Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pick sunny heroes

A conversation I had last night at art class with a truly
gifted artist, made me realize how important it is to
surround yourself with supportive people. Julia Cameron
of The Artist's Way about wet blankets who reel out the facts to dissuade you whenever you come up with an imaginative idea for a piece of art, or a new project -- writing, singing -- you name it. Bob Burridge, who is one of my current heroes encourages artists to have fun. I can't
think of a better reason to begin a creative act than for
the incredible enjoyment waiting in the realm of

When I was younger I took classes with some artists
who laid down absolute rules, and told the people
studying how to paint to follow them. There was nothing
innately wrong with that. All artists know a whole
language of rules they pick up and incorporate from
different teachers and images they see in their
environment as they grow and change. But some of the
friends I've made over the years in art have taken so
many classes and heard so many rules, that they can't
just pick up a brush and paint. I pointed out to the
friend I was talking to last night that little children
produce fantastic art, before the adults in their lives pass
judgement on their creations, making them too self
conscious to paint for the sheer joy of it, and risk ending up with an
image that doesn't look like something recognizable. In the real art
world some of the most successful painters are abstract and
non-objective artists.

The images I'm including tonight are the next stages
in one of the paintings I was working on for the DVAC
spring show. Normally I paint the background and the
figure at the same time, but this time I was using
photo reference for the background, and the first time
I went down to the river I made a mistake with my
camera, and my shots didn't work.

So I had to be practical. The model was in my studio, and
I worked on her. As you can see already the painting is growing
and changing. After this session I noticed that the dress really
needed some darker colour to highlight the lighter parts of the dress.
You may think my whole discussion of rules is humorous as
I am the farthest thing from an abstract painter. I know
for sure now that I take my own inner voice as my guide,
and I supplement it with a whole chorus of voices who
together form a choir of encouragement. To everyone reading
this who has ever praised my work, or helped me continue
in any way -- I give my heartfelt thanks.

It's late, the taxes are in, and we celebrated with an amazing dinner,
toasting to a new year. April was a busy month, but not the cruellest
month, and so far it did not breed "lilacs out of the dead land,"
as T.S. Eliot would have it.

We are almost officially into the merry month of May.

Have a merry day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The joy of small paintings

I love creating large canvasses, for the
sweep of colour, the amount of paint I
can apply, the complicated subject matter I can portray, and the dramatic impact large paintings can have. Every now and then though it's a pleasure to create small paintings.

This painting was loosely drawn with a
brown Sharpie over a turquoise acrylic
ground. Using a reference I put down
the main concept and then created the feeling of California.

The lemon tree, window boxes and colour
scheme all reminded me of a perfect sunny day in the mountains.

In fact the actual painting is about 5"
square, so I tried to stay very simple.

I've just been at art class, and it's time
for bed.

Have a small and perfect evening.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Going through stages

Remember that picture I showed you a couple of days ago? Just colour slapped onto the canvas. Here is a slightly later phase. I've
spread the colour out across the canvas evenly, drawn an
outline while the model posed, and begun to apply colour.

I don't always start the same way. In this painting I began with
highlights, then wanted to get the feel of the dress, so I started
to rough in some of the darks. The painting and its partner (I believe that's called a diptych) were submitted to the Don Valley Art Club spring show today.

The completed figure stands in a fantasy "Don Valley" which
looks lush and green and like something Charles Sauriol from
the Bring Back the Don group would have been proud of.
Sauriol died in 1995, so I'm glad that I had a chance to meet him
and write about him before he died. There are lots of birds singing in the trees and ducks floating on the part of the river I photographed for the paintings (2). But Sauriol would have been
sad to see the shopping carts and debris people had pitched
into the Don.

Have a restorative evening

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Loveliest Magnolia

It's on again -- the unofficial contest for the loveliest Magnolia
tree in Toronto. Just kidding. They are all magnificent,
even the smallest saplings with three or four blossoms catch
my eye. This is Sunday night and my family is here for dinner,
so I don't have time to say much. Wherever you are enjoy
the show. In Toronto it's just spectacular right now. After this
cold winter everyone is outside rejoicing. Why not? Here's a picture of a glorious tree I saw today.

Three cheers for spring tonight!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Paintings with juice

There is no magic formula in
painting, but you do need a bit of "juice'" zip, life, energy. I call that juice -- not to be confused with
alcohol. Some paintings work for an artist because they easily demonstrate all of the artist's favorite tools. This painting of one of my
best and constantly changing models,
Claudia, is such a portrait. It showcases what I feel is a most successful colour trio, turquoise, red and mid yellow.
The underneath ground is red, which
shows up embellished with purple,
pink, orange and blue in the pillows.
In some ways the painting is more
about shape and colour than anything
else. The skin colour pops because of
the black and dark blue, and the dark
colour heightens the punch of the skin
and the red, yellow and turquoise.
The figure is casual, relaxed
and elegant, painted in a free
loose style. She seems intelligent
and content. The whole painting has
festive, joyful air I like in my life
and like to create for others.

If you paint, try the basic three -- red, yellow and
blue -- Robert Genn would say and add grey. In
this case, the mauve functions as a hot, vibrant grey.

Have a vibrant evening.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Beginnings and endings

Lately, this is how a painting begins for me. This canvas is
4' x 24". I love the excitement of a new canvas. Here we go!
I squeeze the colours on right out of the tube at first, then spread
them around with a big brush, spraying the canvas with water to
make the paint move. I may have been dreaming of the painting for weeks, but no matter how much thought I've put into it, the work itself starts to take over. The painting does what it wants. Does that sound crazy? I'm not an abstract artist -- but I start out that way. Then I'm lured deeper and deeper into form, colour, the play of line and light, and I go where my hands and eyes take me.

Painters paint because they have to. I remember when I was
a young freelance writer that I used to corner writers to ask
how they did it. They'd always say, 'if you don't have to, don't
do it.' The same is true of painting. If you have to, it will be
a force in your life, one of your greatest pleasures. You will
be working on something separate from what others think
of you, or where you're meant to go. Even separate from
your own ideas. It all starts here with the first marks on a
big gessoed canvas.

If you've been feeling like doing
something creative lately -- it doesn't have to be painting --
writing, singing, taking guitar lessons, do this first: go out and
buy the most beautiful journal you can find. Then start writing
down your ideas day by day. Date each entry. In the space of a
page or two you'll start to give yourself permission to more than
just want to do a creative act, you'll begin to plan the act. Next
you'll start scheduling, time, people, classes, and moving towards
your idea -- then watch out. Start with buying the journal and a
wonderful pen. See how it goes. Please write to me in the comment
section of this blog when it works. If you want to read about
writing check out Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind
, or Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way

What else is happening? This was the last Friday night with
Christopher in Fionn MacCools at Yonge and St. Clair here
in Toronto. I watched my handsome son in his black shirt,
black tie, black pants, and black apron, serving us the last dinner
he will ever serve us at Fionn's. We've been going to the
restaurant for years -- ever since he began working there
in the summer. It's been so great seeing him there regularly,
especially since he moved out on his own with his girlfriend,
Megan. But they are going to Korea for at least a year, and
all of his acting and artist friends who work there are moving
on too.

I thought about my parents, and the jobs I did after
university. They would never have visited me when
I was a short order cook, or been sad that the job was
over. We really do parent differently now, and I think
that's good. I've been lucky to have both of my sons working
so close to us, on St. Clair. Now one of them is moving
half way around the world. So I didn't cry about it tonight,
but I know I'll cry when the big day comes, and we kiss them
goodbye at the airport.

Now it's back to work.

Have a happy beginnings evening.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Goodbye to church concerts

Since 1996 we've had a relationship with Oakwood
Collegiate. I remember watching a documentary about the place on TVO before our oldest boy
started school there, and being worried.

Not necessary. Christopher had so much fun
there playing tuba in the band, and doing plays in
drama. I knew the band was a great experience, so
we signed Sam up for trumpet lessons in grade eight and he's been playing ever since. Then in grade eleven he found out he had a great voice when he carried the musical Hair as Claude in the
school's fabulous production. Tonight was the
last concert we'll attend in the church.

The girl in the picture is Sam's friend, Donelle,
who was also in the choir with him, and has
a wonderful voice, and a great sense of style

I enjoyed painting Donelle as part of the Dance
Series, and her easy confidence and relaxed
take on life in general shows. She is a great girl
and I'll miss watching her in the choir. Sam won an award for Music Citizenship, and we
were very proud and sad at the same time. Luckily there's one more concert next week
celebrating Oakwood's 1o0th anniversary. Then it really will be goodbye to the fabulous
music program at what has been a super school for our guys.

Have a musical evening.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gilding not required

Lucy was an inspiring portrait subject. Her bright
red hair, green eyes and shy smile contrasted
perfectly with her regal being. This is the pose
she picked, and I love how what should
look awkward, both arms going off the canvas
works because of her confident gaze.

I've known Lucy since she was seven, and she
was an amazing seven-year-old, wildly
imaginative. She always played queens in
pretend play. Some of her fabled royal
heritage came through to me as I painted,
and that's why the bands in behind her are
24 karat gold. Her beauty didn't need
embellishing, but the painting insisted.

I also added flashes of gold to her dress,
because I'm partial to gold. The colouring
was a whole other animal. I must have painted the pillows out five or six times before the colours complimented her dress properly. Colour theory
was no help at all. (Wheels and all that).

As with all commissions what matters to me is
that the sitter is happy, and she was. I don't
usually let people see their portraits until they seem
almost finished to me, and that's a good
policy. I can always make changes at the end,
but I save my subjects any of the agony I may
go through getting the piece to a place that pleases me.

Goodnight. School is over for the summer.

Go ahead and gild the lily tonight.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Peace after painting

Hi there,

I've been painting all day, and I'm just beat, I was hoping to go to
art class tonight, and to get some reference shots for a painting I'm working on, but decided
there's a limit to how much painting I can do in one day. People who don't paint, don't know
how physical the job is.
Of course that's part of the pleasure of making art. I love the sound
of the brush hitting a canvas when I just start out.
Larger canvasses, especially on thicker stretchers sound
like drums when you begin to paint. The whole exercise
is invigorating -- the boom of the canvas, and broad strokes
of luscious colour starting to cover up the gessoed white.
But it is exercise, both physical and mental. All that aside
I've got a couple of things to show you. Here's one of
my favorite paintings from the dance series.
The model, Caitlin, was a complete delight -- a girl who
worked for me on a number of projects
and was always cheerful company and very
efficient helping me with office work, organization,
even gardening. Clearly she was a wonderful model -
an inspiration. There are things about the painting I'd
still like to change. I must get her back some day to do that.
She went off to university and I see her whenever possible.
The painting is 3' wide x 4' high.

I'm also including the next phase of the coffee pot - more
gold, and a bit more colour. I discovered what may be a problem,
gold likes gloss gel medium a bit too much, making
it hard to scrape it off where it's not wanted.
Never mind I've solved that. I'll show you the completed
little painting in a couple of days.

My friend Suzanne and I walked in the late dusk with the
dogs on leash (skunks love warm evenings), and let go
of the day and all the worries we might have had -- just
looking at the silhouettes of trees all coming into bud.
We'll have leaves in a week. The forsythia and magnolias
are out! But up north of the city in the Caledon hills
there are still crusts of ice along some of the higher routes.

Have a productive and joyful evening

Monday, April 21, 2008

Painting for Mary

Tonight I was working on this little painting
to show you -- a painting of pansies when
my friend, Mary called.

She is pretty funny, so I decided to keep
painting while I talked to her, and I think

it shows in the painting so far. This is
about 4" x 6", and probably not finished yet.

To paint it I:
1. Painted a canvas red with cadmium red
medium (one of my favorite colours).
2. Waited for the red to dry while Fiona
took a nap.
3. Drew an outline of my lush giant
pansies in a little cream jug with

indelible marker.
4. Started a painting, and kept painting
while I talked to Mary. I like a sense
of humour in these little paintings, and
Mary and I go way back with the laughs.
I decided the red alone was too strong for
my deep purple pansy, and voila. Ta da.

Tomorrow I may do a few things to it,
sign it and glaze it. We'll see. Another
busy day happening.

Have an adventurous and funny day.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The luckiest of professions

One day during a show I had with
the wonderful landscape painter
Gill Cameron, a friend of hers
came in and instantly understood
my concept of "Before the Dance."

She saw this metaphor as a perfect
description of her three children,
and so began a delightful working
experience for me.

When I visited the family in their home, and saw how
they were together, I knew I wanted the paintings to
connect. All three children got along extremely well.
They were polite, gracious and a pleasure both to
paint, and to talk to during our many breaks. I
generally buy cookies for my subjects, and each child
liked a different kind of cookie. They were all athletic,
artistic in their own ways, and enjoying life to the

I've enjoyed everyone I've ever painted, and when I
have a client in my studio and the image is humming
away nicely, I am certain that I am blessed as an
artist. Then I say, "Thank you universe for your
bounty." Thank you children for being a delight
to paint. This work is three separate paintings,
which together add up to to 6' x 36".

The photo in this case does not do the work

Have a blessed evening.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The art of distraction

Today in between bouts of marking exams, I
decided to make a little drawing I did a couple of years ago into a painting.

The drawing was done in indelible ink on plain bond paper. I cut it out
at the time, and could never bring myself
to throw it away. My portrait paintings are
usually more in-depth, but for something lighter
I started painting little canvasses of my china.

I love antique china, and over the years my
friends and family have given me beautiful
pieces. The little coffee pot the painting
depicts is part of a set my friend Jennifer
gave me. Today I followed these steps to
get it on canvas.

1. I coated a canvas I'd painted a while ago
in turquoise, with a thick layer of acrylic gloss gel medium.
2. I stuck the little drawing on the canvas.
3. After the gel medium was almost dry
I painted the image with acrylic paint
and roughly gilded the gold parts with
24 karat gold leaf.

4. I waited for the gloss gel medium to dry more
before refining the gold leaf, scraping off the extra
with an exacto knife.

Tomorrow I'll touch up the painting, adding colour
and shadow where needed, and perhaps more real
gold. Then I'll add at least one more coat of gloss gel
medium and I'll let you see the final product in a
couple of days. My china paintings poke fun at
my addiction. I used to be a bit more insane about
my china, but we have more than we can ever use,
and I have to admit I may be obsessive about it.

Now back to marking.

Have a glossy evening.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fridays are for family

Hi there,

If I get home from the restaurant where my son works on time I'll say something more here. Otherwise have a lovely evening. I am marking the last of the exams and some essays. Outside my window the sun's last glorious peach light is illuminating our old maple and its deep red buds. Spring is rushing in and I am rushed. It was hot outside today when the dog begged me to take a break. The backyard garden thick with grass is
popping up Tulips and working on spreading Forget-me-nots everywhere. Soon we'll have
bright red tulips against a sea of blue, and then
the white apple blossoms and cherry blossoms
and on and on in the wonder that is May.

Have a festive evening.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Enjoying everyday plenty

For the past couple of years I've
been combining still life and
portrait paintings, sometimes
linking them. The first of these
paintings is shown here. It
depicts our kitchen table in full
summer dress confusion. True
the pansies had to be propped
on a book. But the book was
there because my son was
in a baking phase, making
Reagan Daley's scrumptious
chocolate cake from scratch.
I just changed the colour.

The sugar bowl is the antique
kind I've collected for years,
bigger than the coffee cups.

We grow nasturtiums and
pansies every year, and we
always have fruit in the footed
glass bowls.

When students are trying to figure out what to write
about I tell them the old rule of starting with what's
right in front of you. Sometimes when it's time to
paint I have no idea where to begin. Then I lean
on my own advice and paint the bounty I live in
every day. In all my work I'm trying to capture
the joy I feel matters in life -- I wish joy could
be the core of life for everyone.

I'm including a photo of one of the bouquets
cheering up the kitchen today.

Have a thankful day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Painting people unite

The red brick building in the background with a row of lights
running along the side over one
of the main doors is a special
place for me. This is the building
at The Brick Works, where I go
on Tuesday nights to paint with
a group of fine painters.
Our styles are wildly different , but through that club I've learned so much, and made friends with some great artists. Flora Doehler and I
met because we'd loved each
other's paintings in a show, and
we sought each other out to praise the work. We've been friends ever since. But there are too many people to name who are amazing painters, and good friends. Last month
I exhibited with Peter Adam, whose work is just fantastic.

When I go to the club my good friend
George Shane, who you can just see the
edge of in yesterday's images, often goes
to get me an easel and a table. The kindness
I experience with that group of people is

I've read other artist's debates about art clubs. Some
people put them down as fostering mediocrity. It's
true that many art lovers don't favour, experimental
or abstract work, and that can make artists' groups
biased towards realistic and conventional work
because it sells. What's nice about our club is that
there are activities -- opportunities to paint
together, or listen to a lecture, or attend a
workshop almost every day of the week. That
makes it easy to find your own type of group
and people who understand what you're
doing in one of many settings.

For me it all happens in this beautifully
restored building, in a studio upstairs for
portrait, or life painting evenings.

The painting is by Peter Adam, badly photographed
by me I'm afraid at our last show.

Have a sublime day

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Art class step by step

Tonight I went to art class. I arrived at about 8:15 p.m.,
and had to leave at 9:30 to come home and see my
favorite show, which wasn't on. (Too bad...) So I had
just over an hour to get something started.
I don't usually do something I want to keep in that
short a time space -- but I love the practice and
the company in the class.

Tonight I photographed some of the stages I
usually go through when I'm painting that quickly.
First I do an undercoat in a colour I like. Then
I sometimes start with the brightest lights. I sketch
a bit of a drawing in in charcoal, because it can
be washed off the acrylic if it doesn't look right.
After that I rough in some darks. Then I quickly
build the painting up with more paint, and maybe
more drawing. Our Tuesday night "class" isn't
really a class, because there is no instruction,
just a model and a group of devoted painters.

My portrait commissions take about 12 sessions,
getting both tighter and looser at the same time.
Each session lasts at least two hours.
I see problems and fix them, I learn the person's
visual language and try to capture it. But this
is what I did tonight.

Have a visualizing night.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A time of reckoning

Some things cut into a painter's time. Some?
Most. I love teaching, and hope to continue for many years, but exam time is a crazy time
for everyone in the school environment. Students are stressed because they have to study, teachers because they have to mark mounds of papers, and because although they want everyone to do
well, some students can't.

Tax time, coming as it does right at the end of term crunch, adds an extra time demand. For now, I'm heading to school to mark and oversee an exam. Soon I'll be painting, and that will be that.
And when I am, I'll miss my students.

Here's one of my favorite paintings, Girl in a Blue Sweater.

Have a mathematically perfect day.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More reflections on character

I've been looking all day
for a photo of Angela. I've
been thinking of her because
I'm reading City of Rains, by
Nirmal Dass. One character
in the novel is a middle-aged
woman in Rouen, and even though
she is French, and Angela was
Italian, a quality about the
experience reminded me of Angela.

The truth is that we don't have photographs because as
intimately connected as we were through daily exposure,
we were not on a photography basis. When her oldest
son got married, we watched the cousins arrive in their
tuxes standing on our own porch, and waved as the limo
pulled away carrying the family. Angela had her hair done,
and in her long, blue dress and special makeup looked
almost pretty. She was so proud of that son. But after
the brain damage she could not cook independently, or
do the household tasks she used to do without help,
and she started to think of herself as an invalid.

After that she directed her family, essentially stopped
moving very much, and her body grew more and
more feeble. It became hard for her to get up and
down stairs. She broke her leg in several places,
and told me ominously that it didn't break by itself.

Around this time she started yelling and crying at
her husband and family every night around midnight.
For years we listened, as people trapped in the knowledge
of an argument do, but we could never understand
enough of the dialect to get what was going on.
At first we thought it was funny -- that she was just
on a rant. But ultimately we had to admit that she
was terribly sad, and every night we'd wait for the
yelling to end, ( it usually went on for just ten or fifteen
minutes) and then sigh with relief when it was

Angela spent less and less time in her garden, which
she loved. She couldn't hang out the laundry. She
supervised the canning of the tomato sauce for the
winter, but the children and their friends did the
work. After her second son got married, she and
her husband and their youngest child, a daughter
about 21 moved away. Six months later Angela

At this time of year I always think of her, because
the tree she planted, will soon come into bloom,
and be radiant with white flowers. Angela could
make a rose bush grow from a single rose stem
she'd received from a floral bouquet. She was
a phenomenal gardener.

We all loved Angela. It didn't even make sense to love
her, we just did. She was noisy and nosy, irritated
and annoying, but every year she'd hand tomato
plants over the fence for Steven to plant. We
existed outside together for most of the spring,
summer and fall -- living and eating as we did
in our backyards, and there was a quiet understanding
of how to treat one another so that we were
all comfortable and had sufficient privacy.

And Angela was funny, pointing to her giant
hanging zucchini plants and saying, "Eh --
do you like my zucchinis?" Then chuckling
with glee and winking at me.

The image is of Fiona and me.

Have a comfortable night.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Giving life character

For close to 20 years the same neighbours lived on the other side
of our semi-detached house. One concrete block and, lathing and drywall
barrier away. In places the walls were thinner than others, but we
were lucky that the family spoke Italian (Calabrese) and we knew
only a smattering of words. When we moved in the couple were
sitting on the old front seat of a car on the front porch -- a young
dark haired man, and what looked like a much older woman with
a grumpy expression.

That was Angela. Over the years I grew very fond of Angela,
in the way that loving people do. In the early days she'd offer
me small cups of espresso, and comment lustily on my marriage,
frequently giving me unwanted tips on how to keep a man, then
laughing. She had a dyed red hair, a big nose, thick lips, glasses,
and a squarish body with large breasts. In summer she wore tight
black skirts, bright sleeveless low-cut sweaters, and told us what
to do with our fledgling flower garden over the low chain-link fence.

Everything we grew was stupid. We loved flowers, she grew
massive zucchinis supported on pieces of white cotton, that
guided the huge leaves and vines up and over the tomato
plants. Her beans supported by six foot high poles, created
a shady nook for us on the other side of the fence every other
year. About ten years ago she suffered a brain aneurysm,
and she changed.

More later...I'm going to the movies

Have an entertaining night.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Long day's journey into sleep

There's no time tonight to write much.
I did student interviews
all day at school, the good-bye talk
with my psych students.
It was amazing to see what they
had learned in one semester.
Tonight we went to see Christopher
at Fionn McCool's.
All of the kids we've grown to know at the
restaurant are moving on at the same time.
Christopher's going to Korea, Alanna doesn't know
what she's doing, Chad's going out west with his
wife and baby. Things are a bit sombre now
because there's the feeling that something that
used to be fun is ending.

I will miss being able to go in and see my
son every Friday night -- a privilege few
parents get after their children leave
home. Christopher has always been delighted
to see us,
which has been a treat.

Oh is raining torrents and flooding all over
town, it reminds me of driving in Charlottetown P.E.I. and
going through such deep water down by the ocean, that the
engine on my little red Sentra stopped.

This is a portrait of a terrific boy I painted a year ago. I was
very sad when the sittings were over because he was
funny, smart and polite. He wanted to grow up to be
as rich as Richard Branson, so I painted him near Branson's
island, Necker

Goodnight sweet ocean

Have a free flowing day

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Inspiration is everywhere

A former colleague of mine at Lever Ponds,Lorraine Roussel, took private art lessons from me a few years
ago. She had been very sick, and painting lifted her spirits. We had a great time as she took my Introduction to Acrylics, and then The Advanced Acrylics course.

She has since been going to a small arts atelier school
that's part of Centennial College. My friend Suzanne and
I went to an opening for the school at the Hang Man
Gallery tonight -- I would absolutely
love to teach art at this school. And Lorraine? Her
work is stunning -- rich, mature, intelligent, masterful,
filled with meaning and insight, and just wonderful.

I was completely blown away. If you're in the area
while the show is on, check it out.

I am going to be at Seneca all day tomorrow
conducting interviews, so these are my thoughts
on art for the day.

Crocuses are poking up in gardens all over my
area. Spring seems to be on the gallop, though
there is still snow on the crests of some hills, and
tangled in pockets in the wood. But in Toronto
spring will transform into summer -- hot and
heavy before we know it.

Have an expectant day

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Craving stillness -- to think and paint

I haven't been able to paint for a few
days, and feel a bit like a race horse
at the gate, or a dog, on a short leash
with the park in sight. Eager
to get going on my next project --
two large paintings for a show.
Like much of the work I do right now,
the works will go together,
and could be hung as one painting,
or sold as two separate works.
I started painting things that "fit"
together after reading a wonderful
book about Larry Rivers.
I wish the book explained how he
attached foamcore to canvas. He painted
huge paintings and built them up
architecturally with foamcore,
so that some sections were in relief,
and others flat like a standard painting. I've
wanted to have something sculptural
happen with my work since then, but I'm
still painting on good old canvas --
just extending the work -- with another good old canvas.

I have got to mark. It's my last class of the semester tomorrow
-- a bright and eager group -- very chirpy early in the morning,
so I need to be ready for them with suitable mirth. Sleep will be
welcome tonight.

This painting is one section of a two-part painting.
A still life joins into the left side of the work. I
can't find a photo of them joined tonight, but I'll
put one in at another date.


Have a connecting day.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Watch for the signs

I remember one year a girlfriend of
mine dated a dull man who kept us
up-to-date on each blade of grass
as it popped up that spring. Behind
his back the rest of us, all university
students, mocked him gleefully,
pretending to analyze the coming
of spring with the same intensity. "Is it the beginning of the middle of spring,
or just the end of the beginning of spring?"

This year I finally get what he was so excited about, and how much he wanted to document it. I'm doing the same thing! He was a young professor, something I never hoped to be. And here I am a college prof, and every bit as pedantic.

So here's my news. The ice cream truck came by today! Little children
wearing T-shirts and jeans
ran up to the truck as it droned out its cheerful, scratchy tune.
Parents rolled their eyes and succumbed. Now that's a good

The pansie painting is one in a series, and about the size of this image.

Have a delicious day

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ospreys and Killdeers setting up house

I am a big fan of the bird. I think
they know this. That must be why
the Osprey at school always announces
her return by flying as close to me as
possible -- not in a threatening way,
but in a "Hi Barbara -- see- how- beautiful- I- am -way." Yep. The Ospreys are back at King, and
there are babies in the huge nest made
out of large twigs sitting on top of one
of the very tall light standards in the
parking lot. These birds are awe-inspiring.
I parked my car almost as far away from school
as I could so I'd get a walk in, because
I was in class most of the day. Tonight
walking by the remaining snow banks
I noticed a Killdeer frantically trying to
get my attention about 10 feet from the car.
I remember a Sunday school
picnic when I was a little girl,
where the picnic committee had
to place a wooden box
over a Killdeer nest right in the middle of
the field. Killdeers remind me of the people who
buy houses right beside the airport, and then
complain of the noise. Hello! They are always
at the wrong place at the wrong time, poor birds.

I have a massive amount of marking to do, so
talk to you tomorrow.

I'm putting in a picture of the flower shops
yesterday. Today it was so warm that I stood
outside in the sun without a coat to call Steven on
a break.

Have an airborne day

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Oh boy the pansies are back!


Today was a great day for signs of spring. Steven likes to buy me
flowers every weekend as part of his Valentine's gift. The trip to
the flower store for locally grown roses (yellow this week) takes me by a window with what seems like
the ideal portrait chair (covet, covet). Today in front of that window
there were tulips getting ready to come up. It's still mighty cold,
but the bike is out of the snow bank (abandoned), and children are
walking along in T-shirts and shorts. Not me. It's spring, but with
a crisp chill in the air. We bought pansies and stuck them in our
huge planters out front. They look a bit lost, but I love them
I picked some. Yes! And brought them in to put in a little jug.
Expect a Pansie painting soon, when the marking is done.

Have a creatively flowering day!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Justa justa walking

Some days are almost too complicated to describe. I set off
on a walk to meet my sister part way down St. Clair. Right
away I realized that I've been shut in the house too much in
the last week. Everything looked like a 3 D movie. The
world was singing, completely high on itself. Robins flew
right over my face bragging about being birds, having wings,
being the birds everyone equates with spring.

Even a dilapidated house with a sign under the screen door
condemning it, looked hopeful. Then there were the upsetting
facts - nice old brick low-rise apartments being torn down
for condos, which will no doubt block the sun that sparkled
on everything, making every wish seem possible.

Later after coffee, I walked through Forest Hill with my sister,
and I must have been looking up as we talked because I noticed
such amazing chimneys. The massive mansions wear chimneys
in sculptural designs, not the simple blocks made of brick
favoured on my street.

The painting is one a I did several years ago of Miriam Kaufman's
parents. It has a cheery, spring feeling, so it works today. This is
one of the few portrait paintings I've done exclusively from photos,
without ever meeting the couple. I looked at at least 25 photos, and
had tea with Miriam more than once talking about her parents. So
the conversation took place, just not with the "sitters". I was
trying to capture the love these two felt for each other. I think that
comes through. And they both really liked the painting, which made
me feel lucky.

The rest of the day's been devoted to marking. I say take
your inspiration where you can get it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Reading to vision

I'm thinking of the line from
Chaucer "Whanne that April
with his shoures sote
The droughte of March hath
perced to the rote. "
Canterbury Tales. Prologue. Line 1.
It's a wet day, and April is
feeding the garden's roots.
I wrote a long blog already today and lost it through some computer glitch. Or my own mistake. So where was I before I was
so rudely deleted? I was talking about a little evening course I developed called Writing to Vision. When I presented it to artists, and asked them to write on a theme, I was
absolutely flabbergasted at the results.
People fluent in the visual world, slipped easily into writing and were equally eloquent in words.

Of course I confessed that I write a journal entry every day,and now a blog too. (Okay
some days I don't get to the handwritten copy.
But I think the activity that powers my
painting and maybe my life, aside from
all the hours spent laughing with my friends,
is reading. I am reading an excellent book --
City of Rains by Nirmal Dass.
People who are
addicted to reading, read a lot of tragically
disappointing novels. We don't mean to -- but
we have to have something to read to be happy,
and until we buy a better book, or borrow one,
we keep slogging through lifeless prose. Lately,
deus gratia, I've had three good novels in a row.

This novel has everything. The language is poetic
and vividly descriptive. Set in India and France
it serves up a timely escape from the endless grey
and snow of a Canadian winter. The author is
so gifted in his ability to create place, and move
between languages, that it's a treat to read on
a number of levels. Sadly it's out of print, and
was published by Thistledown Press in 2003.
I think we should all call Chapters/Indigo and
request the book. I'll let you know if it continues
to be wonderful, but I think it will.

So this is my answer. If you can't paint, or write, or
vacuum the living room, and wash the kitchen floor,
get a great book and disappear for a few hours.
Settle down in a comfortable spot with a hot drink,
and maybe a duvet, and read. The cats will come and
join you. The dog will harrumph and lie down at your
feet. Outside the squirrels will take the opportunity
to shred and steal whatever you've left on the
back porch for a minute while you read. The house will
look like a tip, you'll be behind on all of your work,
but after you've read for a good long bit, you'll be
ready to paint, draw, write, sleep, tidy, mark,
design, all of it.

The painting is The Red Tie, done in 2003.
But the young man looks like he needs a good book.

Have a reading day.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Shopping along towards spring

Today was one of those
spring days you imagine
when you think of spring
fever. In English I sent my
restless students out to take
notes describing the landscape.
Back inside they wrote short
essays that captured the day perfectly.
The temperature hovered around zero,
but every student was dreaming about summer.

When I think of summer, this painting comes
to mind. The woman in the picture is the
quintessential summer person -- a gardener
who grows delicious cherry tomatoes,
a person who loves to be outdoors, and
a wonderful hostess.

My brother wants me to talk more
about painting -- to discuss how I do it,
and why I paint the way I do. When I'm painting portraits I respond
to the subject. The painting comes together after I've spent weeks
talking, painting and getting to know the person. This is true even with
old friends. The conversation guides me, even when the sitter has
to be quiet. I make hundreds of decisions in every session,
but that I am barely conscious of what I'm doing until we take
a break. In this case the sitter wanted to be pictured relaxing
in the sun in Greece. She was in fact in her own living
room, in a favourite chair. Everything from the colours I chose to
the style of the work developed unconsciously and consciously
from our delightful conversations.

But back to shopping. I was talking to a friend tonight who can't
wait to go out and get new drapes. For women involved in demanding
work, shopping is the ideal break. We may not even buy anything,
but whether we stroll through a mall, or a market, the variety of
goods, the colours, even the music appeals to us. We feel briefly
released from our responsibilities and then frequently empty
handed, we go back to work renewed.

During this past winter shopping was more of a chore than a pleasure.
The mall parking lots had mountains of snow blocking many
spots. Drivers were edgy and aggressive. The whole process was
fraught. It's late, I have to go. No shopping today.

My advice to those who paint is just this -- do it. I meet so many
painters who say that they no longer have time. Make the time.
Make a place, start small and keep on going. There I hope I made
my brother happy.


Have a magnanimous day tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Working the spring thing

Pink light was bouncing off the tall apartment
buildings near my local Loblaws store tonight
when Steven and I went out to pick up some
groceries for dinner. It's the busiest time
of the year at school, and yet spring insists
on slamming itself into your senses. She's like
the fascinating guest who arrives very late at a
party. In she swirls in her fabulous clothes,
breathless with excitement and wonderful
stories -- but you are exhausted, and can barely
keep your eyes open, though you desperately
want to hang on her every word.

So far she's sending flights of excited birds
up into brilliant light in the late afternoon.
She's greening grass that was under seven
feet of snow two weeks ago, and sending rapids of
gushing water all over the province, causing some
serious floods.

I saw a hawk circling on my way to school,
and one just waiting to swoop on my way home.
I am dazzled at the changes, but tired tonight,
and crawling off to bed.

The picture is of a little painting called
The Jolly Fruit Bowl

Tomorrow have the happiest day yet this year .

Portrait Artist

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I paint and draw on commission and for shows. To commission a portrait, or purchase one of my paintings please contact me at:
A major highlight in my career? Drawing Oprah Winfrey live via Skype for her show "Where in the Skype are you? Galleries: Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Canada. The Amsterdam Whitney Gallery, New York City. Gallery at the Porch Door, Kingston, Canada. Your positive comments on this blog mean the world to me. I'd love to hear from you!