Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's not about the studio

I set up an impromptu studio in the kitchen
this evening while Steven made dinner to work on painting
the beautiful flowers Heather brought me on Saturday,
before they lose their lustre.

I've learned a lot in the past few years by
reading blogs from artists around the world,
and it seems that what matters is keeping going.
I remember having a painting teacher -- slightly
arrogant -- not quite right for the adult me, but
right in one bit of advice. He said as soon as you
paint 52 paintings a year you'll see your paintings

Here's the gorgeous garden bouquet in situ.
My family kindly decided to eat out in the heat on the
back porch so it could continue to
occupy Sam's place at the table.

I used to think that number was overwhelming.
Enter the daily painters. I can't manage to paint
every single day of the year, and no longer even
think that's a good idea. It seems a little manic,
and may make hanging out with friends and family,
seeing concerts, visiting galleries and even travelling
problematic. All of those pleasures matter big time
to me. But...the discipline of painting nearly every
day absolutely changes not only your paintings,
but your entire life! Add to that the absolute joy of
witnessing the work, and methods of painters in
every part of the planet -- and that joy multiplies

I recently saw an art magazine with pictures of
impressive studios of painters all over the world.
I'd love to have more space, better light, a stable
giant easel, lush carpets -- even assistants running
around sorting my paints, and making me coffee.
But in real life I've painted in the kitchen, on the
back porch, and for the most part in my tiny, cramped,
not impressive, but cheerful studio. And I've been to many
artists' houses with spectacular studios, designed
especially for them -- the whole top of a house with
skylights, or a building on their property built
especially for the artist with special built in paint trays,
and elegant lighting. Yet these people in proud possession
of magnificent work space didn't so much as draw in a
sketchbook. The studios couldn't make them create.

My sweet cat Timbah sat down on my chair
every time I got up to wash my brushes, or
change the water. He is an avid fan of my
work. And I am just his avid fan. (By
the way in Toronto we could use more
fans period. We're in an officially declared
heat wave.)

I don't have a number figure in my mind for how many
paintings make an artist -- after all Vermeer who so many
artists now revere, and even seek to replicate, created
very few paintings in his whole lifetime, but I do know
a beautiful studio won't make you an artist, but (almost)
daily practice, makes the entire job easier.

Have a loving-whatever-studio-you-work-in day.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to basics

August market flowers
(almost finished)
Acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

For about five years when I started doing regular
art, I first drew, then painted flowers. I sold small
coloured pencil drawings of flowers when my oldest,
Christopher, was a baby, and moved on to paint
watercolours of flowers when Sam came along. I'm sure
I've told you before that Toronto, often referred to by
people who don't live here as the big smoke, is in fact
a flower Mecca. You can buy a lot of flowers here,
in fact fill your house, for a very reasonable sum.

Plus you know that Steven and I have to get our
fix of flowers every weekend from the shop we
love on Avenue Road. But last weekend I bought
fresh garden flowers from Pegann, and then my
friend Heather brought me a huge bouquet from
her garden. The result? Our house is paradise,
or at the very least a small floral tribute to that
ultimate Eden.

August market flowers
rough sketch
charcoal on canvas prepared with a peach acrylic ground
Barbara Muir © 2o10
(Before painting I sat staring at the
amazing bouquet sitting at my kitchen table
and drew it. The Victorian jug is huge, and
the bouquet must be 18 inches high, so I
was absolutely mesmerized by its beauty.
Major thanks to Pegann and hey it's true
Zinnias do last much longer with
maple syrup (tip it should be
Canadian) in the water. Nah, it can
be any kind of maple syrup.)

So...what could I do? I feel snow sneaking through
the back chambers of my imagination, and it seems
prudent to record summer's bounty. Now. Today's
offering is an almost finished painting of the market
flowers. A few more touches and she'll be done.

Have a giving-or-getting-or-painting-flowers day.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thanks for your help everyone

I was so delighted to be showing at the Amsterdam
Whitney Gallery last May. To see me interviewed by
Kristal Hart of MNN click here.

I am influenced by everything around me and
everything I see. The critical question with
these paintings was how to narrow my choices
down? My first impulse was to honour
water and the pleasure I've been lucky enough to
enjoy my whole life spending summers near water --
first as a child at the cottage on Lake Mazinaw that
my parents rented every summer,
then as an adult with my family in Nova Scotia.

Last week my sister was asking me what
I love about being near the ocean in the summer,
and I appreciate so many things that I could hardly
answer her. I love the sound -- nothing else sounds like ocean
waves. I love the look of the light on the wide water.
I love walking along a deserted beach, or seeing children
building sand castles, and dogs playing in the surf.

I'm not finished with this Water Image series.
Eventually I hope to paint enough work to go all
the way around a gallery space. And each painting
will be unique, as each person has their own ideal
ocean setting, and I'll paint each subject in that setting.

Have a treasuring-the-summer-place-you-love day.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Charcoal, errands and the happy list

Lending her hands
Charcoal on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Arghhh! (Sound of brief frustration). Okay I'm over it now.
I'd written my blog, and tried to do one other thing.
Pouf! Blog disappeared. But in true cheerful artist
style, here I go again.

Saturday for this household, as it no doubt is for yours
is a day of running around doing errands. True
I like to drink coffee and read the paper. But
today especially an absolutely perfect summer
day beckoned. 'Get out there!' screamed the blue
sky, puffy little clouds, waving leafy trees.

Check. I made it to the market with six minutes to
spare, and got fabulous peaches, field tomatoes,
baked goods from Alyson, and an breathtaking garden
bouquet from Pegann (pronounced like Megan).
Then I hurried home to have tea with a friend
at 2. After my favorite kind of conversation --
all about travel to Europe, Zoey (the dog) and
I walked my friend home. She'd arrived with
masses of flowers from her garden, and my mood
went sky high. Beautiful day, wonderful friends,
flowers everywhere.

I headed to the art store to get charcoal -- and
that explains tonight's medium. But not the
subject. Searching through my photos I found
an odd shot of my friend, Josephine, then
remembered. Struck by my frustration over
the reference for a painting I was working on, she
volunteered her hands as reference. In fact
she was trying to show me the hands of two
people. Impossible of course, but the photo
of her earnest effort touched me. I am so
blessed both with friends who want to help
me get on with the art, and with clients who
want to buy it. I conclude it's a great day.

The Happy List?

Start with 10 things, and work your way up.
Take today for instance. Always start with
"I'm happy because..." and repeat that
for every point.

1. I'm happy because it was sunny.
2. I'm happy because I bought delicious peaches.
3. I'm happy because I can make fresh
tomato and basil pasta tomorrow (one of my favorites.)
4. I'm happy because I read about a touching
book about friendship in the paper today, and
I plan to buy the book.
5. I'm happy because my friend brought me
hydrangeas and Japanese anemones. Gorgeous.
6. I'm happy because I blocked in a large portrait
yesterday (can't show you yet.)
7. I'm happy because I can hear Sam practicing
drama monologues down the hall.
8. I'm happy because I walked in the park at dusk
with Zoey and we saw the stars come out.
9. I'm happy because Fiona (the cat) is healing.
10. I'm happy because I know all of you, and if
I haven't commented lately, I know I'll catch up.
And I'm so delighted to know you and see the
amazing work you're doing.

Have a knowing-what-makes-you-happy day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A great painting day

A Danish painter in Norway
Stages 4 - 6
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

I am a firm believer in lists, but some days I
forget to make them. Not a good plan. Today
I decided I must have a list. But it was a busy
day. So dashing to the Art Gallery of Ontario
I decided I'd make my list over a cup of tea in the
beautiful Member's lounge.

Thank goodness I did because I worked on
several paintings when I got home, and even
got some time to work on my painting of Henriette.
That made me ridiculously happy. So did staring at
an amazing portrait by Fred Varley at the A.G.O.
He's one of the true Canadian painting greats. I hope
you had a productive day too.

Have a super-creative-joyous-loving-laughing day.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chasing tree shadows

Summer shadow blues
Acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

A little while ago I showed you a painting I did of
a person walking down a sunny street. In that image
a tree shadow made a large abstract shape flooding
across the sidewalk and street. I love the look of
tree shadows, and in this part of the world, you
only get a wide canopy of shade from tree cover
in summer. Maybe that's why these glorious
shadows seem emblematic of the season.

I've been working on this painting for a week or so
now on and off, and I'm getting closer to the desired
effect. I may stay abstract or add a realistic element
to anchor the piece. I'm not sure. Walking home from
a friend's house tonight I couldn't help noticing the
lovely shadows cast by the trees under an almost full
moon. The light was so bright that some trees cast
a shadow carefully illustrating each leaf's dark
twin. Magical.

Have a seeing-the-beauty-in-shadows day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In the habit of drawing

In the white dress with the red flowers at the wedding
Black marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

At O.C.A.D. (The Ontario College of Art and Design)
when I was there we weren't even allowed to draw
in the normal sense for the first few weeks in life
drawing class. The object was to get us to make a
fluid connection between our eyes and the drawing
hand. So we had to "draw" without looking at our
paper. Our eyes stared that model right into the floor
I imagine. Those earnest teenage eyes staring and staring,
and drawing without looking down. Uh uh uh our teacher
would tut tut at us. No looking down!

As frustrating as this early practice in blind contour
drawing was, it ingrained in me the importance of drawing.
True I am a painter, but when I want to understand
something I'm looking at, I'll probably draw the image

Let's get serious
Skype drawing
Black marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Tonight's drawings are simple fine black marker sketches.
It gave me great pleasure to do them.

Have a focusing-on-drawing day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Painting Henriette painting

A Danish painter in Norway
Stages 1 - 3
Ground, drawing and blocking in
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Here's the beginning of a new
painting -- a portrait of
my friend Henriette).

Sometimes when I look back on what's been happening
in my life recently I have to give myself a pinch. Can this
be true? When I was a freelance writer it was
one of my dreams to have my own column. I wanted to
be an advice lady, or write about great cultural events.
Now I do write almost every day, and usually cover
just my own observations on life in my city, and my
own studio. If I rewind even by five years, I would not
have been able to imagine my current life. Not at all.

I was a painter back in 2005, and a writer. But this?
Talking to you every day? Meeting painters from around
the world? No way. I would have told you you were
crazy if you'd tried to convince me it would all happen.

So tonight I began a painting of my friend Henriette
painting. I posted a sketch of the painting on my blog
on June 1. I will pull that sketch out and compare it
to the painting so far. It's a big painting, 30 inches x
30 inches, and it will be quite simple and abstract I
think when it's finished. I love painting on a large
surface, with two inch wide brushes. So much fun.
Like Henriette. But it's so strange to reflect on the
fact that without this blog I wouldn't have been
invited to show in Florence, without the Florence
Biennale I wouldn't have met Henriette, without
Skype, I wouldn't have been able to see her while
we talked, and without my computer I wouldn't
have been able to take the photo I'm using to start
this painting.

It's almost absurd, following the thread of how all
of it happens. And yet at its core, it's miraculous.
My son Sam asked me the other night what I
believe in. I told him that I believe in love. I do.
So behind the mechanics and technology of this
path is love. The love of painting. The love of
culture. The love of people all over the world
for the work they do, and the people who share
that passion.

I feel intensely grateful for that reality.

Have a being-grateful-for-the-good-in-your-reality day.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Slowing down to see

Valentine's Day Blue
Acrylic on canvas
12 x 16 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I think this is the final version of
this painting. I changed the doors and
added more pink to the sky. Done.
I think. I just took the photo
again outside. It's still not
completely accurate, but much better!)

When I'm having trouble concentrating when I'm
painting, I like to listen to audio books. We do
the same thing on long drives (like the 14 hour drive
between Pugwash, Nova Scotia and Quebec City).
So today I went to the library to get some audio books
to listen to while I work on my current projects. I
shocked my friend Flora when I told her that 'no I
don't have an iPod. I think I did, but I was never
any good at earphones, especially earbuds.'

I parked about two blocks away, and was just about
to open the heavy library doors when I realized I'd
left my library card in the car. I got it out so I'd be
ready, then didn't put it in my pockets. Yeesh. So I
turned around and suddenly a visual feast popped
out at me on my walk back to the car. A lush spray
of pink roses, a mailbox painted to look like a house,
decorating a house that was exactly like the mailbox,
a woman walking by with a gorgeous sleeping baby
girl, facing forward in a snuggly, her plump legs and
arms hanging slack. A flock of small birds swooped
and flew up again in an impressive flutter of
synchronized flight. And I felt grateful for being
distracted and leaving my card behind.

Slow down the world said, and take a look you artist
you. You know. Open your eyes. So I did. Tonight
I've been working again on finishing the farmhouse.
The door was not quite right. I think that's it for this
winter baby.

Have a slowing-down-and-loving-what-you-see day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On a rainy Sunday

On the phone
Watercolour on bond paper
5.5 x 8.5 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(The cat behind me on the
right hand side is Fiona.)

It has been raining all day. Not just a little bit.
Maybe that's why I felt like doing a little watercolour
sketch tonight. Sunday night is family night, and
my husband made a special supper. We drove
through driving rain to a couple of farmers' markets
north of the city to get fresh fruit and veggies
for a stir fry. Sooo good. We got talking to a lady
from Sicily selling the biggest, palest, mauve eggplants
I've ever seen. Her elderly mother and father gave
her intensive advice on every move she made. She
sighed and looked a bit worn out by the day by
the side of the road in the rain. But I said both
thank you and good-bye to her in Italian, and she
liked that. What a beautiful language. I wish I knew
more. Much more.

So I decided to draw a self-portrait tonight, because I know
my own face. Plus I liked the cheerful telephone
picture. So many of my friends, relatives and close
family either live far away, or travel, that I frequently
need to connect by phone. This was a quick study.
I was trying to capture the white of the computer
light as it comes up in photo booth, and the same
light reflecting on my glasses. I drew and painted the
image in a little notebook I picked up in New York.
The paper is beautiful, but not really right for
watercolour. My rules were I had to paint with whatever
was near my desk. I used a coffee cup for water, a half inch
acrylic brush for most of the painting. My watercolours and
the sketchbook were in the room, and I had a 1/8 inch brush
that I used for finer lines. When I was finished, I rinsed out
the mug, cleaned the brushes and put them back in the
container on my desk, put the paints back in the bookshelf,
and hoped my family wouldn't even know I'd been painting
outside my studio. (Not that they'd mind.) With watercolour
I can be discreet, with acrylic never. Acrylic spreads and leaves
a trail. But both are wonderful.

Have a moving-through-the-medium day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ever tried this?

Fiona in the special Elizabethan vet collar
Black marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

This morning the paper is full of doom. Correction: every
morning the paper is full of doom. And there's no
question that this is appropriate. There are
so many tragedies and calamities in the world. We
need to know about them, vote about them, take action,
send money.

But after that we need to paint. When I teach I do
a hard job. My own life has its share of hardship, but
I tend to teach people who've lived through, or are
living through difficulties I can barely imagine. Perhaps
that's why I focus my art in the opposite direction, why
I feel it's my central job to find the joy in life, both
for myself and for everyone around me. It is why I
believe it's important to learn how to be joyous,
through whatever methods work for you.

Perhaps you could try something as simple as
taking out your paints and looking at the colours
you love. Or in your dreams you could turn away
from sadness and focus on cheering thoughts. Last
night I dreamt I was in Paris. I think it was because
a friend and I had taken a walk on Yonge street and
had a wonderful conversation with a man who sells
tableware (bowls, plates and mugs), and fabric
from Provence, France. He was telling us all about
Paris, his home. So I dreamt I owned a house in Paris,
very beautiful, and then I was thinking about that
lovely bunting Americans decorate their porches with
for the 4th of July. So I decided I'd like to decorate my
Paris home with this bunting, but I wanted mine all made
of flowers -- fresh roses and lilacs, tulips and all
kinds of flowers. The problem was my house had no
front porch to speak of. It was an old, beautiful classic
French building. So quick as a wink I built a set of stairs
going to the roof, and made a small deck up there with a
clear vista of all of Paris. Then I swagged it like crazy in
drifts of flowers, in scallops like the American 4th of
July swags.

Cleome and Nicotiana in the garden tonight
The Nicotiana is 6 feet tall at least

When I woke up I was dazzled. And I thought bring that
happiness into the day. So we've been to the vet already.
The lovely but expensive Fiona has an abscess and had to
get treatment, but I can still see my house in Paris, and
my extravagant flower bunting. Try letting the best of
your dreams power your day. Then try circling all the
happy stories in the newspaper (on the weekend there
seem to be more of these). After you've read them, put
the paper in the recycling box, and give yourself a break.
As for me I'm going to pat my poor cat with the giant
Elizabethan collar to prevent her from licking her cut,
and enjoy the day.

Have a keeping-the-dream-vivid day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gardens, dogs and a sweet girl

Popsicles and polka dots
Black marker on bond paper
4 x 5 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

When I tell my friend that watching Morning
Glories makes me understand that plants
certainly do think, she laughs, but she knows
what I mean. She has wild Morning Glories in
her garden and she wants them gone.
I love Morning Glories more than I can say.
That pure blue is a colour worth getting
out of bed for. But because I have shared
fences on three sides of my yard, I have to be
extra vigilant. These flowers want to go where
they want to go -- along the ground, around my
neighbour's Daisies, up and over the garage to
the back fence neighbour's trees.

Morning glories in my garden

I'm working on a few paintings that I can't show you
yet. So tonight I thought -- I know I'll just do a
quick sketch of my dog Zoey. Nope she had a mind
of her own. Every time I'd get a nice sketch going she'd
roll over and completely change directions on her
dog bed. What could I do?

I looked at my pile of half starts and pulled out
some old photos. So tonight's drawing is of my friend's
little girl eating a Popsicle. That little girl is all grown up
now, and has a voice like an angel. As a little girl she
was brilliant, funny and kind to my sons and we
had many a summer picnic together. I haven't seen her
in a couple of years, but the last time I saw her she
was an lovely and talented young woman.

Have a drawing-what-will-be-drawn day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Manhattan TV

Kristal Hart and me on MNN
during an interview at
the opening of the May
show at the Amsterdam Whitney Gallery
in New York City

At 9 p.m. Tuesday this week I was on the Kristal
Hart Show, on MNN, (Manhattan Neighborhood Network).
Sam and I watched the show on Steven's computer and
it was fun to see the artists I met at the opening
interviewed and to relive the excitement of that event.

In the next couple of weeks I am going to get a You Tube
link to my segment on that show. When I do I'll be
sure to link it to the blog. That's all for today. I've been
working on a large portrait commission, it's late
and I'm tired now. So I hope to have more
images for you tomorrow.

Have an enjoying-whatever-happens day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A happy life together

After the wedding
Stages 6 - 8
Acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2010

I'm thinking a lot about love this week because just a
week and a half ago I watched this lovely couple get
married. This little portrait is just my response to a
photo I took at the end of the wedding reception. I
was leaving and saying goodbye to the bride and
groom, when I realized I'd love a picture, so they
kindly posed.

It's still not quite finished, as I'm spending quite a bit
of time working on other paintings. But I certainly
do wish this sweet pair a happy life together. I have
been lucky to enjoy a long and happy marriage.
Blessed as I have been, I think almost anything you
can say about love and happiness will be true for
someone. And many people are perfectly content
living alone, with or without a cat.

It has been an exquisite day in Toronto. The weather
is warm with a breeze, the sky a pure, end of summer
blue. I listened to a speaker last week who said that
we are innately happy, and have to work very hard to
be miserable. I think in Toronto today being miserable
would have required a supreme effort. People
all over the city were wowed by the weather and happy
as could be.

Have an -you-know-what-I'm-happy day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dreaming of a theme

Missing Home
Skype Sketch
Black marker on bond paper
6 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Most of my portraits have something to do with
love. Either the people being painted want a
special present for someone they care about, or
clients want people they love to be painted.
As an artist, a feeling of strong affection
for the world, its landscapes, and people is
in every painting and drawing I am happy with.
My hope is that the people who buy my work
enjoy that quality.

Tonight's drawing is of someone missing home,
and thinking about the loved ones there. Many
people around the world are feeling that tonight.
Love is such a strong bond, and we feel the lack
of it when the people we love to be around are
far away. The miracle of the world we live in
is that we can feel much closer than we could have
even a century ago -- maybe even than we could
have five years ago.

Have a loving-the-people-around-you-and-missing-you day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Real life is love

After the wedding
Stages 1 - 5
(not quite finished)
Acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

It is late and I'm trying to finish, but haven't quite
a little painting of the bride and groom at a wedding
I thoroughly enjoyed attending a week ago. The
couple are so clearly in love, and I am a sucker for
love stories.

I have been wanting to finish the painting just so
I could include a quote from John Keats'
Ode on a Grecian Urn.

I left art college before I'd finished my degree to
get an honours degree in English Literature. At art
college I was crazy about the art instruction,
which concentrated on the visual but wanted
to learn more about literature.

And that desire has never left me. Now though,
I rarely remember the poetry books on my shelf,
and it's such a treat when I put down my popular
novels and reach for John Keats for instance. The
poet died at 25, still a kid by current standards,
yet wrote some of the most profound poetry in the
English Language before his death.

You've probably read this a million times,
but I do like this second verse:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal -- yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss.
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
John Keats from Ode on a Grecian Urn.

The book of poems fell of the shelf (literally -- there
were too many books there) and into my hands when
I was roughing in the lines for this painting.
It seemed apt somehow. The wedding is over, real life
will make its demands, mortgages, schedules, payments
for cars and soup. But in real life love is the reward,
for paying the mortgage, meeting the schedule,
making the soup, recovering from illness, planting a
garden, helping others who need it, and for painting.
Love is both the process and the goal.

Side note: At art college we used to go to the museum
to draw. That was an official class, and every week
we'd traipse into the Royal Ontario Museum, set up
stools and draw for the current project. I learned so
much about history that way. So of course we drew
Grecian urns for one of our assignments, which later
at university made it much easier to understand
exactly what Keats meant.

Wow. It's time to call it a day.

Have a loving-the-words-of-the -great-poets day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Made it to the market

Boy at the beach (study)
black marker on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(This is a small drawing I did while
I was contemplating how to paint
the final image of the Boy at the beach.
I frequently do drawings to
study a face or pose before I
begin painting. )

Saturday mornings are sacrosanct except when work
pressures mean a client is coming to pose, or perhaps
when we're travelling. Otherwise our routine is set.
Steven makes coffee (bless him), I read the paper,
and my novel in bed. The dog and cats, and Steven
then come up the stairs in a procession to bring me
the pot, the milk and my second cup. Yum.

So as this ritual takes some time, it's rare that we get
out to the Brick Works farmers' market. Which is a
crying shame, because it's just fabulous, and at
this time of year jam packed with fresh fruits and
vegetables -- all fairly locally grown. Plus I love
buying flowers from Pegann, and cloth from Jan
Marriott. Afterwards there's a feeling of great
abundance in the house, and something else,
almost intangible -- that rich sense of success that
comes from getting up and out on time to enjoy
one of the many wonders this city has to offer.

Flowers and tomatoes from the market yesterday.
It's so hot here that everything has to go straight into
the refrigerator and the flowers are already
starting to wilt!

Have an enjoying-what's-available-where-you-are day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The magnificent Marcia

Crowing couple
Based on a reference photo by Squeaky Marmot
black marker and graphite on bond paper
10 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I love crows. I started this drawing
before we went on vacation and didn't
even notice the second crow in the picture.
You can get some tired before a holiday.)

Blogs really do create and deepen friendships.
My friend Marcia Labelle credits me with encouraging
her to start blogging. I don't remember that. What
I do remember is my first meeting with this
formidable sculptor and incredible fine artist.
Back in university when I was a kid and a bit of
a space cadet, Marcia strode across campus wearing
a bright red jump suit, hair flowing. The former
actress, trained in New York who'd hit the boards in
England had a deep, gorgeous trained voice and an
air of knowing what she was doing.

Marcia and her husband, David Cohen, visit our show
On The Bright Side at the
Wychwood Barns in June.

charcoal on manila
Marcia Labelle © 2010

I have been her friend and admired her art work
since that day. Her sculptures are fantastic, and
few artists I know can draw with such a command,
of line, shape and feeling. Since she started blogging
we have become much closer friends, because
discussions about art on the phone, emails and in
blog comments are so much easier with concrete
visual examples and writing at hand.

After the crisis of the cat was over, we took our son Sam and
his friend Nata to Port Dover one day. We'd never
been there and it's a two hour drive. So we ate dinner,
hopped in the car, then headed for Port Dover's beach. Lake
Erie has undergone a clean up and the fish in the lake
are now considered safe to eat. Port Dover is a vibrant
cottage and beach community with the requisite beach
side casual restaurants, and ice cream stands. We
walked on the beach and watched the sunset which
helped to ease our sadness at leaving Nova Scotia.

Nata, Sam and I pose
in front of Port Dover's
palm trees.

Sam, Nata, Steven and an unknown boy wait
for ice cream.

But the drive to Port Dover took us through Hamilton,
Marcia's hometown. So we called Marcia and she
graciously invited us over that evening for coffee.
I immediately asked to see Marcia's large studio
at the back of the house, and we left David, her
husband, Steven, Sam and Nata to look at her
work and talk about the blog world.

Before we left everyone came out to the studio
and stood in awe looking at Marcia's fine work.
But she and I kept talking. We don't see one another often
and there's an urgency in our talks now because
there's so much art to talk about, our own and yours
out there in blog land. It all matter acutely.

In fact my family was in the car, and we were about
to drive off into the very late evening when I said
stop the car I need five minutes to finish that
conversation, and jumped out to finish our
discussion about how blogging affects an artist's
work. So much fun.

Sunset from the pier at Port Dover, on Lake Erie

Have an enjoying-your-conversations-about-art day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Talking art in Bear River

Steven on the phone
(Not in Bear River -- just trying to
confuse you)
Quick Skype sketch
Black Prismacolor on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

My friend Flora Doehler in Bear River, Nova Scotia,
was a friend before I started blogging. We met through
our art club and actually began to talk to one another
because we were knocked out by each other's work.
When Flora lived in Toronto we tried to show together at least
once a year. She and Larry were fantastically
organized and I learned a lot watching them set up
when we had to hang our own shows. Larry and Steven
who were our crew on shows in a local library gallery,
called themselves "us guys", and had great fun
with each other.

Larry Knox and Flora Doehler in their kitchen

Then a few years ago Flora and Larry came out to
Nova Scotia for a wedding when we were at our
school house, and we drove out to Cape Breton with
Sam to meet them. Flora and I painted together on
a lovely beach, and we had great meals together.

After we left each other Flora and Larry kept exploring
the province and fell deeply in love with the small
tidal river town of Bear River. They now own
a gorgeous century old farm house that they have
completely renovated, and live in Nova Scotia full time.

Midnight tulips
Liquid acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Flora Doehler © 2010

So this year we drove down to see them and spent a couple
of days sharing meals and talking about art. That was
when the whole sick cat saga began, and Flora and
Larry were very kind and understanding about how
upsetting the whole situation was for us.

Lunch is served -- fresh made fish chowder.

Still we lunched on fabulous chowder, and Flora showed
me the super work in her studio. Flora encouraged me
to start blogging almost a year before my son actually
helped me to start. I was formidably against the idea,
but somehow got wind of Norene's temporary blog,
and the rest is oft repeated history.

Our friendship has definitely been enhanced by the
fact that we both write blogs. Flora now has two:
and. Through her blogs:Green Willow Studio, and
Our Bear River Adventure.

I've watched their house come together through
the long renovation and seen their garden being planted
and growing. So it was so exciting to see everything in
real life. It was also wonderful to realize that blogs
like Flora's give you an excellent impression of
how things really are.

Got to get back to work. But mad props to you
Flora and Larry for some great talks, super food
and the incredible work you've done on your

Have a keeping-in-touch-with-blog-friends day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blog friends are real

Getting a big canvas going.
My friend Flora Doehler
an artist blogger we visited in Bear
River, Nova Scotia, said she
wanted pictures that show the
scale of paintings. Here I'm putting
the ground on an 36 x 48 inch stretched canvas.

For all my blog friends out in the world I have
some excellent news. Not only are blog friendships
real, but friendships started independently of
blogging can deepen and become more meaningful
because of blog connections. When I was in Nova
Scotia I spent a lot of time at the lovely Chatterbox
Café. My friend Norene Smiley is the reason I
started blogging.

Norene at the Chatterbox Café
She and a couple of friends
set up a blog to both celebrate and advertise
a show they were having in Dartmouth, near
Halifax, Nova Scotia. They wrote a blog about their
progress, and I wanted to be able to respond and
write encouraging comments to Norene and her
friends. Norene's paintings are very exciting for me.
She uses layers, and layers of acrylics, scratches into
the paint, wipes paint on and off, plays with and delights
in the medium. Just after we arrived at our school house
she had an opening in a group show at the Fraser Cultural
Center in Tatamagouche and Steven and I went out to see it.

Norene with some of her work from the Alien Gardens
series. She is currently working on a series inspired
by the salt mine and the ships that come to Pugwash,
Nova Scotia to collect the salt we all use and carry it off
to Montreal and other ports to be shipped out for your

As Norene runs an incredibly vibrant and successful
café in the small town of Pugwash with her husband
Greg, she is a very busy woman. So if I visit the Chatterbox
every day I maybe get to see her for about 10 hours a
year. Yet we have a connection because she sometimes
comments on my blog, and Greg occasionally features her work on
his Pugwash blog, TLJ Thoughts.
One of the most exciting times on our visit out east was when
Norene invited me downstairs into her studio below the
café to see her current series. Big, powerful, Diebenkorn
like industrial pieces. Abstract with vibrant colour.

I am working on a number of paintings now, so I'll have
to continue my tales of artist friendships through the
blog tomorrow.

Meanwhile have a that's-right-my-friends-on-the-blog-
are-inspiring-to-the-max day

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Skinny

Shadow play in Forest Hill
Acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches
(not quite finished)
Barbara Muir © 2010

I'm thinking of the word skinny because I took
my car in to get the oil changed the other day. That
doesn't make any sense does it? But wait. I
had to wait for an hour -- actually 3 1/2 hours,
but I'm not one for freaking about time spent
waiting. So I walked over to the nearest mall
(Yorkdale) in Toronto, and walked around.
The mall was closed (it was 8 a.m. when I arrived),
but I looked at the display windows in every store.
So much fun to watch the cleaning up, dressing of
mannequins, window styling, and all the preparation
that goes into setting up for another day in one of
this city's top malls. I grabbed a coffee and greatly
enjoyed the peace and quiet and watching the mall
come to life.

The Skinny hit me as every clothing store in
the mall has Skinny jeans. I won't be getting
them, but I thought I'd talk about the skinny on
our vacation. Well...Nova Scotia was as beautiful
as ever, and we had a wonderful time until things
began unravelling at home. We had a completely
wonderful time, but my Siamese cat, the beautiful
and sweet Fiona, missed us too much, and developed
pancreatitis! So after spending about three days
glued to my husband's Blackberry and deep in worry,
we headed for home, and drove the 1600 k
(just shy of 1,000 miles) in two days. (My advice?
Don't do this!)

After extensive vet visits, and three days on an I.V.
while we were gone, Fiona, who is only three, rallied.
People say why all this fuss over a cat? My answer is
that if you don't have a cat you love, you can't know. We
have two cats and a dog. They've been great friends,
great animals, part of our family and the inspiration
for artwork.

Fiona sleeping on my bed

A shout out to my friends in the Maritimes. (More on
that coming), and to Sam, Josephine, Claudia, Cathy and
Sean who kept the home fires burning, kept the garden
watered, and saved our little kitty's life. It was a much
happier homecoming than it could have been without

Now we're back and it's back to work. Art work that
is. I've missed you greatly, and I'm delighted to be
back in the blog world. I don't know if I'm going to
continue to blog daily. I will see how the mood hits
me. I may start to take weekends, or excessively
busy days off. I think I've learned a lot by not blogging.
But that too will have to wait for another day.

Have a hey-it's-still-summer-don't-make-me-buy-fall-clothes day.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sliding into summer -- cold turkey on blogging

Steven contemplates the menu at
The Sandpiper restaurant
in Pugwash, Nova Scotia
black marker on bond paper
10 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

I remember when I had a full time office job that it
used to feel that the few weeks before my vacation
were on a downhill slide. It wasn't that I wasn't
working as hard, or thinking about my job, I
was probably working harder, and doing more.
But people's voices and demands played in my ears
in a kind of slow mo distortion. The time had definitely come
for some R. and R. -- kicking back with my husband
and kids.

Walking the beach at sunset -- this is the view I
saw this summer.
I craved this very scene with all of my being.
Sometimes in the whir of business, the soul
takes over, and says -- enough. We need to listen.

This summer I felt that once again. I really needed
to get off the merry ride of my life, and sit. I wanted
more than anything to do nothing, listen to the birds
and waves at the sea shore, walk on the beach -- read,
read, read!

So I did. And now a happy reveler I'm back.
I missed you so much. At first I read your blogs,
but out at our school house we don't always even
get dial up Internet. I knew I didn't want to spend my holiday
focusing on when and where I could get a computer
hook up. That's been my reality for more than two years.

Sunset on a cloudy day. Pure colour. My love of
this beach, and this experience knows no bounds.

I'm back in the city, refreshed and renewed. But as
my sister said one of her friends said about her
vacation, " I do have stories..."

Have a taking-a-real-vacation day.

Portrait Artist

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I paint and draw on commission and for shows. To commission a portrait, or purchase one of my paintings please contact me at: barbara.muir@sympatico.ca
A major highlight in my career? Drawing Oprah Winfrey live via Skype for her show "Where in the Skype are you? Galleries: Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Canada. The Amsterdam Whitney Gallery, New York City. Gallery at the Porch Door, Kingston, Canada. Your positive comments on this blog mean the world to me. I'd love to hear from you!