Blog - A Palette of Ideas - on being an artist
It's been a month of extraordinary heat and no rain, with over a week of smoke filled skies that looked like a tube of Golden's Titan Buff. Two days ago the heat broke, we began to see a faint hint of Prussian Blue to the sky and then the clouds showed up. I saw a star at night and the moon was a normal colour.
Painting was a way to pass the hours, but motivation at a humidex of over 30 degrees can be an elusive thing.
Yesterday the rain moved in at 10pm and we got a good overnight soaking. The first rain since July 21 when we had a few drops.
The best thing I could do for my studio in July, was to look around and see what could be thinned. I once took a workshop from a woman who said if she was blocked, she would tidy her surfaces and creativity followed. Some people need to have a lovely layered chaotic space where they know the whereabouts of each item in the layers of detritus and sediment, while I work better with spaces between the bits of visual chaos. Calm areas that make me feel productive.
In 2010 I came into possession of three large canvasses. A 24 x 36, a 30 x 40 and a 28 x 40. I used the 24 x 36 to paint "Pumpkin Time on Westham Island" (which can be seen in the gallery Sold and Archived Works). It went on to win a spot in a competition in our Guild, it won an Envision Credit Union Category Prize in a local art show, and went on to sell on the last day of the show.
The other two canvasses stayed in the studio waiting to receive the right image. Somehow clients never chose the size, canvasses that large have to be something that is live-able for more than just myself, and then there was the empty white canvas intimidation factor.
One day this past month I realized that they were taking up mental as well a physical space in my studio and one day I sent out an email to fellow artists I know who like to paint big, put a good price of 30% of the orig. pre tax value on the two as they had been no cost to me, and within an hour had four artists willing to take them off my hands. By supper time they were gone and I had the equivalent of two tubes of paint I would definitely use in my wallet!
Last week I was sorting through some knitting wool that was taking up a drawer in the corner of the studio while other items remained homeless and distracting on the floor. As I opened another drawer, I noticed a tray of coloured acrylic inks I was given once. At the time I thought they would be very inspirational. In over ten years they never made it out of the drawer! Sent out an email to fellow artists I know who I thought might find them useful and within an hour I had someone who works in illustration, and does the most beautiful detailed fine work with ink, reply. She was thrilled to the extent of 3 exclamation points in her query about whether they were still available. Within a day the inks were in her studio where they WILL be used.
The feeling of weight, relief and freedom I feel when this happens contributes directly to my enjoyment of a tidier studio where I will feel more productive. The enthusiasm of the other party is infectious. Things I won't even miss out the door, leaving room in head and heart for a more creative space. It's something i highly recommend.
Today I uploaded an 8" x 10" piece called "Violet Louise" which can be viewed in the Gallery - Sold and Archived works.
It's a piece done for a specific owner. Her mother owned the store over 40 yrs ago in an old heritage building that still stands in a neighbourhood of Vancouver, Canada. I took a reference photo of the building as it is today.
The challenge with this painting was that the building, unusually, is still the same on the exterior in an architectural sense, but the colours are not at all the way they were when I wanted to depict it! I asked the future owner's son, but although he tried to help via chat, no one in the family had any photos. My next step was to ask a friend who still visits the neighbourhood if he knew. I thought, being a history buff with a great memory, he might shed some light on the issue. He checked with a friend and sent back some educated guesses along with some paint chip sample ideas for heritage colours. Helpful but still not definitive.
I contacted the future owner on a pretext to "settle an argument" and she didn't twig to what I was doing! So she gave me a little info, but I couldn't pump her too obviously. Her info was general and didn't shed much light on it as I couldn't make a clear request or say why I was really asking.
She did give me one very helpful clue. She said the jeweler who was originally next door had a black and white photo of part of the building on their counter across the street in the new store. So I called the jeweler as the same family operates it today.
The original jeweler's daughter was very helpful, sent me a blurry scan of the photo in it's frame, and told me what she knew. She told me the store was in the middle of the three units, and there was black tile under the street level display windows. She settled the question of the trim and confirmed it was always black. She wasn't sure about the pebble dash stucco colour, but thought it was a dirty grey. This was nice to hear and narrowed things down, but made for a very accurate but boring painting full of grey.
So I used artistic license and decided that, in a nod to Violet, the building would be violet to contrast with the greys of the sidewalks and pavement and show off the black trim. Of course, the way to get the sky to pop was to put it in quinacidrone gold to exploit the complementary colour pop against the purple colour and symbolize the humble good fortune her family achieved in Canada after coming from Hong Kong.
I purchased a refillable ink pen and, filling it with high flow black ink, put in the black trim to get finer detail than my hand would permit by brush. In the end it was a case of detective work creating enough truth in the end result to make it believable to someone who knew, from long term memory, a good chunk of what it should have looked like. Getting the shapes and lines correct within the context was enough to allow me to take off into the symbolism of the owner's mother's name and the gold sky to indicate the life she was able to create for her children in Canada.
On the eve of the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation I have completed a commission for a landscape from Utah. The family is a cross border one, she a canadian and he an american with canadian citizenship. I don't know how they choose between the BC and the Utah scenery. They are both so tempting to paint!
In this latest piece, "Wasatch Sunset", it's about the sky and the clouds at sunset. I have always been incredibly inspired by clouds, and have found them to be a fascinating subject. The sky and the light, or lack of, in the clouds is often what draws me to consider taking a reference photo or stopping to marvel over something that later ends up as a painting. Clouds can be very useful to me in terms of composition, to draw and direct the eye. Sometimes the sky is subordinate when the rest of the composition dominates.
I find it worthwhile observing the sky when I am out in various seasons and weather conditions. I find successful skies often don't need to be laboured over. Some of my best results come from the loosest of brush strokes, with colours mixing right on the brush.
A big attraction of cloud formations is the subtlety and variety of the colours one sees. Creating complex colour sometimes involves painting an area of barely mixed colour several times, each time letting part of what was underneath show through. I think colour is better when not laid down as a premixed solid area. Although my goal is to move toward simplifying more and more as i grow as an artist, I need to ensure that areas of colour remain interesting and varied.
As a Girl Guide I learned a lot from my wartime pilot Dad when I asked him for help with my Weather badge. More than I anticipated actually. It became a full lecture, but the information was so interesting. I wish that in addition to studying the water cycle etc., that elementary school children could learn what the various cloud types can inform about the weather so that one wouldn't need a smart phone in order to decide whether it is prudent to try a plein air day or stay in the studio!
I once had a pair of prescription sunglasses where the tint on the lenses changed over time in such a subtle way that I didn't really notice. What I did notice was that I could see such dimension in clouds, that those with me couldn't see. They were extraordinarily beautiful.
For some time I thought that I was developing an artist's eye, that I was learning to see things on a different level after years of careful observation of the landscape around me. It wasn't until I went to renew my prescription that I learned that the mid grey tint had changed in one lens to a slight rose while the other gray had a slight green tinge. I had a pair of irreplaceable 3D glasses! No wonder my reference photos couldn't hold a candle to what I saw with the sunglasses.
So filter or no filter, I keep my eye on the sky in my landscapes. Sometimes they serve my purpose and sometimes they are the purpose.
I have not painted this way much at all over my 24 years of making art. Last year I joined some of my fellow Guild members outdoors to paint, but not understanding the way it worked, I brought some of the right stuff, some of the wrong. Although it was productive, I painted from photos working on projects on the go already. Yes I painted outdoors, but not what I would call plein air. A few weeks ago I returned from a week of daily plein air painting. This time, I had researched my setup and took what was recommended to me. My husband rejigged an old painting box found at the local thrift store with a camera tripod also found there.
It worked really well. He had thought of everything and, as a consequence, I was free to concentrate on painting. Over 5 days I learned that painting en plein air is both wonderful and challenging. It freed me from photos, enslaved me to the wind and the sun, and improved my ability to see composition in a subject as I quickly weeded out the dead ends and the things that would take away from the final image.
The first day involved having to think about every work item's position, and every brush stroke. On the 2nd day the setup time was cut to a fraction of the 1st day's, and after getting out my viewfinder (an old small mat) I was off and painting. Values quickly became a challenge in a way they are not indoors. The wind and sun dried the paint. Various tiny creatures volunteered to trek across my work, and stroll through my piles of acrylics. I took more risks with colour.
The image developed quickly with the large shapes laid in. The changing light was not as much of a factor as I had thought. My memory of how the scene looked at the start was not as difficult to recall as I had feared. With the composition to hang everything on, it became natural to simplify and look at the overall much more than if I had a photo to go back to for detail.
Eventually I plan to use the five pieces I returned home with as studies for studio paintings and will post them. For now they are percolating in my mind and waiting for other projects to be finished.
For a while now I've been toying with the idea of having a website, as potential clients and fellow artists increasingly inquire about an online presence. Then last week I won an award that consists of a year of website hosting, and I thought, well it appears to be time! Instead of ignoring the task and putting it in the procrastination pile, I decided to wade right in.
The last few days have been full of filling in templates and seeing my images in a different way. Putting them on the website has been a process of objectifying the work, trying to see it as others will.
So far it's going well. I have managed to put most things in the right places, get it looking simple enough that visitors might actually stay around and look through things.
I am reminded of an instructor from whom I once took a workshop back in the relatively early days of my painting. She was one of those lovely people who combine solid instruction with a kindness that brings out the best in every participant, all the while refraining from stooping to stroke the egos of the those of us who paid to be in her class.
I absorbed her opinions on composition, colour, line and technique in mixed media, but something she said has stuck with me more than anything else. Something I have returned to over the years in times of creativity and times when the rest of life seemed like it might get in the way of making art.
She said "Painting is like fishing. A fisherman will never catch a fish unless he keeps his line in the water. To get better as a painter and maintain your creative motivation it's important to keep your line in the water, so keep your brushes wet." - (Donna Baspaly)
So, as I begin this new adventure creating a website, I am thinking of it as another line in the water. More possibilities for creativity. I look forward to the road ahead and the new dimensions it may bring to my art over time.