Monday, May 23, 2011

Alberta Pharmacists' Association Centennial Commission - the process

The unveiling in Jasper - photo by Jim Dobie

Completing the Circle

This weekend I drove the spectacular road to Jasper, past glaciers, mountain goats, mountain sheep and even a grizzly, to attend the unveiling of a painting that I did for the Alberta Pharmacists' Association. The association is celebrating its 100th year, and they had decided to commission a painting to mark the event.

Using the Alberta Foundation for the Arts as a advisers, the Pharmacists' Centennial committee had selected a group of painters whose work interested them, and invited them to apply. We submitted CV's and portfolios.

From there, the committee chose 5 artists to paint maquettes and send those along with a written explanation of the work.   I was one of the painters chosen, but, when I read the commission requirements, I was daunted.  The committee wanted to show both the history and the future of pharmacy in Alberta, as well as the collaboration of pharmacy and other professions such as nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists and pharmacy technicians. And the work could not exceed 24" in either dimension.

It took some thinking!

Finally, I settled on a circular composition and placed the figures along it using stock images from the Internet to find poses. Then I played with colour schemes a bit like Goldilocks checked out bowls of porridge: too hot, too cold, just right. In all, I painted the maquette 4 times in one week until one satisfied me. The painting was still a bit sticky in spots when it was delivered, but I did make the deadline.

Happily, my work was chosen for the final commission.

With the help of a lab coat and using myself, my husband, and a friend, who is a nurse, as models, I got photos of all of the poses that I needed and the painting came together over about a month.  Because of the complexity of all of those figures, I worked slowly and let it dry many times along the way. It was delivered in October but the identity of the chosen artist was kept secret until this weekend's unveiling.

The painting will hang in the reception office of the Alberta Pharmacists' Association, and prints of it have gone to diverse locations such as pharmacies and associated offices around Alberta. I even had the pleasure of handing a signed print to the Honourable Gene Zwozdesky, the Minister of Health and Wellness.

I've said it in past blogs, but it bears repeating: it's important to join professional associations. Had I not been a member of the Alberta Society of Artists and the Federation of Canadian Artists ,it's unlikely that the AFA could have found my work and brought it forth for this commission. Those memberships have brought me great opportunities and, as artists, we need every opportunity that we can get!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Homage to Degas

Pondering Degas
30 x 40

A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers

Some paintings are special. I keep coming back to them, studying brushwork, colour harmony and composition to see what it is that makes them stand above the ordinary. If I'm lucky, these paintings have been done by me at some point in the past when I was immersed it that wonderful paint zone in which nothing goes wrong and each mark is confident. Usually, however, they have been done by others. Then they become the standard for me to aim for.
My favourite Degas painting is one of these magical ones: "A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers" which is in the Metropolitan Museum in NY, makes me overwhelmingly happy whenever I see it. I love the unorthodox composition which has a woman placed at the edge of the canvas and peering out of its frame. Both of these facts are no no's according to the many books which state compositional rules - and yet it works. Degas keeps the viewer's eye from following her eyes out of the canvas through the use of the bright door frame edge above her head, and allows us to appreciate her by making her figure simple and calm next to the extravagant, highly-detailed flowers beside her. I love the way that he linked her to the bouquet by echoing the flowers' forms in her ruffled cap and blouse front. Though she is simply painted in comparison to the flowers, Degas managed to make her the the most important subject in the frame. Is this because we naturally look at people with greater interest than objects, or because of the way that he led our eye to her, framing her with the architecture around her, and even punctuating her head with the tower in the painting behind her? The more that I look at this piece, the more complex it becomes.
Because I couldn't get it out of my head, I decided to paint an homage to it. I set up a huge bouquet and roughed it in, and then hired a model, Susen, to sit for the figure. Susen was actually the reason that I plunged in and decided to paint this in the first place, because she has an inward gaze and stillness that seemed just right. She wore a wine-coloured cloche and a lightweight blouse with embroidery around the neckline and these elements led me to enhance the deep reds in the bouquet and use them as a link to her figure. I deviated from the original by adding a dark drape at the front of the table to lead the eye in and by placing a stalk of light flowers to beside her head as a visual stopper instead of a doorway.
It's not Degas - the Met wouldn't sell - but it makes me happy and carries both the original and the new within it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Setting up a Still Life

Sitll Life with Limes
36 x 24

Still life set ups can be tough to compose. I went to a second hand store and bought several bowls, plates, vases and cups to add to my meager collection of elements and, this new selection suddenly overwhelmed me. It's much easier to set up an arrangement when you only have 4 vases to choose from.

I wanted to use limes in a set up because their colour caught my eye at the supermarket, but I struggled with choosing objects to place with them. I decided that I would use warm colours to contrast with the green fruit. Because the fruit is rounded, I needed to echo their shape elsewhere, so I put a platter at the back.

Too much roundness is boring, so in went the upright glass vase and, for more variety, the short, dark vase.

The small blue flowers are a nice touch of small, irregularity in a composition which would otherwise be made up entirely of large, simple shapes.

The next choice was perspective. I chose an aerial view in order to achieve a sense of spaciousness around the objects and to give lots of room for the warm, light-struck fabric which covered the table.

If you'd like to play with setting up still lifes, have a look at the National Gallery of Art in Washington's site. It's meant for kids, but I had a great time manipulating objects, drapes and lighting in their virtual picture frame.