Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Series of Sparrows

Winter Birdbath 10 x 12"

Winter Birdbath II 10 x 12"
Winter Birdbath III 10 x 12"

Winter Birdbath IV 10 x 12"
I have a heated birdbath in my backyard and it provides endless hours of entertainment to our family.  The primary bathers are cheeky sparrows though we have various finches, redpolls and the occasional flicker and magpie as well.  I've seen the sparrows bathing in -20C which caused me some alarm.  I watched them carefully to see if they'd turn to ice in mid air but they flew to a tree and preened for a while with no apparent damage.

Over the years, I've taken thousands of pictures of birds in the bath, in all seasons and all light conditions.  I figured it was time to explore the subject in paint.  These 4 paintings are all on gessoed watercolour paper mounted on birch panels.  The palette that I used was muted and earthy as befits the little birds and the dry, winter setting.  The hardest part was to separate them visually from their backgrounds; they blend into it very well.  I relied largely on colour temperature and the judicious use dark accents to define the birds.  Still, the fact that they could also be somewhat lost in their surroundings appealed to me because that's exactly how they are in the back yard.

I'm sure I'll continue to pay tribute in paint to these little clowns and the pleasure that watching them brings.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Pondering Degas 30 x 40

Original version

Sometimes you have to live with a painting for a long time before you can call it done.  That happened with "Pondering Degas".  

The original version was done in a flurry several months ago when I hired a model and set her up next to a sumptuous bouquet of flowers.  I was excited by the colour, the marks and the light and couldn't see the piece very rationally.  But I did know that it wasn't quite done.  So I put it up in the living room to examine every day.  

Over time, what I decided was that it wasn't as refined as I wanted and it was just too darned pink!  So last week I painted over the warm background with a cool, greenish gray and threaded neutrals throughout the flowers.  I refined the face, hand and table top and could finally call it done.  

She can leave the living room now and head out into the world.  I'm proud of her.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Car Painting

Winter Geometry
10 x 12

Kananaskis View 10 x 12  - Oil on paper
Seriously cold outside

The passenger seat
I've been doing a lot of painting in my car lately.  I don't know why I didn't attempt this before this year, but I'm certainly hooked now.  

The past few times I've used my new pochade box and I'll post the paintings from those trips another time (the box is a wonder!) But before I bought the box, I was using a simple artists' clipboard for my outings.  You can see it in the top photo.  It has a sturdy clamp at the top and a giant rubber band around the bottom to hold the painting in place.   I hold it on my lap against the steering wheel.

I've also been experimenting with different surfaces and have discovered that gessoed watercolour paper is a wonderful support for oil paints.  It allows me to achieve a variety of edges that are unlike those that I get on linen, canvas or board.   To prepare the paper, I coat it with several layers of acrylic gesso on both the front and back side.  After these have dried for several days to ensure that there is no moisture left in the surface, they are ready to use.  The nice thing about the paper is that it is light and easy to store.   Paper also doesn't feel as precious as a piece of linen and so I find that I experiment more and paint more spontaneously than I would on an expensive support.  If the painting works out, I let it dry thoroughly and then mount it on a panel and varnish it.  It can be framed like any other oil painting and it doesn't need glass over it.  If the painting doesn't work - no big loss.

Getting out of the studio is refreshing for the eyes and the creative spirit.  After a day of painting the landscape from life, I return to indoor painting with new inspiration and vigour.  If you've never tried it, load up your car and head out.  Don't be surprised if you get hooked, too.

Happy painting!