweetly too. It’s lacking some rigor, but I thought it good enough to leave as is until I can decide whether or not to add or subtract or cover over.  Unlike the green one which was pallid at this stage, this one has some stand-alone quality. I’m not ready to do anything to it yet.

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I think I’m not fully happy with it because I’m repeating myself with mark making that I’ve done many times before and the hope of this exercise was to get me out of rut. I distrust work that is too facile.

Then I cleaned out the tray, washed it up and saved the powders and crumbs, whatever colours they were, for another drawing. It turned out to serve me well for three drawings, actually. They are very similar.  I like the mark making in this one. I used all five fingers of both hands to move the crumbs around.

There are parts that are crisp and sharp, others that are smooth and blended. Whatever was left over from the first image was placed onto the next sheet of paper and I recommenced. And so, the same for the third piece.

They aren’t strong enough in themselves but there is a lovely fresh quality to these three; and although I did nothing to control the colours I would get, there are some interesting colour passages. I’m only sorry that I didn’t take the time to go downstairs but instead grabbed the closest paper at hand, some Pacan paper which is like cartidge paper and is not strong, nor it  likely to be acid free. I could find no information on this paper on the Internet.  It’s a great paper for student work and for rough drawings.

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heart 12 small

So that’s it. That’s the fruits of my experimenting. I like this last one the best. Now will I be able to reproduce a feeling like this of freedom in another drawing, what ever the subject may be. I must try it with different colours. The pinks are still just a bit too sweet.

Drawing by the banks of the Alouette

August 12, 2009

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For forty days and forty nights, we had no rain and then, the night before last, we had rain in abundance. Such abundance! The earth needed it so badly, and all the plants.

It rained all day yesterday and into the night, resting from time to time, giving me those little windows of opportunity to take the compost out to the composting bin and to run the recycling out to the sidewalk for morning pick up. It was a day of chores.

During the night, it must have pelted down with a great deal of force. All the flowers were bent to the ground. The Phlox are entirely ruined. The Buddleia, the butterfly bush, with its long stems and thick purple torches were also bent to the ground, sodden with water. The white Hydrangea – same thing.The Fireweed, too, was making obeisance to the earth.

Mid morning the sun came out and by late afternoon, the stems of the Buddleia (named after the Reverend Buddle) were slowly returning to their graceful arches.  The Phlox was upright, but all the petals were gone; the Fireweed forgot to come back up – I’ll simply have to cut them down. They won’t recover.

At ten this morning, Irene, my new art student came. The weather was too variable to have her drawing outside. Thick black clouds were still in the sky, but moving east. If we had painted outside, there was a good risk that one of these ogres treading clumsily across the sky would dump a bucket of water on their way, so I set up the easel for her in the sun porch.

Later in the afternoon, when I was finally alone and lunch made and over, I decided to go down for a walk, my sketch book tucked into my pocket. Now the clouds were white, like giant sails, still moving majestically across the sky in Armada formation; but the patches of blue between them were considerably greater and there was no longer a risk of getting drenched.

I did more drawing than I did walking today as I recover from a wee knee sprain. Today was the first day in about six since I’ve been able to contemplate a longish walk, because of it. I went slowly, absorbing the wonderful smell that wet earth releases when the sun re-emerges. At the mid-way bench, I sat and drew these clouds and the dark shadows that they cast on the mountains below. The mountains were dwarfed by them!

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The shadows explain so much about the shape of the mountains, their curves, their dips, their rises.  You don’t see the forms half so well when the sun is shining full tilt.

When I finished that one, I went as far as the first bench where I could see the whole of the Neaves Road Bridge and I stopped to draw it.

Neaves Road bridge

On the way back, I saw that lovely thistle that I took photos of a week ago. It’s gone to seed, and what a beautiful seed it is.

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Sketching on site

July 24, 2009

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Swatch encouraged me to paint on location. It’s too much equipment for me to carry when the prime purpose of my walk is to walk briskly to get my cardio exercise.

It was an overcast day today, the temperature was in the mid-twenties. I thought I would have no need for a camera and instead I could take  a pocket sketchbook about the size a small Moleskine along with me today. My drawing implement was a Pilot H-Tecpoint V5 Extra fine permanent ink pen – much like the old Staedler technical pens. I stopped a few times along the way, trying to get the rhythm of the place I did a memory drawing of (see last post). I stopped at the chicken feeding spot, too.

Here’s what I sketched. Maybe I’ll colour them in tomorrow.

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The sun came out late in my walk and I regretted not having the camera with me. One of the farms looked so beautiful in the late afternoon sun. The roof took on a reddish colour, more like old rose and it sat there with this soft colour contrasting so beautifully with the freshly mown hay surrounding it. They hay will be picked up tomorrow, I think.

I also saw a family of five in a canoe, each wearing an orange life jacket; and the boat was cadmium red, light. It just looked so beautiful and so peaceful, moving up river, this bright vibrant red and orange, gliding low-down between the narrow gap of the river, the water looking green and the tall river grasses too, but lighter. Yellower.  It would have made a beautiful painting.

And here’s a thought for the day quoted out of the book I’m reading (which I don’t recommend, so far) called Restoration by Rose Tremain. (Penguin Books, 1989).  A foppish, useless rich young man is taking painting lessons. His painting teacher tells him,

“… a picture must be composed so that no part of it is “dead”, so that wherever the eye wanders, there is interest, whether it is in the detail o the hilt of a sword or a minutely rendered rowing boat on a distant Arcadian shore. ”

The young painter goes on to say, “We furthermore approached the question of distance and perspective: how hills, for instance, which are further away will seem paler and less well defined than those which are near, and how the sitter’s nearness and vigour will be emphasised if he or she inhabits a pool of light.”

Just a tidbit to think about.  Certainly good advice for traditional paintings. The rules have changed so much in modern day painting and drawing, that the foregoing would only be one of several comcepts on composing images today.


April 20, 2009

Recently, my friend Elizabeth asked me to give her Art lessons.

“What do you hope to accomplish?” I asked her.

“I don’t know anything. I just want to be able to draw,” she said.

“But you already know how to draw,” I replied a little perplexed.

Elizabeth is a talented writer of children’s books. She had produced one complete with illustrations and brought it to our writers’ group for comment. She had a good bit of innate talent to start with. She wasn’t starting from scratch.

“Okay, ” I suggested. “Why don’t we start with drawing. It’s the base to everything in art. If you never get to be a star artist, you at least will learn to see things very differently and you can improve your drawing skills a lot. I think you will be a good learner – a quick study.”

We began with a two hour lesson and then reduced it to one hour. In fact, Elizabeth picked things up quite quickly. The first thing, as a teacher, that I have to do is to break the fear of the students of making “mistakes”. Too often people have been discouraged in their attempts to draw by some other categorical critic who says “that’s not what a rabbit looks like” but when they produce their version of the rabbit, if you ask me, that’s not what it’s like either.

Every time we try to represent an object or figure or landscape, all we ever get is an interpretation, a representation, no matter how “realistically” we can draw or paint. Even in the school of photographic realism or the animalier “hair of the dog” school of painting where every bristle is painted to exact length, it’s represented on a two dimensional plane, the paper or the canvas. That’s not realistic! It’s an impression. It’s a translation of how we see something. Some are more believable than others.

Elizabeth has gotten over the first few lessons quite admirably. She understood the underlying principles of composition and now is able to point them out in magazine advertising and in photo journalistic displays. Soon she will be adapting her own work to these principles. I had Elizabeth draw an object from memory. It’s a good task and lots of fun as long as one realizes that the resulting drawing is going to look like a child’s attempt at putting information to paper.

Following right on, I had her then take the object she was drawing – a cork screw – and let her look at it very carefully. We noted the places where memory had glossed over details. We looked at how the image would be very different if we looked at it from one side or the other, or what it would look like from top down, or from bottom up. We agreed that those were not typical views, so in order to have someone else agree upon the nature of the object being drawn, it was helpful to know which was the most typical view.

After she had done a second try at the memory task, accompanied by a bit of anxiety and much laughter at the results, I had her draw the object, focusing on observation of the various details. It was amazing how much progress she had made in observation. A light bulb had turned on in her mind. Observation was about to become a new game for her. As far as representational art goes, observation is a key to creating believable imagery.

Our last lesson was about shape and line drawing. Using a graphite pencil, I had her develop some hand-eye coordination by asking her to do a blind drawing. Blind drawings are those where you let your pencil act as if it were your eye, tracing very slowly down the edges of the item you are drawing, making marks out to the right side of you at the easel, and your eyes never leaving the object as you inspect where the edges of it travel.

Here is the blind drawing: w-758-small2

And the hand-eye coordination drawing with more intense observation:


We have a tendency to say “Wow, what an improvement!” but I delight in both kinds of drawing. The first one is exuberant. It has all the essentials – the hook with which a cool beer or bottle of pop can be opened. It has the spiral indicating the screw portion of the device and it has the circle that fits over the wine bottle top. It has the point that goes into the cork. It’s sufficiently complete to represent the object. It’s sufficiently sparse in detail to make the viewer question what it is and then come to a conclusion as to it’s identity.

It’s a lively drawing. It holds both information and mystery which, like a well dressed woman, is really more interesting than one who displays and tells all.

The second one is more sedate. Despite my imposed rule of not rubbing anything out, some erasures have been made. This object is far more instantaneously recognizable, but it’s lost its exuberance. All the parts are carefully observed, some more hastily than others. For our purposes it turned out very well.

In the progress of our learning, this drawing was transformed into another so that we didn’t waste time in getting on to the next subject, Shape. I asked Elizabeth to fill in all the parts on her drawing that were made of metal. That was easy. It was all metal. I gave her a fat yellow felt pen to do it with and that was a quick way to accomplish the task. The yellow shape is essentially the Positive Shape. Positive Shape is frequently discussed in Art. It’s often the subject of one’s painting, the principle image or the secondary image. If you carefully cut this shape out of a coloured piece of paper with an Exacto knife paying great attention to detail, what is left will be the Negative shape.


I wanted Betty to be very clear about Positive and Negative shape and how it affects the composition of an overall image. I drew a rectangualr shape around her cork screw drawing leaving no space between the extremities of the object and the sides of the box. I then asked her to identify each of the negative shapes produced by enclosing the object with the rectangular shape, and then to draw them to one side of her image.


She used charcoal to fill it in. It contrasts well with the yellow and dramatically illustrates the effect of background to foreground.I asked her what effect she felt the black shape had on her image.

“It unbalances it – a whole lot!”.

Yes, that’s exactly what it did. Each time she filled in another of the negative shapes, and we got about seven of them, we stopped to see what effect the infill made to the weight and composition of the painting. Now, you will say, those negative shapes were still there, even if it was just the paper colour. That’s true. But if one uses the negative shapes in balance with the positive shapes, then compositional effect is achieved (becomes balanced or unbalanced).

In fact, every mark one makes on the paper, whether positive or negative in shape, alters the drawing. It’s why the drawing process can be quite meditative as we consider what the effect of a change is and whether or not it meets our purpose or vision in doing the drawing.

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When Elizabeth was all done with her drawing and all the negative shapes were identified and filled in, we looked at it compositionally. There’s an entry on the left hand side for the viewer to easily approach the drawing, there are a number of different negative shapes, each different, the drawing is off centre which assists in a pleasing viewpoint – symetrical would be less interesting. Mission accomplished.

I then found this image amongst my photos which shows how positive and negative shapes can sometime confound themselves in a very pleasing way. Which is positive and which is negative? It keeps the eye inquiringly engaged in the imagery, which is a good thing.


Well, there you have it! I sent Elizabeth home with some work to do.

When all you are exploring is the effect of positive shape in relation to negative shape, there is no need to redraw everything. I asked her to draw a smaller version of her object one more time, then to divide her page into about eight rectangles. Using carbon paper with this one drawing, reproduce the same drawing in each of the eight compartments. Cut them up so that each is a separate image. Using felt pens or something that is easy to fill in quickly, chose two colours for each of these eight images and see how different colours affect the balance of the relationship of the positive shapes and the negative shapes.

For the fun of it, I’ve done these thumbnails (small drawings used principally to test out ideas and work out composition or colour) using Adobe Photo and the the paint bucket infill.

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The edges of the line drawing need to be entirely enclosed to work this way. By the end of my manipulations, the drawing was beginning to disintegrate. That in itself added some interesting textures to the image – but texture is for a different lesson.

Freshness – a new painting

March 23, 2009


The question is, how do you translate a sketch into a painting and retain the dynamic quality of freshness?

I’ve been working on 8 x 10 canvas panels, trying to get some freedom back into my work. I find the acrylics quite daunting because they dry so fast (yes, I know there are retardants and mediums that might help).

I started out with this  little 3 x 5 inch sketch (above) thinking that it was simple enough in composition and even in colour mixing for me to play around with. It’s a field note  with this bit of direction on it:
All grey with one thin grass green (line) high in pic plane.

The sketch is moody and the mark making is lively. For being quite dark, it has quite a bit of light in it. You can feel the sudden rain just coming or conversely, just gone by.

The sketch has some variety in the greys – the sap green colour has bled into some of the grey in the water. A warm dove grey has been underpainted in the top third, and the second grey, an overlay, is a moody mix of burnt umber and French ultramarine blue. The drawing has been made with a Pilot Hi-Techpoint V5 Extra fine pen.

Now here is the in-studio acrylic I’ve done using the sketch for information.


One of my problems is that I’m used to working with thin paints in oils. When you apply oils, they remain a little bit like butter and you can mix them together on the painting surface. In this acrylic painting, I brushed on a background over the whole surface but the colours did not meld as well, nor did I have much time to adjust the colours through working with them on the canvas. I”m not sure that it’s possible with acrylics. Before I stopped on this first go-around, I painted in the sap green stripe of grass on the river’s edge.

On the second stage, I painted in the trees and their reflections and ensured that they were dried before I put on the next layer. I find that it’s hard to get fine lines with this paint. If it’s too thin, it doesn’t carry enough paint to cover, and if it is thicker, one can’t obtain fine lines.

On the third go-around, I mixed a goodly proportion of  medium to the grey and used it like a glaze or a watercolour wash, directly over the trees, in the upper right of the sky and in the mid section of the water. I found this mixture applied streakily and I spent quite a bit of time managing where the streaks were unwanted.

Now I’m contemplating. The acrylic version seems so much more staid. I agree with Mrs. Stepford next door that I need to use thicker paint. I’m wondering if another layer of the grey wash/glaze will help the trees blend into the sky and river.

So there it is. Comments anyone? Suggestions?

And by the way, when I take photographs of these small works on canvas, I seem to get unwanted patterns from the canvas texture which my photograph shows on screen. Scanning the picture makes it even worse.

Have any of my readers come up against this problem? If so, have you found a way of correcting or avoiding it?

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.

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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:

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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.

Creative soup

October 20, 2008

I finally have my art station set up on the main floor. This time, I have mostly watercolour palettes spread out on it and a table easel that allows me to work standing, with a slight slant for the paper. The slant helps me get even washes. The size of it, though, only allows me to work on small sized blocks. If I want to work big, on a full size sheet, I’d have to clear the easel away because it’s not big enough to support a full sheet.

After an evening cup of tea together and a shared task of rolling pennies into fifty cent bundles for the bank, I left Mrs. Stepford , my parting words, as I went out her door and home to mine was – “I’m going to paint tonight.”

I’ve been struggling with getting back into a routine with my painting after a long, far too long, hiatus as first I cared for my aging and dying mom. Then, after she passed away, I was occupied with looking after the Estate. Somehow, with two moves, all the sorting, packing and unpacking of things, the legal obligations that dogged me, I didn’t see two years pass by. I can hardly believe it. But that’s mostly past now.

I spent July sorting out the basement, trying to find where my art supplies were so that I could put my hand on what I wanted when I wanted it; sorted out storage for the framed work and for the empty frames. Now it’s time to get back into holding the brush or whatever I’m working with,  and making it work for me.

In the last seven years, I’ve just done too much of painting pretty pictures. Now I want to reach into the creative soup and bring out things from my own source of inspiration. I want to marry the feelings and their intent into images that speak not only to me but to my viewer.

I realized tonight that I was carrying a lot of resentment for the time I have been away from my vocation of painting. I realized that I was irritated beyond my ability to contain it and decided to see what that looked like on paper.

It’s a bit like brainstorming exercise where one lets just any thought come out and it’s not edited at all in the beginning run. I am drawing on something that I learned from Susan Ruebsaat from whom I took a series of art workshops a few years back. Her teachings helped me to change direction, to start searching my subconscious for imagery, by letting it ooze out of the creative soup that lives within us.

Susan Ruebsaat is an Art Therapist. I found her workshops very informative about the ideas of Carl Jung. Her methods of helping us understand how to reach the subconscious and use it to understand ourselves brought me out of my lethargic pattern of using photographs to paint imagery albeit pretty but rather….

Well, let me explain it this way.  When I am painting an image of, say, a bouquet and trying to make it look like the bouquet I’m looking at; that is, when I am trying to reproduce an image as I see it before me; that is, when I’m attempting my best at a photographic representation of that bouquet, I essentially am testing my hand to eye coordination. I’m testing my ability to mix colours and I’m testing my skill in working with the medium. But, I’m not creating. I’m essentially copying.

What’s here that I see is    What’s here on my painted page.

Given little time, which is exactly the position I’ve been in for the past seven years, I’ve been happy to have at least this much connection to the arts. But my brain had been taken over by obligations and full time work. There was no creativity going on, and if perchance, there was a glimmer that occurred from time to time, the best I could do was note it in a sketch book or the margin of an office paper, or write it on a napkin for later. I certainly didn’t have time to explore, or comment or experiment with the idea.

Given lots of time, that process is relatively boring to me. It doesn’t say anything more than “This is pretty.”

Given lots of time, I prefer to experiment. I might start with a recognizable image, but then I want to play with it. I want to see if it can be expressed another way. I want to see if I can shift the colours and still make it understandable. I want to see if I just play with the composition of it in different ways, if I come up with something more interesting. I want to play with the shapes. In short I want to unleash the dogs of artdom and play with them in a glorious romp through the vast green pastures of creativity.

First leaf                                                                 Second leaf

Two nights ago, I painted a leaf. I was  doing process number one, trying to represent the interesting leave with paint on paper. Last night, I tackled the same leaf, now slightly drier and curled up, with a looser brush, a more liquid paint and a damper paper. It turned out…. something, (I hesitate to describe it in words) but it felt loose and unsatisfactory to me – essentially boring.

Tonight when I looked for good paper to work on, I found I had already started a painting on my watercolour block and so I started that with a background wash and then when it dried sufficiently, the second steps of it – blocking in the shadows and then some detail.  Still, this was just like dealing with a colouring book. Once the colours were mixed, it was just filling in between the lines on a ready made drawing.

I decided to go back to a fanciful, whimsical style of painting and got out another  block of watercolour paper. I placed a light, warm coloured wash on the background and then when it was dry, drew an ink line drawing on top of it. It’s a goofy figure with numbers flying out of his head. I read the expression in a book recently and had been pondering how funny that really was. The expression was “Don’t quote me on numbers. I can remember names, but the numbers just keep flying out of my head.” I tried to visualize that.

I started to draw in pen, just like a child, not worrying if my lines met up, not worrying if my numbers looked like properly designed numbers, not worrying if the head I had drawn looked like Uncle Jimbo or not. I just drew, and the creative force and the pen and my brain made up something as I went along. I made creative decisions about where to add pattern and how big to make the numbers in nano seconds as the pen was working, as if by its own accord, although I knew it was me pushing that pen and my subconscious finally being stirred up.

Well, it’s not a perfect drawing and I will add some colour and decoration before I will find it satisfactory, but “Oh! the thrill of it!” It was so much fun.

And then, while I was all fired up and having fun, all I could find on short notice waiting for the numberless guy to dry, and before I would be able  tostart adding some colour to it,  were some kids’ metallic coloured wax crayons.

I decided to tackle how I felt about the last two days events while I waited for my goofy character to dry.

There is a dispute in the family over a legal matter and I just hate conflict. My anger from it has been seething underneath, has boiled close to the surface a couple of times, but mostly I’ve been trying to put the whole thing in perspective.

I drew a circular image of a head and put two popping big eyes in it to represent how my eyes feel from thinking about the problem. Then there are two feet-like things attached to the bottom of this. The character that was developing looked a bit unstable, as if  it could roll away if pushed from one side or the other. I had a dark green chalk stick that I used to colour it in and a charcoal black that I used to grey the large eyes. I used the metallic blue to give irises to the eyes, and filled in the background with both blue and green metallic inks.

They weren’t very satisfactory for giving a solid -ish dark background for my little ghoulish figure but they served to darken around it. The only problem was that too much white still shone through. I used a vermillion red colour to go over this. The charcoal started to loosen and mix, just like another watercolour pigment. The new colour – black mixed with vermillion became a blood red. But the blue and green provided a resist and the red filled in between all the interstices. There was no white background left at all.

At the bottom of the figure, weighed down and sinking, is a small blue heart.

Now, Mr. Psychologist, I invite you to have a heyday with that!

Anyone looking at it might think I was depressed and needed help. But I wasn’t depressed at all. The meer act of letting out my anger and frustration over a current incident left me feeling elated. I had put my finger on what was bottled up in me, sitting under a very thin slick of calming oil, through the process. In that process I have created an image that no one else would ever create. It was truly personal; and I knew that I was back on the road to recovery. I’ll be doing some serious painting soon. Painting that has personal meaning. Painting that is deeply steeped in truly creative juices.

Digging into the creative soup and pulling out images is a sacred thing.
There is a feeling of elation when the hand, one’s material and the brain are working in tandem and the results are profound and from the heart.

I’ve done a good night’s work and I’m happy!

Maple Keys

October 19, 2008

Despite having a week to catch up on myself, it still feels like my house is filled with clutter. I have visitors coming on Sunday. I am very thankful for this because I know what it is like to not have visitors. Besides, it’s my reason for cleaning.

Since I retired almost two years ago – and yes, will someone please tell me where that time went – a major part of my life has been putting things away. I moved twice. I’m trying to downsize. Hah!

Yesterday was a rotten day, a low cloud, grey, depressing day. Wet. Rainy. Today the sun forgave us and came out in it’s autumn dress, casting orange over the trees.

Yesterday, I took Mrs. Stepford up to the hairdresser and we had time to look into the second hand furniture shop across the street. Then we parted ways – she to the hairdresser, I to the gym. When I saw her firmly ensconced in her hair dressing chair, the beautician clipping away at her curly hair, I went back to the car to drive away to the gym. R_R_R_R_R_R


On the third try, I shook my head, took the key out of the ignition and went back into the hair salon.

“The car’s not starting. It did this once before. I waited for half an hour and the next time it just started up.  I’ll walk to the bank and do a couple of things and then I’ll try it again in half an hour. I’m not going to go to the gym.” I said to Mrs. Stepford as the scissors snipped at at steady pace at the back of her neck.

“Where will I meet you, then?” she asked a bit anxiously. We have our routines. Stepping outside of routines is upsetting.

‘The car’s not going anywhere. I’ll meet you at the car. I’ll be back before you are done. If I can’t get it started I’ll have to call the towing company. I’m sure your hairdresser will let me use the phone….” The hairdresser paused for a half second, looked up at me and nodded.

Half an hour later, when I got back to the car, it started as if nothing were ever the matter. Blasted vehicles! They are supposed to be dependable. But this one was beginning to be finicky. I had no choice but to fix it. You couldn’t sell a car that was not working unless it was greatly discounted. I wasn’t brave enough to drive the car far away without knowing it would start back up again to come back home.

But now I had a dilemma. I couldn’t leave the car running and go get Mrs. Stepford too. So I stayed in the car, got out my book selection that I would have used as a companion to my mindless aerobic cycling at the gym. It was Gabrielle Roy’s short stories about her grandmother – a charming recollection of childhood.  Eventually I saw the hairdresser stick her head out the door and I got out and waved Mrs. Stepford towards me.

The whole day was beginning to be a bummer.  One. It was pouring with rain. It was grey and wet out. Two. The car was broken.Three. I hadn’t been to the gym.

I’d lolligagged around the house all day on Tuesday as my first day alone in the house since early July. Then I’d done it again on Wednesday, only going out to put the recycling and garbage by the sidewalk for collection at six a.m.  and then, much later,  to bring it back in when the rain abated. I had a cup of coffee, looked at my e-mail and then went back up to sleep. I didn’t get up until ten and then didn’t leave the house all day. On Thursday, I stayed in and worked in the studio trying to get it operational. I did a bit of laundry. I didn’t go out at all. Not one bit. I was beginning to feel the effects of sitting too long. Sitting at the computer. Sitting to paint. Sitting to have dinner. Sitting to watch TV. I hadn’t seen anyone in three days and by Friday, had needed this outing.

I was looking forward to exercise on Friday, but that did not happen. Instead, I came home to call the dealership service department to get an appointment to fix my car and to call my friend who was going to meet me at the Langley Bead Show on Saturday. I wouldn’t be able to go.

All that grumpy stuff to say that, today I wasn’t going to take the car out, so I took the bus instead. I had to go take my paintings to the 1 for 1 show, a pre-Christmas, yearly exhibition at the local municipal art gallery. The title means that you can buy one painting for one hundred dollars, All paintings had to be priced between one and two hundred to be eligible for the show.

I found a cardboard box and put in the three paintings that had been accepted. There was lots of room left so I found an old feather pillow and put it in too, to keep the paintings from rubbing against each other. Then I sealed the box with packing tape and used a little black folding trolley with bungie cords to secure the box to it. I was ready to go.

It being Saturday, I waited half an hour at the bus stop before the bus came. It only took five minutes from my house to Haney Place, and it stopped only a short block from the gallery. I left my paintings, signed the contract then left my box and “wheels” in the curator’s office while I went over to the gym.

I had to be back before the new assistant left in an hour, so I upped the ante on all the machines and did half as much, time wise. I had another deadline. I could go back home on the same ticket if I was within the prescribed time limit and I was aiming to take advantage of that. For two measley dollars, for one Canadian Toonie, I could go up to Haney Place and come back too!

So there I was, waiting for the bus to come. On Saturdays, the buses are only scheduled every half hour. I got to the bus loop early, I thought, to be sure to be able to reuse my ticket for the return. The sun was shining, for which I was very, very grateful. I couldn’t imagine dragging around the paintings in the wet and trying to balance an umbrella at the same time.

While I waited, I looked about and took a few photos of electrical wires.

I have this thing about electrical wires. I find they act as  very interesting compositional breaks on a cloudless sky.  Then I took out my sketch book and drew a lad who was hunched over, sitting on the brand new black-enameled benches that had been installed at the bus loop. As time drew nearer, I put those things away. It would be too difficult to manage my largish box on wheels, a loose camera, a carry all and a sketch book if the bus came. But the bus did not come. And just in case, I fished out two dollars and fifty cents in case the bus came too late for my ticket. I let it jangle in my otherwise empty coat pocket.

There were buses, surely, but not mine. “Meadowbrook.” the driver had said.  when I asked him what the return bus was called. Now, there was the  big 701 that came from Coquitlam. There were several smaller ones, for Ruskin, Albion and Whonnock, but no Meadowbrook. Time began to be long. Buses came that were marked, “Not in Service”. It was getting late. I’d waited forty minutes, standing with my cumbersome bundle.

Finally the C43 Meadowbrook came. I got in lugging my parcel, punched in my return ticket and it spit back out rejected. The driver looked at it, turned it over and sympathetically asked, “Are you a senior?”

I confessed I wasn’t. ‘Never mind, it’s only five minutes out. The buses don’t go so often on Saturdays” and he let me get on. The ticket went into a trash bin by his right hand.

I settled at the first seat behind the driver. I knew there was a stop just before Mrs. Stepford’s door, so I checked. Did this bus stop there?
“No,” said the bus driver. “The closest stop is at Laity Street.”

“Laity Street!”
“Well, is there a bus that does stop there?” I asked. “Laity Street is much too far for me to walk.”

“You need the C44 Meadowbrook,” he answered. ”

I sighed. I had been waiting for the wrong bus. I’d just missed it when I first came. I thought it was just the bus coming up and that there was different number going back. Moreover, there wasn’t a loading station for it. I got off the bus and started to look for the place it would stop. I’d been standing at the wrong bus bay. I never did find the little bus schedule on a standard for the C44 – those little grey  displays that look like modernized  Tibetan prayer wheels waiting to be spun as people pass.  I never did find a bus schedule or sign for my bus. I saw the bus coming and had to run after it, box and chariot bumbling and clattering behind me as I ran like the aging penguin that I am.

When I got home, I was glad to have a cup of tea and a biscuit. Then, for pleasure, I went out into the garden and trimmed branches for the Maple Ridge chipping program that comes and looks after tree yard waste once a year. It was relatively warm and sunny. I didn’t need a jacket. It was therapeutic after my bumbling afternoon, to cut masterfully into branches and stack them into the three by three by nine pile of branches that we are allowed to have chipped. I cut back the lower branches of the Magnolia. I kept the boxwood hedge at bay – it’s really aggressive  in it’s growth. I downsized the limbs of the Japanese Maple that Whistler had sawn off while he was here cutting them into regulation lengths.

I brought in a beautiful branch of maple with little red keys of an exquisite colour. I photographed some leaves with light pouring through them. I wrapped up the soaker hose and put it away for the winter.

Sunshine does wonders for a day. Especially an autumn day with the lengthening light in the late afternoon.

When I went in, there was a message from Mrs. Stepford and I phoned her back.

“Well,” she demanded, ” how was your first bus ride. Did everything go alright? It’s easy, isn’t it? It just takes five minutes either way.”

“Easy as pie,” I lied, brightly.

“What took you so long? I thought you were just going to go there, give in your paintings and come back.”

“Oh, I went to the gym. I had a chat with the curator. I took some time to get a good look at Christine Christie’s paintings that are up. You know….”  I trailed off.  I wasn’t going to let her know that I could barely manage a first bus trip on the easiest route in town.

“Why don’t you come for dinner? I’ve made my turkey soup now.”

And she did. She’s on her own for a few days while Mr. Stepford is away. And that was dinner, a fine end to a busy day – a glass of wine and turkey soup.

Drawing with paint

October 17, 2008

I found two leaves on the front steps in the past few days, full of autumn colours – Burnt Siena, Gamboge, Hookers Green, Sap Green and yellows.
I laid out my watercolour palettes and began to draw in paint. First, I defined the shape in a light yellow, then added greens and rusty browns in a loose wash. When the painting dried, I took up my paintbrush again and I brought in detail, added the fascinating green spots and veins, serrated the leaf edge, all the while keeping the colours fresh.
When I came back an hour later when the paint should have been dry, I saw that the two leaves were popping out of the white page and needed a background.
If I had used the colour of the front steps, the leaves would not have been visually understandable – it was the wrong colour. So I mixed a lovely grey from burnt sienna, magnesium blue and added some other colours that needed to be used up from my palette – in sufficient quantity to paint a large area.
On the first go round, with a large brush, the grey wash looked flat. It needed texture. I painted some wet indigo into the damp background.
Then I brought out the kitchen salt shaker and sprinkled into the wet wash.
It’s a fascinating process. The colours settle and separate. Unexpectedly, some reds became visible. The colour pools.
I believe that an artist must constantly challenge her/himself to paint directly from objects, to challenge one’s observation, to test one’s motor control and to work at mixing and choosing colours. It’s what keeps paintings fresh and lively.

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!