Monday, November 30, 2009

The Florence Biennale

The Promise
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Three of my paintings from The Dance Series will
be on display at the Florence Biennale, an international
art show in Florence, Italy, which opens on December 5,
this coming Saturday. Exciting? Crazy exciting.
There is something compelling beyond words about
two of them -- the paintings I was working on when
The Oprah Winfrey Show people called me on April 27.
Those girls are pretty special to me. But so
is the one I'll show you again tonight, because
she is the one included in the catalogue for
the Biennale, and imagine this -- she's called
The Promise! Yep. And boy has she lived
up to her name in every way possible.

Huge thanks to all concerned -- Oprah and
her staff for the call that changed my life,
the Biennale staff for inviting me to participate,
and Claudia Puchiele, the beautiful model
for this piece, and my unofficial niece.

Have a life-is-entirely-amazing day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Washing the uniform

Late night teacher self-portrait
marker on bond paper
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Sorry about the me, me, me
images. I'm my most available
model, and the rest of my work
is top secret!!!) (Soon
to be revealed!!!)

In her later years I was lucky enough to see
Katherine Hepburn ( who died in 2003)
when I was working on a job in downtown
Toronto. She was accompanied by a chauffeur,
but I saw her up close, and I was a fan. I think
of her often because it was purported that she
wore a uniform -- white turtleneck sweater,
jeans for at home casual, camel hair
pants for good, and a navy blue or black blazer,
or coat. Her hair was usually up in a lose bun, and
she looked fantastic.

In recent years I've started wearing a uniform too.
I'm not, and never will be elegant like Hepburn,
I'm too short, and my weight fluctuates like the
weather. But I've found that I look fairly good
in a white shirt, black or navy V-neck sweater,
jeans, or black pants, and occasionally a black,
or navy dress, sometimes even over pants,
and a black or navy blazer. With jewellry,
very simple at the neck, hoop earrings,
and some kind of plain shoe or boot I am
good to go, and don't have to waste my
valuable creative time on dressing.

A young girl I know sat reviewing my options
the other night, and I could tell that she
thought I should be more adventurous now
and then. Hmmmm. We'll see. It is time
to wash my multiple white shirts, and
jeans and the rest, because soon atravelling I will
go. Start singing here, and I'll tell you more
another day.

I am in the thick of marking. Down dressing?
Black track pants, a yellow shirt and a black
cotton V-neck sweater. Yay Katherine.

A frightening early and demanding day
tomorrow. Your fashion for the artist
adviser signing off.

Have a love-that-uniform day.
P.S. Hepburn never had messy hair. Apparently
she was somewhat obsessive about her very
beautiful hair. Note that is not the case here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Winter tire time

Self portrait
black marker on bond paper
81/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Living on winter tire time today has turned out to
be hard. But driving north of Highway 7 in Toronto
the minute the snow falls is deadly. Actually it's
not that great driving in the city without them either.
Snow was forecast north of the city for Monday, so
I made an appointment for 8 o'clock this morning to
get my tires on. This may seem a dull topic to those
of you who never see snow. But I dragged myself
out of bed early on Saturday -- my sleep-in day to
ensure those things were on for a reason.

I just bought the tires last year and if they weren't
tires, I could have hugged them for how they changed
driving for me. Each winter when I venture north of
the city to King City, I risk losing control if those
tires aren't on. I drive clenched and in fear, wishing
I lived down in Texas with my friends there, or over
in Arizona, where they don't contend with our
reality. But I don't.

So we've been tired all day -- winter tired, too early
tired, out for breakfast, out to the market and home
before 10 a.m. tired. And I'm here to say the Saturday
sleep in is creative bliss, but the winter tires help
keep that spirit safe. Thanks to Mike and his staff.

The drawing tonight is a self-portrait done from
a Imac Photo booth shot taken of the self tonight.

Now I need to go and work on my painting. But I had
to give you a little something. It's like the tires,
the drawing keeps our relationship from slipping.

Have a no skid day.

Let's hope they're wrong about the snow. I won't
be embarrassed.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Talking at my art club

At the print shop
Black marker on bond paper
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Another magnificent and long day. I couldn't sleep
last night thinking about what seems to be my growing
list of things to do. Up at the crack of dawn I drove to
school through an amazing landscape gradually
glowing as the sun rose. I didn't get to see
Breakfast Television and my painting of
Tobias was featured! I really hope one of my
friends taped it, because both of us were off to
work and couldn't.

My teacher friends are tired and giddy, and I
think as the term rolls towards the last weeks,
they get funnier every day.

I worked on having postcards made today.
I really like the printer doing the work, and his
co-worker. They are meticulous and very kind.

Then tonight I gave a talk at the Don Valley Art
Club on my spectacular year. Looking out into
the crowd of faces I was so touched that these
people, many who know me pretty well, would
come to listen to me speak about my experiences.
They were a gracious audience, and I thoroughly
enjoyed myself. Then it was home to supper with

Chris at the printing shop allowed me to do this
very quick little sketch while he worked and that's
all there is for tonight.

Have a thinking-about-painting day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving.

This was our Thanksgiving dinner in the
studio. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving
in October at the end of the harvest.
Left to right: Nata, Sam's friend,
Sam (in the red shirt), Steven, me and
Megan, Christopher's fiancée.

Here's the view the other way, with
Christopher at the other end of the
table. It looks like we've just polished
off Steven's out-of-this-world pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American
friends! It has been a wonderful year for me,
and despite the economic challenges, in many
ways a wonderful year for your country. The
election of Obama was huge beyond what
anyone can adequately express, but I am
proud of you for doing that.

I'm also proud of all of you for your wonderful
art. That's been a super delight for me this
year. I give you thanks for that bounty.

Here's to a glad-to-be-grateful day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

But there's more

Friends waiting
acrylic on canvas
36 x 36 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Now it's starting to get a bit crazy, but there's more!
My work is going to appear in a group show at
the Arta Gallery in the Distillery District, at Suite
102, Building 9, 55 Mill Street. The show is called
The Light of Winter, and the opening is on Thursday,
December 10, from 6 - 8 p.m. I can't be at the opening,
but if you're in town, please go to the show and enjoy
it. It runs to December 26.

Tonight's image is one of the paintings you can see in
that show. If you're visiting Toronto, the Distillery
is a must see -- galleries, restaurants and
fabulous theater.

Today was my longest day -- so goodnight.

Have a life-is-filled-with-opportunities day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Exciting events!

Commission portrait stage three
acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

My dear friends. I continue to be dazzled by the
story of this year. Even in my own head, running
it over it sounds fantastic -- the stuff of fairy tales,
but it isn't.

On Friday November 27, my painting of Tobias at the zoo
will make an appearance. City TV's Breakfast Television
But that's not all, the painting of that sweet boy is also
going to visit Real Life CTS TV on Wednesday December 2.

This is a big week. I'm trying to finish up all my
marking, and the commission I'm showing you
today, which is moving forward slowly given my
other commitments. Plus I'm giving a talk about
this superb year at the Don Valley Art Club
in Toronto on Friday night. So...

Time for bed again. It's another eight o'clock morning.
I've made a bit of progress on this commission piece,
and hope to advance quite a bit further tomorrow.
Meanwhile -- do the happy dance for me, and
imagine me doing it big time in my little corner
of the universe.

Have a hey!-life-is-great day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Renaissance women and the "H" word

Portrait head of Lita, clay version
by Marcia Labelle © 2009
(My friend Marcia just started her blog
yesterday. This is the second work
on it. Get ready to be dazzled).

Okay I ended up spending the day on administrative
tasks, and marking, and didn't get far enough with
my painting to show you anything. I apologize. But
just like the bakery that doesn't have one variety
of cookie, I do have something else to show you.

My friend Marcia Labelle has started a blog and her
work is fabulous beyond compare. Marcia is a
wonderful friend, with a superb wit, a great laugh
and she is a Renaissance woman. She trained as
an actor in New York and Britain -- hit the boards
around England, came back to Canada and studied
art, became a world class sculptor and also paints
and draws figures that will make you swoon.

The topic of renaissance women, or people (men
included) for that matter, is one I understand.
My training was both in art and literature. I've
earned a living painting, writing and teaching.
Like many freelancers I understand the multiple
paths choice. Today someone asked me if
art was my hobby. The reason for that was
innocent enough -- the thought line being that
if I teach, how can I be an artist really? How?
My answer was yes I teach, and I'm also an
artist, or you can flip it depending on the day.

Tip for future reference. Any artist worth her/his
salt is allergic to the "h" word. Hobby. Art
for most of us is a passion, an itch in our souls,
a need, a part of each day, a blessing, but it is
not a hobby. It is play, and hobbies are about
play, but hobby is a light word for a deep process.

Marcia volunteered to step into the breech for me
today knowing I'm working very hard right now.
So my image today is of her wonderful sculpture.
Please go to her blog and tell her how glad you
are that she's come out into the blog world.

Have a living-in-the-Renaissance day.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Four minutes to wrap up

Eight self portrait-photos from my trusty Mac.
No painting tonight -- sorry. It's a very
early morning tomorrow.

Tomorrow is an eight o'clock morning, which means
getting up at 5:30 a.m.

I've been painting today, but have nothing I can show
you. Fortunately my Imac does a fake Warhol thing,
so here are 8 images of moi a la Warhol, and I'm over
and out. More tomorrow including real live painting!

Get some sleep so you'll be ready for the excitement.
And I will too!

Have a wow!-I've-had-a-great-sleep day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What matters?

Late day in the Cedarvale Park ravine

After a really delightful Saturday, I come abruptly to the wall
of not having painted...yet. Does that happen to you?
It was a run around day -- but thoroughly pleasant. My
chores were ridiculously fun -- go to the market and
talk to the jam lady about her preserves. (Did I mention
that her Summer Surprise Jam is the kind of jam you
dream about when you haven't eaten all day. A combination
of peaches, apricots and maybe some kind of berry, it
is a thick, rich, deep peach colour and tastes like summer,
like every freshly picked piece of fruit that went into it.)
I bought flowers for a friend who had a baby months ago,
and the flower lady twirled the white freesias and the mystery
flower I can never name, also white around the roses in
the center, then wrapped the whole idyllic bouquet in
blue and white paper.

The lady selling the carrots at the market, was laughing and
singing and popped a radish and a beet into my cloth
shopping bag with the carrots, for my heart and spirit. I
loved her. In a whirl of 15 minutes or so at closing time
my friend and I bought as much as we could while still
enjoying conversations with the sellers, and walked out
brimming with a contagious cheerfulness.

Then I headed out to buy wine for a friend who did me
a major favour, and dropped that off only to be invited
in with Steven to sample the gift, and talk about Italy and art.

Does it matter that the painting hasn't been touched, that
the essays I should read are piled beside my bed, that
my emails go unanswered? Tomorrow it will.

Feasting on squash soup from a market lady and home
made crackers with Steven at lunch, and adding some
market chutney to my dish as Steven and I ate a late
dinner, of Pacific salmon, rice and salad, I concluded
that that was what mattered -- that lovely moment in
the kitchen with the candles, and roses, the cat getting
his claw stuck in Steven's sweater as he begged for
salmon, the dog's head on my lap, and staring, imploring
me for salmon. The sheer bliss of a quiet meal together.
All five of us (The two of us, two cats and the dog.)

As for what to show you. I hope I come up with something.

Have a knowing-what-matters day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gratitude Lists

Stage Two of the Portrait of Two Brothers
Refining the older brother's face
Blocking in the dark blue of
his sweatshirt.
acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Maybe it was just a tiny bit more sleep (like
15 minutes), the slightly later start time
(55 minutes), but I've been in a buoyant
mood all day. At school the students did
fine presentations, and were eager to
show me completed work. The teachers
and administration staff were funny. It
was a great morning.

When I left school a low, grey, scudding sky
was pierced with one lone ray of light, like
a ladder of brilliance reaching down to light
up my little corner of the planet. My head
was filled with the humorous thoughts my
friends discussed before I left and I had a
goofy smile on my face as I drove home
listening to CBC Radio (you can listen to it too
if you're interested).

I thought to myself I'm glad I'm a painter. I
love my life, I'm glad I teach where I teach
with the people I enjoy. I felt brimming with
happiness and excitement about the weeks
and months to come.

So why don't you try it out too? As corny as
it sounds my 10 reasons to be happy lists
can lighten what may seem to be an impossibly
heavy load.

10 Reasons to be Happy

1. I had clean blue jeans today
2. The coffee at Tim Horton's at school was
good. Thanks to Carmen for picking one
up for me.
3. I started my commission, and I know it
will go well.
4. It's Steven's night to make dinner and I
hear him downstairs cooking to As It
(An excellent radio show on CBC
5. A student told me that she's doing everything
I've taught her in class and it's working. She feels
better and is doing well in school!
6. It's Friday night, and I can watch some
of the third season of 30 Rock after I work on
my painting.
7. My children are well and thriving.
8. I have time to read my blog friends' blogs
from all over the world.
9. I'll have time to read some of my novel.
10. Oprah is starting her own network called
OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) and I
say go Oprah! Wow. A whole network
devoted to the type of television I admire.

Have a being-thankful-for-your-life day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blocking in a commission

First stage portrait commission
drawing the shapes and
blocking them in in colour
acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Here is the first stage in a commission
portrait. Well of course not the first stage,
because it's a photo portrait, so I have to
pick the image that says the most to me, blow it
up as an 8 x 10 " xerox, stare at it for hours,
then draw a fairly thorough rough drawing
onto my canvas. I wouldn't usually include
lettering on clothing, but I like how the
lettering says Mom Happy Trails, which
seems a cheery message. At the moment the
painting is mostly at the underpainting stage.

I like the pose of the brothers. My challenge
right now is just to keep the happiness I see
emerging, and my feeling of excitement about
the work. I love how the little brother is nestled
against his older brother. They are beautiful boys, and
I'm excited about the project, the pose, and
the expression.

Note: It looks like there's a typo on the shirt in
Trails -- I'll have to double check the spelling
on the reference. Too funny. I laughed this
morning looking at it. And no I didn't have
anything to drink except coffee.

More to follow.

Have a loving-your-work day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Woah there life!

Pansies in a teacup
sketch painting
acrylic on canvas with marker
6 x 6 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Okay -- now when I left the house this morning it
was dark, a slow streak of light amplified as I
drove to work, and I felt joyous, even though
I hadn't had anywhere near enough sleep.

Steven and I have big lists in the kitchen now
of all we have to accomplish in the next couple
of weeks, and that calmed me down. I headed
home from work tonight with identical
lighting. A thin streak of brilliant yellow and
pink lit the dark silhouettes of pines, and geese
practiced flying in low Vs. Breathtaking. Then the
light left the horizon and a steady stream of
car lights formed low stars on the road.

The upshot of this has been no attention to the
paintings I must do. So here is a little pansy
painting from a few years ago, that I tried to
beef up tonight, without much success. I used
to draw the flowers on with marker, and I'm
no longer enamoured of that technique. I added
some darks, changed the background colours,
and I think we'll call it a little sketch. It is
little. And for today....that's all folks.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments on folding.
To my own university boy I send great courage
out into the night. Hang in my son, you are
a wonderful actor. To all the other students
around the world studying like crazy and trying
to please professors, please get some sleep.

Have a getting-enough-sleep-to-be-happy day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Quick sketch of author Tillie Olsen
charcoal on bond paper
(Check out the movie on Tillie Olsen.
You can also look it up on You Tube.
My sketch does not do her justice -- her
face, like her writing was magnificent.)
Barbara Muir © 2009

One of the benefits, and there are so many of this
blogging community. (I know. Where am I at?
One minute I'm decrying the technological world,
and the next happily in it up to my neck. Ah well).
As I was saying, a great plus of this world is that
it keeps us going. The simple fact of knowing that
some people are out there waiting to see what you've
done today makes you want to do something today.

I thought of the word folding on the way to school
today. There have been a number of times in my
life when I wanted to, or even did shut down for
a while. I was grievously ill in 2001, and the most
I could do for the several months I ran a high
fever and couldn't eat, was slink downstairs to
watch TV and cooking shows. Oh and I did do
writing, even professional writing. But I dictated
to my husband from my sick bed, while he sat
at the computer.

But that's not the kind of shut down, or folding
I'm talking about, I'm talking about packing in
a dream, and just quitting. I don't know why most
of the people I know who stop following a dream,
and just maintain themselves and their families are
women, but it seems to be true. Families,
especially those with young children, are so demanding,
that some of the best women artists I know
gave in to the pull of that huge responsibility,
and didn't resume. Ever.

I was thinking about folding today, because
I wanted to tell my students that if they feel
like folding (it's the end of the semester),
curling up in a ball and giving up because
one mark, or more isn't good enough, to
resist the urge.

With painters, and artists, it's the odd
misunderstanding, an overheard remark,
a show that doesn't work. I can see my
friend Jennifer and me at our first
show, held on a weekend at her house,
and our massive surprise and disappointment
that everything in that show didn't sell. Now
it seems funny, but what if the compulsion to
paint had been just a tiny bit weaker, and we
had stopped. Thank goodness we didn't.
Today many, many shows down the line, the
image of the two of us sitting flabbergasted
in her living room, unsure what was wrong
seems almost comical, but at that point we
were quite depressed.

When I had just finished university I went to
hear the writer Tillie Olsen talk about how
people give up. Her book Silences talks
about all the creative talented people (mostly women)
who never had the money, support or time
to produce their work. Successful artists
almost always had a mate in the background,
or "muse". The muse made cups of tea, made
lunch, put the children to bed, so that the
great one could work in peace. Through the
ages those muses were usually women. Today
I think many creative men also shut down because
they either decide to be the at-home parent, or
need a larger income than art may provide to
keep the family going.

The blog world, with its kind observation and
support acts as a bulwark against the
hundreds of small and large incidents in any
artists life, that could pull them away from their

I for one am continually grateful for that.

Have an unfolding-and-getting-on-with-it day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting out into the day

The best hat
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I taught early this morning, then stayed to talk
to students. Back into the car, and running
errands I was keenly aware that days this
beautiful, and warm cannot last much longer.
My friend Suzanne accompanied me on a short
walk with the dog through our local park.
I was snapping photos for reference and
oohing and ahhing at every twig, and bird.

On our way out of the park, happy as can be
we saw this lady walking towards us wearing the
most beautiful hat. I asked if I could take her
picture, she agreed, and here is the result.
It isn't a faithful portrait, but it does her hat
justice. She said an artist made her hat 19
years ago, and that I liked it because I am
an artist. I think she's right! Wherever she
goes she will brighten the mostly muted,
subtle landscape with her lovely hat and her
great manner and smile. Thanks very much
for posing for me.

Have a blessed-by-the-kindness-of-former-strangers day.

*Note: I cannot imagine keeping such a delicate
hat in excellent condition for 19 years. A double
shout out to this great lady.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The long road to early

Early Mandarins in a glass bowl
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Eight o'clock is an early hour for a class,
and tomorrow I must be there. I've been
marking papers for most of the day
conscious that they must go in tomorrow,
and I'm up so hellishly early. The odd
thing is that yanked out of bed by the alarm
before daylight, gulping down coffee and
breakfast and hurrying to get ready,
I quite enjoy the morning, and being
up before even this giant city gets

So I need to go to bed, and tonight's
painting of the first mandarin oranges
of the season may not be completely
finished. I'll give it a serious look
tomorrow before starting a new
commission. Our mandarins
look like small orange golf balls,
and so far don't taste much better.
But they're pretty. Edward B. Gordon
painted opulent Clementines with
glorious green leaves a few weeks
ago. These are their seriously less
lush sisters. I've got them in bowls
all over the house, because their colour
is rich and beautiful, even if they are
a bit dry, and not fully ready for eating.

Have an enjoying-the-fruits-of-life day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Intensity and dreams

Girl writing
Notebook sketch
black marker on lined bond
Barbara Muir © 2009
(This drawing seems appropriate
to today's main task -- marking test papers)

The weather today was unseasonably warm,
maybe that's why I dreamt last night about the
cottage I visited as a child. A painting by Julie Davis
made me think of it. Her painting showed a building with
a large, open to the air, roofed section.

When I was a little girl my parents rented a cottage
every summer from my uncle. It was on a crystal
clear lake and nestled into a wood with a clearing
in the pines and a set of wooden stairs down to the
dock and the lake. The days we spent there were
the best days of my childhood. Part of the reason
was that the old cottage, built at the turn of the
last century (very old as cottages in Canada go)
had a large living room with a huge stone fireplace,
a breezeway dining room, and a dining table built
from birch logs, with the white bark in tact.

The table was covered with a yellow, checkered
oil cloth tablecloth, and my mother served
mouth watering meals at that table. Plus our
cousins and aunt and uncle would visit and a
lovely air of fun and happiness descended on
our lives in those few brief weeks.

Last night I dreamt of one of those meals. My
mother cheerfully serving platters of fresh farmer's
corn, and huge sliced beefsteak tomatoes. Everyone laughing
as night revealed the glorious stars in the sky.

Then this morning I went to the market. I pondered
about why more people don't shop at markets,
and I think it's the intensity. In a world dominated
by text messages, and non-stop business, maybe
supermarkets and box stores feel safer.

A flower stall at the Byward Market in Ottawa
taken last summer

At the market everyone cares passionately about
their produce. The sandwich man is disturbed that
you won't let him heat the panini for you properly.
People smile at you and discuss what's in their offerings
of jam, and bread. You can't skim through, you have
to get involved. I bought blue potatoes, and leeks
thinking of soup maybe. I bought apples and summer
jam (peaches, plums, berries). I even learned about
how to cook my leeks (a vegetable I rarely buy).

How do these dreams and intensity themes intertwine?
In my childhood my happiest moments were set
in the bounty of nature. My brother and I collected
acorns and pine cones as though they were important
treasure. And they were. I feel a little sorry for our
generation with the cell phones glued to our ears,
and our distance from the people who make our food.
I like the man who worried about how I'd heat my
sandwich. He reminded me of my mother, and the
happy glow on her face as she'd set a steaming plate
of fresh corn on the table, explaining why it tasted
so wonderful.

Have a happiness-is-making-memories day.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday thoughts

City night pansies
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Tonight Steven and I sat down and watched almost
one third of season 3 of Thirty Rock. I bought the
series as a little birthday present to myself. And
I do just love it. It was another long but rewarding
day. And now I'm going to sleep and trying not
to think about my minute by minute plans for the

I painted another little pansy painting tonight,
because as the temperatures drop, and there's
frost on the rooftops each morning, I think my
chances to paint living plants are going to become
rare indeed. This is of course when I buy my amaryllis
plants for the house, and soon we'll start forcing tulips,
but right now these babies deserve center stage.

Have a giving-the-big-momma-(nature)-her-due day.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brrrave flowers

Night Pansies # 2
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
My poor little ice pansies. I haven't even planted
them, so they're still in the flat. I seem to be busy
enough that late gardening has certainly not been
my thing. I even forgot to water them to the point
that they looked absolutely dead. Then feeling
guilty I splashed some water on them a day ago
as I ran out of the house to go to school.

Those beauties have revived and tonight in the
freezing cold I noticed a few more blooms. I
brought them in, and here is the result. I start
another big one, and a couple of smaller commissions
tomorrow. So here is a little tribute to all of
the resilient artists out there, who keep bouncing
back with beauty no matter what life throws at them.
Take a look at Nicki Ault's beautiful paintings, and
see what she's just lived through. She deserves
our praise and support.

By the way we went out to get a little bottle of
Veuve Cliquot to celebrate the TV show, and that
one of my commissions went home today, and then
we were working so hard, we forgot to have that toast!
Funny. Something to look forward to at the end of
another long day tomorrow.

Have a being-the-beauty-in-the-world day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Behind the scenes

My friend Eldon Warren frequently demonstrates the process
he goes through to get to the final result with a painting.
For my painting of Tobias, (see yesterday's entry), I
went through a series of decisions to get to the final

One of the reference photos of Tobias featured a cute,
little boy dressed in neat party clothes, holding a soccer
ball. I did a sketch of this image one evening and
realized that the picture would be too static to turn
into an interesting painting. It was a cute picture,
but cute wasn't going to cut it.

First sketch of Tobias
(Too standard to stand out)
charcoal on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I did a quick sketch of another reference shot, the
one I ultimately based the picture on, and instantly
realized that it had potential. I sent off my first
sketches, and the initial sketch on the canvas
size we had determined, and the assistant producer,
agreed with me that the moving image would be more

Trying on the new layout
(You can just see the tiger almost
level with the boy's left ear)
marker on notepaper
5 x 7 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

First drawing on the orange
ground coat on the canvas.

A tiger slept in the background of the photo I picked, but it
was at an awkward angle and wasn't dramatic enough to
add some zip to the painting. I was thinking of putting
zoo animals into the painting, so I took a bunch of children's
books on animals out of my local library. But thinking about
this idea, I realized I couldn't really mix lions and tigers
and giraffes in one image, because they wouldn't be together
at the zoo. One photo of a tiger and her cubs grabbed me,
but it was the wrong way around. I photographed the
photo, flipped it, and used it as a reference for my
clearly visible tiger and cubs.

Close up of the tiger and her cubs.
The grid, was my ultimate
solution to the problem of a fence.
Anything more would have obscured the
strength of the vegetation and the
tiger and her cubs.

I started fleshing in the painting, but not too much so I
could work on it during the taping of the show.

The painting begins, still wet
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2009

After the initial taping, I kept working on the painting, and
the camera man came back to film me as I worked on the
painting. Then I finished it up so it could be in the room
on time for the reveal. So these are some of the decisions I
made in the process of getting to the final work. For the completed
work see last night's blog.

Have an as-long-as-it's-fun-I'm-working-on-it day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Painting for Pure Design

Tobias at the zoo
acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I woke up this morning realizing that I can finally tell you
about the experience of being on Pure Design. As
I write this I haven't seen the show yet, but will
add something after I have. But I want you to know
it was so much fun. The crew ( I think there were
nine people altogether), were so wonderful to work
with -- helpful, supportive and funny. I felt relaxed,
confident and enjoyed myself because they made
what is really a complicated process seem so easy and

When I learned about the project -- painting Tobias for his
parents, Carm and Jason, Wow! Was I excited!
Samantha Pynn, the designer, had chosen me to be
the artist featured in the segment of the show I'm on.
The photos of Tobias showed a beautiful
little boy of about two. On the show I discuss why
I chose the action shot, over the static standing
posed one.

Painting in front of the crew was a bit daunting,
I'd never done that before. But the painting happened
so effortlessly. As soon as I'd decided how to place
Tobias, and that I wanted to create a tiger in the
background, like the one in the reference photo
I was working from, only much more visible --
it was a total delight to work on.
The one worry I had was the suggestion of a fence to keep the
tiger and her cubs from harming Tobias. In the photo
the fence is a fairly tight grid, but I didn't want to cover the
abstract leaves, so I created a very light grid as a
symbolic fence.

I've talked to Carm and she says that she and
Jason love the painting. That made me very happy.
Update: I watched the show and Carm, Tobias's Mom,
cried when she saw the portrait, she was so moved.
That made me happy, and when they brought
little Tobias in to look at the painting I almost
cried, the real, live boy looked so sweet in his father's arms.
The Pure Design team working with Samantha's
super design ideas transformed the rooms into
a fabulous space.

My image of the painting here tonight isn't entirely
accurate because the grid is completely straight,
in the real painting. I hope you watched the show,
but if not, you may be able to see it on line at HGTV
Canada after today.

Thanks to everyone at HGTV -- it was just the best
project. And thanks to all of you for keeping me
joyous when life is busy.

Have a-painting-is-easy day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Finishing touches

At the dance in the moonlight
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(I'll have to photograph this outside
tomorrow, weather permitting. It's
so big that it curves on the edges in the
photograph, and
I'm having trouble getting the whole
image in the photo.)

This large painting imagined, dreamed, discussed, dreamed,
worked on, worked on and inhabiting my brain for a
few months now is ready to go home. I have put my all
into it. Despite all the labour it has the fresh, happy look
I strive for in my work. And here they are, the couple
in love, out for a date on a gorgeous moonlit night.

I am grateful as always for the commission and the
wonderful lessons learned. It is exciting beyond
measure to pull large people out of tiny blurry
pictures and to express their clear, and abiding
affection for one another in paint. I am happy.
Tomorrow I will double check the horizon line,
and then this bird will fly away from me.

Three of my crated, large works are flying to
Europe this week too. It's quite the exciting week.
Months of work in preparation for their flight,
months of work culminating in this love-filled
portrait, and tomorrow (Tuesday) another
painting of mine featured on the HGTV show
Pure Design at 9 p.m. eastern.

Have a try-to-get-some- sleep-when-your-life-is-great day

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Non stop birthdays --Don't forget Pure Design HGTV this Tuesday at 9 p.m.

Fast portrait of Diana Gabaldon
black marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

This weekend we drove to Windsor, Ontario yesterday to
celebrate my son Sam's birthday. After a super dinner,
and some gifts, we went back to our hotel, and woke
up this morning to Steven's birthday. I even had a piece
of cake delivered with his breakfast.

Today we left Sam, sad to say goodbye, and drove home
listening to a wonderful Diana Gabaldon book, A
Breath of Snow and Ashes. The book was so good we
didn't want to get out of the car when we got home, and
we'd driven for five hours.

Tonight's drawing is a very quick sketch of the author,
Diana Gabaldon. Her books are a pleasure, especially to
listen to.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tenacious joy

Sam posing for one of my Before the dance
series paintings a few years ago.

Today's my son Sam's birthday. He is certainly
a sweet young man. Yesterday I was worried
that I wouldn't be able to celebrate with him,
because I felt quite horrible. He says I can
apologize for the drawing yesterday by saying
I didn't feel well. Well that was true, and I'm
fine today.

Sam dressed up as a punk rocker for
Halloween (my birthday) a couple of
years ago.

Our family has a run of birthdays starting with
mine at the end of October, and then my Mother,
Sam and Steven. So I'm off to finish off the present
buying, and I know I won't get to paint today.
That does make me sad, but thoughts of my
youngest, and what a great boy he's been for his
whole life make me very happy. Happy, Happy Birthday

Sam waiting impatiently to be photographed
before this girlfriend's prom last spring.
This guy loves to dance and is a fabulous dancer.

Oh by the way, tenacious joy was LeSan's expression, and I think it
describes the way we feel today. Our family is exceptionally
good at being joyful, even when times are hard, or people are
tired, or there's too much work to do. Happiness is our forte.
Today all of that joy is aimed at Sammy, the birthday guy.

Have a celebrating-is-the-best day

Friday, November 6, 2009

Blame the coffee

The lessons continue
black marker on bond paper
8 1.2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Sometimes at the place I buy coffee, the women, who are
my friends, write messages on the lid. Today it was TGIF
(Thank God It's Friday). And I took that to heart.
I was so tired that I went home and crawled into bed. No energy.

I thought I'd better draw something, because I was
not up for painting. It's been a busy week. So I found
an old photo that my father took of my brother and me
when we were children. My father rarely spent time
with us, because rearing children was a mother's
job. But if my mother stepped out to a school meeting
he'd set up warm family scenarios, and my brother and
I would act them out. Here we are after school. I am
wearing my beloved gymsuit. At school I'd pull a
skirt and sweater over it, but in class it would look like
this, and my brother was in his standard plaid shirt
and corduroy pants.

The flowers behind us? The couch patterned in a
rather intense floral pattern. My brother and I really
did get along. Looking at the photo, I understood how
I made the leap from artist/writer to teacher. I was
always trying to form little classes of neighbourhood
kids when I was a girl. Very few people were interested
(imagine that). But my brother was a willing victim.
Which is probably why he's so smart today. Kidding.
In the picture I'm holding a magnifying glass and I
think I was probably lecturing him cheerfully on how
it worked.

Have a lets-get-some-rest day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Night of the Ice Pansies

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

A few years ago clever horticulturists came up with a variety of
Pansy that can withstand frost. The flowers are called Ice pansies,
and they can live with snow on their bright green leaves.
Eventually our Ontario winter will defeat them, but
they hang in long after the rest of the garden has been
seeded into memory.

Last week I bought a flat of these beauties, because the
fall Mums, (a flower I only use as outdoor decoration in
extremis, because I don't like them very much) had died.
Tonight is so cold, that I remembered where my scarf was
and was hunting around for my winter hat! But out on the
front porch when we came back from walking the dog,
I noticed that the flat of pansies, waiting for planting had
quite a few vigorous little blooms.

Wow! I brought them in and painted this little ode
to bravery and beauty that just won't quit.

It's my mother's birthday on November 6 -- and she's
a bit like the pansies. A vigorously beautiful woman
in all types of weather. Happy Birthday Mommy.

Have a staying-good-looking-in-all-weather day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rushing off to school

Nina's trees
acrylic on canvas
8 x8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
Hi Everyone,

I could not get on the internet yesterday, and phoned a kind friend
in Vancouver, right on the other side of the country for help. Thanks
Peter for being so great -- and Sarah for helping him out. Here's
the little painting I would have posted last night. It's another fall
scene based on my neighbour's front garden up the street. The
leaves are going to be all gone soon, and I have reveled in their

Have a being-grateful-for-the-internet day.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sorry Folks

The internet is down in Toronto. I will post as soon as I can get on line. Thank you, and see you soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The tradition of abstraction

Late night Skype chat
black marker on bond
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Yesterday -- which seems a thousand years ago
at this time of night, I popped into our large and
beautiful Art Gallery of Ontario. We didn't venture
far, and spent time in a gallery devoted mostly to
the Flemish painters realists today try to emulate.

Up close and personal as I was scouring the paintings
with my eyes, I noticed something interesting. The hands
-- which from afar looked so true and vividly alive,
were dashed on with fast, loose, almost -- no -- yes --
abstract lines. On closer inspection, the lace collar on
the 16th century portrait was drawn in with quick,
sketch-like lines. The mouths were imperfect, I wondered what
was going on. And it hit me.

Art. These were the revered artists of the day, and
are still adored now, and they played with their paint,
had fun, slapped it on, made mistakes and it was
about the paint, not about perfection.

black marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

My drawings tonight are Skype drawings of my son,
Christopher a reluctant model. As soon as he realized
I was drawing him, he withdrew into his hoodie.
Et voila.

Have an-understanding-that-what-you-do-now-matters day.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Racing against the clock

Yellow backyard leaves
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Hi everyone,

I have to just write and run tonight because tomorrow
school starts again, and it's a frighteningly early
morning. Thank God for the time change, and the
new jacket my sister gave me -- because the two
I alternate are wearing mighty thin.

We visited the Art Gallery of Ontario today as
a birthday treat for me, and I have never felt like
this before. Each painting we looked at seemed
to be telling me to get on home and paint. I always
stare at paintings earnestly, but today I could
have spent an hour in front of each one. Instead
I was too antsy.

The day outside was glorious. The last of the golden
leaves were lit like candles by the sun, and I knew
that those leaves were blowing off at a terrific rate.
The realization made me impatient. So we zipped into
the AGO store, which has amazing glassware and
inlaid wooden boxes from Egypt, and then hurried
home to supper, a short walk with the dog, and I
painted a very fast little scene mostly from memory.

The painting I worked on today is a quick sketch
of my impression of the yard with the lovely carpet
of yellow leaves. For about a week we've had brilliant
yellow both under our feet on the ground, and all
around us, and over us in the trees. We should declare
the whole month of October a holiday, but we can't.
Life goes on.

Have a this-year-I'm-going-to-love-November 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!