Thursday, April 30, 2009

Relaxing with drawing

The breakfast phone call
8 1/2 x 11 inches
marker on bond paper
Barbara Muir © 2009

Tonight I worked on a drawing that I'd love to turn into
a big painting at some point. Drawing is a whole
different discipline from painting. In some ways you
have to do more with less, especially if you're working
in black and white, but drawing gives you the freedom
to describe edges and be exact in ways that wouldn't
always work in a painting. Of course you need both,
and both are inextricably linked.

Artists need to move from one kind of expression
to another from time to time just for fun, like changing
the tempo and steps in a dance.

Have a dancing-in-art day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Great help in the art world

Model at the kitchen table by Barbara Muir
10 x 12 inches
black marker on bond paper

I want to strongly recommend using art consultants when
you are working on changing your art business, or
even just need information on how to refine the methods
you're already using. I had a wonderful talk today with
Alyson Stanfield, from Art Biz Blog and feel so much
happier about my future plans.

I also helped a wonderful artist friend of mine,
Jennifer Hinrichs start her blog and get her first
entry together. I know you're going to love her
art, because she is an amazing painter and a
complete original. We have had lots of shows
together in the past, and used to work on an
art magazine together. Hop over to her site
now and be one of the first to comment on her
brand new venture.

I'm including a sketch I did a couple of days ago of the
model featured in several of my recent paintings.

That's all for today folks. It is late and time for bed.

Have a getting-help-when-you-need-it day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Going to class

Before the dance with the cat
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches

I'm going off to my art class tonight, happy to be going.
It's really a group, not a class, because there are no
teachers, just a model and a chance to paint with friends
whose work I love. I will arrive late, they will be entranced
with their work, and hardly notice me coming in,
then I will fall into the wave of people rushing to capture an
image. I'm in a mood of high excitement over the end of
term and all the goings on in art that will happen in the next
six months. So much happening!

For your pleasure I'm posting the other painting I finished
yesterday for the DVAC Juried show.


Now I can just paint and draw my brains out for awhile.

Have a painting-your-brains-out-happily day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Painting all day

New Day
36 x 48 inches
acrylic on canvas

If you know me you'll know that I'm not a 12 hours in a row painter.
I need lots of breaks, to stand back and dream, to plan,
to go away, to read my book, to talk on the phone and read
your blogs. I crave that type of art experience.

Today I locked myself in the studio with a coffee, came out
to breathe a few times, had lunch, looking at my paintings,
but other than that never left the room.

I painted from 8:30 this morning (also not my favorite
time to paint) until 7:30 this evening because my paintings were
going in an exhibition tonight. I know some of you paint
on that kind of a schedule every day, and I bow to you,
but I find it a tough go. I listened to books on CD,
and the radio. When I used to be a journalist I'd frequently
have three or four people sitting with me while I typed
the final version, and they'd read it, and find typos and
ask questions until I thought it was ready to send off.
Today I got some of my big paintings off the wall, and
brought them in to be with me while I painted, to tell
me what to do. I'd see a lick of light here, a way of
treating shadow there, and I was comforted by my
beautiful (in my eyes) completed work. Then later
in the day a very good friend came by and sat with me
while I put the finishing touches on the two big
portraits. One of the painters I read said he gets
looser as he progresses in a painting, that definitely
happened with this one. I was up against the wall
metaphorically, but it looks like I was having the time
of my life. And I was. It's been a really wonderful day.

Have a painting-hard-and-loving-it day.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

One more kitchen picture

Another kitchen painting detail
The lighting isn't right,
but it's an autumn painting,
and much different
from the other two

It's been another full day finishing the last marking details
for the semester. So here's another kitchen picture detail,
to satisfy the rule of three. On the subject of happiness -- although
I do work well under pressure, I have been working for the past
three weekends, and I really think your kind messages have
kept me afloat in a sea of marking, taxes and endless
household business. I work well under pressure, but love
days when there is nothing more to do than decide what
to eat, when to walk, what to read, and maybe who to see.
The trick is to pull that relaxed feeling into the midst of
days scheduled to the last second.

Meanwhile I'm working on my big paintings due tomorrow,
plugging in the kettle to get the coffee going, cranking up
the music, checking out my references and crossing my
fingers and toes (ouch that toe part -- don't try it at home.)

I'll have more to say tomorrow. Thank you to all of you
who make me very happy.

Have a getting-it-all-done-beautifully day.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

And 10 more reasons to be happy

Detail from another kitchen
painting. These things
are long and thin. The theory
being that anyone can find a long,
thin place, even in a small
house. But I must say they look
great cropped.

What the heck? Why not have an entire happy weekend.
To continue from yesterday -- I tell my students that
people believe erroneously that being happy is frivolous,
a state preferred by people with feeble brains.
I assure them that in fact the opposite is true. Happiness
is a skill, and takes a highly developed and imaginative
brain. And I go one step farther -- I say it is a choice.
You can choose to be happy, angry, miserable. The
people at The University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology
Commons agree with me. And in fact you can learn to be
happy. Dr. Martin Seligman at Penn says that the
difference between happy people and unhappy people
has very little to do with degrees of wealth, illness or
freedom from harsh life circumstances. Happy people
think differently. That's the difference.

So on this very busy Saturday let me give you
more reasons from this small semi-detached house in Toronto.

10 More reasons to be happy
1. I slept in.
2. I read my fabulous book for an hour!
3. My husband Steven made dinner.
4. Our power stayed on in the severe storm today.
5. My friend is over using our power because hers
is off and we're going to have coffee and talk.
6. I've marked all of my exams (117)!!!!
7. And that means I'm finished marking!!!!!!!
8. My son applied for 30 summer jobs today.
9. I read wonderful blogs and imagined my life in art next week.
10. I'm going to watch a movie on TV with my sweetheart.

Have a wow-this-10-reasons-to-be-happy-idea-is-

Friday, April 24, 2009

10 Reasons to be Happy

Detail from one of my
kitchen paintings.
When I paint the kitchen
it's the excitement and
exuberance of our lives
there I'm trying to capture.
We always have flowers,
bowls of fruit and someone
settling down to a cup of coffee
or tea.

I teach a course on school success -- a very enjoyable
job. One day in the winter driving to school I realized
that I wanted my class to know how much psychology
has changed in the last two decades, but even more
so in the past ten years. I wanted them to know that
there's been a shift from examining people's flaws, to planning
a present and future life that would be fulfilling -- to each

I had one of my "aha" moments on the way to school and
decided to introduce a new exercise called Ten Reasons to Be
. I explained that in a negative news world, this
whole concept was decidedly radical. But we started.
Each day when we had time, ten people (and towards the
end of the term more) would go to the front of the class
and each student said one reason that she or he was happy,
and related it back to the course.

The impact was dynamic. In fact I've never seen anything
like it in 18 years of teaching. This exercise filtered into
their daily lives as they thought about what they'd talk
about if it happened to be their turn in the class. I picked
the people to go to the front at random, unless they
volunteered, but all were welcome. In my very last class,
the whole class went to the front and it was a delightful
sight to see.

Their reasons were connected to the course, so some were
doing well in school (study skills), some were learning to
love themselves and others (self knowledge), some were
managing their time better (time management). But the
smiles on those faces really blew me away.

Here are my 10 reasons to be happy today:

1. The term is over, and I feel like I did the best job
teaching that I've ever done.
2. I am going to work on a painting tonight.
3. I've started to mark today's exams (time management)
4. We had Jerk Salmon for dinner tonight and it was delicious
5. I have wonderful friends in my daily life, and in the blog world.
6. I washed the kitchen floor yesterday.
7. My sick cat is eating again (salmon).
8. It's the weekend!
9. I'm reading a great book.
10. I'll get to go for a walk with my husband tomorrow in
the beautiful ravine near our house.

You get the idea. The reasons can be small (a good meal), or
big (falling in love). One day last week I called my mother
and I was very upset about something. She started listing
reasons to be happy, unprompted. She said there was a
beautiful bird in the tree outside her window, she could see
sailboats on the river, the weather was warmer, she'd been
asked out to dinner, and I started to cheer up. Maybe she
was my best teacher. I thought if she can be happy, and
she lives alone, and has been a widow for over 20 years,
how can I possibly feel anything but happy, with my wonderful
family and friends around me.

Have a 100-reasons-to-be-happy day.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Short and sweet

Timbah (our older cat)
and Fiona sleeping

I hope you'll forgive me, because I'm absolutely swamped
with work. I feel quite a bit like Edgar on Arty Fice.
(See the link on my blog list).
What I really want to do is represented in the photo
of my two cats sleeping on their little lotus bed today.
It has taken about a year and four months for my
older cat to get used to the younger one. So I'm
going to sleep now. I wish you a wonderful day.
I'm proctoring exams tomorrow, and tomorrow evening
I will paint!

I can't wait.

Have an I-can't-wait-to-paint day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth day and an attitude of gratitude

Daffodils on Earth Day
Transplanted from a Flower Shop pot

I've been thinking all day about how happy I am to be
part of a group of energetic bloggers, and about how
much I'm learning from all of you. Thanks so much.
I don't know if you remember when Al Franken did his
Stewart Smalley bit on Saturday Night Live, but I
was sorry when he quit comedy to become a politician,
because I loved his line, "that's an attitude of gratitude
and that's not a platitude." That's exactly how I feel and I'm
not being funny (he was making fun of new age therapists).
Every single day when I check out what the artists
in the blog world are doing, I feel thankful for the
opportunity to see their work. I think that every
image teaches me something, that the lessons seep in through
my visual cells somehow and come out in my work when
I paint.

I'm not painting today. It's tax time, and the end of term.
I will read 1500 evaluations and type out 235 individual
notes to my students by the end of the day tomorrow, and
get my tax information in.'s been a full day of work,
and tomorrow promises to be the same.

In honour of Earth Day, I hurried out just before dark to
look at my daffodils poking up in a very cold, rain.
Gorgeous brave things. I don't have any sage advice
about how to save the planet. But I do recommend
enjoying it, and that can lead to love, and perhaps as
in all relationships that can lead to tenderness.

Have a falling-in-love-with-the-planet-again day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Art adventures

Coffee, a magazine and lilies
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Not quite done
(another view of the model
in the kitchen -- playing with
light and colour)

I sat with an artist friend today weighing the pros and cons
of going on an art adventure. It doesn't matter where we're
thinking of going, what matters more is what might
hold us back. Both of us have some sane, careful Scottish
stock in our family histories. Going on art adventures costs
money, whether it's going down to the local art museums
or planning a trip to go and see an exhibition in another city.

This friend has been with me on a number of art adventures.
We had our first show together, long ago when our children
were little and we needed to believe in ourselves. There was
some brave spark in both of us that prodded us to take a risk
and put on a show in my friend's lovely, private home. We
were shocked and horrified when every single painting didn't
leap off the walls in that one two-day show. But the process
had begun, and we'd learned a lot.

Over the years we've had shows together, watched one another
partake in other shows, and recognized that all in all being
an artist is one long adventure. What's in the balance -- more
debt in a year when one child's in university , and wearing braces,
not getting to do long planned renovations (again). But on the
flip side is a new experience, new contacts, new insights and
no doubt a whole new way of looking at art .

It looks like the adventure might win. I popped the pizza
into the oven, and got ready to have another discussion about
it with my husband. It is probably time to turn dreaming into

Have an I'm-ready-for-another-art-adventure day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The delighted brain

Magazines and coffee
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches

Here's a little painting I've been
working on today.
It's not quite done.
Once again the colours in the room
have been changed to protect
the integrity of the artist.

It isn't just the "aha!" moment that artists experience,
it's the "aha' life. Alyson Stanley's ArtBiz Blog podcast
today, is about needing a "fire in the belly" to pursue
a career in art.
I completely agree with her, and to add to last night's
theme, I think that this can also be a factor in artists'
lack of sleep.

I remember years ago when I painted only occasionally
that all I had to do to guarantee sleepless nights was
start a painting. All night long I'd see flashes of colour,
feel the paint slipping across a large canvas in wide arcs.
It was heaven -- but a restless one.

People talk a lot about inspiration -- divine and otherwise.
I think our "aha" life, the life of the delighted brain, is
something artists can't live without. When that's true,
we don't need any prodding, or convincing, or even
any positive self talk to get to the canvas -- we just
get there. That doesn't mean that every experience
in painting will be pure pleasure -- it means that we
know the feeling of joy that comes with that work, and
we need to return to it often.

Have an "aha-so-this-is-the-aha-life!" day

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Simple fatigue

Tea break at the kitchen table
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
still working on it.
(This is my model for
the big painting taking a break
between sittings -- she's
changed her hair!
And that's okay. The colours
have been changed on the grounds (pun)
that I'm an artist)

The feeling I get after the push to get through the
winter semester is one of simple fatigue. You've
all known it -- and what could be a better day
for it than Sunday?

Thinking about what to say tonight -- I've come
up with -- have you been sleeping well lately?
I think sleep is critical for artists, because
many of us balance demanding lives with our
passion for creativity, and our right brain minds
thrive on sleep.

The women I know have an especially hard
time getting to sleep, even when they do
finally hit the pillow. Tony Robbins recommends
breathing in for eight, holding for sixteen, and
out for eight. If you're asthmatic just do a 4-8-4
pattern. Repeat this three times and you're
yawning, and usually within minutes asleep

So I ask you -- how are you doing with simple
fatigue? I have started and almost finished a
little painting today. I've had fun doing it, and
fun thinking about it -- but my brain can't get
around world issues, family issues, even
small personal business issues. What to do?
I've put them all aside for the night, and I'm
going to bed. Why don't you do the same --
tomorrow everything that couldn't be resolved
today will fall magically into place. And on
top of that you'll have had a good night's sleep.

Have a sleeping-well-and-enjoying-creative-dreams day.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The closer the better

I was just looking at an artist (Angie Renfro's) site and I love her paintings of
birds. But her birds are seen the way we do see them
-- strung across streets on telephone wires, and at a distance.

What's your perspective on life? I can never get close
enough. Many of my figures have their heads cut off
because no matter how large the canvas is, I can't seem
to fit the whole person on. Some of my favorite portraits
of the past year are just heads on large canvasses.

But today we followed the grey highway for five hours
down to Windsor, Ontario right across from Detroit, Michigan,
to pick up our son from university. The sun came out
and it was very warm.

I love the vast vistas of flat farmland as you get
close to Windsor. The land stretches way off to the
horizon and bright green bands of new crops colour
the scenery. Trees wear a new spring green, and the
sky was a soft blue, with wispy clouds.

Drawing on a Starbuck's napkin

I did my drawing today on a napkin -- the only
thing I could find to draw on for a minute in
the car, while an extremely patient father in the
vehicle in front of us tried to pack all of his daughter's
accumulated possessions of the school year into
one small van. Eventually he succeeded.

Then we spent five hours driving back with our
happy son in tow. A delicious detour to a super
restaurant in Port Stanley topped off the day.

I can't wait to paint tomorrow.

Have an enjoying-both-the-close-up-and-the-distant-view day

Friday, April 17, 2009

Equal Time for cats

Timbah the cat
Black short hair
in a box
I've been working too hard at other things to
paint today, but I thought I'd give the stage to
one of my cats, to stop the animals from becoming
jealous of one another.

Timbah, our four-year-old black cat, is quite the quirky
individual. We've been thinking that he's
crazy, but lately I've been wondering if that's just a
foolish human notion. He may in fact be very smart.
As soon as my husband leaves the house, to go for a
walk, or to work, the cat starts yelling. But that's not
all, while he's yelling, he carries something from
the laundry table in the basement upstairs to me on the
second floor. Yelling, yelling and yelling. For quite
a while it was socks (mine), then one day when I
had to go somewhere a little special -- it was a cleaned
pair of white fleece gloves - perfect!

But in the past two weeks when my husband has
been working at the office instead of in his home office
most of the time, Timbah has started bringing me
larger items -- my track pants for instance. And
today he thought I should be a bit stylish for the
last day of school for this year, and
brought me a beaded dress top.

So I think he's actually trying to take care of me.
The track pants? Maybe he sees that I sit down
too much when I'm marking, and he's right I need
more exercise. The beaded dress? Well we were
having end-of-term parties in my class today.
Of course after the dress had been dragged over
the floor it was not really wearable. But the
thought was there.

Eight Things Cats Know:

1. Naps matter

2. It's always good to be beautiful, wash your face.

3. If a box has nothing in it, it's a toy.

4. If a box has something soft in it, it's a bed.

5. If it's six o'clock it's dinner time.

6. If it's dinner time race around the house
or yell, until someone notices the time.

7. Two cats are better than one, for naps,
and for negotiating dinner, opening doors,
and playing games.

8. If the dog's lying in front of the heat vent,
curl up behind her and stick one paw against
her back. If she doesn't move, get up and lick
her ear.

Have a-contented-as-a-happy-cat day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The intelligence of desire

New Day
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 "
Not finished

I've had some pretty interesting conversations
in the past couple of days about passion and
its opposite -- in this case I mean lethargy.
There is probably data to back me up on this --
the new studies released almost daily about
the brain, seem to indicate I could be right.
But it seems that in the majority of cases,
what we desire is what's best for us. Isn't
it odd that people spend their whole lives
running away from that strong internal voice
that says -- no don't do that, do this. As in
don't be an accountant, be a painter.

The argument I hear for going against
your desire/instinct/sixth sense/inner
voice over and over is that it isn't practical.
But then I hear about wealthy people's
children locked up in mental wards of
hospitals because they can't stop harming
themselves, and kids needing to drink
themselves into oblivion every day, because
their parents want them to be _______
fill in the blanks, and they have to forget
their dreams.

It seems that we regularly fail in some way
when we don't follow our desires -- for
a certain mate, for a certain job, for a
certain creative pursuit. It isn't crazy,
or selfish, or narcissistic. Do what you
want to do. That doesn't mean harming
others -- it means figuring out what you
love to do, and doing it for at least part
of every day. For me that's painting.

Have a desiring-intelligent-desire day

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Seven lessons from the dog world

Zoey the dog -- part
Border Collie/Lab, part Dalmatian

I'm up to my ears in alligators, (marking) so I let Zoey, my dog dictate
my blog tonight. I was talking to a friend today about dog wisdom
and it tempted Zoey to chip in.

Seven things that dogs know:

1. Move forward -- the good stuff is all in front of you.

2. Each day is a good day, as long as you can go out in it.

3. There is no right season for turkey.

4. The best couch to sleep on, is the one you aren't
supposed to be on -- wait until no one is home.

5. Every day is a play day.

6. Let the people you love know you're ecstatic when
they come in the door.

7. If you can't have a run, walk, and if you can't
have a walk, sleep.

That's it for today .

Have a walking-the-dog-in-the-spring-light day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The last Tuesday

School is finished at the end of this week. Next
week is exam week, then I don't teach again until
the fall. Tuesday has been my toughest day all
semester, because I teach all day, and then
go to my art group at night. But I will really
miss the energy charge I get on these days.

I am exhausted and revved up at the same time.
The course that I've been teaching this year, is
all about ideas. I really enjoy being around
young people, and watching the innovative ways
that they come up with to handle the course

I am tired, and didn't go to work with my
art group. My marking mania has to continue
until Friday. So if I don't respond to your
posts as quickly as I'd like to, it isn't because
I don't care.

sketch from the newspaper
black marker on bond paper
5 x 7 inches

Tonight I'm posting a sketch I did awhile ago
of a face that appeared on the front cover of
the newspaper -- The Globe and Mail. I'm
sorry I don't know the identity of the man,
but I think he was a medical researcher.
I was attracted to his serious expression.

Have a knowing-you're-in-the-right-place day

Monday, April 13, 2009

Papers, papers, papers -- the art of marking

Me with the back view of my
assistant, Fiona the cat

I can't say much tonight, because I am up to my
ears in essays, and have marked almost 100,000
words today, and will have marked 117,000 by
the time I'm done. Every part of my painting
arm hurts, but I feel delighted with what I'm
reading. What do you know -- I've done
what I hoped to do, and I'm turning a whole
bunch of people out into the world, happier,
more confident, and more competent. So
despite my fatigue, I have to say it's been a
wonderful semester.

I'm sorry, but there isn't any art today. I did say
my blog would be about the life of an artist --
today that life centers almost 100% around my
teaching life. More art tomorrow.

Have an all-of-life-is-art day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An easy Sunday

Quick line sketch of Ranunculus flowers
we bought today
black marker on bond paper

Because our youngest had to go back to school this morning,
and because we had a great family party out of the city
yesterday, we had finished both the Easter meal and the hunt
by Saturday morning. That left Easter with a luxurious
feeling, only slightly undermined by the pile of marking I
have to do and the work Steven has to finish. We are both
wild with work. It was a chilly but absolutely gorgeous
day. We ate lunch on the back porch -- wearing ski jackets,
but hey! It was lovely. We had a short walk in the nearby
ravine and I was closely observing the dozens of robins
running around enjoying the sun.

Flower store roses and the long feared Lilies

And we bought gorgeous flowers in our favorite flower store.
They know us so well that they make a special trip into the
back of the store to get us the "best" flowers they can find.
That makes us feel great.

We have not bought Easter lilies for about 20 years, because
back then when we traveled by subway most of the time
I was approached by a religious nutter when I was carrying
a lily home. He got rather frightening asking me whether
I knew the true meaning and screaming at me when I
didn't give satisfactory answers. At the time I was reading
Milton Erickson the psychiatrist, and I knew that his answer
to crazy people he met on the street was,"yes -- it's exactly 10:30."
When you repeat this phrase truly insane people look at you
like you're crazy and wander off. It eventually worked on
this subway madman, and I got home safely with the lily. I
bought them this year because I thought they'd make Steven
laugh, which they did remembering our long ago incident.
And I think they're pretty combined with other flowers.

Roses in an antique jug

Have a loving-flowers-for-themselves day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Joyous art friendships

Kitchen Morning
by Theresa Rankin
12 x 12 inches

The photo reference
My kitchen

I have had such wonderful experiences since I
joined the world of art blogs -- with exchanges of
art and ideas I could never have imagined. I am
eternally grateful to my wonderful friends in
the blog world, who have become true friends
and vital to my art life, and my happiness.

Today my friend Theresa Rankin surprised me
out of the blue with a painting of my kitchen
on her blog, painted from a photograph I
posted a few months ago. She called it kitchen
morning, and you can see it properly on her blog.
Head over there right away.

The painting, and her kind words about me on her
blog today just made me ecstatic. It was a glorious
sunny, spring day here and we went to a superb family reunion
birthday party in Stratford, Ontario. But the mood
was set for pure happiness when I read Theresa's

Portrait of Barbara Muir
Done via Skype
by Susan Carlin
oil on board

In February my friend Susan Carlin painted me
via Skype video for the people who attend her
painting workshops online. I was absolutely dazzled
with her portrait. Check out her superb
work, and wonderful videos. And on that same day
my friend Melinda Esparza drew me from a You Tube
interview with Howard Wolinsky that you can watch
on this site. This quirky portrait pleased me no end,
and sparked some great conversations.

Portrait of Barbara Muir from Skype interview
by Melinda S. Esparza
mixed media

All of this art activity has been wildly exciting to
me -- and has helped to charge my art batteries,
make me believe that life is even more
wonderful than I already thought, and added
more and more to my enjoyment when I'm

I have also made many good friends through the
blog, and I know those friendships will grow and
that more and more exciting surprises, events
and workshops will happen in the future.
Happy Easter from my kitchen and my little
house to yours wherever it is.

Have a loving-the-surprise-filled-beautiful-universe day

Friday, April 10, 2009

Family dinner

Sam and his friend
charcoal on manila paper
18 x 24 inches

We're having our Easter weekend family dinner tonight
-- the turkey, roasted potatoes with rosemary, fresh salad,
steamed broccoli, apple pie, (home made by Steven) and
ice cream. Tomorrow Steven's family is having a birthday
party for one of his brothers, and we're all going down
to Stratford for the afternoon. Sunday morning Sam has to go back
to school for an exam, so this was the only practical time.

I didn't have a lot of time to paint today so I did a quick
sketch of Sam and his girlfriend. I wish I had more time
to paint them -- maybe I will another time.

Have a wonderful weekend whatever you're celebrating,
even if it's just a four day weekend. I have been marking
all day today and don't see that letting up for at least another
week. Thank goodness I have painting and the blog as
relief -- although I do enjoy reading what my students
have to say.

Have a the-stores-are-open-we-can-buy-cadmium red

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Getting the crazies

If you've ever watched young animals of any sort when spring
hits, and the weather turns warm, you have witnessed the
phenomenon we're facing at school right now. Spring
fever is a real thing and it's hit with a flourish only mother
nature could produce. In class you need a heaping helping
of humour, the kindness and understanding of the gentlest
of beings, and a determination to keep on course. Even so...

Tonight we had a second St. Patrick's Day for my youngest
because he missed it and loved it. Now we can take down
all the green garlands and redo the place with whatever
we've got for Easter. We're not religious, but my guys love
the bunny idea and the chocolate.

Portrait in process
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches

After school today I worked with my model. She is amazing,
but I was too tired to really even see. Still many people
have told me that keeping on keeping on is what makes an
artist. So I did. Maybe I have a bit of the crazies too.
Luckily I was certainly inspired by my model, and
that was a help. Still I did more rubbing off than leaving on
with the paint. That's painting too right? It's a game of
addition and subtraction, on and on until the thing
adds up to what feels complete. Not there yet, but I
also didn't expect to be.

Have a celebrating-your-holiday day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Out to the blackbirds

Blackbird on a coffee cup
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches

One of the sweetest sounds in our area is the song
of the Redwing Blackbirds returning. Oh joy.
A short walk away you can stand on a bridge over
the park and look out over the woods
and marsh alive with sound. Blackbirds singing
their hearts out woo their mates, and make the
joggers running along the path through the woods
want to stop and hear.

Tonight with Steven's help I descended the hill into
the ravine near our house. The healing broken ankle
is still iffy on the descent -- probably a sense memory
of how the accident happened. There we were treated
to a spectacular pink sunset and a chorus of many
Redwing Blackbirds. How wonderful!

I painted a little Redwing Blackbird today, it must
be sunset, and he's poised on a coffee cup. Maybe
a painter is trying to stay awake to mark papers.
That song would certainly help.

I usually see the blackbirds around sunset.
Love them.

Have a the-world-is-a-great-place day.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Strange new world

Art group sketch
acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches

First of all I want to note that I totally missed that a wonderful
painter from Austin Texas, Julie Davis gave me the Passion
for Painting award.
I saw my name on her blog several times. and it just didn't
register that she was giving me the award. Maybe I've had
my head in a snowbank. No... but I have been a bit snowed
under with marking. Sorry for all the snow
puns -- you probably have to be here to understand the need.

It's been a long time since I remember snow in April.
Way back in memory I remember one warm spring
when the leaves were fully out, the flowers were up,
and everyone was walking around in T-shirts and
sunbathing in parks. Wham! Down came winter with
her special snow slushies, and the whole picture
changed. People panicked because usually if it
does snow in April it disappears before you even
realize it happened. But this time there was lots of it,
and boy were people upset. A lot of people elected to
get a spring cold just to emphasize their disgust. There
was a run on Neocitran in the drug stores.

Today we had even more snow. This morning I had
to search for my inadequate picks for the bottom of
my boots because it was icy too. Steven put the snow
shovel away a couple of weeks ago, and had to get it
out again. North of Toronto the power was out, and
the roads were winter slippery. And at school
the trees and landscape looked way more like
Christmas than Easter. Pine trees were thick with
snow, the whole world was covered in six or seven
inches of the stuff.

This is another hasty sketch I did at my art group tonight.
This time I tried to do some wet in wet. I had
a bit less than hour. It was fun.

Have a through-heat-or-snow-we're-painting-so... day.

So it snowed today!

Our tiny backyard, wet and iced with snow.
Yes that's snow!

Woke up this morning after a restless sleep dreaming
about painting to find the predicted snow came two
days later. So there it was icing the rooftops, sugaring
the new grass. And the good thing is that we were
supposed to spray our two trees with organic dormant
oil spray yesterday because it was getting very warm, and
the buds were ready to pop. We didn't get around to it,
and now we have a few days grace. Yay!

April seems to be the fastest month of the year. It's
the end of term, time to prepare for the D.V.A.C.'s spring
juried show, tax time -- the days are glutted with work,
and the garden takes a back seat, just when it should
be first. So thank you snow.

Before the Dance with the cat
acrylic on canvas,
36" x 48"
working on the details of the dress

Tonight I worked on one of my big paintings, starting to
put on some detail. It snowed on and off all day, and it's been
a hard working day, so I'll tell you more tomorrow.

Have an okay-I-don't-mind-wearing-my-winter-coat-or-not day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kindness is good for you

Working on the big painting,
laying in an undercoat of cadmium red
on the chair.
(Too much red? -- Just wait!)

I was getting help today with my office work, and
got fairly lost in cleaning my kitchen (part of it)
as though the Queen might visit. I kept thinking
of R. Garriott's pie chart on studio time,
and chuckling to myself, but while I cleaned I listened
to some great programs on CBC, our national radio
station. An interview with Dacher Keltner raised the
idea that kindness is one of the most powerful
human attributes.
Turns out people like, support, help each other
quite naturally. And that kind people
live longer, and even get better jobs. Listening to
this I kindly cleaned more effectively to make my
family happy. I cleaned windows, I washed and
dried the kitchen curtains.

Sooo. Later making dinner (it was my night) I
listened to a program on Percy Bysshe Shelley.
I studied Shelley along with the other romantic
poets like Wordsworth and Keats at university,
but didn't know that Shelley died at 29 -- lost
at sea. For a man so young to have written some
of the most vital poetry in the English language,
impressed me greatly. Shelley, who looks
very handsome in his portraits was in love with
the idea of "ideal beauty". Not in today's sense
but in the sense of creation and imagination, and
apparently found that marriage did not lend itself
to a continuing feeling of living in ideal circumstances.
He was fascinated with eastern religions and the
idea of the creative spirit or imagination in all
of us. So oddly enough there was a link between
Keltner and Shelley, because both believed in
humanity's innate goodness.

Before the Dance with the cat
36 x 48 inches
acrylic on canvas
(not finished )
A bit too flashy, but here's what
happened to the red. I used
it to give the yellow overlayer punch.
I also worked on blocking in the dress
colour, and putting more colour on the arms,
face and chest.

I've been working on one of my big paintings tonight,
so I can show you some stages to amuse you.
It's still at the complete blocking in stage -- trying
out large areas of colour. Refinement -- if I decide
to do so, comes later.

Here's the first verse of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem
To a Skylark
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Have a loving-the-kindness-in-others day.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A birdie with a yellow bill

Robin comes to tea
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
(not quite finished)

People who poo poo (say it isn't so) global warming frequently
site days like today as an example. Imagine saying in a
not especially bright voice, (hard I know) "Global warming?
Give me a break!" or "So much for global warming."
Those of us with at least as much brain power
as the bird I'm featuring today know that erratic weather
is one of the signs of climate change.

Plus the predicted snow we were supposed to have today,
but didn't, is not that unusual in April. What is unusual,
and apparently one sign of global warming, is that the birds
are confused by the aberrant fluctuations in weather, and
are appearing both earlier in the year, and later in the fall
than was the norm even five years ago. Steven saw robins
in the park early in February -- flocks of them. Sorry
folks, but that ain't right.

Still I know why we don't want to know. For one thing
it's cheering to see robins, as long as they can somehow
stay warm enough. I am crazy about the birds. So
today I did a little painting of one visiting a sunny
outdoor table. I'd love it if they were more friendly,
but I'm also delighted to see them where they belong,
singing their hearts out in our cherry tree.

My mother used to wake me up in the morning with
this poem.

Time to rise
by Robert Louis Stevenson,
from A Child's Garden of Verses

A birdie with a yellow bill
Hopped upon the window sill
Cocked his shining eye and said:
"Ain't you 'shamed, you sleepy-head?"

Have a holding-the-earth-in-your-hand-in-wonder day.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A rainy Friday -- why not go out for dinner?

I don't have much to show you today, because after I got
home from school I actually slept for a couple of
hours -- something I rarely do during the day, and
then woke up at dinner time.

What to do? I decided I'd treat Steven to supper
at the restaurant/bar where my older son used
to work. Last year before he went to Korea, we
ate at Fionn MacCools every Friday night. If the
live band is good it's an extra treat, because the
food is not bad, the place is warm and lively, and
then the music tops it off.

Sketchbook sketch of Fionn MacCools tonight
black marker on bond paper

I took my sketchbook and sketched as much of the
room as I could between ordering and being
served. But the service tonight was quick, and
the waitress an artist, who'd gone to the same
art school as I did. So I didn't get much done.
I'm hoping to paint tomorrow. We had a great time,
laughed and watched people enjoying themselves
too. In fact we felt pretty happy we'd thought of
it when we walked back out into the rainy, windy

Have a why-not-go-out-for-dinner-together? day.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Giving thanks to the photograph

After school today I worked on my big painting.
My biggest passion in painting at the moment is
working from the model. Reading other bloggers
I am so stimulated and immersed in the idea of
art, that all my art senses are heightened more
than ever before. And that's saying something.
So anticipating what I'd be painting when I got
home made the whole drive magical. Looking at the
golden light setting the still bare trees aglow
out in the country made me think of Laurel Daniel, think about
how she'd design that image. She'd far prefer it in a
few weeks when the new green bursts out everywhere.

People grinding their teeth as they waited, and waited
and waited in traffic, talking impatiently on
what will soon be illegal (in cars) cell phones
were all bathed in a luxurious, gilded,
start-to- spring, evening light. I sat transfixed wishing
for a sketchbook and pen, although you know
the police would frown on that.

More work on the big painting
acrylic on canvas
48 x 36 inches
I moved the eyes,
lowered the bangs,
filled in more of the dress,
thought about the background with paint.
All of it is still changeable at this stage.

My model arrived and we sat talking. I know
our conversations get into my paint, and
I welcome that. I'm afraid I didn't get far,
and I made decisions that I'll reverse tomorrow.
But that's the luxury of the longer portrait

Ultimately photographing the big painting
for you tonight lets me see where I need to
go next. Before the blog I guess I just
stumbled along. Now I have to take a hard
look at what I'm doing every day. I was
trained to step back from my work, and I
do. But the camera takes that step even
further -- and the blog asks every night --
"would you publish this image?" The
answer today is yes, if I can keep working on it.
I can and will.

Have a letting-the-camera-help-you-see day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Opposites attract excellent thought

Chickadee on a coffee cup
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
(not quite finished)
What did I do? I shortened
the legs, by making the coffee
cup bigger, changed the colour
of the chest feathers to white and
buff, changed the shape of the bib, head back, and
the colouring on the back and feathers.
The result is a rounder, fluffier bird.
By the way although my experience has
shown chickadees to be shy, they
are not shy at all if you find out what
they like to eat.

I'm going to be brief tonight because it's late.
I went to the library today and got out so many
bird books that I hurt my shoulder carrying them.
I love librarians and how they help so quickly when
I have an inquiry. Zip you're at the shelf and
have too much choice. After researching a bit I
went back to my chickadee, and here's the result so

My thought about opposites is that every now and
then when I'm working on something small I crave
a big brush stroke, and sometimes when I get to the
big canvas I long for the simpler scope of the small
one. Both extremes teach me about the other, and
shake up my thinking. The truth is that aside from
scale and the need for very tiny brushes, or larger
ones, what I'm trying to do is the same, create
an image that I enjoy, and one that gives you

Have a loving-the-size-you're-working-with 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:
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!