Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meet the Artists--in person and on canvas!

In a few days' time, on the weekend of November 16 - 18, along with most of my studio mates, I will be taking part in this year's Eastside Culture Crawl. For me it will be the eighth time I have played hostess in my studio space, first at 901 Main St. and then, since 2010, at Portside Studios, 150 McLean Drive. For detailed information about the Crawl, and to download a map showing all the participating artists and studios, please see www.eastsideculturecrawl.com
If you have never "crawled" before, be warned: this is a very big event with an awful lot to see!The list of artists in the printed brochure takes up four double-columned pages. We are spread over an area extending from Main St. to Victoria Drive and from East 1st Ave. to the Burrard Inlet waterfront. So although there are dedicated Crawlers who make a full time job of it from 5 pm on the Friday through to 6:00 on the Sunday (maybe they are the same people who see ten movies a day during the Film Festival) most people select a few studios, giving preference to artists they know personally or whose work they admire. Another warning--mid-November is not the best time of year for leisurely strolls through Vancouver's streets! Although we have occasionally had beautiful autumn days, my memory tells me it's more  often been pouring, and once we had a blizzard. So a policy adopted by the initiated is to favour buildings like Portside Studios, where there are a number of artists to visit and where once you are inside you are good for at least half an hour and can dry off and warm up.

In my last blog post (October 9, 2012) I wrote about the opportunities that have presented themselves this year to hang paintings on other people's walls. In the case of the Crawl, of course, I'm using my own walls, the ones I rent at Portside. Most of the work I'll be showing is from this year and includes the paintings I've completed so far on the theme "Artists at Work." I referred to two of them last time, but there are eight more. What attracted me to this subject is the intense absorption and concentration of all the artists, amateurs and professionals, who range in age from about twelve months to more than seven decades. As I wrote in "Facing Facts"--please see this blog, September 11, 2011--I like to see children engaged with their whole bodies and all their senses in an activity which, for the time being, is the most important thing in the world. Years ago, as an education student, I read a book by Maria Montessori. I remember almost nothing about it except that Montessori called this concentration "the great work of children," which adults should respect, even revere. I enjoy watching my grandchildren absorbed in their "great work", but I don't believe they have a monopoly on it. Certainly artists at work demonstrate the same attitudes.

The artists I've painted are people of whom I had taken or acquired photographs that I found interesting. They include friends, acquaintances and family members, and one or two whom I met on  painting holidays. I will not give any of them a name, so it's fine if they don't recognize themselves!

Artist in a Field of Gold - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20"
First, two people painting outdoors in southwestern France. A group of us were there for a painting holiday arranged by the proprietors of Brambles, an art retreat in Devon, England. (For information about their courses and trips see www.bramblesartretreat.com .) We were in a beautiful rural setting not far from Toulouse and the foothills of the Pyrenees.On a sunny but coolish September morning we strung ourselves out along the side of the road to paint the view across the fields, which included a fine Romanesque church. 
Artist in a Bean Field - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20"
When artists are busy it is as if they were in their own little world, as if other people didn't exist. The chair backs and the backdrop of trees seem to define these little worlds and separate the artists from the viewer.

Bridge on the Lydd

The Red Tractor

The next artist was also a Brambles student, but this time at the retreat in Devon, in June. We had a week of glorious weather and were able to work outside every day. In this picture we were in the yard at Brambles, but we also worked in a farmyard, where I painted "The Red Tractor," and in a partly dried up river bed, which I wrote about in my post of September 13, 2011.
Artist on an Iron Bench - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20"


"Artist on an Iron Bench" is perhaps my favourite so far. I like the minimal background and the pinkish colour, which suggests the wall of the old cottage.

Next we go to Vancouver Island and a chilly spring morning. You have to be dedicated to sketch outdoors in anything but perfect weather, but this artist and I dressed warmly and stuck it out for a couple of hours.
Artist in a Forest - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20"

The next three artists are members of Vancouver Sketch Club, and as I mentioned last time, were my contribution to the Sketch Club's 60th anniversary exhibition. We were drawing from the model in the Coach House at Hycroft, the headquarters of the University Women's Club of Vancouver. In the case of "Artist in a Black and White Outfit", it was the coordinated outfit itself which appealed to me, whereas in "Artist in a Red Scarf" I particularly liked the network of easels in the background. "Artist in Shirt Sleeves" was a challenge since I changed the background several times, moving the open door, eliminating it completely, and finally reinstating it, since the composition seemed to need something there.
Artist in Shirt Sleeves - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20" 
Artist in a Black & White Outfit - acrylic - 2012 - 20" x 16"
Artist in a Red Scarf - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20"
Shore Line
Artist beside a Pond - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20"
I wrote about summer sketching in"The Great Outdoors", August 7, 2012. One of our regular venues is Jericho Beach Park, where there is a variety of subject matter to choose from. Several years ago I spotted the row of elderly ladies that became the painting "Shore Line." This year I photographed the woman who features in "Artist beside a Pond." I particularly liked the way the trees and plants framed her, enhancing the "own little world" effect.

Artist in a Red Chair - acrylic - 2012 - 20" x 16"

Artist with a Green Crayon - acrylic - 2012 - 16" x 20"

Finally, the two youngest of my artists. On one of our summer sketching days a member brought along her grandchildren, whom she was baby-sitting for the day. I loved the way the little girl in "Artist in a Red Chair" had curled herself up as she drew the trees edging the park. Maria Montessori would have been happy to see her, as she would with the baby boy in "Artist with a Green Crayon." Scarcely big enough to see over the table, and with his left thumb an essential part of the creative process, this tiny artist is just as absorbed in his Great Work as any of the other people in my series.

Do come and see the paintings if you are in the Vancouver area, and contact me if you have a photo of your own Artist at Work that you might like to see as a 16" x 20" painting. One condition--no mugging for the camera--your artist must be oblivious to everything except the task in hand! you can send me a message via this sight, or through my website, www.myartclub.com/judith.fairwood

Next blog post? Probably not before January.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Let it Show! --My Work on Other People's Walls

There are artists who are content to paint in private year after year, squirrelling the fruits of their labours away in their attics and basements. I'm not one of those. For one thing I don't have a basement, or any other place big enough to accommodate what is by now a considerable inventory. And I am fairly prolific: I am now working on my 17th painting of 2012, to give you an idea. So for that reason alone it's a relief to be able to get some of it out of my house and on to other people's walls, even if it all comes back again days, weeks or months later.

There's another purely practical reason. Since 2005, when I obtained my BFA degree and rented a studio space for the first time, I have been conducting my art practice as a "small business." This means that I can deduct my art-related expenses, the greatest of which is my studio rent. The big advantage is that, since at the moment my art business runs at a loss, it reduces my overall income, and therefore my income tax bill. Before I set this up I attended a lecture on the topic, at which an accountant explained the rules, since of course the Canadian government is not enthusiastic about receiving less tax. In general a "small business" must demonstrate that it has "reasonable expectation of profit." However, even the government realizes that for artists "REOP" is a long shot, so it has a second criterion: "active pursuit of profit."  So for me, making an effort to get my work out into places where it will be seen by a wider audience than my family and my studio mates, and where it may possibly attract buyers, is an outward and visible sign of pursuing profit.

Even without these practical considerations it would be important to me to display my paintings. I have a real feeling of achievement in seeing my work displayed in public, especially if I can hang a whole series of related paintings in the same space. Viewers' reactions and comments are fascinating and instructive too. I know that enough people respond positively to my work to make it worth putting it out there for their enjoyment. Canvases stacked in closets or against the wall are not doing anyone much good.

So . . . for all these reasons I submit my work to juries and take part in events and group activities. And this year a whole host of opportunities have presented themselves more or less together, between now and the end of the year. So if you live in the Vancouver area and would like to see examples of my actual work, as opposed to virtual thumbnails, please come to some of the following venues or events. I have already written in this blog about some of the work, and don't want to repeat myself unduly, so I'll just give the reference to the relevant blog instalment. If you want to take a(nother) look at it, just click on the relevant date on the list to the upper right of your screen, where it says "Blog Archive."

First up is a group show with Vancouver Sketch Club, www.myartclub.com/the.vancouver.sketch.club , which is due to open Saturday September 29 in the upstairs lounge of the Metro Theatre, along with the Theatre's next production, I'll be Back Before Midnight, described as "a chilling evening down on the farm"! You can only get in to see the art show if you attend the play, but do come for an inexpensive evening out,Thurs. through Sat. evenings and Sunday matinees until October 27. See www.metrotheatre.com for more information. The theme for our art show is "Quotes from the Masters." I wrote about this project, and the three paintings I planned to submit to the show, in "Getting Going Again: Vincent's Mutants" -- please see this blog, March 2012. However, I sold the paintings shortly afterwards, and painted two different ones for the show. I followed the same procedure--changing the colours of the original to their complementaries--but the "master" I quoted from was Tom Thomson, and the paintings two of his best known, "The West Wind " and "The Jack Pine." You can see the original versions at
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_West_Wind_(painting) and
 www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artwork.php?mkey=11056 and compare them with my much smaller mutants, each 16" x 18".

Oddly, I found these much harder to paint than the Van Gogh mutants! Less surprisingly, I learned that changing the colours greatly alters the mood of a landscape.

The weekend of Sept. 28 - 30 I will be taking part in an art event called the Main Drift, open to artists who live or work on or near Main Street. I am planning to be in a display space at 350 East 2nd Ave. (the same venue as I was in for the last Drift, in 2010)  from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm on the Saturday and Sunday, with fellow painters Vanessa Lam and Melanie Ellery. For much more information and a map, please see www.thedrift.ca . I will be showing some of my "Watery World" series, which I wrote about in "Reflecting on Reflections," April 2012. Here's "Watery World 4" as an example.

The following week the Vancouver Sketch Club will be hanging another show, this time to celebrate its 60th anniversary. The Club has gone through some drastic changes over the years. It started as an all-male preserve for downtown businessmen who wanted to sketch or paint in the Vancouver Art Gallery. For many years women--the wives of the members--were relegated to the role of refreshment providers and cleaner-uppers at meetings. Eventually some of the wives--supported by a few husbands--rebelled, and were grudgingly admitted to the Club, which now has a predominantly female membership! Our celebratory show will be installed at the West End Community Centre on Denman St. and will run from October1 to 20. There is no specific theme for this show. I am planning to include two or three of the series that has been my main focus this year, paintings of artists at work. What I like about the subject is the artists' complete absorption in their activity; they seem to be each in their own separate world. I have so far completed eight paintings, and want to do five or six more--by which time I'll be ready for a complete change of direction! Here's "Artist in a Black and White Outfit" as an example.

Artist in a Black and White Outfit - 2012 - 20" x 16"

In the same week I'll be hauling off a carload of paintings to a Massage Clinic, www.cambievillagemassagetherapy.ca , where, as a member of the Drift Society, I have been invited to display work for three months--my longest stay to date on Other People's Walls! As with the Metro Theatre, you can only see the work if you patronize the establishment, so if you have sore muscles, here's your chance to combine a massage with art appreciation. I will be sharing the wall space with Melanie Ellery, and am planning to show work which features people. This is work from longer ago, and I have written about most of it before--please see 2011 instalments, especially Feb. 20, March 6, May, June, September and December. For example, I'll be including "Country Church".
Country Church - 2009 - each panel 14" x 11"
November brings our big annual event, the Eastside Culture Crawl, www.eastsideculturecrawl.com ,
when our studio, Portside Studios at 150 McLean Drive, will open our doors for three days. I can't claim that the Crawl will get my work on to Other People's Walls, but I will at least have the opportunity to show it to Other People, and talk to them about it. Maybe even sell some of it . . . or, since I'll be showing my "Artists at Work" series, maybe I'll even secure commissions for further studies of artists! Well, I can fantasize! Here's another Artist at Work:

Artist on an Iron Bench - 2012 - 16" x 20"

And that brings us to December, when I'll be showing a selection of paintings from my series "In Praise of November" at the Hycroft Gallery in the home of the University Women's Club of Vancouver,  www.uwcvancouver.ca  . I wrote about this series in my posts of March 13 and November 2011, and in March 2012. I don't yet know the exact dates of this show, and I'm still deciding which paintings to include, but they will be mostly landscapes and trees. Here's one:

November Snow - 2009 - 20" x 20"

There! A major move in the direction of Mother Hubbard walls, and ample proof for the tax man, if he happens to be paying attention, of my "active pursuit of profit." My showing streak even extends into January--but that's another story!

Next blog post in a month or so. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Great Outdoors: A Sketch is Just a Sketch

This post is decorated with pages from my sketch books. As I explain below, I make no claims for these simple efforts: they are just  . . . sketches.

Most of my paintings, even my landscapes, are produced in the studio and based on photographs that I have taken earlier and edited on the computer. Some artists, of course, paint outdoors, making a virtue of the constantly changing effects of light and weather. The Impressionists are famous for this approach, with Monet's multiple paintings of the same cathedral or group of haystacks being prime examples. (Please see www.learn.columbia.edu/monet/swf  and www.artsology.com/monetlight.php .)

Other artists make quick, small paintings on site with a view to elaborating them later into more ambitious compositions. These fresh air enthusiasts may disapprove of painting from photos, and can produce some persuasive arguments to support their opinion. They may say that the struggle to express the reality that confronts their eyes, the challenge of limiting, framing, and editing all that messy detail out there and reducing three dimensions to two, not to mention dealing with changing light and atmospheric effects, makes for an enriched and more lively painting. The freshness and spontaneity of a modest work produced on site can be very appealing, sometimes more so than the large, studio-painted canvas based upon it. See, for example,  www.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jack_Pine , where different versions of Tom Thomson's iconic painting are compared. 
Tugs on the Fraser

For myself, however, working only on location would produce very few paintings. For one thing, there's the weather, especially here in the rain forest. You have to be very dedicated to shiver in the drizzle while your paper blows away or your painting goes blotchy. But also there's the lack of privacy. If you work outdoors, unless you take yourself off to the seclusion of the mountains, where you'll  be bothered only by bears, you're subjected to a constant stream of passers-by who are desperate to breathe down your neck and ask what you're doing. Many artists don't mind this at all, and regard the interruptions as opportunities for educating the public and even drumming up sales; but for me the intrusions are annoying, and being "on stage" can revive the panic I felt as a teenager when I had to play the piano for school assembly. I would never have made a performance artist!
Moored in West Van

Despite all this, I can thoroughly enjoy drawing and painting outdoors if I'm part of a class or informal group. There are few more pleasant ways to spend a warm summer day. Safety in numbers means that if I turn my back pointedly enough on the curious strollers they can fasten on a more promising victim. Now that summer has finally come to Vancouver (well, sort of . . .  with all this climate change we can't any longer count on the four to six weeks of solid warm sunny weather that used to define our July and August) I'm once again sketching each Wednesday with members and friends of the Vancouver Sketch Club.


Our arrangements couldn't be simpler: two of us arrange to meet at a chosen spot, usually a park with a variety of subject material, shade, easy parking and public toilets. We send an email to our list of contacts announcing the place and time, and people either show up or don't. We've had as few as two and as many as thirteen. Some draw, some use watercolours. Some have had lots of experience, some are beginners. We work for a few hours, chat a bit, eat a picnic lunch, and settle on the venue for the following week. If you would like to give it a try, please contact us at www.myartclub.com/the.vancouver.sketch.club.
Trees in Trout Lake - 2012

As well as a pleasure, sketching is always a challenge and a learning experience, a return to the most basic form of art activity and the eye-brain-hand coordination that it requires. At the same time it isn't--or shouldn't be--a stressful activity, because there is no requirement or expectation that it should produce a masterpiece. A sketch is just a sketch, no more and no less, and it makes no more sense to say a sketch is "good" or "bad" than to apply those adjectives to an entry in a personal journal. A sketch is a visual note or record, a quick experiment, and sometimes the first step in a project. For me, if a sketch catches some of the essence of what I'm looking at, it's successful.

Garden Steps

Unless I'm enrolled in a class, I prefer to be unambitious when sketching outdoors. I work small, often using a 6" x 6" sketch book and either pencil or black pen. I'm fascinated by the expressive possibilities of this simple equipment, but still have a lot to learn when it comes to conveying light and dark contrast by shading. The biggest challenge, and one I've been struggling with for years now, is how to capture the variety of leaf and branch shapes that my eyes distinguish. Often there is very little tonal difference between clumps of trees or shrubs, so the contrast has to come from the juxtaposition of patterns. I don't want to get too fussy and outline every leaf, though, so the question is how to create an impression with a minimum of pen strokes. In Trees in Trout Lake (above) I felt that I had come closer than usual to achieving this goal. Maybe this week I'll get there . . . but maybe not. After all, sketching is just sketching.


Next blog post? Well, theoretically in about a month, but my track record this year is not very good.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bucolic Setting, Violent Confrontation

A year ago, in June 2011, during a three-week stay in England, I spent a couple of days in a small northern town called Kirkby Lonsdale. The main reason for my going there was to visit an old friend whom I hadn't seen since 2005, but I also hoped to have the opportunity to revisit a place that had so much impressed me on my previous visit that I had based three paintings on it.

Kirkby Lonsdale, often shortened to Kirkby (with the second k silent) is a picturesque spot that I can heartily recommend for a visit. It's located between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, and if you travel by train, as I did, the nearest station is Lancaster. A car would get you there more efficiently, but you might want to abandon it on arrival, since the streets are narrow and twisting, and slope steeply down to the River Lune.
Kirkby street

   One of Kirkby's attractions is a lookout point near the parish church from which you can gaze across the river and its valley at "Ruskin's View", named for the 19th century art critic and social reformer. I'm not sure if Ruskin actually painted the view or just stopped and looked at it, and I don't know exactly which way he was looking, either, but these photos will give you an idea of what he saw, and why he apparently found it so inspiring. It's English countryside at its best, and fortunately doesn't appear to have changed much since Ruskin's time.
Ruskin's View 2
Ruskin's View 1
Like my illustrious predecessor I too paused and and admired this idyllic scene, but it was not the place I was making for. I continued along the cliff top path, skirting the churchyard, until the panoramic view gave way to a wooded area. A rusted iron fence ran along beside the footpath, perhaps to stop people straying on to the hazardous slope. And here was the scene of the slow-paced but violent drama that had grabbed my attention six years before. In 2011, on a bright, summery afternoon, this is what I saw (left) . . .

 . . . but the first time I'd been there it was a dark, showery day, and with the camera I had at the time I'd had to use a flash, so the scene looked more like this  (right) and correspondingly more sinister.

You have to look closely--this is definitely a case of the devil being in the details. The fence must have been erected when the tree was much younger. Maybe it was even here in Ruskin's day--who knows? In any case, the tree expanded outwards and became viciously impaled on the rusted spikes of the fence, which, though bent out of shape, remained firmly in place and poked through the bark. The roots continued to spread through the fence on to the "civilized" side, like monstrous toes trying to escape from jail.

Back in the studio in 2007 I painted three versions of this protracted border war in which nature pits herself against human beings for control of a few feet of woodland. Neither side seems to be winning and the tree has probably by now reached its full size, though I suspect the ogre's toes will keep trying to inch forward. As I painted I was thinking all the time about man-versus-nature confrontations, overlaps and conflicts. Here are the results, each 24 x36 ins.
Encroachment 1: Toehold
Encroachment 3: Staked Out

Encroachment 2: Boundary Fence

This unlikely subject caught my imagination and I felt a real compulsion to paint it. As with my later painting "The Tree that almost Brained Me" (please see this blog Feb. 7, 2011) I wanted both to paint a realistic tree but also to represent the forest monster which, after all, I hadn't invented: there it was! I think I did an adequate job and took the work as far as I could at the time, but I wasn't altogether satisfied with the results. Perhaps that was why I wanted to return to the scene. A year ago I took more photos, closer up this time, and at some point I may make more paintings, based on images like these.
Foot of Tree

Next blog post in about a month.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reflecting on Reflections: "Watery World" Series

Like many artists I produce many more paintings than I sell. Maybe some time that will change, but in the meantime, what to do with all the inventory is a head-scratching challenge. I like to have my most recent work on the wall, partly so that, if it does eventually sell, I will have been able to enjoy it a bit first, and partly because faults that need fixing sometimes show up. It's much better to correct a bit of bad drawing or an ambiguous patch of colour while the painting is still in my possession, rather than in a purchaser's home or, worse still, in a gallery!  Still, there's a limit to how much my home and studio walls will bear, and the remaining paintings end up stashed in closets and propped several deep behind my studio furniture. At present this is the fate of most of last year's work, a series of paintings of reflections in water. I wrote about some of them in this blog in September 2011, remarking that my interest shifted from seeing reflections as part of a larger scene to fascination with the reflections in their own right, independent of the things being reflected.

Forest Pond  - acrylic - 27" x 42" - 2011
"Forest Pond" was an important transitional step. As I worked on this, for me, quite large painting, I realized at some point that I couldn't tell exactly where the water level was, so that I couldn't be sure what was "real" and what was the reflected image.
As I continued to study reflections in different bodies of water--pools, streams, lakes--I became engrossed in the shifting, unstable, looking-glass world beneath my feet. Anything could happen down there: there was no need for rational explanations. This was very liberating, since I was free to imagine and invent. After all, nothing was "real"--it was just an image, and an unreliable one at that, subject to fragmentation by a sudden gust of wind or sprinkle of rain. On the other hand, standing on the edge of water and gazing down was somewhat dizzying. I suppose it induced a kind of vertigo. I thought it might be a challenge to paint reflections without making a viewer feel queasy and disoriented. At first I myself kept getting confused about which way was up! As I continued, however, I sought out the little cues that differentiate a reflection from above-water reality--the surface ripple, the sky poking through at the bottom of the composition, things on the bed of the pond or stream intruding into the reflections.

Watery World 2 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
Watery World 3 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011

I began with three variations on a pond in Stanley Park in Vancouver. It was a summer day, and the pond was in a wooded area, with dappled sunlight catching some of the branches. A little waterfall trickled over a rock, wiggling the reflected  conifer needles and crinkling hard edges, but the surface was still enough to make an almost perfect mirror image.

Next I tackled two images of reflections in moving water. These turned into more abstract compositions because the wind on the lake, in one case, and the swift current of the river in the other, splintered and distorted the image.

Watery World 5 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
Watery World 4 - acrylic - 30" x 24" - 2011

These two paintings happen to be based on photos I took in different places in England, but with a project like this one the geography hardly matters. These are not site-specific landscapes. Reflections presumably behave the same way the world over! (Here I go off into a reverie about bath water spiralling in opposite directions in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. What would that do to reflections? And then there's that perplexing question: where is the dividing line where the water starts to swirl the other way . . . ? Having spent two weeks in Quito I can attest to the fact that nothing dramatic happens right on the equator.)

Watery World 6 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
The next two "Watery Worlds" were located in yet another part of England. This time I was walking alongside a little stream in rain that fell intermittently as fine drizzle and a soaking downpour. It was the middle of June, and chilly. The stream was described as a "winterbourne", which means that it often dries up in summer. Not too much chance of that the year I was there. The lush vegetation that lined the banks included the copper beeches that show in the paintings as purple leaves.

Watery World 7 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
Watery World 7 suffered a misfortune in my studio just before the 2011 Eastside Culture Crawl. My year's work was hanging on the walls, with the exception of the work-in-progress, which was on the easel. As I worked on this painting the big studio easel suddenly collapsed and folded itself up, crashing into No. 7 and tearing a two-inch gash in the canvas. Afterwards I realized that a screw at the back of the easel that I hadn't adjusted in months must have worked its way loose. I patched the painting on the back with a square of canvas and lots of acrylic medium, and touched up the paint. It really doesn't show, but of course, if someone wants to buy it I'll have to reduce the price.

Watery World 8 - acrylic - 30" x 24" - 2011

Nos. 8, 9 and 10 are back in Stanley Park. They are all reflections in the ornamental pool in the garden outside the dining pavilion. There are tall conifers growing there but also more exotic plants like the giant gunnera in No. 8 and the red-leaved plant in No. 10. On this occasion the sun was shining, creating yellow bars on the water which faded out the reflections and let the bed of the pool show through.

Watery World 10 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011

Next blog post will be in June

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Getting Going Again: "Vincent's Mutants"

I got off to a slow start this year, but now I'm back to painting after a lengthy break. I was out of the country, first in England for Christmas, then in Mexico, and in neither place did I engage in any art activity, except for taking a few photos. My blog lapsed too, while I waited for the urge to write to come back. As I wrote in December, in "The Tyranny of Tinsel," I've told most of the stories associated with my inventory of paintings, so any blog writing will have more to do with recent and current art activities than with the past. Perhaps this year the title "Easel Talk", which I chose in haste just over a year ago, will be a more accurate descriptor, although my first idea, "Easel Thoughts", which I think was rejected by Google as already taken, might be even better.

Mt. Seymour at Sunset - acrylic - 20" x 20" - 2012

Back in the studio, I first finished off an addition to my "In Praise of November" series called "Mt. Seymour at Sunset." On the day after a heavy fall of snow, the North Shore mountains, as seen from my balcony, were an improbable shade of pink as they caught the setting sun. In contrast, the shadows on the lower slopes appeared startlingly blue.

Next came three small paintings on a theme proposed by my friend and studio mate Eva Wideman for this year's group project for Vancouver Sketch Club members. We settled on the title "Quotes from the Masters." The idea is to refer in some way to a famous painting, without exactly copying it. We thought this would be both fun and a learning experience.

Negative image
The "quoting" could be done in many ways, but I chose to model my work on three of Van Gogh's iconic images, but in their complementary, or reversed, colours. This turned out to be a fascinating and challenging project. First I tackled the famous sunflowers, which Van Gogh painted a number of times. I used a print of the version in the National Gallery in London. To view please go to www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/vincent-van-gogh-sunflowers . My first step was to print out a negative of the print, which gave me the reversed colours. However, I wanted to keep the tonal values as close as possible to the original, not have the lights and darks reversed, so next I made a greyscale print.
Greyscale image

Finally, after a preparatory drawing, I started painting on a 18" x 14" canvas, about half the size of Van Gogh's.

The project turned into a colour exercise more demanding than any I'd encountered since my first year colour course at art school. I also had to use a lot of imagination. I was thinking all the time about colour theory, the colour wheel, complementary colours--the very issues that Van Gogh himself had wrestled with. But one problem that Vincent didn't have was deciding which colour wheel to use. For him the primary colours were red, yellow, blue, and their complementaries, on the opposite side of the wheel, were green, violet and orange. My computer and printer go by a different colour system, in which the primaries are yellow, magenta, cyan, and their complementaries blue, green and red. I tied myself up in knots trying to decide which way to jump, and in the end, inevitably, I went by intuition and used the colours that seemed to work best. Another issue that had not previously occurred to me was the relative "heat" of the hues. Warm colours, the reds and oranges, appear to come forward in a painting, while the cool blues and greens recede. But I didn't want my sunflowers to recede like shrinking violets, so I had to make the blues as vibrant as possible. Of course, I was also working from a little print, which may or may not be an accurate representation of the original colours. And finally--a consideration that didn't occur to me until I'd almost finished the project--I have cataracts that may require surgery later this year, so I actually have no idea whether I'm seeing colours as other people do, and maybe this wasn't the year to be doing this kind of work! Anyway, here is my first "Mutant":
Blue Sunflowers - acrylic - 18"x 14" - 2012
I went on to follow the same procedure with "The Yellow Chair" and "The Sower,"
www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=4500&lang+en  with these results:
Blue Chair - acrylic - 18" x 14" - 2012
Blue Moon - acrylic - 14" x 18" - 2012

Having completed four paintings and made a good start on two more, I feel really back in harness. Next blog post in about a month!