17 March 2015


Today I needed a break, so I sat around the house reading a book all day.  It was very quiet; no radio, unplugged phone, no visitors.  A superb day.

About 6pm I went into the studio "just to have a look at things".... and wound up making a self-portrait in oils over an old half-begun abstract painting.  I took a few photos of its progression:

verna vogel self portrait

portrait in oils

portrait in oils

This  is a wabi-sabi portrait.  It took about 2 hours to make, and it measures 17x18 inches.

I used a simple palette.  That rolled-up tube is cadmium red; the rest you can see if you click to enlarge the image below:

I was feeling spiritually exhausted today, so reading was a great way to lose myself in another world for many hours, which for me always has a rejuvenating effect.

Then, making that portrait helped me to see that I can in fact paint.  

I've been really missing working with oils.  I miss being able to make large-scale works with many layers of transparent, sophisticated colour, and working on 10 or even 20 paintings at a time.  Here in this home studio, space is limited so I work on fewer paintings at once, and sometimes it feels like I'm in a pressure cooker with nowhere to turn, nowhere to expend what feels like way too much energy for this small space.  

Yeah, boo hoo right.  *laughs*

In fact my home studio is lovely and I am often very productive in it, and having to work in acrylics has opened up all sorts of interesting avenues of exploration, and most of the time I feel very lucky to be where I am.

But what can I say, sometimes I fall into a pit of melancholic despair and then, well, then nothing charms like a good book; nothing soothes like a little oil painting.

15 March 2015


Variations of colour and composition on Arches 160lb watercolour paper:

ellipse, abstract

Circular templates and sunlight and work in progress:

verna vogel

A lot of things are happening, a lot of things are needing attention.  No time for a long meandering blog post this week.  In precious moments of studio time, focus trumps all.

08 March 2015

a long slow current

In the autumn of 2014 I began making purely abstract work.  I should say "began again" because a couple of decades ago I was making abstract paintings, but you know how life has its detours.  

verna vogel ellipse

Over the years my love of abstraction endured, and finally I took the plunge.  So I've spent about 18 months now focussed on abstract work; it has been the main thrust of my studio endeavours and I've enjoyed participating in the unfolding of this renewed direction.

verna vogel ellipse

I tend to make blog posts about all the stuff that happens - the plein air paintings and portraits and little side projects - but in reality those things take up maybe 15% of my creative output.  They are a break from my "real" studio work so to speak.

verna vogel ellipse

Yesterday I had a fantastic day, finishing two more "Ellipse" paintings.  One of the paintings was a real struggle while the other just seemed to come together effortlessly.  I love that balance of struggle and flow.

verna vogel ellipse

I now have got 8 finished works and 2 which need some improvement.  My plan is to have 10 finished works of an excellent quality by the end of this month, because I have an important visitor coming.  Therefore I need to have made 15 pieces by then, of which I can reasonably expect 2/3 to be of sufficient quality.

I think I can do it.  I think I can...  


01 March 2015

peek back

A couple of decades ago I was really into figurative work, running life drawing sessions at several schools and studios in Vancouver, BC.  Three to four times per week for 6 years I did this, and wound up with a big stack of works on paper.  Some of the works sold and some were lost in a series of moves, but I still own a few favourites.

I had just one showing of these figurative works at Basic Inquiry, where I also ran a couple of sessions per week.  It was the old location of the Basic Inquiry studio, with 5 big walls which I basically papered with my drawings!  Here are a couple of images from that exhibition:

basic inquiry studio verna vogel
This has all come up because I'm in the process of updating my website.  I've got some of my portraits on the site, and I thought it would be good to show some of the history of that work.  It's been an interesting trip down memory lane, as I have not looked at my old life drawing photos in years.

For the last decade or so my work has been focussed on urban and now abstract work, but here is a little peek into my history.  It is important to remember who we are.

15 February 2015


There are always a few older unfinished paintings in the storage part of my studio.  Sometimes I begin working with an idea that is ahead of my skill level, and although I remain interested in the idea, I cannot resolve the work yet.  Other times the original idea is simply not worth pursuing.

It's good to have these odd unfinished works around.  When I need a break from my usual studio routine I sometimes rework some of them; the results are not so important, it's just fun to explore with colour, pattern and shape.

Today was one of those days.  

cubic abstract paintings

I began by loosely brushing a white border on some abandoned abstract paintings.  Then I collaged a bit of white rice paper, and added layers of paint in varying transparencies.  My only parameter was to work in repetitions of loosely square shapes.

Six hours and many layers later, they look like this:

cubic abstract paintings

It was a fine studio day, doing something a bit different and re-visiting those little abstract pieces and, I think, improving them quite a bit.

I like that there are many aspects to my creativity in making images.  
There's the side of me that likes to explore things which are very deeply felt but cannot be expressed in words; not necessarily emotions per se, but a kind of mostly-wordless philosophy.  

There's the side of me that really enjoys the meditation of plein-air landscape painting.  There's the side that is intrigued with technology, making portraits through online video connections.  

And there is the side of me that likes to explore purely decorative work, playing with the formal visual elements, experimenting with materials and making no attempt whatsoever to imbue the finished work with any sort of meaning.

Today was one of those days.

cubic abstract paintings

cubic abstract paintings

cubic abstract paintings

cubic abstract paintings

cubic abstract paintings

cubic abstract paintings

11 February 2015

Alberta Landscape #85 and #86

A couple of weeks ago the weather turned unseasonably warm and we went out painting en plein air, this time near De Winton.  From a fairly high rise of a hill, I made two paintings.

plein air landscape painting steel sky woman
a very close crop of a distant view

plein air landscape painting steel sky woman
the view I focussed on is just visible,
beyond my easel at the left

plein air landscape painting steel sky woman
Alberta Landscape #85
oil on birch panel
10x10 inches
plein air landscape painting steel sky woman
about 90゜to the right of the first painting view

plein air landscape painting steel sky woman
here the view is visible to the right,
far beyond my easel

plein air landscape painting steel sky woman

plein air landscape painting steel sky woman
Alberta Landscape #86
oil on birch panel
10x10 inches
I adjusted this photo a bit to show the colours of the painting a bit more accurately, although it makes the actual landscape far too yellow.

Here's my palette.  I used the same colours for both paintings, though in different proportions:

plein air landscape painting steel sky woman

Until next time,

08 February 2015

difficulty leads to play

This one is presenting me with some difficulty.  Hooray for photoshop, where I can try out a quick effect without making permanent changes to the actual, physical work just yet.

In studio:

In photoshop:

A definite improvement, hey?

So this is what happens when I begin a new series of works: the first ones are very playful and often very successful.  Then I try to make more, and it becomes difficult because, after the initial success, I begin to judge the work much more seriously.

Something to think about, hey?

Right.  Back to the studio; it's time for a sheer white glaze.


25 January 2015

space exploration

I've just taken apart some older paintings, removing the canvas from the stretchers.

Over the course of the past few years in my studio I've been very focussed on searching for a new language; or more accurately, exploring ways of expanding my existing language.  Inevitably, some of my forays were not particularly sophisticated, and it is those unsophisticated explorations that I've disassembled.

space exploration
The last one to go

So now I have got a lot of "new" canvas stretchers, and also a lot of pieces of painted canvas which may find their way into new work.  

space exploration

The greatest benefit, though, is that I have got more space in the studio: mental space as well as physical.  No longer peripherally bogged down by work that is less than I am aiming for, I feel a renewed sense of vigour.

verna vogel

Happy days!

19 January 2015


A few weeks ago I was in Arizona, and in the desert I found circles!  Old rusted-out buckets, parts of wagon wheels, and other vestiges of a bygone era.

steel sky woman

verna vogel

Apparently a circle is the most perfect geometric shape, since every point along its edge is an equal distance from its centre.  A circle also has the greatest area of any two-dimensional shape in proportion to its perimeter.  Here's some more interesting information about circles.

My "Ellipse" works are intuitively an attempt to find balance and calm.  Lately the world around me seems very convoluted and overwhelming, and perhaps my job as an artist is to help maintain balance, to remind myself (and possibly others) of how to be calm and centred, to take time, to be thoughtful in the great mad rush of the world.

I'm not always calm and thoughtful.  However, I believe that when we are engaged in making art we can transcend our human frailties; and I believe that the art of making art lies in a willingness to be, simply, a conduit for something that already exists, something bigger than ourselves.  Because nothing comes from nothing, right?  

For myself, I wish to be a conduit for the calm and peaceful rationality that I know is already out there, even though it often seems obscured or distant.

verna vogel
(small) Ellipse #1 and #2
mixed media on canvas
20x30" each, approx.

04 January 2015


When I got back from the Artscape residency I was very keen to get back into my studio!  Whee!

First job I tackled was to finish the cards which I began at the residency.  It was my intention to send them out for xmas... 

art cards original art
handmade art cards
mixed-media stitching, acrylic and gouache
on 300lb acid-free rag paper
5 x 5.5" each, approximately

... however, as I finished each one and pinned it to the studio wall and continued to work, those cards got into my peripheral vision!  And from there into my my subconscious creative brain!  And they clamoured for more attention!

So I could not send them out just yet.  I had to leave them up on the wall (and send out *gasp!* store-bought cards) while I began a new series of large canvas works inspired by those paper explorations.

One of the repeating patterns in the cards was circles.  Easy to free-stitch on a small scale, exponentially more difficult when scaled larger!

I found I had to plan ahead, do layouts, try out variations of shape and line with my materials and then trace out the selected patterns prior to stitching.  

original abstract artwork

This is more planning than I have ever done in the studio.  How strange for me to work this way... but I am very determined and I enjoy a creative challenge, so I soldiered on through many workings and re-workings until I got something that felt all right.

original abstract artwork
materials layout

original abstract artworks
stitching completed, ready for stretching

Then I built the stretchers for these new works:

Stretched some of them, and did a bit more painting and fine-tuning after they were stretched.

I think I can live with them.  As I work, inevitably more ideas run through my mind, too many to grasp.  But it is a start, and with diligence and a bit of luck I think I may find more depth in this very abstract imagery, this very deliberate way or working, than I first was aware of.

As to how this relates to the residency, beyond the fact of finishing the cards which began there: 

While at the Artscape facility I did a variation of one of Ross's exercises: I walked with my eyes closed, letting my other senses guide me.  

I have done something like this before.  On the city street, when there are no pedestrians near, I sometimes walk for, say, ten paces with my eyes closed; it is not as difficult as one might imagine.  But here was an exercise going well beyond a mere ten paces.

I walked on the grass, and when my feet touched concrete I thought I had gone into the road.  I stopped and blinked my eyes open for half a second, just long enough to perceive a narrow path of partly overgrown paving stones laid in a circle.  

With eyes still closed I decided to walk the path, letting my feet feel the way and just listening to the sounds around me: waves on the beach nearby, some sort of utility box which hummed electrically, wind in a copse of trees, and the sound of my own shuffling feet.  I had to walk very slowly in order to stay on the path by feel alone.  

I walked this circular path for about an hour, during which time I developed in my mind an image of the place based on the sounds I heard, audio markers which corresponded to the variations in the path: that bit which narrowed and then was completely obscured for half a step just where the wind was closest in the trees, that bit which had sunk on a tilt, just before the waves of the beach took aural precedence, that jutting-out bit just beyond the electrical hum, which I learned not to trip over simply by listening carefully.  
It was a very interesting mental image.

More interesting still was when I opened my eyes and saw for the first time, visually, the path I'd been walking for an hour.  It was, of course, completely different than I had imagined.

For me, the exercise of walking with eyes closed was the most intense and rewarding one of several that Ross had planned.  I've read statistics that say humans take in 80% of their information about the world visually.  Perhaps we visual artists rely on our eyes even more than others.  Spending the time to form an idea of the world without any use of my eyes, even for just an hour, was quite an experience.  

Gradually it occurs to me that the circles in my studio could be reflective of that circular walk which had such an impact on me at the residency.

original art cards

18 December 2014


Time flies!

A lot has happened in the two months since my last blog post.  

I spent almost 3 weeks in Ontario after the Front Gallery opening; first a few days with my family and then 2 weeks at Artscape Gibraltar Point, in a residency facilitated by Ross Melanson.  

The residency was intense and also very much fun.  Besides our private rooms, we had two studios, one of which we used for media things like movies and presentations, and the other which was our art-making studio.  Included in our group were Lynn Kelly, Alexia Estrellado, Ross Melanson and myself.  Our little group was extremely well-balanced and coherent.  We communicated and worked together beautifully, exchanging thoughts and ideas in a relaxed and supportive way.  The dynamic among us was just wonderful.  

I've included just a few photos in this post; more can be found at Steel Sky Woman facebook page.

serious artists

In signing up for this residency, I really wanted time and space to explore avenues of creative thinking/doing other than what I am used to here in Calgary; this idea fought with my desire to have a full complement of art-making materials at hand!

After much packing and re-packing, I arrived at a streamlined kit which fit into a 5x6x16" tackle box:

* 2 sketchbooks
* a few pencils, sharpies and China markers
* 12 tiny tubes of gouache (new to me)
* 4 tiny sample bottles of fluid acrylic
* a small bottle of gel medium
* a few paintbrushes

Not in the tackle box:
* a bunch of watercolour paper cut and folded into cards (worst case scenario: I would be bored and have the cards to fall back on, handy for xmas)
* an old-school tape recorder and a few blank cassette tapes.
* a sewing machine!  $20.oo used, via kijiji in Ontario, how cool is that?

What I did not bring: 

* my plein air painting kit. (*sniff* *sob*)  That was a tough decision.

So the kit I brought was very minimal.  Without my usual resources I would have to find other ways of creating.

First, while visiting with my family:

verna vogel
I made some drawings of my brother's favourite place along the river.  Not plein air painting, but drawing!  Why not, hehee.

verna vogel
Some portraits of family members.  I broke open the guache for them.  Interesting stuff, gouache, pretty good colour and a nice matte finish when dry.

Then, during my stay at Artscape:

verna vogel
I began by making a few stitched paper works, using the materials I had brought with me.  These were meant to be xmas cards... but then I got bored; I did not want to do my usual studio things.

verna vogel
So off I went to the beach, where I piled up some rocks and bricks...

verna vogel
... and noticed my shadow!

verna vogel
I made drawings on the studio wall, using a fine hemp twine (thank you Ross) and push pins.  This is a detail photo.

verna vogel
I made portraits of various people who were staying at Artscape - some from our group and some others too.  This one is of writer Helen Guri.

I also made a number of one-minute videos, which I will post either here or on youtube, sometime soon.  Soon = once I learn how.  :)

There were many interesting things that happened during the residency: conversations and ideas and experiences that will resonate with me for some time to come.  My mental/spiritual percolator is a slow thing, which is fine with me but which means I have not much to say in a any concrete way about the things we explored during our time at Gibraltat Point.  I think things will filter out in the studio, mostly, without my having to necessarily articulate everything in words.  Words can be so cumbersome anyway.

verna vogel
laughing artists

The two photos of our group were taken on our last full day at the residency.  First we were serious, but very soon we were laughing.  I will treasure for many years my memories of those two weeks spent with some very special people at Artscape.

On returning to Calgary I was very eager to get back into my studio, and immediately spent many hours creating new work.  More about that in my next post.