Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I do get to

 In a peaceful mood
Acrylic on canvas
18 x 18 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(We had a wonderful model tonight
at my art group.  She was an
actor, a minister, a lawn bowler,
and a great person.  Everyone
created super paintings.  I am
happy with mine.)

One of my blog friends just reminded me of the
"have to",  "get to" transformation.  Thanks
Marilyn.  You are so right.  I'm working with a
long list of could be "have to"s that I just
converted to "get to"s, and I felt the panic
subsiding, and happiness flooding into my
brain synapses where all important changes
are processed.  Yep.  I get to.  I get to
finish marking, I get to teach, I get to paint,
I get to go to art class, I get to get my snow
tires on first thing in the morning, I get to
go to school in snow probably.  I get to laugh.
I get to play with the dog.  I get to enjoy life.

The transformation takes me from "poor little
me," to lucky me.  As Mike Dooley said last
June when I saw him in person, happy people
are busy people.  I know I am doubly blessed
to be both happy and busy.  Now take a deep
breath and move on to the next thing.  And
while you're at it, put some music on that
you love.  And while you're at it, pick up the
cat and do a little dance step -- she misses your
happy-go-lucky self.

Have a getting-to-enjoy-life day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hey -- You're on my list!

My computer is having some difficulty uploading
the material tonight, but let me carry on.

Self portrait on Monday night
Charcoal on bond paper
12 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

It's been an incredibly busy day,  and we're having our street 
dug up -- this time for water, for the second time since the
summer.  I decided to do a self portrait, simply because I'm
here and cooperative, but what do you know my hand
immediately moved into the position that drove me crazy
in high school photos.  You know the ones taken by the
photographer who made every girl pose in this pose, and got 
every guy to look tough.   And there's my hand doing it 

I leave you with a video, because it is getting late and time
to move to the next thing on the list.  

Have a happily-crossing-off-that-list day.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life with cats and dogs

Simone in the Forget-Me-Nots
Acrylic on canvas
(work in progress)
5 x 3 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

For those of us who paint in response to real life, it's
hard to resist turning to the cats and dogs who populate
our world for subject matter.  Take today for
instance I found a small canvas just begging for
a painting.  Thinking of the superb small paintings
Belinda Del Pesco does, I thought "Hmmm what about
a cat?" I searched through Steven's wonderful albums and
found one of my favorite pictures ever of Simone in
the Forget-Me-Nots.  Simone was a wonderful cat, and
she liked to go outside.  But Siamese are not really safe
left to wander, because people either want them, or are
frightened by their yawly speech, and hurt them.  So
Simone went out on a red leash, just into the backyard
during her lifetime.  Her eyes were almost the exact colour
of the Forget-Me-Nots.  She was a spectacularly loving and
wonderful cat.

Our Siamese now -- Fiona, has been with us since November
2007.  I bought her while I was still devastated with the loss
of Simone, who died after exploratory surgery.  I'm so glad I
did.  She has been a comfort and joy ever since I first set eyes
on her.  I read in the paper a few weeks ago that it takes
14 parts of the brain to fall in love, and it happens in five
seconds.  That's about right when it comes to me and Fiona.

The Heater Wars are on again.  Watch how Fiona steals that
coveted spot away from our dog Zoey.

 It is getting cold, so the animals position themselves 
near the heat vent from the furnace.  The warmest one is
under the kitchen counter. This is Fiona next to
the feet of our dog, Zoey.

Fiona feigns disinterest.  She's just
there for a friendly chat.  She can
take or leave the heater.  It's no
big deal.

But she's so tired, so she decides just to lie 
down with Zoey -- nice and friendly.

But she's not quite warm enough so she
decides to burrow in a bit more behind
Zoey.  In the process she may just lick a
very sensitive place on Zoey's leg.
And voila -- what a surprise -- Zoey leaves.
This was not a calculated move on Fiona's
part.  She keeps trying to talk to Zoey
about co-operation, but Zoey is jumpy-- what
can you expect -- she's a dog.

Ah well she says.  If people want to be that
sensitive.  Let them -- meanwhile I think
I'll put my front paws right on that
heat vent.  Now that's so much better.

Have a loving-the-animals-who-make-life-great day.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Super show at Todmorden Mills

What a day from start to finish!  The light was magnificent
and bright this morning when Steven brought me my
coffee. He opened the curtains and the day looked so
dazzling.  Its secret?  Snow ladies and gentleman --
just a gentle dusting in Toronto, but enough that
when mixed with sunlight -- pow major wattage.

Early Mandarins in a Glass Bowl hanging on the wall at Todmorden Mills
Acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

Maureen Morrison (left) gives me a hug
before she takes my painting off the wall
and heads out of the DVAC 
Large and small picture show today.

So in a super mood we headed over to Todmorden
Mills so I could help sit the Don Valley Art Club
Large and Small Picture Show.  For people who
submit smaller paintings, like me in this case,
the point is that the buyer can take that painting
right off the wall, as soon as the cheque for the
right amount is safely in the hands of the people
on the payment desk.
Visitors enjoyed the show today, and 
make sure you get down there tomorrow.

Well -- I had just started my shift and was walking
around with my clipboard and red dots when someone
from the club tapped me on the shoulder and asked
if I knew what I was doing because she wanted to
buy a painting.  Well blow me over with a feather --
the painting she wanted to buy was mine!  Yep.
Naturally I let her, and we snapped a couple of
shots of the two of us amping it up before she
took my painting off the wall, and I ran back to
the car to get the replacement painting, you are
supposed to have handy.  I did.  Wish me good
karma on selling the others.  And if you are in
town head over to Todmorden Mills tomorrow
afternoon to do some Christmas or Holiday shopping.
There are probably 120 paintings in the show, and
all of the small ones have other paintings waiting in
the wings to pop up on the walls for the next
discerning art buyer.  The show is on next
Saturday and Sunday afternoon too from noon
to 4 o'clock. (I've been advised that it's also open
during the week staffed by Todmorden Mills
 Wednesday to Friday from noon to 4:30).

We came home and played cards with friends,
then Steven and I watched a romantic movie on
TV.  A perfect day all round.  Exciting and quiet,

For my friends in the southwest I'm hoping that
because I am a woman, and the artist who bought
my work (and by the way if you're in Toronto you
should go and check out her wonderful landscape
in her signature gorgeous blue) is a woman, that
we are holding up the feminist side of this art
discussion.  But I should mention that there are
many wonderful paintings in the show by men,
like Peter Adam, who I have shown with, and
my good friend Michael Steinhauser who was
there today, and too many more men and women
to name.

By the way the wall is not empty -- I replaced
the mandarins with this painting.
Nectarines on a pressed glass cake plate
Acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

To all of you in blogland, thanks for your good
wishes and support. 

Have a loving-your-artist-friends day.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Dad's Lake Mazinaw


 Flowers at Mazinaw
Oil on board
24 x 36 inches
©W.W. Muir (date unknown)

When we were children my father and mother rented
a cottage from my mother's uncle and aunt.  My mother's
sister and her husband rented another of the three
cottages my great aunt owned.  We were not a chummy
family with dozens of relatives coming in and out of
our house most of the time.  But at Lake Mazinaw all
that changed. My father usually spent his two weeks
holiday there, but my mother and my two brothers and
sister usually spent a month or so there with my father
coming up on weekends.

My memories from those summer days are some of
the fondest from my childhood.  Because we were all
family up and down the forested path next to the lake,
we had many meals together, and the adults laughed, joked
and played cards with one another.  The cousins, my aunt's
two sons and our brood of four played in the water on rubber
rafts and later putted back and forth lazily in motor boats, or
canoed carefully exploring the lake.  If you Google
Mazinaw you'll discover that it is the second deepest
lake in Ontario.  It was once the haunt of artists and
writers, and there's a Walt Whitman poem chiseled into
the face of Bon Echo rock, which is an impressive
100 meters high.

My dad was a strict man, but he relaxed at the cottage.
He loved going out in the canoe with my mother and
heading for some remote spot to take beautiful photos,
his second passion after painting.  This painting hangs in
the bedroom I usually stay in when I visit my mother.
It is of a  swamp flower, and I don't know the name of
the species, but if you do you can tell me.

I've grown to love it over time for its simplicity and
the confidence my father felt in painting by the time
he produced it.  Now I love it because it speaks of
his love for the days at the lake, that remain locked
in my memory, like the sparkling sun on the water,
and the smell of bacon, eggs -- my mother's home
made bread toasted and slathered with butter and
her wild strawberry jam.  I can smell pine needles and
imagine sitting out under the stars at night, or listening
to music on the radio and dancing with my sister in our
cabin far from the main cottage.  I spent my summers
there from the time I was two until I was 13.  Then
my father and uncle couldn't agree on a price because
my father wanted to buy our cottage, so the deal fell
through and we quit going there.  We moved from
Ottawa to Toronto, and I've been up to the lake just
once since that time.

So once again art connects me to my father and our
too short time together on the planet.  Here's to you dad.
On this frosty night in Toronto I'm dreaming of our halcyon
summers at Mazinaw.

Have a remembering-your-childhood-summers day

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Artists for Africa

Photo from the Peace Matunda Orphanage and School slideshow

Tonight we are going to a party at the Pilot Tavern
here in Toronto in support of my friend Gill Cameron
who is going to teach in Arusha, Tanzania in Africa
this winter.  Her whole family, Gill, her husband Bruce
Harbinson, and the girls, Emily and Meredith are going
to spend Christmas together there before Gill begins her
volunteer work.
Artwork from the Peace Matunda school and orphanage

Last June when I showed with Gill, all of the proceeds
from the sale of her work were going towards this project.
So tonight we will celebrate with her at the fundraising
party and learn more about the project.  I may have
more to say when I get home.

Later...What an event!

My friend Gill is an amazing watercolour painter,
a fantastic artist and an all round great person,as
kind as they come, shy, petite and strong as steel.
So this winter she will be working at the Peace
Matunda orphanage and school.  A young couple
started the orphanage because they were taking children
into their own home, and they wanted to be able to
help more children.  Tonight's party helped raise
enough money to build a whole new room on the
school, and to furnish it! It was a wonderful night
and it finished with a video of the kids that was
deeply moving.  Gill is going to live at the school,
sleep in a bunk bed with four roomates, and teach
art.  She has a duffle bag packed with art supplies and
she's very excited.
One of the children of Peace Matunda

To link to Peace Matunda click here, and if part  of
your Thanksgiving involves giving to others, this
may be the place you're looking for.  I think it
will be a huge adventure for Gill, and also a hard
place to leave.  But she will miss Bruce and her
family so much, that she'll be happy to come home
too.  I wish her the best time, all the love in the
world, and I am incredibly proud of her.

 Gill Cameron (right) and her husband Bruce Harbinson at the end of
a great  evening.  Thanks so much you two for all that you do.

Have a loving-your-friends-for-their-spirit-day

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting close to 1,000

Cape Breton dinner
(work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
14 x 18 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
 (I worked today on
Flora's face, and dress, and here
and there on other things -- It
feels like it's coming along.
I was very comforted
the other day by Belinda Del Pesco
talking about all the unfinished
paintings in her studio.  This is
one of the things I'm working on in mine.)

Hi everyone,

I'm coming up to a pretty big occasion in my blog life.
In 25 days I'm going to be at the 1,000 mark. Thanks so
much for being with me on the wild and sometimes simply
present ride that's been writing this blog.

Why do I like blogging?  There are so many reasons, that
it would be hard to list them.  The number one reason is you.
Meeting you has been incredibly exciting, and you've given
me so much.  I feel like I'm learning, I have
a supportive community that spans the globe. Plus I get to
see your work every day, and feel so  delighted that I do.

I'm a fan of Mike Dooley who sends out The Notes from
the Universe, five days a week to people who subscribe
to his newsletter.  I met him when I attended his seminar in
Toronto this summer with Steven and two friends.  In
my car I listen to the Notes on CD when I feel like I
need a boost in my positive outlook.  I used to listen to
the part about friends all over the world waiting to meet
me, and think -- "Now come on Mike I don't know if
that's true.  And do I need more friends?"  I was suspicious
then of the very bounty I now enjoy.  So the blog has
changed me, and transformed my world completely.
Mike also says on the CD that wonderful surprises
and great events are going to happen, that you cannot even
imagine.  And although I went along with that thought in
principle, I might have been skeptical about that possibility
too.  Not anymore.

If you'd told me In December 2007 "You're going to write
a blog, and because of the blog you'll meet people from England,
Ireland, France, Norway, Italy, Germany, India and all over the United
States, I would have said, "don't be ridiculous!"  Well wasn't I
proven massively incorrect, and I am so lucky that it's true.

So...about the 1,000th blog.  I'll have to think of something. It's
a month away now until Christmas Eve, and it's Thanksgiving
Eve for my American friends.  So Happy Thanksgiving to
everyone in the United States including my family and friends.
Eat some turkey for me.  We had our Thanksgiving a month ago,
and we know this is a family occasion that matters.

Eldon Warren asked me how I was going to celebrate.  I might
have to wait until the New Year for the celebration event.  But
he has got me thinking.  Too bad you all couldn't come to Toronto
and we'd have some Veuve Cliquot and celebrate.

Have a loving-your-friends-one-thousand-times-day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Will this wind be so mighty?

Sean's Garden
(work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
Windy doesn't quite cut it when you're talking about
this day.  It was windyyyyyyyyy.  And in between my front
doors blew some delightful mail from a friend far
away that cheered me mightily in a long day of
teaching, marking and more marking.  I was inspired
to paint by images of a great art show south of the
border.  In the midst of a whirlwind
of activity, after nearly being blown away up to
the seagulls and their insane aerobatics high up
in the clouds, I was  buoyed psychologically
by this real mail,  delivered by the mail carrier,
(who ever since my appearance on Oprah always calls
me movie star).

Did I say there was candy in the package too?
There was, and I have not eaten all
of it.  But how perfect for the day -- the end of term,
several shows pending, work to do, commissions to
complete -- and an unexpected treat.  Today a letter
with candy in it, could not be any closer to nirvana.

Two more gigantic piles of marking and I escaped
to work on my painting.  I think I've been greatly
influenced by a delightful show Steven and I saw a
week ago at the Art Gallery of Ontario called Maharajah.
The work in the show is wonderfully intricate -- not
always my thing, but in this case, captivating.

Have an enjoying-the-intricacies-of-nature day.
P.S. about two years ago I learned that my sons' great,
great, great grandmother was a Maharani in Indonesia.  I know
very little about her, except that my mother-in-law, her
descendant has a black and white photo showing her on
her throne dressed in highly ornamented, ceremonial

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thank you Alex Colville

 Sean's Garden
(Work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2010
(This is a little painting of
the garden under our apple tree
this summer.  I'm calling it
Sean's garden because  it was
lush and flourishing because of
Sean Gallagher's incredible work.)

Do you ever worry that you're not blogging enough?
Not producing enough? Not showing enough work
to the blog world.  You know you do.  It's the current
mania for artists to produce paintings as quickly as
cars and toasters are produced in a slick manufacturing
plant.  But some artists don't work that way.

One of Canada's biggest national newspapers
The Globe and Mail is featuring an article on
Alex Colville today. Colville is one of the greats in current
Canadian art who is celebrating his 90th birthday.
His work is both straightforward and deep.
Some of it is cold and frightening, and some chronicles
the warm relationship he has with his wife.  In fact it's
impossible to pigeon hole him as any one thing, and
that's good.

But he turns out three paintings a year.  He spends endless
time in preparation, doing sketches and planning.  Isn't this
a good thing?  I was talking to an artist last week,  caught
in the conflict of doing the work she needs to do for money,
and dreaming of the work she wants to do, that needs time.

Apparently a full-time artist in Canada earns on average
$11,000.00 per year, and I know many full time artists who
would be happy to get that much.  So artists do need other work
just to support their passion, until they are famous like Alex
Colville.  But this article gives us permission to take our time,
to work slowly and thoughtfully in the way he does.

Okay, it's back to the studio -- but could you just relax for a
moment, and realize -- no you're not crazy.  Art takes time.

One caveat.  That is that art can take time, and it can take no
time.  There is no magic formula, and the art produced in hours,
is no better or worse than that produced in months.  So time
is no measure of success.  What I'm saying is that if it does  take
time, and some of my work takes a long, long time -- that's okay.
It takes our artistic heroes time too.

Another Maritime artist who I'm sure works in a slow and careful
manner is Mary Pratt, and I love her high realism too. I'm adding her
in because some of the artists in the south western United States
have requested that I mention more women.  Balance.  All is balance.

Have a taking-it-slow-and-easy day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ode on a garden flower

 For the love of pansies
Charcoal on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

I am, and I think always will be crazy about John
Keats, the British romantic (as in literary period)
who died of tuberculosis at 25, and had written
a lifetime of memorable poetry at the time of his
death.  He was one for the Ode.  And the Pansie
is worthy of that kind of treatment.

Have I said that I love pansies?  I won't be writing
an ode here, simply because I don't know how.
But if I were John Keats those girls (I call them
girls and they could well be boys) would get their
due, just like Ode to Autumn, and Ode on a Grecian
Urn.  They are simply the sweetest, bravest, most
enduring, plucky little flowers in the garden.  In
northern climates like this one, we have to appreciate
that strength and beauty.

I've been marking papers today, but I took a break
to walk Zoey with one of her favorite male dog
friends.  And it was cold.  So cold that some little
dogs were begging their owners to cut the darn walk
short please.  Still we enjoyed ourselves.  Back home
just as I was heading inside, I saw these small miracles
and picked them. 

My drawing tonight is a quick ode to the pansies.
And that's all folks, more marking and working on
a commission tomorrow.  And perhaps more drawing.
That will be fun too.

Have a reading-Keats-and-writing-an-ode day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Creating a world of friends

 Friday night with Flora
Charcoal on bond paper
10 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
I am still constantly amazed at the power of the
Internet for good.  I know that isn't always the
case by any means, but it's been my experience
big time, and I am always delighted that this
forum for kind support exists.

 Barbara drawing
Charcoal on bond paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Flora Doehler © 2010

Flora Doehler has been that kind of artist friend
for me since our first meeting at the Don Valley
Art Club in Toronto.  She was taking part in a community
art walk in her neighbourhood across town
the weekend after I first talked to her
about her powerful bright coloured watercolors
of flowers, fruit and landscapes.  She invited
me to come over, and I saw a house devoted to
art.  The walls were all painted beautiful, bright
colours, and Flora was extremely organized
with her paints in labeled bins, special lights and

I felt  right at home, and so impressed with
her professionalism.  After that we presented
some art workshops together, and showed
with one another and a few other artists.
I was always in awe of the energy, vitality
and brave experimentation in Flora's work.
For a few years she's painted with liquid acrylics,
and this year has been experimenting with oil
sticks and making more of her gorgeous paintings.
Plus she and her husband Larry are good, warm,
wonderful people, passionate about the environment
and their own rural community in Nova Scotia where
they now live full time.

The drawings tonight are from our brief
sketching session in my kitchen last night.
We sat at opposite ends of the kitchen table
and drew with charcoal on bond paper.
Flora said that she'd been channeling a
friend she hadn't seen for years in her portrait
of me, so I look quite serious as that friend
must have been.  I've drawn Flora so many times
on Skype, and even had one of my drawings
of her featured almost size as in The Globe and
Mail in 2009, so it was wonderful to draw her
in person.

 Have a loving-your-friends-in-person day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Popping out of the blog into my kitchen

 After dinner, and a long night of talking, Flora and I
drew each other.  Larry snapped this shot of us together.
I'll show you close-ups of the work tomorrow.  

Flora Doehler was in town tonight, passing
through from her trip out west to visit her
daughter, Emily, and now she and Larry are
visiting their son Jessie in Toronto.  Flora and I
read each other's blogs avidly.  And though we
became friends when we were both members
of the art club here that I still belong to, I know
that our feeling of keeping in touch has been
greatly enhanced by the blog communication
-- both in our posts and comments.

Some of you have mentioned how nice it
would be to meet in person, and I certainly
felt that way tonight.  There are simply not
enough hours in the day, and certainly not
enough hours in a short visit to say all the
things you've been saving up without
knowing it for months.

It was so nice to see Flora's reaction to my
work that she'd only seen through the blog
photos.  And I know I felt the same way
when I visited her in Nova Scotia this summer.
At the end of the night we settled down to
draw.  I'll show you close-ups of the work
tomorrow, but for now here are two tired
friends and blogger friends very late in the
evening holding up their drawings of one

Have a loving-your-blog-friends day.
P.S.  Incidentally Flora and I met in a similar
way to the blog friendships.  We liked
each other's paintings, before we ever
were introduced to one another.  And
we wanted to meet because of the work.
Of course as soon as we  started talking
to one another we were friends.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Colour theory and me

 Jubilant spring flowers
Watercolour on watercolour paper
24  x 36 inches
© Barbara Muir (date unknown)

Looking back I feel so much empathy for the poor teacher
who had the job of teaching colour theory to
students who thought you picked up great colour
combinations by magic, not by trial and error.  I can see
him perfectly in my mind's eye, but don't remember
his name.  He was painfully thin, with thinning brown
hair, deeply tanned skin, and wire-rimmed glasses.
A tall man I sometimes saw him walking in the streets
near the school, in a long, loose black coat,
and a black beret.  He was French from France and
I felt sorry for him living in a town so void of French
language and culture.  I thought he would have been
much happier teaching in Ottawa, Montreal or
Quebec where French is spoken everywhere.  But the thing
I forgot to include writing this late last night was that
our sweet, kind teacher never wore colour.  I think he
flashed into my memory because one of my students
complained to me yesterday that I always wear black
in her class.  It's true that my uniform over time has
become a white shirt, black sweater, black pants,
black boots.  It never occurred to me before that I might
have picked up my colourless fashion tips from
my former colour theory prof.  Merci Monsieur.

 Colour study #6
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 inches
© Barbara Muir (date unknown)

I was sixteen when I studied colour theory, and it seemed
too much like charts to me.  I found the wheel
easier to absorb, than a colour chart, but I was
definitely not interested in the subject.  Still there
was something so understanding about the teacher that I
tried against my better judgement to please him
with badly executed abstract, hard edged paintings
(assignments) that played with colour theory.

Tonight I'm showing you a watercolour from my
selling watercolour while managing my young son
stage, and a very early abstract work done in my
colour theory studies phase.  It's hanging proudly
in my mother's house, but my photo does not do
it justice, because it is in fact all perfectly straight
rectangles.  The painting is supposed to explore the
movement from cold to warm colour and it does do

Have an enjoying-exciting-theories-day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More from Dad

 Into the woods at Mazinaw
Oil on board
24 x 36 inches
© W.W. Muir (date unknown).

I wish my father could see me here thinking about
his painting, something he really loved to do.  My
Dad was an elegant man.  He certainly seemed to
rule the house (his military training), but he painted
on a portable card table, first in a spare bedroom in
Toronto, and in Ottawa in the den -- a room that has never
really recovered from his presence. He painted in viyella
shirts, corduroy trousers, cashmere sweaters and highly
polished loafers.

In Toronto when he started painting, he found an art
store that would talk to him about painting, and I think
bought every colour in the store.  He took me along
because I had been designated as "artistic."  Imagine
this elegant but nervous man, in a hand-tailored three
piece suit, gorgeous trench coat, highly polished shoes
going in to buy paint. He bought a couple of very simple
books on painting and some palette knives.  He soon
discovered that he enjoyed working with a palette knife
and thick paint more than with brushes.

My dad could not have even imagined this world,
where I can publicize his work without any
approval process.  He didn't even name his paintings,
because he just painted them and gave them away.
So I'm naming them for him.  Looking back I don't
know where he mustered the courage to continue.
My mother tolerated his work, and allowed him to
hang it around her house, but for the most part she
was indifferent.  This was his bizarre "hobby", a
word I'm violently allergic to now.

Because it wasn't a hobby, it was a passion.  So
much so that when he was dying of lung cancer,
and I didn't want to admit it, I asked him on the
phone if he could still paint.  He was a business
man,  a hard worker, a wonderful writer, an excellent
speaker, an amazing photographer, but his big
love was painting.  I get it.

So here's another one.  It has warmed up the
large grey stone fireplace in my parents' home
ever since my father hung it there. I know my
mother cherishes it today.

Have a loving-your-parents'-talents day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not dumbing down for art

Morning light
(work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Refining the painting.
Not quite done.)
Okay, more on yesterday's thoughts.  I don't mean
that galleries need to dumb down their language
to attract new visitors.  The public that's not visiting
galleries is brilliant, but disinterested. But after I left
the art magazine to write for other magazines I learned
so much.  Good writing is direct.  That doesn't
mean the vocabulary needs to be simplistic,
or that you can't throw in a word like iconography,
or symbolism -- those words and others are
vital when that's what you're talking about.
Don't get me wrong.  I absolutely love going to
galleries and some of the large galleries I've visited
lately are incredibly friendly and accessible.  I was
so impressed by how kind the staff were, and how
informative at the MoMA and the Frick in New York
City.  Here at home I remember a wonderful conversation
with a docent about Emily Carr at the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

Many painters are deep thinkers, incredible
researchers, and informed readers.  But if I talk
about my Dance series, and say that it's my reaction to a
modernist zeitgeist, because I think someone
needs to hear that, I'm making my explanation up.
Now if you say that's what I'm doing, that's
your observation, and you could be right. In
fact I'll probably be so flattered that I'll go
and look up modernism, and be very impressed
with me.

I think perhaps this whole discussion is backing me into
an intellectual corner and I want out.
My point is that of course painters have ideas and
an overview of what they're striving for.  And when
they write about their work in most blogs I've
read, they tell it like it is.  Art buyers who want
a direct link to art can find it here in blogland.
There! Enough said.  Whew!  Next topic?

Have a-talking-the-talk-and-walking-the-walk day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Want to talk art -- talk to bloggers

Art show in the Skylight Gallery
Black marker on bond paper
9 3/4 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(I drew this from a photo
of a visitor looking at my paintings
in a group show in 2008 -- I find
it hard to believe that that was just
two years ago.)

I used to work for a Canadian art magazine
right after university.  It was an awesome
job, but I really found the lingo peculiar.  I had been
to art school, and was a painter.  But I also had an
English Literature degree, and was hired for that combination--
artistic aptitude plus writing ability.  Still I found the way
people talked about art a tough slog.  Maybe as an Ottawa
Valley girl I'd a strong nose for nonsense.  Painters paint.
Were they really thinking about all the aesthetic ideals the art world
wanted them to say when they were creating, or were
they just making things up?  An excellent question.

Now it appears that some of the major galleries in North
America are asking the same question, because they
want to expand the demographic attending their
gorgeous institutions.  I was listening to an interview
the other day and the head of a large public gallery said
that galleries want to change an audience that is now
predominantly white, upper class, over fifty and female.
 They want everyone to feel included in the gallery
experience, and they're starting by analyzing how people
who work in galleries "talk" about the art.

Aha I said to myself as I listened and went back into my
studio, coffee in hand, paint sweater smeared with paint,
blue jeans similarly decorated, socks not quite matching.
 It turns out the very talk that confused me and
seemed snobby and alienating when I was a girl, is the
talk that's keeping most of the public away.  But here's
my thought.  I never feel confused (or rarely) about
what an artist is saying when I read artists' blogs.  Galleries
wanting to attract audiences should turn them on to
art blogs -- for the most part clear, productive, cheerful and
accessible chat about art. What do you think?

Have a talking-straight-about-your-work day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Skype painting revisited

Taking a break from painting
stages 9 - 12
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010

When I was interviewed about Skype by Howard Wolinsky
and again for Pure Design I said that one day I'd like to
make huge Skype paintings.  So far this is the largest size
I've painted purely from Skype.  I've painted many other
portraits using Skype reference, but in this one I'm trying
to show the Skype experience -- the actual look and feel of the
conversation.  Of course the screen look changes
as the technology design changes, and from computer to
computer.  The changes are also affected by the transmission,
by the sophistication of the in-built, or add on camera
each person is using.

I love the images of Henriette I'm working from.  The light
is that magical frosty late night computer light.  But I want
to retain Henriette's warmth, the feeling that comes across
talking to her.  So much fun.  Today I worked on the painting
quite a bit more -- standing back and listening to music while I did.
And I was having such a wonderful time. There will be more to come.

Today I was going for the light, correcting the volume of her hair,
and fleshing in the small symbols that run across the bottom of my
screen.  Some of these are already hieroglyphs of a past moment in
Mac history. Which is just one of the things I think is cool about this
 type of painting.  Everything in it is new for about five seconds, and
then the next technology turns it into a story about a time that's past.

Have a yep-that's-just-how-it-was day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trying to catch it

First class lounge Ottawa train station
Black marker on notebook paper
9 x 6 inches
Barbara Muir 2010
I sometimes wish that I had more of an artistic imagination.
I don't know whether it's my training, or inclination, but
my whole art gig has been spent trying to capture what
I see.  Of course just ask anyone who knows me, and
that person will underscore the fact that I do not see
what "normal" people see.  But what I paint, with minor
modifications is what's in front of me.

Last weekend when we went to see my mother, we
traveled by train.  What a hoot the train is.  We decided
to treat ourselves to first class, which is modestly more
than coach, and boy do they treat you right.  From the
moment you sit down there are snacks, then drinks,
then the heated face cloths to get ready for -- the
fancy little appetizers, then more wine and the main
course meal.  You might be sad and worried when you
sit down, but you are one happy puppy when you
deboard, or whatever they call getting off the train. On the
return trip I got out my notebook and did a quick, quick
sketch of the people in the waiting room before we
were called to get on board.  Don't you love the sound
of a train -- and it's so much better when you're on it.

It was a serious traveling weekend, which is why
we took the train.  We celebrated my mother's birthday
in Ottawa, five hours away, and after a brief stop back home
drove the same distance from Toronto to Windsor to see my
son Sam for his birthday. Then it was back home to Toronto
for Steven's.  All of those, "I'm a travelling man" songs were
scurrying through my brain.  Except of course I'm a traveling woman.

A shout out to my sister-in-law (BFSIL forever) who's
on my family's birthday train because it was her birthday
yesterday on Canada's Remembrance Day.

Have a recording-the-world-you-see day

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The need to draw

 Flowers in a copper kettle
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Pen and ink and coloured pencil on
watercolour paper
© Barbara Muir (date unknown)
(Another drawing from my very early
drawing for an income days)

I listened to an interview the other day on Q with Jian
Ghomeshi  with the artist, writer, and wonderful speaker,
Lynda Barry.  She said that all of us have a biological
need to draw, and that we all actually do draw all the
time.  She said that the relaxation we get from doing
something artful is essential to our physiological being.
I don't want Jian Ghomeshi, or the Q people to get
swelled heads, but I was so excited driving my car
to school that day, it's a wonder that I stayed on the road,
and that actually all was and is well.

The part I liked was not only do we all need to
draw, but that we all do, that everybody draws whether
they realize it, or not.  The doodling people
do in meetings, or on the phone is all part of this
desire to create expressing itself.  Wow.  You know
I think we're not alone in that.  You may think I'm
crazy, but I probably won't worry about it.
This summer the sparrow's nest in our eaves
fell down after the babies flew off.  It may well have
been the marauding blue jays that did it, but the
nest stayed on the path beside our house for a few
days, and I wish I'd photographed it.  That nest was
like the most interesting sculptural and textile
art.  It was lined in multiple colours of string, thread,
bits of cloth, paper towels, and the coloured feathers
people use for costumes.  Yep. Dyed feathers.

So maybe not only do all of us draw, but maybe all
creatures create.  A giant leap I know, but one I'm
willing to posit as I had to unplug the keyboard in my
son's room because our cat Fiona had learned how to
turn it on, and was making it play its automatic
symphonies, while adding a few notes of her own by
walking across the keys.

Have an enjoying-your-need-to-draw day.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The full mind

Pansies in a silver bud vase
Pen and ink with coloured pencil
on watercolour paper
81/2 x 11 inches
© Barbara Muir
(date unknown)

I met someone in the park the other day when I
was walking my dog, and realized that we probably
weren't on a wavelength when she said it was good
that I like painting, because I had something to look
forward to....

This statement confused me at first, and I walked
down the path overwhelmed with the thought --
what?  But the truth was so far from that sentiment
that I might have required a full orchestra and a movie
crew to describe it.  Yes I do have something to look
forward to.  I realized as that phrase washed in and out
of my brain that I really, really do!  For instance on
that walk, each flower, each leaf, each shade of green,
and brilliantly coloured stem, the sky, the other dogs,
people like the woman I met on the path, every
single bit of it was something to look forward to.
In fact each day, despite the odd bit of fatigue, and
sadness for others, and bone weary sorrow over the
world's ills, and some of our tendencies to not want to
see them, is so filled with things, events, joys, songs,
laughter, love and detail, detail, detail, all absorbing --
that the very phrase left me gobsmacked.

The drawing I'm showing you tonight is of a little
bud vase I used to own, and some pansies showing off
their beauty in that vessel.  I love silver I have to admit,
and most things shiny.  I recently re-plated a fake gold-plated
charger a friend gave me with real 24 karat gold leaf,
because it had lost its shine.

This drawing is from my early flower drawing sales period.
I am so grateful for that stage of my life, which led me to
watercolour, and classes, which led me to acrylics and classes,
which led me to California, and eventually to Florence and New
York.  Do I have something to look forward to????  Uh yes.
So much so that it's hard to go to sleep at night.  My
excitement never ends.  Thanks for being part of it.

Have an overwhelmingly-exciting-in-a-good-way day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Selling art

Garden Flowers in a glass jug
Pen and ink and coloured pencil
8 1/2 x 11 inches
© Barbara Muir
(Date unknown)

The concept of selling my art came to me years ago when
we started to go to therapy to help us adjust to the
early tensions of parenting a new baby.  We were lucky
I think, because my sister is a therapist, and it was very
natural for us to seek and get help from one of her colleagues.
After a couple of months working out what seemed to be
giant epiphanies at the time, and what seem now to be the basics of
practical couple decision making, Steven got up
the nerve to say that he needed me to make money.

I was shocked.  Hadn't I had a baby only eight short
months earlier?  Did he mean he wanted me to be a
mother, and earn an income?!!!  He did, and the therapist
supported that notion.  The drawing tonight is a sample
of those early works for sale.  I am always delighted when
I go to my mother's house and see them.  Done in pen and
ink with a straight pen, Indian ink, and coloured in in
pro level coloured pencil, they seem shockingly detailed
to me now.  But they are still beautiful in an intensely
obsessive way.  I was trying to be a botanical artist, and
succeeded at this for several years.  In fact I drew these
images in straight sessions, spending 16 hours a day
producing them, with a baby at my feet.  Is it any wonder
that that baby is an incredibly hard worker today?  Or
that he's grown up to enter the arts field?  I guess not.

Have an honouring-your-young-sweet-naive-searching-self day.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More from Pops

 A great day on the farm
W.W. Muir
Oil on board
16 x 20 inches
(date unknown)

Much as I love my father now, in retrospect I didn't
know him very well, the way children know their
parents today.  He'd been brought up in a formal
environment, and although we ate meals together,
and as a young adult I loved his humour, I
did not have the kind of closeness with him that
I might have enjoyed today.  But looking at his paintings
the other day when I visited my mother in Ottawa,
I noticed such a joyful, and playful spirit in his
work that I felt the closeness to him that I
feel when I look at paintings by some of the greats
like Monet and Mary Cassatt, who I only know
through reading and seeing their work.

The painting by my father I'm featuring today is of
our little farm in Flesherton, Ontario.  My Dad only
owned the farm for a year, but he really loved it,
and that spirit is evident in this joyous painting.

Have a loving-the-people-in-your-past day.
P.S.  When I say formal, I do mean formal.
We frequently called our father, "father" and
only started calling him Daddy as young adults.
It was a big deal when my father started wearing
jeans on the weekend in the last few years of
his life.  A sea change.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Father's Art

 The Birches
Oil on Board
W.W. Muir
(date unknown)
My father was a complicated man.  A businessman,
writer, newspaper editor, son of a very wealthy,
self-made man, and not ever truly wealthy himself.
He was an almost pro photographer and all of his
family owns beautiful prints, hand developed by
him in his darkroom of his fabulous black and white
images.  But he was also a painter, and I now
realize he was a very good one.  His paintings
are owned by people across our country, and
probably in England and the U.S. too because he
was prolific and gave his work away.

My brother, Andrew and I have long dreamed of
putting together a show of his photography,
but the other day it hit me that I could provide
a forum for his work right here on my blog.

I hope you enjoy his work as much as I do.

Have a seeing-your-father-in-a-new-light day.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reviewing the old stuff

 Spring in a Victorian Jug
Watercolour on Arches paper
12 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010 
(the date is unknown)

The painting I'm showing you tonight is one of my
friends and family's favorites.  It hangs in my mother's
house in Ottawa, and she frequently says that she
loves it.  I am in the middle of a bunch
of projects so I thought I'd feature some old work that's
in my Mom's house for a couple of days, and then...
(wait for it) even show you some of my Dad's paintings.

Compared to my older work -- not this watercolour in
particular, when I can sense I was beginning to take off,
my Dad's stuff has more vigour and zest.  I forgive myself
because I was a kid (artistically) in some of the earlier
work I'll show you, and my Dad was a grown, if
completely untrained, artist.  For the most part I was
unimpressed with my Dad's work when I was an
upstart kid, despite the fact that he started to paint
partly because he read a little book on painting by
Winston Churchill (one of his heroes), and partly because
he admired what he saw as my talent.  At the time there
was really no indication that I had any talent.  But in his work
I now see such definite strength, wonderful colour sense plus,
a clear desire to go places with his art that I really understand.
Too bad we can't look at his work together, and
I can't tell him so to his face and give him a big hug.
My Dad always wore viyella shirts and cashmere sweaters,
and it was a pleasure to give him a hug, though he was
not the huggy sort.

Have a remembering-where-you-came-from day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Crazy fun

Morning Light
(Work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir 
I've been thinking a lot about how blessed I am,
how rapidly life changes, and how I wish some
things could stay the same.  Maybe that last
nostalgic note is in response to the frost's
final demolition of most of my garden.  Then too,
it's almost a year now since I was in Florence, and
as I write this on my husband's computer at the other end of
the house so he can sleep without listening to
my typing, amazing photos of Florence
and Sienna are flashing under the blog
composition screen.

Today was a great day at school -- one of the kind
that make it clear why I teach, and why it matters.
My students were funny, engaging and dramatic,
a complete treat. On the home front after supper, I sat
down again to do a bit more on this painting.  When I
stand back from it, I see that it's coming together.  Good.
Up close it's a complicated puzzle. I have no trouble
painting on a large canvas with a four inch wide
brush; when I'm painting small I have to overcome
a feeling of constraint.  It's partly psychological, and
partly that I miss the swing of the big brush, the
expansiveness of a large canvas.

My dresser top, like my mind, is clotted with memory.
Does it even make sense to have so many photos
of my sons as babies there, plus my alarm clock, which
 will harang me all too soon, and the antique porcelain jug
 from France, the most elegant piece in my china collection?
  No.  Someday I promise to change the arrangement.  But
 not yet please -- I'm painting it.

Have an enjoying-your-jumbled-life day.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sunny day, everything's A okay

Actually it was a tough day in certain respects,
but physically glorious despite the high work
demand.  I have so much marking to do that
I can hardly see straight.  But this morning the
light that came through the opening in my
bedroom curtains was so compelling that
I had to paint it.
Morning light
Acrylic on canvas
8 x 8 inches
Barbara Muir © 2010
(Blocking in the light
and dark areas.)

Abstract blocks of light fell across my dresser
glinting off picture frames, and my favorite
mirror, and leaving the rest of the tableau in
darkness.  A challenge to paint, but one I want
to try.  So here's the first few steps.
The rough drawing
Have a loving-the-light-in-your-life day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Should artists own the Chelsea Hotel?

The Chelsea Hotel

When we went to the opening of the May group show
at the AmsterdamWhitney Gallery, we stayed at
the Chelsea Hotel in the heart of Chelsea in New York
City.  The hotel was built in 1883 and has been the
home to, and welcomed as visitors among others,
Sir Arthur Clarke, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller,
Andy Warhol, Janice Joplin, Jim Hendrix, Jim
Morrison.  True the hotel has certainly lost its lustre,
and needs repair and restoration (note I don't say
renovation to turn it into something it was never meant
to be.)  But it is an artistic landmark with a painting of
Leonard Cohen and a work by Larry Rivers in the
lobby.  The staff are charming, the location excellent.

Jian Gomeshi proposed on Q on CBC Radio that all
the famous, and maybe not so famous artists who have
stayed there should band together and buy the place to
save its artistic soul.  What do you think?

Have a thinking-about-saving-soulful buildings 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!