Oh, the Humanity!

I recently watched a documentary which has stayed with me and for the reasons I talk about below, I hope will stay with me for a very long time.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable evoked (or perhaps “invoked” is a better word, in this case) very strong emotions as I watched piece upon piece of stunningly beautiful artistry rise from the sea. Up until the very end of the story, I was sucked entirely in to the romantic notion that humanity was capable of such incredible beauty and emotion – captured in such stunning pieces of art and the passion it would take to create and transport such a collection.

And then the end of the documentary arrived and I was stunned that I could have been so naive.

And yet what stays with me and makes me sad, are the expressions of emotion on the faces  and in the gestures of some of those sculptures. That’s what I respond to and was so awed by on the screen – it’s what I strive for in my own work. And now that I’ve seen that movie, I know that I have been too timid; too afraid to put real emotion in my work; afraid that people will not be pleased by my work (will not want to BUY it!) when what I really want is for people to respond the way I responded to the Damien Hurst artwork and story – with awe and strong emotion. If it doesn’t suit their life or interior decoration – be damned.

I need to make the work I want to make, especially given that I have chosen NOT to live my life as a full-time artist because I’m not cut out for that type of struggle, I damn well better make the art I’ve sacrificed that dream for!

What am I doing creating work which doesn’t strive to effect the human experience?! It is time for me to get to real work.

See, she’s too timid:

Portrait of a Young Woman
Portrait of a Young Woman, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 11″ x 14″
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Aspiration for 2018

While the holidays were pretty full of family travel and social highlights, I did manage to get a couple days in the studio to continue my drawing work. I had some fun with a portrait of my husband (below) and a couple attempts at life drawing from photographs which were not at all successful – but good practice! Always!

Portrait of the Artist’s Husband, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 18”x24”
Portrait of the Artist’s Husband, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 18”x24”

I’m not one for making resolutions for a new year. I prefer to think about what I’d like the year to contain so I can focus on that over other things, rather than make hard deadlines. Deadlines are for work. With that in mind, I want to attend more life drawing sessions at UVic, since I’m in such close walking distance and because I want to be better at creating consistently successful life drawings. Currently it’s hit and miss. Much like the way I’ve focused on my studio drawing and am having more and more success at completing pieces I am happy with. I feel that I have a deeper understanding of the materials and am able to use them to the effect I want. And now I’d like to have that with life drawing.

An inspiration for that is a beautiful life drawing which Andrew bought me for my birthday. It’s by artist Sergio Lopez . Isn’t she beautiful?!

Classical Pose, charcoal on paper, 18" x 24"
Classical Pose, Sergio Lopez. Charcoal on paper, 18″ x 24″

Expressive Realism

The other day as the endless social media scrolling engulfed my brain, I came upon an artist’s post in which she labelled her work “Expressive Realism”. I’d never heard the two terms combined before and it piqued my interest. So here’s a quick Google response to the combined terms as it relates to literature:

“Definition: Expressive Realism is a fusion of the Aristotelian concept of art as mimesis with the Romantic concept of art as expressing the perceptions and emotions of a person “possessed of more than unusual organic sensibility.”

Characteristics:

  • Expressive realism values richness, honesty, and immediacy and rejects schematism, implausability and ideology.

  • Literature is a reflection of life.

  • Literature is authentic when it describes the world of social relationships or conveys the inner experience (often seen as “universal”) of the individual quest for identity.”

So, does this suit my latest drawing series? Yes, I do believe it does! And it is exciting to encapsulate the awkward place I’ve been where I have one foot in realism and the other in expressionism – not feeling right going more one way or the other.

Now I will go back to the literal drawing board and continue on, already knowing where I was going but reassured and re-inspired! How fun.

In-progress work
In-progress work

Persistance

As per my last post, I’ve decided to focus on drawing again and for a while. I’m determined to keep drawing until my success rate improves. Right now, unless I have one of those surprising moments when the drawing flows off my hand successfully on the first attempt, it takes upwards of 4 “warm-up” attempts to create a piece I am satisfied with. I’m seeing and feeling success and that’s most important. I’m also learning to accept the warm-up period as a part of the process rather than the pain I have to go through to get to where I want to be. And I invested in a large role of delicious Stonehenge paper so that I wouldn’t feel limited by how many of the very expensive sheets of paper I had left (thanks to our sales at the Sidney Fine Arts Show which replenished the art supply fund!).

I’m looking for work which feels loose and simple enough to not look over-worked and which has line and edge quality which is both pleasing and awkward. Some smooth, precise areas and other messy, course areas; Balance and feeling and an interesting person, gesture or look.

And I’ve planted the seed in my mind to create a large work of a combination of drawings of several people – an epic piece. We shall see how long it takes to get me there. And then on to the painting which would come out of the drawing! It may be a long road but at least I am seeing small successes and you know I just LOVE the process.

The Pondering Girl
The Pondering Girl, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 11“x 14“

 

First Love

Last night Andrew and I attended the opening of this year’s Sidney Fine Arts Show. We saw plenty of lovely work and a few really inspiring pieces (Debra Tilby). The show allowed me the opportunity to see my own work in the context of my peer’s work and… I wasn’t happy.

My pieces were okay. Not great. Not terrible. Just okay. And that is not okay with me!

So this afternoon I decided to do something about it. I went back to my roots. Back to what has always inspired me and fed my desire to make love… er… I mean art. And there you have it! That freudian slip of Love vs. Art tells me everything I need to know about where I want to go with my art and my life. I want to make love! I mean art! In my life there have been moments where I grew as a person and as an artist and in my mind they tie back to drawing. I LOVE drawing. I love the memories I have of being in drawing classes and drawing in the studio. I have fallen in love in drawing class. More than a few times!

I love everything about drawing. The immediacy. The messiness and the ability to control or let go of control with drawing. The ability to put down drawing tools and walk away without having to clean up a mess. The smoothness of the paper and the chamois. The stickiness of the eraser and the silkiness of pulling a line of light away from the dark and the lines that feel just right at the right moment. I love drawing.

I remember a moment in one particular drawing class where I let go of the charcoal but continued the line in the air and then slid it back down to complete the line on the paper at the end of what was the culmination of the voluptuous arm of the model. And I remember love blooming when that mark was recognized as beautiful by someone I admired. Love in and through art.

And so today, I returned to my roots and my love and I drew.

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Sunday Morning Crossword, charcoal on paper, 16”x20”
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The Politician, charcoal on paper, 18”x20”

 

Sidney Fine Art Show

This year both Andrew and I decided to submit work to the prestigious Sidney Fine Art Show. I’ve done so in the past and enjoyed being a part of the show. Andrew has never submitted. The show is a good one; high quality work beautifully presented. It’s on the more traditional side and generally takes a less broad approach to jurying (than say, the Sooke Fine Art show). Meaning, there are fewer “what is that doing here” pieces. The tricky decision-making aspect of this show is that the show is only up for one weekend and the submission and jury process is not done online so it means driving to Sidney 8 times. We counted. 8 times (including attending the opening and artist’s nights).

Regardless, we submitted the maximum of 3 pieces each and both had all 3 pieces juried in! Yahoo! I’m looking forward to going to the opening night and artist’s night and to seeing how our work fits within the rest of the art work. I hope you will join us there!

Jasper; A Plein Air Painting Adventure – Part Three

When I was visiting Maui one time, I discovered that some of the best views of the landscape and oceans beyond can be found on golf course properties (not because I’m a golfer, but… ah, it’s a long story). In Jasper the same goes for resort properties. Because we were traveling on a budget, Andrew and I opted to camp for the majority of our Jasper trip. No resorts for us! So one morning as we wandered looking for a new painting location, we took a quick spin through the private resort property of Tekarra Lodge. We found an incredible painting spot on their property and the front desk was nice enough to allow us to paint then and there.

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Tekarra Lodge overlook

A storm was passing in the distance and the sun broke through intermittently – as go the normal challenges of plein air painting. I opted to try and capture a broad view by lining  up two 6″ x 8″ panels side-by-side – a diptych!

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Tekarra, 2 x 6″ x 8″, plein air oil on board

In this particular piece you can see the reddish-brown colour of the trees which have been devastated by the pine beetle infestation. It was extremely distressing to see and to also understand how much it increases the wildfire risk.

Of course having the opportunity to paint from the lodge grounds made me want to stay there so we could just walk out of our quaint cabin to see that view all day long – and to join other guests at the fire pit – and enjoy a glass of wine listening to the live band at the on-site restaurant… ah well, at least we had a chance to paint!

Jasper; a Plein Air Painting Adventure – Part Two

I often daydream about attending one of the very popular plein air events such as the Plein Air Convention which is run by Plein Air Magazine. The one in 2018 would be especially sweet because it will be in New Mexico – the light, the culture, the memories! However the cost is prohibitive. Therefore next year we will likely stay closer to home and keep our eyes out for a more local plein air event(s) to feed our need for both painting opportunities as well as art socializing.

Back to Jasper… our passes in hand, we headed up one morning to the stunning Mt. Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier. Our memories failed us this time because neither of us remembered that there was a rather steep 1km-ish hike to get to the best spot to view Angel Glacier. Normally this would be just fine but with the amount of painting equipment we choose to take with us, it was quite a slow-going trek! Determination to paint in front of the glacier pushed us on and once we were set up above and behind the place where most of the tourists would be standing to view the glacier, we were happier than we could ever be. More than once on the Jasper trip I said `There is no where I would rather be right now.` in my outside voice!

 

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We spent 4 hours painting, smiling and chit-chatting with interested people, watching the chipmunks and listening to the cracks and groans of the glacier. There really is nothing as in-the-moment as trying to capture in paint the stunning views of a living and moving glacier. This was THE moment of the trip which we dreamed of and it was better than either of us could have imagined. It was exhilarating, humbling, exciting and exhausting all at once, for 4 hours! The resulting paintings for both of us were not what we would consider gallery quality but for me at least, it captured the intensity of the colour, size, shape and energy of the place. I do intend to use this painting as a reference for later works:

Angel Glacier
Angel Glacier, plein air oil, 10″x12″

Overall, the weather cooperated when we were in Jasper, with only a day or so of rain and a couple days of smokey haze. We used the new Best Brella when the rain threatened or sunshine was prohibitive. I’m still learning that even if the sun is behind me, it’s important to put the brella up because my piece will end up being too dark since a palette and canvas in full sunshine is way brighter than you think it is when you take it inside.

Another challenge to painting outside is having to chase the light; On one scattered clouds afternoon, there were moments where the mountain in front of us had these incredible bursts of light and then in the next moment, they were gone. This is usually a frustrating experience but this one afternoon I relaxed and used speed and memory to capture the light I wanted (as I listened to Andrew swear under his breath as his highlight disappeared). My resulting painting ended up being one of my favourites:

Pyramid mountain
Pyramid Mountain, Jasper Alberta. 5″x7″ plein air oil

I have a few more pages of my trip diary to go through to bring more stories to these pages. My holidays are coming to a close, so I want to capture the highlights for you and for myself so that when I am getting comfy in the studio, I will remember how much I LOVE painting outside. So, more to come…

Jasper; a Plein Air Painting Adventure

PART ONE

Following an eventful 3 days of travel (through active wildfire territory) and settling in to our campsite home for 10 nights (including sleeping in the car for a portion of one night due to our extreme lack of preparation for the cold that Jasper sees at night in the summer), we finally painted!

Up cold and early we lined up in front of the tourist information centre that morning to get tickets to visit Mt. Edith Cavell later in the week. There is construction happening there so officials are timing and limiting the amount of people allowed up at one time. While it was a teeny bit of a pain to get the tickets, they did well in setting limits because the flow of people was not too much, not too little. More to come about that in subsequent postings…

In the meantime, our first painting stop was to be Athabasca Falls. However, our slight delay meant the number of tourists that morning was high and we couldn’t find an out-of-the-way spot to paint so we just took a few reference photos for later painting. Instead, we headed back on the road and stopped at the side of the highway to paint the Athabasca itself instead. Note: The BC wildfire smoke had followed us into Jasper, so visibility of the surroundings was limited. It therefore made sense to a paint close view rather than distant. We had a successful couple hour session, during which we met and chatted with a nice young fellow who was working the river boats this summer. This is one of the asides of painting en plein air – you meet some characters!

We both had a successful and enjoyable first painting session and were excited for more so we headed to the river again beside Becker’s cabins. I was distracted by the highway, stopping tourists and fear of bears so my results were not worth keeping. Andrew had better luck. The thing about bears in that location is that the previous time we visited Jasper we had dinner at Becker’s and the highlight of the night was watching a bear traverse the hillside across from where we were now painting. Bears – they are very real.

The next day was when we found a painting location which we returned to whenever we were undecided about where to paint. This meadow at Jasper Park Lodge became our go-to spot even just for chilling a bit with stunning views of multiple mountain peaks and the Athabasca.

Painting at Jasper Park Lodge Meadow
Painting at Jasper Park Lodge Meadow
Pyramid mountain from Jasper Park Lodge meadow
Pyramid mountain from Jasper Park Lodge Meadow

One 3 hour painting session at this meadow was where I put into practice a tip from Richard Schmid’s book, Alla Prima. The tip is to paint what’s most important first. And it seems to work for me! Particularly because I tend to become less focused as a session goes on, getting what I want to say down first means that the painting is more likely to be successful even if it is just a sketch of what I found most important about the scene.

While we were so close to the Jasper Park Lodge that day we decided to check out Mountain Galleries. And it was there, in such a beautiful lodge, in the midst of several stunning pieces of art, that we spied a painting by Josh Clare which moved us both, very much. (Truth be told, Andrew pointed it out and it took a second viewing on another day for it to hit me – that rare art experience feeling). The painting captured the light focused on a red earth mountain peak. Unfortunately I can’t find an image of it online. Andrew and I pondered the purchase of this painting for a couple days and… I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. Oh yes, there are plenty more painting adventures to revisit!