Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just chilling

Fiona the cat
Teaching a private lesson on
relaxation in the laundry room
Last week when I went to buy lottery tickets, the total the
for the latest draw was 49 million (Canadian -- so if you're
somewhere else it may not seem like a lot). I was buying
tickets for a draw of 4 million, which I would be entirely
pleased with if I won. People in the line started talking
about the 49 million one, and a 20 something fellow
behind me said, "Yeah I won that!" "Really," I asked,
so how are you using the money?" "Just chilling," he
said, and we both laughed.

"Just chilling," is not something city people are good
at all the time. It would probably take about 49 million
dollars to be comfortable enough as a city dweller with
a massive mortgage and kids to put through university,
to be able to "chill."

I asked the man why he was standing in line to buy
another ticket, and he said, "Well I have to help
my friends, don't I!" One of the things I love about
Toronto is the ready sense of humour I encounter
everywhere. In fact you can't paint a stereotype, but
I'd go so far as to say we're a funny culture. It isn't
the best country for the serious and dour. We like
to laugh, and we export our comedians on a regular
basis. Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Samantha Bee
have all made names for themselves in the US and
there are dozens more.

So until my lottery win arrives I'm planning on
taking a summer course in "just chilling."
Now that would be Canadian. You can't just
"do" something, you have to "study" it. So
I'll sign up for a "chilling immersion" course,
and maybe by the end of the summer,
I'll know more about relaxing, than just,
"make tea, take the tea to your bedroom,
lie down, read your book, drift off to sleep
if you want to."

Have a knowing-exactly-how-to-chill day.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Catherine Scott
acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Frequently I've heard debates about whether nostalgia has a
place in art. In my experience, it plays a big role in portrait
painting. People who think about the possible longevity of
their painting want to know that some favorite object or
piece of jewelry is in the painting, so that at least for the
moment they will be "known." When I was taking English
Literature we studied the iconography of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries. Renaissance paintings were thick with symbols
that were associated with religious belief, purity, evil,
saintliness. But paintings of people today are not that

Detail from the portrait of
Catherine Scott showing her favorite earrings

Not being a high realist, I worry a bit when people want
a tiny ring, or thin bracelet depicted accurately. In my
style of work that ring might just be a flash of light -- from
any distance at all -- say the distance from me at my easel
to you sitting for me -- the details of that meaningful
object might be blurred -- lost. But that isn't even the point.
The point is that the sitter knows her mother's ring,
his father's watch, the tie a boy was given to wear when
he graduated is there, however loosely depicted.

Detail from the portrait of Catherine Scott
showing a favoite bracelet and her
mother's ring

I have included my animals in paintings whenever
possible. This gives my heart a lurch when the animal
dies -- but you know what -- it's a joyous thing too --
because there is that personality captured in gesture
and love, in a way a photo in it's perfect, accurate
detail can't convey.

Have an enjoying-the-benefits-of-nostalgia day.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Your high point

A man IV
black marker on watercolour paper
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(another drawing of a man,
done for fun. Loved the
background and the lines.
Do I use a ruler? For some lines yes.
Do I like to? Yes ....sometimes using
one is delightful.)

If someone asked you, "What was the high point of your
life?" What would you say? I would stand almost
speechless with the wheels of my brain turning, and
a vivid, rapid slide show of high points flickering
through my brain, and probably be unable
to choose. The birth of my children? Yes. But talking
to them today, having a bit of celebratory champagne
and joking around today -- high points. My wedding
day? Yes -- I was the happiest of brides, but hearing the
dog start to bark because my husband was home after a
long day of work today -- a high point.

What is a high point? I think for artists, and I know
I've said this many times, the moment is probably
the high point. Maybe not if we're waiting in a long
line at a bank, or airport -- but even then, there
are people to watch and talk to, people to be kind
to, babies smiling, people you can let in ahead of
you and make yourself feel good.

Seeing my brother's face today on Skype and drawing
him was a high point. He can say so much in an ironic
smile. I tried to capture a similar smile in my drawing
tonight of "the man". My youngest says I keep drawing
this "man" this week because a certain TV show is in

I'm afraid tonight's drawing was done under the influence
of a glass of bubbly, shared with friends and family. That
didn't produce excellent art -- but it did produce -- you
guessed it -- a high point.

Have a day-filled-with-high-points.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

One kindness at a time

Drawing of a man III
marker on watercolour paper
8 x 10
Barbara Muir © 2009

(I admit I did this drawing
for my own amusement, because
I never draw people mid-gesture,
mid facial expression. I wanted to
see how it would look. Not perfect --
as soon as you photograph something
you see what should change, but still
funny. Why am I drawing men? Because
I paint so many women, I wanted you
to know I can also draw men. Okay --
maybe that's just one of the reasons.)

Seriously -- everybody has bad days. But what I
want to learn, is how to stay kind and thoughtful all
the time. I don't mean that I want to be a saint --
I'm firmly stuck in the human form, but I want
to notice as much as possible whether or not I'm
being kind, and to choose kindness in as many
as possible of my interactions. There's the goal.
Sometimes I slip up because of poor communication --
mine, sometimes I'm over the edge in fatigue.
Now how do you stay kind, when someone is being unkind
about someone you love? I posit this challenge to
my own theory to see whether or not I can dance
on the head of a pin. I would automatically
jump to the defense of my friends -- but what
about taking that position with people who are
friends badmouthing people you love? I think
kindness dictates some attempt at understanding,
and then perhaps an "I love you, and I love X
too, so I'm not the person to discuss this with."

Would that method hold up in art circles? I
think so. Here our tastes are so varied, that
we can't go cold because one of us likes realism,
and another prefers the glory of abstraction.
It isn't personal. It's taste. That means I
can love Larry Rivers -- not want to be him --
and you can go for Warhol. We're cool.
I like Lucian Freud, and Mary Cassatt. If I'd
known Mary, would she have liked Lucian -- no
way to tell at this point.

All right. I've answered some of my own
theoretical conundrums. As One of my favorite comedians
would say," Boy I love me." Isn't that kindness
too? Loving me. We teach our students to love
themselves, so they will be able to love others.
So now -- go ahead give yourself a big old artist

Have a giving-yourself-a-big-old-artist-hug day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

World view

Mother and daughter
(More blocking it in)
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(The mother and daughter
I'm painting exemplify the positive
world view I seek. Both
of them allow each other
to be themselves. I think
that's part of a positive world view.)

I don't know when it hit me that I really care about people's
world view. It might have been an expression my sister
used to describe how an author thinks, but it stuck. I
got an email newsletter from Susan Jeffers about
Finding Peace of Mind In The Land of Tears, and I
can't wait to read the whole thing. My world view is
solidly positive, and so is Susan Jeffers, which is one
of the many reasons I enjoy her work. Knowing that
I can read about how she deals with sorrow. But authors
who revel in the horror of the world, or the worst
side of human nature don't attract me.

When it comes to art I have a similar world view. I
enjoy trying to make a joyous account of a life. In
art, that's been my mission since I started painting
long ago. This was not a popular world view in the
art world when I was a teenager, and I eventually
felt wearied by descriptions of positive art as "facile", "pretty"
or "derivative." The determination to maintain a
positive world view sometimes takes
some teeth gritting -- life throws us all pain at
least as tough as the pain of labour. But each day,
no matter how hard can have rewards if you look
for them. Today it was raining heavily off and on.
From inside, the world looked bleak, but out
running through the rain to get to the car for
a dozen errands the world was vibrantly coloured,
the richest, lushest full summer greens, glistening
next to Japanese Maple reds, and flowers taking
the weight of the water in and flourishing.

There is a lot to worry about in the world: sorrow,
disease and war. And when we concentrate
on what's working, and what's good we aren't ignoring
those facts, or abandoning our family and friends
living in hard circumstances. We give ourselves
the space to be courageous, create beauty, summon
kindness and treat each person we meet with proper

That is my world view.

Tonight I'm showing you an earlier stage in a portrait
I'm working on. At this point it's all underpainting.

Have a living-a-positive-world-view day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Heart messages

Drawing of a man II
charcoal on drawing paper
9 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

How many times have you been told to follow your heart,
not your head? Apparently as artists sitting squarely in the
right brain, we "sense" the reality around us, in a more
profound, less logical way, than people who are more
left brain, or able to call on both hemispheres at once.
I am thinking about the woman -- Jill Bolte Taylor,
who you can watch on TED TV talk about her experience
of having a stroke. She noticed that her left, logical brain
shut down rather quickly after her stroke, and that her
right brain was both fascinating and spacey.

Put me there. Fascinating and spacey, and trying with
all my might to summon logic. And I have not had a stroke.
Does this mean that if we operate more from the heart,
laugh and cry more easily, we are doomed to illogic?
Hold on a minute. Here's the twist. The writer part of me,
(here we go again into splits and conflicts) is apparently left brain,
from all reports. So perhaps that's why I can talk to my
subjects when I'm painting them. Make that, that's why
I love to talk to my sitters when I'm painting them.

But in my mental travels today I remembered Lindsay,
a Biology Prof at school telling me about a book
Female Brain, and today watched a You Tube video
of the author, Louann Brizendine, who according to
Lindsay, (no offense here please guys) says that
women have a larger corpus collosum
connecting the two hemispheres of the brain, although
(naturally) there seems to be some debate about this.
So perhaps even when we are mostly right brained,
women have an easier time pulling in the left. I'm
distinctly hoping this is true. Need it. Order, logic -- all
of those qualities I admire so much in my more
left brained friends.

I've been working today on a big commission and
doing critical research, (not this brain stuff -- don't
worry), but instead I think I'll show you another
drawing of a man. This time I've used charcoal.
It was a quick study.

Have an-enjoying-both-sides-of-your-brain day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Living a full life

Drawing of a man
8 x 10 inches
black marker on watercolour paper
Barbara Muir © 2009
(not finished)
Sometimes I think I'm a split personality. I'm not -- but
there's part of me who's a sleeper. This me lives in a
temperate climate year round -- maybe Bermuda, no,
maybe England, and pretty much reads novels, drinks coffee,
and tea, eats my good friend Paula McIver in Nova
Scotia's blueberry and strawberry scones, (flown in for
that purpose every time Paula makes a batch) and when push
comes to shove walks her dog along a sandy beach, and
then feeling virtuous (because of the exercise) goes
back to her book.

The other me -- who seems to be the "real" me, except
when I'm sleeping, and even then, is always on the run.
On the run and trying to catch up. She is a list maker,
with a list that keeps growing, like something in a well
done animated movie, growing, and growing, and ...
well you get the point. She has so many days in a row
of that rushed feeling, that she really needs that other
laid back me to come in and save her from time to time.
Just not now. It's like that sad feeling you get when you're
raising little children, and working too much. They
come to the door, and pop their adorable, longing
faces in, and you have to say "later sweetie,
I just have to get this one thing done." The other
me is that sweet kid. And I am telling her later.
Tonight we ate dinner on the back porch, a little
chilly, but lovely salmon, rice and salad. For
that brief half hour, I was both mes. Two for one.

Don't call a shrink. You don't fool me for a minute.
You know exactly what I'm talking about and then

I worked on a large commission today, but the photo
just plain did not work, and then I kept working.
So I thought I'd show you a drawing I did today,
also not finished, but I think I'll do another one.

Have a-letting-the-little-kid-in-for-a-minute day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Late night...full day

Pansies in a hotel ware cream jug
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

This was Sunday as it should be -- glorious outside with a high
blue sky -- the backyard maples totally blocking off the view of
the houses beyond, swallows and small yellow birds swooping.

We had every meal staring at the world as we sat on our shady
back porch. We let the yowling Siamese, Fiona have a walk
in the backyard, and allowed Timbah to sit on our knees and
smell the air -- fragrant with mown grass and lilac -- oh delicious

Fiona in the forget-me-nots

I did another little Pansie painting. The pansies on Steven's
bedside table are in a straight up and downish, old hotel
cream jug. Much more masculine and constrained, which
is a funny way to describe pansies, rich, feminine flowers
that they are... but the container just is more guy.

Have a miraculous-Monday-day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Don't be scared

Pansies in a cream jug
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I've been thinking today about why artists don't paint.
Myself included. I've been painting in every available
interval today -- just painting and painting. I may be
fuzzy in a million other directions, but I felt that
delicious clarity about painting. I've been
working on my commission and a couple of other
smaller works.

Today I got out into the garden for a while. I thought
my friend, Laurel Daniel in Texas would take
that sea of blue Forget-me-nots and translate them
into an amazing painting. But I have to rip them out
before anything else can be planted. On the front
steps we have pansies, which were nearly dead from
frost when I bought them a couple of weeks ago. Now
with water and a bit of tender loving care, they are
gorgeous, especially the two purple blue pots, of
giant deep yellow pansies on the red chair beside the

I brought some of the purple, white and mauve flowers
in for bouquets for our bedside tables
and began a small painting. It could be that that's
what warm weather gives us -- that clarity. Sitting on the back
porch eating dinner tonight we saw a sight we've
never seen in the city -- a humming bird attending
to every floret on my neighbour's pale mauve lilac
bush. Steven and Sam and I watched it for about
10 minutes. Maybe that's where the clarity comes from.

So my message to you is don't be afraid. Get out your
paints and start something. It doesn't have to perfect,
or great or even good -- it just has to be what you do.
If you want to, ignore your worries, your bad thoughts,
the people who don't understand you. Forget about
needing a special place, or the right time. Now is
the right time, and there will be another right time
in another hour, and little by little the work will
happen. And if you're still scared to begin, write
me, and I'll send you some courage. I know you
always encourage me.

Have an I-am-creating-and-loving-it day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Winning the Creative Blogger award

Mother and Daughter
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches
(The start of a big new commission
lately I cannot wait to get some
black onto a painting. I had one
tube of black paint for 10 years, but
now my instinct says get it on there,
and we'll start to have a painting.
As you can see it's still wet here.
I love this stage in a painting.
It's all fun, all underpainting
and blocking, all possibility.
And thought. I love the thinking
about it too. I had some fun with
those stripes on the girl's jacket. I might
not keep them.)
Barbara Muir ©2009

A big shout out to Julie Davis for giving me the
Kreativ Blogger award. What a sweetheart Julie is and
an absolutely amazing painter herself. Despite the fact
that I do techie things, I find the smallest change on
my blog is a challenge. My son, Christopher, helps me,
but some things are difficult for him too. So when we
added another slide show onto the blog, we had to take
off two awards I'd won before, so we could keep the
slide shows. Has anyone got the solution to that?

Well. I decided I can show you the lovely award,

and follow the rules:

Seven things I love:
1. My husband
2. My children
3. My extended family
4. My friends
5. Painting and drawing
6. Teaching
7. Going for long walks
8. Coffee
9. Watching Oprah!

Seven artists I follow who I think of as friends
in no special order -- all are important to me:
Julie Davis -- who gave me this award
Flora Doehler -- who told me about blogging
Theresa Rankin -- who gave me my first two awards
and has painted my kitchen
Laurel Daniel -- a superb artist and kind friend
Liza Hirst -- a great artist who is a kind supporter and wonderful friend
Melinda Esparza -- a super artist and brilliant friend
Susan Carlin -- a great artist and generous friend
Edgar Shrock -- an excellent artist and friend
Eldon Warren -- one of my first blog friends, and a super artist
David Lobenberg -- a talented and witty artist friend
Belinda Del Pescoe -- a super artist and kind supportive friend
Edward B. Gordon -- who can paint circles around me, and a kind
supportive friend.
Aaron Lifferth -- his work is great.

I will add newer friends Milind Mulick, R. Garriott,
Laura, Karen Bruson, and Gwen Bell. That's the only problem.
I could have a list of 50 people's work I admire. And
that list grows every day.

I started a big commission today -- and I'm working on some
other paintings. Life is certainly fast and furious.

Have a painting-is-the-life-and-so-is-relaxing day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wow that was so much fun!!!

Oprah Winfrey
Skype Sketch
willow charcoal on Canson Mi-Teintes paper
11 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

People who don't know me cannot possibly know how much
I like Oprah. I probably started watching her show when it
first started running in 1986. Since her magazine began
publishing I've bought every issue, and enjoyed the range
of articles in the publication. Oprah is certainly one of the
most amazing women in the world, and a major hero for
me. So it was a huge thrill to be on her show. Watching
myself today I could tell that I was nervous, because I wanted to
be spontaneous like the people in Harrods who were cheering
with delight. But of course I was also conscious of the fact that
I had a job to do, create a portrait in the time span of
the show, and get that drawing right while watching Oprah.

Believe me from the time her team called a few weeks ago,
until I actually drew Oprah live on the show, I must have stared
at her face in my collection of magazines every free second,
studying her features -- which as you must already know -- are
incredibly beautiful.

What was it like drawing Oprah via Skype? Like an incredible
dream come true. For someone who loves people and faces
the way I do, to get to draw her lovely face, and meet such
an exceptional person was the ultimate treat -- just the best.

My drawing tonight is the sketch I did of Oprah.
I will never forget the intensity of creating it. What
an experience!

Have a memorable day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Watch me on Oprah on Thursday

Hi everyone. Here's my big news. Tomorrow (probably
today when you're reading this) I'm going
to be drawing Oprah via Skype on her show. So
watch the show, and tell me what you think. I
will post the drawing Thursday night after the show
has aired.

Exciting? Over the top crazy, you can't imagine
how exciting. So...please watch if you're home when the
Oprah's on.

Finished High School
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Sam's friend stopped by after
her last exam. I like the way she's
about to pick up her tea. The painting
still needs some work.)

Today I'm working on a little painting of my son's friend,
who was sitting in my kitchen yesterday, overjoyed
that her exams are over, and she's finished high school.

The past few months has been a whirlwind of new
ideas, and new ways of working. I believe that a lot
of the positive things that have happened to me, and
wonderful opportunities in my life have come through
friendships and connections I've made through the
simple practice of writing my daily blog, and visiting
your sites. I could not be more grateful to everyone
who has commented, on my blog, encouraged and helped me.
This is a magnificent moment in my life, and
I'm convinced that you are part of the reason why
some of my most heartfelt dreams are coming true.

Thank you my dear friends.

Have a we're-going-to-see-our-dreams-come-true day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nap Time

Nap Time
acrylic on canvas
7 x 9 inches
still wet
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Still working on this, there's
a lot of work left)
Tonight I'm working on a painting I started a while
ago. It's a little interior called nap time that I
started, to try and catch the winter sunlight that hits our
hallway in the later afternoon on the weekend.

Late on a weekend afternoon is a great time for
a nap in any season. I remember intensely
disliking that time of day as a child, because
my parents insisted on quiet while they either
read their books or slept. That's when my
younger brother and I would head out to our
fort in the woods across the street -- a couple of
big trees that had fallen down
years ago, and were the center of all kinds of
games acting as shelter, horses, or elephants
depending on our mood. The woods were really
a thin ribbon of wooded area running between
a veteran's hospital parking lot, and a field that
hadn't been developed for housing yet. But to
my brother and I -- with vivid childhood
imaginations, they were dark, dense, scary
and a long way from home, and the dreaded
silence of nap time.

Have an it's-okay-to-have-a-nap day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Victoria Day

Firecrackers in the field at the school
across the street
For the past few days firecrackers have been going
off in the neighbourhood. The culprits? Mostly
grade eight boys, and parents getting the jump on
the whole Victoria Day, go to a park and share your
expensive exploding devices with the rest of the people
thing, giving their kids a bit of a show in the backyard.

The world is a green, green one, and cold as ice.
But frost didn't kill the flowers last night, and
the masses of weeds are still thriving in my garden.
At this stage the weeds seem overpowering, but we
always win, so I will keep heading out for short
stints and taking out the worst offenders. It is too
early and cold to plant most things.

But here in honour of the holiday and my Winter
2009 classes who I miss are:

10 More Reasons To Be Happy

1. It's a day off -- am I crazy? No -- I'm happy it's a holiday.
2. The cat stopped hollering to get out (yowling and
yowling.) She's fixed so she's not in heat, but she
has a great, Siamese set of pipes.
3. We're probably going to see a super fireworks show
tonight -- we'll have to wear our winter coats, hats and
4. It isn't hot. I really love spring weather -- okay a bit
warmer than this, but Toronto in heat stinks - literally.
5. We're having salmon steaks for dinner -- one of
my favorite meals.
6. Steven is buying me flowers today, because we were
too busy getting groceries yesterday.
7. I am going to have some time to paint.
8. I'm reading a great new novel.
9. My son who hurt himself is recovering well.
10. It's a gorgeous sunny day.
11. My friend's daughter got accepted into the university
she wants to attend. (Oops that's 11).

Reality Check

Timbah my cat,
my constant companion this afternoon
when I was hit with food poisoning
(I think it was the cereal)
Timbah certainly made me feel better.

Shortly after I wrote the blog I was hit with a case
of food poisoning, didn't get to paint, spent the day in
bed and just managed to walk across the street to the
local school with my son for five minutes to see the
firecrackers there.

Quick Sketch of Fiona the cat
Sharpie on Bond paper
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

So things can change quickly. But I do feel better
now, and my family are so kind to me.

Have an any-reason-for-a-holiday-is-okay-by-me day.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Firecracker tales

Self portrait
Sharpie on bond paper
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(I'm taking part in a self portrait paint off
this month, so yesterday drew myself when
I'd just got up, tired, no makeup. The
real me (except I only wear glasses
reading and at the computer).

Firecracker day, otherwise known as Victoria Day, because
it used to be celebrated on the 24th of May in Canada,
is the long weekend holiday in May. This year it's early,
and the temperature outside is zero, or freezing. There's a
frost warning, and we had to turn the furnace back on!
Now for those of you in warmer climates, this is pretty
standard fare for this weekend, whenever they hold it.
Still it does seem too early this year, and I have to go and
bring my pansies I haven't planted yet inside!

My Mother told me a funny firecracker day story today.
When she was a kid, her uncle in Ottawa owned a big
concession store, and her family bought their firecrackers
from him. Back then children carried around lots of small
firecrackers and let them off all over the place. This was
true when I was a kid too, but now people are much more

But my mother's family of girls lived next door
to another family of girls in Rockcliffe, a lovely neighbourhood
in Ottawa. Dori, 14, one of the girls next door, had a plan to
scare my mother's older sister, Marnie. So...before she went to bed,
she tied a string to her big toe, and let the string trail out the second
story window to the ground. At seven o'clock in the morning on
Victoria Day, (early for a holiday in a quiet suburb) my mother
who was about 10, snuck out of her house and pulled on the string
waking Dori up. Dori left her house quietly, met my mother outside
mom's sister Marnie's window, and they let off some loud firecrackers.
"Did it wake your sister up?" I asked. "Oh yes, she was pretty mad,"
laughed my mother. It was the part about the girl sleeping with
a long string tied around her toe that cracked me up. Don't let this story
give you any ideas.

Our dog hates firecracker day, and shivers and shakes at
every bang. Our kids used to light sparklers, and we'd go to
a local park and watch. In recent years we've gone down
to the lake (Ontario) to see the big, public displays.

Have a super-fireworks-impressive-glorious-Victoria Day!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday -- time to stand back

Mother and child (Skype diptych)
acrylic on canvas
8 x 16 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Still working on it, especially
the child's face, and the background)

In her post yesterday Laurel Daniel talked about lots
of backing up. I call it standing back, and it's a super
idea. I thought about it today working on my small
painting of the little girl, for the mother and daughter
diptych. And I realized it's hard to get back from a
smaller work, because I don't have a table top easel.
Still her words rang in my head, and any improvements
that worked were the result of moving away from the
close work of the piece.

Because it's Saturday the idea of stepping back seems
right all round. I tried to step back a bit from the press
of work. Steven was working all day today, which
makes it hard to remember that it's really the weekend.
But I spent a little time weeding in the garden -- that
felt like a holiday, and tonight we sat at the kitchen table
talking and playing crib with some good friends. That's
what we do on vacation in Nova Scotia. It's a kind of
break from thinking, and with this couple so much
fun. Now I'm going to watch a movie with my
sweetheart, and then go to bed. The children are
both well. The day went well. It was time to stand
back a bit, and just relax.

Have a stepping-back-and-reading-a-book day.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mom where are you now?

When you get a call on your cell phone as you buzz through traffic
from your 19-year-old, who headed out half an hour ago on his
bike, asking in a strange voice, "Mom where are you now?," terror
covers your heart in an ice cold layer. "Why? What's the matter
Sam?," I asked. Sam's answer: "I've taken a pretty bad tumble on my bike."

I drove as quickly and carefully as I could through rush hour
traffic to the Brick Works where Sam said he'd be, and my husband
sped to the site from the opposite end of the city. Luckily
both of us had our cells with us and on, not always the case.
Thank goodness Sam had his cell, and was not so injured that
he couldn't call.

Sam in the hospital
black marker on bond paper
6 x 6 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

When we arrived Sam's normally rosy complexion was grey
green, and we loaded the bike and Sam into Steven's car, and
I followed up to Sunnybrook hospital. Our son is lucky. He has
a large bump, and massive bruise close to his groin, that missed
hurting him seriously, or cutting off the nerves to his leg by a
fraction of an inch. We chose the right emergency ward,
and they were prompt. In the hospital we wrapped Sam
in blankets and waited 2 1/2 hours to see a doctor, but that
was fast. The hospital staff treated him with care and kindness.

Hearing that your child is hurt, swiftly puts all other thoughts
in your mind into instant perspective. And knowing he'll be
fine makes the world right again.

Sam after the pain reliever
6 x 8 inches
marker on bond paper
Barbara Muir © 2009

My drawings tonight are of Sam in the hospital. A nurse
very kindly gave me paper. I seem to have lost the best one.
Oh well -- I have my boy and can draw him again.

Have a thanking-the-universe-for-the-people-you-love day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rushing to Colbert

Next step of Mother diptych
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
(Still working on it -- need a new photo)
Barbara Muir © 2009

Sorry Nation -- but the truth about why this photo
of the mother I'm painting in the diptych isn't
perfect is that I really want to watch the Stephen Colbert
and Jon Stewart shows. I've blown the time window now, and
have to watch in reverse order, but I'm cool with that.
These two shows are my little treat for myself at the
end of a long working day. I just love both programs.
Because some of the comics are Canadian on Jon
Stewart, the show is always slipping in jokes geared
towards Canadians, and that cracks me up. Plus of
course Colbert thinks Canadians are a scourge, and
is always including us in the Threat Down.
I'm sorry. I'll replace the photo of the next
step in the small mother portrait tomorrow, and
I'm throwing in a two minute sketch of the huge
pansies I have to plant, in a little cream jug.

ink on bond paper
6 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Have an enjoying-what's-funny day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The joy factor

Step Three in the Skype diptych
starting on the little girl in
Mother and child.
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009
(roughing in the girl's face and hair,
putting in the basics of the background
shapes, beginning to think about light).

Our apple tree now is thick with white blossoms. I stood
between the lower branches today and watched as huge
bumble bees enjoyed the flowers. What exquisite joy.

This morning I found a section in my journal that I wrote
last December about what I'd learned last year.
2008 was a very hard year. We had illness in
our wider family, and I broke my ankle. And yet it was a
magnificent year too. Here's what I said, and I
thought I'd share it with you.

My writing classes do a journal exercise on what they are
proud of, so I was trying out the exercise.
"Most of all I am proud of myself for letting joy be the
dominant factor in my life -- for seeking it, finding it, enjoying
it. This year I discovered that joy is spiritual, that joy
is visceral, it is the backbone, the bottom line, the
highest achievement -- the driving force, the ultimate
goal, the kindest gift, and readily available by opening
your eyes to the bounty of the universe."

The way the paintings look together at this stage
still lots of work to do.
Mother and child
8 x 16 inches
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2009

That seems like a good thought for today

Have an enjoying-the-bounty-of-the-universe day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Artists need friends

Art Group Sketch
acrylic on canvas
12 x 16 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Talking to a friend today about the blog world
I was so touched that he remembered the 1987
movie, 84 Charing Cross Road, about two
people who send letters back and forth to one
another (in this case a British man and an
American woman) and develop a deep,
lasting friendship although they never meet.
I sincerely hope that one day I'll meet my blog
friends face to face, but the point was that our
blog comments are the modern
equivalent in a way to the role letters played
between friends, before email, and easy access
to long distance phones. I think the way blogs
build communities is no small miracle.

Tonight I went to paint with my art group. I'm
afraid I had very little time, and was almost too
far back to see the pretty model. So I decided
to play with colour and not worry about the
details so much. I am happy with the colour

Have a playing-with-paint-colour-is-the-best day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How did you do that?

Step Two
Skype Diptych Mother and Child
The Mother
8 x 8 inches
acrylic on canvass
(unfinished. Working on the face,
hair, background.)

I've been working today on a small painting that will be
one half of a diptych (two paintings that can join together).
Someday I will do a very complicated painting with 10
or more pieces that work together. So far I think the
maximum number of joined pieces I've painted is five.
I'm a big fan of Larry Rivers, as I've said before, and I'm
really sorry that he died before I could meet him, because
I had a lot of questions when I started reading about him --
Mostly -- "how did you do that?"

That's probably the number one question I'd like to ask
any artist I admire. How? How did you get that light,
that luminosity, that mood, that colour, and on and on.
In Larry's case it would be, " how did you make things look
3D, and how did you join so many paintings together?"

In the blog world I'm learning by looking. I stare at
the work of favorite artists, and the lessons leap
out at me. That doesn't mean I can do anything
approaching what you do -- but it does mean I can
ask fewer questions when we all meet.

Have a looking-is-learning-and-loving-it day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy, Happy Mother's Day

Prep drawing for Skype portrait diptych
charcoal over acrylic on canvas
Mother and child
8 x 8 inches x 2 = 8 x 16 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

I remember sitting in the doctor's office on my first visit
when I was pregnant with Christopher. The doctor,
put her hand on my knee, looked me and Steven in the
eye and said seriously, "what happens now is a cell
explosion. It's a miracle when it works, but if it doesn't
you can't beat yourself up, it's not your fault." The
first time I saw each of my children will be emblazoned
in my mind and heart forever. I had never felt that kind
of love before they arrived. Now every single day they
surprise me, teach me, change my world in ways I could
never have imagined when we decided to have "a baby."

That said I know many people without children whether
by choice, or circumstance, who are motherly, or fatherly
in the best sense, both male and female. I think it's worth
honouring where we came from, and honouring the ability to
nurture, encourage and give support to children, friends,
colleagues and the community at large.

My own mother has been a beautiful woman all her life.
She was there to rock us to sleep, read us our bed time
stories, cook our suppers, listen to our triumphs and lows,
and steer us on the path to the grown up lives we chose. She is
a mainstay, an inspiration and a strong, vibrant, intelligent
woman. I love her and she knows it, and she loves me
and I know it too. And that's major.

The picture tonight is the first step in a painting
of my neice and her little girl.
She is one of the best mothers I've ever met, as is her
mother, my sister. I've learned so much from both of them.

Got to go now, my sons, Christopher and Sam and my
husband Steven are taking me out for dinner. It's been
a sweet day, flowers, breakfast in bed, and even time to
think about and start a new painting (s). I really
love the diptych format.

Have a loving-to-be-nurturing day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Morning thoughts -- Happy Mother's Day

Kitchen Tulips
8 x 8 inches
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2009
(Still not quite finished but
the face is more like
my kitchen guest's pretty face)

I had a different message here, but I read it and thought,
"who do you think you are?" So I took it off. The
important message to all my artist friends is have
a very Happy Mother's Day. To all the mothers and
all the children of mothers I hope you have a lovely

Let's let love be the order of the day, and be
happy about all the people we love, and who
love us. Flowers, chocolates, meals with
friends and family -- it's all good.

Have a love-rules-the-world day.

Much Love,


Friday, May 8, 2009

Painting until the wee hours

Kitchen tulips
8 x 8 inches
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2009
(not finished yet, and I'll replace
the photo tomorrow.)

Here's a little painting I've been working on tonight. It still needs
more time, but I have to go to bed.

Have a working-until-you-are-tired,-but-happy day.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The world in bloom

Forgive me for being sentimental but my cherry tree is in full
bloom now, and the apple tree seems to be wanting to make
pink flowers, so the trees in my yard are at their all time best.
I've been working pretty hard, but it's so gratifying to poke my
head out into what was a desolate landscape all winter to see this.

I'm working on a little painting, so I thought I'd show you some of my
yard paintings. I think I have two that will give you an idea of the
contrast in seasons.

Summer in the yard
acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2007

Winter Sunset
acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

It looks like I better get to work on a spring painting before it's all gone.

Have a loving-the-season-you're-with day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The spring rush

Tulips and Forget-me-nots in the garden

Every year in the winter I imagine the spring as this
slow unfolding of beauty. Then I picture myself
taking long walks and living the contemplative
life. Luckily for me my winter visions of spring have
been far from the truth in the past few years, because
spring is a busy time in the art world. In December
everyone wants to get everything done before
the holidays, and in the spring there's a flurry of
activity to get projects accomplished before
it gets hot, before true summer sets in, before
...the holidays.

The picture today is of the tulips popping up through
the forget-me-nots in our garden. I've had no time
for weeding in the spring rush, but the garden paints
its glorious colours all by itself.

Have an-enjoying-the-rush-to-summer day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May magic

Notebook sketch of the cats.
marker on lined paper
5 x 7 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

It's hard to imagine that less than a month ago we were
shovelling snow here. My friends in Texas and France
were painting green trees and talking about flowers,
and they might as well have been on a different planet.
All the while I read their blogs as if they were promises.
Spring will come to Toronto, spring will come.

And when it does it's so dazzling, that it's like what
Edward B. Gordon in Berlin complained of in early
spring -- the light was almost too much. But the
most amazing thing is the colour -- everywhere.
Red and yellow tulips popping up out of floods of
forget me knots, flowering trees in white and pink
and yellow. A dazzling green on the lawns, and
people in bright coloured T-shirts and shorts
strolling around like this is normal. So it is.

Cats sleeping
notebook sketch
5 x7 inches
black marker on lined paper
Barbara Muir © 2009

You can come and visit now. The snow is gone.
I can safely take the snow tires off next week.

Have a wow-so-it's-really-happening day!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Catching up on painting

Kitchen Studying
8 x 8 inches
acrylic on canvas
not quite done
Barbara Muir © 2009
(My son's friend is studying for her
finals. I liked her wistful expression)

I'm working on a little painting tonight, and if I don't get it
done I'll post my progress. Spring has hit full force, and
I actually got out for a lovely walk tonight with Steven and
Zoey. The colours just about took my breath away. Lush soft
greens -- that spring green you only see for a week or two, then
warm golden light turning to pink hitting the trees in the late
evening. I feel like I was made for this season, but I know I'll
say that in two weeks when it's hot summer too.

Ten More Reasons To Be Happy

1. I'm painting
2. Life is exciting
3. Sam made supper all by himself -- delicious
4. The red tulips in my garden are rising out of the blue baby's breath
5. I'm really, really finished my school term
6. I saw my Los Angeles family on Skype the other day
7. I laughed my head off with a friend in Tucson on Skype the other day
8. I am really loving my book for about five minutes a day
9. I'm learning new things about art, and about you all the time
10. I am lucky to be living where I do, and watching my cherry
tree bloom.

I could add to that that I feel lucky every day to know the fine
artists and art appreciation people I meet through my blog.
I hope you are all painting like crazy and loving every minute
of it.

Have a flourishing-in-art day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday and sidewalk art

Spring Table (detail)
acrylic on canvas
12 x 36 inches
Barbara Muir © 2008
(The white at the bottom
of the painting is actually the skirt
overlapping from a girl in another painting
the two paintings can from a diptych or
stand alone.)

It was an absolutely beautiful day today, and
I was pretty busy working on things around the
house, buying art supplies and catching up like
we all do on the weekend. But when I popped
my head out the front door at one point my
neighbours were out with their little daughter,
who is two, helping her draw on the walk up
to their house with sidewalk chalk. Her Dad
was making shapes for her, and she was
bending down very seriously and drawing on
top of the shapes in colour.

I asked them to work on our crooked little
walk too, and looked out later to see a sailboat
and the ocean, and our schoolhouse and a tree.
Perfect. I love those simple shapes.

The painting today is another detail from a
kitchen painting. It's terribly disrupting to
my family when I tackle one of these things,
because I put white paper down over our
kitchen table, and outline where each book,
candlestick, coffee cup, sugar bowl, and vase sits
in the painting. Then when it's supper time I
take everything off, roll up the paper, and start
again as soon as everyone's left the kitchen.
I think that's called plein-kitchen.

Have a happy-disrupting-routines-for-art day.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

In praise of praise

Detail of a portrait of Remi
that I painted a couple of
years ago. He was a totally confident and
loved young teenager.
Remi before the Dance
24 x 26 inches
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir ©2007

I watched some wonderful parents beam with pride today
as their child, a beautiful little boy talked about his
current passion -- history. Over the years in my work as
a teacher, an artist and in running workshops, when I
meet people who don't have faith in their own
intelligence, talent, even their own worth as beings on
the planet -- the problem is always the same thing.
These people missed out on the lavish doses of praise
that the little boy I met today receives every day.

When psychologists try to say that too much praise is
bad for a child, I completely disagree. The reason I say
that is that I've never met a child, or a grown up
who is unpleasant to be around because they've
received too much praise. I watched Sam, my youngest
son, watching this child talk, and I thought he got
the goods too for his whole life. He was always told that
he was beautiful, smart, and kind. That doesn't mean
we never got upset with him, far from it. It means that he knew
on a daily basis that he was loved and honoured. The
result is a wonderful person, kind and happy, in school
and enjoying the process of growing up.

The artist blog community is about praise. It thrives
on, runs on, rewards on, and is all about praise. In
my own life I can only say the effect of this joyous
dose of daily kindness has been to make me want to
create, to fill my mind with ideas, to make me glad
to be alive. Oddly enough, it's exactly the same with
a child. So I want to thank my older son, Christopher
for re-designing my blog title tonight. I love how it
looks. That particular colour of blue is certainly
one of my favorites, and he designed the new header
for me unasked. What a guy! Should I tell him I
think he's great, or will that make him get a swelled
head? What do you think? Thanks so much Christopher.
You are a talented, sweet and brilliant soul.

Have a praising-your-family-and-friends day.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Don Valley Art Club Spring Show

The Don Valley Art Club is one of the best art clubs in
Toronto, a city of 5 million at the moment. I joined
because a friend of mind recommended that I
join, and since have developed a community of friends
within the larger club (there are approximately 200 members).
The club hosts three major shows a year, and offers members
opportunities to draw or paint, or listen to talks by art experts almost
every day of the year. Its studio space is in the beautifully
renovated old Brick Works -- which is planned to be a
central cultural hub for the city with restaurants, galleries
and in the summer a lovely organic farmers market.

This weekend our Juried Spring Show and Sale opens
tomorrow (Saturday) at 1:30p.m. It's held in Todmorden
Mills, another beautiful historical site by the Don River.
The gallery is a gorgeous, large space. The public
loves the show because the works range in size from small
to large, in style from traditional, to more experimental
pieces, and the prices are more than reasonable. So if you're
in Toronto, Ontario, Canada please come and check it out.

New Day
acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

Before the Dance with the cat
acrylic on canvas
26 x 48 inches
Barbara Muir © 2009

As I've told you I have two large pieces in the show,
and it will be fun to see them there. I'd be thrilled to see
you if you're in the city, and if you're visiting town,
please come by for the opening.

Have a planning-to-see-some-art 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!