Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For David Lobenberg

Self portrait
acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Today's painting is a little self-portrait I did for David
June paint off. It's supposed to be me
looking at the computer and reading David's blog (or
yours). David is a witty writer, excellent painter in
any medium, and is constantly teaching us what
to do.

This painting is a kind of tribute to my blog friends who
have taught me the stylistic elements in the painting --
I never used black before I met all of you. I was
worried that it would look like a velvet painting. Not
true! Frequently I'm writing my blog late at night by
the light of the computer -- which is why it's a dark painting.
Computer light is very flattering -- and that's why my
hair is so bright (aside from the fact that I am a true
bottle blonde). Also I rarely used green until I read
Edward B. Gordon's piece on not having a favorite colour,
and I agreed, and began to use colours I'd avoided --
like green.

By the way July 1st is Canada Day, and Toronto
normally lets off tons and tons of fireworks. But
we're having a garbage strike. So it may be a
quiet holiday. Anyway -- Happy Canada Day!

Have an enjoying-the-day-off-(in Canada) day.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Brother and sister

Big brother, little sister
acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Painting this I loved the
expression on the little girl's
face, and all the small
details that are so characteristic
of what young boys like --
Super Mario T-shirts, camp
necklaces, big, clunky black
watches -- it made me miss
my sons as small boys.)

I got up early this morning to finish this painting of a
brother and sister. The painting had to be done for a
party this afternoon because it was the special gift.
I did most of it from photo reference, although
everything but the children has been changed.

The challenge in doing portraits from photos, as you
know, is to get a faithful likeness and produce
a painting that looks like you painted it. I'm not a
photo realist, so this is as real as I get. I felt like it
worked and was a nice combination of faithful
likeness and fresh colour and design.

The client was very pleased, and I hope the childrens'
grandmother, who was receiving it as a surprise gift
today, will be equally happy. I had to hurry home and miss
the party, because another client was arriving, and
was going to sit for me. It was a full day of painting,
and I've decided to take the night off. Got to go now to
watch Jon Stewart. Enjoy your evening.

Have a loving-the-people-you-work-with day.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


A man
Line drawing -- black marker on bond
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I have to be a bit mysterious tonight, because I can't show
you the painting I've been working on all day. The
client wants it kept secret, so that's how it's got to
be. After it's delivered I can show you what I've been
up to.

For tonight, I'm giving you another drawing of "the man."
It is unfinished, but I like that incomplete look. It's been
a working weekend. Painting almost 24/7 and we're
having intermittent thunder storms, so I can't continue
to write on the computer. I lost one a few years ago in a
storm -- that makes you edgy. So I unplug my computer and TV
in storms. (Yes I have a surge protector -- yes it was plugged into

I hope you had a lovely weekend. I enjoyed every minute
I was outside (between rain storms) looking at my
poor garden. If things slow down this week, I'll take
care of it.

Have an enjoying-whatever-happens day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Finished ...or is it?

Final version Mother and Daughter
in daylight
acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I don't mean to bore you with the same image over and over,
but these two are the last you'll see for a while, because the
painting went to its new home today. In fact it wouldn't
fit in my client's car, so we dropped it off before supper.

Both the mother and daughter were happy with the painting --
which I call a double success, and in fact we drank a small
champagne toast to the painting, and it was all very cheery
and good.

You will notice some changes since last night -- principally
the leaves. My client wanted some greenery so
I put them in. Their favorite place in their house is a
sun room overlooking a huge tree, plus they live near the
biggest park in Toronto, so it all made sense. The little
photo on the left side is a picture of the mother and daughter
when the little girl was two and eating her first candy.

Mother and Daughter
photographed with a flash
acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
36 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

The painting was a treat to work on, and I'm happy it
will be well loved. Oh the title for today? I kept retouching
and changing it right until we took it over. In fact you
can see some differences between the bright coat image,
and the image without the light -- I changed it, which
is why the less bright one is the first one you see -- that's
how it looks without a light on -- now.

Have a happy-endings-are-my-favorite day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Slow down

Mother and daughter in normal light
almost finished. A bit more work
to do tomorrow
acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
36" x 48"
Barbara Muir © 2009

You know that feeling of looming deadline that ramps
up your adrenalin and makes you move through projects
at astounding speed. Does it? I've been living on the
edge of deadline since mid-March I think. There were
the marking deadlines, followed by astoundingly
brilliant, glorious, unexpected media deadlines, followed
by a hyper active work scene and a seeming tidal wave
of deadlines. I've been an adrenalin junkie -- constantly
on edge, constantly excited and living in the world of
"Wow, wow, wow!"

All this is wonderful -- but artists also need the opposite.
That is the ability to slow down, follow impulses, sort
things through and to think -- about painting -- or radical
as it seems, about nothing at all. Today in the middle of
many deadlines I took three hours off. Okay so it's late
and I'm still working, but those three hours, reading
my novel, reading your blogs, tidying, sitting outside
eating dinner watching the clouds rolling in from the
west and watching a robin dig in my neighbour's yard
for worms, made my day. My husband and I bought
groceries and sang on the way home at top volume.

Mother and daughter
with the flash hitting the gold paint and
gold leaf
acrylic on canvas
36" x 48"
Barbara Muir © 2009

I went back to work renewed. I've almost finished
my big painting, which I'll show you, and in the morning
I'll finish the hands and the background, and it will be
done. I worked on other paintings too and they're
coming along. And I plan to block off some slow down
time, tomorrow and the next day too. An excellent plan.

Have a hey-I-can't-now-I'm-slowing-down day.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


At the market
Progress detail
(I've been working on this today)
acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Painting the way I was painting today, working on three
different portraits, (five really as two have two people
in them) is intense. I can't pretend it isn't. In the
evening I called a friend of mine in the south west and
she helped me get anchored. This is an important
thing we artist friends do for each other, here and
in the world in general. We give each other the kindness
and encouragement we need to continue. A big thanks
to all of you for that.

Back to the easel. Here is one portrait I'm working on.
It's progressed well today. I absolutely love the sitter.
She is funny, kind, and so intelligent it shines out of her
eyes. Our conversations are something I will miss
terribly when the portrait is finished.

Have a loving-your-work day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Choosing Joy

Mother and daughter
detail (the daughter's face)
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2009
(I've been working on the daughter's face today
and I'm almost there -- a joyous feeling!)

I'm reading Alexander McCall Smith's novel The Comforts
of a Muddy Saturday
, one book in the Isabel Dalhousie
series. Isabel is a very serious philosopher who edits The
Review of Applied Ethics, and part of the delight in reading
the novel is thinking about the moral questions she's
wrestling with.

So I'm thinking about joy today because it's my wedding
anniversary. And I think the lesson that my contemporaries
have to learn -- not an easy one -- is to choose joy over
sorrow, or discontentment, or negativity in general.
We were raised in an era that frowned on excesses,
especially childhood ones, so we were taught not to be
overly -- loud, funny, silly -- fill in the blanks. If we
didn't finish our supper we were told to "eat it because
children in (name the country) were starving." We were
weaned and raised on a level of guilt about our every
desire that seems hard to imagine now.

But even when Sam was a very little boy, four or
five, and he's nineteen now, I was frequently informed
by his teachers that he was "silly." I used to walk
home from these meetings thinking, 'good -- I've
done something right.' So celebrating in some ways
goes against the grain -- requiring excess, gifts, joy,
laughter, a bit of abandon. Maybe that's why I've always
enjoyed parties, and being with friends. Deep down
I'm probably rebelling against the strictures of our
childhood life. So maybe a restrictive childhood is
not a bad thing. It's placed a large bell in my head
that I hear every day demanding "Fun! Fun! Fun!

I am happy that it's my anniversary -- and have only
the sweetest of memories of my life with Steven today.
We have been blessed with choosing joy most of the

Have a joyous-celebratory day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Winning the lottery

A class sketch -- very fast
of a beautiful model
acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

On the way home from the LCBO tonight (The
Liquor Control Board of Ontario) or the store where you buy
your alcohol, I apologized to Steven for not winning the
lottery. The vast Summerhill LCBO store, a former
turn of the century Train station, brought back to
life by a brilliant architect Phil Goldsmith, was in
an oddly festive mood. A workers' strike is predicted
for midnight (just about now) and the shelves were
practically bare -- something I've never seen in the
years we've shopped there. Torontonians already
faced with a two-day-old garbage strike, were not
about to go without wine and spirits just as summer
hit. No! So they were stocking up like mad before
closing tonight.

It is our wedding anniversary today (June 24), so we bought
champagne to toast one another. Back to my
apology. I'd like to win the lottery so I can buy
my friend's house in France, and give it to her.
Alas. I didn't win again. But then I brightened.
Taking Steven's free hand as we drove along I said,
well in reality I did win big time -- because I spend
my life with you. Then we both smiled. I won't say
no to winning the lottery, don't get me wrong. But
a happy life is the ultimate gift. I have that, and
am equally blessed to know that it's true.

Steven and me
Taken a few years ago.

Have an enjoying-celebrating-life day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Progressing slowly

Quick sketch of our server
at a Tapas Restaurant in
Kingston, Ontario Sunday
to give you something to look at
8 1/2 x 11 inches
black marker on bond paper
Barbara Muir © 2009
I'm working on a couple of commissions today. All
day I've been painting, except for a brief, sweet interlude
down by Lake Ontario on a patio of a restaurant overlooking
rose gardens and high fountains and beyond the Lake a
blue that seemed to disappear into the sky. A crowd of
well wishers gathered to wish an amazing high school
music teacher, Mr. Roy Greaves a happy retirement.
I know he gave my sons music -- taught my oldest
how to be a composer, and discovered my youngest's
incredible voice. Plus he believed in them, and they
flourished in music classes. A joy to see when we
attended their high school concerts.

I am trying to be patient with myself in the middle
of a very busy schedule, and when I can remember
to follow through, the work is filled with pleasure,
as it should be.

It's late and I am tired after yesterday's journey.

A shout out to my sweet brother and his new wife.
Here's to a joyous life together!

Have a patience-is-a-rewarding-virtue day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On the road again

City Hall, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
in the evening light today

Hi everyone. We went up to Ottawa this weekend to see
my mother, and visit with my husband's mom.
We took in the From Raphael to Carracci, The Art of Papal
show at the National Art Gallery today and bemoaned
the fact that the government has cancelled plans,
long in the works, for a national portrait gallery in Ottawa.

Steven and I zoomed up to Ottawa late on Friday night, and
drove back to Toronto at a leisurely pace today through some
of the most beautiful countryside in Ontario. The highways
between Ottawa and Kingston, run past rolling farm land,
lakes and lovely little towns. We ate dinner tonight
in a Tapas restaurant in Kingston, which was
excellent, and are now busy unpacking and getting
ready for a wildly busy week crammed with
work and social occasions.

I took zillions of pictures out of the car window
with Steven's wonderful little Canon camera,
and now I have reference for quite a while.

Have a life-is-a-great-trip day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


A sketchbook drawing,
black marker ad pencil on bond
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

If you paint a lot you know that you're walking the intellectual
tightrope between detailed enough, and lacking in detail.
I had a teacher once who would take a superb watercolour
and go that one step too far in detail, moving the painting
from the sublime, to a step below it. Frequently it was a stop
sign in the distance with a clearly worded "stop" on it. That
word was like a mantra to me. Stop putting in detail, because
from that distance you wouldn't see the word, just the colour,
and even so. But we all want to be like Google Earth, and
zoom in on the subject so that it's there with crystal clarity.

I'm working on some pieces right now that are just at the
edge of that dilemma and ready to step over. Too much
detail hurts a painting. Not enough makes the viewer
equally uncomfortable. Striking that balance? It's
all about standing back and seeing the whole work, not
its ...details.

Playing on the sand
sketchbook drawing
black marker on bond
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I can't show you any paintings today. All in states of
needing work. But here are a couple of drawings.

Have a perfectly detailed day.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Line drawing of my dog Zoey
black marker on sketchbook paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

(note in this case the drawing has nothing to do with
the topic -- except perhaps that Zoey is a dog
with great charisma)

How important is charisma to an artist? Or to people in
general? Last night I watched a clip of Stephen Colbert
on Facebook working with Barack Obama, on what was
both a comedy sketch and a message to the troops.
Barack Obama has charisma -- grace, charm, humour,
dignity. He is such a wonderful person.

And Stephen Colbert, who was asking the president to work
with his script, seemed completely at home in the white house.
Dressed in his suit, saying his part, he was also charming,
kind, funny, respectful and dignified working on a comedy
routine with one of the most powerful men in the world.

Perhaps it all comes down to the confidence Alyson Stanfield's
book says we must all have. Confidence makes us comfortable
and kind. Being at home in your own personality is part
of what makes people charismatic. And all the rest is
learning. I think if we take a genuine interest in other people,
have a passion for what we do, work hard at our skills
in every area, get good at reading and responding to other
people's concerns about our work, we'll end up gaining
a quality that will stand us in good stead in our work,
and our lives at large -- charisma.

Have an enjoying-your-own-charisma day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Painting lifts the soul

Mother and daughter (detail)
coming down to the wire
with the mother and daughter portraits.
Here's the mother at this stage
I like how it's going. A bit more
polishing and refining needed.
acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

You have probably guessed that I'm a pretty social
being. I think if it was possible to earn a living
talking on the phone, having tea or coffee with
friends, and going to a couple of parties each week,
I'd grab that job. (As a young friend said the other day,
-- oh wait, I already have that job). Throw in a whole
lot of painting and drawing, and some teaching, cut out
some of the parties (my friends aren't always in a festive
mood) and that is my life.

But on a day like today I must admit that if I wasn't
painting I could be glum. Not full out blue down
to your shoes sad, no nothing so dramatic. Just
missing my son Christopher who left in a taxi at four
in the morning today. Sam and I stood on the
porch in our pajamas and waved him goodbye into
the rainy night. I didn't cry like I usually do, because
I was way too tired, but I did feel the import of the
moment, a feeling of loss.

The painting in a different light,
the gold paint and gold leaf
are luminous.
Painting is the obvious answer. I'm working away
on a big commission, and have to say I welcomed
even the problems, as relief from clocking the hours
of my son's 28 hour flight to Bali, and going over the
worry beads of a mother's love until I know he's
safely back with his girlfriend and on terra firma.
The dog and the cats are a bit sad too. Their solution
is sensible. Sleep. I'll try that next.

Have an action-lifts-your-spirits day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hey! Look at this!

The artist at his opening
Notebook sketch
black marker on bond
6 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I think a lot about artists, and why we do, what we do.
I guess that's because I'm doing it. Are we the kids who
didn't get our work put up on the board in grade three,
or the kids who did? I suspect that most of us fall into
the first camp, especially artists who blog. We were the
emerging talent ignored by teachers who wanted
us to be able to write a coherent essay on our theme,
or colour between the lines, or just about anything other
than make art.

If we were the people whose art got featured and cooed
over on a school bulletin boards, the chances are pretty
good that we didn't get a chance to grow because we
got out of the starting gate with such a dramatic head start.
But the blog world lets us be that kid who was called "an
artist" in the school year book, and lets us publish every small
accomplishment. Which is what should have always
happened -- especially to you, because your work is
spectacular, beautiful, unique, and this artist (who
happens to be a teacher too) thinks that you are
more than a little wonderful -- yes -- full on stupendous.

Have a putting-it-up-on-the-bulletin-board day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


In the studio
Your artist friend at work
(excuse the mess -- in order
to make an omelette you
have to break some eggs)

We've all had those days. What does Paul Simon say?
"I should go to bed, but a voice in my head says, ah
what the hell. Have a good time... Good time baby."
Whether it's a good time, or a bad time, the voice
is in the way of getting your work done. The answer
paradoxically is to relax. Voices that get in the way
of working detest the calm sense of relaxation. It
sends them away just like the X your parents taught
you to place over the scary parts in your dreams.

So come on now, before you tell yourself you "can't
do it. You don't know what you're doing. It's not
working," take a deep breath. Now relax. Tighten
all the muscles and hold that tension to the count
of 25, then reeeeeelax. Deep breath. Do the whole
thing again, and back into the studio with you.

I'm going back there myself, now that you've helped
me calm down.

The image tonight is of me in the studio, uncut and
unedited complete with the plastic bags I wrap the
plastic egg cartons I put the paint in. It will have to
do, because I'm working, and don't have time to
show you anything else.

Have an ahhhhhh-now-I'm-relaxed-and-working day.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Elizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

At the market
The very beginnings of a portrait
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Sorry the painting is still wet. I am
blocking in her face and the basic shapes of
her clothes. You can see that I haven't
finished the glasses at all, because I
think the features in the face will still
move around for another couple
of sessions.)

One painter who's had a profound effect on me is the
portrait painter, Vigée Le Brun, who produced
at least 600 portraits in her lifetime. (I have seen
the count as high as 1500). These were large,
detailed, fine art pieces.

Her advice to portrait painters was excellent. Some of
her tips seem strange today when portraits can go
in any direction, but her advice on being ready and
set up when your clients arrive is still 100% right.

She is the artist who taught me to have two hour portrait
sessions because if you ask for a longer session, "their
expression will change noticeably, a situation to be avoided
at all costs."

I'm certain she is still making an impression on many
portrait painters and she lived from 1755 - 1842.

No! I don't paint like her. The style is not right for
2009. But I admire her paintings very much, and
am always amazed when I think of her dedication
and phenomenal output.

The painting tonight is the start of a portrait commission.
You may recognize the face from an earlier sketch. I am
starting to block in the shapes of the face, and it is just the
beginning. The woman's face is a delightful combination
of a mature woman and the sparkle and joie de vivre of a
young girl. She is great fun, and I'm sure finds it hard to
sit still.
Have an honouring-past-painters day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


My son Christopher gives a
speech at a retirement party
for teachers Heather Speers (left)
and Shelagh O'Sullivan (right) today.

Artists are often asked who influenced them. That used to
be fairly easy to determine. You had a passion for Diebenkorn
and took classes with Skip Lawrence, loved the portraits
of Lucian Freud, couldn't get enough of Mary Cassatt, and
loved Lynn Donoghue. All of that's changed. Now we
roam around the internet and are wowed by dozens of
artists in a sitting sometimes. We regularly visit certain
artists' sites, and they zip us over to a dozen others.
We may still have our passions, but influences are
too many to tabulate.

But I'm thinking about influences in a different
way. We attended the early retirement party today for
two magnificent, dedicated and inspirational teachers
in our sons' lives. They both taught at the public school
across the street our children were lucky to attend.
At that school a devastating infight happened because
there was an alternative school inside a regular public
school, and that was a mistake. (Two schools inside
one is a set up for tension, and the tension shut down the
alternative school.) But after the grim emotional feeling,
and horrible lies about the alternative school were over,
our children were allowed to continue to be taught by
these two lovely teachers until they left after grade six.

One of the women taught mostly grade one, two and
three, and the other grade five and six. They were
balanced, sane, curious, cheerful, praising teaching
geniuses, and wonderful influences on our boys. It
was so moving today to watch kids in their late teens
and 20s, hugging these two teachers and clearly saddened
by the fact that they were retiring. All of the teachers
in the alternative school were friends, so although
the program has been gone for years, these teachers
continue to be close friends.

And what's even more amazing, is that all the parents
from that school, which virtually ended when Sam was
four, are still friends, meet regularly for coffee (they
can find one another every Tuesday at 10:30 in the
morning at someone's house if they're not working), have parties
together, support one another in hard times, and care
deeply about each other. When our children attended
that little alternative school, we all used to say that it
was a community, at the party this afternoon, it was
clear that we still are.

My youngest dropped in to talk to the teachers before
he went off to work, and my older son gave a speech
honouring the teachers on behalf of all the students.
There was no question in any of our minds that these
two exceptional people, deeply moved by the occasion,
had a meaningful and lasting influence on our children.

Have an enjoying-what-influences-you day.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Out with the boys

My men
black marker on bond paper
5 x 5 inches
(a quick sketch from a
photo of Steven and the boys
when Sam was a baby. I like
the exhausted Dad look
on Steven's face.)

My oldest son is heading back to Asia this week so
we went out as a family to have dinner together
to celebrate his trip tonight. We found a restaurant
down by the Lake just west of Toronto. We had about
a forty minute wait, so we sat together on a bench
looking at the ducks and geese swimming in the water
and the yachts coming in and out of the marina. I
absolutely love being by the water. There wasn't a lot
of time for art today, so I did a fast sketch
for you tonight.

I have been reading Alyson Stanfield's wonderful
book I'd rather be in the studio, and I can already
see that it's going to be a life changing book.

Alyson is 100% against whining. I am so with her,
even though it's tempting to whine, and of course
I give in from time to time. She wants us to take
responsibility for our own artistic success. That's
a hard concept, because all of us would like a fairy
godmother to come in, wave a wand and say, "Poof."
or, "Shazam! (cloud of pink smoke) You're a
success." When in fact we make it happen.

Watching my sons across the table tonight I
felt happy about my family. They are funny,
intelligent, talented and loving people.

Have an I'm-a-lucky-person-to-know-you day.
And a Happy Birthday shout out to Suzanne,
my sweet friend.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Featured on City TV

Drawing My friend via Skype
Hi friends,

It's been an exciting and busy spring I'd have to say.

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by Jee Yun Lee,
a reporter with Toronto news station, City TV, in connection
with Skype art. It's a great interview, and you can watch it.

Our family is wildly excited and we all toasted one another
with a little bit of champagne to mark the occasion. Both
Jee Yun Lee, and the camera man Brad were lovely people,
and I'm so happy with the piece.

Check it out here.

The photo tonight was taken while I was drawing
a good friend of mine over Skype.

Have a drawing-your-good-friends day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The real deal

The Man
black marker on bond
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(An unfinished drawing
of Stephen Colbert --
in comedy he is the real

Today I had a fine day, and felt like an artist all day.
I love it when a client comes to the house, and
we have wonderful conversations. Everyone who
paints knows that there's a lot of hard work involved
and decisions to make every minute. Here's the secret
-- it's so much fun! This morning my subject
was an animated, intelligent, witty woman and
I think I laughed as much as I painted. I can't
describe how that translated into paint, and you
might not see it in the final work, but I'll know it's
there. I can remember all the discussions about
people, parties, romances, wonderful food, beloved
children, favorite animals and the most exciting cities
in the world. I love those memories, and they leap
out at me when I see the finished work.

When I'm painting I feel like the real deal. So I am
very fortunate to be painting all the time right now.

Have a loving-the-painting-life day.

P.S. If you're in Toronto there's going to be a piece
on me on City TV News at 6 p.m. Friday. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


At the market
charcoal on Manila
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Sometimes before I begin a painting
I sketch to get to know the subject.
This isn't entirely accurate, but
it's getting there and I like the
For the past few days as I worked on my paintings
and drawings, gathered material together for submission
to a major art show, and driven through the countryside
to school today to visit some of my friends there, I've
had a word surface in my brain again and again.


No. I'm not going through a life crisis...this year.
Significance was just the word my brain stuck on.
Roving around the net to read what other people say
about the word I notice that people frequently separate
the idea of a life of significance from a life of success.

So what's the opposite of a significant life? I'd call it
treading water. When you tread water you don't move
forward or back -- but you do keep afloat. Metaphorically
it's like the hamster ratcheting around the same little
wheel all day. After thinking it through I've decided that
significance is about meaning. The people who test
your happiness at the University of Pennsylvania
identify a feeling of meaning in life as one of the factors
necessary for a happy life. So that's where I ended

Open the door to meaning in your life, and it's like a
flood of light comes through -- knowledge, love,
a profound connection to the planet and the wonders
of the universe, artistic inspiration, and significance.
Then miraculously happiness can come in too.
So I'm going to quit worrying about the fact that
my front door is not yet painted Feng Shui red,
and let it be the door to meaning and significance
even in its battered blue state.

Or I may just walk through it and pick the yellow
pansies growing on the front porch steps.
Today those pansies are significant.

Have an understanding-the-significance-of-your-life day

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A long day at the easel

Tonight's art group sketch
acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 (the photo is cropped)
Barbara Muir © 2009

I'm not in the habit of measuring my time when I'm
painting or drawing, but I know today that it's almost
11 p.m., and except for a very fast bowl of soup I've been
working on art since 11 this morning. So I am ready to
sleep. Sleep is important for right brain people, as
we've discussed before, and also sometimes eludes us
at the height of our creativity. But... I have the feeling
I will have no trouble getting to dreamland tonight.

The painting tonight is my sketch from our painting
group. I hadn't seen them for a few weeks, and it
was great to see everyone, and the wonderful work
they were doing.

Have an Hey -I'm-well-rested day.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Loving people

Sam and his friend before the prom
black marker on bond paper
(I still need to fix the bit behind the young man's ear)
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I am in the middle of a portrait whirlwind. People are everywhere
in my studio, in drawings, photo reference and staring out of
paintings in various stages of completion. I've heard people say
before that they wouldn't know what to do with all those faces
looking at them all day. But I think in my case, part of why I'm
on the planet is to record those faces, and another is to get to know
people, understand them better, and in the case of teaching, help them
to learn and change.

Part of what makes painting people fun, is my clients' feeling of
occasion and celebration. Whether I'm helping celebrate an
event, record a person's triumphs, or just capture the essence
and loving image of a person someone loves, the job is
inspiring. Tonight I did a little drawing of my son and his friend
just before the prom last week. It's not perfect, but it has the feeling
of happy anticipation. That will do for now.

Have an anticipating-life-happily day.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A real community

Mother and Daughter
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
Working on the daughter --
I worked on her face,
her shirt, and sweater,
jacket and hands. I
concentrated mainly
on the face, and I now know
I'm getting there.

If you're reading this and you're just thinking about
becoming a blogger, I strongly urge you to jump
in and start. The art blogging world is a real
community. I recently read an article in The
Globe and Mail explaining that the cyber world
was cruel. That's not true in the art blog world.

In fact I have never had as much encouragement,
support, attention and excitement about my work
and about each small step in progress in some
paintings, as I've had since I had the great good
fortune of joining the blog community. I know
that some artists have received the odd cruel
comment, but those are most definitely not the
norm. And when people do leave nasty comments
on someone's blog, friends from around the world
write to dispute the unkind remark.

You will not be popular in the blog world if you
don't get the rules -- say something nice, or
don't say anything at all. Of course we can't
all like one another's work, so what happens
is that we find friendships with people whose work,
we admire -- for many of us that covers a wide
range from representational to abstract.

Most of us don't want criticism unless we ask
for it, and most of us don't want instruction
either, unless we ask for it. We just want
a community of artists who like our work, and
understand what we're trying to do. And isn't that
huge? For me it's been a constant source of joy.
We all need that.

Tonight I'm showing you the work I did on the
daughter in mother and daughter today.

Have a building-your-art-community day.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lovely June

Pansies in the garden
black marker on bond paper with the odd
8 x 10
Barbara Muir © 2009
I hastily drew this drawing while
we had tea on the bench under our
cherry tree. It's in honour of Drawing Day

Saturday is one of my all time favorite days of the week,
how about you? This morning after checking out the
Style section of the Globe (I save the rest for later in the
day), Steven and I headed out to the Brick Works
Farmer's market. My friend, Jan Marriott has an
amazing vintage fabric table there, and if at all possible,
I like to go and check out her wares. Today there
were exceptional quilts in every colour range, lovely
scarves, pieces of vintage fabric in mattress ticking and
gorgeous stripes, chenille bedspreads in every colour.

By the way if you're planning a wedding any time
soon and need a dress, she's the person to contact
for a vintage wedding dress in perfect condition at
a fraction of the price of a new dress. Then
Steven and I went to buy flowers, because he has
to work tomorrow, our usual flower buying day.

I picked up some delicious savoury buns from the bakery
lady and we had lunch on the back porch with the

Lupines from the flower store.
In Nova Scotia we walk across the street
and pick them from a field. But I
have to admit they were reasonable
here -- I bought two massive bunches.

For the rest of the day it's all art all the time.
If I have anything in a finished state I'll post

Have an I-love-the-weekend day

Friday, June 5, 2009

The thinking part

Step Two Today
Mother and Daughter
I'm starting with Step Two
because I don't want Step One to
show up in the blogs that show
images. This is still extremely rough,
but not as rough as it was.
Step Two, Three, Four (you
know how it goes) was beginning
to refine the face and hands, plus
the shape of the figure, and
covering the red underpainting with
a gold paint.

How Step Two Looks in Certain Lights

The Gold is very bright in certain light,
so I may dull it down -- I'm not sure.
I intend to put real gold leaf on in
places to suggest pattern.

If you have the luxury of working on one painting at a time,
you work on that painting until it's done. Small works
can almost be finished in one sitting if all goes well, but
larger paintings, and more complicated subjects can take
a month or more. The great thing about a longer project
is the thinking time.

Step One -- blocking for blocking
Don't worry -- the pictures above are how
it looks now -- I saw you -- you panicked.
Have faith! It's going to be beautiful. Promise.

Mother and Daughter in process
(I decided to move the edges around a bit,
and tried different colours on the couch.
I painted a red ground over the green I
was contemplating for the mother's
long coat)

I'm saying this because I'm teaching myself about my own
rhythm. Isn't it strange that we live with ourselves for
years, yet need to constantly learn how to manage ourselves?

Well with more than one project on the go at the moment,
I need to make sure to consciously build in the spaces
to think. In portrait painting, when the sitter is there
we take regular breaks to give the sitter time to recover,
stretch, have tea, but working from photos between
sittings, I'm teaching myself all over again, to go away,
read for 10 minutes, trust my instincts, and not get
caught up in the whir of activity so much that I don't
reflect. Because whether it's one painting, or 20,
we need to pause, check our own minds, go deep, breathe
and then lighten up and have fun the way Bob Burridge
suggests we do. Bob says that perfection is boring, and
we need to give ourselves permission to have fun, and
to paint something no one has ever seen before. I love
those messages.

Have a painting-like-only-you-can day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Into the yard

Night Iris
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

After a day of handling errands, getting paint, planning,
and getting reference together, I went into the backyard
with the dog at the end of the day. Most of our small
bit of land, shaded by tall Maples was in deep shade, but
the light hit the yellow Irises and I rushed inside to
get my paints. I'm not a plein air painter, but it was
perfect weather, cool, and clear. I sat down on a little
wicker foot stool, and painted in a rush to get the
disappearing light.

And it was fun. The dog was waiting for dinner, but she
sat on the porch patiently watching my progress. Steven
came home, and she complained bitterly, talking (dog
talk) and barking because I started to paint at her
dinner time. So here it is.

Have a getting-out-into-June day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In praise of notebook sketches

Pansies in a milk jug
Notebook sketch
marker on bond
5 x 7 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

A while back (November to be precise) I did a rough notebook
sketch of my friend Flora in Nova Scotia, as we talked on
Skype. . Little did I know that that one little sketch, quick
and simple would launch me into a whole
new phase of my career. I became in that instant the Skype
Sketcher, and caught the attention of Howard Wolinsky and
the US Skype blog. But I wouldn't have even published
that humble sketch, coils from the notebook and all, if
I hadn't seen a notebook sketch (much more detailed)
on David Lobenberg's blog. I am eternally grateful to

So...I am working on a number of paintings, all large, and
all under wraps at the moment. I was thinking about what
to show you on my blog today, and remembered this
simple drawing I did a couple of nights ago of pansies in a
milk jug.

Watch out -- my last sketch lead from the blog, to Howard,
and from there to a wide world of opportunity.

Have an honouring-your-notebook-sketches day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Skype portrait
black marker on watercolour paper
10 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(My brother lives in a beautiful
location on the Gatineau River)

Thinking about Louise Hay last night lead me directly to
the concept of abundance she introduced into my life.
I've never met Louise Hay, although I'd really like to.
When my first son was a young boy, and I was about
to have my second child, she rocked my world with
that concept on her tapes and in her books. The idea
that we already have everything we need, moves us
out of the idea of want. That doesn't mean that life
will always be easy, far from it. It means that if you
need something, it will come to you.

Another writer recommended sitting down with
your journal and writing down a question. Then if
you sit for a minute the answer comes flying in. I
think that this works for art. Alyson Stanfield in her
Art Biz Blog is always reminding us to go back
to the studio. That's because she really does understand
the psyche of avoidance, which is the complete opposite of
abundance. But I say sit with that too. Write down,
"Universe, why am I avoiding my painting, that I
love so much?" And when the answer comes roaring
through your brain, down into your hand and onto
the page, you'll know. And then you'll start.

Louise Hay teaches us, as does Julia Cameron in The
Artist's Way
, to recognize abundance when it's in
front of you. These spring days seem like an ode
to abundance. It's been cold here, very unusual
in June. But many of the spring flowers, which I love,
are more brilliant and lasting longer than last year.
The Irises, are just gorgeous -- a whole flood of purple
ones look to be about five feet tall, and beautify a corner
on a busy street near here, just by the bus stop. That
abundance is available to everyone who passes by
that garden.

Tonight's drawing is a Skype portrait of my brother,
Andrew. I started it the other day, and thought I'd
gone too far, but I just needed to spend more time on
it, and get it done. My brother is one of the people
I am incredibly grateful for. He has helped me so
much in my creative life.

Have a seeing-the-abundance-all-around-you day.

Monday, June 1, 2009

HIgher self

Sam on Mother's Day
marker on watercolour paper
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I was introduced to the idea of the higher self through the
teachings of Louise Hay. But this idea permeates a lot
of belief systems. It seems to me it's connected with the
whole idea of a "calling." You are called by whatever
you believe in to demonstrate your higher self. Aside
from the idea of hierarchy -- it's an appealing idea.
(I'm not attracted to the thought that we have a higher and
lower self -- disturbing thought on a spiritual level,
because it implies that we are climbing. Trying to
reach a higher status is something many of us have had
enough of.) But I do like the idea that we need to find
our purpose. And when we do find that purpose, it fits
like a glove. We are in our own skin, speak with our
own voice, think the thoughts we enjoy to think -- and
this can have nothing to do with any religious affiliation --
it is just being where we were meant to be, doing what
we love to do.

I love to do two or three things the most. I love to paint, to
teach and to write. I know when I am painting, or teaching
that I am giving those tasks everything I've got. Plus,
even though the jobs may not be easy, they are associated
with a great joy, and an ease and understanding of how to

The drawing tonight is a quick drawing of my son, Sam.
I did it from a photo of him taken on Mother's Day. Drawing
him tonight, I realized how powerfully happy my children
make me, and how they launched me into a world of
discovery that lead me here to you.

Have a moving-into-your-higher-self 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!