Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3 - Improved Paintings

About 2 weeks ago, I made an appointment with my mentor, Penny Maday.  I loaded all my recent paintings into the truck and drove the short distance to her house. Penny looked at all the paintings I and gave me suggestions to improve them. It was so great to have her views - a real learning experience. Some of things she pointed out - I recognized right away. Others - I had to think about.

So - let's start with my most recent painting - my portrait of my mother Jessica based on the photo we put in her obituary. In the photo Jessica was on a boat and looking into the sun. her eyes were mere black strips. Penny suggested that I could put in her eyes and showed me an example of a painting where the eyes had been painted with pupils, irises and little bright reflective spots. It was hard to figure out how to do this would  based soley on the photo - but eventually I realized that there were enough clues about where here eyeballs were from the shadows around them. After a bit of trial and error I think I figured it out. To me - the portrait really looks like my mother the way I remember her. I retained the unfinished look of the painting but gave more substance to her shoulders and made the collar more realistic and shiny. I also left in her name and added mine - "By Grant" I think she looks great - strong and sort of sporty - the way she was when she was young. 

Next - the bridge - Penny suggested that I put some more light into the focal point of my Swy-a-lana bridge painting  - which is the area of the painting where the Gabriola Galleries (cliffs) appear above the water. I ended up doing a lot of repainting of the water, the bridge, the sky and the annoying tree on the right side of the bridge. I also cleaned up the lamp posts - they were a bit to big and rough - and lightened the mountains in the background. I think it is improved. I think it still appears that the light source is the bridge - kind of all glowing. Penny thought the way I painted the water in front of the bridge was influenced by Van Gogh - squiggle bits- and Monet - the nice reflective part in front. It's true. I was trying to follow their styles - contradictory thought they are.

Then I turned to my chip barges off Gabriola. Penny had suggested that the tug was too near the middle of the painting - but I thought that if I moved it to the left, the distance between the tug and the barges would be too great to be real. So instead, I tried to show the tug was turning a bit. This made a tiny bit of difference to the position of the tug - but showed much more clearly that the tug was actually towing the barges. Penny also did not like my "mackerel" sky and I had always thought it was very stiff - especially compared to the water. She suggested removing all the clouds on the right side of the painting - but instead I just smoothed them out a bit - trying to use a more Emily Carr quality of movement and better brushes. She also did not recognize that the chip barges were chip barges - she thought they were houses! Well - they are an unusual sight if you're not familiar with pulp mills and what not. Fixing them was my hardest challenge. I painted and repainted those darn barges trying to show that the stacks of wood chips were inside the barges - not house roofs. Here is a detail - the colour is way off in this photos - but I think the drawing is much better. Like Jessica's eyes, I could not get this detail from the photo - I had to sort of explore my way through it. I think this painting is now more "lyrical" and hope it is not over-worked..

Lastly I worked on my cherry trees by Swy-a-lana Lagoon. Penny's main concern with the original version was that the bollards along the lagoon were completely out of proportion. It's true - they were huge. That's because they were huge in my photo - probably because I used the wrong lens when I took the picture. Also the first bench was not directly across from the bollards in the photo - so the proportion was OK in the photo - but wrong in the painting. Reducing the size of the bollards was a huge task as I had to reconceptualize the lagoon and the beach - which had previously been hidden. I created some logs - based on the Emily Carr painting I had been copying. Then I realized that the lamp posts were also too big. I redid them and changed the trees and sky behind. Then the path had to change and the benches had to be straightened. I put shadows under the leaves on the path and a suggestion of shadows behind the trees. Again, I think this version is a more lyrical and pretty painting than it was before and hope it is not overworked. I don't think any of the original thick bits of paint show through anywhere. Whe I finished it I thought the focal pint was where the path and furthest bollard intersected - but now I think it's the furthest lamp post against the dark fir trees.

One of the "Great Courses" we are currently watching is on appreciating great art. It is a very good course - not just for appreciating art but also for doing it. Tonight the class was on perspective and I think the perspective in this painting is now better. I could improve the perspective by kind of fluffing up and dimming the small cherry trees on the right to make them appear more distant - but that would weaken the feeling of a really bright fall day. I think it would also change the composition which is a very strong set of zigzags and vertical lines. The picture would kind of taper off to right even more than it does now. So I am going to leave it alone.

I now think all these paintings are done - again. I'm always thinking they are done and then deciding that they are not.  I have been painting for several hours almost every day - except when we went to the Whistler Film Festival to see Lauren's movie (she won best picture!) and I think I need to take a break for a couple of days. I seem to have lost my sense of why I'm painting. But that's good - discombobulation  means I'm learning.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

November 18 - Jessica

Here is a painting I just did of my mother, Jessica. 

It is based on a photo taken of her in about 1965 when she was about 50 years old. We used the original photo in her obituary and on the mass booklet for her funeral. This interpretation has her wearing the yellow jacket my parents had at about that time. We all took turns wearing it - when we forgot to bring our own coats. 

I did  this painting because I somehow want to tie the two Emily Carr landscapes I am working on copying - to  Jessica's love of Emily Carr's writing and paintings.. Maybe I should try doing a portrait of the young Emily to balance out this collection? A portrait of each of these remarkable women on each side of the two landscapes - with some wording to explain the connection....

I haven't ever painted a portrait before and my initial under painting was way off - but the final picture isn't too bad. I think it's actually recognizable and impressionistic. A happy thing to do to remember my mother. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16, 2012 - Learning from Emily

Here are the two Emily Carr pictures I have been working on copying. 

I think the top one - "Shoreline" is finished. It is not exactly the same as Emily Carr's painting - partly because the board I used was no the right shape and partly because I wasn't trying to make an exact copy - just capture the flavour and try using her style. I think it turned out well. The logs on the right are a bit odd in the photos - I will have to see if they are OK in the real painting.
The second one - "Gravel Pit" is not finished although it looks quite good in the photo. If I do the same as I did with the Shoreline painting, my next step will be to use a small pointy "round" brush to fix the details - such as the trees on the distant side of the gravel pit. I am pretty confident it will turn out well too - as long as I don't go too far fixing it.

An interesting question is what to do with these two pictures. They are not forgeries of Carr - but they are definitely copies. I wonder if I could put them in a larger construction with some kind of visual commentary - sort of like the Ian Wallce's panels that we saw at the Vancouver Art Gallery last week. Perhaps I could call them "Ode to Jessica" and put her photo in somehow - given that she liked Emily Carr's paintings so much. Maybe I could actually paint a photo of Jessica - maybe two photos - Jessica young on the sailboat and Jessica old in her wheel chair. I could even paint some words that would tie everything together. Hmmm... 

I can see that to be worthwhile, paintings have to tell a story. I think this is what my paintings have lacked to date - they  tell a story as a group - but not individually. That's why my idea of sticking plastic bottles floating in a pristine sea is such a good one. Suddenly there is not only a story - but also a political statement. A theme even. Why not?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November 7

Here is my Nanaimo Port Theatre picture from yesterday. I have been working on it for the last few days.

I didn't do any painting for about 2 weeks because my mother died on October 22. My brother, sister and I had visited her together the day before and we all knew she would not be with us much longer. However, it was a bit of a shock when she died the next day. My mother was a very interesting person and a great lover of art.She had turned 98 in September.

Below is my painting from today. It is a lot more yellow than yesterday - but not as yellow as it looks in this photo.One thing that is greatly improved is the trees on the left hand side. There is actually a small hill behind that part  of the boat basin - with trees growing below and on top. Also the War Museum is located up there. I had really wanted to have the darkness of the trees extend to the top of the picture - but it didn't look right when I tried to finish them up.
I am going to let this painting sit now until it is completely dry and then try to get back more of the whitish look for the boats. I probably also need to equalize the blue at the bottom with the colour of the sky. I'm not quite sure whether to make the sky bluer or the water greyer. also, the fun of putting in the lurid pink of the bumpers also lies ahead. That will help me decide whether or not I have to tone down the pink of the little cherry tree poofs - which were what I most wanted to portray in this painting.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19, 2012 - theatre coming along

Here is my theatre painting after a couple of days of working on it. I think I finally have the shape of the theatre building done correctly. The part with the windows is the foyer and it is circlar. The interesting thing is that even though I am standing up high on the other side of the boat basin - the curve goes up in the middle - not down. When I finally figured that out, the picture improved. The colours are still not right but I do love the windows.

The thing I am thinking now is that if I want to be a painter I have to paint - pretty much every day - for at least and hour or two. In fact and hour or two is perfect because I get tired if I do any longer and end up mucking up the picture because I am not thinking clearly. I also think an hour or two is good because it is hard to get going if you think you have to paint for more than an hour. It is daunting to think how much you will need to do to a picture plus there is so much else to do around here. One or two hours is actually more efficient.

So - nice brushes, better overall design (no more subject in the dead centre - which I now notice is how I have painted quite a few of my pictures) and a couple of hours a day painting a day.  Also - a couple of hours of fun exercise and whatever else is on the agenda. Today we did a 10 k bike ride with Lexy. I am currently so healthy (hardly any phlegm) that it was easy!

Tomorrow we are going to North Van to help with Rob's renovations. I will take my sketch pad and computer and my Emily Carr book - to keep me doing something with my art. Looking and thinking is also needed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 16 - Next Emily Carr copy

Yesterday I did a copy of Emily Carr's painting "Shoreline." I just did the under-painting using burnt umber - a very dark colour. Today I did the same thing for another Carr painting of a gravel pit. Both these paintings are extremely swirly. They may have been encouraged by Harris with his mystical interpretation of abstract mountains.- who became a friend and mentor to Emily Carr later in her life I'm hoping doing these copies will give me some insight into how to be more graceful and loose in my own painting.

Sorry that the photo of the original is so poor. The paper is very shiny and I actually find it hard to see when I am trying to paint my copy. My burnt ember copy looks quite varied in colour in the photo. Actually the photo is a lot more attractive than the actual under-painting - which is just dark brown. This gives me tons of hope that when I add the colours to the under-painting I will have something that looks a bit like Emily Carr's painting - even if the size is too small and the dimensions are wrong.The look is a bit cartoonish - while Emily Carr's painting is not - despite the squiggles.

As with the copy I did yesterday, I learned that in these swirly paintings, Emily Carr followed the surface of  the things that she painted and did some very imaginative swirly things with the sky. Like the Beacon Hill Park subject, this subject is familiar to me. Although I don't know the exact gravel pit,

Today is my 47th wedding anniversary. Most of my life since I got married has been spent on Vancouver Island. I lived for 9 years in the North Island when logging was at its height - so stumps and gravel pits (to get gravel to build logging roads) are a familiar sight. In fact, a picture of a forest without any stumps doesn't look real to me. I have seen a lot of gravel pits and I think her interpretation is true to the feeling you get in an empty gravel pit on a sunny day. In Emily Carr's pictures the results of logging are beautiful.

It strikes me as interesting that Emily Carr painted totem poles, living forest, and logged over areas - all part of BC today and then. I have read all her published works and can't remember ever reading that she was opposed to logging. She often complained about how hard ti was to paint the huge West Coast forest. The trees are so enormous and the growth is so dense. Without logged off areas or beaches you can't see any vistas in a coastal forest.. Logging exposed the land and the sky so that Emily Carr could paint more than just swirls of evergreen tree branches.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Oct 15 - Thinking and painting

 It is now a couple of hours later and I have tried my first Emily Carr copy.  Here is a picture of the original (note the orange post its). The title is "Shoreline" and it is a painting of the cliffs below Beacon Hill Park with Clover Point in the distance. It was painted in 1935 (or was it 1936?). It must be stunning.

Here is my monochrome first attempt at copying it.

I used burnt umber with titanium white - which I suppose will take a while to dry. I think flake white dries faster. It is interesting how the one pigment - just burnt umber with white - looks so varied in this photo. It goes from almost black to red to gold.

The main thing I learned was that Emily Carr's swirls were her way of showing the surfaces of everything.  Everything! Cool! The part that worked the best for me - so far - is the sandy beach - where the sand swirls around the cliffs and the logs. But even the closest cliff is painted in swirls which follow the shape of the cliff. No blocked out areas for her - pure surface swirls. Of course, the most interesting part of the original is the sky. She does that type of sky quite often - but I think only works because it is not the only swirly part. It is one of many swirls. . This gives movement and wonderful glowing light.

The other thing I learned was that the boards that I am using are way too small. On top of that, they are the wrong dimensions. This picture should be more than a meter wide. However, this is only an exercise, so I won't be deterred.  Once the monochrome under-painting has dried, I will start to put in colours more like the original as it appears in my book.

BTW, I got my info on how to do monochrome under-painting from

October 15, 2012 - new plans

Here are the two pictures I have been working on recently - that I mentioned yesterday.

The first one is my Nanaimo Port Theatre painting. You may be able to see that I have put on some initial colour for the big windows (green) and the buildings (pink) and then I have redrawn them - to make them larger and, I hope, improve the overall design. I also enlarged the double-ended troller with the tallest trolling poles. But most important, I made the tree on the leftt and Coast Bastion Inn on the right actually go off the page. As mentioned yesterday, this is my attempt to improve the design by taking a slightly more interesting angle and putting the viewer further into the scene. (At least that is my current idea - based partly on a great 2 hour photography course I took during our trip to Winnipeg this summer.)

The second picture (above) is my first go at my arbutus on Wallace Island painting. So far the paint is completely diluted with turpentine - to lay out the initial design and colours of the picture. I have not yet tried to do anything with the fabulous twiggy arbutus branches - but my idea is that most of the pciture will be covered with them - dark lines on the light sky and whitish lines on the trees and water. I hope this is an interesting design - probably  a bit too predictable but hopefully the colours and brushwork will be good.

So brushes! I went to Michaels today and bought 10 new brushes. They are all Wintons and all made from hogs hair bristles - so - nice and firm and not worn down yet. Michaels is so expensive with all their silly sales gimmicks - but it is cheaper to buy them there than drive all the way to Victoria to go to Opus - which is a real art supplies store.

My next idea is to try to learn more about painting by imitating Emily Carr. This time I mean I'm actually planning on copying some of her paintings. I have four 24"x18" boards and have selected 8 paintings I want to copy. These paintings are not of totem poles or trees. They are more about beaches and/or skies. Everything is very swirly. Apparently Emily Carr was trying to portray motion in these paintings. Having created a very static painting of the Swy-a-lana Bridge - I hope I can change my style to more motion by copying Emily and using better brushes. My main concern is that her paintings are probably much bigger than my boards and some of her paintings are actually just sketches on brown paper. However, I think I will learn something. In a class, I once did a copy of a Picasso and it changed my approach - so why not copy Emily Carr. After all she is BC's most important painter - so learning to emulate her style seems reasonable. (I think I have had this thought before and even wrote it in this blog - but I don't seem have any paintings that are even remotely Emily Carrish.) My plan is to have at least 4 paintings on the go at once - including the theatre, arbutus and Emily Carrs and hope that something amazing and interesting happens.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14, 2012 - new tricks

Today I learned two really important things -

First, I need to buy some new brushes. Here is my story about that:

When I finished my "Swi-a-lana Bridge in the Twilight' painting, I knew it wasn't right. There seemed to be so many possible reasons it was wrong. The drawing of the bridge was not accurate - the arches were not wide enough. The overall design did not lead your eye smoothly through the picture - your eye had to jump about. There was too much blue - the distant hills did not recede because everything was blue.. Worst of all, it was "tight"!

"Tight" is the worst thing that you can say about an oil painting  - especially if the artist is trying to paint in an impressionistic style. It means there is no flow, grace or boldness to the painting. Not only are there too many small petty details, the whole painting has a forced, overly worked, sort of "precious" .look. I figured the tightness was happening because as that I had been using brushes that were too small for the size of the painting. The painting was not quite finished in time for the NAC Fall showcase - otherwise I would have dutifully put it in. Probably that was a good thing. Without doing a lot of self reflection I wouldn't have figured out what was wrong with it - and would simply have thought I was unappreciated.

Despite having figured out I needed to use larger brushes, when I went back to work on my Nanaimo Port Theater painting, I kept on painting with small (#4-#6) brushes  I thought the problem with the theatre painting was that my design was banal. There sat the nice theatre, with neat little fish boats on the docks out in front, a tidy tree on one side and the Coast Bastion in neatly standing on the other. My first attempt to fix this painting, before I had gone too far with it, was to try to "go further into the picture" - make the tree and the hotel extend beyond the borders of the painting and make the theatre and boats a little bigger. I did this because I had noticed that as you walk around looking at the scenery you seldom look at the whole scene.  You actually focus on different smaller parts of it. Furthermore the things you focus on are not in neat rectangles. Of course, everyone knows this - but, because the photos I have been using for inspiration are all neat rectangular pictures of a "complete" scenes, I just kept painting that way.  After I had painted some new lines indicating a change in the size the buildings, tree and boats over the first layer of "mediumed" oil paint, I thought the picture looked better. I decided that in future, I would try to take more interesting angles on subjects.

While the theatre painting was drying, I decided to start on a new, big painting of an arbutus. I  had been trying to take a really good photo of arbutuses during our boat cruise in September and ended up with a few photos that seem quite promising. They are not just arbutuses in the distance - but emphasize the trunks and twisty limbs. Kind of interesting in a design way.

My first step for my new arbutus painting was to try to draw the tree on the canvas (using a pencil) in a way that fairly accurately represented the photo. It is very tricky painting the limbs of a tree because you loose your place - which "v" was that - the one at the top or the next one down. Which branch is this - the one on the left or the one in the middle. If you don't get the drawing right, the tree doesn't look right. It's the same with boats - you have to get the drawing right. One of the problems with my first arbutus painting (2010) was that the painting simply did not follow the photo. (BTW, I did that painting almost exactly 2 years ago. It seems like forever but its not that long really.)

When I got tired of drawing and erasing, I decided to change my approach and underpaint the major colour areas with very turpentine-diluted paints to try to get the overall major colour areas and design right. I used #10 brushes - way bigger than I had been using on previous paintings. But filling in the colours was not going well. I thought my brushes might still be too small - at least for that job.

I looked in my drawer and found that I had at least 40 brushes - mainly old brushes from painting back in the 70s plus a few lovely new white ones that I hadn't used. (I didn't want to get them dirty!) I wondered which brush I should be using to smooth the colour in the underpainting. Maybe my huge #16.

I decided to look on the internet to see if there was any useful information. I went first to the Windsor and Newton website - because that was the make of brush I had been using. When I saw the pictures of the new brushes that appeared on the site, I was shocked. They all had such long bristles! I suddenly realized that all the brushes I have been using recently are not only too small for the job - they are completely worn out. I think most of these brushes started out as "brights" - which means they were a little bit longer than they were wide. However, they are all  worn down to about 1/4 to 1/2 of their original length. They are mere "nubs" of their former selves. No wonder my bridge painting is so tight. It is as if I had been painting it with the ends of sticks - not brushes!

Well, this was very exciting - I went through all the brushes in my drawer and threw about half of them away. I actually kept a lot of the "nubs" because they are useful for scraping a path through thicker paint - for things like masts and tree trunks. I made a list of what I now have and what I would like to have. To be well equipped,  I could happily buy about 20 new brushes! .

The second thing I learned today was that there is a way to improve  my paintings which have become dull since they completely dried out.  I have realized for some time that some of my 2010 and 2012 paintings  are losing their contrast - probably because I have been using too much thinner. Basically the blacks are turning grey. According to the Windsor and Newton website my paintings have "sunk."  To correct this, all I have to do is rub some medium (linseed oil) into the of "sunk" paintings with a clean rag. I did this to my Nanaimo Bastion painting. I think it looks better - more contrast. I wonder if Mike will notice the difference.

I am quite excited at the idea of making my paintings better by using better tools and materials and hope I have success!  I would still like to get an honourable mention at the NAC Gallery showcases - hmmm!.

Friday, October 5, 2012

October, 2012 - workiing again.

Now it is October! My career as an blogging artist seems to be flagging.

Well - we were away on the boat for 3 weeks and couldn't do any painting  Then - when we got home I had an annoying virus - along with an exacerbation of my bronchiectasis. (Bronchiectasis is damage in the lungs. Small bronchial tubes become enlarged and fill up with  phlegm. When there is an exacerbation you cough a lot and have problems breathing when you are walking up hills.)

However, I did do some painting during the past week. I had to do something to my Swy-a-lana in the Twilight picture. I knew it had no centre and the red flags on each side led  your eyes outwards in both directions. It wasn't nice to look at despite the lovely colours and shapes. I suddenly got the idea to put a nice little drop of red right in the middle between the flags - the lighthouse at Gallows Point which you pass as you enter Nanaimo Harbour. I had to widen the gap between Protection Island and Jack Point to fit the lighthouse in. This change really makes a difference to the composition. I also thinned out the little ornamental tree on the right. It looked like a mushroom and also distracted the eye. And I added a tiny bit of red to the lights across the bridge. the red is hardly noticeable - but I think it subconsciously leads the eye to the lighthouse.

Unfortunately you can hardly see the lighthouse in this reproduction - even though I have enlarged the size of the picture.

This week I also had a go at three old paintings which are hanging in the living room and have been bugging me - now that I have got a bit of distance from them. I think my main error in painting is that I don't actually show the stuff that attracts me to the subject. I don't use enough contrast between light and dark. Everything tends to be a bit in the middle. This may be because I use too much turpentine which eventually dries out to a greyer colour. Anyway, I did some work on all three of them and think they are better.

The path now fades into the distance - as it did originally.

 The trunk is more defined and thicker.

 The building on the right hand side has been removed and replaced by trees. Plus the stanchions holding the cable have been given a bit more shape and the whiteness reduced.

I also did some work on my painting of the Nanaimo Theatre and Boat Basin. So far it is all just washes of diluted oil paints. Eventually I hope to have the boats look nice and boaty, the sky look overcast - but not deadly grey, the theatre windows look beautifully turquoise, and pink cherry trees look a lovely  frothy pink against the theatre windows. I did not intend to make the buildings look so yellow - but I kind of like it. The overall composition is horizontal and vertical lines with a couple of diagnals. I hope I can keep the fresh look it has now - once I get onto the thicker paint stage.

Now I need to decide what else to paint. It is much better to have several paintings on the go at once. I took a lot of photos of arbutuses while we were cruising on the boat and would like to try 4 smaller arbutus paintings. Why not! It's my choice. Oh dear - I am now looking at my theatre painting and thinking the composition would have been better if I had cut off the tops of the trolling poles on the main fishboat. Perhaps trying to show the whole subject that is another of my errors. I don't think I will change this pciture  - but I will remember to do some chopping off on my new arbutus paintings. Maybe that will make them a bit more interesting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 22, 2012

It's hard to believe that I haven't written anything in my art blog since March - 5 months ago! We've been away a lot since then - our 5 plus weeks in Portugal in April and May and our 5 plus weeks traveling through the prairies to the Grant reunion in Winnipeg in June and July. I did some work on my painting of the Swy-a-lana bridge while we were home in June - but it wasn't any good.  I gave up and just turned my painting to the wall so no-one (including me) could see it  while we were away

However, for the past four days I have been working hard on it. Today  I'm fairly happy with it - so here is a photo.

My aim was to make the bridge itself glow in the twilight and water below is supposed to really gleam where it reflects the lights on the bridge. I think I have made that happen.

When we were in Porto in Portugal, we had a beautiful view of bridges from the window of our elegant posada. In the evenings, I tried to look carefully at the bridge and the lights to remember what the reflections did. Of course the scale was completely different. The Swy-a-lana bridge is just a small pedestrian bridge while the bridges in Porto are huge traffic and railway bridges towering into the sky. But there is something wonderful about a white bridge lit up against evening sky no matter what size it is. Strangely  I can still remember the Porto bridges when I think about my Swy-a-lana bridge painting.

This photo isn't quite the right colours. I took it just now in my studio after dark without a flash and did a lot of fixing - but it's close. Tomorrow I'll probably take a better picture with a better camera in the daylight and crop the edges and make it look nice.

My biggest challenge with this painting was trying to get a consistent style. I had painted the sky way back in the spring and I quite like it - but the paint is thin and there are no real brush strokes showing. I painted the water several times using lots of paint and brush strokes but I wiped everything off each time because it was a mess. The painting has ended up with a lot of thick paint and brush strokes on the Gabriola Island hills, the Protection Island trees, the bridge and the water - but the beach is thinly painted like the sky. .Oh well...

My second biggest challenge was the overall design. I wanted to paint the bridge and I wanted the cool lamps and flags on each side - but this means the painting is really a big oval with squared off ends and no real centre. Well - the arch of the bridge is in the centre - but it is more of a zip than a centre. I hope the painting is sophisticated enough for viewers to realize that I was taking a risk with the design.(No triangles or  rule of thirds!) The design is unsettling on purpose. maybe not completely on purpose - but I am aware what has happened.

Another challenge was a simple drawing issue. I was so keen on the reflections that I painted them without reference to the lights on the bridge. This didn't matter when I wasn't trying to make the lights show up - but eventually I had to brighten them up. They were out of line with the reflections and worse still the arches of the bridge did not line up with lights. I think I fixed that successfully.

Then came the question: What colour to use for the lights and light reflections? For the longest time the lights and reflections were mainly pink and white.  Then I got the daring idea of using yellow. I had seen a painting at the NAC gallery of yellow boots against a blue background and lI oved the colours - even though the painting itself wasn't quite right. I decided to try the same thing. So - yellow lights and reflections.As with the design,  there is a risk that the colours look like a naive mistake and maybe they are.

Art - isn't it all about pushing the boundaries and making "mistakes" and getting away with it?

If I still like the painting this fall I will probably put it in the NAC fall showcase - just for the fun of it. I no longer expect any recognition but it's a chance to put stuff up in public. I have no idea what criteria the judges use to evaluate the paintings in the shows..

Next - on to my sketch of the Port Theatre from the water. Am I an artist? I wish I was. I need to be something.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Swy-a-lana Bridge Day 2

Yesterday I worked on my painting of the Swy-a-lana Bridge. I worked very wet and turpentiney on the clouds in the sky - trying to define light and dark shapes that nearly always appear in clouds. I also blocked out the shapes for Gabriola Island and the Gabriola Galleries and I'm beginning to put in the trees on Jack Point (to the right) and Protection Island (to the left) plus the pale blue of the water under the bridge and around the bright reflections of the lights on the bridge. At this point the picture is various shades of blue - mainly cobalt blue, cerulean blue hue (the turquoise one) and payne's grey. There are also touches of red and a lot of white. Eventually there will be more colours - mainly from mixing in yellow and red. I want the reflections of the lights on the bridge to be mostly white - but with touches of pink and yellow. I'm not completely sure what to do about the beach in the foreground. I think it will mainly be payne's grey, red, yellow and a lot white - similar to the colours in the Gabriola Galleries (cliffs). So far this painting is going really well. I hope I don't mess it up!

Today I worked on our website - reorganizing and editing the paintings and comments in the "Nanaimo Naturally" section. I had given the same painting different names and some of the photos on the website were poor. I took them before I had a good camera or a photo editing program that had a level function. For example, I had cut the top of "Nanaimo Harbour - Buoy "p12"" off when I cropped it and I had photographed Nanaimo Harbour by Moonlight so the shore line was quite tilted. I think the page looks a lot better now and the names are now finalized.

Now I'm going to organize all the art images on my computer and create some more art cards. I think this is a lot of fun. I enjoy mucking around on my computer as much as I enjoy walking around Nanaimo, photographing the scenery, and painting away.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Here is what I think is the final version of "Swy-a-lana Park - Fall" I finished it today and I think I managed to keep it very colourful - while still refining the sky, the leafless tree, the benches, the bushes by the beach and the cars parked on the hill without getting too tight. The fallen leaves are very loose and so is the lagoon wall, beach and water. I decided not to put in the bar which actually stretches across the curve of the light stands. I think it is more dramatic without them. My final touch was putting in my signature. I think it looks OK on the dark wall beside the lagoon. I didn't paint the edges of the painting because I really prefer the look of a frame - preferably white.

Here are two paintings I love that use a similar vibrant colour scheme:

This one is by Tom Thompson - famous for his west wind painting.

This one is by Brian Scott who lives near Courtenay. The first time I saw his paintings I was just blown away. They were hung in the Nordic Lodge at Mount Washington. Every time we went cross country skiing, I looked and looked at them. I don't paint the way Brian Scott does - but I love his paintings and his colours.

My next project is get my website caught up and then print a bunch of art cards.

I would like to show paintings at the Lighthouse Bistro which is now interested in marine and local subjects - that tourists might buy! I also want to put a painting in the next show at the Port Theatre. the changeover is April 11. I have one there now (Boats in Newcastle Channel) and saw it tonight when we went to see Ladysmith Black Mombazo perform. The painting is smaller than I had thought - but I think it looks good. I like being part of the Nanaimo art scene by having a painting hanging in our theatre!

Oh yes, here is the original photo which inspired "Swy-a-lana Park - Fall."

Monday, March 5, 2012

New sketches

Here are 2 sketches of new paintings.

This is my sketch or underpainting for my Swy-a-lana Lagoon Bridge painting. This is part of seawall walk around Swy-a-lana Park in downtown Nanaimo. The bridge crosses the mouth of the natural lagoon which has had a series of wall built between it an the waters of the Boat Basin - so that there is always water in the lagoon. The bridge is lit up at night along the rails and is a magical place to be in the dark. The photo I'm using for inspiration was taken in the evening and shows up the lights and light reflections i the water.Right now this picture looks as if it was something ancient in Europe - but it's totally Nanaimo and will look like that when I get it done - especially with Gabriola Island in the background below the hovering cloud.

This is my sketch or underpainting for my Port Theatre painting. The theatre is across the street from the Boat Basin floats and this view is from the end of a float looking back toward the theatre. There are 5 fishboats, a small runabout and cruiser in the picture. Because I want the boats to look good, they all have the correct proportions. So far I am happy with the sketch. I have painted quite a few boats during the past year - so hopefully I have a better eye for what is important. The water is full of reflections from the boats and should be cool to paint. Mount Benson sort of looms up behind but is cut off by clouds. The clouds don't have much form in the photo - so this will be a bit tricky. Maybe I'll put the whole of Mount Benson in and have a clear sky. But that will change all the colours - so I better keep a cloudy sky with a puff of cloud over Mount Benson. The real challenge with that is not to look too cartoonish.

I really do love doing this part of a painting. You start with a pure white canvas and after a couple of hours of drawing - you end up with something very recognizable. Almost a water colour. Almost a miracle. I feel as if I know how those ancient cave artists felt when they drew images of animals. I don't get too worried because I think I can change it easily later - so the sketch is loose and free. Also - no colour issues - just light, dark a lines. Lately I have actually been starting with pencil on canvass and then sketching over the pencil drawing with paint. It's almost a shame to take the next step.

Today was the first day of the 2012 teachers strike. It seems a bit hopeless given that the supreme court found that the teachers have the right to negotiate class size and now the government seems to be planning to change the legislation so that they loose that right. We went over to the Departure Bay Elementary School and walked along the sidewalk with 4 teachers carrying placards. They are not exactly picketing (since that is illegal) - just doing a protest. We took Lexy with us - she loved walking back and forth - our protest dog.

Swy-a-lana Lagoon in Fall Painting

Here is my Swy-a-lana Lagoon Park - Fall painting after about 5 days of work. My goodness it is colourful! But that was my whole idea. I wanted a beautiful fall picture of the ornamental cherries growing along the edge of the lagoon.

I love the yellow, red, purple and pale blue and the touches of white. They are right out of my book on Tom Thompson. What a wonderful painter of fall in the Canadian Shield he was! I am also mad about some of his winter paintings. Great patterns and white on white.

I also love the way the lines in this painting intersect. The painting is really a starburst. Talking about stars, all the planets are currently visible in the night sky. Isn't that wonderful. Unfortunately it has been cloudy here - so we haven't actually seen them. but I think it is extremely cool.

To me painting seems to be about (1.) Finding a great subject to interpret - a scene in Nanaimo. (2.) Getting the colours to work together - the brighter the better in this interpretation. (3.) Creating an exciting overall design - this time a starburst.

I still need to refine my painting a bit - mainly a little sharpening the leaves lying on the pathway. I hope I can let it stay brilliantly coloured and not get the idea that I have to tone it down a bit. I was thinking I could put a bit of Mount Benson in the background - but we checked today and you can't see it from there. it would probably just ruin the design anyway.

I had a real boost to my confidence last week - when someone emailed about buying my Gulf Troller 2 painting. I like that picture. I gave the water such a sparkly look and the boat itself is graceful and accurate. I also like my interpretation of the Harmac plume in the background. It didn't get any recognition from the Winter Show Case judges. I wonder what they think makes a good painting.

I am so encouraged that I am now starting on 3 new large (40"x30") paintings. I spent a couple of days searching through my photos from the past couple of years. I'm always taking photos that I hope will inspire a painting. I've wanted to do a picture of the Swy-a-lana lagoon bridge with it s reflection in the lagoon for a long time and I finally found a photo taken in the evening. The reflection in the lagoon is actually from the lights on the bridge. The photo reminds me of one of Van Gogh's night paintings - but I won't put stars in my painting.

I also found a great photo of Harmac Mill with the chimney stacks, wood chips, and so on taken from our boat. And I also found a really complicated but great photo of the Port Theatre - taken from the floats in the springtime last year. There are lots of fishboats in the foreground and some small pink cherry trees between the boats and theatre. The theatre is a little barrel-shaped but it has such glorious greeny -b;l windows. They will look wonderful against the pink of the cherry trees. So now I have 3 new paintings in my mind and 2 are partially sketched out.

With all these new plans I think I will be able to save myself from over-working the fall lagoon picture!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Re-doing old paintings

I had promised myself that I wouldn't go footiling around with paintings that are supposed to be finished. But I have to admit that this is what I have done to 2 old paintings. I think it was a good idea in both cases.

First I was pretty unhappy with how the "Gulf Troller 1" painting looked. The boat was pretty good but it seemed as if someone was trying to pull the boat out of the water and the sticky water was coming up too. It was like odd little hands were trying to hold onto the boat.

I did a lot more looking at how boats look as they go through the water and how their wake appears. I realized that my ideas were OK - just too extreme.

So I toned it all down - smaller bow wave, smaller waves along the side of the boat, smaller wake. Much better! Then for good measure I toned down the clouds and distant islands and mainland. I was sorry to loose the light coming through the rigging - but it had two focal points that were a little off-putting - so it had to mostly disappear. I also had a go at the colours of the boat - making the boxes on the back seem brighter.

A little tamer - but much better! I think this is done.

Second, I was looking for art cards to send for birthdays when I had a look at the card I had made of my original Ammonite Falls/VIU Forestland painting. My goodness - I liked the original much better than the most recent version.

A major problem with the most recent version was that the little trees at the end of the trail were gone. All there was left as the trail disappeared over a low rise was fir tree trunks. I realized this was a mistake. I really needed those little trees and they had been what drew me to the photo in the first place.

I took the painting out of the spare room and had another go at it today today. I put back the trees - not quite the same as earlier - but fairly similar. While I was at it, I added back the yellow grass on the side of the trail and warmed up the trail itself - much more red.

Stepping back I could see that there was now a lot of yellow and red in the bottom and none at the top. This did not seem good. I also realized that during the year of working on this painting I had pretty much forgotten about the top half of it. The boughs and tree trunks at the top of the painting did not properly with the trunks in the bottom half. Some of them were wider at the top. Some were rougher looking and much darker. This was strange . How could I not have seen it before? I think it was because doing the original tree trunks and branches was so hard - I didn't want to go there again. I also think that I thought the impressionistic look of the painting allowed for some rough bits. But it was a problem.

I cleaned up the trunks and made them connect better - plus added some pinkish yellow to the the trunks at the top and at the bottom. This was more consistent with the original photo which had a definite pinkish tone and brought a hint of the reds and yellows of the trail up into the treetops.
Much better. I think it is finally done.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chip Barges

I have spent quite a few days on my chip barge painting - but it is still not done. You can see my progress - above. I think it is getting better and better. At least it is getting more complete. I did like it when it was more sketchy - but the sketchy stage is now gone. It has disappeared under the paint and there is no going back.

At this point I think the part that needs work is the cloud on the left. I spent a couple of hours working on it this morning - but it turned into a mess - so I wiped it all off. It is almost OK the way it is - wiped off - but not quite. It needs some brush strokes to match all the work on the rest of the painting. The problem is that whenever I try to just give it some paint, it turns into the wrong kind of cloud.

I will let it rest and dry and them try again. So- back to fall in Swi-a-lana.

A happy note is that we are doing a Power Up course with our singing group and finding we actually have singing voices. It is wonderful! Also - we're going to Hawaii in a couple of weeks to snorkel. Mike has been doing tons of dives and is loving it. While he dives, I paint.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Looking at Impressionist Trees

I have been looking at impressionist paintings to try to get some idea on how the Impressionists painted trees - because I am scared to try anything else with my Swi-a-lana painting - for fear of ruining it.

This is a painting by Gauguin - meant to give me some insight for my Swi-a-lana painting.

Here is another one by Monet.

And another by Cezanne. I like them all - especially the Monet - I wonder if there is the slightest chance I could paint my Swi-a-lana trees like that. Tons of tiny bright dots of colour. I might give it a try when it dries.

Now to my chip barge painting...

I actually have a strong vision in my mind of how my chip barge painting should look. There is a a huge turquoise blue expanse of water with some ripples or foam in the foreground. In the distance at the top of the painting are the small but vividly yellow, green and red chip barges - strongly contrasting with the blue and with each other. It's how I remember the scene as we came back from our cruise in the Gulf Islands last summer. However, although I see top and bottom clearly, I cannot see the sky or what is in the distance behind the chip barges (but I think it is blue) and I cannot see what lies between the ripples in the foreground and the chip barges at the top (but I think it is blue too). The problem with this vision is that I cannot paint it!

So - I have taken a different approach. I am working on trying to see patterns and colours in the wide of expanse of water in the photo. There isn't much. Just the slightest hint of ripples and reflections of the clouds in the sky. I'm trying to exaggerate what there is to make it interesting. What is turning out has very little in common with my vision.

I worked quite hard on it for a couple of hours this afternoon and completely changed the water from the nice purple look with white unpainted canvas that I started with - to something blue, green and pale yellow. I think it is OK and wonder what will happen next. I can't upload a picture of it because my the batteries in my lovely Nikon D90 camera have run out. I think this is because I left the camera plugged in overnight after my last download. So - I am charging the batteries and happy to have overcome this small technology challenge.

I had another technology disaster today. I left my Samsung Android phone in my coat pocket when I put in the wash after walking in the driving rain yesterday. Then Mike my coat in the dryer - phone and all. So the phone is dead - finished - gone. It absolutely will not work. This is a little ironic since I have not been using my phone much lately and had made a specific effort to put it in my pocket and take it on the walk. But - then out of habit - I forgot it was there. Am I loosing my memory? Probably not. I think I've always had a habit of forgetting things like that.

The best Rogers will do is let me buy another Android - this one made by Dell - for $150. It is bigger than my Samsung - but possibly easier to read and less likely to get forgotten in a pocket. Well, less likely to actually fit in a pocket. Otherwise, I could buy out the rest of my contract at $25 per month - more or less the same price as I was paying for my phone - and have nothing; get a nasty little phone with no internet connections for free; get an Samsung replacement which would simply extend my contract and cost $315; or get a Blackberry with little old-fashioned buttons. So I chose the Dell Android. I feel a bit wasteful. Buying the Dell Android is not a huge expense - but I hardly ever use my phone - which is why I had the problem in the first place. It's going to take about a week to come. In the meantime I have my tablet which is a little on the large size - but is also basically an Android. I definitely cannot fit my table in my pocket.

While I was dealing with my ruined phone, I went to the Nanaimo Art Gallery - just in case I had got some kind of recognition at the Elders Show. I hadn't. That actually made me a little sad. I don't know which elder painting was given first prize - but the acrylic painting of a night street scene with lots of purple and yellow in it got a first prize in some category. I think it is a very good painting or - in other words - I wish I had painted it. I thought my 2 trollers looked quite good - very bold in a sweet sort of way. The way they were hung was not so good. They are not a pair so I understand why they weren't put together. But they are completely different from everything else in the show so look a bit odd being separated in the middle of everything else. - am still happy with them and will not try to "fix" them when I get them home at the end of the month.

Painting - I think I read yesterday that Degas said that every painting is a torture. I think he was right.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Swi-a-lana - day 4

Another couple of hours of painting on a very wet and windy day. In fact, so windy that the ferries to the mainland have been cancelled all day! We went for a walk on the beach in the morning - the rain was flying sideways and the waves were thundering in and tearing up the beach.

What did I do to my painting? What I always do a this point I guess, I fixed the drawing. The problems were that the cherry trees on the left side of the picture were way to short and the middle lamp was in the the wrong spot. This ruined both the perspective and the pattern of converging lines in the picture. I sort of fixed both things and added a bit more substance to the building at the right side of the painting. I can see in the photo that the "clouds" in the sky are wrong and look like a pair of reading glasses reflecting the sun. I will eventually change this too. But not today - since the paint has turned quite sticky. It is neither wet nor dry - just sticky. Time to leave it for a couple of days and do some serious looking for impressionists who painted cherry trees in the fall.

After I had made the changes, Mike and I went up to Michael's to get me some new paint brushes. I had come to the conclusion that I can't just use large brushes in this painting and my one small flat brush is wearing away. I'm glad we have a Michael's in Nanaimo - as it is possible to buy painting stuff here even on Sunday. But I truly dislike their dated coupon process. They try to make you go to their store on days when you don't want to go. Presumably you will then buy something you don't actually want and they will make more money. Today they were supposedly having a 25% off sale - but it ended at 1 pm. Plus, the coupon I got for signing up on line expired 2 days ago - so it wasn't honoured either. On top of that, the 30x40 canvases at Michael's are $78 compared to $48 for identical ones I bought at Opus in Victoria - more than 60% more expensive. So - even if I had got a discount, canvases would still have cost more. I'm glad I only needed paint brushes. Also, they don't bother to keep up their stock and have no system for ordering something that you request. A pretty dismal store if you ask me.

So - am I grumpy? Yes. A bit.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Swi-a-lana Fall

Here is my Swi-a-lana Park in the Fall painting after 3 days of work.

I was sure I had taken a photo after the second day - but apparently not. The difference between the 2nd day and 3rd day is that I had a very strong dark line representing the dark trees in the distance running right across the painting, the fallen leaves under the trees were just a solid pink., there were no leaves on pathway, the benches weren't yet roughed in, the plant by the water was not started, the trunks of the trees were much darker, the leaves on the cherries were more lumpy and the lamp posts were not as defined.

I do believe I made some progress today - though it is still far from done. The leaves on the ornamental cherries are quite distinctive and they hang down along the branches. Painting leaves is not my forte. I have been looking at art books to get ideas of how other artists paint them - Emily Carr doesn't do many deciduous trees, Van Gogh uses a lot of swirly lines, Tom Thompson just does blobs and Georgia O'Keefe blends everything in a smooth lump. So - no answers from great artists yet.

I have been using quite large brushes - at least 1/2 inch wide - maybe 3/4. I have enough brushes of that size that I have been able to one brush for each main colour, pale blue, yellow, pink and orangey-red, blackish-blue-brown, and light green. All my colours are made from my usual few tubes of paint - plus burnt sienna and very gorgeous orange. However, most of my tubes of paint are new - and I found that my new cerulean is not at all like my old cerulean - much less greeny and not nearly as lovely a colour in my opinion. I think I will have to put in some detail with smaller brushes - but don't want to get too careful.

Yesterday I bought 3 big canvases (30x40) while we were in Victoria. So now I have enough paint and canvas to do 5 quite large paintings. This is both exciting and daunting. When I go to bed after painting I see hundreds of wonderful paintings flash before my eyes but they don't stay long enough to remember them. So I can't figure out how to actually paint them. I think the next one be a night scene - the ferry terminal lights or something like that.

Oh yes, I have not heard how the Winter Show Case went. I am assuming that I didn't make an impression on the judges with my troller paintings. I would like to understand what criteria are used to judge the paintings - since I think my boats were pretty cool. suppose I should look up the NAC website to see if there is anything there about it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

G Dock and Bastion

Tonight I finished my first painting of 2012. Mind you, I started it in the middle of 2011 - but I finished it tonight - so it's a 2012 painting. I think it looks pretty good - not completely realistic but a recognizable picture of the Boat Basin and the Bastion.

I eliminated the cars, dinghy and people on the walkway and only show one rather odd boat on G Dock. The Coast Bastion Hotel is on the left and the Dorchester Hotel is on the right. The big flag pole with its white steps are a waterfront feature which takes pedestrians from the walkway by the docks up to street level where the Bastion is now located.

The design is really a series of horizontal, vertical and zigzag lines - so it is satisfying for those who like tidy shapes and a strong horizon. I think it is basically good composition. It wasn't too hard to paint - except for the leafless oak tree which is behind the parkade - one of the few curvey things among all the straight lines. Otherwise it was more or less fill in the spaces and put in lots of highlights and dark bits.

I think a painting of the Bastion in its modern day setting is pretty well mandatory for a series of paintings on Nanaimo. It was a Hudson Bay Fort in the 19th century and now is an important Nanaimo icon. It is also quite a neat object with a nice simple and distinctive shape.

Talking of icons, maybe I now need to find a scenic bar somewhere downtown and paint a "Nanaimo Bar" - since that is what people usually associate Nanaimo with. Actually I might do that tomorrow if we go singing downtown, Since it is quite snowy right now - I might even get a snow picture.

Now that I don't volunteer at the NAC Gallery any more, I have now where to display it. Maybe I'll take a really good photo of it and send it to the Tourism Nanaimo website - since they are asking for photos.

Swi-a-lana and Chip Barges - new approach

I am starting out on two new paintings. The top one is my initial sketch of Swi-a-lana Lagoon in the fall when the leaves have turned yellow and red.

The next one is Chip Barges out in the Strait of Georgia - heading for Harmac Mill.

Both pictures are from photos I took and both paintings are 30"x40" - so bigger than anything I
did last year. I think that the only way i am going to get away from the tightness that crept in to my recent paintings is to paint on a good big canvas and use good big branches - like I used to when I lived in the Cowichan Valley. I think I have made a good start and hope I can do this - big canvases, big brushes, big tubes of paint - and a whole lot less fussing. After all - a painting is not meant to be a photograph - but an impression.

To try to keep me in this frame of mind, I have copies of 2 painting by Van Gogh sitting nearby to remind how he did it.

By the way, I recently saw a program on Knowledge that said Van Gogh probably did not commit suicide. Life was going well for him and he was not disturbed. It now appears that he may have been shot by a couple of kids out hunting rabbits. He didn't turn them in and - because medicine was so much less advanced than it is nowadays - he died of his wounds.

Either way - his paintings are miracles and I sure would like to be able to paint a bit more the way he did. (Sorry Emily - I love your style and appreciate how you interpreted our forbidding and broken West Coast forests - but Van Gogh is inspiring me now.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

G Dock and Bastion

I started this painting of G Dock and the Bastion back last June. Then we went off on a trip to the Yellowknife and another trip to India and I qworked on the NPS website. Painting ground to halt until recently. this was the original sketch. A pretty complicated painting - but lots of promise.

The next stage with the sky filled in.

The next stage with the problem of the dock with the blue railings worked out. It actually sticks out from the walkway and there is only one tree behind the parkade. More coming soon!