Imperative

Sometimes a story demands to be told, a photo begs to be taken, a painting insists on being created.

About a year ago I painted a few decorative items, just gifts, of a colourful village – my Gaudy Hamlet.

They were pretty and colourful, the flip side depicting a different season of the year.  So I thought why not paint a progression on a canvas, through the seasons of the year.  And so was born, A Year in a Gaudy Hamlet.

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But you would need to know a little about this place I live…The Rock…The Easternmost Province of Canada…This Island in the Atlantic.  We are known for our colourful houses, and most famously for Jellybean Row in St. John’s.  Check out the link for some lovely photos and explanations.

Many of the houses in the small towns outside the city (the smallest, clinging to the shores of the island, called Outports) are made up of Higglety-Pigglety houses that sprung up as sons and daughters built by their parents over the 600 years of our existence.  (Yes we are the oldest inhabited place in North America.)  Usually not as colourful as “Sin Jawn’s”, there were more white houses with green or blue or black trim, or brick red houses with yellow ochre, or yellow houses with white.

I loved my whimsical work, with it’s bright colours and comical fir trees.  The apple tree was one of the few fruit trees traditionally planted here.  Occasionally someone had luck with pear.  And my friends and family loved it too.  I don’t paint to sell, but people wanted prints of this one!  However it talked to me.  “There’s more to the story,” it whispered.  I told my husband, who said, “Why would you want to paint something that isn’t happy?”  And so I left it alone for about 8 months.  But it wouldn’t leave me alone.

You see, Newfoundland and Labrador has seen a constant move from rural to urban.  Outports were isolated, often with no roadway to reach them and transport by boat alone.  This made services and supplies difficult to access.  There was a natural drive to move to where these things were available, but in the 1950’s the government began to initiate moves, because health care and municipal services were so difficult to provide.  People were paid to move.  Some floated their homes across the bays.  Hearts were torn out of families as communities were abandoned.  There are many internet sites that deal with resettlement but here is one to give you a taste.  Resettlement

Shortly before Christmas the whispering got too loud and I started on Resettlement in a Gaudy Hamlet.  The first houses are still inhabited, but soon there is no one to mow the lawns, or rake the leaves, or clear the rocks off the road.  The houses are shocked and surprised.  Why is it quiet?  Where are the lives that once filled them?  Why is there no one to close the doors?  To fix the shingles?  To paint their greying clapboard?  It is sad, as glass breaks and timbers rot.  But it is not ugly, nor without hope.  The trees that were once cut for firewood grow up.  The flowers, wild and gone wild colour the fields.

resettlement These are hidden places, and I have come upon them myself over the years.  Coves where the only indications that someone once lived there, are the square mounds of rocks that were the foundation of homes.  Where the furrows on the hill denote a garden that once held drills of potato and carrot.

“This is the land of dreamings, a land of wide horizons and secret places.  The first people, our ancestors, created this country in the culture that binds us to it.”

~Hetti Perkins

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Stories or Statements

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Waiting to Launch – one of the first pieces I painted from a photo I took.

I am not an accomplished artist, nor am I seeking renown.  This will not be a career for me.  This art exploration I am on is following its own meandering path, and a year and a half ago, the path diverged from decorative painting, to exploring subjects in more detail.

You seek, and get a lot of advice when you start this.  Youtube has been a font of tutorials, but I don’t want to slavishly copy them (as they advise you not to) because that is not my work.

The biggest and best advice – “You learn by doing.”  But after that it gets confusing.  Copy old masters; Don’t copy old masters; Paint from reference photos; Don’t paint from reference photos; It’s ok to trace  your reference sketch/photo; It’s not ok to trace  your reference sketch/photo.  You get the picture.

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Frozen Ghost – combines three of my photos to tell a story.

Some of my favourite pieces come from photos I have taken.  Notice I say, “come from”.  I consider it my right to modify as necessary, or not.  And being a new painter, each time I tackle a photo, there is a challenge to present something on the support that I have not done before.  Each time, I am learning something that I can use in future paintings.  But when I showed some of my pieces to an artist and art teacher, who has had a decades long career and whom I respect, I was told that my work, while nice, lacked emotion.  That has niggled in my heart for months now.  There are all kinds of criticisms that I would have expected (on brushwork or perspective, colour or composition), but not that one.  And I have a problem with it.

Each painting I do from my photos evokes a memory for me, and/or tells a story.  Obviously, someone else will lack the frame of reference for the story, but I hope that the viewer can get some sense of it.  Perhaps one day I will evolve to the point of making strong statements with a brush, but at the moment I am giving more of a recitation.  And that is OK.

So if you are struggling with what should be the “right” way to paint – stop struggling.

If it speaks to you, that is the most important thing as you grow.  And try things outside your comfort zone, but not all the time.  Remember, you should be enjoying yourself.

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First Freeze – an ATC I did from my photo of the pond where I live.  The challenge was to learn how to do ice.  But the story is of a particularly beautiful sunset in the place I grew up.  A moment in time that evokes the peace of this place when I was a child.  In this light you don’t see a lot of the changes “progress” has wrought.

 

Portability

If I’m going somewhere that I might paint, I don’t want to spend hours packing gear, so I spend more time than I should collecting painting travel packs.  That does not presuppose that I am actually “painting mobile.”  I just have this need to be prepared.  And acrylics do not really make for easy travel sketching.  (I am secretly envious of watercolour artists and that is the one thing that may make me overcome my fear of watercolours.)  Acrylics are more of a plonk and paint situation.

We have a summer place, and I have painted there for many years.  I started doing the doors, because I didn’t want to have plain white or off-white doors.  The summer place is more of a place to play.  I keep my paints in a small suitcase, because we cannot leave them there in the winter.  The heat is turned off, and paints don’t take freezing well.  It is easy to carry about and then you only need your support and your source of water. The compact rolling table and stools were purchased from Canadian Tire many years ago.

But when that kit is at the cabin, what to do when you are travelling from home?  There is no shortage of supplies at my place.  20160712_200452Of the two dark wood French easels, the larger is my daughter’s.  A gift from a previous employer who appreciated her creative and organizational skills.  She is away now, so it is included in my supplies, but I have always been hesitant to use it.  (Not really mine to dirty up.)

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My Daughter’s Easel

The smaller French easel (open below) is mine.  I found it on Kijiji for $25 and quite love it, although I haven’t used it much as I paint at my drafting table most often.20160718_093355

The shopping bag contains a paint box easel and wash caddy, towels and gear.20160718_092822

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It is what I would take when a friend invited me to come to her paint group.  I didn’t stay with them, but it was convenient so I’ve kept it together.  Sometimes I visit my neighbour and we paint together.  (The plastic chocolate box is my wet palette.)

Then there is the blue bag, 20160718_092452which I have put together most recently.
It contains the paints, wash can, cup and boards that I intend to use when I get my act together to Plein Air paint.  I can grab it and my French easel and I’m ready to go.

The organizer holds basic sets of Golden Open paints, Windsor and Newton Artisan water mixable oils, and some cheap watercolours.  All these are things I have been collecting for about a year and I want to try for Plein Air.  My last experience with “partial” Plein Air was impeded by the struggle with drying time.

But that is the subject for another post.

I would love to hear about your experience with being “mobile” with acrylics.

Avian Antics 1

There is photography in my formative years.  My father was an avid photographer, and would develop his own black and white prints.  We didn’t have a darkroom, so I remember sitting with him in the blacked out bathroom, with the trays of chemicals in the bathtub, the  enlarger set up on the wooden laundry hamper, processing prints, then hanging them above the tub on a makeshift clothesline, a homemade red light on the toilet.  I wonder what he would think of digital cameras today, where you can take as many shots as you want for pennies.

One of the first things I trained the Nikon D3000 on was the birds that come to the feeder outside the sunroom window.  I think that was the impetus for my husband to buy the camera in the first place, as he would find me crouched behind the sunroom windows holding the old Olympus tight to the glass and being as still as possible…so the Flicker wouldn’t see me.  I did get a few good pictures that way, but they were through the glass, and often had reflections that we didn’t like.

Tom the Seventh

My bird photography evolved to sitting on the deck with the camera on my father’s tripod, being very still and hoping the birds wouldn’t notice me; or at least wouldn’t perceive me as a threat.  (This, in a house where a hunter cat of no small prowess lives.)

In an effort to make myself even less of a presence I bought a length of camouflage mesh.  It serves the dual purpose of breaking up my outline, and protecting against the black flies and mosquitoes that tend to find you if you sit still around here.  I have endured some major teasing when friends and neighbours visit and find me hunkered down under my camouflage veils!  You can surely imagine.

I was so very out of my depth when I started.  My shutter speeds were too slow, my apertures too large, and the exposures too low.

It’s taken quite a bit of reading, and experimentation, to get any shots that would be considered acceptable.

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And then, last Christmas, hubby gave me a new zoom 55 – 200 mm lens.  I can almost see:

“the wing on the tick on the feather on the wing on the bird in the nest on the twig on the branch on the limb on the tree in the hole in the ground”.

Husband also made me a birdhouse from which I can remove the roof, to give birds open access and decrease shading.  So the next Avian Antics post will explore some of those shots.