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Showing posts from 2011

Painting Workshop in Marvellous Mexico

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I'm pleased to announce that I'll be teaching a one-week workshop in Mexico from April 4 to 11. Both oil and acrylic painters are welcome.

During this total-immersion, life-painting course, we'll explore a range of subjects from vibrant marketplaces and cobblestone streets to lush, untouched jungles. We will use these subjects to tackle the real challenges of plein air painting: massing and simplifying compositions; accurately judging colour and value; and rendering a fleeting moment with honesty and believability. Expect your eyes to become keener and your painting more intuitive as the week progresses.
The workshop will be based at Casa Buena Art Retreat in the Mexican back country near old Port San Blas. Untouched by mass tourism, it's the perfect place to relax, create, and learn. Casa Buena's marvellous hosts will see to the daily needs and comforts of your stay, allowing you to devote yourself to a week of pure painting and discovery. 
COST: $1400.00 plus…

Painting Demos

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Wayne - portrait demo
Lauren - portrait demo
I teach two classes a week at the Calgary School of Art and I do a demo of some sort in most of them.  And every demo is done on the same canvas board.  I call it the Lucky Demo Board now because, while countless studio paintings flop, the paintings that I produce to illustrate a lesson seem charmed.  Though I'm tempted to keep some of them and a model once asked to buy a portrait of himself, I've become superstitious: that board is the only one that I want to use for each class.  To get a new one is to tempt fate.  Besides, there's a touch of the Buddhist in creating something and then eradicating it twice a week, every week.  Everything is impermanent.

My students are currently working on painting alla prima portraits from life and we've had two excellent models to work from.  Wayne's dark skin was a challenge after weeks of painting fair-skinned models.  We discovered, however, that the same palette that we'd used o…

In Search of Loose Portraits

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Edge Lighting  24 x 20
Even the most relaxed, loose painters can seize up and paint uncharacteristically tight when they tackle portraiture.  I own the gorgeous book about the Russian-born Impressionist Sergei Bongart.  His work is as loose as it comes with the exception of a few commissioned portraits.   When you look at those, you'd never know it was the same hand that made them.   In order to secure a likeness, painters often have to push their paintings further than they normally would, connecting all of the dots that they'd rather leave separate.  
That effect was what I struggled against recently when I painted this model in dramatic side lighting.  To avoid getting too picky, I'd occasionally obscure an edge or mash the paint of her features together ("smooshing" is the highly technical term for this) in order that I could find them again with less precision.  I'm pretty happy with this piece, but know that I'll continue to strive to capture a likenes…

New Course at Calgary School of Art

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Summer Table 18 x 36
I announced a new session of my course "Painting From Life" at the Calgary School of Art.  Gratifyingly, the Tuesday class filled right away.  There are still a few spots available on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 pm if you are interested in joining.  We begin the class on December 7.
The response to this course of study over the past year has been amazing.  People who have long painted from photos and had plateaued in their progress, have been making huge leaps in their skill.  Quite simply, that's because when we paint from an actual object, there is no need to guess or interpret in the way that we have to when working from photos.  Our eyes see more than enough concrete, verifiable information and that can launch our work to a new plane of sensitivity.  
So whether you can take the class or not, I hope you'll take a shot at life painting. You'll never regret the time spent.

FCA Figure Painting Workshop

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Painting and explaining - a right brain/left brain workout!
I taught a figure painting workshop for the local chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists yesterday.  It went well and was very invigorating for me.  The workshop participants were all accomplished artists who knew their way around a brush and were passionate about painting.

While I have no painting to show for the workshop (I gave the best demo piece to our excellent and long-suffering model, Susen who probably needed chiropractic work after the long, reclining pose), you can see some great  results in Alice Saltiel's blog.  Alice's education included enviable amounts of life drawing and the work that she produced yesterday sure shows it.  Enjoy!



In Defense of Oil Paint

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Green Tea 12 x 16
More times than you'd believe, I've had people tell me that a friend, relative or acquaintance of theirs used to oil paint, but quit because it was too toxic. Now, I'm often told, they use acrylics instead.
I find this perception of oils bizarre. There is nothing about oils that is more toxic than acrylics or even watercolours and pastels. All of these mediums use the same pigments, just different binders. Oil pigments are bound with a drying oil such as linseed or walnut; acrylics are bound in acrylic ( a plastic); watercolours and pastels are generally bound in gum arabic. So a cadmium red oil is dangerous and so is a cad red watercolour, acrylic or pastel. It's the cadmium that is deadly, not the binder. This means that all painters, regardless of their medium, should avoid skin contact with their paints. I use nitrile-coated gloves when I work and I bark at my students when they put a brush end in their mouths.
What is toxic about oil pain…

Painting a Still Life Start to Finish

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Berry Branch 20 x 16
I like the mental exercise of painting still lifes.  The set up alone can take an hour or more of tweaking and evaluating every aspect of the objects that I'm painting.  Things that I consider are: number, size, colour and shape of the objects; view point; repetition of colour, shape, and value; negative and positive shapes; balancing objects; light source; and much more.   If I can set the objects up well, the painting is easier, so I force myself not to skimp on this task.

Once it's set up, then I can work at leisure and that's when the fun begins.  I do a few quick thumbnail sketches to determine the overall pattern of dark shapes and shadows and to see if I can connect some of them and make pleasing abstract shapes.  Then - finally - I get to paint.  
The nice thing is that all of this prep work has made me very familiar with the subject and has allowed me to make a bunch of mental notes about how I'll paint it.  I might have noticed an opportunity…

Rendezvous Gallery, Vancouver, BC

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Wood Sprite 24 x 30
I'm thrilled to have been invited to join the artist roster at Rendezvous Gallery in Vancouver, BC.  
I've been waiting impatiently for this piece to dry so that I could send it off with some others to the gallery.  For me, this represents the Vancouver way of life as I remember it when I lived there in the '80s.  Though it's a huge city, I always felt close to the lush green of the the West Coast rainforest, and I'd often hike down the hill across from the University of British Columbia to lie on the beach.  For a mountain-born, landlocked-raised student, it was paradise!
Although my paints are calling from their storage place in the freezer, I'll spend the day wrapping paintings and head to the UPS store.  If you're painting on this lovely Autumn day, put on some paint for me!

New Workshop at Calgary School of Art

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There are still a few spots left in an oil painting workshop that I'll be teaching at the Calgary School of Art on October 29th.  The workshop is titled:  "Loosen Up Your Oil Paintings".

Many painters who sign up to be my students do so because they want to paint in a looser, more spontaneous way, but they don't know how to accomplish that on their own.  This workshop looks at all of the ways that paintings can be made looser and bolder from edge treatment, to colour choices, brushwork, and more.

It will be a fun day with lots of experimentation and hard work!  If you're interested in signing up, please contact the Calgary School of Art.

Painting with a Purpose

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Calendula Bouquet 16 x 12
My classes at the Calgary School of Art started again this week.  Once again I'm teaching Painting from Life. We are going to start with still life, floral and, finally, figures.  I like to have a plan for the 12 weeks; something that ties every lesson together. This session will be all about "painting with a goal".
This summer I began to set myself goals for every painting that I did. This seems a bit over the top on the surface, but it served me really well at a time when I was a bit stuck - okay, really stuck. I was indecisive in the studio, not sure of the point of the paintings that I was doing. They all seemed to be covering the same ground in much the same way.  I was spinning my wheels and it wasn't a good feeling.
So I decided that each painting had to have a single, clear goal. Several still lifes were done as explorations of backlighting; it's effect on the colour of objects and their edges. The beach scenes were done …

Texture and Abstraction in a Painting

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Polka Dot Bikini 21 x 24
In an effort to prolong summer, I've been busy painting beach scenes. They have also offered a chance to work on texture and abstraction in paintings. The water in this piece was done in several stages, starting with a warm, orange tone and lots of splattering and dripping. My medium for these drips was 50/50 oil and odourless mineral spirits. While I prefer the look of watercolour-like drips that you can get from using just solvent in the paint, this doesn't make a strong paint film and I don't do it.
Then I used pure colour without white to lay different warm colours into the water and the figure. Finally, after that had dried, I went back in and added the light effects. I modified the figure with the cool blues of the reflected water and sky, and I dropped blue sky onto the warm colours of the lake. Then I could work on the sun-drenched colours of the girl's skin in the light. This is my favourite part and is very easy to overdo. I …

Tutt Art Galleries, Kelowna, BC

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Pink Pail  12 x 16
Every year I go to Kelowna, BC to visit family and get some blasting sunshine.  And every year I pay a visit to Tutt Art Galleries to check out the latest works by H.E. Kuchein, Min Ma, Brent Lynch and other excellent artists.  So it is with great pleasure that I can now say that my paintings are hanging in Tutt alongside these painters' works.

The gallery is carrying a new series that I've been working on this summer and one that I'm pleased with.  I spent the summer teaching myself how to paint water in a way that showed its sparkle, depth and variety.  It was a long and often frustrating process and I wiped off much more than I kept.  Then, something clicked and I felt like I was achieving what I was after.  The secret was simple: lots of paint and lots of colour.  I also make sure to use both warm and cool colours in the water; this makes a believable effect in a way that just using different blues and greens can't.

Then I incorporated figures - …

Summer Paintings

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Apricots and Violets   - 12 x 16 I know it's a great summer because I'm not getting any blogs done!   I'm still painting every day, though, squeezing it in between a bumper crop of raspberries to pick and an epic battle that I'm waging against the slugs that are trying to eat my entire garden.  
Lately, my paintings have become about backlighting.  For the past few weeks, my still life set ups are against a window, augmented by a flood (you can just see it at the top of the photo).  There's something magical that happens when you see a subject lit warmly from behind.  The objects are all influenced slightly by a cool tinge and their highlights can be intensely warm.  In the painting, I mixed a good dose of Cad. Yellow Deep with Titanium white and laid it on thickly for the sunlit tablecloth.  It worked believably, especially when contrasted with the blue-grays of the cloth's shadows.  
By keeping the shadows in a midtone range, I increased the sense of illumination…

FCA Workshop

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Asters and Limes  16 x 12
A couple of weeks ago, I taught a floral workshop in Kelowna, BC for the Federation of Canadian Artists Central Okanagan Chapter. It went really well - to my great relief.
Knowing what I can take for granted when I teach a workshop is the trickiest part. Do the painters know the colour wheel and concepts like complimentary colours? Have the oil painters heard of the "fat over lean" rule? How confident are their drawing skills? Wondering these things invariably keeps me up the night before the workshop, rehashing my lesson plan and painting demos in my mind. For this floral workshop, I spent the wakeful night deciding how many flower forms to include in the bouquet and demonstrations. At the last minute I eliminated some trumpet-shaped tiger lilies as being just too much information and decided to demo only daisies (disk shapes), peonies (half spheres and multiple petal layers), and snap dragons (upright, complex forms).
Between 9:30 and 4:3…

Learning from John Singer Sargent

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After Sargent 20 x 16
I waffle between an allegiance to the colourists and a love of traditional tonal painting.  While I lean towards Sorolla in my colour choices, the work of Sargent is what inspired me to try oil painting in the first place, and I still love his paintings.  So I decided to attempt a copy of one of his most tonal paintings.  This Sargent portrait allowed me to explore several new things: thin paint application, muted palette and a very realistic portrait.  It was quite a learning experience!
What struck me most was the thinness of the paint layer that I had to use.  Like Sargent, I toned the canvas with a thin wash of gray, then I massed the shadows in earth colours.  The pale skin and background were applied with far less paint than I would normally use (I love buttery slabs of paint) and the shawl - in a miracle of minimalism - was created with just a few bluish and cream strokes over a warm underpainting.  I only got to pull out the impasto on her brooch and that se…

AFA Acquisition

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Weeping Birch 32 x 26
Every year the Alberta Foundation for the Arts purchases artworks to add to its collection.  This provincial government-funded organization has been acquiring Alberta artists' works since the '70's and has, according to its website, a $10 million collection.  The works are loaned to galleries and for provincial and national exhibitions.

This year I submitted "Weeping Birch" for the AFA's consideration and was accepted.  The more I ponder this, the prouder I am.  My work will play a part in representing the arts for this province.  How cool is that?

New Course at the Calgary School of Art

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Ballet Dancer 32 x 26
I'll be teaching a new Painting From Life course in September at the Calgary School of Art.   I hope you'll check out the link for times and dates.  Maybe I'll see you in class!

The Portrait Sketch

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"Twelve"   18 x 14
I took full advantage of my son's financial debt to me this weekend and coerced him into sitting for this portrait sketch. I pay my kids $10/hour for their modelling services. Any less and their energetic bodies would be unable to contain themselves; they wouldn't think it was worth it. He listened to an audio book of a Flavia De Luce mystery which kept him engrossed. Even so, I only managed to get him to sit for an hour so I worked at full speed on this painting.
Knowing that I'd be rushed, I opted for a limited palette of Cad Yellow Deep, Ivory Black, Transparent Red Oxide, Cad Red Light, and Titanium White. The resulting painting is more opaque than I'm used to because it only contains one transparent colour and because I barely used any medium, choosing to apply thick, tube-consistency colour throughout. It's also more muted than usual because black is used as as blue. I'd be interested to try another sketch using Ultramari…

Backyard Plein Air

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Apple Blossoms 16 x12
  Wimpy plein air painter's set up
We are finally getting some nice weather and it's making me restless in the studio.  But, since I'm not a particularly hardy plein air person, I decided to stay in the backyard and enjoy the plein air experience with ready access to a bathroom.

The apple trees were in full bloom, and while I think they're a better watercolour than oil subject, I had to give them a try.  It took a while to figure out how to give a sense of strong light on such pale forms, but I finally found that frequent temperature changes created the illusion that I was after.  Each bunch of white blossoms is made up of many colour temperatures layered on top of each other; and none of these colours is actually white.  Over the initial cool greenish or purplish grey, I brushed warmer, lighter peach and pink hues.  Then, for the final hit of strong light on the edges of the petals, I placed quite intense orange.  This made a nice contrast to the ce…

Alberta Pharmacists' Association Centennial Commission - the process

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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, nutritionist…

An Homage to Degas

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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 followin…

Setting up a Still Life

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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…

9th Annual Juried Member's Show at the Leighton Art Centre

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Daydreaming  24 x 36
I hope you can join me at the opening of the Leighton Art Centre's 9th Annual Juried Member's Show on April 29.  The opening reception is from 6 to 9 pm and they always have great munchies.
My piece "Daydreaming" was accepted into this show and I look forward to seeing all of the other works that were selected.   See you there!

Linen Revisited

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Dragonfly Cloth 20 x 16 I got another shipment of linen this week: this time I went for the #13 double primed Claessens. It's lovely and smooth and takes the paint in a totally different way than gesso. But, still, there are a few tiny pinholes of light when I hold it up to the light. Fewer and much smaller than the single primed linen, but still there.
This time, I emailed Claessens about it. While one faulty batch seemed reasonable, I doubted that such a reputable company would have lots of them out there.
I got this encouraging reply from the company:
"Pinholes are a common "problem", it all depends on some technical elements. We are aware that this does not look nice. You will probably have seen on our site that all of our canvases are glued before the coatings are applied. This glue is applied for some reasons, one is to protect the linen fabric from the paint used; both our coatings and your paints. The pinholes are just in the coatings not in the glue. If the…

Experimental Painting

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Weeping Birch 32 x 26
Robert Genn's recent letter about the importance and fun of artistic play really struck home.  Sometimes it's easy to get too serious in the studio and I find myself editing as I paint.  Instead of exploring and trying to find new ways to use the paint to express myself, I do the same sort of subject that I've done before, thinking ahead to its placement in one of my galleries.  Consistency of work does matter to galleries.
Luckily, I catch myself now and then and allow myself to just play and try new things.  "Weeping Birch" comes out of this spirit.  I wanted to paint a portrait of the tree in my front yard, making it as multi layered and majestic as the tree itself.  Instead of working wet-in-wet as I normally do, however, I made drippy, spattered, warm layer of abstract colour over the entire canvas and let it thoroughly dry.  Then I went over it and painted the tree, making sure that plenty of the underpainting was untouched in the final p…

The Problem with Great Skin

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"Drowsy Model" 16 x 12
This gorgeous, young woman, Julie, recently modeled for my students and me. She has the most amazing skin: like thick cream. She modeled for two classes and in the first one I lit her with the regular mix of colour-corrected fluorescent and halogen spots. It was impossible! Her skin had such a variety of subtle warm and cool colours on it which this basically cool, flat light brought out completely. So when we tried to paint her, the results verged on bizarre: lavender, mint, rose, cerulean - she had them all. The second week, I lit her with just the warm spots and turned off the fluorescents. Then I moved a spot over each painter's easel so that we were painting under the same light. This is important. It's much harder to get a good, believable painting when your canvas and your subject are lit differently. The dramatic lighting helped us a lot. Julie's skin took on a simplified warm colour with fewer variations across her form …

FCA Award of Excellence

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Fishing 32 x 32
I was notified that "Fishing" received an Award of Excellence in the FCA Thompson Nicola Shuswap Chapter show which opened this past weekend in Kamloops, BC.   I am honoured and pleased!
Yesterday I went out for some plein air with my son.  He fished (with a rod, not with his hands as he did in the painting above); I painted.  Luckily, I photographed him fishing because by the time I was ready to put him into my landscape, he'd moved off down the river.  Painters are not as mobile as flyfishermen so I couldn't follow him.  I will try to pop his figure into the landscape today in the studio.  I'll post the results if they were successful.  If not, well, it was a great day in the sun anyway.

Calgary Sketch Club Demonstration

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Daisies and Country Roses -demo painting 14 x 18
Last week I did a demo for a local artists' group, the Calgary Sketch Club. It was a lot of fun and a bit of an experiment.  I decided to try my limited palette out for the floral and, because I'm not that familiar with it, I was taking a risk!  
It looked like I was going to regret this decision when I tried to mix a reddish purple right at the start.  Instead of putting the usual Cad Red Light on my palette, I'd used Cad Scarlet which contains the same pigment: PR 108.  They may have the same number, but Cad Scarlet is definitely more of a yellow red; totally inappropriate for purples.   Luckily, I'd packed the CRL just in case, so I scraped it off the palette and carried on.  
After that, things went smoothly, to my relief.  There were lots of good questions which really helped to make me feel at ease and the limited palette surprised us all with its versatility.  There's always a wonderful moment the first time I sho…

New Course Starting in April

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Painting From Life
I'm announcing a new 12 week course beginning at the Calgary School of Art on April 12. Once again, I'll be teaching a "Painting from Life" course but, because my students are getting so accomplished, I'm asking that new students have some previous painting experience; not a lot, but it would be tough for absolute beginners to fit into the class.
It's wonderful to see the progress of the painters that I've been teaching for the past 1 1/2 years. I don't put all of that improvement down to my instruction, though. I see the positive influence of working with a group as having had a great impact on the individual painters. Often, when someone is unsure of how to proceed, she'll walk around the room, checking out the many different painting styles. Something about this small stroll acts to inspire and reinvigorate that painter and, when she returns to her easel, it is with some fresh ideas. Each of my students is starting to dev…

Inspiring Still Life

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Daisies and Brushes 16 x12
William Nicholson
1927














Painting from life is wonderful, but it does have me casting about for subjects sometimes. In my studio, I have a huge bucket of fake flowers that look incredibly realistic. There are also a few vases and some fabrics from the curtain section of Value Village - a second hand shop. But I'm not a knickknack person, so I don't have many props to go with these still life objects. As well, I find myself casting about for pleasing arrangements.
Sometimes I find inspiration in set ups that others have already done. You can't go wrong with Cezanne's still lifes, for example. The painting above was inspired by the one below it. I saw this gorgeous, simple still life by William Nicholson at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY last year and loved it. The lighting, muted palette and intimacy of a garden table all created a magnetic atmosphere around this piece. Strangely, I also felt the presence of the painter very strongl…

More on Shipping and Oil Grounds

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Abundance 24 x 36
Happily, my paintings arrived in good shape at the new gallery. Now we're working on getting them to look right on the Artym's website. That's the problem with different computer monitors: I sent images to the gallery which looked correct on my monitor, and these images look washed out and wrong on their website.  Something is being lost in translation, but I'll be darned if I know what it is.  We'll continue to work on it.
The painting above is another one done on an oil ground.  I continue to be pleased with the surface because of its non absorptive quality.  If I don't like a colour or a mark, I can just wipe it back to pure white and try again.  This reversibility has freed me to experiment more than I used to in a painting and has made my studio time very exciting.  Non painters would think I was nuts if they saw me cackling and grinning as I painted and wiped and danced gleefully around the studio, but I know that anyone who's reading…

Shipping Paintings

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Daisy Days 30x30
My floral work has been accepted into The Artym Gallery in Invermere, BC and I'm very pleased. It's a gallery that I've watched online for years and will be honoured to be a part of. But this inclusion has raised the issue of shipping paintings; something that I've only done a few times in the past, and never with a bunch of paintings at once. I've now spent hours researching how to pack my work so that it arrives without swayed and dented canvases.
The options seem to be cardboard or wood. I'm not patient enough for the drilling and sawing of building a wooden crate, so I decided to go with the cardboard option: this option by Susan Blackwood at Oil Painters of America. Of all of the sites, and Youtube videos that I looked at, this one seems the most elegant, simple way to secure paintings for shipping. I'm off to buy the styrofoam today.
Before I put the paintings in their box, I'll cover the painted side with tracing paper or wax p…

Oil Primer Instead of Acrylic Gesso

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In the Woods
20 x 16
This week has brought a revelation! Those are always good.
I've been flirting with the idea of painting on linen lately, but the price has put me off every time I research it. So I did the next best thing and bought some oil primer to apply over my usual cotton canvases. The canvases have to be gessoed first to stop the oil primer from destroying the fibers.   I know: I should be using rabbit skin glue instead of gesso, but I'm not there yet.  Talk to me in 6 months and I'll likely be using bunnies.
I spread the thick, heavy stuff on and then I twiddled my thumbs for a week while the canvases cured. Finally, I began to paint. It was amazing!
The experience is nothing like using a commercial canvas. The paint keeps its separate strokes more easily instead of melding marks together as happens on gesso, and the paint sets up much more quickly than I am used to. Using just oil as a medium, the paint was almost dry the next day. That's at least …

Reworking a Dry Painting

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Mandarins and Stocks 16 x20"
I've been enjoying my fabulous fake flowers and painting lots of lush florals in the studio lately. The snow may sparkle outside, but inside it's mid summer.
While most of my paintings are done wet in wet in one session, this piece has had a couple of different incarnations on its way to maturity. I've changed the colour scheme almost completely from the original which had a more neutral beige background. By draping broken strokes of blue over it, I linked the blue in the vase with its setting, and created a nice vibration in the background. This would have been hard to get had the underlying paint been wet.
When I go back into a painting that has dried, I make sure that it is, in fact, thoroughly dry. If you paint over oils that have begun to set and are sticky, you run the risk of premature cracking down the road. Then I oil the piece out to reduce friction and resaturate the colours. To do this I brush a thin layer of walnut …

Composing a Floral Painting

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Mandarins and Bouquet  24 x 30 I've been experimenting with different compositions for still life. It feels like every bouquet that I set up is a repetition of something that I've seen in other paintings in the past. This is particularly obvious when the flowers are in a vase. Richard Schmid, in his book Alla Prima, notes that he does everything possible to avoid depicting his florals in vases, and that remark really got me thinking. Flowers are a wonderful subject, but they do look tamed and conventional in a vase. Schmid deals with this problem by laying flowers on a surface like cloth or a bowl. They are often in a horizontal position.
Another possibility is to change the usual perspective as I've done here. I kept the vase - special because it was a gift from my mother - but put the set up on a low table in front of my easel. I also tried to introduce a greater depth of field by laying oranges on the foreground cloth.
As always, negative space was the most i…

Demo for the Calgary chapter of the FCA

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One hour figure demo 20 x 16
After some tweaking the next day
I was invited to give a painting demo at the local chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists last night and the result is above. 

It may have seemed ambitious to do a figure given that I only had one hour to demo (!) but I actually do figures more quickly than any other subject.  If you know anatomy, it's very straight forward.  Florals, on the other hand, can take me hours more (or as Sharon Williams tells it, I take an hour to do one flower).

The hardest thing about demos is coordinating your painting brain with your social brain.  You have to be able to talk and answer questions coherently, and still make good choices about painting.  And you have to do it with a large room full of artists right behind your back.  It's a bit intimidating. 

Still, it was a lot of fun and, like all painters, the audience were a supportive, interested bunch who really enjoy watching how someone else approaches the craft of appl…

Portrait Problems

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"I've noticed in portraiture, if you don't get it right early on, you don't get it. Continuing to fiddle with a likeness generally takes it further and further away until you are looking at some other person altogether." Robert Genn
That comment was in Genn's popular and insightful blog "The Painter's Keys" last week and it really struck a chord with me.
I did these two commissioned portraits recently and noticed the same phenomenon that Robert Genn remarked on when I began to fiddle with the little girl's features.
She is 4 years old, but precocious. Her articulate forthrightness is beyond 4 - more like 8 - and it's hard to represent her at her chronological age because of it.
I take lots of photos for a portrait because I know the kind of lighting that works for me, and also because it helps me to get to know the sitter, and figure out how to portray her. In the case of this girl, I found that the images were evenly split betw…