Monica Burrow
Original Art

Blog - A Palette of Ideas - on being an artist

(posted on 30 Jun 2017)

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.

(posted on 18 Jun 2017)

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.

(posted on 9 Jun 2017)

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.

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