Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When are you funny?

Art group sketch
acrylic on canvas
16 x 15 inches

I was thinking tonight as I emptied the cat
pan, put things in the dishwasher, got ready
to call it a night, about the first time I
understood how much I loved funny. For
at least one summer, my older sister and I
shared a two bedroom cabin down the road
from the main cottage my parents rented
called the guest house. That summer my
brothers (when one of them wasn't away
at camp) shared a much smaller cabin called Bunkie
(because it had bunkbeds) right
next to the big, old cottage.

The main cottage was beautiful with a huge stone
fireplace, and was built by an English family, all
dead by the time my father rented it, and before there
were even proper roads in that part of Ontario.
My father was strict, and Bunkie was about five
feet away from my parents' bedroom in the cottage.
So you couldn't make noise there. But in the
Guesthouse we listened to the radio all night long,
singing, talking and laughing. My sister was then, and is
now, one of the funniest people I know, and she got
me laughing so hard when we'd talk and dance and sing
late at night listening to American rock stations, that I wanted
to be around that humour all the time.

How does that connect to art? My friends at
the art group I belong to are, among other things,
funny. After a long day at school (and today my
students were pretty funny too), I climb the stairs
to the art studio where we work, and look forward
to the break when I can talk with them. Most of the
artists I've met through the blog share a wonderful
sense of humour too. I love that.

It's so easy to get too serious and somber about art,
your oeuvre, your craft. Julia Cameron in The Artist's
Way asks us to admit that we're playing. We're all just
playing at this weird thing with colours and line
we like to do. I better stop, because I'm in one of
those chatty moods you get in late at night after
a long day. Kind of like the mood I'd be in as a
little girl loving every minute of talking to my sister.
The truth is that I do love every minute of talking to

It's time to say goodnight.

But one thing before I go. The painting tonight is my
Tuesday night art group sketch. I had a little under an hour
to do it, and enjoyed the process. The model was extremely thin.
You read people saying to turn the model into an object,
and paint her like you'd paint a cup. I find that staring
at the model, seeing her humanity, and feeling compassion
and affection helps me get the image I want. This model
emanated a very sweet and vulnerable feeling. I'm
quite happy with the sketch.

Have a laughing-with-your-great-friends day

Monday, March 30, 2009

A study is a study

Today I worked on a little study of a chickadee
sitting on a coffee cup. The chickadee is a very
tiny bird, and a very difficult bird to get decent
reference on -- so this is not finished, and I'm
looking at it as a sketch. I love chickadees, and
would be delighted if the birds I'm crazy about
would come and sit on my coffee cup -- if it
was empty. I love birds, but I'm a realist.

sketch of a chickadee
acrylic on canvas
8 x8 inches

There is a bird who is known for perching on
sugar bowls. My mother and father were delighted
with them when they were on holiday in Grenada.
The birds, called sugarbirds, or bananaquit
would come to their breakfast table on their hotel
balcony, and try to eat the sugar meant for their coffee.

But anyone who knows chickadees knows they won't
do that. They are a shy bird.

Have a going-wild-about-birds day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bird study and thinking simply

Bluebird (family Musicapidae) on a coffee cup
Bird Study #1
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Sometimes I get all tangled up in the deeper meaning
of life. What is it? But why do that? I have been
thinking about my big painting and wanting to
put birds in it. I don't know how, or why -- but
I think it connects to Earth Hour, and Earth Day
coming up in April. The main thing is -- if I
want to do it, I can. I'm the painter.

I used to drive to art class sometimes saying to
myself over and over "I am Monet. I am Monet,"
or "I am van Gogh," (maybe not) or "I am Mary Cassatt."
What did I mean? I meant that I am every bit
as much an artist as Monet. I wanted myself
to take that in, absorb it, allow it. I don't mean I'm
great, I mean that the painter's life is the painter's
life. Of course I can never be anyone but me, and
that's the point. If I want birds what's stopping me?

What? Well I don't know how to draw or paint
birds. That's the first thing. But before I've
painted it, I don't know how to paint anything!
Hello! Ahhh. Long sigh. I am always taking that
inner naysayer by the hand kindly and leading her
to reference of one sort and another. Today it
was birds. I thought why not try a small study
of a bird I like. Okay. So I like the Bluebird.
So here it is.

By the way. I've partially solved the marking and
painting dilemma. Turns out I can do both, by
keeping the marking close by, and marking every
time I'm waiting for something to dry -- which is
about every five - ten minutes. Perfect. Oh boy.
give me more weekends, more sleep and I'll be
such a problem solver!!!!

Here's a great site if you want to read van Gogh's
letters http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/

Have a let-the-Bluebird-of-happiness-sing-for-you day.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour and Abstraction

Earth Hour Candles

Did you celebrate or observe Earth Hour? We did, and many people in our
neighbourhood did too. It's a great idea. We got out all of our
candles and had our supper as we always to by candle light, with a whole
lot more candles.

The kitchen by candlelight

After supper I was sitting at the kitchen table drawing,
(because you don't move 15 candles all over the house,
and the kitchen was our base). I was trying to draw a cardinal,
because I'm thinking about whether or not to put birds in my
painting, and it hit me. You know what? This is the light Vermeer
worked in. Candlelight. You're going to say, 'no he only worked
in daylight,' but you can tell that some of the paintings
from that period were lit with dim light.

Then I thought that if the light levels were frustrating
it would make sense to be trying for accuracy, to document
every line, every leaf and dot every i. Maybe the luxury
of electricity led to the birth of abstraction. I know
that abstract art also developed as a reaction to an industrial
age -- and voilà. There you have it. Electricity = industry =
lots of light = readily available paint colours = abstract
art. Maybe that's an illogical leap, but it seems to make sense.
Of course I've totally sidestepped the development of the camera,
and all that. Vermeer may have already been on to the
essence of the camera. I'm just talking about light.

A cardinal drawn by candlelight
marker on bond paper

My drawing tonight is a tiny inept line drawing of a bird,
done by candlelight in Earth Hour. More painting
tomorrow with the klieg lights on. Just kidding -- with
the art lights on.

Have a loving-the-earth-to-abstraction day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Painter talk

The big one,
Tonight I worked on the hair,
the skin colour, blocking in more
of the background, and her face.
The face is still rough,
and the hands and dress are barely

I was thinking as I worked on my large portrait tonight
about all of the painters whose blogs I read. Like the
teachers I had at art school, and more recent workshops
I've taken, their ideas on what is essential to art differ
greatly. I find myself agreeing with most of them.
Some think that art is a spiritual journey, deeply laden with
meaning, and some say they just want to paint.

I know artists who follow rigid rules when they paint
and like a work defined in scope from the outset, and
others like me who find their way as they
go along. Some aren't happy unless they're painting
outside, some paint strictly from photographs, and
others like to paint from life in a studio setting.

I am as happy to read about someone who thinks
divine inspiration is instilled in her paint tubes,
as I am to read advice from a man who doesn't
even believe in great art, but just loves the process
of painting. Either path can lead to high quality work.

Sharing ideas powers more ideas, and more
art -- and that's what I care about. Thanks for the

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Passion for Painting

There couldn't have been a more perfect day
to open my blog and find that Theresa
Rankin, a wonderful person, passionate
painter, and all round great human being
had awarded me the A Passion for Painting
Award. This is the second "pay it forward"
award I've been honoured to receive from
Theresa. These awards that circulate on
appreciation, kindness and respect are a huge
part of why I am a major fan of the art blog world.

So here's the scoop on what this award involves.
First Check out Theresa's wonderful work at
You'll know right away how great Theresa is by
reading the seven things she's passionate about.

She can paint anything, but mainly features
the portrait, landscape and still life
painted with style, warmth, and lively brushwork.
Frequently her paintings feature an almost
mystical light -- and she's excellent with all
types of light. Her work also portrays a loving
world view, a quality I greatly admire.

A few things I'm passionate about --
candlelit dinners with cut flowers (tulips last week),
Steven, and Timbah the cat who has taken to sitting
on Steven's shoulder while we eat dinner. On this
occasion Timbah was hitting Steven's fork before
the food could get to his mouth, and eventually
the cat had to be placed kindly on a chair.

So what are the seven things I'm passionate about --
the Top seven? I can't hope to be as eloquent as
Theresa, but not in any particular order as of this
moment they are:

1. The people in my life -- my family, friends,
the students I teach, and the people I meet
everywhere I go, who teach, impress, love,
encourage, and care for me.

2. The constant recognition of opportunities
to feel joy in my daily activities, and in
learning about others' lives. Remembering to
be happy.

3. A sense of wonder (closely tied to #2) at
the beauty of the world -- the natural world,
pools of light falling on walls and tables,
kids giggling in a hallway at school, birds
in the yard -- the list is endless.

4. Painting and drawing -- (closely linked to
#1,2 and 3).

5. Being my husband's sweetheart, and returning
that emotion.

6. Teaching as many people as I possibly can
what I've learned that helps make life more
fulfilling, and happy.

7. Learning all the time about what's going on
in the world, through books, movies, conversations,
courses, exposure to different cultures, food and

If I could add 8, I'd agree with Theresa -- because
I like old things too, and ten years ago the first
thing on my list might have been old china. I
love antique shows, antique houses (mine).
I've got a cabinet full of white and gold china,
so I really have to cool it.

Like Theresa I'd like to nominate my whole blog

I try very hard to visit everyone on my list as soon
as they input a new entry. And I comment on
blogs as much as I can. I also try to respond when
people are kind enough to comment on mine.
Some of the people who are always encouraging me
are Theresa's picks too -- notably Eldon Warren
and David Lobenberg. So I have to put them on my
list, and I'll name too many people. They can refrain
from receiving the award twice if they choose, but
I must give it to them. If you receive this award from
me the rules suggest that you award seven people.

Theresa Rankin
Flora Doehler
Liza Hirst
Susan Carlin
Laurel Daniel
Eldon Warren
David Lobenberg
Belinda Del Pescoe
Edward B. Gordon

Like Theresa I would like to include everyone on my blog list
and many more. At the moment these are some of the main
people who inspire, support, teach me, and make me laugh.
They make the work of being an artist more fun, more
meaningful and more of a delight. All of them are passionate

Have a couldn't-be-more-passionate-about-art-if-I-tried day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thinking in paint

More work on the big portrait
Next steps,
blocking in features,
skin, hands, more of the dress
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches

When I'm working on a large canvas --like the portrait I'm
doing right now -- I make a lot of the decisions about
what to do on the canvas. Tonight was that kind of night.
I am not happy with the hand position, and that will
probably change at my next session with the model.
The face isn't right, and all of the colours will transform
as the painting emerges.

It's been a busy day with very little time to paint.
Here's how the portrait looks tonight. One advantage
of painting all the time is that I know the painting
is going in the right direction, even though it's hard
to tell that right now. You can expect
major transformations to come. I'm still just
roughing it.

Have a thinking-clearly-and-happily day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Portrait night on Tuesday

Art group sketch
acrylic on canvas
12 x 16 inches

What a day! I know I've told you before that this term
Tuesday is my long teaching day. So much going on
as we near the end of the term. It was cold here today,
but spectacularly sunny until late in the afternoon
almost evening. I drove home in sunlight -- something
I would only have dreamt of at the height of winter.
After fixing a fast supper, I got to my art group with
just over an hour left, and the model on break.

Our model tonight was spectacular, and I got an
instant fix on her face, which was lucky. One of the
finest painters in our group said he liked how I
paint. That was lovely. I like hanging out in the
breaks with friends and flipping through glorious
art books talking about what people do. One
artist we talked about tonight was Joaquin Sarolla.

I am quite happy with the quick little sketch I turned
out. I think I actually did "play" as Julia Cameron
suggests we do.

Have a "you-know-what-I-think-you're-great!" day

Monday, March 23, 2009

Started a big one

With all of the art shows coming up, and spring in
the works, I started a big painting today. The model
is beautiful and we sifted through the six remaining
gorgeous wedding dresses my friend Jan Marriott,
(the exquisite vintage dress and fabric lady) gave
me last fall, to find the one that would suit the
new painting. My model fell for one, and when she
put it on, I knew she was right. It may not end up
as a white dress although I'm starting the under
painting as though it will.

Beginning of a new painting
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches

On an orange ground
I began by sketching
in the shapes. Then
I started playing with lights and darks.

The model wants the dress painted red, and I can go
there if it seems right. I didn't get very far today
because we were choosing an outfit, arranging the pose,
and blocking out the work. But the portrait is on its
way, and I feel really excited.

I worked a little more refining
the drawing. With charcoal
I can keep making these decisions
until I'm satisfied because it washes off dry
acrylic. I started working
on the background and blocking in the dress.

After working mainly on small work for a while it's
energizing to wield a big brush and work from a
model again. Another painting in the Before
Dance series maybe, or I may make her hold a book.
Right now all is glorious possibility.

Have a wow-it's-true-it's-fun-to-paint-large day.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What a beautiful day

Macintosh Apples
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches

I'm posting the painting I've been working on, but I somehow
doubt it's done. A simple little painting of apples suddenly
can reveal a universe of possibilities. Isn't that the way
sometimes with painting?

Today was a spectacular day, and we worked on cleaning the
house, and arranging flowers. I also worked very hard on reading
my great novel, talking on the phone to my mother and
some friends, and marking student papers.

Somehow the chores, the gorgeous day, and simple
pleasures like tea and a walk with friends and our
dogs, made the day completely satisfying. And isn't
that how a fine Sunday in spring should be?

Have a well-isn't-this-just-wonderful-news! day

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The outer child

I was tidying up my room today, when I uncovered
Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. I'd once used
the book extensively for a course on creativity,
and have referred to it many times because I
teach journal writing. So my copy is heavily
underlined. Flipping through it today I found
a section on creating a welcoming space for your
inner artist child.

I frequently think my "child" is always on the
"outside". Maybe that's common to all artists,
I don't know. But I decided to give that child
a break today, and listen to what she wanted.
Crazy kid wanted to fool around with watercolours.
So I let her go. Let me tell you she's forgotten
a lot in her acrylic years. But we followed
Cameron's instructions and played. I was
drawn to a bowl of apples my son bought,
that look more like the colour of nectarines.
They can't last much longer, and I thought
I'd better catch their magnificent colour right away.

Watercolour of strange apples
steps one, two, three and four
1.painting the apples
2. Laying in the wash for the
shadow part of the bowl.
3.Putting down the colour
for the non-shadow
4. Adding the stems and
some detailing.

The results so far are less than impressive, but
wow -- it sure was fun, and the kid in me,
and the kid I always am had a good time.

Have a taking-care-of-your-inner-and-outer-child day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Old work -- new thinking

One of the reasons I quit doing watercolour, was that
the medium was way too demanding. It wasn't that I
couldn't handle it, didn't love what happened with
colour and water, it just didn't get thick enough, sloop
enough -- and what you did was what you got!!! Period.

That is until I met Skip Lawrence, who'd think nothing
of dragging a tube of pure vermilion and squeezing out colour
over an already great watercolour. Americans I discovered
can be quite relaxed about using the paint straight from the
tube, because watercolours are so much cheaper than in
Canada. Here we dilute and water the stuff like crazy --
and call it style -- but I suspect our method is actually
cost driven. Skip would never leave any of the paper white
-- why? More colour please and his paintings are magnificent.

Winter scene class sketch
watercolour and acrylic on watercolour paper
(These split rail fences were once everywhere
in the Ontario countryside -- now most of them have
vanished, or are in poor condition)

Tonight on the first evening of spring -- with vestiges
of snow still dotting the landscape here and there,
especially north of the city, I thought I'd take an old
watercolour done in a class with the Canadian master,
Americo del Col, and doctor it. No! Yes! Plagued by a
bad case of resistance failure this otherwise pretty little
thing, had grungy patches where pure white snow was
meant to be. The resist liquid clung to the paper like limpets
on a rock. Not pretty. Bring on the white acrylic, lay it
over top , and presto -- no more ugly resistance mess.

Have a why-you're-looking-great! day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Always sketching

Unfinished interior sketch
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

Whenever I'm on the phone, on hold, waiting, or talking
for pleasure, I draw if I have a sketchbook and a pen.
That's why I try to keep a drawing materials ready.
In an artist's house, hiding the art materials is a lot
harder than finding them -- pens, paper, paint -- the
stuff is everywhere.

Sketch study for kitchen table painting
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

If I know I'll be talking to a friend for awhile, I
scramble to find something to draw. I've drawn my
room several times, interiors from photographs,
friends, my family, sketches of the portrait commissions
I'm working on, and whatever's in front of me.

Unfinished interior sketch
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

When the phone call ends the sketch ends. Later
when I discover these sketches I enjoy what was
left out, as much as what I finished. I'm not good
at leaving out detail. But the chair leg is incomplete,
the ceiling odd, the packed table bizarre. Everything
looks more formal in a painting, even when it's
a quick sketch. The drawing sketch can be light, lyrical
and forgiven for being exactly what it is -- a
sketch, nothing more.

Have a wait!-I-want-to-draw-while-we-talk day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

401 -- in Canada it's a highway

School House Sun Dial
acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches

Here's a painting I started a couple of years ago of
our school house in Nova Scotia. It's probably the
most abstract painting I've ever done -- and
after touching it up a tiny bit tonight, I decided
that I like it just as it is.

My 401st blog entry
This is my 401st blog in a row. In Toronto we
have a super highway called the 401, which runs
from Windsor, Ontario to the Quebec border.
You can start your journey to our school house
in Nova Scotia right here in Toronto on the 401
like we do almost every year.

The trees in the painting appear to disappear
because they were the width of a finger when
we bought the place 14 years ago. So though
they get sturdier and massively bigger every
year, we're always surprised to see them, because
we never thought they'd survive. Now they are
ridiculously tall poplars and they make a lovely
flickering sound, when the sea wind whips up
the Wallace River three acres behind the house.

Friends down the road tell me the building has
made it through another winter of hellish storms.
Hallelujah! And three cheers for me, I've made
it to 401 blogs. Thanks for being there for me
all the way.

Have a noticing-the-trees-growing day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Favorite Holiday

Christopher and Steven ham it up
in their St. Patrick's Day finery.

We are not Irish -- well I am some infinitesimal percentage,
but long ago we started celebrating St. Patrick's Day with
our oldest, and became a necessity. So today, after
a longer than normal day at school -- Steven and I
and Christopher had a little St. Patrick's Day dinner.

One the way home I dashed into a few places to pick
up green gifts (journals, note cards, tea, chocolates
in green wrappers).We toasted one another with
champagne with just a drop of green food colouring
and ate a delicious meal.

Christopher and Me
with the desert -- not green.

I am usually the one doing the decorating, but I arrived home
tonight to find that Steven had wrapped the banisters in
shamrock garlands and hung the large shamrock
garland over the kitchen hutch. I was impressed and
touched. I just love this day because it doesn't matter. It's
not about religion, but about silliness and hilarity, and
everyone can be Irish for the day.

Two of the three sweet Irish (not) men
who make up my family.
We were sadly missing Sammy.

I hope you had a Happy St. Patrick's Day .

Have a lucky-as-the-lucky-Irish day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My favorite apples

Today is my 399th blog. I'm working on a simple
painting of apples in a bowl using
more or less the one brush method. You put your
brush down for one stroke and lift it up. I like
the painting, but haven't had enough time to finish
it tonight because I've been marking papers all day.

What a gorgeous day it was here -- the sneaky suggestion
of spring, a warmish day, little flowers poking up in
gardens here and there, and people beginning to talk
about summer. In Ontario that can mean you'll
be slammed with a snow storm, or worse an ice
storm as soon as you get comfortable, start
cleaning up the garden, and looking at your spring

Macintosh apples -- detail
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Still it's hard not to be in the moment on a sunny
day. These are my favorite apples -- Macintosh apples.
There are a few details to iron out, so I'm just giving
you a glimpse of where it's at right now.

Have an I-know-where-I'm-going day.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sam Gallery

Recently we had the house assessed to get loans
for Sam's education. Going through the house in
a whirlwind trying to make it look civilized was
a huge job. Without a doubt the room that
needed the most work was my youngest son
Sam's room. Cleaning it up I wondered if it
is really such a good idea to be a respectful
parent and let your children have "their
own space." Of course it is, but perhaps
we should have reviewed the decision to
stop getting a house cleaner to come in and
make sure the room (and the rest of the house)
was passably clean.

So we scrubbed the place up, got a new bigger
bed, new curtains, a new curtain rod, and made
it look as good as we could in the short time frame.
Still the walls needed painting badly, and there
were cracks everywhere. The new more generous
velvet curtains covered the repairs that need to be
done beside his window. But what to do with the walls?
Answer -- the Sam gallery.

We put up as many of my large paintings as
we could fit in the room. On one wall we
displayed some of the paintings he's posed
for -- and I've got to admit it gave the tiny
room a feeling of size and panache.

I'm just saying. If you have a similar
decorating (hmmm) issue with a teenager's
room in your house. This is a quick fix.
We hope that we'll be able to get painters
in this year, and that will radically transform
the room, but in the meantime even Sam was
impressed when he came home from university
for a visit this weekend.

Have a covering-up-the-flaws-with-beauty day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Baby it's you

Baby it's you
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches

Sometimes Saturday feels like a two week vacation, even
if you get some work done. I felt that way today.
It was an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, perfect
temperature, perfect everything -- blue sky,
spring in the air.

We had dinner out with our sons at a fabulous
and beautiful Thai restaurant, and I finished this
little painting of the mother and child.

Thanks for being there with your thoughtful
intelligence, kind encouragement and
inspiring talent.

Have a wonderful Sunday.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Happy Ending

Homework at the kitchen table
acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches

One of the things the blog has done for me -- is
to make me think about completing work I've
begun. Tonight I finished the little kitchen
painting I started a while ago. At least I think
it's done. Spring is a good time to tie up
loose ends. This little painting is so complicated
I'm tempted to go minimalist on myself and
paint three stripes, or a pure pink canvas.
I am grateful not to be a high realist, because I
don't have the patience for it, but I
have great admiration for their tenacity.
I'm happy with the painting now. It
started as an inspired moment in the kitchen,
a lovely girl, and a vase of beautiful roses,
and ends right here. Thanks for all of your
encouragement along the way.

Have a taking-the-day-off-to-read day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The art versus math debate

Remember the experiments we all had to study in
psychology 101, so grim that they made most of us drop out and take
up -- acting, accounting or even...painting. It
seemed like countless numbers of Rhesus monkeys
were deprived of their mothers and raised by
either cloth or wire mesh surrogates. A radio
program the other night brought it back to me.
The behavioural psychologists discovered again and
again and again that the babies were more social
if they were raised on cloth (soft fuzzy), than
wire mesh, and oddly enough much better at
socializing when raised by their own mothers.

After listening to part of a program about the important
findings of that old research I made the link between
the tragedy of the many monkeys used in that research and
the way that government institutions like schools treat
children in our "civilized societies." I have a friend who's a
public school teacher, trained in art, who can't teach
art anymore, because 'the school (in a poor area) doesn't
have the resources or time to maintain an art program.'

The Rhesus monkeys raised on metal became
violent. Children schooled without
opportunities for expression develop, low
self-esteem, a fear of creativity, and an
inability to believe that art is important.

Turns out creativity is a huge determinant in
the vitality of an economy and the safety of cities.
Richard Florida who wrote Who's Your City says
that cities rich in art activities are the most economically
and socially viable, and also the most tolerant.
Guess where he picked to live? Toronto. But
the current government and the world economic
situation could affect future generations in this
vibrant town, because education in the arts in
general is taking a back seat to what the general
public believes creates jobs -- science and math.
When in fact studies show that art and music classes
improve performance in the sciences and math.

On a lighter note here's a little
painting I've been working on tonight.
My battery was dying so I'll take another shot
of it tomorrow.
It's not quite finished but almost.
Someone said that he'd seen
crocuses in his garden,
and it snowed today.
But the crocuses made me think of
spring and weddings.

The newlyweds
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches

Melinda of Melinda's Moments of Clarity says that"art and
beauty will save the world." http://melinda-momentsofclarity.blogspot.com/
It's time we artists spread the word.

Have a helping a non-artist-friend-like-art day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just for fun

I started this little painting of a cup of coffee
as a tribute to one of my favorite beverages,
and because I am working so hard that
I'm dreaming of coffee in my sleep. Also I needed
a light relief from the horrendous news of the day.

Coffee with milk in a cup
and saucer.
8 x 8 inches
acrylic on canvas
(Steven says they only serve
coffee this way in England,
but actually Starbucks uses cups
and saucers too. I don't take
sugar, but I put some on the side).

I did hear some interesting facts on CBC, our public radio.
Apparently our dreams mean nothing. They are just the brain
having a break ( in my case a coffee break).While we're
dreaming we're using short term memory, which is why
we don't remember our dreams unless we wake up during,
or just after the dream. What I don't understand is why we
want to remember what happened in our dreams so badly
if they don't matter?

Haven't you had significant dreams? Both times I was
pregnant I dreamt that I was having a boy, and knew
I was right. Bingo! Plus when I was pregnant with
my youngest and worried about the baby, my then dead
father came to me in a dream and told me the baby would be
fine. The baby was, and is.

If you drink coffee, you'll have trouble sleeping, and will
miss your dreams -- the connection to tonight's
little painting.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

City in the rain

Tonight's art group sketch
16 x 20 inches
acrylic on canvas
Today was one of those grey, rainy days when you
should be blue -- but I felt so happy it was
like an illness. Isn't that funny? You see this with
little kids -- an irrepressible urge to leap in the air
with glee, run in circles and dance. A curly headed, little girl in
the supermarket, about three years old was blithely
singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"to herself in the
mirror, while her father watched the cart she sat in.
He was oblivious to his daughter's charm, acting stressed
waiting for his wife to finish trying on a dress (the Superstore
sells everything). Someone's always telling kids to shush,
or stop it, or quit acting silly -- and eventually they grow up
and do, and sometimes they can't get back to that cheerful
spirit. But in my case I think all the dull teachers of my
public school and high school days gave me way too
much sympathy with the impulse to break out dancing,
or giggling.

My students had spring fever today. They were
joyous and funny. I guess it stuck with me.
I went to paint with my art group tonight, but
got home from school late, so had just over an
hour to make the sketch you see here.
This canvas is like Rome, although nowhere near as beautiful.
There are so many portraits layered over one another that
you could almost do an excavation. I wiped the one before
this one off tonight with rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle.
They sell it like that to spray on cuts. A huge bottle
costs $2.99, and it does a cool Francis Bacon thing to
portraits. If you're going to paint over your rubbed
off work, you need to spray it with water, and wipe off the
excess paint. I may try the strange rub off look as a
technique to show you in a future blog. The more
layers you have on a painting, the more bizarre it looks.

On the way home the gorgeous light bouncing off
the dark, wet street was evocative of Christmas, or a
summer fair at night. There was a feeling of spring
getting the irrepressible urge to giggle.

Have a letting-yourself-laugh-with-friends day.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Today I've been working so hard on my marking, that
the painting I've done hasn't gone anywhere significant.
I've been saving this strange little drawing of my
brother for just such an occasion, because how he
looks, and how frenetic the drawing is -- that's how
I feel (minus the cigarette). This was done quite a while

Sketchbook drawing of my brother
ballpoint pen on bond paper

School starts again tomorrow, and like a kid on Labour
Day I didn't sleep at all last night. Reading week has been
glorious, but busy, and I still feel like I'm running on a Möbius strip,
instead of making great headway. I'll have more painting
to show you tomorrow.

Have a getting-your-head-above-water day.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The state of flow

When I try to explain to my students about the state of
flow, I say, "think of a time in your life when you are
completely and ecstatically in the moment, and are
not thinking about anything else." As many of them are
in their late teens and early twenties, this concept makes
them giggle and nudge one another. Then I ask
if they're thinking about a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich -- in itself risky because some students'
peanut allergies mean that they could never
eat that snack at school -- and they answer "NO!" almost
in unison. Then everyone laughs and looks at me like
I'm from another planet. "Well whatever you're thinking about
when you're in that state, you are experiencing flow."
For a student getting into a state of work flow when studying
will mean an easy ability to absorb information.

What changed? I bumped up the yellow
behind her head, painted the top of the chair
pale turquoise, then changed my mind. It is beige now, but
needs to get lighter and may become a very pale peach.
I blocked in her top, drawing it with charcoal first.
The ear is almost finished and I made the eyes
slightly smaller. I worked on the peau de
soie throw behind her shoulders. I changed
the shape of her hair. This is the third
time I've reworked this painting, and each
time she posed for me her hair was
different, so I opted for the original style.
I think that's all for tonight.
Blessings to Tia, a wonderful model.

I joined a discussion about painting online the other
day about talent and inspiration. It's my belief that
when we're painting, whether the results are good
or bad, we are in a state of flow. I don't know if
inspiration has anything to do with that state -- other
than it starts the fire, puts the key in the engine. But
even the most expensive car needs a driver, and to
drive it well that driver better be in a state of flow. I've
driven with people who actually drive second by second
as tense as wound up springs. Believe me that makes
for a jerky ride --plus they don't see what's up ahead. Flow?
The opposite is a 911 call. I think it's the same with creativity,
although of course you can't prescribe a mood or mental
state that works for everyone.

Tonight I did a little more work on my big painting. I'm
working on colour mainly, and what changes I want to
make. I will change almost everything before I'm through,
including her face, but for now... I hope you've been
in a state of flow, one way or the other throughout the

Have a perfectly smooth and graceful day.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saving Grace

If you're using acrylics there's more flexibility when
a painting doesn't work. In my experience unless
you absolutely can't look at a piece -- and most of the time
even then -- the thing can be saved. Some of my favorite work
was rescued after a disappointing first showing, or a period
of gestation. I don't know how to explain it.

Changing a painting starts with analyzing what's
not working. In this case the sitter's face
and body were good, but her hair, the
background, her costume, even the chair and pillows all
needed work. I started by reducing and
changing her hair. I applied a blue undercoat
over her old hairdo which included a
headband that did not read right.
Then I painted the background -- first with
the dark blue on your right, then with an orangey
tan undercoat on the other side.

Right now I have several small things on the go, and none
of them is at the right place to show. What I failed to see
was the large 3 by 4 foot work on the easel which I
am working on slowly, slowly. The hard part of a rescue
is the helicopter hovering over the sinking ship, or the
planes coming in with the water bombs to save the
house just before the fire hits. In painting terms it's the
first stage, when you reblock the painting over top of
what can be saved. At this stage the old work is ugly, and
only pure faith and a sense of possibility keeps me going.

When the undercoat was dry I applied a loose coat
of bright yellow to create a glow behind the model.
I blocked in her ear, and started changing her
hair. That's as far as I got today. I'm just showing
you the part of the painting I'm working on. It's
actually a full figure and 36 x 48 inches.

But the good thing is the vision of what can be, the sense
of experimentation, and the knowledge that I know more
now than I knew that first time out, whether it was a
month ago, or a few years ago. Then my restoration instinct
helps salvage the good and turn that into a brand new painting.
Timing? Enough time has to have passed that I forget
what I was trying to do originally, and can move on to
making something different.

Have a wow!-you-know-what-this-thing-looks-good day.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The best day ever

Winter sunset in my backyard
acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
(I finished this little backyard landscape tonight.
I always ask my students to write about
what they'll miss about winter. Not much,
but scenes like this remind us of the
beauty the season offers.)

It was so warm today that everyone went into a kind
of euphoric shock. This sometimes happens in Toronto
-- a massive shift of temperature in spring from
freezing cold, to near summer. It doesn't even matter
that we know it could snow again, on days like this
we have the good sense to live in the present.

Zoey, my dog insisted on a walk. Don't you love it
that dogs always want to go for a walk because
every day is the best day ever! So walking with
Zoey seemed a great way to celebrate the first really
warm spring-like day, and to celebrate Toronto's
175th birthday.

On the way home I saw chickadees close to my
face fluttering in a thick hedge, and singing. A man
got off the bus and walked down the street belting out
hymns at top volume as a little boy raced past me
on his bright blue bike, wearing jeans, a
plaid shirt coloured to match the bike, and a
wide gleeful grin. I turned down our street,
all brown lawns, retreating grey slabs of snow,
and houses that look drab and tired at this time
of year, and despite its dull dress today, I felt a
powerful affection for this city.

Happy Birthday Toronto!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Art matters

Mother and child in process
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Today I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario with my friend
Lyn Green. It is such an amazing building as I've told
you before. We spent the best part of the afternoon there,
talking about and studying the vastly different styles of
art in the gallery. It was an inspiring trip. Gehry's
revamp of the gallery is a marvel -- and each time I've
visited I am almost torn between looking at the art
and admiring the architecture. Don't get me wrong the
building showcases the art beautifully, but it is in itself
a miraculous piece of art -- huge and elegant, magnificent
and people friendly.

"Art Matters" is the gallery's slogan. I already have a T-shirt
I love that expresses that. Today I bought us mugs that reaffirm
the sentiment. It does doesn't it. Art does matter.

I have not had as much time to paint as I'd like, but I've done
a bit more with the mother and child. It's far from done, but
it's moving along.

Have a believing-art-matters day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Love keeps our spirits strong

Mother and Child
Stage one
Om a red ground, I loosely sketched the
image and began blocking it in

Sometimes I wish I could do what Mike Dooley of Notes
from the Universe does for the 150,00 people or more
who subscribe to his daily emails, or what a recent
newsletter I got from Susan Jeffers did, and just fill
the whole planet up with so much warmth and affection
that at the very least each artist who did the brave,
wondrous, and massively fun thing of sitting down to
paint, or draw, or sculpt or make movies, or act, or sing,
or write plays or novels, or poetry would just know that
what they were doing was great. Take a breath here.
I know that's a run-on sentence. That would be a happy
start. After that I'd want that good feeling to spread so
that we all had enough food and adequate shelter, clean
water and loving environments to grow up in. Then we
could make people so happy together that war would be
insane and impossible. And at the same time we'd
create a world where disease was unknown.

It all starts at the place where my painting tonight begins
with love -- a parent's love for a baby. So I'm doing a
little painting of a mother and child. It isn't finished
yet, but this is the first stage.

Meanwhile your kindness to me, and the love that goes
into your work each day -- the passion you have for
living -- is what keeps my spirit strong, and my hope
for the possibility of this world view growing.
Thanks again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Primula saga -- a near tragedy

Decided to shorten this post massively so you can read it.
"You've could die or be paralyzed -- this is a Chris
Reeves type injury." I was in the chiropractor's
office with my son Christopher, a healthy, active grade 8 boy.
The day before I'd been cleaning a twig basket with Pledge.
Some of the spray got on our old linoleum kitchen floor and
when Christopher flew into the kitchen to grab some
cookies he fell and bashed his neck against our
antique pine table. First injury. The head banging
contest the next day at school helped the tear in
the cartilage between his second and third vertebrae
rip further -- half way across as it happened.
The numbness, dizzy spells and loss of sensation
in his hands and feet probably saved that boy.

Primulas for spring
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches

In the spring I like to buy Primulas -- small flowers
that line the paths of woodland gardens in England.
I used to clump four or five little pots of the
flowers into a woven twig basket.

The story has a happy ending -- Christopher wore a neck brace
for three months, and didn't take gym or do anything
rigorously physical for three months and his neck healed.
Now he is a fine young man. But it could have been quite
different if our chiro hadn't made us fight our way
to the top Orthopedic surgeon at Sick Kids' Hospital in Toronto.

I put the Primulas I bought this year into small bowls.
Julie Davis talked about trying the one stroke
method to paint that she learned from Carol Marine. I don't
know if I've got the method, but I like today's painting anyway.
Thanks Julie and Carol and all the other painters I learn from
every day. As for our Primula incident, I'm not religious, but I do
think the universe has my back.

Have a knowing-you-live-in-a-state-of-grace day.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Painting and drawing all the live long day

Okay maybe I do have ADHD, or maybe it's just the first real
day of reading week and the freedom feels so strange it's like
an illness, except fun? I am working on about four paintings
today. None done, but all progressing, slowly. Those of you
who create a superb painting every day, will not understand
my snail like pace. But I do like watching how snails create
their art with the little slime trail on the beach at Nova Scotia.
They are my molluscan Gastropoda brothers and sisters (very
hard to tell which you're dealing with).

In the afternoon I had a delightful chat on Skype with Flora
Doehler in Nova Scotia. As the sky behind her slipped from
a gorgeous deep twilight blue into dark blue, then black,
she tried to photograph me secretly with Capture (the
Mac program that lets you photograph what's on your screen),
while I photographed her with Capture secretly. We laughed
a lot, and I did feel that holiday happiness talking to her. Then
all of a sudden her face glazed over, and she was filing my
photos. Caught. We laughed.

Flora on Skype today
black marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

To commemorate that event and my first day off I've drawn
this sketch of her on the phone. I love it. She has an
absolutely lovely face -- something of Audrey Hepburn
about the deep eyelids and superb smile. I know I haven't
done her justice. But I still like the picture.

Have an aren't-friends-just-the-best! day.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I can feel that Spring coming

All right. We've begun March. It felt wonderful to tear
February off my calendar, although I think I had a lot
of fun in the past month. It was ridiculously cold today --
a day that required every trick an Ontarion knows for warming
up -- turning the heat up (sorry universe), drinking tea, eating
hot soup, and spending as little time as possible out in the absolutely
gorgeous day. Yes as cold as it was, it was a smasher.
So... we drove our son to work, and picked up the
week's rations of flowers (so many flowers it's insane).
We even bought tiny pots of primulas, which would be
tempting to paint -- bright yellow and singing songs
of England. Pretty brave for little spring flowers.

Sunday is a kind of relax, and hurry up and do chores
day. We try to find a shaky balance between enough
household maintenance ( vacuuming, tidying, groceries)
and enough pure pleasure. I think we came pretty
close today. The shopping for the week is done. The
house doesn't look too bad, and I feel happy to be alive.

Sam on Skype
marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches

Tonight I'm showing you a little drawing I did from
a capture image I took of Sam on Skype. I hope you
have a spectacularly creative day.

Have a you-wanna-believe-I-can-do-it-baby-just-watch-me! day

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: barbara.muir@sympatico.ca
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!