Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Viva MacLeod's Bookstore, Viva Picasso

Visiting MacLeod's Bookstore* on the corner of Hornby and West Pender in Vancouver is an adventure. Every bit of space in the shop is filled with overflowing stacks of books. Despite the apparent chaos, the helpful staff seem to know where everything is located. I was shopping for a Christmas gift for someone who values thriftiness and making the most of our resources. Why buy one new book when I can get three or more used ones for the same price? It was my good fortune to find books for others on my list. The best find was the book:

Viva Picasso A Centennial Celebration 1881 - 1981
by David Douglas Duncan

David Douglas Duncan is a world famous American photographer and author known in part for his combat photography as well as his eight books of photos of Picasso. The great photojournalist met the great artist at Picasso's home in Cannes, France in 1956. Duncan was invited to come back as a guest and stay at any time, as if it was his home. I doubt if any other photographer had access to Picasso's day-to-day life in the same way that Duncan had for over seventeen years.

Picasso Dancing in His Studio - after photo by David Douglas Duncan
8 x 10" - Pencil on Paper

This book has dozens of intriguing photos, many are black and white and all taken in natural light, without a flash to avoid disturbing the subjects. Each photo has an explanatory note with an interesting detail or comment from Duncan. I read the book in the past 24 hours more than once - what entertainment !

We are given voyeuristic glimpses into Picasso's life; most of the shots are taken inside his home where the rooms are filled with his art. Many photos feature Picasso's last love, Jacqueline Roque and their various pets such as the goat and Lump, the daschund. We see Picasso at work and can observe his intensity, the long hours, his prolific output and the way he enjoyed life. The photographs, together with the notes, convey the artist's bright character and a fascinating life. I am giving the book away for Christmas.  It is the perfect gift.

See the David Douglas Duncan Archive at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

*Photo of MacLeod's Book courtesy of Stephen Arod Shirreffs

Monday, December 14, 2009

From My Sketchbook

Wooden Plate of Shells and Rocks
Pencil on Paper 7 x 8 inches

Without having my paints accessible this month, I made my  motto "Have Sketchbook, Will Travel".  Now how did that old gem pop into my head?  Three shells go out to the first person that names the obscure source I am mimicking.  Beware, you will reveal that you are over forty if you answer.

More seriously now.....

I keep a flat wooden plate on our coffee table for saving things that I bring home from vacations.  The items remind me of places I've been: climbing on the rocks by the sea outside Capetown (near Melkbosstrand, Liz), walking on the beach at Tofino, trekking over the tundra in Iqaluit and swimming in the churning waves of Puerto Vallarta, on my own, the only gringo foolish enough or brave enough.  A woman from Mexico City finally joined me in the water and said to me, in broken English, "Gracias, you help me be brave to swim in waves."  We really weren't in very deep but you couldn't tell that from the shore.  The biggest problem?  Not stingrays. Not sharks. Not a riptide.  Twas the crashing waves that churned up the coarse sand and deposited it into bathing suits. 

P.S.  For those of you who know that I love feathers, you may have wondered why there are none on this plate which is obviously full of things from nature.  Roxie, the cat, likes to pretend any feathers within her reach are still part of a bird and she chews them to smithereens. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Seashells and Rock

Looking for a Feather
Oil on Linen 6" x 6"

A little painting this week with some little objects.  Perhaps it could use a wee feather in the front left section? The larger shell is from the Queen Charlotte Islands. 

I am moving my studio this week so won't be painting for awhile. No postings for about two weeks. I'll be back online as soon as I can; I don't want to stop painting for long!

The book I'm reading this week:  Clapton - The Autobiography

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Surfboard Skimboard

Acrylic and Oil on Canvas  14" x 18"

This week I worked on this painting that has been stashed in my closet for about a year.  Thanks to input from Picard  while painting at his studio, I did major reworking and brought this to a point I could call finished.  Almost. To quote an unknown artist, "My work is finished only when it is gone from my studio".  I agree that as long as the painting is still in view, there may be something to fix or to change on it.

In the summer of 2008 we camped for a few days near Tofino on Vancouver Island. This is the place closest to heaven that I have seen. One lovely, sunny morning when some larger waves were breaking, I wandered the beach and took pictures of a variety of folks enjoying the blissful surroundings in their various chosen ways.  Not many of the young ones noticed me snapping pics, so snap away I did.  This painting is a combination of a few photos merged into one scene.  These young guys riding skimboards were tireless running time and again up and down the beach.

Here I am: the happy, mature photographer being ignored by the young boarder passing behind.  The wet suit allowed me to play in the very cold waves and to blend into the scene.  I didn't try surfing.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Pansies for Mom

Acrylic on Wood Panel 6" x 6"

Another small painting - this one is a present for my Mom. Pansies are something she always appreciated. Even if she doesn't remember that she used to like them, maybe she will like them anew!

The small wood panel is 1.5" deep so it will free-stand on a shelf or a night table.  I like that the resulting painting is so 'usable' for someone with limited space or without the option of banging nails into the wall.  And these small ones are a joy to paint because they are finished so quickly.  Given my precious time (as noted extensively in a previous posting, sorry if I'm going on and on) small is ideal for me. 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Red Pear and Feather

Oil on Wood Panel  6" x 6"

Here is a small painting from this weekend, the smallest I've done.  It was also an experiment to paint on a wooden panel, and I found that I really like the firmness of the surface.

Unfortunately, when I photographed the painting to post it, I found it difficult to capture the subtle nuances in the red colour.  The painting looks even better in real life. Honest.

This is a shot of my studio setup, now you can see where all the magic happens :-)  !
Much credit goes to The Carder Method for my setup.

Any questions?  Click on Comments to ask.  If you are shy, you can add a comment Anonymously. You can return later to see my response, also in the comments section.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Precious Time

My life hijacked my painting time this week. However, I don’t begrudge that as my focus was on my dear Mom who has Alzheimer’s disease. I travelled to Calgary to visit her. She was recently moved into long term care – a transition that takes a lot of adjustment for everyone. When I see her now, as her life slips slowly away and she loses touch with her loved ones, I am refocused on the importance of each precious year and week and day we have.

Back here at home, I managed to fit in my drawing class and I continue to carry my sketchbook with me where ever I go. I use my precious daily hour on the train as I’m travelling to and from work to draw or read about art . Sometimes I draw the other commuters. It can get a bit uncomfortable if one of them notices, but most are reading, snoozing or playing with their BlackBerries or iPods. So my sketch book has pages of figures with heads in that bobbing-for-apples angle of someone dozing while in an upright position. It is my choice, as the artist, whether or not to include any drool.

I’m not always feeling bold enough to face annoyed looks if I get caught, so on other days, I draw from my photographs or from ideas in my head. An interesting exercise is to draw a familiar place from memory. I pick a spot, for example, my kitchen and draw as much as I remember, testing how observant I am. The next time I go to that spot, I notice so much more - great practice for honing my observational skills and my memory.

The more that I do, artistically, the more creative ideas I have about writing, drawing and painting. My mind is overflowing with ideas! More ideas than precious time. Then there is the rest of life to balance: I want to maintain good relationships and perfom well at work and connect with friends and have a clean house (without actually having to clean it) and eat well and exercise. And floss. 

Big breath in. Pause. Big breath out.

Time is so precious.


The book I'm reading this week:  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Watch the video of his last lecture on YouTube
Over an hour long but you can do it in bits. It is worth your precious time.

Friday, October 16, 2009

You Can't Hurry Things

Oil on Canvas Board, 8"x10"

I tried to paint faster this week without a marked difference and am reminded that things just take as long as they take. I arranged the yellow paper, unrolled like a photographer would do. My aim was to create smooth background without a break between the back wall and the table top.  It seemed to cause more issues for me than it solved.

The light green jar was a junk store treasure purchased for its beauty and for no other reason. It held seashells on top of the fridge for a couple of years before it made the cut for a still life. The feathers, well, you know I found them.  I have no shame about stooping to pick up a feather from the ground, just like my Ukranian Bobba had no shame for stooping to pick up a penny or a nickel.  The dark green bowl is something left behind when one of my dear daughters moved out.  There is just the suggestion of my own reflection in the centre of that bowl.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look. Painters are invited make suggestions; I accept not only compliments, but input.

PS I've written about three different posts before this one, full of wisdom about finding my voice as an artist and my ruminations about style.  I left them unfnished, on the metaphorical cutting room floor and instead just wrote about the painting.  That is probably best.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Approaching Yachats

Acrylic on Canvas
16" x 20"

Earlier in this century I went on a memorable vacation that included some biking along Highway 101 on the Oregon coast.  Last week, I dug out some photos from that trip - they were taken on film!  How quaint.  This painting is based on one of the photos taken near Yachats, somewhere between Newport and Florence for those of you in the know or those who care to Google it. The road curved and rose and dipped down to the ocean and back up over the peaks. While I painted this, I had great memories of cycling in the moist sea air with that awe inspiring view of beach and ocean.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Growing Pains and FCA Workshop Review

High Tide on the Nicomekl River
Acrylic on Canvas 11" x 14"

The weekend workshop hosted by the Federation of Canadian Artists featuring Robert Genn, with guest artist Alan Wylie, was three days full of information, painting exercises, demonstrations and entertainment.  Ocean Park Hall in Whiterock was just big enough to hold the 25 enthusiastic artists in attendance. We had the double doors flung wide open, sun streaming into the room and Genn's friendly dog, Dorothy, wandering around amongst us. The dog seemed to have radar for detecting when her master stepped out for even a moment; she would immediately start whining pathetically. Several of us women would go Aaaaah. Genn would re-enter the room and say "Pull yourself together!" I am pretty sure he was talking to Dorothy.

We did timed paintings 11' x 14' in 37 minutes - now that is a refreshing exercise that forces you to loosen up. The photo on the right shows class paintings. We brought in our own paintings and had them critiqued; we had individual attention to the pieces we worked on in class. And we painted outdoors on the banks of the Nicomekl River. Most enlightening, we watched Bob paint.  There was nothing missing from the weekend. A lifetime of working as an artist has given Bob Genn a wealth of information to share and his generousity of spirit came across to all of us: he is inciteful, humourous, and a real pro.

But... the weekend was a roller coaster for me. By attending workshops, we sensitive artists, open ourselves up to the growing pains that come with change and improvement. I laughed and I cried (or felt like it). I embraced change and I balked at it. One afternoon, I felt like my paintings were wonderful and another day I was sure that I do not know how to paint at all.  In time, I will digest all the input, decide what is right for me and take a pass the things that don't fit.  Here are my take-aways (I do love a good list).

Ten Eleven Things I Learned or Re-Learned at the Workshop

Acrylic glazing techniques - something I've been curious about for a long time.

Be generous with the amount of paint you use. If you are worried about cost, buy cheap paint, it works too.

Commit with each stroke with the full knowledge that you can change things. With acrylics, no one will know what mistakes are on the paint layers below.

Let the hand of the artist show in the painting.

Paint the foreground first, get it right, then work back through the other layers.

Try for more than two or three layers in the composition, try four or five or more. Foreground, mid foreground, mid-ground, mid/background, background, sky.

Be free to change things you see to make them work, don't be slavishly bound to the source. Let the painting speak to you.

Three sources for content : what you see, your own references, what you create in your mind.

Let go of the details, simplify, simplify, simplify (Shelley)

When deciding on a gallery to handle your paintings, contact some of the artists whose work is there already and get their scoop.

Three Bonus Take-Aways from Other Artists

From Alan Wylie - Use linear strokes when painting water. Find your own voice in this business.

From Amanda Jones - Think warm colours to bring things forward, cool for receding. I knew that, but haven't applied it much.  Getting that tip at just the right moment to solve a problem was invaluable.

From Elsa B. - By her actions, I was reminded to paint what you love. Elsa embodies this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Oil on Canvas  16" x 24"

This week I am spending my evenings planning a new painting - a larger landscape based on my field sketches and photos from the summer. I will work on the piece during the upcoming three-day workshop I'm attending given by Robert Genn. My cohorts are probably tired of hearing me go on and on about the workshop so I better come up with a decent painting.

And just to keep you all quiet for awhile, I'm posting this portrait that I painted for my friend, Clarissa. The painting is based on an old photo of Clarissa holding her son when he was a few weeks old. The original was black and white and was taken using a flash, so there were many artistic challenges. I hope you enjoy this painting as much as I enjoyed painting it.

For those of you interested in more details on my solutions, please read on:

1. I ignored the poor lighting from the camera flash that was washing out the definition of forms and instead, I concocted a light source from the right front. In a pinch, my Better-Half acted as my model and patiently posed for a photo under a strong directional light with a robe draped over his shoulder to help me determine where the light would fall. (I could probably make a few dollars on e-Bay selling that photo, but I wouldn't live long.)

2. I studied images of Mother and Child paintings in library books and online. They inspired me to go for the feeling of serenity. They also gave me the ideas for colours and to add more flowing fabric. I turned the plain white of the baby's blanket in the photo rich navy blue. The comfy white t-shirt Clarissa wore became a golden toned robe.

3. I replaced Clarissa's shorter hairstyle in the photo because it didn't fit the 'heavenly' mood of the painting. For a softer flow, I took new photos of her in the same pose looking down with her long tresses flowing down her shoulder. For skin tones of both figures, I referred to several more recent colour photos and to the real thing, easy to do since I see Clarissa at work daily.

4. Last but not least, there about three layers of paint on the entire canvas. I painted and repainted everything until it was the best I could do at the time. The robe has been red, navy and ended up gold. The baby's blanket has been light blue, gold and ended up navy. And so on...

The entire project was a learning experience for me and I loved working through it. When I got discouraged, I set it aside and worked on smaller items. My committment to finish and deliver, gave me the impetus to keep going even when I encountered road blocks. It was a true pleasure to give it to my friend on her birthday in July.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Guard!

Oil on Linen  8" x 10"

Aaaah, colour - I love luscious colour.  The need to experience more colour influenced my choices for this week's still life setup. This is tomato season in BC - they are cheap and plentiful. This beauty was not ripe when I started painting the picture, but is ready to be devoured now.  The plain-jane salt and pepper shakers delight me because they were a souvenir from North Mart in Iqaluit.  And the glass plate... well, I will never paint that again, I've already firmly decided.  I am somewhat cross-eyed from trying to figure out the colours and shapes defining that thing.  It is now destined to be a cat food plate, permanently. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sun's Glare on Frobisher Bay

Acrylic on Canvas Board  9 x 12

I setup my easel on a flat spot half way up the side of a very large hill to paint this scene looking out over Frobisher Bay. For those of you in Iqaluit, this is the view from the path going to Apex. The fishing boats were tiny specs out in the distance and there were two young boys hunting for a weasel on the beach below me! The weasel escaped.

I am squeezing in studio time with my work routine this week and hope to finish a new still life for my next posting.

The book I am reading this week is the best instructional art book that I've read:
Problem Solving for Oil Painting – by Gregg Kreutz

Monday, September 07, 2009

Glowing Buildings on Rua da Atalaia

Acrylic,Oil & Pencil on canvas board, 11" x 14"

This week, now that I am back home, it seems like my vision has been ‘reset’ from being immersed in the warm August colours of the tundra for two weeks. Now, the rain forest and water surrounding me are fresh and amazing. My challenge this week has been to fit in painting, once again, with my work routine. So many ideas, so little time:
  • I have setup a new still life in my studio (aaaaah, happy to be back in my studio),
  • I am planning a larger landscape based on one of my Arctic field sketches,and
  • I decided to take part in a challenge set by artist blogger, Bill Guffey at
Mr. Guffey's Virtual PaintOut is a kind of sharing session for artists. Most of us appreciate an audience and there is nothing like a group of other artists to fan the flames of creativity.  His cool idea is to use Google Street View as the source of inspiration and this month, Portugal is the virtual destination. While I cruised around Lisbon riding piggy back on the little Google Street View man, I was quite taken with both the colourful buildings and the sunshine. But ouch, the view I chose to paint really forced me to dig deep into my perspective lessons from Picard’s drawing boot camp.

PS. if you are wondering about the three different mediums on this painting, I started it in acrylics, switched to oils when my buildings weren't glowing enough, and finished the lower balcony with a 7B pencil.  Even a size 0 brush wouldn't cut it for the grill work.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Are You Out There?

Acrylic on Canvas Board  10" x 14"

Satellite dishes are a vital link everywhere but especially in Nunavut.  All sizes are sprinkled around Iqaluit such as this large one looking up and out, over Frobisher Bay. In town, I saw a weathered old two room house that looked like it might tip off its pilings from the weight of an extra large dish.

I’m heading home to Vancouver today after two weeks of doing my favourite things – time with one of my daughters, being outdoors and painting. I feel satiated and rested although frustrated with my paintings. This plein air stuff is tough! I will have to learn to paint faster to make it work.

The book I am reading now is:  The Incredible Eskimo- Life Among the Barren Land Eskimo by Raymond de Coccola & Paul King.  It is the memoir of a Jesuit priest who lived and worked in Arctic Canada for about 10 years starting in the mid-1930s. I can't put it down and plan to finish it on my flight back to Vancouver.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

River Mouth and Frobisher Bay

Acrylic on Canvas Board 9"x12"

Aaaah - another day in Sylvia Grennell Regional Park. This landscape was tough to simplify and in the end, I am not sure if I simplified it enough.

The book I am reading this week has been very helpful for my adventure in landscape painting:  Plein Air Painting in Watercolor & Oil by Frank LaLumia. Well-laid out and informative for the budding outdoor painter. The author speaks of the three S’s of plein air painting: see it, simplify it, state it. That was my mantra this week as I wandered the hills of the tundra searching for the perfect composition. If I had run into any other humans, they may have wondered about all my muttering and squinting (an artist’s technique to help simplify the scene).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Arctic Light on Char Fishers

Acrylic on Canvas Board - 9" x 12"

August in the Canadian Arctic

Photo of my painting spot on Friday. A little bit of heaven.

These last two weeks of August, I am visiting my daughter in Iqaluit, Nunavut. While she is at work, I am painting outdoors every day. This is a new opportunity to be so focused on my art and, as I write this midway through the two weeks, I am energized by the experience.

Each day, I have done at least one painting. I am fairly new to plein air painting (ie outdoor painting) and I find my field sketches need more work when I get home. Outdoors there is pressure to grasp the scene before the light changes or the tide goes out.

I am tickled with my basic equipment setup – everything fits into my backpack except the easel, which I carry separately. As you see in the photo, I rig up an umbrella to shade my canvas board and my palette. There are no trees here for shade – this is above the treeline, not far from the Arctic Circle.

Most of my days so far have been spent in the Sylvia Grennell Territorial Park near of the mouth of the river at Frobisher Bay. The banks are sprinkled with fishermen casting for Arctic char.

The land and skies here are huge and endless; the population is sparse. Out in the park, only one or two people pass by me all day. The solitude is refreshing and it helps me feel free to paint unobserved. I even talked to myself aloud as I worked to solving my painting composition and colours.

Now, I must break from my writing to go outdoors – there is an airshow on here right now and I can hear the low flying planes: part of Operation Nanook. Note to self: Google that later.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Inspired by a Book

Book Review

In Praise of Painting by Robert Genn
Merritt Publishing Company Limited, 1981

If you have a passion for doing something and want to make it your life, then I recommend you read In Praise of Painting by Robert Genn. You may know Genn as a prominent Canadian painter or from his bi-weekly newsletter The Painters' Keys with his friendly, insightful letters on various current topics related to painting, art, creativity and life.

In Praise of Painting, first published in 1981, tells of Genn's life as a painter and it soon becomes obvious why he is successful. He conveys his work ethic and his constant committment to what he loves. He writes of his work schedule -- 9 AM to 10 PM seven days a week -- with breaks for meals, family time and some social visits. He writes of being prepared, at any moment, to paint by carrying his equiment with him all the time to take advantage of the light or the view or a perfect scene when it arises. It is an inspiring, enjoyable easy read.

I am attending a workshop by Genn in October and am happy that I know a bit more about him from reading his book. I have a great respect for his achievements and his committment to painting.

Favourite quote from the book:
"If you maintain flexibility you can discover some surprising things in unexpected moments."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Plate, Bottle, Bowl

Oil on Linen 11 x 14

This painting took me about a week of evenings plus the weekend to complete. I am surprised how wonky the plate looks through the bottle! That only came clearer to me as I carefully painted the details of it. The plate is special - it is one of the few left from a set given to me by my daughters on Mother's Day years ago. They woke me up and took me to the kitchen where breakfast was laid out on the table with a new set of dishes and cutlery with blue handles.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Feather and Pit-fired Pot

Oil on Canvas Board 8"x10"

This is a painting of a pit-fired pot that I made around 1972 when I was learning about pottery. I threw this pot on an old kick wheel. A group us, all students, planned a primitive firing of our pots. We dug a huge hole on the side of a hill out in the prairies west of Calgary. We filled the hole with our unfired pots and covered them with dead grass and dried cow patties that we collected from the nearby ranches. We covered all that with dirt leaving a bit of dried grass exposed to act as a fuse, then lit the deep layers on fire. We let the things burn and smolder for hours.

The next day after the pile cooled, we dug out the pots. The pot in this painting was my treasure. I loved the smoked look, the blue and black puffs, and the uncontrolled finish. I gave it away to someone dear who kept it for years. This spring the pot came back to me.

I picked up the feather while cycling near False Creek. There is a field near the water where the Canada geese gather and it is littered with feathers! I was in heaven and came home with a handful.So I put the pot full of memories together with a feather from a Canada goose and told myself to stop faffing and just paint.

Wine Glass and Earrings

Oil on Canvas Board 8"x10"

Finished June '09
The wineglass and earrings painting is the first one I've done using the Carder Method.
Thanks to Mark Carder.
And thanks to James Picard for fantastic workshops.