Showing posts from 2015

Change one thing: change everything

Progress in painting, there's no such thing! ...One day I went and changed the yellow on my palette. Well, the result was, I floundered for ten years! (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)

The title of my blog is "A Painter's Progress" and, while I've progressed since I began writing it years ago, it's never been a linear progression.  There are nearly as many backward steps as forward ones, and each requires me to stop and reevaluate my process and aesthetic before I can resolve it.  That sounds so optimistic and simplistic.  What actually happens is that good paintings just stop flowing out of my brush, sometimes for weeks on end, and I can't figure out why.  As the paintings keep failing, I keep bashing away at them from different angles: Different subject? Bigger paintings?  Or smaller?  Brighter?  More muted?  Much paint is applied and scraped off.  
It's taken a while to figure out this latest impasse and to discover what's changed in my approach to pain…

Honest looking and painting

Weekly figure painting is becoming a fantastic tool for exploring and learning.  It's out of the comfort and control of my studio; the cool, chiaroscuro lighting is different than anything I'd set up; my palette is shrouded in darkness; and I'm in a room with other artists.  There are so many new variables and I can't rely on my usual working methods and tricks to paint the figure.  I reallyhave to look and I really have to think.  That sounds obvious, but, like any other learned skill, there are a lot of processes that can easily become automatic, and thoughtless over time.  A painter may always use certain colours for skin, or always make shadows a certain value or temperature, regardless of the reality of the model in front of her.

As a consequence of being off balance, I find I'm painting slowly, carefully, and analytically.  The pleasure of "the zone" is absent (hopefully only temporarily), but it feels like an education.

This week's model was …

New class at the Calgary School of Art

The new year will be full of painting explorations in my Tuesday afternoon class at the Calgary School of Art. 
We meet from 12:30 - 3:30 every Tuesday from January 5 - March 22.

The outline that I composed says it all, so I've pasted it here:

Join Ingrid for 12 weeks of oil painting that includes both structured and independent work.
We will begin with 7 weeks of still life because there is no better way to learn to paint than from life.  Our focus will be on creating dynamic compositions, and painting fabric, reflective surfaces, florals and a variety of textures.  Whether you are a studio or outdoor painter, prefer landscape, or other subject matter, the skills that you develop in this section will transcend genre and enhance your overall painting practise. 
The remaining 5 weeks will be independent subject, allowing you to work from any references you prefer.  Painters may bring in photos, or sketches, or continue working from still life set ups in the studio.  Ingrid will work …

Adjusting a painting to my vision

The model was a no show Thursday night at Calgary Figure Drop in, so one of the artists, Rick, kindly offered to sit for us.  What a guy!

I finished the portrait of him in the dim light of the studio, and felt it was a decent likeness, but, when I looked at it the next day, it felt like someone else's work.  After considering it for a while, I realized that the high contrast really plagued me.  My favourite paintings are those that maintain a closer value range.  No deep shadows and spotlight effects for me; I like my shadows to be colourful and midtoned, and my lights to be well below white.  So I spent some time fiddling with this painting to see whether I could turn it into something that felt right to me.  I know, some of you will prefer the original, and that's ok; that's your aesthetic.  But to be an artist is to find your own taste and follow it wherever it leads.  If other people like the things that you do that's gravy, but it's not necessary.  You can on…

Figurative painting is alive and well

I've had the privilege of teaching and doing a lot of figure painting from life lately.

A couple of weeks ago the Richmond Artist Guild hosted me for a 5-day figure workshop held in the unique Langley cohousing facility, Windsong.  Thanks to artist Lalita Hamill for arranging the venue!
What impressed me about the painters was their long-standing commitment to figure work.  Several have been hiring models weekly, and all were clearly used to working from life.  That meant that we didn't have to spend time on proportion and how to see and find colours in skin tones, and could proceed to the meat of the matter: interesting paint application, colour interactions, and compositional choices.  It was an amazingly stimulating group to work with because they really looked at the model and saw her without preconceived notions of what they were looking at.  That means that instead of painting a symbols for the features and body parts, they painted them as they really observably were.…

Value containers and what they hold

I'm enjoying working small right now.  The studio is full of paintings to go to small works shows at Tutt Art Gallery in Kelowna, BC, and Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery in Portland, ME.  

These are two that I particularly enjoyed painting because of the unorthodox colours in the flesh tones.  Skin colour reflects all of the colours surrounding it - especially pale skin - so the children can take on blues, greens and oranges from their environment or from their own warm limbs. 
The photos that these came from were both very blurry and distant so they were no help except to show shapes and how the light and shadows fell on the figures.  That created the wonderful simplicity of two values in the figure.  I like to think of each separate tone as a container of value.  Within each container, there can be many colour and even temperature changes, but no major tonal change.  
Logic and years spent staring unnervingly at people in all different light conditions tells me that…

It ain't over till it's over

A painting is only done when the artist says it's done.  And even then, the passage of time can turn a previously "done" work into a starting point: a foundation for more thought and experimentation.

Purple Life Vest was the gleeful product of a fascination with pink.  I painted it swiftly, intuitively and without censoring myself a few months ago, and I liked it.  But it wasn't ready to go out into the world; the thought of sending it to a gallery didn't cross my mind as it was so different from my usual palette.  Still, there was something there that I liked, so it hung in the studio as a joyful recollection of summer.

Then I did the big painting purge of 2015, and it was one of few paintings to survive the overhaul and avoid landfill.  In my newly orderly, newly painted studio, it also became fair game for more paint.

The first thing to change was all that pink. When I'd painted it, I thought it might be the first of a series of pink-infused images, bu…

The workspace helps create the work

The only constant in life is change, and the act of making art is no different.  The works that I loved when I made them, seem filled with flaws once they've been signed (in fact, I often sign a painting in order to speed the process of flaw finding.  It seems to be a catalyst for major changes); and the technique that felt exactly right suddenly feels wrong headed and ineffectual.  The key to dealing with the awareness of something being wrong is to accept that it's valid, live with the discomfort, and, when it's unbearable, do something that feels like it may alleviate that discomfort. So this summer I was deeply uncomfortable, and then I made some major changes.  The result is amazing! 
Beginning a few weeks ago, I changed most everything about my daily practise.  I slashed and trashed more than 50 paintings that had languished on my studio shelving.  They'd been waiting for me to become skilled enough to get them out of the stalemates that they were in.  But, on l…

Inspirations for Artist Appreciation month

August is Artist Appreciation Month!  I was reminded of this by Patience Brewster, the designer of whimsical and fanciful ornaments that most of us have seen in stores around Christmas time.

Patience asked me if I'd write a blog about artists who have inspired me.  It's a great idea and an opportunity to thank my touchstone artists.

So here they are in order of my personal chronology as an artist.  Because I started out in watercolour (only the hardest medium in the world, as it turns out), the first painters who inspired me were Joseph Zbukvic, and Charles Reid.  See the influence?  They both focus on light, and have loose, bold brushwork.  Zbukvic's contre jour aesthetic still dazzles me and the economy and joy of his mark making makes me want to applaud.

Charles Reid showed me how to paint the figure in one big, graceful gesture and how to find colour and colour temperature within it.  These lessons weren't in person, unfortunately, but I've signed his books ou…

Recipes for gorgeous greys

I've been on a technology hiatus this summer, painting, gardening, and relishing the short, intense summer - despite its hail storms and heat waves.  It's been a treat to be unplugged and to wait until the time seemed right to start looking at the computer again (yes, I actually mean Facebook, that great sucking abyss of irresistible video links and great paintings).  So I'm diving back in with a blog about greys because today is the first grey day in a long while.
There are lots of tempting tube greys on the paint display rack, but I prefer to mix my own from the primaries plus white.  That gives endless permutations and makes a livelier colour space for the eye to explore.  
My palette contains warm and cool variations of each of the primaries plus a few earth colours and a selection of whites.  Here's a list of the pigments that are my mainstays.  I sometimes add a novel colour like viridian, cad yellow deep, or Indian yellow, but this list shows the workhorses:

Two new workshops in October!

I'll be teaching for 7 straight days in the Greater Vancouver area this fall.
This may sound arduous, but it's actually a lot of fun and very energizing.  Years ago I walked into a meditation room and was struck by the palpable, deeply relaxed atmosphere generated by a group of meditating people.
Walking into a room full of painters is a different, but equally wonderful feeling. Everyone is striving for the same thing - a good, honest painting - and the energy in the room is intense and stimulating.  I know I'll receive as much as I give.

The workshops are a 2-day still life weekend on October 3-4, offered through the Federation of Canadian Artists, and a 5-day figure painting week through the Richmond Artist Guild from October 5 - 9.  I'll be in picturesque Steveston, BC for the weekend and in Langley, BC for the figure workshop.

I hope you'll join me for some good, honest painting and some excellent energy!

For detailed information, please see my website .

Painting white in full colour

White is tricky and fascinating colour to paint and I often tackle it in the studio to see just how my painting chops are progressing.  It's all very pleasant to paint stuff that comes easily for me, but sometimes it's good and humbling to try to paint the hard stuff.

This little Chinese vase is one of my favourite objects.  It's shape, pattern and colours all appeal to me and I've used it over and over.  Each time I paint it, it looks different thanks to type of lighting I used on it, the background and ground colours, and the mood I'm in.  I was into high drama when I painted it this time, and that turns out to have been a good thing.  I learned just how much further I could push my whites.

Setting up the vase on a powerful red and putting a dark background behind it, forced me to work with strong contrasts.  The vase couldn't be a delicate pastel in this setting as it wouldn't harmonize with the overall strength of the colour environment.  So I had to …

Mining a vein

These 2 paintings were an exploration of a back lit figure done from some photos that I took of my son.  He's over 6' tall and not at all feminine, but I changed his gender for these paintings while keeping the lighting and the grace of his gesture.  In the source photo below, you can see the similarities and also where the paintings diverge.  I was particularly excited by the cool, high key shadows in the white quilt and the expanse of light falling across its top plane.

Always fascinating is the amount of both warm and cool colour that makes up a shadow. Depending on reflected wall colour, local flesh colour, and the temperature of the light outside, there are multiple different hues that can be layered into a shadow.  These colours energize the shadow and make it descriptive of both the figure and its surroundings.  It's important, though, to keep the shadow application flat; any texture in the paint will make that area catch light and jump out of its recessive place. …

The problem with dark passages

It's easy to build the lights in a painting: thick, luscious, white-laden paint; and it's somewhat easy to develop mid tones: warm and cool, colour changes without big value changes; but it's very hard to figure out what to do with shadows.  It's the darks that stymie me in a lot of my paintings.

Many painters start with an earth toned underpainting in which they knock in all of the shadows and darks in a monochromatic grisaille (the current favourite is transparent red oxide, though traditionally I believe it was umber).  Then, as they build the painting, they leave the TRO to show through, often creating the shadows in the finished piece.  I used to do a lot of that.

But I've been using progressively thicker paint over the past year and those thin passages don't integrate as they used to; they look raw and unfinished in my eyes and I'm forced to deal with them.

Sargent said once that you should paint the shadows with as much paint as the lights, you jus…

Rejuvenate and refresh

I spent 3 days last weekend at River Rock Studio not far from Calgary.  It was just 4 painters and, for one of the days, our model, Brenda, and it was amazing.

Unlike all the people who work with others, artists often spend days on end without talking to another person, let alone a peer.  We can become uncertain, mannered, and squirrelly; not good for the creation of art.  So working and talking with professional artists for 3 days was a balm and a rejuvenation.  There was wine, good food and shop talk.  We applauded exciting passages and colour mixtures and commiserated with wipe offs.  But, since we've all had plenty of those, they weren't a big deal; just part of the process.

And that was the thing that this retreat most reminded me of: the fact that making art is about process, not product.  Wonderful if something works and you can pop it in a frame, but also wonderful if you've taken some risks with the paint, but it didn't turn into a keeper.  That's beside…

Cold wax medium

Every oil medium gives a different look to brushwork and, of course, to the final painting.  I've been exploring those unique qualities quite a bit lately.

While my old stand by medium is 50/50 oil and OMS, I have taken frequent forays into the world of alkyds in the form of Liquin, Neo Megilp and Galkyd.  This painting, however, used a modern version of an ancient medium: wax.

I used Dorland's cold wax medium throughout the painting as my reading suggested that it should not just be used in one part of the piece.  As well, I painted on a rigid support to avoid cracking from the thicker, harder paint body.  This is on linen mounted on birch.

While the original wax medium in old master's paintings would have been beeswax, Dorland's is,  a mixture of beeswax, several other waxes, and resin.  It's quick dry, thanks to the resin, but, unlike most resin products, it doesn't smell.  As always, it's probably adding some to my indoor pollution, but I didn't …

Interpreting a photo

This little painting is, as always an attempt to subvert the photo reference and do something painterly from a fixed and frozen image.  I've painted the little guy on the left a few times because I love his dynamic balance and the sense of continuing motion in his pose (score one for photography).  You just know that he's going to continue to move forward fluidly and unhesitatingly from this moment in time, and that quality of movement is what keeps putting him back in my sights when I look for something to paint.  
Still, there's a lot not to like in the photo, so I spent some time doodling ideas before tackling the painting.  At first, I thought about using the large, patterned bum behind the boys and adding even more abstract patterning to the background and around the children.  It would have been a painting about patterns.  But a rough sketch of the idea got it out of my system; I wasn't interested enough to commit it to paint. 
At that point I committed to the i…

The distracted mind

Like all working artists, I'm a recluse, spending more time in the studio than anywhere else and seldom seeing people socially.  But I have my handy headset which, when connected to my phone, allows me to paint and chat with friends at the same time.  There are two benefits to this: I remember how to speak to people other than myself, and I paint without over thinking the process.

This little painting was done during a phone call.  I happened to notice that a sunbeam was tracking over my little vase of fake flowers and turning them from something ordinary into something very special.  The problem was that the beam was moving at amazing speed.  Luckily, I have a tall computer table on wheels in the studio, so I popped the vase on it, grabbed a linen panel, and began speed painting; all while talking about a friend's holiday and - hopefully - making sense.

I had to move the computer table every 10 minutes or so to recapture the light, and I didn't have much time for mixin…

Creating worlds

At a certain point, you might decide that a painting is done.  Then you either stop painting, or, if it doesn't excite you, you throw a foreign object at it (to paraphrase Alex Kanevsky).

This painting was heading down a path that was working: beige skin, warm cheeks, all very plausible and all very ordinary.  I could see its finish while I was in the middle of it.  And that was incredibly dispiriting.  If I couldn't find any excitement in producing the painting, who would be excited by looking at it?

So I put it aside for a bit and did some thinking and looking through old photos.  On a trip to the Met. Museum in NY, a few years ago, I saw this Kees Van Dongen painting:
It dominated the room.  While my photo is probably colour skewed, it doesn't matter: it reminded me that I am creating a new world within each painting, and in that world, I make the rules.  If I can't at least create an interesting new world, then there's no point in painting.  Why create mundan…

Altered perception

One of my students in the Steveston, BC workshop gave me a very cool gadget.  It's low tech - just my speed.  It's another tool in my basket, allowing me to see my subjects and my paintings from new perspectives.  There's nothing like a new viewpoint to show you where your painting needs work.

The black mirror is a piece of glass coated on the reverse with black acrylic paint and, though it looks goofy when you use it (you look up to see an upside down version of the subject reflected in the glass), it is incredible at separating values in a subject so that you can understand the form of what you're seeing.  We used it in the workshop to clearly discern the value changes
along our model's arm, from low light up to high light on the top of her shoulders.

 Since then, I've discovered it's amazing at showing the value changes across subtle shifts such as on a white shirt worn under average light.  While it's easy to see light and shadow in bright sunligh…

Solo Exhibition Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery

I'm having a solos show!  That's pretty exciting for me, and I hope you can come out and see it if you're in the Portland, Maine area,  The Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery is a busy and active gallery that's been open for just over a year.  I was honoured to be asked to join them by painter and co-owner Susan Roux and it's been a positive experience all around.

The opening is May 1 and you'll be able to see a wide variety of my work from figurative to still life, and from small to large.  Enjoy the work and wine!

Happy painting!

FCA Workshops in Steveston Village, BC

The figurative and still life workshops in Richmond, BC were a great experience for me and, I hope, for the painters who attended.

Two days were spent painting the clothed figure - many thanks to our inspiring model, Amy - and two days were devoted to still life.  Painters came from as far away as Tennessee, New York, Jasper, Osoyoos, and Calgary, as well as from the Vancouver area.  That meant great conversations in the classroom and over shared meals in some of the restaurants in the vicinity of the workshop venue. And yes, the venue had a lot of Rotary Club paraphernalia, but it was great despite the busy walls. We were in a functions room in a historic hotel, the Steveston, which also contains a pub (The Buck and Ear), a cafe, and a liquor store.  Really, you don't need anything else!

Despite the varied subject matter, I found that the recurring themes of the workshops were largely the same: composition, paint layering, edges, tone, colour temperature and colour interaction…

Choices, choices...

I'll be in Vancouver next week teaching both figurative and still life workshops for the Federation of Canadian Artists.  To get into the mood, I've been working on small pieces in both genres in the studio.

What strikes me each time that I begin a painting is the vast number of choices that it involves.  And each choice made launches the work in a definite direction.  My most confounding decision starts with the support.  Oil primed linen is my usual choice (though I've also got oil paper, velum, aluminum, and gesso primed canvas and panels in the studio), but within that category I've got rough, smooth, and medium textured linen; double primed and single primed; stretched and mounted.  Each will impart a completely different look to the final piece - at least in my eyes - because the way that a mark breaks on each is unique to that surface.

Next is the colour of the toning - if I use any.  Sometimes I opt to start on a white surface for the clarity of colours tha…

Balance colour and temperature

Some painters deliberately avoid using all three primaries in a single painting, but it's a practise that has never worked for me.  I need to see the full spectrum of colours in each painting or it feels out of balance.

This may be the difference between a tonal and a colourist approach; I can see limiting primaries if the subtle distinction between values were my method of painting, but colour is what obsesses me, and I need to use my full palette to satisfy my eye.

Of course I tend to forget this on occasion, as I did in this painting.  It began as a generally cool piece with greenish shadows and warm, yellowy light.  With the blue dominance in the still life objects, this meant that my painting was an analogous scheme of yellow greens and blues.  It was what I saw in the still life set up, but it didn't work in the painting.

It's interesting when that happens, because it's a reminder that you can't just trust your eyes, you have to use some rational thought an…

Neo Megilp

In my continuing quest for just the right mark, I've been experimenting with Gamblin's Neo Megilp. It's their lead-free imitation of Maroger medium: a soft gel used by many painters, notably one of my all-time favourites: Fairfield Porter.

I used the gel in these two small paintings done last week during a half-day model painting session in my studio.  NM has an interesting character under the brush: it both slows my mark and makes it more robust and fluid.  There's a subtle sticking quality despite its description as a "silky" gel, and that makes each mark more deliberate.  It's similar, in that respect, to using a 50/50 mix of stand oil and OMS, but the colour is prettier with NM.  The increased sense of fluidity comes, I think, from the fact that I instinctively load my brush with more paint and medium in order to overcome the stickiness. (That heavier pigment load accounts for the colour's beauty, I think.) The result is an effect that is both m…

Tuesday afternoon class at Calgary School of Art

I'll be starting the spring session of my regular Tuesday classes at the Calgary School of Art on March 31.  There are a few openings in the class this time and I hope you'll join me.  
The course is 12 weeks long and covers a lot of ground.  We start with still life, move on to independent subject choices and individual instruction, and finish with plein air.  The last day of class will be June 16.  
For more specific information about the course, please visit the workshop page on my website:

The tiling technique

The Russian Impressionists were my biggest influence when I was teaching myself to paint.  When a friend showed me Mary Balcomb's book, Sergei Bongart, I felt like I'd found my people.  Here was a man who painted with vigour and joy.  He loved colour and he dashed it on with big, overt brushtrokes.  I could see his hand in each rugged painting.

I've never lost the admiration for obvious brushwork and colour and it's been my goal ever since. The method of applying individual marks in this manner is called tiling.  Walter Sickert, a great British painter and teacher, compared it to a deck of cards placed sparingly on a coloured table top.  Each card was a separated touch of colour.  On top of those first cards, he would place more cards, bridging gaps in the first lay out, but never completely obscuring the table top.  He recommended marks varying in size from postage stamp to pea.  With enough loose, open layers, he could build rich surfaces and lively images.

The ke…

Capturing the Feeling of the Beach

I've been fortunate this winter and have gotten a lot of tropical sunshine.  The light, colour, and warmth continue to inspire me in my snow-covered studio at home.

I've been painting a lot of little 8 x 10's and enjoying the size.  It's just enough to capture a moment and it forces me to be economical in my detail.  "Striped Sundress" was a particular challenge because the dress kept pulling me into more fussy detail.  With the usual overkill of modern digital, my camera captured every wrinkle of the billowing dress.  It took a few attempts with big brushes to make my painting into something that corresponded to what the human eye can see.  We don't see every wrinkle: we see motion, light, shadow and large areas of colour.

When I saw the woman and her child on the beach, the reason I photographed them was that she looked like a billowing sail, filled with light and air as she made her way across the sand.  I wanted my painting to convey that feeling.

Gesso vs oil priming

My favourite surface is stretched, oil primed linen, but, it's a tricky surface to ship.  Where I live, it's so dry that you could mummify a body just by wrapping it up and putting it outdoors.  There's absolutely no humidity in the air.  That's the environment in which I stretch my linen.  The galleries that show my work are, for the most part, in more humid climates (less humid isn't possible) which means that some of my work gets loose on the stretchers after hanging for a while.  I had to restretch a few the last time I was in Rendezvous Gallery in Vancouver.  The solution is, of course, to find a different support.  
Commercial canvases don't seem as affected by changes in climate, so I'm giving them a try.  The painting above was done on acrylic-primed canvas and I'm ambivalent about the result.  I like the painting, but I miss some of the marks that I can get only on oil priming.  Acrylic priming gives a softer, melting look to the marks; they d…