20 July 2013

it comes to resemble the shape of the heart

An idea sketch of some time ago is providing inspiration for a new series of paintings.  The first four paintings I made with this idea were part of my "Tintinnabulation" exhibition.  You can see them here, among the other pieces from that exhibition.  They are the ones titled "Little Things", "Shades", "Aerial", and "Then There is That Gap".

steel sky woman

Now I want to make a more involved series based on the idea of more abstract shapes and lines, keeping the colour clean and clear, aiming for visual simplicity, elegance and sophistication.

First attempt:

layout begins on the wall

moves to the floor

steel sky woman
and back to the wall before stretching
As usual, the work has changed a bit from initial layout to finished stitching.  I stretched this one yesterday.  While I am excited to begin painting, it is necessary to spend some time considering the colour.  Acrylic colour will keep its glow if applied carefully in sheer layers; too many layers and the colour goes dull and flat.  I'm not talking about surface sheen, I'm talking about the life of the colour.

steel sky woman
second layout
My intention is to copy this layout as exactly as possible.  To that end I have traced around the shapes on the wall, and will measure their positions as I stitch them into the canvas.  This will be an interesting process for me, less organic in execution than most of my work has been.

steel sky woman

Previous to this new series, I completed the stitching for the commissioned work:

steel sky woman

And stretched them:

steel sky woman

The clients wanted a diptych.  Husband wanted me to make a piece "just for us", wife wanted to be able to choose.  
My solution: make 3 paintings, any two of which will work together, and any one of which can stand alone.  (In a later post sometime I will show the 6 different potential diptych combinations.)
The logic: what I do as an artist is to disassemble my experience of the world and re-assemble it in my studio.  Here then, my clients can be a part of that process when they, in effect, disassemble this work and re-assemble it into a diptych.
Brilliant, no?

In between working on my new "elegant and sophisticated" series, I will keep this commissioned work in the periphery of the studio.  In this way creative ideas and information are circulated.

steel sky woman
spindle and float
And here is piece which I began several months ago.  It has been languishing in the painting rack, waiting for further inspiration.  Often the creative process works like a brewer's yeast, bubbling away at the bottom of the cask, creating a chain reaction that gradually moves to the surface.  (haha, I recently read an article on beer-making.)

Now looking at it, I'm thinking it only needs a few small tweaks.  Soon, soon.... !

12 July 2013

enough for everyone

A few weeks ago I agreed to be one of 24 artists who each painted one letter of "Canadian Artists for the Poor".  You can see the beginning and end of my letter-making process here.

And on the CAP website, all the letters together.

This was a fun project which got me out of my usual studio routine to do something different.  It also appealed to my sense of altruism: not only do the funds raised by CAP go towards helping people in impoverished countries, but also, in the auctioning of the letters my "E" may wind up in the possession of someone who could not afford one of my larger, more involved paintings*.

The letters are being auctioned off at CAP's facebook page, and here is my "E".  Bids are ongoing until September 7, 2013, when each letter will find its home with the highest bidder.

*There is a lot of information out there regarding "giving art away", most of it cautioning against donating one's work because it is not a good way to gain exposure, that the donated work is in fact devalued by being sold for often a lower price than it ought, to people who do not understand its value and who will then undervalue other work of a similar nature, thus hurting the whole arts industry.

I think these points are valid, though a bit limited.

Here are some of my thoughts:

In primitive societies everyone eats when there is just enough to go round.  When there is a surplus, people starve.  This is because when there is a surplus people begin to hoard.

The fact that we have surplus allows us to do things like make art, since through hoarding our physical survival is ensured.  We make art and we give it a value, which enables us to continue to ensure our survival, and a cycle is created.  Within this framework, donating our work devalues it, thus undermining the cycle, which must be preserved so that we can continue to make art.

But what if one looks at the world from the point of view that there is enough to go round?

I suppose that idea could eventually lead to the capitalism vs. communism argument, neither one of which works very well when taken to extremes, as past and present examples demonstrate.  

I think perhaps we make assumptions about human nature.  It's a conundrum, isn't it.

How about this:

I do not donate my work for the purpose of gaining exposure, nor would I encourage any artist to do so.  I do donate work, very occasionally, to fundraising events which support my own values.   
When donating to this type of event, I hope that my work will end up in the possession of someone who cherishes it, whether or not they are aware of its monetary worth.  I also hope that the sale of my work will bring in more rather than less dollars, and to that end I try to promote the fundraising events to which I donate work.

I want to live my life through love, not fear.  I want look at this world as a place of plenty, not scarcity.

Perhaps because I've recently been reading about the philosophies of Milton Glaser, among others, I've been examining my own view of the world and thinking I could improve on some points.

08 July 2013


It's raining really hard outside.  I've left a glass on the deck to collect rainwater, which I will drink later. I did this a few days ago and discovered that rainwater tastes kind of metallic.  Perhaps the metallic taste is due to pollution, or perhaps it's due to the lightning and thunder that has lately accompanied rainfall here.

Meanwhile, rather than working in the studio, which had been my plan for today, I am reading and thinking.  Here is a very interesting article on beauty.

About two months ago I agreed to do another commissioned painting.  Commissions can be quite a challenge for me, because usually the starting idea changes a great deal during my process of making work, and the end result is as much a surprise to me as to anyone else.  In this case I am feeling good about doing a commission because this client is willing to trust my process.

After some initial conversations and a studio meeting, I made a visit to their home to get a sense of the space and how my work might fit into it.  We agreed on a size and a price, and since then things have been simmering in the back of my mind.

I had already begun with some preparatory work, using photo references to paint thinly on pieces of canvas which I intend to stitch into the commissioned piece, though still not knowing how it would all come together - and then, last week while I was prepping paper and canvas for landscapes, an idea came to me as to how I might stage this commission, and I think it's a really good idea!

So here I am, feeling good and excited, relaxed in the process and with a direction for the next step.

And look, the rain has slowed and my glass has fresh water in it.

let it be

Last week in the studio I did a bit of re-organizing and some prep work for making more small landscape paintings.  In addition to using canvas, I want to try gesso-ed paper.  I've done this with portraits - see here - and find I really like the surface of gesso-ed paper, so why not try it with landscapes.

In between studio re-organizing and landscape prep I worked on some urban things.  

Above, a painting that has been underway for some time.  Below, the final finishing touches.  

Here are two that were begun last October:

Unfortunately I was careful with neither choice nor application of colour when I began working on the larger one.  After many layers, it has come to here:

The original open and delicate feeling of the stitched canvas has been oppressed by too-heavy colour.  

Ah well, I can only move forward, trust in my painting skills and know that this work is becoming something other than originally conceived - like so many others!  In fact, it is this refusal of the work to behave itself and progress as planned that keeps me intrigued, ha.

I recently read Stephen King's book "On Writing", which I thoroughly enjoyed, and in which he talks about starting with a character and a situation, and letting them develop.  The fact that his characters can surprise him is essential to his writing.  Well then, the same is true for my paintings.

02 July 2013

dog patch

Our friends have a small cabin near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, which everyone refers to as "dog patch".  It's about and hour and a half drive from our place.  Well water and woodstoves - no electricity or plumbing, no phones, cable or internet.  Last week we went up to this cabin for a day away from the city, and I brought my painting kit and camera.

About an hour out, we drove through a black thunderstorm which passed over the land quick and intense.

It was one of those cloudy-sunny days which makes for wonderful skies.  My camera does not catch it very well, but my painting catches a bit of it.  I like to paint the distant views, and here I just fudged in the foreground because I didn't want to get caught up in all those trees with their trunks and branches and leaves.  Better, I thought, to suggest a simple verge.

The 3 brushes I used for the first painting, here posed on the other side of the cabin.

Second painting was the view just to the left of my posed brushes.  There is a slough at the bottom of the hill and the sunlight, winking in and out of clouds, was glinting and shimmering on the surface of the water.  

Everything was in quick motion this day.  I love painting when the world is full of dodging light and shifting skies.  One has to work fast in trying to catch the spirit, and this is generally a good thing with plein-air work, at least for me.

Getting back into Calgary, where more thunderstorms were brewing.  After the recent flooding, this was not a welcome sight.  Luckily it didn't rain much and the river continues to ebb.