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You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting painted work lately. Well it’s summer and I’ve been flying! Flying Miss Sparky, that is. As part of my solo exhibition, If You Plant It, They Will Come(working title) next spring, there will be a video of a butterfly’s view of the meadow as the blooms progresses from early lupins to the spectacular show in September.
Miss Sparky and closeup of the gimbal-mounted camera
After waiting anxiously for several years through drought and heat for the plants to mature, I am now obsessed with my meadow in the summer months. The meadow sits between the uphill mainly evergreen forest and the lowland deciduous forest.
This year,with the large amount of snow melting and then flash freezing in Feb, we had a great deal of melt water run from the uphill forest carrying a truckload(literally!) of sand down into our beautiful meadow. Desperate measures were taken to avoid the plants being drowned in 8-10 inches of beautiful fine pale sand that settled as the water ran further towards the river. An unusual problem. We dug with shovels, raked and then scraped down to the soil level with the tractor as much as possible but we are still left with great swaths of beautiful sand covering paths and parts of the planted areas. Let me know if you need sand for your sandbox -- Really!
the sand coming from the uphill forest in april
In most of the sanded parts of the planted meadow, most of the plants have pushed through the sand. Some spots look bare. It can’t be helped. On the plus side, I see many volunteers sprouting up from lupin seeds which are totally recognizable based on leaf shape.
In Canada, as of June 1 2019, a pilot licence is necessary to fly a drone over 250grams. Miss Sparky weighs in at 300g so I had to learn quite a lot of material to be licensed quickly in order to get flights in before the first bloom faded.
Flying a drone isn’t as easy as I imagined. For several weeks I flew with the iPad as the controller: fingers sliding on the glass giving incorrect direction and frustration. I finally gave in and bought an actual remote controller complete with two little joysticks. One controls forward/backward and horizontal rotation. The other controls elevation and turning right/left. WAY EASIER than the iPad, still not easy, but happily making progress.
When the drone is flying, time also flies with only 12 minutes of battery life. Landing safely on my flat landing stone without too much rush is important so that the delicate quadricopter propellers don’t end up becoming inadvertent plant trimming clippers in the middle of the meadow. My digital co-pilot’s recorded voice relays a curt message “Battery low, landing in 10 seconds.” then “Landing.” And Miss Sparky lands wherever she is.
Until next time!
p.s. oops to those of you who subscribe, I forgot to send the last post to you. You can still see it on the website :D
I’ve made progress on the 4 part series where I play with the colour changes through out the growing season. I used the same composition, but provided some variation in the values(lightness/darkess) of the different shapes that make up the composition.
In the previous post, I wrote about the very light snowy scene Winter in the Meadow.
The next painting, Lupins!, is basically the same composition but showing May when the lupins bloom. The meadow has been filled in with rich medium dark green plant leaves. The native lupins are a medium dark blue-violet. In the actual meadow it is a subtle scene because of the lack of light/dark contrast between the flowers and the leaves. This becomes easy to convey in the meadow shape as green and violet are both easily to darkened yet retain enough colour intensity.
The first meadow blooms are a thrill, hence the the cheeriness in the sky. Hurray Spring!
(At the moment, I am planning on just the 4 in the series, but I could easily include another for June with the sunny and raucous coreopsis.)
Then the Bergamot Haze of July follows showing the cloud of pale red violet. Bergamot is airy with finger-like petals curving gracefully upwards presenting the soft haze over the meadow. The first few years after seeding the meadow were droughts. But without any watering the Bergamot never failed to bloom. Such a delicate colour for such a tough plant.
Are those stylized wisps of cloud or jet trails in the sky? You can decide. They were fun for me. Depending on the work, I will think of the sky as a big playground for using the art tools. There are 16 items on my list to choose from when something is needed - the 'je ne sai quoi' moment. But more on that another time.
Lazy hazy days of Summer (sigh!). Can't wait.
Preparing for the Big Solo - Part I (below) AND 3-4 Upcoming Exhibition Notices shown here
I have officially finished with this winter today on the completion of Winter In The Meadow 30"x30"(below). The blue greys convey a sense of closed-in cool with the often present winter clouds. Sunrises in winter can be quite spectacular because of these clouds already present just above the horizon. The yellow ochre of the little bluestem grasses have faded now and are quite dishevelled and short compared to early winter when they were bright and standing tall. The little cabin hides in the shadows of the evergreens which provide solid structure in the presence of the leafless deciduous trees.
Winter In The Meadow is the first in a 4 or 6 part series in which I'll play with the colour changes through out the growing season. The series will debut at my solo exhibition a year from now at the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Toronto.
As the show is intended to be a multimedia exhibition with a meadow experience component, I have a lot of work to do as well as a lot to learn regarding the multimedia aspect. The paintings and photographs will come together I think without too much problem. However I'll have two videos that will show as well as the 'experience.'
Drone piloting will be an exciting challenge to learn this spring. I am just waiting for the winds to settle so "Buzz" doesn't end up stuck in a treetop! It is a Spark by DGI which is apparently the manufacturer of choice. Sunday is looking like a good possibility.
I have a notebook going forward with exhibition plans being filled in, divided into categories:
Eligible Paintings, Photos, Resource People , Resource Companies, Equipment needed, Sponsors and Funding, the Catalogue, Printing and Advertising, Calendar Schedule, Gallery dimensions and wall sizes, The Statement Piece (possibilities), Video Processing and Progress, Costs
These pages are filling in. I am waiting for some of the resource people to respond. Are they interested? Spring is always a busy time, especially everything related to plants and the outdoors.
Looking at the Ontario Arts Council granting page brings on long sighs. I have written two successful grant applications for an organization. It was SO much work! Can I do it again? Time will tell.
Yesterday I spoke with a contact about corporate funding. She suggested that I refine my 'ask' into actual ballpark figures and add school groups to the target audience (because she would want her children/teens to see this) She is going to research a few possibilities for me and put me in touch with an additional resource person or two. It was helpful to have this conversation as it further defined for me my intentions going forward e.g. I will want to pay those other artists who are able to help me and I should include this in my funding asks.
I'm hoping that you are interested to follow my journey to a stimulating and exciting solo exhibition. Thanks for reading!
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Winter in the Meadow
Early September in the Meadow 12"x16" (below) has been hanging in the McMichael Canadian Collection community gallery since January. It is part of a group exhibition by mostly professional artists who painted landscapes for a week in the Pine Cottage at the McMichael in September.
The show is closing this weekend. It is always a thrill to be included in this exhibition!
Now the exhibition will tour making up to 6 stops in various galleries around the province.
This meadow is at the bottom of a forested hill and bordered on the downhill side also by a forest. Berried sumacs fringe the forest beside the brightly blooming meadow. Showy goldenrod (not ordinary Canada goldenrod!) and purple coneflower grace the stage for the last perhaps most stunning performance of the season. Certainly the butterflies and bees think so! ... Painted ladies, Monarchs, Viceroys, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Black Swallowtails, Red Admirals, White Admirals......... :D
Process III- Playing the surprise card
Here I am nearing the end of my play with this commissioned painting. The last thing I usually do is paint my signature ‘surprise’ somewhere.
First an explanation:
In art, colour intensity refers to the level of saturation of colour or the purity of the colour. A pure colour is straight off the colour wheel or rainbow. A colour that is not pure has been altered by adding black, white, gray or another colour. If the colour has been altered minimally, it is referred to as being high key or intense. If altered a lot, the colour would be low key.
The majority of my painting is usually very low key, grayed, colours. This is known as a sophisticated palette. Because I work on a black background, any colour will appear more intense than it would on another base colour. I am continually checking the paint mix against the black as I reduce the intensity. It is always surprising how little pigment is needed while working on black.
Amongst these low key colours, a small area (my surprise) of high key colour will show up like a red flag! The effective power of this small area can be further increased when the colour beside the surprise also contrasts in value(lightness/darkness).
See the painting Near Canmore below and notice how the tiny yellow-green tree carries the weight of the left side of the picture by covering it with your finger. See what it provides to the overall painting? In general, a small area of high power is able to balance a large area of low power. I love using this effect. Feel free to let me know how you see it.
For the current work shown below, there is a brighter patch of mountain flowers on the right foreground corner. I did use the lovely long triangular shape on the opposite bank but this time, it is not quite as ‘surprising’ because it has effectively become part of the more colourful area which includes the wildflower patch and the blue stream.
There are lots of lines on which your gaze can travel to cover the view of the mountain and stream. When you reach the summit, you will notice the beautiful blue sky and the fun I had drawing in the medium underneath. This provides my viewer with another more subtle surprise.
I’m feeling good about my process. Happily, today this was reinforced by a quote on today’s Painter’s Keys newsletter:
“In degree, it’s the calculated addition of visual surprise and incongruity that makes works of art speak both to the artist and her people.”
Rocky Mountain River
Process II-Every Artist has some sort of process
You may remember that the last blog entry was about how my process starts: getting the pencil sketch ready. This stage is often the longest. I like to have my composition set before I start to paint. This is because the presence, here and there, of the black underpainting is important and I don’t want to end up obliterating it .
When I have a sketch ready, I transfer the design to the black textured surface. Even though my compositions are made up of simple shapes, since I have worked so carefully on the sketch, I use a high/low combo of technology to transfer my sketch accurately to the canvas: chalk and a projector.
Black is the darkest dark. Anything else looks lighter and brighter beside it and so I will use a lot less intensity in my palette than many artists. This is so my work doesn’t look like a black velvet painting from the 1960s!
I can start painting in any shape. Just decide. And decide on a colour. Within the groupings of ‘shapes’ on the sketch, I can play with all sorts of colours of similar value (lightness or darkness). Matching values between colours is a very useful and important skill for an artist.
To maintain and emphasize the shapes (both negative and positive shapes) within the composition, I actually leave a black “outline.“
Sometimes, not often, the work calls for a midway redo or rethink of a few shapes. It’s more usual to progress working through my shapes until it’s time to step back and make a grand evaluation before the fun finale. I’ll leave that for next time.
Every artist has some sort of process. Some may be more methodical than others. I remember when I began to have success with using textures in my work. I wasn't just quite sure how that had happened as the paintings evolved. At one point I actually wrote down what I had done so that I could see what the result was in comparison to another result. In time, I developed a set 'process' (with some variation). This is now very helpful as I don't have to start from scratch for each painting. Something like doing a series, several aspects of the preparation are held constant so that creativity can pour into the rest of the work.
Having a process makes it easier for me to start a work.Pencil on paper is not a really big commitment compared to paint on canvas. I sketch in my wee Moleskine book or the 8x10 depending on where I am. Sometimes the sketch is out of my head. More often, its starts from one of my many photographs that I have digitally altered to black/gray/white.
The sketch develops in several drawn frames. Usually there is a lot of erasing involved. I use a soft pencil which is easy to erase but it wears down quickly. If I am sketching and the sharpener isn't nearby , oh well, it can all be quite blurry as below. In a way this is a good thing as I can't get into details.
The small sketches are used in a traditional way to find/experiment with where the lights and darks and middles will be. I like to have a good value structure before I begin. A strong value change provides the most impact or power in a painting. We look to the places where the lightest light meets the darkest dark. I like to gather the lights, gather the darks, gather the middles so the painting has strong structure.
By this time, since I have been working in achromatic, I am farther away in thought from the actual colours of any photograph I may have used to begin. This is helpful in opening up possibilities.
When I am happy with the sketch, I transfer the sketch to my prepared canvas. Maybe I'll write about that next time?
Here's the latest sketch for a commission I am working on:
Freedom and Rules
The freedom available to me in the art of painting is one of Art’s main attractions. We learn how the tools work and use them in any way we choose. Despite what some art instructors teach, there are in fact no rules when we know how to break the rules successfully. It just has to work.
For example , some say don’t put your main interest in the dead centre of the canvas. This is because when all of the power is in the middle of the painting, the painting will suffer from what is called “the tyranny of the centre,” a phrase coined by Rembrandt. In fact, you can choose to put the largest amount of power in the centre, as long as you provide a way for the viewer to move their gaze away from the centre. Put a little power elsewhere in the painting to draw the eye. Simple.
Some have a rule ‘don’t use black.’ As the darkest dark, black is in fact extremely useful. My current work begins on an unusual textured black surface. Because the texture reflects light in many directions, it is tricky to photograph accurately but also the black becomes visually varied. Black provides the ultimate contrast in colour relationships. Any colour is lighter and brighter than black. That is a very useful tool. Black works for me. To make it work, I am careful with my colour intensities, using it sparingly, so that the painting is not screaming at the viewer like a painting on black velvet.
There is also a rule of thirds to create a perfect balance. If you put the focal points on the crossing lines of where the length and width of the painting is divided into thirds, you will certainly get a balanced work. But what is so interesting about a perfect balance? Risk taking is part of art. Great art can teeter on the edge of being balanced. We can push the envelope as long as it works.
Abstracting landscapes provides a nice sense of satisfaction for me. I love our Canadian landscape. I have always taken photographs of landscape. In abstracting my landscapes, I get to play with the colours and shapes of landscapes in whatever way I choose, sometimes using more abstraction, sometimes less. It’s all up to me, as long as I can make it work.
We have the freedom to make the art we choose.Be Fearless. The magic happens when we are out of our comfort zone.
Here is a little still life that I completed a few weeks ago:
I wanted to share news with you about the 3 exhibitions that are happening this month around Ontario. Please click here to see the details about these current exhibitions at Headwaters Arts Gallery in Caledon, Neilson Park Creative Centre and Papermill Gallery in Toronto.
Yesterday I accepted an offer of showing with a small group of Ontario Society of Artists members which includes several past presidents of the society. City of Toronto's Assembly Hall gallery will host "Expressions of Landscape" from January 17-February 14th. The Opening Reception will be on Thursday January 17th 7-9 pm. You are most welcome!
Decisions remain as to which pieces I will exhibit in the Expressions of Landscape show. I am thinking of several mountains and perhaps our meadow. I was looking at an early work of the meadow (below) while it was under cultivation for the native planting. Possibly an updated painting of this same view, 6 years later?
Lately I have been playing with elongated canvases both horizontal (see above) and vertical. Today I was painting a vertical slice of the mountain at Kicking Horse Pass. This was suggested by a larger view showing the Spiral (train) Tunnels. I'll save this one for the January show at the Assembly Hall. As always, I welcome your comments and would be pleased to hear that you took in one or two of the shows. Cheers!
En Plein Air painting has made a comeback. The Impressionists were really into painting on location but although there have been plein air painters since paint was put into tubes, the styles of painting that developed mid 20th century led many back to studio painting. Summer is short and it is great to be out painting while enjoying the fresh warm air.
When I first started painting, I did try painting a view while looking at the view. I think they were successful paintings but not my style. Later on I found out what it was that was unsatisfactory about plein air painting for me.
It was no trouble getting the equipment in place or working outside. Our mentor verbalized the problem saying it was that the freedom of painting, was diminished. This explained it: I felt compelled to paint what I saw. This would include the colours and placing more emphasis on detail. Maybe it over-stimulated my left brain? But I still wanted to work outdoors.
I do know one woman who can look at a view and come up with something else entirely in terms of colours.
My solution--I decided that I would take my stuff down to the meadow and just work on what was on the easel at the moment. A very large canvas might be trouble, catching the wind and blowing over.
The Group of Seven painted on easy-to-travel 12x16" panels while on location. They used oil paints so work was then transported while still wet. Tricky. These are know as sketches that were then used to compose their large paintings. Incidentally, I just spoke to a woman whose family had bought one of these small paintings from AJ Casson before he died. They sold it for a ton of cash more recently!
This weekend, I was working on 2 long narrow canvases of Rocky Mountain ranges. The meadow was calm, I took a position in the shade, and had a very fine day keeping company with the buzzing bees and busy butterflies.
Here's the progress I made. Not done but definitely coming along nicely. You can see that I have set up my paints and water on the back of the 4 seat golf cart. Works for me!