Monica Burrow
Original Art from BC and Beyond

Blog - A Palette of Ideas - on being an artist

(posted on 17 Jul 2017)

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.