Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Both Sides Now"


The satisfaction I received with having completed the BIG project with a small and limited tool box had scarcely registered for me when I found myself already in the throes of thinking about another project... one which I had placed for too long on the back burner. The project itself was pushed forward and encouraged by a comment from my friend Keith Tilley in his comment regarding "the BIG." He readily recognize my underlying message and reason for undertaking this huge project.He commented, "You don't need a lot of fancy equipment to make good art." He got it!... and that was payment in full for me for the effort. I hope that some of you "get it" too... and take courage to risk taking on the BIG in you own lives. Dare to dream! Thank you Keith!

 I  finally decided  to either dump this draft which has been circling around unfinished for far too long in my mind... or simply to delete its sketchy commentary and move on. Like a troublesome sketch or painting, not all starts deserve a finish. Some merit a good scrubbing off early on, as opposed to "saving them" or, putting a frame around them. Most of the time when painting in the field that decision and solution arrives very easily and painlessly.

However, in this particular post I kept finding myself drawn to a very cogent consideration before deleting the "idea". The post quite clearly defines how forcefully and effectively that music plays into my thinking and how important music has been to my painting process over the years. Though I am very eclectic in my musical tastes, my preferences tend to lean towards embracing a blend of classical music with Canadian folk traditions.

Another reason for "keeping the faith"is that it provides me a long overdue opportunity to thank two very special friends, Carol and John Philips of Midland, Ontario. Our bond of friendship stretches back... far into our "primordial past,"a simpler time in public school when school chums played marbles together in the schoolyard. During summer vacays,... we swam together during the seemingly endless hot summer days and played Red Rover until darkness ... or our parents' call  summoned us to head home, bringing that day to an abrupt end.

Later in our adolescence, we danced our way through high school at "Teen Town." The local Masonic Temple was the Friday night (lightly chaperoned) hangout where Jivin' Johnnie  spun 45's every Friday night along with his pal "Hat Badge" Ian Wilson. More than one "first love" was kick-started on that dance floor... mine amongst them.

Time and distance have thankfully been unable to separate us and we have remained friends ever since. So I would like to offer this post as a tribute to this couple o' blessings in my life. You Two... have truly made all the difference in my many and varying lives, Thank you BOTH!! I love you ... forever!

This blog's title derives from a blockbuster Joni Mitchell hit from the sixties. The melody and its lyrics speak to me still and never fail to carry my heart joyfully back to those simpler times and life moments.

All three of us have seen and experienced "Both Sides... of life, ever so clearly... to reach the Now. Mine arrive with Allie's passing and theirs... unimaginably, through their own tragic loss of two of their three children - both gone treacherously... and tragically too soon.

 I could never understand how they as people and as a couple survived this tsunami of a continuous life time of grief. But they did and I bore witness throughout the ordeal. It has been their example...  and their constantly joyous presence and their continous contributions to my life that has encouraged me to undertake my own journey to recover renewed purpose and Happiness. I owe them a great debt of gratitude for their generous and unconditional love.

Like most in my "Boomer Generation," Canadian Folk and rock n' roll music formed the main diet for our listening and dancing pleasure. I find that many of my compatriots remain locked into that tradition even today. Fortunately for me, I grew up in a family where all types of music was valued and played. My Dad was a local musician of considerable note, very respected for his unerring and willing ability to successfully "sit in" on piano in any musical genre. All Sherman's and their children have gone out into the world with music embedded deeply in their hearts... albeit in a variety of different ways.

"Both Sides Now" borrows from the musical spirit and genius of Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell. I have deeply admired and identified with her on so many significant levels. We both share so many crossover commonalities in our values and lives. We both have performed music. Both share a rebellious nature and idiosyncratic traits in our persons and our  thinking. Both of us share a love for creating art. A large difference between us in fame does not play into this from my view... nor does it matter.

Through her beautiful music... I have come to truly know and respect her on so many levels. I have chosen to share and expose you to a newer cover by Joni of "Both Sides Now," It is soft and mellowed out... minus the bopping care-free  version from the past. I selected it to present to each of you... because it speaks so eloquently and intimately to the listener. It's worth the listen... start to finish in my view. Enjoy... 

                                                                   "Selfie" ... by Joni                                                                                     
Is this not "Me"... or "You"... or not everyone who has lived life... on "both Sides" of youth... and experienced life "from near and far"??? And still somehow "it's life's illusions we recall"... and if we are honest.. none of us "really fully knew ... [or understood] life at all"... till Now... in these later years.

A Time When Art and Life Become One

Novelist Jonathan Swift said it best with this quote

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."

I would contend that an artist is an individual who incorporates that vision with their own unique gift and hard work to bring it into reality in whatever medium they choose to work with. We all do that in our own unique fashion. Whether fame is achieved in the doing of that, or not...  DO share your art with pride and conviction.

I found a Chinese proverb which I painted on the top of a side table gift that I gave to Allie to mark her under graduation. It read:

"One cannot hold moonlight... but may you always put your dreams in the Light... make visible what without you may never be seen."

"The Great Wall"... of Rockport

No... my reference is not to that iconic ancient wall that for centuries kept invaders at bay in China... it is rather my ironic and musing view that this wall here in Rockport performs rather the opposite function for the resident who has gone to the considerable expense to have it constructed. It is intended to keep out the influx of summer crowds of wandering visitors (many from China)... who do not respect the rightful privacy of residents and landowners in this very small village. This problem is more than annoying when the numbers expected each summer rise into the hundreds of thousand. No ethnic slur is intended ... just a revelation and reality check!

This year right through late fall and up until the first snow fell,  I visited with two stone masons who were vigorously trying to complete the most beautiful dry point (no mortar) stone wall just as you enter or leave the village. Despite the deep cold, they battled with the elements and the very deep cold, showing no apparent regard for their enemy.

I could not... not stop to visit as I passed by on my daily walks. I asked, "Is this work not hard on your body and particularly your hands?" They assured me each time that despite the fact that neither wore gloves and both dressed very lightly... they were warmed by their work and the progress that they made. It was their trade... but at the same time it was their Art... and their passion all rolled into one. And that serpentine structure spoke to me... as strongly and clearly to me as it did to them.

On each occasion, I heard sweet music long before they came into view. Each day that source of music changed... according to which mason was laying stone down. I mused how strange... or maybe not ,.,, that their wall had a very strong  visual  musical rhythm of its own.

Hmmm. I wonder...

The wall was at last finished and they have long since moved on to their next project which...  I've been told is in California, But their serpentine musical wall still commands my attention... my respect and demands me to paint it. And I have - twice already. I was very pleased by the result of my first wee 8x10 inch canvas. It really captured the afterglow of that winter day... as it played against the wall itself and Church of the Redeemer behind it. It definitely captured this very new... and remarkable modern piece of heritage. Here... two heritage traditions from different eras rest peacefully side-by-side. Out of annoyance and bitterness ... emerged beauty... and Art.

                         "Late Evening Light at the Wall and The Church of the Redeemer"
                                                  Oil sketch on canvas 8 x 10 inches

The wee oil sketch sat on the floor of our studio and each time that my eye was drawn to it, I was dragged into deeper thought, until one evening I decided to take my camera and visit the other side of the wall to see what painting potential, if any might lay there. My curiosity was rewarded and I uncovered what would become the very first painted view of this piece of heritage. It surely will not be the last, by any stretch of the imagination.

                                "Along the Wall to the River... and St. Brendan's RC Church"
                                                           Oil on panel 8x10 inches

Here in this quiet riverside hamlet lie the physical  and remaining reality of a deep and abiding schism which split the Roman Catholic faith apart during the period of the Reformation. Though the deep anger... bitterness and even armed conflicts have dissolved over time, "the spiritual divide" continues to separate God's flock into separate places of worship - by choice. The two paintings... each done on opposing sides of a physical barrier... Metaphorically still a "wall" exists and whimsically reflects that truth to me visually. Just the Joni in me... humming along to the tune of... "Both Sides ... Now!

"Closing Time".... Thank you Leonard Cohen!

Good Painting...  and my blessings... to ALL!


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Further to BIG things... with a small stick

In the last post I shared a very meaningful and magical Venetian moment that I experienced so many years ago. Ravel's "Bolero" continues to be among my favorite  pieces of music in all genres that I enjoy. I still play classical music and Canadian folk while I paint. Both continue to add inspiration and elevate my creative senses and mood.

While I searched out a Youtube rendition of "Bolero" I fortunately stumbled upon the one that featured the "toothpick maestro" which almost replicated the tenor and fiery performance at the Fenice so many years ago.

I mentioned to you at the end of that post that this extraordinary performance prompted me to undertake a similar strategy during my most recent project. I must admit that the project defied a promise that I had made to myself and others nearby... that my days devoted to taking commissions were finally over with. Little did I know that one more remained... and a very large and challenging one at that.

I will spare you the details surrounding how this occurred. Let it simply be said that I "owed many kind favors" to the friend who made this request. The parts that allowed me to go forward involved kindnesses to our family and particularly Allie. So I stepped up... not to the easel... but to the long wall of what is to become his entertainment space for friends in the Rockport community.

I have worked steadily for nine days and will in all likelihood complete the project tomorrow. Here is the wall of acrylic pigment that I will live at Wayne's World.

This mural features a familiar favorite Thousand Island landscape... "Smuggler's Cove"... so named because it was a place used by rum runners during Prohibition to avoid detection from their illegal smuggling operations to the US. It is a picturesque horseshoe-shaped cove with much current and Caribbean colored waters. This vantage point is a view from the Ivy Lea Provincial Park boat ramp.

The centre part of the painting focuses upon "Virgin Island... so named because their is a niche containing Mary on the outward point. It was the site for summer cottagers and boaters Sunday Masses for many years. It has become a summer island retreat for a friendly US family.. each of them own one of my sketches of their island.

In the lower right foreground of the is the Dive Boat "Osprey"... one of Wayne's two boats from which he conducts his popular scuba diving business. Wayne is a true "River Rat" in every sense of the word. He has made his living and lifetime on the river and knows it intimately... like the back of his hand.This is surely why his diving business attracts divers from all over the world to use his expertise and superior equipment.

It was one of these boats that transported Allie and the rest of us for two memorable private Thousand Island Cruises... at no cost to us. I will always be in his debt for this gift to us all, and especially Allie who would not have been able to visit the islands again in that last year of her life. A very precious and binding gift for me!

The helicopter in the upper left hand corner represents Wayne's newest interest. Since he was a boy, he has wanted to fly so he purchased this lightweight two passenger helicopter to complete this boyhood dream. He is currently taking flying lessons and has ripped down the helicopter to its frame and replaced all questionable parts to insure safety. He's a dreamer... who turns them into reality. I admire him deeply.

Here's the "toothpick" connection. I completed this entire 4 x 12 foot vignette... using only these brushes shown here. Surprisingly... I was astonished at the speed and the freedom that large arm strokes presented me during the execution of this large format.

A one inch bristle brush and a half inch sable dagger were the work horses throughout the entire painting process. I will be adding some "rigger work" for fine detail work tomorrow. Just a novel approach... running against the grain it might appear at first glance... but not!

Hope that it might inspire each of you to jump in and use some "outrageous" idea or approach of your own of your own... to make you soar... artistically and spiritually. You might come away as surprised and pleased as I have been with this exercise. A great winter tonic! HA HA!!!

Good Painting... and rich Blessings to ALL!!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Power of Mothership... and Music

Today, Wednesday March 8th marks International Women's Day around the world. It seemed relevant and necessary for me to recognize and to celebrate all women in the world as they attempt to seek a better share of possibility and recognition as equals in all fields of human endeavour.

I have always been an advocate and supporter of women's entitlement to equality. I owe much of my own success in every facet of my journey to important women contributors. Each of our human journeys owes its origin to "the Mothership"- carrier and first home for all humankind.

My Mother with her endless love, sacrifices, generous spirit and role model left an indelible blueprint which I have carried forward into a present that she would never see, or experience. I have shared its content and values with my own children and countless students and friends since then. Through me... her legacy will continue to survive her and be passed on to women... and men that she will never meet. We will collectively carry her legacy forward with usd to places that she never could travel to or see.

Mom was just one... in a succession  of women that I would meet... be befriended ...loved and mentored by. She single handedly ushered me into relationships with other women that I would meet... teaching me to respect and trust their person, their wisdom and their intellect. There exists no barrier between us. She enabled me to embrace and practice my own egalitarianism without fear.

I am greatly blessed... for the presence and gifts of  Deb as well... and all women who enriched my life. I encourage each woman... wherever you live... whatever your circumstances, or goals to stand up for the rights you will only receive if you speak out against dominance or oppression. Change never comes without resistance or hardship. Peace will always come afterward.

There are many other men like myself who are willing to strive to make the playing field more level. Sometimes the greatest examples o f strength and beauty can arrive through the careful use of "small instruments."

Play on... with your own small instrument,or voice.

Music... from my Past

I was very fortunate to have earned the opportunity to visit and study for eight weeks in Venice, Italy in the spring of 1989. That adventure would form the basis of a change in artistry and my personal growth and development which has led me right up to the present day.

It too would lead my darling daughter Allison to follow my footsteps to Venice... and beyond. She ended up teaching and becoming Director of the very Queen's University Summer School that I attended as a student. It would become the very wellspring of her entire mission on earth. I am greatly blessed to have shared that gift with her. It enjoined us forever as equals.

While I was there, I was befriended by my professor Catherine Harding and another woman student Jean Smith. That unlikely close friendship ensued because we three were much older than the other students. Simply put... our interests are more closely aligned. While the youth cavorted at the Lido beach by day and boogied into the night, we three turned our attentions to cultural opportunities as they arose over the eight weeks.

I will always be grateful to these two women ior sharing outings like an evening of stringed chamber music within the very halls of Antonio Vivaldi's church where he was concertmaster and organist. However, the highlight for my entire visit was an unforgettable night at the dazzlingly beautiful Fenice Opera House. The entire evening... with its tapestry of sights and sounds still reverberates in my memory.

However, the tour de force for this evening would be the final piece... Ravel's Bolero. Words fail to describe or grasp  the emotion that I felt as I swayed in my seat... seemingly for hours, as the music raised from the almost inaudible... through to a crescendo of the entire orchestra thrown into a frenzied cacophony of duelling instruments by section in the tumultuous concluding bars and notes.

My attention was riveted on the elegantly attired, tall, slender, older, white-haired maestro... iconic  to the point of appearing almost God-like as he wielded his white baton. His every movement and gesture captured the inner passion and intensity that he felt... and brought to this performance.

Those movements were locked onto by every section player as the tempo and cadence lifted. It was magical... for them... and the audience as well. At its conclusion, the entire audience rose to its feet in unison... wildly demanding that they play further. And it did... on four more occasions. I shall never forget it. I cried then shamelessly... as I still do every time that Bolero transports me back to that special marker in my life. The power of Music... "in concert" with memory!

Fast forward to the present...

I was ready to head into Tim Horton's this morning to pick up a brew after my grocery run to Gananoque when my Classic am station struck into that very version of Bolero. It was at that moment... after being unable to proceed in for my java fix, that I decided to jump ahead and reboot my Venetian delight tonight to share it with you.

When I searched out a good YouTube version to share here, I came upon this very special... and significantly appropriate version for so many reasons. The orchestra leader uses a toothpick???... to lead the orchestra. Judge for yourself.....

"The power of a small stick"... in a BIG world! then be ready to visit my next post soon...which will further this idea.

Stay tuned... and enjoy Ladies of my Life - you know who you are.
And thank you... ALL!

I love You... Forever Jemima Puddle Duck and Miss You!

Love Dad


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Life's About Family

I must apologize for the delay in posting this salute to the other members of my family... who have contributed to the success and joy of my life since they entered into my family circle. Each of them brings their own sense of uniqueness and specialness to our lives. Our lives would be so diminished and hollow in their absence... were that to occur. I pray that it never does... again!

So much of my time, energy and focus... even here on my blog has been directed towards trying to make sense of and to come to grips with the sudden and tragic loss of dearest Allison on April 24th, 2017. I think it unnecessary to apologize to them from the oversight that I bring to you here on my blog site. I feel that even for the ardent members of my blogging family, I need not apologize for any feelings that I have displayed or spoken about. You simply understand... and I read that from your continual presence and uplifting words of love and support.

Monday, February 19th, 2018... just passed was the perfect moment to acknowledge the gift which these family members are to me. It is the day set aside in Ontario... and other parts of Canada as "Family Day". Families lucky enough to be located nearby each other attend functions created by the family itself, or the community where they are located In many cases... those events are held outside... such as skating on the world's longest skating rink... on the frozen Rideau Canal which is groomed and maintained for that purpose. Thousands of individuals strap on their skates and wend their way along the miles of ice surface... stopping for a warm up coffee or hot chocolate and a taste of the iconic sweet "Beaver Tail" pastry. Quite a party that we as a family have enjoyed....

So this morning... I humbly and gratefully reach out to Lisa (in the Barbados).... Andrew, Melissa, Mac and Whitney (in Rockwood near Guelph in S. Ontario)... Liam (in Oakville west of Toronto)... Bryn (studying at Trent University in Peterborough)... brother Don ( sort of retired in Victoria, BC and Joan Allison's lovingly lovely Mom in nearby Kingston).

Life would be unbearable and meaningless without the presence of each of these family members in daily life. You are each strong ling links in our family chain that Deb and I hold on to and depend upon. Deb... you fuel my daily life with Hope... Joy and Laughter. Without those magical and necessary elements of a happy life it would not be possible to continue "Believing in miracles"... which is what our beautiful celestial being Allie challenged us to carry forward in our daily lives for her.

Let us do that together... as a family!

My undying love and gratitude to each of you! Rich blessings of Health ... Happiness and Joy!

Cribbage and other board games are REALLY BIG in our family!

The first brood of Sherman Grand Chicks... dining in Toronto
(Lto R- Braden... "Two Amigos"... Lisa ... Ryan and Mica

Melissa and  our newest "Sprite/Sprout"...Whitney

The Homecoming... Andrew and Mr Mac 

Deb... "beside still waters".... Algonquin Park 

The Grand Gals (l to r) ...Ella Sophie and Ava Marie... the apples of Gramma's eye!

Snow Bros... l to r ... Don and Bruce

Four reasons to give thanks... (l to r) Bryn... with Gal Suzie Plamondon... Liam and Chefette Deb

                                    Gramma Joan with Mr Mac at the Cataraqui Sugar Bush

"Let your Light so shine before your fellow men (and women)... so they might see your good works and glorify your Creator..." And she DID!!!

We love "You" FOREVER Jemima Puddle Duck... to the moon and back!... and miss you every day!!


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Finding Love... in the strangest places

                                                              Scottish Seashore Heart

                                                         Asphalt Heart in our driveway

                                                    Heart peeking out through winter ice

"Damaged" heart

                                           A small segment of Allie's Garden of hearts

                                                                     Pothole Heart

Sea Glass Heart... from the Barbados

Brick shard heart from St. Andrew's, Scotland 
Gathered on my visit to celebrate Allie's PhD Grad

                                       " A little love... on the side".... OOPS! ... Naughty Bruce!

Bird Feeder Heart

Love... going down the drain... Unstaged! Really!

Love... in the making.... in the dead of winter!

"Foamy" hearts... from the tin... every time I shave! 

Our beloved Mr Chips says it best Folks:

"Home... is where the Heart is!"

Humankind ... and particularly lovers fete Valentine's Day with profuse heart offerings to openly profess their love on a single day each year... February 14th. The Natural World celebrates using the heart ever so quietly... almost everywhere on the planet and in every season of the year.

Little wonder that the creative minds of musicians, poets, artists, artisans and architects latched onto the heart as a template for recreating harmony and whimsy. The heart trumpets its magical presence and the power of love in its very form... as no other geometric shape does.

I spend so much "quiet" time with Nature that the discovery of a new heart... in a new place, in itself is not surprising in any way to me. However, each discovery '"touches my heart" and beckons to me to share the experience and object with those whose "hearts" are open to the mystery of its creation... and my finding it.

My dear daughter Allison and I had a ritual that lasted right up to her passing. On each and every visit to see/be with her... I delivered a heart that I had found on the way to that visit to her. It was a ritual that led to her window ledge becoming the "heart depository."

It is a ritual that I have continued on my nightly walks. Every night I return with an example of s heart to add to our growing garden display. Visitors have made it a special site to photograph... and I am always anxious to share the Heart Story with them. "The beat"... goes on!

Hearts appear even during winter... on frost-etched windows,stone walls, grassy areas in the snow of our bird feeding stations.

Finding  a Story of Love... within Sorrow and Loss

Yesterday afternoon, Deb, Joan and I met in Kingston to celebrate my (??th) birthday. After a delightful birthday brunch treat at the Toast and Jam Eatery... we went down to Allie's Ginkgo tree memorial and hung lovingly crafted "heart gifts" created by Deb to brighten a colder than usual  February 14th Valentine's Day. I thank Deb for taking time  (on her own initiative) to provide this colorful and uplifting tribute for us all. We all departed feeling better about our lives and the blessing of life that was ours to share.

                                                              A Heart ... within a heart

                     Even Love.. in the smallest doses counts... in the big picture

                              Hearts can be warm... even in the cool shadow of winter

Love... lifts me higher

                                              Hang in there everyone! Share your love!

So on this very special Valentine's Day, I send along to all of you my,,,heartfelt" wishes for rich Blessings of Health, Joy and Happiness.

Good Painting ... to ALL!... and ...Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Yesterday (Something old) vs Today (Something new)

So often we reject looking back as being a negative, and throw about derisive platitudes such as, "You can't live in the past." While that is true for many things, you will discover that in most human endeavours and activities, it can be readily seen that repetition over many failed attempts actually can lead to a superior  process and result.

As a plein air advocate for most of my painting career, I prided myself upon creating a number of paintings... start to finish... on each and every outing. I must admit that I felt a sense of failure if I didn't fulfill that 2-3 finished works result. Even size didn't enter into the formula. I often brought back one or two larger scale paintings.

Looking back on the practice now, I realize that the strategy offered both pluses... and minuses. On the plus side, I learned how to make decisions rapidly and to accelerate the speed of my brushwork. This did indeed result in "loose and painterly" results... which were the "go words" in the painting world at that time.

All the "how to" books of a generation of artists preached and pitched that approach religiously. Galleries chimed in using it to ramp up their sales and interest in specific members of their stable of artists. It reached cult proportions in the seventies and eighties.

On the minus side... many dashed off works lacked a full sense of understanding and cohesion... if one looked carefully and honestly at the works. Glaring mistakes in tonality, composition and lighting often diminished the overall effect and quality of the work greatly.

Something Old.... from Then

In the west corner of my studio space sits a number of what I considered were derailed plein air train wrecks. Not everything that we paint should find its way to the wall immediately, or in some cases never!

Lately, I most often set a new work aside for a period of time and glance at it occasionally... hoping to discover a glaring weakness needing resolution ... or a previously missed redeeming feature.

In years gone by such time for reflection was rarely, if ever was possible. When I was producing work for sometimes up to eleven well-respected galleries across Canada, the need for a constant flow of work to send off to satisfy the demands imposed often exceeded or pushed hard upon my ability to deliver.

Hence time became the governing factor an a focus upon quality more often than not took a back seat. Paintings were often barely dry and some, in my opinion today were even "weak-kneed" when they were shipped to galleries.

Today, I regret that reality greatly. However, it was a time.. when being a "market painter" was essential to maintain a livelihood and became the norm in the art business really. Only a few of the older and better established artists enjoyed a sense of free agency and personal control over their work.

My only solace today, lies in the fact that my collectors then were very much aware of my "emerging artist" status and that they felt that they were receiving decent dollar value for my work and that my work met the criteria they themselves decided upon to purchase and form collections of my work.

I thought it might perhaps be an interesting exercise to take one "failed" sketch from back then and to work it up from memory only... making use of the a mix of remembrances and feelings about the scene.

This exercise might highlight my growing belief that though plein air provides a certain freshness and dash... it as well contains areas that should be reconsidered and built upon to create even stronger landscapes.

Plein air painting presents a great opportunity to learn directly from the subject. Perhaps if one is fortunate as I was, you might find mentor(s) willing to share their experience and knowledge. The process offers a wonderfully stimulating classroom to learn about your own painting abilities and interests.                .

Last Light, Gould Lake - oil on canvas 11 x 14 inches

This sketch was produced back in 1996, a time when my paintings were mostly small sketches and completed "in one go." Most were signed right there on location... or rubbed off immediately if painfully bad. I specifically remember this scene out on the Gould Lake Road, north of Kingston. My painting companion and I had decided to stop at this site... have a quick bite of lunch and a coffee before beginning to paint. What was so impressive and attracted my interest was the intensely warm light and shadow interplay. It was truly a golden moment!

We were no more than into the actual painting process when that light disappeared completely for the rest of the afternoon. It never did return... nor did I "catch" the spirit and the elusive golden lighting effect that had drawn me to this landscape in the first place. Deflating!

Good structure... and compositional elements. BUT... where's the light??? A very flat and two dimensional space that lacks drama and verges totally upon very ordinary. The whole raison d'etre for making the painting in the first place was lost in translation. It was, at most a poor copy or representation for what was there.

Something New... from the Now

This week, I decided to use my memory of the day and experience to revisit the past. For the sake of a better word... let's call the process "Imagineering"...

I spent an afternoon leisurely searching for areas of the painting to introduce stronger light and colour. At first, it was difficult to let go of the past. The fear for disturbing what had been the recording of a long lost moment in my life was at first disconcerting. As new passages revealed improvement that was pleasing and stronger light, the momentum to complete the exercise grew quickly.

Here is the final take on the result of this experiment. What do you think?

I wonder... Let me know how you feel.

Note additional elements added to foreground. Every "newbie" painter... whether painting from digital images, or en plein air encounters difficulty with the foreground area. Many times, as seen in the first version... the road or water simply sweeps unceremoniously forward engulfing the immediate front area of the painting with... nothingness.

Here in the final edition, the combination of light and shadow plus the addition of the dark puddle creates something to stop the eye... and to make a statement which adds to the composition.

Just some food for thought... from one "old(er) painter passing through." Maybe... an idea to think about in your own work!

Much Joy... Rich Blessings and Good Painting... to ALL!!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

When "Enlightenment"... Displaces Grief... even Temporarily

Awakening... Applying the "Camino Format and Walking Towards The Light

"Life isn't a science. We make it up as we go."
                    - Al Hirschfield (American Caricaturist)

My Dilemma... a Crossroads                                                         

Many misgivings have percolated through my mind as I plodded my way through this difficult writing and painting assignment. On more than one occasion, I very seriously considered packing it in with every new self-doubt and seemingly impenetrable impasse that crept into the exercise.

The whole purpose of undertaking this painting challenge had been to help foster a therapeutic experience to encourage feelings of renewal. It was never remotely designed to become a taxing emotional assault on an already weakened spirit.

Each new barrier that I encountered (or created) emotionally when added to my artistic clumsiness seemed to focus upon my own feelings of inadequacy in portraiture. It seemed virtually impossible for me to achieve a pleasing and passable likeness of Allison ; one that I would be proud to exhibit publicly to honor her.

The undertaking was intended to interface me confidently with my personal grief. I had hoped that my art would afford me strength and become an ally, helping me to achieve my painting goal. My grief counselor Lisa and a fellow blogger, Caroline Simmill of Scotland (whose work and ethics) I deeply admire, both shared a common belief that my art could help me to navigate my way through the grief that had caused me to become "stuck" emotionally and artistically.

It was this during this see-saw juncture that I recalled a mantra that  had long laid embedded in my memory and practice. It had never failed to guide and offer me support in my journeys. What did I have to lose???

"Listen to your heart. It knows where it's going."

I decided from this point onward to trust my instincts and the practice upon which most of my painting strength and knowledge had previously been based. I would use my landscaping painting knowledge and techniques as a familiar template. I spent almost a full week planning so that the activity would begin with a fuller understanding and foundation.

The first and most essential part of that planning was to search out suitable reference materials which focused upon the compositional elements...theme or template upon which the portrait would be constructed. I felt strongly, right from the onset that I sought more than a purely photographic likeness to be be set upon a blank backdrop of "nothingness". I wanted the painting to have three divisions/layers of space... just like a landscape. Each would reveal a separate element or aspect of Allie's life.

Still, the real truth remains that I am not a "portrait painter", even though my interest in the portrait genre, figure work and the work of leading painters in these fields have always been something that I have admired greatly. My own experience in actually trying my hand at creating them is very limited.

In thinking about the portrait genre broadly however, I finally arrived at a belief that the face is actually in many ways very similar in structure to any landscape. Both broadly consist of combinations of planes, shapes, lines, color and tones.

Holding on to this premise, I felt competent enough to begin the exercise based upon this premise that I could likely handle the crossover from one kind of subject matter to the other in terms of their commonalities.. Besides, I possessed a fine library of books on the subject of portraiture to guide me through any uncertainties which I knew would most certainly crop up. It was refreshing to meet "old friends" again!

 Planning... Preparations to "Walk"

"Fail to plan... plan to fail"

To begin any landscape project, I customarily "scout out" something that interests me greatly... something that I have strong feelings about. At first, I didn't anticipate having any difficulty in my mind with this initial task.

However, I immediately found myself overwhelmed with the task of finding "the right view" in my mind's eye of Allie. A fully frontal view, with all of the foreshortening that would be necessary would in itself present great difficulty. Creating depth and proportion in a purely two dimensional and shallow plane would become a huge problem for this novice. Aside from the technical drawbacks... there remained the huge problem emotionally from actually looking Allie directly in the eye for any length of time. Not easy...

After searching numerous file folders, I rediscovered a file that had always been a favorite of mine. It showed Allison in a thoughtful, but relaxed three-corner view\. That is to say, a view looking on a corner. That has been a strategy I always use with buildings to add to a convey a deeper illusion of space.
While the actual pose was what I wanted, the background didn't really convey a sense of Allie I wanted to portray. I was looking for something that would provide the viewer more insight into her person, interests and life.

Stage One - Photo Reference # One - Allison

Taken in Venice on her final visit to the city she loved... I felt that this particular picture of her sporting a shortened and curlier post chemo and radiation"coiff". It hardly was at all representative of her once long and flowing mane of beautiful auburn hair. But it did accurately portray and capture the complete disdain for the cancer and her unyielding refusal to submit to the disease.

Her thoughtful gaze portrayed the profound sense of wonder and admiration she held for Venice, its unique people and culture throughout her tragically shortened life.

I purposely couched her safely in the lower left corner of the composition, hoping that this unusual... almost awkward positioning might translate to the viewer a sense of safety and comfort and an unrelenting Hope that she was winning her gallant battle. It seemed "right" for me to use it in the Now... despite the reality of the tragic outcome of her struggle.

Ironically, my choice clearly reverberates and fully identifies with Peter Coffman's comment in the Epilogue for his book "camino":

"For everything that is taken something else is given"

I have chosen to replace the anger, sadness, state of loss  I have felt  by juxtaposing Allison's courage and outright struggle right to the end of her journey by presenting her in a visual sense in terms of  a quote by acclaimed essayist, screenwriter, director and Academy Award Nominee Nora Ephron. Ephron herself lost her life to leukemia... "parallel journeys".

"Above all - Be the Heroine of your life - Not the victim."

The second and crucial part of my planning involved selection of the supporting background for this image. After several more days of deliberation and more uncertainties, I narrowed down my possible choices to Allison in Venice, or Allison here on the River where she had been raised, played and began her journey. Both places were equally special to her.

I mulled over both possibilities and finally asked for the opinion of some valued artist friends to perhaps shed light on this quandary and me to resolve the issue. One person that I really admire, without hesitation blurted, "Why not include both?" That spontaneous morsel of wisdom suddenly lifted the weight and veil of uncertainty from my shoulders. The suggestion added clarity and direction. The painting pilgrimage could finally get underway. Two planes of Allie's reality! Double vision!!!

Stage Two - Photo Reference # 2 - The River

This pastoral autumn scene lies due south of our home in Rockport. It was a panel one in a triptych that I completed a few years ago. When Allison first saw it in our gallery, she was deeply moved by its beauty. The site ties us ever together from the early years right up to Now and continues to be significant to all of us in our family.

It is a familiar and deeply comforting view that Deb and look to together... first thing to begin each and every morning. It's is the site of my own daily evening vespers of gratitude and reflection offered after my walk about. It looks out on the very site Allie and I shared when swimming together.

A triptych that I had painted earlier of this landscape in autumn was gifted to Allison and we hung it above her in her bedroom. It hung above her during her entire struggle with her illness. It remains hanging there still...  stoically watching over her treasures and her cremains spread carefully upon her now empty bed. It seemed a fitting River memory that echoes the contemplative and peaceful mood reflected in the first photo reference.

Stage Three - Photo Reference Three -  The Bell Tower - paron de casa ( Master of the house) - Venice

This image captures the very central heart and grandeur of this magnificent magical place... Venezia! It is the beloved bell tower, known affectionately to Venetians as "paron de casa" , or master of the house. The tall brick structure towers majestically above all other structures in Venice and dominates the looming medieval landscape as one first approaches the city via the Lagoon. There is no other comparable or more important structure in the city... other than the Doge's Palazzo in the central square fronting San Marco Cathedral.

I wanted to include this in some way to roll together the three layers of the portrait... creating a virtual, but believable new reality to create a recognizable "read" for the viewer.. Such a landscape storyline would engage the viewer as a fellow pilgrim... sharing Allison's Canadian Camino

The Painting Process

Initial "scratchings"

I decided to use a gallery wrap canvas toned with black acrylic gesso. I felt that the subject needed to be dealt with, maintaining an informal scale to compliment the quiet, contemplative mood I was wanting to achieve. I have had great success in the past achieving warm color and lighting effects using this combination of painting support and ground. I decided upon a manageable 16 x 20 inch format.

Using each of the photo references mentioned above in succession, I arrived at this very loose and flexible composition "possibility" upon which my initial painting could begin. This white chalk "scribble", or shorthand drawing would serve only as a guide to explore ideas as they arose.

First Application of Color

I decided to begin that search using paint in the sky area because it would determine the rest of the painting's mood coloristically and tonally. Even at this stage... nothing would appear in its final state. Each passage  was to simply be a statement of "possibility" using only very transparent washes of colour.

Allison's First Appearance
This photo doesn't really capture the real sequence of events as I had planned them. I mentioned that I was treating the painting based upon a landscape approach which despite this photo was the fact. I did paint the far shoreline in as it appears here and was immediately confounded by the emptiness by the result. I felt strongly that I needed to include some reference to Allison right at this point.

I decided to "shoot from the hip", using much the strategy that I use when working en plein air if I am overwhelmed, or feel that I am losing the painting. I laid in a very broad and very transparent wash in the water area, just to give the blackness less emphasis and then began the process of blocking in colour (somewhat extraneously)  to allow Allison's image to appear. There is actually more attention paid to her clothing than to her facial features. This area actually appears very clumsy... even amateurish.

The strategy actually pulled me through this first challenge. Even at this very early stage, what is recorded helps me to clearly establish the three distinct divisions which contribute to creating a sense of depth of space - foreground to middle ground to background... albeit that the distance between the latter two is still rather shallow.

This entire project, closely mirrors the largess and risking that undertaking a pilgrimage a one thousand mile trek presents. There has to be a continual risking... a pushing of the envelope to bring about finishing. I did not want to return to the plaguing uncertainties which I knew occur with over planning. I well know where that leads in plein air painting.

So at this point in the game... I am going to "go all in." By that, I mean that I am going to lay all of my cards on the table... without boring you with my commentary or explanation. I will be content to let you read it as you may and hopefully, as is my intent... you can relate visually to the development of the painting towards its finish.

"Canadian Camino... il Camino di Allie"
oil on canvas - 16 x 20 inches

Closing Time...

At this point, I had thought the painting finished... but in closer scrutiny I realized that I had mistaken two very similar Venetian bell tower monuments. In my first take I had mistaken the tower at Santa Maria della Salute which sits in the lagoon facing the tower located centrally in the San Marco Square in Venice itself. Not a huge or entirely noticeable error to the untrained eye... but the scholar in the picture would be glaring at me in disbelief and scorn!
I made the small very subtle changes necessary to calm the critical and knowing eye of any academic... including Allison's. The Universe speaks in mysterious ways! HA HA!!

Final Footsteps... into Enlightenment

The title in no manner intends to say that my journey, or current feelings of "enlightenment" are permanent. By any measuring stick, be it  a spiritual, religious or academic one... this state is only temporary. The intent in all three areas is that one continues to pursue further growth and knowledge to bring about new experiences and opportunities to experience life on a higher plane... and with greater gratitude and a greater appreciation for the small daily blessings in life.

Through my grief which has been crippling... I have indeed opened the door a crack and have begun my walk back into the Light of "before". I try desperately not to look back towards the "old" normal. However, it does contain many memories and moments of joy for certain.

But I have chosen to walk a new path. A new journey on which I carry only those precious memories from the past which I am able to carry with me... leaving essential space to gather new ones along this new path as it unfolds before me.

I intend to paint with more purpose... only those subjects which I consider valid to me... given the time left to me that I can expect will permit me to paint. I have always been a "Dreamer" - a title and social expectation which still today carries along with it... very negative views and implications. I just have to look and listen "Southward".... some things simply don't die easily.

I would like to close out this lengthy post dedicating it to two other "Beautiful Dreamers". They both... dared to dream... and they both contributed so much to Life... Joy and Peace for others. One is obviously my dearest Allison. 

The other is Jeffrey J. Boron, A Victoria, BC artist, poet, blogging friend and fellow dreamer who sprinkled his stardust so generously throughout his entire painting life. Jeffrey passed away too soon on Thursday, January 11th, 2018 at 68 years of age. This brief sampling of his dreaming-into-verse tells the whole story ... for us all really:

                                   "We are all formed from stardust and to the stars we return."

Twinkle and shine on Allison and Jeffrey... till we join you in your constellation of fellow dreamers.

I love you FOREVER Jemima Puddle Duck!