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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!
A new string of exhibition entry deadlines are quickly advancing toward me on the calendar. I missed one last week— couldn’t be helped. But next week is another and the week after a third one. A good bio will show participation in juried exhibitions each year. It shows you are an active and serious artist.
There is a size restriction to 30” wide max next week. Unusual. The Headwaters Juried Art Show is a main fundraiser for the artist run gallery. I rather think that because so many of the works last year were very large and consequently expensive that not many sold and not much fundraising resulted. I usually paint in larger (but not huge) formats. 30 inch wide is near the starting width for the larger pieces. Everything else is a lot smaller. I find it as much work to do a small piece as to do a large piece. Consequently, I would rather go bigger. My contenders for this exhibition suddenly became fewer.
There are non-refundable entry fees to each show that the artists must pay. A slight discount is available to members of the exhibition gallery. These fees pay for the gallery rental, repainting/repairing holes, reception costs, rack cards, advertising, jurors fees etc. If your work is not accepted, you can think of the fee as a donation, helping the local arts.
Most exhibitions are now entered digitally. This saves the artist shlepping the work to the venue and right back home if it is not selected for the show. This also allows artists at a further distance to enter the show as they (or their work) don’t have to travel unless their work does get selected.
I always find it hard to choose which painting(s) I will enter into a given show. A large painting presumably must warrant a large amount of wall space in the jurors judgment. But a larger painting implies the artist is serious as well. Jurors differ widely in what is selected. Usually there are 2 or 3 jurors per exhibition. One juror may love a piece and another juror for the same show not so much. So the jurors make deals with each. “if you want that one in then I want this one in.” A particular painting may be unselected for a particular exhibition and in another it wins a prize. Go figure! There is no definitive accounting for the decisions. Some jurors are very experienced, or it maybe their first time in the position. Some jurors can’t help curating a show when they are meant to be selecting the best work regardless of how it all hangs together.
So for the Headwaters exhibition, I think I will enter Cardinal Under Cover, Tethered, and In The Hills. One, two , three or none may get into the show. So today, I’ll be photographing, resizing photos, checking labelling, touching up. There’s a lot of admin work involved in being a practicing professional artist. Phew!
Cardinal Under Cover 24x30
In the Hills 18x48
For our anniversary one year, we went to France to see Monet's garden. I have been an avid gardener since we bought our first home. The fact that Monet was a gardener and also a painter was quite inspiring to me as my interest in Art began to grow.
We stayed in a bed and breakfast in a home that was there in Monet's day. In fact, the breakfast bar was said to be converted from an afternoon 'bar' where Monet would visit. It is just down the road a few blocks. Our room was beautifully light and airy with peachy pink walls and wispy sheers.
Now what would I do with that?
I have a short series at present with landscapes as seen through windows and doors. Matisse did paintings like this, using the device of a window or door. Our room had french windows that opened out onto a narrow balcony just wide enough for a bistro table. The railing was over grown with vines and we looked out over a dense area of bamboo toward one of the hills backing up Giverny.
So I made the value sketch simplified the composition and decided on a large light area in the door area down through the room and the bed shapes and strong darks surrounding the windows and some medium dark areas at the floor. It was difficult to get away from the light airy sheers idea until I got it into my head that they are all just shapes to play with.
It would be an evening picture so the walls and sheers could be darker. Remember dark is a relative description. Dark areas contrasting with light areas make a more powerful image.
I put a small painting (my style:) of a water lily on the dark wall with a light but bright yellow frame. This makes is a focal point to draw the eye away from the light window with the high value contrast dark curtains on either side.
The landscape area outside is analogous cools. There are very light warms in the window panes and the rest is blue/orange low intensity contrasts.
There's a large one in progress-- my largest work yet- 40"x60" - don't think my car will hold a bigger one. It will have 2 windows. Hoping for another good one! Here is the sketch for the next work and the one completed smaller work.
sketch of larger painting
Gentle Breeze 30x30"
Comments welcome. Have a great weekend!
Last week here at Haliburton School of Art and Design Advanced Individual Studies I painted a view of the native perennial meadow from the little blue cabin in the meadow that we call the Cabernet. Here is the sketch and the painting:
Our mentor suggested that I might do a short series of these with doors and windows. Henri Matisse did a number of this type of composition. I guess if it is alright for Matisse , it is alright for me.
For the second painting I channelled Matisse and painted a made-up view of the meadow from the cabin. I used a powerful value contrast to show the difference between the inside and the outside of the cabin. To simplify the composition, I left out the pathway around the meadow so it looks like you would be stepping out into the blooming flowers. The perspective of the table is also tipped. Here's the sketch and the painting:
The strong dark area is a low key blue and a high key blue in matching values. The water bottle matches value to the dark area as well but is in the low key complimentary orange colour.
Within the dark area are 2 focal points— the white bottle cap and the very unrealistic orange binocular lenses. These are small areas with a lot of power to draw the eye because of the value and intensity contrasts. Together they balance the larger lighter area on the right that is very active but with lower intensity colours.
In these paintings, I have scraped off the texture in the areas of the door and window frame. It certainly changes the feel of the paintings. My shapes are painted flat over the texture (as in no contour) but these shapes are physically flat as well. A little change.
Feedback welcome. Have a great week! click here for to read previous blog posts from Haliburton and more.
Rockies Range 15x60" is an unusual painting being so narrow and wide. Not good for Instagram or Facebook. It was important to make sure the viewer would go back and forth across the painting with interesting areas to find along the way.
The pure white snow caps across the top contrasting with the intense blue takes the eye skipping across the canvas to the far side. The various horizontal shapes of the mid ground all move back and forth until the eye arrives in the near foreground and finds the unrealistically orange fenceposts which provide a focal point at each end of the painting. Enjoy!
I've had a good week at Haliburton School of the Arts Advanced Individual Studies and am looking forward to the second week coming right up. Nothing to do but paint paint paint!
Below is a quick phone snap of this work. There is another painting on Instagram you might be interested to see: The view from the Cabernet. The Cabernet is a little blue cabin set beside the native perennial meadow. Enjoy!