27 April 2015

painting the photographer

Yesterday our friends came by for a visit, and I did an impromptu portrait session.  Sanja and Francis are both photographers, and together they do some very exciting things.  Here's their website.  

Sanja was really excited and pleased to sit for over an hour while I painted, an experience which is quite different from sitting for a photograph.

First, a quick "feeling-it-out" sketch:

verna vogel
Sharpie marker and acrylic on paper

Then I began an oil portrait, realized the composition was no good, wiped it and began again.  I really got into the drawing look of this one and decided to leave it alone, no more colours on top.  I like how the ghost of the first try remains visible.  A bit like a double exposure, very appropriate to my photographer friend, hey.  :)

verna vogel
oil on canvas, unstretched

Since I had my colours already out on the palette, I made a third portrait.  Started again with drawing:

verna vogel

And thought, "hmmm, not the same thing as last time" so scrapped that and just hauled some colours over the surface.  Pretty rough at first:

steel sky woman

Finished portrait is not a great likeness and... well, I could pick it apart but I won't.  I like the colour palette very much.  Here it is:

verna vogel
Portrait of Sanja
oil on canvas
13x20 inches

verna vogel

steel sky woman

Three aspects of Sanja.  She has a really great personality which I think has come through a bit in each one.

24 April 2015

new digs, new sale, new project

new digs:

The Front Gallery represents my work in Edmonton, AB.  They've just moved into a new space and it looks gorgeous!  I haven't been up to see it yet, but hope to make the trip within a month or so.

verna vogel

Here's a brief news clipping about the move.

new sale:

Kurbatoff Gallery represents my work in Vancouver, BC.  They have just made the first sale of one of my "Snapshot" paintings!  This is the one which sold:

verna vogel
acrylic and mixed-media stitching on canvas
39 x 56"

Hooray!  I had begun to wonder if there was any merit in these photo-based works...  yes, I know artistic merit is not necessarily indicated by sales, but.

new project:

I have been invited to paint/alter some hard hats for a ground-breaking ceremony at cSPACE in Calgary, where construction is soon to begin at the old King Edward School location.  

Today I worked on the first hat:


I've never done anything with hard hats before!  So I had to research a bit about the materials of the hard hat and what I could use on it that would be reasonably permanent.

verna vogel

verna vogel

I decided to sand it, drill holes in it, scratch its surface.  Then I struck out into un-researched territory and rubbed graphite into it and sprayed it with a clear sealing coat.  This is a test run - tomorrow I will do a scratch test.

If this doesn't work out, I will be able to use oil paint to stain the surface, which will be very permanent based on some earlier testing I did.  I hope the graphite works, though, because I really like how its sooty look is reminiscent of a miner's hat.  A rather pretty miner's hat.

06 April 2015

1, 2, 3

Did I already mention this book I've been reading?  I started making the "Ellipse" paintings a few months before I began reading the book, and I'm finding it very interesting, the correlations between the ideas in the book and in this work.  

steel sky woman silence

Silence - and sound - are very important to me.  For example I often work in silence in the studio.  Also I avoid places that have ambient music of the sort that is designed to create a "brand tone".  Do you know what I mean?  Mall music!  It makes me anxious to the point of being physically uncomfortable.  The claustrophobic effect of shopping malls is based largely on their aural atmosphere.  This is true of some restaurants and pubs, too.  And don't even get me started on advertising noise!  *laughs*  

silence verna vogel

silence verna vogel

verna vogel silence

So I am making work which in some way provides a space for silence.  I am trying to make silent paintings.  This does not mean there is nothing there.  It means that there is space, an open space to think and feel, room to move.  Yes?  I hope so.

verna vogel silence

29 March 2015


Time, hey.  Sometimes it seems we have a lot and sometimes only a little.  We say "life is short".  But we could also say "life is long".  Or we could just say "here I am, what can I do?"

When I don't have much time for art-making in the studio, I can always make quick drawings in a sketchbook.  They don't take long and they can be quite satisfying, and sometimes they lead to further explorations in the studio.

These drawings were made over the last couple of weeks, with markers and coloured pencils in my 5x7" hardcover book:

They're not, you know, great works of art or anything, but I think I ought to do more of this.  Maybe a sketch or two every evening?  

Lately I've taken on a few extra things and am finding it difficult to organize my work.  Maybe I've taken on too much and will need to scale back, or maybe this is one of those learning curves and I will find a balance if I stay focussed.  Maybe making some wee drawings every evening will help with the focus part.

This morning I photographed the fence paintings:

They've been out on the fence for 4 years now, and today they're looking ready for another cycle of spring.  

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,