Posts Tagged ‘composition in art’

Maple Ridge Art Gallery – Steve Amsden

May 15, 2010

Above Cerise Lake, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas

There is a great municipal art gallery in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. It seems to have a mandate that allows for community participation as well as allowing for some excellent shows from afar.

Recently there has been a superb pottery show coming from the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby where there is a wood fired kiln called an “ombu”. My next door neighbour came home with two trophies from this exhibition  and if you are curious about it,  you can look it up on

Her two pieces are quiet and superbly crafted with that understated quality I so admire. They sat for a while on her coffee table and then they migrated to the mantle piece where they are now comfortably at home.

While I love pottery,  I like it to be practical, and I’m not likely to purchase a piece if it isn’t.  On the other hand, if I like a painting, I have a terrible time resisting, even though the number count of paintings I store in the basement seems to increase day by day as I  a) paint more paintings and b) continue to purchase.

On Saturday, I had some out of town visitors who, in the past, were serious art collectors; but retirement from the workforce inevitably follows these acquisitory habits,   and the downsizing syndrome kicks in. They now live in a single wide, very long trailer as a means of economizing. They’ve passed on the bulk of their paintings to their children and now live with only a few chosen remainders of their once grand collection. But that doesn’t stop one from looking, does it?

After a few chores at Ikea and Lee Valley (where I bought a point driver gun for framing), we had a very short time to react if we wanted to see the Stephen Amsden exhibition at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery on Dewdney Trunk Road at Civic Centre Road.

I drove at breakneck speed along the Mary Hill Bypass to get there within five minutes of closing time.  While I was getting the parking stub for the vehicle, Leo and his wife went upstairs to get into the gallery. It was too late.

But Leo has had a lifetime of business practice and he knows how to persuade people to his purposes. With his charming foreign accent and his enthusiasm, he convinced the gallery attendant that they would be sorely disappointed if they did not get to see this show. First, it had been highly recommended by a friend (me) and second, they were out-of-towners, so they would not be able to come back. With a very dignified kind of wheedle, they got permission to go in, even though he had arrived just at closing time, and by the time I got there, the gallery was closed to me, but I could see them inside.

I knocked on the plate glass window. Luckily it was the new curator staying late and she and I get along just fine. I was able to join them.

I had intention of purchasing one of the paintings, but I have so many. What to do?

Pitt Lake and Golden Ears,Steve Amsden, acrylic 24×30 ( my favorite)

I looked again at the show and found my favourite painting – an acrylic in blues both ultramarine and manganese and the forest green of the hills. In this one, the mountains are dipping into the sea. There is a highly patterned, horizontally-oriented foreground of water, and a mountain of highly textured trees and then a very flat summers-day blue sky with two plumes of cloud emanating from behind it.

It’s not unusual in composition, but it is unusual in texture.

By chance this evening I was looking through the Heffel Gallery upcoming auction catalogue and found several Lawren Harris paintings which are quite similar in style to Amsdens. Amsden’s love of Harris show through in emulation of both the stylized mountains and colour preferences.

Amsden also draws his sources from the Pointillists (Georges Seurat), the Group of Seven, and more recently he has been influenced by the Australian Aborigines, following a vacation in  Australia. He combines these in a very personal mix.

Golden Ears White, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas 30×40 inches

An avid hiker and mountain climber, Amsden has travelled to obscure places in British Columbia to find places to hike and camp. He sketches on site, but he refers to his photographs while painting in the studio. This tends to result in a more studied, more premeditated look than that achieved by the overly-vaunted plein air school.

This is a strong exhibition. While he follows about three different styles throughout, it very easy to tell these are Amsden paintings. There is a consistency of colour and a constancy in the imagery.

Jutting landform, Stephen Amsden, acrylic on canvas

I first met Steve Amsden when I was teaching up in New Denver, B.C. , a place with a single school, kindergarten to grade 12 with about 100 pupils per year. I knew no-one in the area, and he and his wife were quick to invite me to dinner to meet other teachers of the staff.  His wife was teaching elementary school and a colleague of hers brought along another painter, Patrick Yesh, who has been quite successful in his career.

As a result of this meeting, Steve and Patrick took me to meet Les Weisbrich, a well established illustrator, commercial artist and fine artist who had immigrated to New Denver with his family from Los Angeles. Consequently, Patrick, I and another teacher began to meet weekly with Les Weisbrich  for lessons in watercolour.  It was a surprise to me, then , when I moved to this area to find Amsden and his wife had moved to Maple Ridge to teach and had been established in the area for a long time.

Manning Park Meadow, Steve Amsden acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30

He loves the high peaks, but is equally comfortable describing beaches and woodland places. His stylization of trees is quite unusual.

Manning Park, Steve Amsden, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30

Speaking again of the stylized trees,  Amsden has explored a new vein of imagery akin to the Plains Indians.

Lone Hemlock, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas, 24×30

It’s quite a departure from the highly charged pointillist technique and the colours are radically different as well. Here, the tree reads more like “tree spirit” than “tree”. While the exploration into new territory and the coloration are remarkable, I am not fond of the paintings in this vein. I find that the acrylic does not adapt itself to flat surfaces well, and this is critical when the imagery requires flat surfaces.

Raft Cove, Stephen Amsden, acrylic on canvas

The achievement of a successful painting depends on getting everything right at the same time – composition, rhythm. texture, surface qualities tonal balance, etc.  In Raft Cove, Amsden has set up compelling,  sweeping rhythms of sand and driftwood that contrast with the incoming white caps following a quite a contrasting rhythm. This is one of those paintings where texture and pattern cross over and intermingle inextricably with each other.

Near Lawn Point, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas

Just at the front door of the gallery,  Raft Cove sits with another small painting, Near Lawn Point. I ended up purchasing this one. I found the stone beach delightful in texture with care taken on each rock – with many variations in colour and size of the pebbles on the beach. The incoming tide has the sunny disposition of a summer day and follows through on the textural theme.

Sunlit trees, Stephen Amsden, acrylic on canvas.

We had arrived late, kept the gracious curator at her desk a good half hour before we left.  It was time to go.

In parting, I took one last look back at the whole collection of Amsden’s mountains, sea and forest paintings.  There is a breath of fresh air in the room. One can get lost in the scenery and yet there is personality ringing out of each work.  They have a curious quality. They are easy to read – which is often not a compliment – but in this case there is so much technical and stylistic mix and such good variation in colour and form that each painting deserves a closer look.

If you are in the area, the Maple Ridge Art Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday,  and the show is on until May 29th. There are several write-ups of his exhibit, so I recommend Googling his name if you want to know more.


A lesson in leaves

October 29, 2009

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I spent the afternoon out looking at leaves. Well, really, I was raking the magnolia’s gamboge dress that that she left strewn all over the floor. She’s going to be mighty cold without clothes on this winter.

The cedar trees that dried out severely during our summer drought went dancing to the Aolian harp this week along with the dogwood and the hazlenut tree. It shook a might layer of dried “needles” out from underneath its boughs. It made a beautiful burnt sienna carpet on the ground; but unfortunately it has a growth inhibitor that prevents other things growing and if the debris is left, it seeps into the soil and kills all the other struggling plant forms.

So I was sweeping up and containing all that stuff into green garbage bags to go to the yard waste dump and all the while I was looking, looking, looking. Those cedar bits are so-o-o-o-o beautiful – really graceful forms; and the magnolia leaves were turning from their pure yellow of only a few days ago. Burnt sienna was seeping out from the veins. Grey dots were forming. Some had been underneath the others for a while and had turned solidly brown or, the ones I pulled out from under the cedar hedge, were black. These black ones must have survived a winter and a summer, hidden rather deeply under the hedge. All these colours in all the variety was a real pleasure to look at.

When I came in, I spent some time sorting photographs. With digital cameras, we aren’t so discreet about what we take. After all, we don’t have to print them all, so we, or should I own up here and say “I”,  take several where I might only have taken two in the past.I have thousands of photos now and my computer is clogging up with them all. I need to get some off the computer.

I came across this lesson I gave to one of my students recently about positive and negative shapes. So I”m going to do one of my little ten minute lectures here on elementary positive-negative shape considerations.  It is inextricably linked to concepts of composition.

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This page is a series of thumbnail sketches for illustration purposes.

See the little rectangle in black with the white P in the center. The white is the positive shape, a circle. Everything that is left is deemed the negative shape.  It’s a rather boring composition, really. If you’ve read my other blogs on composition, you will know that this gives a single figure in a rectangle which makes it difficult for the eye to go anywhere else in the picture and so it becomes tedious to look at the one spot and the viewer will quickly tire of looking at the work.

In the next thumbnail just above it, there is a shape that represents a head and shoulders plus background. This is a small improvement over the first example. At least the black figure touches the outer edge and so the eye can easily work from left to right, right around the figure and out the picture on the other side. It begs the question: will the viewer take the time to stay and look at any detail in the picture, or has the artists simply given the viewer permission to quickly enter stage left and exit hurriedly on stage right with out much attention in between. The negative space in this image is the white background.

The bigger sketch of the figure with shoulders drawn down to the bottom line, with a space between the arms and the outer edges, a familiar portrait style,  just illustrates that by doing so there is still only one negative (background) shape. One can vary the shoulder tilt or add a hat with an angle to avoid a too-symmetrical effect.

Many portrait artists through the ages have used this simple bust-plus-head model of composition.  If you have ever gone through the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, you will know what I mean. After a short while going through the portraits, you stop looking and speed up your tour through, looking for something a little more engaging (and of course, there is,) in other galleries of the museum.

In  the thumbnail with two figures, it illustrates that you can use a shadow of the original shape to make the background more interesting. It’s been a while since I did these notations, so I had to think about it a bit. It’s not obvious that it represents a figure and a shadow. So I would add, if you put in two figures and ensure that they are at different heights or wearing different colours, or vary the composition in some other way, you can make your positive-negative balance more interesting.

Talk about forgetfulness, I’m reminded of Robert Browning, the 19th Century  poet,  who was asked what something meant in one of his poems.

He replied, “At one time, only God and I knew. Now only God knows.”

I’m trying to figure out the remaining thumbnail sketch. It looks somewhat like a dog.  But with a V neck.  I know what P stands for in this lesson, but what does S stand for? Why would a dog be wearing a V-neck pullover? And is that a necklace, the wavy stuff? With this inability to explain myself, I ought to stop right here! But being verbose me, I have a few more relevant things to say and one more picture to show.

Fragments - Leaf 2 small

I asked my student to draw a branch being particular to notice the direction that the leaf grew off of it and noticing the spaces between the leaves as an integral part of the composition. When she was done, I took a few pictures of the drawing to show how cropping a drawing can improve the overall disposition of objects in a composition.

As an aside, note the overlapping leaves. It’s one of the principal ways to indicate perspective. It may sound obvious to those of you have been painting for a long time, but people struggling with representation often need to have this pointed out.

As an outcome of this lesson, I thought that my new student did a great job of finding a good composition and a variety of negative shapes.

Now back up to the top drawing, the one that opened up this blog.  I quickly sketched these three leaves and enclosed them with a line denoting the picture plane.  The leaves do not touch the edges.  The point is, though, that there is an implied entry to the drawing via the left hand side and an implied exit on the right hand side (after some looking about the various shapes and spaces). If you get an image close to the edge, it acts as if it is touching the edge. A pointy shape will work better than a round one in making the eye take a synaptic leap across the vacant space.

In this drawing I also illustrated how shading can accomplish some of the interest in the “negative” shapes and can heighten the positive shape by doing so. I liked this drawing well enough that I think I may paint it, but in colour!

Line and a new painting

October 22, 2009

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In August, I took on a new student. She has an adventurous spirit and her goal was to work abstractly. Before we got there, we had to have a common understanding of the elements we were working with so I embarked on survey of various things – composition, line, positive and negative shapes, texture and pattern, etc.

She was eager to start painting and we’ve chosen acrylics because painting can be engaged in without the problem of paint fumes off-gassing in a small apartment where she will continue on her work at home.

She was eager to leap in, both feet first, so I decided on an exercise that would combine several things together. We would start with a line drawing being sensitive to capturing the shapes and mindful of carrying the eye about the picture plane with the three principal objects.

Notice how she has weighted her line so that where there is a dark edge which might indicate a shadow behind it, she has a thick line, but where the transition in the flower from light to shade is delicate, she has used a fine line that trails away (see the veining on the flower and where the petal curls under on the lower lily).

On the painted version, she no longer was working in charcoal but with a brush. You can achieve these same gradations of line sensitivity with the paint brush; but it’s good to know that if you get a line too thick, you can adjust this when you get around to working on the “coloring or painting in” of both the petal and the background.

Then she would block in the painting giving a ground colour to work on so that no unintended blaring white bits showed through in the later stages of the painting. We chose yellow ochre as the ground colour.

So here is the first stage of the painting with ochre ground and the figurative work sketched in with brush and a dark colour.

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Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures in the next stages, but I couldn’t resist sharing her lovely drawing with you. It’s supple and appears freely drawn although I know this took some concentrated looking to be able to produce.

One’s eye travels around the composition easily with the placement of the three flowers in a triangular composition. The addition of a few leaves or changing background colours in the final stages will assist with bringing the entire picture plane into the visual flow.

She’s done quite a bit of work on it now so I will get another photo of it for the record and add it in when I can/

Drawing Month in Vancouver

July 26, 2009

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Bruce Pashak, Dionysus in India I, oil and graphite on canvas

I had to be in Vancouver on Tuesday so I invited Mrs. Stepford to come with me as company for the long ride. I had a couple of chores to do.

I had to pick up some photos at the Big Box department store in Coquitlam and, in Vancouver,  mats to frame my entry to the Painting on the Edge exhibition.

Let me do a plug for my favourite framers. They are great people and reasonably priced – Final Touch Frames on Fourth at Quebec Street. While I was there, I looked through the pre-cut mats in search of a bargain and true to form, always I found a few 8-ply acid free ones to take home. I love matting things up in 8 ply.

We had the rest of the day to explore the galleries, a rare treat in itself. This month ,  it was Drawing Month – a celebration of drawing in lieu of paintings – in several of the best commercial galleries in Vancouver. Even the Burnaby Art Gallery had a focus on drawings with an exhibition of B.C. Binning. He was a founding professor of the School of Architecture at UBC. For a biography, B.C. Binning is in Wikipedia and there is a separate site through Google for images, though few are drawings on it.

I’ve seen this latter exhibition three times now, it is so good. It’s just drawings, but such good ones. I took Elizabeth to see that exhibition today and she came away with a new understanding of the excitement of drawings. Binning’s are so direct, curiously incorrect (anatomically, realistically incorrect), but so spot on that they are a delight to inspect.

On Tuesday, though, we had a list of about six galleries to go to.  We started with the Elliott Louis Gallery especially since Mrs. Stepford had studied with Bruce Pashak who figured largely in the  exhibition. I had seen his studio with her at the Parker Street Studios in the Downtown East Side both before and during the Vancouver East Cultural Crawl. I was just as excited as she about seeing his work in a gallery setting.

The Elliott Louis Gallery has moved recently and now can be found a block  east of Main Street below Great Northern Way in a warehouse district. Both the Elliott Louis and the Catriona Jeffries Galleries are here, side by side, with exciting contemporary work.

Bruce Pashak’s drawings are full of things to look at. First of all, he has a stunning sense of draftsmanship. In the largest of his works, a diptych, there were two panels about six feet by four feet. The entire canvas area is prepped with gesso and paint and then Pashak draws in graphite on top of this preparation.

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Bruce Pashak, Equivocal Litanies, Oil on Canvas 64 x 96 inches

In the centre is a female figure, lithe and beautifully formed wearing a diaphanous garment.  At her buttocks is an apparatus that appears to be a bustle, from afar, but on close inspection is a complicated image which I tool to be a bird-wing’s skeletal structure morphing as it descended the picture plane into a network of roads like on a map. Is this bird’s wing an implication of angelic status?

A bird hovers before the woman’s breast, beak perilously close to the nipple, creating a tension, conveying an uncomfortable physical sensation to the viewer of how that might  feel if the two actually made contact.

A third of either end of the two panels is collaged in a rather Rauchenbergian abstract composition incorporating  dribbles of coloured paint, letters and paper cut-outs.  On the right hand panel just left of this abstract statement  are several animals drawn in graphite,  stacked one on top of each other  in a totem pole fashion – rabbits, fish,  salamander, snake, a duck and new born puppies. Each is so fitted together so that it appears to be copulating with the one above.

It’s a bizarre but beautiful collection of images making the viewer somewhat voyeuristic at the latent sexual tension in it and at the same time, there is a tremendous peacefulness in it as if the woman and the bird have been frozen in time forever for our close inspection of natural and youthful beauty.

The piece is full of dichotomies. In the technical execution of the work,  the loose, expressionistic outer edges of the panel opposes the tight realism of the animal totem, the bird and the figure. In the subject matter, the realism of the central images compete with the random-seeming, loose and non-representational ones on the far edges . But the integration of drawing techniques and painting techniques marry seamlessly. The Drawing/painting reads well as an image from afar and provides intricacies and fine detail to be enjoyed when close up.

Pashak’s figure images appear to be drawn from  Greco-Roman or Renaissance imagery. He executes them in graphite directly on the canvas. In other drawing/paintings in this exhibition, the faces seem to be constructed in a grisaille technique with fine layering of a light grey glaze built up to produce a refined, anatomically-accurate image. It looks almost like a pale black and white photograph, but is finely hand crafted.

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Bruce Pashak Dionysus in India II Oil on Canvas, 16 x 12 inches

Several of Pashak’s images were included in this exhibition. Themes run through them, with turbaned heads, skeletal structures, historical referencing and his attention to human anatomy.

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Andrew Tong, Ring-a-ring-a-Rosie,  Pencil on illustration board, 8 x 7 inches

Andrew Tong showed small illustrative drawings that depict nursery rhymes – Ring-a-Ring-a- Rosie, Little Miss Muffet, Humpty Dumpty, and Mary Mary. These are not sweet children’s illustrations. There is a twist of horror just under the surface. In Mary Mary, the figure is gently holding  a fly in her hands as if it were an offering. Her head and torso are correct, but after a minute of inspection, you see that the legs coming out of her skirt are spider’s legs. Humpty Dumpty has a flying fish hovering above his head. In one image there is a broken and dismembered doll tucked discretely at the bottom for a person to discover after they have ingested the primary image in the drawing. In another, there is a hand crawling out of a large sea-snail’s shell. One of the figures is wearing a gas mask.

Tong’s drawings are uniquely drawn in graphite on paper. They are crisply detailed and clean, like exquisite miniatures and reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch.

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Scott Plumbe, Farm House, pencil on paper, 8 x 10 inches

Scott Plumbe also is drawing minutiae in small perfectly executed graphite drawings. In an eight by ten inch drawing called Farm House,  he has depicted an interior with bushel and woven baskets stored on shelving. The weaving on each basket is described in the finest of detail, as is the wood grain on the end wall.  They are simply amazing, technically, in their hyper-realism but so complete  that there is little dreaming or thinking to be done after first view.

I much enjoyed Carolyn Stockbridge’s series of Blue Cloud drawings. There is a series of about six images on 26 x 20 paper, each containing a blue cloud. Beneath the cloud is a garden.  In one, there is a shower, complete with a bathroom shower head streaming water into the ground, nourishing the plants, and continuing directly down under the ground to become roots. In another there is a rock garden, not in the traditional sense, but with a quirky sense of humour, Stockbridge piles pebbles one on top of the other like plant stems and like Inushuk, the Inuit standing stones. A garden tool, an edger, connects the blue cloud to the soil, acting as a tree trunk so that the cloud is both cloud and tree. There’s a lot of delightful cleverness and visual punning in these drawings.

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Carolyn Stockbridge, Blue Cloud and rock garden, mixed media, 26 x 20

Her work is inventive with a keenly personal iconography as is Nancy Boyd’s. It’s supported by excellent drawing skills,  so that where precision is required, both artists  are able to meet this challenge, but where they chose to use loosely described or abstracted marks, there is an equal measure of liberty in the mark making.

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Nancy Boyd Against the cold #9, mixed media on drawing paper,  38 x 25

Nancy Boyd’s series is called Against the Cold. A plant with long sword shaped leaves is wrapped at its base in a blanket to protect the roots from the cold. The drapery of the cloth wrap is described tonally in soft graphite only and then the  plant is line drawn in graphite and coloured with light green watercolour washes. Four of a series of ten drawings are on display,  each approximately 26 x 20 inches.

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Nancy Boyd, After Muybridge: Animals in motion, graphite on paper, 21 x 37

Another of Boyd’s  series, After Muybridge: Animals in motion spins off the work of Eadweard Muybridge, an early photographer fascinated by motion. Muybridge was challenged to prove whether or not a horse ever undertook unsupported motion during his gallop. Muybridge devised a method of making simultaneous photographs as the horse ran, there by providing the first proof that the horse actually did lift all four limbs off the ground as part of its running motion.

In Boyd’s work, she uses two stuffed toys connected by a string and pulls one up while the other one descends. She records five positions as the toy elephant and the toy rabbit rotate through this rotational process. The toys have personality. In the first and second positions, the elephant seems to be helping the rabbit down. In the third the rabbit seems to be helping heft the elephant up and in the fourth the rabbit seems to be worrying about whether or not the elephant will make it. In the fifth, the elephant is now up and rabbit seems to be exhausted from the endeavour.

In After Muybridge No 2, Gibbon turning While Pinned a toy gibbon turns, again in a series of five images.  The drawing is impeccable. The shadows add to the strength of the composition. There is no hesitation in her work. It’s beautiful.

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Teresa Sapergia, Untitled (Deer), graphite on paper, 58×32 inches

Teresa Sapergia draws large. Her magnificent unframed works are of animals, with graphite as the medium.She explains herself thus: ” I am interested in that fleshy body that lifts, falls, hovers and searches for its own likeness, a figuration that wants to find similarity within an image made of marks and dust.   The transient form that is at once animal, magical, fantastical and ordinary.

A reminder of Durer’s famous rabbit, Sapergia’s  rabbit drawing is the only one of her six drawings in the exhibition that is static.  Her drawing, Hawk and Owl, faces one raptor against the other in flight, caught in an angry tension of fight. She is adventurous in her use of her medium, as much drawing with it as with the eraser that takes away what she has already drawn. It gives a lively, dynamic feel, echoing the dynamic spirit of the animals she chooses to portray.

The deer drawing is unusual with only the leaping deer appearing. There is no context to help the viewer “place” the animal. I rather like this elliptical approach where the view is asked to participate in the imagery. What has frightened the deer? The drawing, again full of tension, demands that the viewer contemplate where the feet will land and will the deer find purchase on the ground for the next adrenaline filled leap, because this animal is in flight for it’s life.

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Teresa Sapergia, Three Wolves, detail, graphite on paper, 58 x 96 inches

In Three wolves. again there is no context, no extraneous background; and the drawing is filled with aggressive tension. The mark making is literally pounded onto the surface, then some removed again with eraser to create a dynamic, bristling fur texture. The viewer is face to face with three nasty, hungry wolves at eye level.  Eat or be eaten!

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Derek Dunlop, Palm I, mixed media on paper,  30 x 22

Derek Dunlop draws in a post-modernist elliptical manner, as if traced around an object. He is drawing with subjectivity, borrowing his images from various media including television news and reality programs.  His drawing is the antithesis of Scott Plumbe’s. There is no particularity. In fact, most of the imagery is difficult to read and his artist statement does not seem to be compatible with the imagery.

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Jeremiah Birnbaum, The Irony of Protection II, charcoal on  canvas 24 x 24 inches

Jeremiah Birnbaum also has an artist statement that does little to explain his imagery.  Only in his comparison to passport photos does the statement link to the work. Four large drawings, each with one frontally pose face, drawn on gessoed canvas stare back at the viewer in a lifeless expression. Tonally, the images have a very limited mid-range and compositionally, I found them unengaging.

Lastly, Mandy Boursicot exhibits several drawings in a French Ninteenth Century Academic style of the studio masters’ anatomy lessons. There is no question. Boursicot knows how to draw. She draws with precision and accuracy but for me, idea is missing.  In her artist statement, she speaks of the importance of shadow and things to come.  I see beautifully crafted figures in a Century old style. I think Boursicot has much to offer, but it is, as she says, in things to come.

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Mandy Boursicot,  Valentina seated, graphite on paper, 17 x 10.5 inches

This is an exhibition not to be missed.  It represents several methods of drawing, running the gamut from abstract to hyper-realism and passing by the illustrative, which, by the way, I have no trouble including in Fine Art when it meets the quality evident in this show.  It is on for the most of August.  Try to find time to go there. And if you are a buyer of art, you may just find something within the means of your pocket book. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have one of these in your own home to marvel at?

To see all the artist’s work available at the Elliott Louis Gallery, you can link to:

Painting from Memory 2

July 20, 2009

I went walking early again today. Same place, on the Alouette Dikes. Nothing has changed. The temperature is steady around 25 degrees for an hour and then it heats up. When it does, I refuge myself indoors.

I took another good look at the bridge. It’s a tough composition because the bridge is such a driving horizontal force without a break that it tends to drive the eye right out of the picture. It’s only the surrounding shubbery that could save it.

The other memory describes where the dike pathway  is midway in the image. I see the image as four quadrants, with a centre much like a pin wheel. One is the blue sky with small (distant) cedars on the bottom of it. Beside it is a tall, round shaped tree that does not have a very visible trunk, so it really looks round. The third is the shadow from this tree cast over the ochre coloured grasses.  The fourth is a sunny sweep of grasses down into the hollow, the level of the fields. But now, when I try to draw the pinwheel, I can’t fit these elements in as I saw them. My logic gets in the way. It’s couldn’t have been like that.

As I was walking, I was looking for this spot that I had so carefully memorized. Today I couldn’t find it. Was I dreaming?

Here’s the painting

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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.

Grafitti Hitachi – mixing greys

March 25, 2009


Grafitti Hitachi – Acrylic on canvas 16 x 20 inches. K. Krimmel

Welcome to my fourth image in the Construction series. I must say that the creation of this brainchild was a difficult birth.

I already complained about my frustration with acrylics, so won’t continue on whining about that. I’ll just mention that  working with grey colours is both a delight and a frustration for an artist. Anyone who can handle them well has his colour mixing down pat.

The problem with greys is that the are so influenced by the colours next to them. If you put a neutral grey beside blue, it will take on an orange cast. Conversely if you put a neutral grey beside an orange, the grey will take on a blue colour.  They pick up the opposite tinge from the colour wheel.

You really need to test the grey beside the neighbouring colour in order to understand what still needs to be added  so that the colour will “sit right” beside it. “Read properly?” I’m not sure how to describe that. You might test it to see what I mean.

In this painting, I like how the orange machinery draws you into the picture plane, right across the whole thing and then dips down almost to the bottom with a bit of a curve inwards so that you can start looking at the rest of the picture.  I am quite happy about what happened with the grey wall, the shotcrete (a concrete product that is sprayed on to a wall that has been excavated for construction) and with the various bits of mechanical shovel and rebar. I also like the contrasted formality of the machinery and the randomness of the grafitti on the wall behind that frames the Hitachi machine.

Stay posted for some variations on a theme.

The Hardware show

March 8, 2009


An exciting show opened at The Fort Gallery  in Fort Langley, B.C. this evening. I’ve been waiting for this one since it touches one of my favourite subjects – hardware.

The Fort Gallery is run as an artist’s collective and this one is rather exciting. Every show I’ve seen there is good and some are simply outstanding. Each member of the collective gets to have a solo show once a year. A few times a year, there are group shows and tonight’s was one of those.

Each artist was asked to buy $40 dollars or less in a a hardware store and then create something to go on the walls for this show. There are mostly painters in this group, so it took each one of them out of his or her comfort zone not only in subject matter, but in tools and materials as well.

Beside each creation was a little slot where the hardware bill, proof of purchase, was tucked.

The images that follow will show you just how creative this group is. There is a wide variety of material choice and an equally broad result in stylistic form, as the photos that follow will attest:

In the bas relief picture up above, called “Joe the Butcher often had dreams of owning his own hardware store“, Diane Durand uses nuts of varying size and depth  set into plaster to create a pig.  This image has a strong textural quality established by the nuts  and the roughly trowelled plaster-like substance in which they are set. It’s not clear what the object represents above the pig, but it doesn’t matter; it’s what brings the composition into balance. I get a good laugh out of the piglet’s tail.


A fish out of water – JudyNygren

Still in a representational vein, Judy Nygren created this clever fish out of washers, screws, assorted fence screws, framing nails, colour paint swatches, pine board, fishing wire and wire. There is good craft in the assemblage of this bas-relief sculpture, a good use of colour and an imaginative way of metamorphosing hardware bits for scales and eyes. It’s not a humorous piece, per se, but I found myself laughing at the colour chips for scales and the completely successful use of materials to give an eerily tactile result.


Bag of light -Suzanne Northcott

Moving away from the strictly representational, Suzanne Northcott has assembled a lamp-like object with a welding wire, a bulb and paper bags cut into strips. It’s reminiscent of her nest series she did a few years ago both in paint and in large drawings.

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Nest – Doris Hutton Auxier

Continuing along  more abstractly, Doris Hutton Auxier has created nest from strips of automatic nail gun nails. She sets up an unnerving contrast of the the hard pointed steel to represent the normally soft downy interior of a nest. One has to wonder how long those four large “eggs” will last with those spikes for a bed.

Claire Moore created an Untitled flying figure of a woman that jutted out of the wall. It’s made of delicate soldering wire and was impossible to photograph well. A second one by Moore was entitled “It’s hard to find comfort when you are a prickly person” (you can just barely see the first delicate figure on the right-hand side of the photo below.


It’s hard to find comfort when you are a prickly person – Claire Moore

This mobile sculpture is about eight feet tall, suspended from the ceiling and strung into position with wires like a puppet. It’s made from Zap straps, foam insulation and hemp string. Several guests at the opening remarked that this was the best in show, but I had such a hard time deciding: there were so many excellent pieces.


Breach – Maggie Woycenko

Decidedly more abstract and reminiscent of the ‘Sixties is Maggie Woycenko‘s Breach made from linoleum tiles, screwhole plugs, shower curtain rings, paint and shoe polish.  I love this one. The surface has been rubbed with shoe polish to give it a rich surface texture. The composition is simple yet the screw-hole plugs bring interest to it, and at the centre, each central corner of the four tiles is raised up about two inches to expose a silver-coloured object that keeps the tiles up and open.


Home Sweet Home – Kate Bradford

You may remember Kate Bradford from an earlier post. She did small exquisite metal sculptures. Home Sweet Home is much more complicated by comparison. Here she uses Plaster of Paris, copper pipe, roofing screws, cedar shims, two mouse traps, electrical wire, steel brackets, twine, spray paint and bronze paint.

In a similar vein, Maggie Woycenko’s What is True vies with Bradford’s sculpture for the highest number of materials used. It’s made with photo album, plumb bob, saw blade, metal strapping, metal plates, chain, nails, locks, wire, paint and shoe polish. The lighting, I might add, brings extra shadows to the imagery which I find delightful.


What is true – Maggie Woycenko

Woycenko’s What is true is constructed around a photo album with additions of a plumb bob, saw blade, metal strapping, metal plates, chain, nails, locks, wire, paint and shoe polish. The shadows created by the gallery lighting echo the shape of the object emphasizing its three-dimensionality.


Remnants of the Post  Handyman Era- Scott Gordon

Using plaster, plywood, wooden dowel and hardware, Scott Gordon assembled this bas relief sculpture. The title is mysterious. Is this what was left over from constructing a fence?

The composition is meditatively balanced; the dowels set high in the frame leave room for shadows to become part of the imagery play; and the dark to light ratio is good.


Displaced – Betty Spackman

It took twelve paint rags, five cans of paint, fifty clothes pegs and thread to fabricate this wall hanging and a lot of creative imagination.  In a theme and variation tour de force, Spackman uses two principle images – the clothes peg and a house – massing them in patterns or alone, operating the images as stencils on one hand and as a print stamp on the other. She switches the shapes from positives to negatives. The colours, variations on a khaki green ochre, the unbleached cotton white  and sepia, blend easily into the overall effect, not overtaking the details of the forms.


Good Idea  – Susan Falk

On a plywood cut-out shape of torso and head painted black, three energy efficient light bulbs glow like the curly  stuffing of exposed brain. Electrical wire and electrical caps provide the connection to the fixtures. It lights up with a brilliant idea.  The concept of this piece is great although I would have liked to see  a bit more attention made to  finishing.


Alice in Wonderland I, II and III – Terry Nurmi

These three intimate and thoughtful works  convey Nurmi’s  personal sense of colour, a subtle understanding of spatial relationships between objects with meditative results. These are pieces that can be comfortably lived with for a long time.

A few pieces were difficult to photograph to their advantage because they were in poor lighting situations for photography on an opening night. There was This and That, a Alexander Calder-like mobile in the front bay window of the gallery  by Judy Jones made of  green and red rope, copper wire, a light switch, reflector rods, nuts and bolts.  A lamp labeled, Life’s inside was made of doweling, lamp components and fishing wire. In Dennis Venema’s In my mind’s eye, a tripod holds a ABS plastic construct that looks like an old-fashioned camera complete with a black-out cloth, enhance with wax paper, rubber bands, and aluminim sheeting.

With twinkle lights and copper wire, Cathy Miller created a spiraling tube chandelier, calling it Copper wire gone haywire.

Lastly, Joanne Sheen made a large sketch book with pages of brown Kraft wrapping paper.  This too was difficult to photograph, especially since there were numerous images throughout.  Several had rubbings of metal objects – screws, washers and other hardware gizmos. Some incorporated sandpaper in collage with a charcoal or graphite  image. Each page  varied strongly from the preceding, evidencing an active imagination and a strong design sense.


Book – Joanne Sheen

A show like this is an inspiration to all artists. It’s a call to step outside our comfortable range and to really create – not just repeat past successes. It’s a reminder how fertile our imaginations really are. When corporations are seeking out new ideas, or even how to get their employees to think in a forward-minded way, they need to consult artists. Artists know how to make leaps in thought, to think sideways, not only to think outside of the box, but to leap out of that constraining box altogether. It is from this creative soup that new ideas come – some as brilliant and culture-quaking as Thomas Edison’s light bulb.

So if you are in the area, Fort Langley, B.C.,  and you like to be dazzled by excellent imagery, the Hardware Show runs at the Fort Gallery at 9048 Glover Street until the end of March, 2009.  It’s even worth an excursion from Vancouver to get out to see it!

Recent painting

February 18, 2009


As I shift from oil painting to acrylics because I no longer tolerate the solvents well,  and because I can use the acrylics without smelling up my house, I find I’m back in that learning curve trying to become familiar with a new medium.

I struggled with three paintings in the Construction Series and then abandonned that for the time being to work on some small paintings that would allow me to familiarize myself with the medium a bit better. I have a number of blank canvases in the 8 x 10 inch format that are just waiting for their white nakedness to be covered with colour. I’m struggling with this, but making slow progress.

I’m also battling that syndrome where I want things to look like what they are  – a desire to paint representationally – when I also desire to bring some feeling and emotion into the images. Or perhaps I don’t really know what I want, and I’m groping for a new way of doing things – something that fits the medium and fits my need to explore the imagery rather than photgraphically and slavishly reproduce it.

On my first one, I was just trying to mix colours that would work with the image that I had.  On the second one, I was looking to find basic shapes and more the rhythm of the piece, but I slipped into old habits and by the time I was finished, it looked like an identical twin to the first. Only a mother could see the differences.

Here then are two paintings of the gate to Westacres in snow.  I’m working from a photograph, since this is just an exercise for me.

In the second one, I actually got to a lovely stage of abstraction, but as I picked at the painting with my brush, I lost all that lovely hazy groundwork that I liked, in itself.  For the third painting which I haven’t quite finished, I got back to that abstraction stage and have not spoiled it with further definition…..yet.




On this last image, I would like to get a fourth tone in  to represent the hills and I may tackle that tomorrow.

What I like about this last version is the simplification of forms, the ghostliness of it, as if viewed through fog; but I miss the feeling of snow in this one, as if the tree is in bloom rather than covered in frost and snow.

Partly that is due to the underpainting of yellow ochre. I’ve used that ochre underpainting in all three canvases. In the first two, it gives a warm glow coming up from underneath the other colours.  It also serves another purpose. There is nothing more annoying than when little flecks of canvas white show where a colour has gone on in a dry brush manner. I always start with a ground colour in oil or acrylic painting.

If  you do this in watercolour, a transparent medium,  you must do it in a much more controlled manner because the medium depends on the white of the paper to bring highlights to the imagery and if they are gone, you can’t get them back.

This is not so with an opaque medium where you build up layers on top of the underpainting. If you don’t like something you have painted, you can simply put another layer of paint over it and Poof! it is gone.

When I get stuck on a painting like this, I go back to the source and ask myself these questions. “What was it that attracted you to this image?”
“What are you trying to convey?” “What is it about this image that makes it important enough for you to spend your time trying to capture that image in paint.”

So what was my answer to these?
I liked the composition, the curve of the driveway in, so the rhythm of the forms was important. I liked the contrast of the brilliant blue sky against the white of the frost covered tree branches. I liked the contrast of the cold branches and the warmth the sunshine brought to it.

In the first two, besides contrasting the blue with the white frost, I’m trying to convey the featheriness of the branches, the way the sky pops through the interstices of the branches.

In the third, I was looking for basic shapes that emphasized the frosty canopy of branches and the shapes that establish the curve of the  road while maintaining a balanced composition.

In the second, I was hoping to simplify the shapes but that didn’t happen. IN the second, I was also going to  try out glazing using an acrylic medium, but that didn’t work. I found that the colours mixed with the medium became so thin that they didn’t operate like they can do in oils, hence the reversion to method number one and the resulting twin image.

I also find that the colours dry so quickly that they wont draw into a recently laid down colour, so that mixing right on the canvas is not easy.  These are all things to be worked out. I haven’t tried a retardant, but I have some. That will have to be for another day.

It’s late amigos, I’m going to turn in.

Two new paintings

February 5, 2009


Garden rock, acrylic on canvas 8 x 10 (copyright)

A new box of canvases arrived today – twenty more sixteen by twenty inch ones. I have a plan. Now I have to go to it.

I’m working in acrylics because I can work in an enclosed space without special ventilation to drive off solvents. I need to get familiar with acrylics before I will be able to make them do what I want them to.

Yesterday, I found about six 8 x 10 canvases in the basement that are pristinely white. I decide to do some landscapes with them, just to get familiar with mixing colours, finding out how miscible the paint is and how it draws along with the brush.

This is the rock in Mrs. Stepford’s garden – a single rock sitting in the front yard and graced with a little azalea shrub that will flower in the spring. A sumac grows right beside the rock. It almost looks as if it is coming right out of the rock. In summer when I took a picture of it, the flowers had already dropped and the sunlight coming from the West streamed through the lower branches of the cedar hedge to crown this little plant with glorious light.

I’m trying to work freely, to be painterly, not to fuss with details.  Et, Voila! This is yesterday and today’s offering in acrylic.

I’ve also been working on a watercolour in the  series where I stop and try to identify how I feel.  It’s harder going because it’s not “realistic” so the colours could be anything, really. I have to make them up – and make them work. If I get a colour on that doesn’t work, then either I have to find a way to fix it or abandon the painting.

This one which I call Shark threatens dove,  is in watercolour because the series of paintings I’ve done so far with this theme have all been in this medium. If ever I show them in an exhibition, I will want them to be able to hang together comfortably, so I continue on in the same vein.

As for method – I started with a fairly detailed drawing, then I made one wash for the background, one for the flesh tones, and one for the garment at the lower part of the paintingm, making sure to let each wash dry thoroughly.. These are all light in saturation because it’s easier to paint over them if the colours or the density is not right.

Once the last general wash has dried and there is no risk of one colour bleeding into another and making odd shaped blooms where the two coloursmeet, I coloured in the fish and the dove, then the eye colour.

Here are some of the stages where I’ve stopped to take photos of the progress I’ve not got good light for taking photos, so once again, please excuse the colour quality. These were the best I could get:

shark-threatens-dove-stage-1 shark-threatens-dove-stage-3 shark-threatens-dove-stage-4

Next I fill in detail and pattern.

I strengthened the background colour to make the face come forward. I patterned the garment for a contrast to the broad flat shapes. I didn’t like the blue I chose for the bird and the shark, so in the final, I painted another colour over it and it worked better for me.

It’s meant to be an uncomfortable image. Otto has been causing me grief (verbally) and I don’t want to talk to him. When I do, I get upset – perhaps he does too – I feel constricted in the throat, I feel that my eyes are big but they are quite vacant.  My eyebrows feel aggressive, but please don’t ask me to explain how that is possible.

I feel immensely better if I am able to paint my feelings out into some kind of representative imagery. I can laugh at myself rather than get all ingrown and horrible feeling.

When I began this image, I began it as a pencil crayon drawing with just the minimum of lines sketched on. It’s way more dynamic than what I did a final painting. I’ve started another one to see if I can go back to that freedom of movement, but I don’t feel happy with the results for the moment. I’ll post the second one later if I can succeed in pulling it all together.

As I was painting, I spent long times between applying paint to the paper, considering  whether the colour was strong enough, whether there was a balance, whether I liked the colours I had chosen, whether there was sufficient pattern and if not, what else might I put on. All of that consideration takes time – so this painting has been a week in the making, although the actual painting process could have been done in a day.

I consider that this method of painting where a fine line drawing denotes where everything should go, is akin to a colouring book. Once the drawing is on the paper, it’s just a matter of filling in the shapes with paint. In general, I try to keep with the original drawing and stay within the lines.

With this painting, I ended up finding the cerulean blue a bit to blatant when compared with the rest of the painting, so I ended up covering it up with a different colour wash. I’m much happier with it now (but it’s not perfect).

As a last minute touch, I felt the background needed to be slightly darker and applied a blending wash. While the added colour was effective, unfortunately this paper (Strathmore) was not quite as sturdy as the Arches I usually use, and I ended up with some pooling and those blooms that I try so hard to avoid.

I’m not a purist. When I got that blooming bloom, I had two choices – scrap the painting entirely or correct it somehow. Unable to add more wash without increasing the problem, I chose to use a bit of chalk pastel and a bit of pattern within that section to cover over the problem area. It worked!

Here’s the final version.


Just to assure all you faithful fans out there, I’m a happy person these days. The upset in my life that triggered this image is transitory. I expect this will all blow over in a month. Until then, if it helps, I’ll just amuse myself with these quirky images …

and continue along with the acrylics with a more mundane theme.