Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The secret path of inspiration

Portrait 2 Water series stage two
For the underpainting I used a
slightly brighter turquoise on the face.
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

On the easel Portrait 2 Water Series Stage One
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(By the way in this drawing the girl's
head reaches the mark. I also
measured the drawing against the
other painting to see if they'd work

I spend my teaching life talking about how to be
happy. I encourage people to take the path that
ends up giving them a happy life. So I am always
surprised to unravel my own happiness, my own
thought patterns. Today driving to school I was
a bit nervous (make that very nervous) after
yesterday's experience. No driver behind me was
okay. I repeated that Louise Hay dictum, "A
circle of safety surrounds my car," like a chant.
I said it inside and outside my head.

Then sanity raised it's lovely head, and I started
listening to Elizabeth Gilbert. I got to a part in the
book Committed that I'd heard before, and it
struck equally deeply the second time. Her
description of her lover Felipe's father swimming,
brought back a torrent of memories of my father
standing in his pool talking to me and my sister
two summers before he died.

And then I saw the link. First the colour, then the
pool, then the idea of painting people wet, then
the water series. I had intended to infuse the
paintings with my own written diary words about
water, but changed my mind. Water was the best
part of my childhood, is one of the best parts of
my adult life. I love rain, love my mother's pool,
love the lake my city is on, the rivers my mother and
brother live on, the lake my other brother lives on,
the ocean my niece and nephew live on, and the ocean
I visit every summer in Nova Scotia. And there it is. I love
water. It would be ridiculous not to in a part of the planet
lucky enough to experience water as bounteous.

Me at Laguna Beach, California in 2007

I realize that I don't have to say we need to protect it.
If we're sentient beings at all we know that. I just
want to celebrate it. So here is how far I've come
today with the second painting. I moved her head
up to the line, and began playing with the blue
underpainting, which was so much fun I didn't
want to stop. Just like playing in water.

Have a playing-with-water day.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Joy is a choice

Portrait Two Water series
Stage One. (almost)
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2010

Today on a beautiful sunny day, I was driving home
down a quiet street near my home. I stopped at
a stoplight, and was happily contemplating my
painting projects for the day, when I heard a loud
crash, and realized I had been hit from behind.

Luckily my car did not hit the car in front of me.
I sat dumbfounded, then got out of the car to
confront the driver of the other car. A nice
looking older man in a three piece suit began
to apologize immediately. We drove around the
corner, parked, and took down one another's information.

I was crying because I was whiplashed when
he hit me (yes I had my seatbelt on) and I was
also in shock. But we stayed relatively calm and civil.
When I got home I called one of my girlfriends
and she offered to drive me to pick up some canvas.
She reassured me that the car looked fine, but I'll get
that checked out at my favorite garage on Thursday.

So tonight, when Steven came home he sent me
for a nap, and he was right. I had dropped a full
cup of coffee, and stumbled and hurt myself thinking
I wanted to sit out in the sun for a minute to calm
down. I was a mess. But I thought of my students,
and how we are working on handling end of semester
stress, and I wished I could teach them more about
what I know. Unfortunately they'd certainly think I
was strange if I told them the method I used to relax
today. I remembered a meditation that says to picture a
calm, golden light and send it down from your head to
your toes, feeling it healing and soothing
wherever it goes. I did that, then had a short sleep.

Joy is a choice. Whatever else happens with this
business, I will be grateful to the man who hit me,
for saying he was so glad I was alive and fine. He
was right. I might be shaken, but I am so lucky to
have a loving network, and a resilient spirit. I get
the spirit part from my mother. I know that.

So I began the drawing for the second painting in
my series tonight. I was quite methodical, but I
guess still a bit dazed. I measured the first
painting because I want the heads to be the same
height. This may not work, because Shaniece, my
second model, has a slightly longer face than Claudia's,
But I calculated and put a mark on the canvas of how
high Shaniece's head should go. Then you know what
I drew her head anyway, ignoring my mark!

Yikes. Three steps forward and two back. And yet.
It's just charcoal, I will clean it off in a minute and
start again.

Have a choosing-joy-as-a-way-of-life day.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Small study for water series

Portrait sketch Image two water series
black marker on bond
9 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

I have an early class tomorrow, so I need to be brief.

The next portrait I'm doing in the water series
is of a model I have painted many times. She's
brought me good luck in so many ways in my
art career, and I'm delighted to be painting her

I bought a stretched canvas for her portrait, but
it isn't quite right for the series, so I'll pick another
one up tomorrow, and start.

Here's a fast sketch I did of her to get me thinking
about the painting. Don't worry I haven't forgotten
the first one, I just thought you might need a change.

Have a looking-forward-to-starting-something-new day.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's a working Sunday

Portrait water series stage five
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I had to use the flash to get
anything like the real colour here.
It was a toss up between accurate
colour, and shine. I picked colour.)

I'm delighted that we got a bit of a walk in to the
nearby Ravine before the rain hit, and before
my deluge of marking covered the surface of my
bed, which acts like a work table in my room.

But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. In between
the sweet walk, noting each crocus in our neighbours'
gardens, and the spring song of hundreds of birds
in the ravine, we went to get flowers. By now most
of you know that this is our weekend ritual. What
you may not know is that our favorite flower shop
suffered a fire last year, and was closed for six months
for repairs. The fire began in the flower refrigerator,
and was put out before there were any flames in
the store, but the smoke damage was extensive.

Although we made friends with the other shops
in the row, we missed our friends Lyn and Annie
so much. Today was the first day we'd seen the shop
open, and I rushed in behind the counter to give
Lyn a hug. Yay! That was the highlight of our day.

So I don't feel the slightest bit deprived, but I
have not had time for in-depth artistic work.

Here's how far I got on the painting today. I
do hope you approve. In a day or so I'll have
time to do more, and this will be almost
finished. Won't that be lovely!

Have a doing-what-needs-to-get-done day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour

Candlelight for Earth Hour
charcoal on bond paper
10 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I grabbed this quick sketch just as Steven was
getting ready to get up from the table
after our delicious Earth Hour meal.
He graciously sat for another couple of

It seems that Earth Hour snuck up on us this year. I was
making dinner, looked at the clock on the stove, and
realized, "Hey honey it's Earth Hour." We already
had so many candles on the table it was ridiculous so
we lit them all, found all of the rest, and sat in relatively
comfortable light while we ate dinner. The street lights
on the streets around us were dimmed, but some
neighbours had no idea it was earth hour.

I wouldn't have known if my mother didn't remind me.
And I'm sorry about that. Outside it was pretty cool
with most of the lights out. Of course I couldn't paint --
I need bright light for that, but I did this fast sketch
to commemorate, what I'd have to say is a romantic
tradition even if it doesn't have a more profound effect.

The kitchen table during Earth Hour
(It seems almost sacrilegious to give the
Earth just one hour every year -- but there
it is. I'm not religious, but do believe in
the planet. It really is our home.)

Have a loving-the-planet-our-only-home day.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A true international art society

Portrait head for Water series stage four
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Stage four is the background starting to come
in. With an abstract background I can
link a series of portraits together through
the background. This has made me
very happy today. Now I will finish
the background with another small
stripe of water indicating a tide pool.
Then I'll refine the face and hair.
Most of what has happened today
about this series is not on the canvas,
but that is what painting is about --
thinking, planning, preparing (working with
the next model), then doing the painting.

I know I've read today's title over, and it sounds much more
pretentious than it is. What I'm thinking tonight is
that I've talked to artists from a few countries this week,
and they've helped me immensely. I'm at stage four
of my painting of the girl's face.

Today one of the two other models for the series
came over to my studio to pose for the next one I'm
painting. But I was stalled in my mind on where to go
with this one. My problem was not a lack of imagination,
it was imagination gone wild. Every time I thought about
the painting I saw a different resolution, a different direction
I could not get my feet on the ground.

For the past two nights I could hardly sleep -- waking
myself up with a jolt as yet another idea flashed through
my head. Meanwhile I was in discussion with my artist
friends here in town and in cities in other parts of
the planet. Their kind discussions and encouragement
finally helped me decide today what to do. The consensus
was to stay simple, cheerful and true to myself. So I
have. Today a friend in France suggested that my
slightly abstract ocean pictures from last summer
would be cool as backgrounds, and my mind clicked
into gear. I realized exactly how to treat these "water"
portraits, and when my model went to her next
appointment, I started the background on this one.

The background isn't quite finished because I wanted
to give the impression of the ocean and a tide pool
behind the girl's head, but I'll do that tomorrow.

Once the background seems right, I'll get back to
working on the face and hair. Not a whole lot more,
but a whole lot more directed because now I know
exactly where I'm going with the series, and I've
made my essential decision. Thank you to everyone
who helped me figure this out this week. You
are a true international art society.

Have a getting-down-to-the-basics day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Artists need adventure

Tulips unwrapped
watercolour on Arches watercolour paper
10 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Perhaps I should have taken a camera with me today
when I went down to Gwartzman's art store to pick
up some canvasses, on Spadina Avenue. I knew I'd
have fun after my friend and I had settled the business
of the canvasses and carried them back to the car.
That done, we were in one of the most
colourful and vibrant parts of the city. The art store
is in an area where I used to spend a great deal of
time, as a student, young married person, and first
time mother. It sits right in the middle of Toronto's
Chinatown and Kensington Market.

When I was a kid from the suburbs attending art
school, there was nothing more exciting, or exotic
in the city than this area. And now that all of Toronto
is a wide mix of different cultural influences these
streets are still compelling. Colourful shops line
Spadina and all the small side streets. Restaurants
with food from every part of the globe vie for attention
with open market stalls stacked with bright coloured
fruits and vegetables, fish and meat stores, and vintage
clothing shops.

My friend and I were walking along and couldn't
resist the lure of bakeries, cheese shops, stores
with beautiful silk Chinese purses, and quaint little
shops with Marimekko fabric. It was a pure

I bought Steven cheese, and fancy breads, and
a beautiful apple pie that was as decorative as
anything you'd find in a Paris bakery. I wish
I could send the smells to you over the Internet --
they were delicious. Even though all we did was
walk around oohing and aahing, we felt like
we'd been eating non-stop. We were full with the
impression of mouth watering food from every
country on the planet.

I went home to my colourful little house, which
seemed pretty tame after the riot of colour we'd
seen, and did this quick watercolour of the tulips
I finally put in water last night. So they were both
first out of the wrapping, and last. One bunch each.
These are the last flowers from last Saturday to
make it into a vase. I put them in a beautiful, big
antique Victorian jug and recorded them for you.

Have an-I-should-get-out-more day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yes we're changing!

Portrait Head for Water series
Stage three
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Portrait head for Water series
Stage two
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

All of the cells in our bodies renew in a period of
seven years. So of course whether we want to or
not we're changing. I am really saying this to
comfort myself. When I feel like a chicken (no
aspersions cast on our feathered friends) I feel
stuck. You know that voice in your head, that
reaffirms the negative. We are all constantly
working against it. That voice is the one that
says, "There you go again. You're doing it again.
You see you can't change, you tried something
new and it isn't working."

In lucky people like me (maybe I'm manic/depressive,
but I don't think so, but I do always tell my
students I am ADHD -- perhaps not clinically
accurate, but certainly I trend that way, just look at
this sentence) the saving grace is wild, giddy
feelings of untrammeled hope, pure joy, ecstasy
in the face of my own, and others' triumphs large
ans small. Whew! That was a long and awkward
sentence. But look where we are now. We're out
of gloom and into joy, and that's the dance I work
on over and over. Okay the beginning might be
rough -- fear, worry, agonizing, but as the music
gets louder and the steps more energetic --
some kind of universal happiness leaks in and then
fills the room.

Such has been the process with the first three steps
of this painting. I cannot tell you where I'm going
with it, but I can tell you that at this stage, which
I'll affectionately call stage three (3) I am happy.
That's good enough for me.

If you think you can't change remember how long
it took you to fall in love with your first born,
your niece, or nephew, your kitten, or dog, or
your beloved. In my case my affection was
overpowering and instant in every example
above. And you know that each time your
heart made that giant leap toward affection,
your entire world changed. So yes you can
change, and you already have while you were
reading this. So have a soothing drink of milk,
or tea, or hot chocolate, or wine if you need it,
and take yourself back to the canvas, or your
writing, or to bed for a little nap before you
start again. It's all going to work out just fine.

The time to paint is upon us.

Have a what-do-you-know-I've-changed day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Art Group tonight

My friend Peter
Portrait sketch
14 x 16 inches
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Peter Adam is a friend in our
art group, and an artist whose
work I admire greatly. He
has his own totally unique style.
A couple of years ago we were
in a group show together, and
I was very proud to show with him.)

It was a busy day, and a super one. I taught in the
morning, then whipped home to paint. Did so.
Then I had an inspiring conversation with a friend
in Tucson, Skype chatted quickly with a friend in Norway,
and had a great Skype conversation with a friend
in Holland. By the time I got back to my painting I
was flying with news from various points in the planet.
And my painting started moving at a happy pace.

I decided to pack up and head out into the rainy
night for the last hour of my art group. What a
good idea. My friend Peter was posing tonight
because the model didn't show up. He was a fabulous
model even though the pose was hurting his neck.
The only downside -- I love how Peter paints, and
I didn't get to see his work, because he was the
guy we painted. There are some great painters in my
art group -- I should say many, but a few in
particular are on the same wavelength as I am, and
push me to be more bold and direct than I might
otherwise be. No matter how short my time is
with them, I end up feeling just fantastic about
what I've learned, or seen, or had conversations about.

Up here in Canada, where we all enjoy universal
health care -- don't pay to see a doctor, don't
pay to have an X-ray, don't pay to get blood work
done, don't pay -- we are surprised at the fuss the
U.S. Health Care bill has created. That was the talk
around the teapot at our group tonight.'s my little painting of Peter. Thanks Peter
for holding the pose while the Tuesday night
crowd painted and laughed and had a wonderful
time. Thanks for staying calm and in position. And thanks
to Frank, George and Carol for making me laugh
and helping me get this little sketch together.

Have an enjoying-your-friends-from-around-the-world day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A house filled with flowers

Tulips First
watercolour sketch
watercolour on Arches watercolour paper
10 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I called it tulips first, because the
tulips were the first to make it out
of the big enamel pitcher we keep
the flowers in in the kitchen
sink, until they're arranged
in vases all over the kitchen and
studio. The tulips insisted on
being first.)

There was a character in a movie we watched recently
who didn't like to have flowers in her house. She
must have been crazy. But today with school,
painting and marking I've noticed I bought
so many flowers yesterday that I haven't had time
 to arrange them all.

But before I made supper (my night), I did this
fast watercolour sketch of the tulips. I was trying
to stick to 20 minutes, but can't seem to create
anything in less than 30. So I roughed the whole
thing in in about 20, and when I went back at it
for a few minutes after supper, the tulips had
moved and grown and changed completely.

There was another wonderful program on crows
on CBC's Ideas program on CBC Radio tonight.
If it's there I'll include the link. School is early
tomorrow. I'm going to go and work on another
painting now. I wish you a lovely Tuesday.
It will be cold and rainy here, but everyone
seems in good spirits. We know that rain will
give us a beautiful flowering spring soon.

Have a-dreaming-of-gorgeous-gardens day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

An idyllic Sunday

Large portrait head Stage One
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

The canvas is ready to go in the studio

When I was a child I dreaded Sunday. It
seemed like half the day was spent in Sunday
school, and the rest being good. I didn't even
understand what "good" meant, but it seemed
to mean getting dressed up, going to church,
and then listening to my parents play
classical music on the radio. Not fun.

That's probably the reason why I love
a Sunday with nothing special planned.
Today was such a day. I read the paper,
and my novel, then had time to do all of
the many chores I'd set out for myself.

Steven and I have started exploring Toronto
the way we would if we were visiting, so we
took the dog for a walk through the back lanes
of Yorkville, down to U. of T., and back
up to the flower stores to get our weeks
ration of "Valentine's Day" flowers for one

One of the things on my list was starting this
big painting. I put the ground on before we
went for our walk, and then worked on the
placement of my rough drawing. It will be
a large portrait of the model, but there will
be more than that going on, so I wanted her
off center. I may decide that I want the face
larger, I will see. First I'll start painting, and if
the painting needs to grow it will.

Have a getting-everything-done-easily day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Back into the chill

Tide pools North Shore park, Pugwash
watercolour sketch
watercolour on watercolour paper
10 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Hi everyone,

It's chilly again today. To keep ourselves warm we went
for a quick walk and rewarded ourselves with delicious
decaf at a Starbucks on Yonge Street. I stand right on the
edge of some new work, and am in the deep thought stage.
Tomorrow I'm sure I'll move into the hard work stage,
but in the meantime I was once again tempted to try the
20 minute watercolour challenge that I learned about
from Laura Starett, who in turn discovered it through

True this took a few minutes over the time limit, but
not much. I had to do other work today, and had to leave
it. The little painting is of the beach in Nova Scotia
that we walk on every day when we're out there. Even
though it is the lightest of sketches it gives me the
feeling of being there.

Have a dreaming-of-your-summer-escape day.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A model day

Spring in the yard
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Apparently we had the warmest March 19 on record
in Toronto -- 19 degrees Celsius which is close to
70 Fahrenheit. One of my favorite models, Claudia,
came over in the morning to pose for a new series I'm
planning. I asked her to have wet hair, and she
started out outside, because the series is about
water, and I wanted natural light on her face.

When I printed this image, I thought I've got to
paint that right away. I loved the light, the colour
and the shapes. Besides painting it was a great
way to meditate on the series I want to do.

Tomorrow -- Saturday we may have snow flurries,
which will be a terrible shock to all of us in balmy
Toronto. Just as spring is officially here, winter
may come back again.

Have a enjoying-the-day-whatever-the-weather day.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring entrances us

Mother and child
Stage six
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(still lots to do. The
background is still just
starting to come together.
The baby's hands and mother's
hand need refining. I will work
a bit more on both of their
faces, and on the mother's
sweater. I'll keep you posted.)

There is a strong cautionary warning being whispered
on the breeze here in Toronto, that these
gorgeous days -- what I would consider perfection --
18 degrees Celsius and sunny -- (I am so not a fan
of hot weather) will not last. But no one I know
is paying any attention to that.

I went for tea today with my friend Jan, and sat
in her beautiful sun room. With the sliding glass
door open a crack to keep us cool, we drank perfectly
brewed tea out of cups so delicate that the light shone
right through them. Sunlight bounced off every surface,
and sitting there you could be absolutely certain
winter was over.

Jan is a wonder with fabric, ( she sells vintage fabric)
and I am always so happy when I leave her house,
after seeing her quilts, dresses, and pieces of very special vintage
fabric, that I feel inspired.

So after a quick Ikea dinner date with my husband --
I had poached salmon -- I came home and continued
to work on this portrait of my Mom and baby. I still
have a long way to go, but it is coming together.

Have a-spending-time-with-delightful-friends day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Steven and I dancing with glow sticks in
our kitchen St. Patrick's Day party

Look at those glow sticks go. More kitchen dancing fun.

Today I'm marking and trying to fit my marking around
teaching this afternoon and having a happy little
St. Patrick's Day celebration tonight with Christopher and Steven. Steven decorated the house while I was at work. Christopher came over and we had green champagne, and a festive supper. We always give out green loot bags with silly green toys and
green candies. The hit was green light wands, which Christopher says we can use next time we
go to a rave. (A joke - we will never go to a rave!)
He took some pictures of Steven and
me dancing with the glow sticks.

That's all for today, because I'm still marking and
it's an excruciatingly early morning tomorrow.

Have a super, super St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Feeling lucky

Zoey trying to sleep
black marker on bond paper
10 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(All of the animals love to lie
in front of the kitchen heat vent.
The cats make Zoey move by licking her
face or her back, which makes her
twitchy, so she has to be on guard.)

Zoey asleep
black marker on bond paper
10 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

I couldn't go to my art class tonight, because I have too much
marking to do, and I need to catch up, but I didn't feel that
hard done by. Zoey and I walked in the late day light,
which turned the trees from brilliant yellow, to rose then
a deep rust while we played a few games of toss the ball
onto the wet, muddy grass in the park.

I talked to an artist friend in Texas on Skype, and another
artist friend phoned me from Holland. Then just as I was
settling down to mark I received this fantastic design for
a new hybrid car, being promoted by a Canadian company,
Ingo. I was so blown away to think that a person right
across the street in my little neighbourhood, Davide
was coming up with designs that could revolutionize
how we get around. When I was assured that the car would
be extremely comfortable to drive, I made it clear that I want one.
But first the company needs backers. Anyone?

Ah well you have to dream big. Back to my work marking and
painting. I am working on the background of the mother
and baby. I'm not too sure which way that's going to go.
Tonight I'm testing out a water theme. But all that could
change before the next time I look at the piece.

The painting is moving at such a slow pace, that I'll
wait a few days before I show you what I've done.
Instead tonight I'm showing you two sketches I
did of Zoey lying on the floor after a walk. She's
hard to draw because even when she's sleeping
she changes position constantly, but I love her

Lilies in the kitchen
I've been working so hard that
I hadn't taken these lilies out of
the paper until tonight. When I'd
freed them of the plastic, and
arranged them, I stood back in awe.
Aren't they beautiful!
I had to share this picture with you.

Have a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Starry, starry night

Boy in a red tie on a starry night
watercolour quick study
watercolour on Arches watercolour paper
10 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I think it was the quick part of
Laura Starett's idea of the
2o minute study that appealed
to me. Time is so short this
week. I used to love
watercolour. But I think I might
want to add to this little painting
of my oldest guy from a reference
photo taken a few years back.)

I am in a flood of marking -- which has cut my time for
art down to just about nothing. This would drive me
absolutely crazy, if I couldn't see the end in sight.
By the end of this week I will be caught up, and
able to breathe, and paint -- most of the time.

When I got home from teaching tonight the sky was
doing a crazy art dance -- just begging me to paint
it. Thin clouds of bright pink trailed in layers over
a magnificent deep turquoise sky. I pulled Steven
out onto the back porch to look and we stood there
for a minute. Then I took the dog for a walk. We
watched the pink clouds and tree tops turn to gold,
then mauve, then disappear while the sky turned
one of my favorite hues of blue -- a deep, bright
manganese mixed with ultramarine. "Wow" I kept
saying as we walked. I decided to walk to the
bridge over the park so I could see a wide sky --
the sun setting, the stars rising -- end of day
turning into a magnificent evening.

The world dazzles me. Thank you for being
part of what fills me with wonder.

Have a loving-the-evening-stars day.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A day of few words

Boy and his cat
Gesture drawing
black marker on bond
10 x 14
Barbara Muir © 2010

I found a gesture sketch I did a few years ago
after taking a course with Skip Lawrence and
Toph Schink in California. Today I
tried doing a 20 minute watercolour portrait
of a famous person -- a complete flop.
I was trying to respond to Laura Starett's
beautiful watercolours. Mistake. But a
good learning experience.

Zoey and Steven in the park

Inside there are flowers everywhere.
This is my strange, new teapot shaped watering
can for indoors. In green -- a colour I used
to dislike. I'm changing.

Outside the very last of the snow clings
to the matted stalks of bulrushes in the ravine.

Inside -- more of the beautiful flowers
that Steven and I bought each other.
Roses, and what is that other
flower please? I love it, but I
don't know its name.

From inside it looked dismal out today, but
outside it was completely different. Grey, but
punctuated by Robins, Chickadees, Red Wing
Blackbirds, even tiny white spring flowers.
I marked papers all day except for a brief
trip to the bus terminal to say goodbye to
Sam, and a short walk in the park with Steven.

Have a getting-out-there day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Short visit with my son

Writing birthday thoughts
charcoal on bond paper
11 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Behind Sam's shoulder to your
right is my cat Timbah asleep on
the couch. In the other direction
my cat Fiona was curled up
in blissful sleep, but she didn't fit
in the picture. They were
delighted to see Sam.)

My youngest Sam is home from university,
and goes back tomorrow. I'm so glad we
got to have a bit of a family dinner last night
and to sing Happy Birthday and share a tiny
cake for his girlfriend's birthday. Naturally
he is spending most of today -- the actual
birthday -- with the birthday girl. But he came
home and ate a second supper tonight, and
let me sketch him very quickly while he
worked on her birthday present. Tonight
they'll go out with their friends, and we'll
scrape him out of bed and onto the bus back
to school in the early morning.

Enjoy the clocks jumping backwards. Here's
the sketch I did of my wee (6'4" tall) lad. He
has frequently posed as my model and I
do know that lovely face like shorthand.

Have an enjoying the-longer-evenings day.
P.S. I'm sure spring is coming, but I'd
forgotten that it often announces itself with
a very cold rain. That's what's happening
outside my window right now as I type. A
lovely sound, but out in the elements you need
full, waterproof winter gear -- a nasty shock
after the warmth just a few days ago.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Our funny gadgets

Hunting for facts

black marker on bond
8 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

You may already know that I am a fan of Skype for
art. But my reasons may be somewhat subversive.
I like the bizarre angles you get when talking on
Skype -- like the view I'm showing you tonight of
my friend in Mary in Vancouver. In a recent talk
I had with her this is what I saw for most of the
conversation -- her absolutely shockingly blue
eyes, and her full curly head of gorgeous chestnut
brown hair.

What was she doing? Looking something up for
me on the computer to try and get me to go and learn
about something she was doing or saying. The
computer is a fantastic gadget. It wasn't long ago
that if she wanted me to read an article or book she'd
send me a letter, or call me and tell me where to
look in the library. Now she is hunting for research
while we talk. Everything is so immediate. We
have to know now! It makes for interesting
drawing ideas.

Thanks Mary for this cool view of your happy

Have a loving-the-strange-machines-that-rule-our-lives day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why I like doggers

The Crew
Left to right Fiona, Timbah and Zoey.
(Too tired to paint today. I taught very
early, and my son is home from
university. A lot going on. If I find the
drawing I did of Zoey the other day
I'll post it. )

For the past week I've been trying to do my 10,000 steps
every day. I am not really up to it. My ankle hurts,
but the dog is so happy that I'm walking with her, that
she'll accept any conditions, tail wagging, sticking close
by my side and not pulling. She knows instinctively that
our walks are a really big deal for me. When we encounter
ice after the day's thaw has turned into a glassy sheet at
night, she stops cold to warn me -- uh uh, don't go there.

Before we got Zoey 10 years ago I was 100% a cat person.
I had two dogs growing up. Rags, who I loved dearly,
who went out one night when I was about 10 and never
returned (in those days dogs walked themselves in the
small town where I lived). Okay actually three dogs,
but Joey died of distemper at about 12 weeks and
devastated my family. Then we got Joey's sister,
Christine Sunday, (her owners' last name) who became
Chrissy, and lived a happy life to a ripe old age. There
is a family myth that if there's a heaven, she's there with
my father.

So getting Zoey dog ten years ago was a complete and
total shock to the system. My sister, the therapist, says
that to be whole you have to be able to love both dogs and cats.
Now that I have both, I know what she means. Each
animal teaches you something different. Both cats are
cuddlers, and Zoey is wildly affectionate and playful,
but serious too. Plus they all like each other, which
is great fun for us.

Back to why I like doggers, or dog people. I was walking
Zoey the other day, swinging an Ikea poo bag, of fresh
do do, blithely unaware that I even had the bag in
my hand because I was noticing the birds, and Zoey and
the light, and I was waiting until I could deposit her
material in the appropriate public bin. We ran into another
dogger with her big, gruff standard poodle, and stood
having a nice chat. Neither of us knew the other, but
we were instant "friends" because of the dogs. Of course
not all dog people are like that. Some are chilly or
indifferent and there are the dog snobs who won't talk to you
unless you're walking a pure bred dog (Zoey is not -- she's a
Border Collie, Dalmation, Lab cross).
But for the most part doggers are friendly, and let's face it
you have to have a good attitude to life to happily stand
talking to someone who is carrying a bag of dog excrement.

Have a loving-dogs-cats-and-other-animals day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It's an early morning baby

Detail Mother and Child
(baby's face)
acrylic on canvas
The full size of the work is 30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Here's a detail of the baby in his
mother's arms. He is a beautiful baby
and I'm enjoying painting him so much.)

I have been working on my painting a bit
tonight after getting home late from school.
I'm almost finished the baby's face. Not quite.

So I'll share his sweet little face with you, and
then you'll see it again at least once. The rest
of the painting needs thought and more work,
so I'll show you that part later. This is a big,
big painting -- 30 inches x 30 inches -- so it
takes time and thought to complete it. No
surprise says Monet. Thanks Monet in my
head! (I saw an exhibition of Monet paintings
in Stuttgart, Germany that blew my mind. I felt
his presence so strongly in the room. He went
back 60 times to the same spot to get the light
right on the poplars he was painting, which look
so light and ethereal. But the paint is very thick.)

It's quite late and I have my very early morning
coming up. Please forgive me for not getting
back to you on the comments. It could be a bit
slow for the next few weeks, but I'll do my best
to catch up. I'm going to be working on a large
work series, so I will be wonderfully busy.

More on that at a much later date. Have a
super day tomorrow.

Have a resolving-every-dilemma-and-laughing day.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Painting on through

Day lilies
black marker on bond
10 x 12
Barbara Muir © 2010
Hi everyone,

I know I'll have something to show you in a couple
of days on the painting I'm working on, but right
now I'm taking my time, and thinking everything
through. I am so inspired by the paintings my
friends have been posting, that once I get the
necessary details in, I will loosen the painting
back up with more colour hits and little extras.

For tonight I'm posting a drawing of day lilies.
I took the dog for a short walk today and heard
choruses of Robins. Then I saw one sitting high
atop a Maple tree. The end of day sunlight lit
it, and I felt so happy. The birds were singing the
sun to sleep, and it set to their cheerful song.
It feels like all of life is turning into a choir for
spring. But I must admit I'm tired at the end
of this lovely day.

Have a spring-is-in-the-air day.

P.S. It is supposed to rain here tomorrow,
so the sweet spring warmth we felt today
won't be quite as powerful. In Toronto with
the first return to spring people get
wildly exuberant and happy. It feels good to
be part of that. The day lilies in my garden
which are a couple of months away from
blooming will appreciate the rain.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Back at school -- so early to rise

Photo taken from the car on the 401 near Windsor
This country house is like a few I'll see tomorrow
on the way to school. No vineyards there though.
(I think those are vineyards in the background.)
Barbara Muir © 2010

I am not an early morning person, as I've said
before. So on evenings before early classes, I
have to force myself to wind down a few hours
before what would be normal for me. It
feels so alien to get to bed before midnight.
But alas.

So I will be very fast tonight. It was the first
day back at school this afternoon, and it feels
like I've been away forever. My students are
great fun, and I feel very lucky to be teaching

So goodnight all. I intend to paint all day
tomorrow after class.

Have a Yay-I-get-to-paint-all day day.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fit to paint

Today's video: My thoughts on art and strength

Hi Everyone,

I head back to school part time tomorrow. It's been
absolutely beautiful here for the past week, and today
I saw people walking in T-shirts and shorts. That's
funny, because if it was real summer, they'd be bundled
up and complaining of the cold. But it was so magnificent
and comparatively warm that people were jubilant.

That kind of weather makes you want to get on some
kind of fitness regime. Usually when I think of being
fit it's for reasons of vanity. Wanting to look good to
be able to wear great clothes is certainly an impetus
for being in good health, and strong. But what about
the connection to art? In this little video tonight
I talk about a friend of mine, a wonderful artist who
joined a gym specifically to be strong enough to
paint, and do all of the tasks connected to painting.
She regularly has to lug massive easels around to set
up for her painting classes at a local art school.

Plus she carried folding chairs and tables and backdrops
to interesting create scenarios. So strength matters,
and she's sick of getting terribly tired from the
sheer physical labour of teaching and painting.
I get it.

My thoughts are in the video.

Have a super week. I got a new pedometer today,
and I'm going out to walk the dog around the block.
Then I'm doing some free weights while I watch
the Oscars.

Have a being-a-strong-and-happy-artist day.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday night is all right

Thinking across space
Skype drawing
black marker on bond
10 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Hi everyone,

I don't have a lot to say tonight. It's very late
and we have just come home from seeing
the Movie The Blind Side. That's two sports movies
in two weekends covering different but
similar themes. I thoroughly enjoyed the
movie, but I'm super tired now.

I did the line drawing I'm showing you tonight
a few weeks ago talking to my friend Tamara
on Skype. I thought perhaps after the density
of painting, a very simple line drawing would
make a nice change for you.

I hope you are having a beautiful weekend. The
weather has been spectacular here, and everyone
is in a true ready for spring mode.

Have a oh-boy-it's-Sunday day.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Up to my ears

Mother and Child
Stage Four
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

At this point I am up to my ears in paint. I have
dreams, ambitions, high lofty ideals, but it's
like the beating stage of baking a cake. You
put the ingredients in a bowl, and you're pretty
sure it will be delicious, but you have no idea
how it will look. That's the stage I'm at with my
mother and child. I haven't had a great deal
of time to work on it today, so I concentrated on
the mother's face. I am not there by any means,
but I have started.

My son sent me a very lovely video today of
his girlfriend and her sister making a spectacular
cake. If I get permission to show it to you I'll
put the link in.

When I'm working on a little painting, it feels
like the painting flows into me, and I do it.
On a larger work I feel like I am 100% in the
painting. I've lost my gloves, a cheque, pens,
you name it today, because the rest of the world
is a blur. Whether I'm painting or not, the
painting is on my mind.

(Yes, I am lucky and I found everything... But
believe me on days like these I need the lists
I mentioned the other day.) It was a glorious
day, and I cannot say it often enough, I am
so grateful to everyone here in my home town,
out in the wider world, and in the blog world
for helping me stay on track. Thank you.

Have a wow-this-is-going-so-well-and-it's-almost -spring-day.
P.S. I never show a client a portrait while it's
a work in progress. I am fairly certain most
people would be shocked at the backwards,
forwards, this colour -- no that colour nature of
painting, so I turn the painting to the wall and
we go and eat cookies and drinks either juice,
pop, coffee, tea or champagne depending on the
day and the age of the sitter. But we're all friends
here right? I thought so.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Making lists

Mother and Child
Stage three of the painting
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(At this stage I'm altering the design,
thinking about the design, and
starting to work on the skin, with
the baby first.)

Mother and Child
Stage two
acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Blocking in big areas,
and the underpainting for the
mother's hair, and baby's hair.)

So it's my Reading Week eh? (I thought I'd give you
some down home Canadian talk.) So I am not teaching
for a whole week eh? Heaven right? Almost. I teach
the use of lists to keep students organized, and I've been
making little lists all week and crossing things off.
I've had some major triumphs -- like getting the switch
fixed on my husband's bedside lamp, so he wouldn't
have to turn it on and off by unscrewing a hot light bulb.

But there have been the tasks that just don't go as
quickly as I think they will when I write them down
on the tidy little list. What are you supposed to put on
the list? Six things -- just six major things per day. I
always go over, putting on as many as ten tasks,
and a few years of trying this have proven that six
is probably exactly the right number.

Dealing with the telephone company is an anomaly.
In my mind I think, "a quick call to clear up an obvious
mistake," and in reality I'm stuck on the end of the
line while the company pumps out irritating jazz,
and works overtime on frustrating consumers.

Painting is the solace on these days. I have a couple
of stages to show you on my painting. The design will
change, has changed as I move through the work,
but I am going slowly. For the most part I'm
blocking in areas, and thinking it through. I started
work on the baby's face, hand and foot today. Mom will
have to wait until tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.
Painting a large work takes longer obviously, uses more
paint, and seems to require more thought. I need to get away
from the work to be able to come back and see new
things, decide what to change.

Thanks for coming with me on this process. And
thanks to my wonderful printer people for helping
me with the reference photos, and being kind and

Steven and I had a "date" dinner at Ikea tonight.
If you haven't tried their super dinners, and you
don't mind eating with many other families, you
should. The food is good, and ridiculously
inexpensive. You've got to love that. At the end
of the meal both of us were in great spirits, walked
through the store and bought toys for the cats
and headed home to work again.

Have an it's-okay-I-am-so-cool-with-everybody day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Art Gallery visits

Mother and child
Preliminary sketch
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I started a large portrait on
canvas today of a mother and
child. I've had a couple of
visits with them, and
now I'm using photo
reference. I drew the whole
drawing once, realized the
placement didn't work, and
did it again. The great thing
about charcoal is it both rubs
off and washes off. I've
begin putting on the
underpainting in several
places, and when that stage is finished
I'll show it to you.)

It's been an unusual week because after a couple of
months of not setting foot in a gallery we visited
our city's Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) twice in one week.
We love to go and sit in the member's gallery,
part of the original gallery building called The
Grange. So on Sunday we sat in front of one of
the tall windows looking out onto the park
and the Ontario College of Art and Design, one
of my alma maters, drank tea from tall white
porcelain thin mugs, and ate madeleines. All
very civilized we felt. After that we wandered into
the Renaissance Gallery and I lost Steven. (The
AGO is huge.)

I could feel that instant panic at being lost
overcoming me, and then I thought -- wait - let's
be rational, and decided after searching through
several galleries, that if he thought I was lost he'd
go to the galleries he knew I liked. So I went up
to the Group of Seven floor, scoured that pretty
thoroughly, and then remembered I'd said I
wanted to see the big cathedral-like walkway on the
street side of the gallery. By this time, more than
forty minutes had passed since I'd seen Steven, I was allowing
myself to be both curious and logical. I asked a
guard how to get out into the second floor walkway,
and it turned out that the huge cedar levered doors
opened, so out I went. I'd quit thinking that
every tall, dark haired man in a black wool coat was
Steven. Until I spotted what looked like his silhouette
at the far end of the space, which seems like more
than a block long. I felt my heart give a lift of joy,
and sure enough it was him.

So maybe I really do know my husband of all these
years, because he did do what I thought he'd do,
and tried to think where I would be likely to go.

Tonight on quite a different outing, we attended
a members only opening of a new exhibit about
time. It was filled with mind moving sculptures
and installations to provoke the viewer into
thinking about our place in time. We enjoyed
the exhibit, then headed down to the Lucian
Freud and Rembrandt etchings exhibit, which
I absolutely loved. Freud is one of my all time
favorite portrait painters, and his etchings are
powerful and incredibly intricate in line.

I love the Art Gallery of Ontario. When you come
to Toronto you must visit.

Have an-enjoying-an-art-museum day.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The first Robin

Art Group Sketch
acrylic on canvas
14 x 16 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

It doesn't seem entirely right to be hearing the first
Robin on the second of March, but I did. It
was one of those glorious days that feels so much
like spring. You understand why we need snow,
because the small amount that fell last week is
melting, and the streets are noisy with rivers
running down to the storm sewers.

And the birds are going crazy with sound,
signalling the whole, mad, wild spring thing is
about to begin. Both cats insisted on being taken
outside for a few minutes today. The dog hung around in
the sun on the back porch and wouldn't come in
until she smelled food.

I decided to paint a little plein indoor scene from
an upstairs bedroom window, but didn't finish
it on time to show you. The sun was in my eyes,
and I opened the window to reduce the glare.
And there it was -- a Robin singing on March 2nd.
Wow! I was so excited that I put down my brushes
and went outside with the dog.

Tonight's painting is from my art group. It was
as always such a pleasure to see my friends there.

Have an-oh-boy-it's-time-to-clean-the-windows day.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Portrait of an artist
Skype painting
acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
( This is not quite done. But
it underscores what I meant
about instant. I've worked
on this, and done several
drawings of my friend
Tamara who lives in
Holland. Each image is
almost right. But it sometimes
takes me a number of tries to
get every feature right.
I put the Ottawa River behind
her in honour of my
father's birthday yesterday.

The other day listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's book
Committed coming home from a delicious, grabbed,
mall chicken dinner (my night to cook after a
long day at school) in Steven's car, I was so
deeply moved that I had to sit still so Steven wouldn't
notice and be worried about me. It was a shock as
emotion often is. Gilbert was talking about intimacy,
about lying in bed with her beloved Felipe and
asking him to tell her stories based on a word. He
was describing fishing trips with his father, and
lying on his back in their bed acting out his father's
powerful swimming stroke, and I had a completely
vivid image of my father swimming.

She said that watching Felipe she felt like she could
hear his father, whom she'd never met swimming,
and listening I could hear my father swimming too.

When I was 13 my parents moved to Toronto -- a
move that was terribly rocky for me, and probably
for my brothers too. We had been very happy in
Ottawa, and were heartbroken to leave our friends,
our schools, and our neighbourhood. My father
was already in the city, and my mother told us that
she knew we'd be happy when we saw the house.

The house in a suburb was a real beauty -- the most
gorgeous house I've ever lived in -- far more
spectacular -- even designed than the tiny semi
where we are currently very happy. But the big
draw -- the one she was confident would make
all the difference was the pool.

It was beautiful, and of course after a few years in
high school we had adjusted. But no sooner had
we settled in and I was in university, than my
father lost his job, and after a few months of what
must have been terrifying instability with two children
in university and one about to finish high school,
my father got another job in Ottawa.

I am rambling so forgive me. All of this is leading
back to colour, and a stunning revelation I had
listening to Gilbert's book. My parents moved back
to Ottawa when I was in university, and my mother
still lives in that house on the Ottawa river. It had
almost nothing to recommend it as houses go, although
it's still more spacious and elegant than my little house
here, but it had a gorgeous view of the Ottawa river,
and... a pool. David Hockney has immortalized the
beauty of swimming pools better than anyone.

But to actually swim in one, to have it as the summer
focal point of a family's life is a different thing.
Late in my father's life my sister and I took the train
to Ottawa, with my son Christopher on our knees.
I can still remember my father standing hip deep in
the pool, swishing his hands back and forth
in the glorious turquoise water, the golden light from
the late day sun sparkling on the water and his
tanned skin, and listening to him talking about the
significant moments in his life -- giving that gift to
me and my sister -- maybe fully aware that he didn't
have many years left. And I can see him swimming
after this rare moment of intimacy, doing the breast
stroke -- his tanned face and elegant thick white
hair above the water, and the sound of his breathing
as he completed his laps of the small, kidney shaped
pool. I'm certain my love of the colour turquoise
started right then.

Have an honouring-your-memories 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!