Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Embracing you Inner Hermit

“One of the problems in having plans (appointments, meetings, visitors, travel etc.) is that it just might block out some creative act. In the process, some creative act may never get done because the mood has been broken, never to be recovered according to the original inspiration. This is why it is necessary to place a heavy guard around your thoughts and your time, so that they can't be interrupted at a crucial moment. You cannot afford outside commitments if you expect to do your real work. Those seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years are ticking away and there is no going back. You can never regain them” Quotes from RFM McInnis' unpublished biography

I keep this quote by the painter RFM McInnis on my desktop and look at it whenever I've just ducked another chore or stayed home instead of going out. It's my justification and reassurance that I'm not embracing isolation out of eccentricity, it's because I'm trying to make good art.
I've realized that I can't do meaningful work and still have a great social life; the two seem mutually exclusive. To make a significant and lasting painting takes solitude and contemplation. I put marks on, think about them, rub off some of them, layer over others and all the time I'm alone and alert to only the task of making the best painting that I can. The moment my family returns from school and work is the moment that I have to clean up and put the painting aside: no perfectly-judged marks are made after that.
This is why after a busy stretch of showing, group plein air painting and volunteering on a committee, I find my thoughts and work completely scattered and unsatisfying. I have to deliberately avoid my email inbox and any phone messages until mid-afternoon when I'm running out of creative steam and, after a few days, I can get the flow back and lose myself in painting.
The consequence of this is that I end up doing breakfast dishes at 3pm, washing floors at 10pm and sitting down at the end of the day at about the time that I should be heading for bed. But if there's a decent painting on the easel, it seems worth it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gallery Opening

On Saturday my work opened at Collector's Gallery of Art in Inglewood. The timing was terrific- coinciding with Art Walk - and we had steady crowds all through the afternoon.
The show introduced me and 3 other artists: Kari Duke, Bowabon Shilling, and Barbara Hirst to the gallery. For so many painters, the show was remarkably cohesive and looked stunning. Bowabon Shilling was unable to attend but I got to meet Kari and Barbara and found them both, as tends to be the case with good artists, generous and open people, interested in talking about painting and sharing tips and techniques. Kari and I ducked out to my car to look at some plywood panels that I had shellacked with amber shellac in preparation for plein air work. She does a lot of her gorgeous back alley scenes on panels and these boards interested her.
One of the nicest things was the fact that unexpected people came to see the show. Neighbours, past and present, seldom-seen friends (one with her two young children in tow which shows real fortitude) and relatives responded to my invitation and attended. Time slowed to a leisurely pace and I got to catch up with people who lead busy lives like mine but who value art and friendship enough to put that busyness aside for a while and visit. I realized again how blessed I am.
The show will hang for approximately 3 more weeks and I hope you'll check it out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And now for something completely different...

That's not a painting!
It's a still from my husband, David Christensen's, documentary which will be screening on Friday night at the Calgary International Film Festival.
"The Mirror" is a gorgeous film about a tiny medieval town in the Italian Alps that receives no sunlight for 3 months of the year because the mountains block the low winter sun. As a creative solution to this problem, the town erected a giant mirror on a mountain to reflect the rays of the sun down into the town square. David captured this event and the quirky inhabitants of the town as well.
The film is screening at the Plaza Theatre on Friday at 9pm. Hope you'll come out and see it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I spent this weekend at the opening of Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat about an hour from Calgary in Turner Valley. There were 10 artists there for 3 days, painting and giggling madly in the rugged green landscape and it was a blast.
We discussed "values" at length and it had nothing to do with personal beliefs. Brushstrokes were admired, pigments were compared and the art business was scrutinized from 10 different perspectives which was enlightening for me.
I think it's important to get together with other serious painters now and then. Painting is a lonely business and it's easy to become a total recluse. Knowing that it's good for me isn't always enough so I often have to push myself out forcibly into the world rather than stay in my little studio and paint.
On the first day at the retreat, I set up behind the painter Alice Helwig and did a painting of her as she was painting. I've done this before while painting with Sharon Williams and it combines what I'm supposed to be doing - landscapes - with what I love most : figurative. I should have been having a great time except I could see past Alice to her rapidly-filling canvas and was beginning to panic at the comparatively-slow pace that my work was progressing. Was I in the wrong place? Did I belong in a setting with such accomplished and experienced painters?
My brush was flying rather hysterically over the board that I was working on and Alice, bless her, did a second painting while I fussed with my first. When she'd exhausted the possibilities of her location, she moved on and I slowed down. I'd done her figure and now I just had to adjust the landscape around her.
To my relief and pleasure, I managed to salvage the painting and turn it into something that I'm proud of. My evening beer felt well deserved.
I'm still ruminating on the painting of Alice and won't publish it now, but I've posted the one of Sharon above. It's called "Another Day at the Office" and shows the painter's life at its finest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Still life, active painters

I met with my oil painting students for the first time yesterday at the Calgary School of Art. It's a diverse and dedicated group of painters, most with some oil experience but some without.

We dove right in with a still life painting, beginning, as I always do, with a transparent underpainting. The things that I found myself stressing throughout the class were: colour outside of the lines; stand back from the work; and hold your brush at the back, like a wand rather than near the bristles like a pencil.

I see that these are some of the ways that I achieve the looseness that I strive for in my work. If I hold the paintbrush near the bristles, I create a tight painting, best seen from up close. But if I hold the brush way back on the handle and stand an arms reach from the canvas, the work stands a chance of looking loose and spontaneous. It will come together coherently at a distance and melt into individual brushwork and colour up close. When lots of people are painting in this manner in one room, it looks like a graceful, old world dance. Everyone is stepping up to the canvas, marking it, and gliding back to have a look.

The results of this first class were amazing. I've posted a couple of them above and will post more as the class progresses.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

School of Art Opening

The Grand Opening of the Calgary School of Art was great fun.
The food and wine were abundant and lots of people showed up.

The demos showcased the great variety of art that will be taught at the school: oil and watercolour painting, palette knife painting, encaustic, abstract mixed media and more. It was stimulating stuff, not least because there was a drawing demo with an unflappable, nude model.

My course begins on Tuesday afternoon at 1pm and I still have a couple of openings for anyone who wants to give oils a try. We'll be starting with still life work and I'm excited to see what people do with it. Hopefully there will be lots of unique takes on the same set up of objects and fabrics. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Correcting Colour

The Internet is a great tool for showing your paintings to a wider audience but it's tricky to accurately represent it.

I photograph every painting that I complete under even light - an overcast day is great as the colours are not warmed up and made overly vivid as they are on sunny days - and then I colour correct it. This step is crucial because what the camera sees is never what my eyes see when I look at the painting. I have to make the photo match the work.

I use some freeware called GIMP. It's very similar to Photoshop but I prefer the price!
Usually I have to balance the colours and sharpen the image a bit but sometimes it takes much more work. Unless you've got a good set up for photographing artwork (which I don't), you run into a real problem with light reflecting off of the painting's surface. This is especially true of the dark areas which can look greyed and dead though they are colourful and transparent in life. In these cases I have to use the burn function of the program to try to darken the shadows up again. Nothing seems to reveal the range of colours that they contain so I always advise interested collectors to see the piece in person. A photo really doesn't show anything about a painting except its subject matter.

I recently bought a Spyder colour calibration system to help ensure that the work that I post looks like it should. It's not cheap but it was a necessity. I looked at my site on a few other computers and discovered that the paintings that I'd slaved over in GIMP, looked nothing like what I saw on my monitor at home. There was a certain cool gray that turned garishly green on other monitors. I had no idea that was going on! It was embarrassing to realize how long those images had been posted. Once my monitor was calibrated, I had to rework all of the paintings that had that particular gray mix. Oddly, most of the paintings that didn't have it were fine.

So now I know that the pieces that I see on my monitor are correct. Hopefully people who look at my site have decent colour correction on their monitors too. Really, it's better to see paintings in person.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Trying Again

The original photo

Version 1 "Lingering Rays"

Version 2 "Before Dusk"

I subscribe to Canadian painter Robert Genn's blog "The Painter's Keys" and today's posting set the tone of my day. He advised taking one of your typical works and repeating it in different styles: impressionistic, realistic, primitive etc. and also trying new methods for dealing with edges, contrast, detail and so on.

I didn't have a definite painting in mind this morning so I was open to his suggestion. I repeated a work that I'd already done once but did it in a more abstract style. It's from a late winter afternoon when the sun is just lighting one distant part of an otherwise shadowy landscape. The photo keeps calling me back because it has everything that I like: back lighting, long foreground and lots of blue. I think it's blue that made a painter of me because I'm so crazy about it.

Before settling on this final painting, I did 2 more: one brighter and more detailed with thickly applied paint and purer colours and one which had much more gray and only a few hints of impasto colour. Neither one suited me and I rubbed them off. But I didn't want to end the day with nothing to show for it so I tried one more time. This time I used thinner paint and muted the colours a lot. Parts of the work look almost like watercolour in their simplicity. I focused on getting the rhythm of the landscape in as few marks as possible and on not tinkering and painting over areas too often. There are layers but they're kept to the minimum that the painting seemed to need. It's a minimalistic painting but I'm pleased with it.

I've posted the piece as well as the first version that I did of it a few months ago and the photo reference.