The days and weeks seem to be hurtling by at warp speed and I find it hard to believe that we are now only two weeks from Christmas.
It was especially difficult on a rare day like today when it felt like spring was just around the corner - which it certainly isn't - so I took Bella for a walk on the Dyke in sunshine and a balmy 8 degree C. with no wind, and it was lovely! The water was silky and full of overwintering sea birds while large groups of geese were chattering to each other while flying in large circles overhead, having fun I suppose - I wish I knew what they were talking about, maybe just the weather? - while a pair of bald eagles were also having a conversation in one of the tall trees.
A day like today is like an unexpected gift to be cherished and remembered when the usual depressing dark, gloomy and wet days return - I wish that the weather didn't affect me as much as it does, and I am surely not alone in this - but I keep my fingers crossed for a continuing mild winter, so that we can avoid a repeat of last year's mess!
Another thing to be grateful for is that my back problem has calmed down considerably, due to lots of rest and a careful avoidance of aggravating activities, and as long as I am not pushing it life is much easier at the moment; but I have always been physically very active and find resting so much boring and a waste of time that could used in much more productive ways. So little by little I am trying to get things done anyway without risking too much of a backlash, and the two small paintings above are just finished I think - they may still need a touch here or there when I have looked at them for a while - and this little diptych below has also emerged safely:
I'm not happy with how the colors turned out on these photos: the original paintings are much more subtle and varied as is often the case as the camera doesn't pick up a lot of variations - the two top ones are too pale with the reds too red and the one above is too bright and sharp. My computer died a few weeks ago and I had to have a new hard drive installed. The result of that is that my photo editing program as well as some others had to be re-installed and everything is now totally disorganized: it all looks different and it will take me a lot of time and effort to try and figure out how to organize it all over again, as well as get used to new ways - nothing works the same. Why is it that as soon as you have everything the way you want it, something goes wrong and you have to start all over again?? Well I guess that's life.
Anyway, painting and dealing with the computer issues will have to take a back seat to Christmas preparations for a bit even if I don't do a lot anymore - still I do have to find gifts for especially my five lovely young grandkids; the three boys are easier now, when they really just want money so they can go shopping themselves or save up for bigger items, but the two girls are still young enough for that to be a bit early: there has to be a package they can open! And I have to find unique, personal and great gifts for their parents, who already have everything many times over - and as we have limited the amounts that can be spent - they shouldn't cost much!
But THEN I have two large canvasses waiting for me that I hope to be able to manage with appropriate caution and a fine balance of staying safe and risking flare-ups; the small pieces are much safer but also a lot less satisfying!
So wish me luck - and I hope that the coming Holiday Season will be safe for the whole world and for everyone in it!
They say that you can't teach old dogs new tricks, but I don't think that is true - the motivation just has to be strong enough!
In any case I have always liked a challenge and gone into it with a sense of adventure and the thought that this might be interesting, I wonder where it will take me, can I do it and what will the result be? And usually it works out well - as long as it is within my abilities - and in this case it is really not new for me to use brushes; but using - GASP - an easel and sitting down for much of the time certainly is, and I can't say that I like it - it feels incredibly restrictive and I keep feeling the need to stand up to be able to move around freely.
The painting you see above (30 x 40") as well as this one below (36 x 36"):
are both new and have started out horizontal on my table as usual for the first few stages with the result that several days of rest were needed to undo the damage before I was able to continue. But I am very encouraged and pleased that after that, it actually worked out quite well with mostly shorter sessions in sitting and just a few using the wall and walking around a bit; the last is pretty crucial towards the end when you have to be able to judge the overall result and you absolutely have to be able to switch from being a distance away to moving up close.
Another thing I am getting better at is being more deliberate so that I use more time evaluating the work in progress and thinking about what to do next - and then waiting until the right moment to proceed - before throwing myself into another frenzied work session while using trial and error to let things work themselves out intuitively during the process itself, as I have a habit of doing.
So all in all I am very pleased with the fact that these two good sized canvasses fell into place as well as they did, so that I don't have to be limited to small ones in the foreseeable future due to my lousy back; I just have to continue working on changing my long established habits - and who knows, maybe my work will be better for it??
In the mean time a few smaller pieces will be next before I tackle larger ones again - why tempt fate? - but I do have some larger canvasses waiting for me which is what I much prefer; but at least it should be possible and I can't wait!
And little by little hopefully the new ways of working will seem more natural and less awkward.
It has been a while since my last post as I have been slowed down and sidelined by one of those bumps in the road that we all face from time to time - and I have survived quite a few. This particular bump unfortunately has the distinction of being permanent without hope of resolving on its own in time; it will only get worse unless drastic measures are taken: such as major back surgery, and that is a truly scary prospect. I have been living with spinal stenosis for ten years and on the whole I have managed quite well by being careful and pacing myself as well as using the best working/lifting techniques and so on.
But since last Fall it has been getting steadily worse and especially this past Spring and Summer I have reached a point where nothing seems to work anymore and even the simplest functional activities have become problems due to pain in my legs day and night, and a pronounced weakness that has made even a slight incline - not to mention stairs - close to impossible, so that the daily (now shorter) walks with my faithful dog has become an endurance test instead of a pleasure.
Previously the studio has been my sanctuary when things were difficult: all I had to do was go in there, turn the music on and the creative forces would take over, time would stop and I would enter another world - almost an altered state of consciousness, that would put things in perspective and give me a reprieve.
But now that is not the case anymore either and the process of working on a canvas of a fairly good size is one of the aggravating factors; my way of painting is quite physical with prolonged periods of standing and walking back and forth to judge the progress at a distance, while getting closer to work the materials - and the canvas needs to be horizontal either on the floor or on a table or such, which means that I have to bend over somewhat. I have changed it as much as I can to get it to work, but can only do short periods at a time which chops the flow up and breaks my concentration to the point where I loose the thread and it all takes much longer. The painting (36 x 36") you see above as well as a smaller one are the only ones I have managed to finish this summer, and both have been slow in coming together - but I now think that they are OK. I have started another 36 x 36" canvas and hope to be able to manage that - from then on I may have to resort to small ones which I don't much care for, but at least then I can work on them most of the time in sitting. I have to keep going: if I can't paint I fall apart!
So I shall persist with this last one and know quite well that at least in the early stages, I will get carried away - it is impossible to be totally focused on the painting and let it set the pace while at the same time keeping an eye on the clock - so before I know it, it several hours have gone by, my back is screaming at me and I can barely move; that wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that the real price I have to pay comes afterwards: for days and especially at night making sleeping and everything else very difficult.
Anyway, enough for now - I know that I am in good hands with the top back specialists at the major trauma centre here in Vancouver. They do amazing spinal surgeries post injuries as well as everything else spine related, and now I just have to wait and hope, that it won't be too long before I know exactly what they can do - I am through the initial tests and assessments but nothing will happen very fast; they see the most urgent cases first which is fair enough, and I don't really expect anything much to happen until next Spring at the earliest - but you never know!
So keep your fingers crossed for me, please!
------ sun light to be specific, is truly amazing and I can well understand that many Peoples back in history worshipped the sun as their God - and I must admit that I'm fairly close to being among them! Today was the first day this year when Spring finally seemed to have arrived: a whole day of sunlight with no wind and about 14 C - how wonderful; but not to be repeated apparently as rain is forecast again for tomorrow. But still with that, and the few hours of sun that we have recently experienced here and there, the signs are clear: Spring will at some point stay and turn into Summer. I took my dog for a walk on the Dyke and it was so lovely with the birds twittering as well as new leaves and early wild flowers all over the place and the warmth of the sun making everything look more positive and infusing one with new energy and hope.
The final result of my "Dreaming of Spring" painting turned out fairly well as shown above, I think - not that it has any resemblance to the very early stage I posted in my last blog. It is a bit more of a technical experiment than usual, but something that I have been considering for quite some time: combining the use of painting knives and brushes in the same work instead of using either one right through, as I have usually been in the habit of doing - and using each group for its best qualities. And it really worked well with large squeegees and my favorite large palette knife making it quicker and more fluid to cover a large canvas with a foundation of texture and colour patterns to work out the basic composition and colour base - and then using smaller brushes for all the more finishing detailed surface work. It was a delight to work this way and I will definitely continue with this and develop it further.
Another thing I will continue with is to draw more off and on, especially with charcoal and/or pen and ink. The portrait you see above is of my daughter's sweet and gentle bullmastiff and is the first real drawing I have done in many years. It is the result of her urging me to do it for her in the memory of "Dexter", who we lost 6 or 7 years ago, but still miss.
And yesterday I got a bit of good News: I entered the National Juried Show in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island in late March and my Painting "Manning Park 5" has been accepted and will be included in their "My Canada" show from June 26 till August 8, 2017, at The Old School House Arts Centre. I am very pleased and consider it a great encouragement and honour to be accepted and have my work chosen among so many other submissions from very accomplished artists.
And on that cheerful note I will sign off for this time in the hope, that things will continue in a positive way!
It doesn't really feel like spring yet, but the calendar says that spring officially arrives in two days - and I can't wait!
Everyone is sick and tired of the cold, wet and gloomy days - not to mention the mud I have to navigate, when I take my dog for her walk in one of the parks where she can run around off-leash; she doesn't seem to mind, but I find it a bit hard to motivate myself to get out the door. Though once out it is usually not too bad - and by now there are lots of signs of spring all over: crocuses in bloom and even some early bushes with green leaves starting to open up!
So things are looking up and I finally managed to finish the painting that has been driving me crazy for something like two months - and here it is:
I'm not sure what I think of it yet - all I see when I look at it is "faults" and things that could be better, but I know that now is the time to leave it be - or I could fiddle with it for ages without making it better, just different, and possibly worse.
My initial plan of taking a break from painting didn't last long though, and today I started putting a few lines etc. on the canvas above (on top); I prepared it quite some time ago with a coat of lightly tinted and textured Titanium White. And just like getting out the door for a walk in nasty weather is the hardest part, so is putting the first marks on a new canvas the hardest! From then on one thing tends to lead to the next and when things are right, it can just flow almost by itself for a while - this is the shear joy of painting - until it reaches the last stage, where one has to pull everything together. I have no idea what this new one will end up looking like and will just play around with it, explore different options and see where it takes me - I'm not going to struggle with this one, just let things happen and if they don't work out, get rid of them! The sense of adventure and challenge as well as the "let's see what happens if I do this" is what I love.
About six weeks ago one of the curators at the Richmond Art Gallery invited me to make a submission to their satellite gallery at City Hall and this was accepted. This was very encouraging especially because their standard is high, and now I have a show coming up there; but not until early 2018 - they always plan quite far ahead, but the way time seems to hurtle along we will be there before I know it.
Another thing that makes me feel a bit better is that I have been able to clear out quite a few things from my "to do list" last, but not least, the dreaded income tax preparation, which I absolutely hate!
But also a few other things and guess what? Sunny and milder weather is forecast for the next two days, maybe three!!! So maybe winter is truly over?
Not quite yet I'm sorry to say - and certainly not on a day like today when it is cool, wet, and windy! Even if we really have nothing to complain about compared with what other areas have had to deal with, I have found this winter to be a hard one to get through with snow and cold more or less constant from early December till about a week ago, when it finally disappeared - to hopefully not to be heard from again. It has been almost ten years since we have had this kind of winter, but I do remember when it actually was the norm - from then on we have had such mild winters that you kind of forget, and consequently no one was really equipped to deal with it, and it has been a total mess. I even gave away my winter boots a few years ago as I never needed them and they didn't fit too well either, but I could sure have used them this time! And shovelling snow is really not much fun either, especially not with a back like mine!
Anyway, things are looking up now with the days getting noticeably longer and brighter and, if you look closely, you can see signs of spring with some buds starting to get bigger and the spring bulbs tentatively poking their heads above ground - and I can't wait!!
I also seem to have hit a dry patch creatively and should have been prepared for that, as it tends to happen regularly at this time of year. I managed to finish one painting and am quite happy with it even if it was slow going:
and I should have known better than to start another one without really feeling up to it - and this one is driving me crazy! It is not finished yet after about four weeks of work that has felt like pulling teeth, with wrong turn after wrong turn that then needed to be fixed; so now I have put it aside for a bit, but I feel that there is too much potential to completely give up on it. A pause often helps and after a week or so I may suddenly feel like getting back to it and everything will then quickly fall into place - at least I hope so; this has happened before and I do hate to give up - I happen to have a stubborn streak!
And in the mean time I will catch up on some other things as well as starting to put together an application for a show as well as considering submitting work to a few juried shows. One I will do for sure, one possibly and another one probably not as the chances of getting in are microscopic if there at all - there is a large prize to be won and they get an enormous number of submissions from right across the country. So I might as well by a lottery ticket - the odds are about the same!
Anyway, let's hope for an early spring!
"Tomorrow I'll feel better - tomorrow I'll feel better!" This mantra is taken from an add on TV, recommending counseling I think, and pretty much describes my feelings at the moment - not that I need counselling though, just an indication that I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to anything much at the moment. I always seem to have an emotional slump in January/February after the festive holiday season and especially with the changing over to a new year - and this year is no exception though is seems somehow worse; one can't help looking back at the year that was as well as forwards to the one to come, and wondering and worrying what it might bring.
And at the moment I wish that I could be full of optimism and expectations of exciting events in the future but, unfortunately, instead of being hopeful I have this feeling of foreboding, and I'm wondering what's in store for all of us with the recent political developments internationally - especially the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States makes me shudder! But also the situation in the Middle East and the refugee crisis in Europe are frightening as is the effect it all has on peace and stability of the western world, the European Union in particular. I have this sinking feeling that all my values and ideals are being squashed and stepped upon by forces beyond mine or anyone else's control, and that suspicion and hateful division will continue to separate and pit peoples and groups against each other. Let's just hope that things will work out not too bad in the end!
However, as usual when I'm unsettled in some way I seek refuge in the studio, but even that has been an uphill battle this time though my first painting of 2017 is close to completion. The photo above is just one of many examples of trying to explore different options: I find that collaging with coloured pieces of paper is helpful and a way of getting an idea of what certain changes, especially regarding value choices, may do to the overall painting, before I actually commit myself - and I have saved myself both time and paint many times this way. But it can only be a guideline and a way to produce ideas - a "thinking aloud" if you will - and is never to be followed literally. Some paintings need it more than others that just seem to flow naturally - and this one has been slow going; but here it is at it's current stage:
It is still a work in progress with any number of small additions and adjustments, and hopefully these will come little by little in the next week or two - in a way this is the fun part when I know, that the overall composition and colour harmonies work so I don't need to worry about that, but can go on to the embroidery stage, especially with adding some lights.
And hopefully things will lighten up in the new year as well! The days are getting longer - we have by now something like five more minutes of light pr. day - and in a few weeks it will actually be noticeable, so things are looking up!
We are not used to snow here - at least not the kind that stays around - it usually quickly turns into a slushy mess that is just miserable. But on a day like today when the sun is shining from a blue sky with the temperature just below freezing and a 3 or 4" layer of snow that covers every tree branch, all the bushes and everything surrounding you, it is just beautiful. What a relief it is to see the sun for a few days and get out of the clammy wet and dark we have otherwise had so much of! I know that it will most certainly be short lived so I took my dog up to the local park this morning and we made the most of it.
The group of small paintings you see above have kept me busy for a few weeks and now I am finally quite happy with them. They are 8 x 8" each and I always find small works much more challenging and time consuming than larger ones - they should be faster and easier, but at least for me they are not - and unless I do several at the same time I have a terrible tendency to overwork them to death. Here they are at a very early stage:
It is not easy to see any similarities apart from the size, but that is my usual process: they will change and develop in often surprising ways and it can be hard to explain how they end up as they do; but that is what I find so fascinating and challenging: this sense of exploration and the surprise and satisfaction when I finally know that they are complete.
Sometimes I wish that I could do what so many other artists do: devise a plan so that you know what you want the finished piece to look like - and then follow it! I would find that impossible and extremely boring as well as be in a constant battle with myself so as not to change everything as I go along.
On the other hand it is just as well that we don't all work in the same way.
It is funny how things sometimes turn out differently from what you thought they would, isn't it? But after looking at the diptych that I posted a few weeks ago - without really thinking specifically about it - I knew that something was niggling at the back of my brain, telling me that something wasn't quite right; and suddenly I realized what it was: I discovered that I liked it better as two individual paintings instead of one! Both sides were quite strong and seemed to fight each other a bit - and I really liked the first one (pictured above) on its own! The other side of the diptych doesn't work quite as well by itself, but with only a few changes still to come it will also be happier alone - I think that the two of them were just too different to work really well as one painting. I presented the problem to my two best artist-friends and fiercest critics at our meeting last night and they tended to agree with me: that although they could work together, they were actually better apart, as this one especially tended to loose out to the stronger side.
I'm no computer "techie" and have spent hours lately trying to get used to Apple's way of doing things, and that is not easy! When you have used Windows for at least 20 years or maybe more, as I have, it has been a steep learning curve - and I have only scratched the surface of what my new iPad can do. I had thought of getting one for a while so that I could take photos of my work with me to show around, and also so I wouldn't be so tied down to my desk top PC. The decision to get one was made when I read about the benefit of having my work on Instagram - and how many great artists use it to show and promote their work - and how easy it would be to discover and follow other artists from around the globe who I might find interesting. But I couldn't use my PC for that, it had to be a mobile device.
I was facing a problem though in that I really wanted to be able to still use my PC and Photoshop to adjust the photos and get them as close to the original as possible - and to continue to use my good camera and photo set-up to have better control of exposure, lighting and so on. But everyone I asked said, that I couldn't do that!
Now, I wasn't going to just accept that, and I also really thought that surely there had to be a way - in this day and age it didn't seem reasonable that it would be impossible. So after many hours and much frustration I found a solution (thank you Google): send the photos to DropBox and from there you can get them onto your iPad - and I managed to do the DropBox part of it. But the iPad part totally defeated me so I signed up for a workshop at the Apple store; and I was very lucky in that I was the only one who showed up - it was pouring rain - so I got one hour of personal tuition and help from a very sweet and helpful young girl, who by the way also started by saying that she didn't think it could be done! But when I mentioned the DropBox solution, she quickly realized how that would work and helped set me up for that - I took notes or would never have been able to remember all the different steps! She showed me all kinds of other things - most of which I can't remember. So I will have to go back and I am extremely glad that these free workshops are available - and I also realize what a good method of promoting their products it is. So now I am a fan!
And I am happy to say that I am now on Instagram! It works like a charm and I love it!
Stormy indeed - October has been the wettest on record with 28 of the 31 days with measurable rain; fortunately there were breaks in all the wetness, though not in the gloom and dreariness. So I'm glad that it is over and one can always hope for a nicer November - but the weather forecast doesn't promise much in that direction.
The painting you see above is a very loose and abstract recording of my trip through Manning Park recently with no photos or drawings as guide and that is the way I like to work; but with quite some preparation time thinking about how to go about it, especially what colors to use and generally how the nature spoke to me. But I had no fixed ideas of composition and I was getting all upset and depressed about not quite knowing what to do.
I had these two canvasses sitting in the studio and one day I brought them out and looked at them wondering if they would do, and whether they would be better as one painting or as two individual pieces? I gessoed them, covered them with a layer of Titanium White mixed with gel and left this as a mildly textured ground. Then I looked at them again for a few days without deciding anything, slept on it and then one day I thought: let me just try a little of this very dark transparent blue that I could just pour on and then spread around with a squeegee without thinking much about it. And from there on it took off rapidly in a completely intuitive way, with me not thinking of a landscape at all, just following what the colors, shapes and my subconscious demanded - and what do you know? A landscape appeared and I decided to accept this - even though I didn't really want that initially.
This is a pretty typical account of the way most of my paintings start and it seems rather haphazard and vague, but I have finally learnt not to force it and that any time spent early on agonizing over it and feeling that it will never work out, is crucial to the final result. It is as if I have to wait for an internal pressure to build up to the point where it demands release and as soon as the first mark is down, my subconscious takes over and it has already put plans in place that I have no conscious knowledge of. I just have to follow it's lead and I know, that the resulting piece will be far better than I could otherwise achieve. The title is simply Manning Park, it is a diptych, and it is 24 x 36" total. It may be the beginning of a new series - I have just today started on another canvas, so we will see.
Apart from this I am now very relieved that my cataract surgery one week ago went well - it was quite stressful not knowing what to expect and even if complications are rare, they do happen; and I couldn't help thinking about a friend's mother, who lost her sight in that eye due to a very rare infection. Anyway, this eye is now much better and everything is indeed much brighter seen just with this one. The only colors that have changed are light ones, especially blue, purple and white - the stronger colors are much the same, as they were not as affected by the light yellowish/brownish film that the cataract caused, but they do appear cleaner. And I'm very grateful that my paintings have not changed dramatically and that I don't have to start changing any of them. And in mid-December when my other eye has to go through the same thing, it won't be as frightening now I know what I'm in for.
So things are looking good and I can relax and spend my time in my favourite place, my studio, wondering how this new canvas will turn out.