Thursday, June 30, 2011

Visiting the Ab Ex -- colour excitement

At the art show (work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
24  x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(a few more tweaks and
it will be done.)

I'm almost finished this painting of the mother and daughter.
There are a few small details to finish up, but I am very happy
with how it's coming along.  I started this before I went to
see a superb exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario our
major gallery in Toronto.  In fact I was tempted to do the
background in pure blocks of palette knife colour, because the
mother and daughter were at an art show, and that's what's in
the reference photo behind them. I'd actually
been thinking a lot about Róisín O'Farrel's work, because I
like the way she uses a palette knife. Then on Father's Day
a couple of weeks ago I took Steven to lunch at the AGO
and we went to see the Abstract Expressionism exhibit
 on loan from the MoMA in New York.  Of course it's the best of
the best of Abstract Expressionism, but my favorites were the
Clyfford Stills and the Rothkos.  The colour in Rothko's work
dazzled me more than I could have imagined.  There was an
entire room of his glorious large canvasses.

I came home with the paintings flashing across my thoughts,
inhabiting my dreams.  No I can't be an Abstract Expressionist,
but I'm sure I've learned a lot about colour from seeing Rothko's
work.  If you're in Toronto take in the exhibition and if you live in
New York, head to the MoMA after it comes back home.

 I love looking at art, especially yours, on the internet.  But nothing
can rival being in the presence of the real thing.

Have an getting out to an art show day

Monday, June 27, 2011

Missing you too much

 Under the strange light
Black marker on bond paper
12 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(The light is the triangle
shape above Larry's head --
it seems to have a shade
shaped somewhat randomly (but
very artfully) from white plastic
and glows very brightly in the photo).

Lately I've been working on big projects.  Plus
it's summer, and the garden and people celebrating
seem to intervene with blogging.  But I miss you
when I don't write here.  Isn't that a strange
phenomenon built out of our brand new world --
missing people you may never have met?  So I
do.  And I miss all of you who I have met too.

Out of missing my friend Flora in Nova Scotia,
came this quick Skype sketch of Flora and Larry
from some pictures I took during a Skype call over
a year ago.  It's strange how creating an image
can make me feel connected, but it does.  I've
drawn Flora's face so many times that it's almost
like shorthand.  But there the two of them are,
so far away, yet showing up in my sketch book -- again.
Painting is like that too, only better in some ways.
When a portrait is right, I start talking to it.  The
moment I look the person in the painting in the eye
and begin to chat about life to her/him, we are nearing
the end of the painting process.  If he or she stayed on
the wall in my house, we might continue to have
brief chats from time to time, when I passed by
the painting.

As it is, I pop into the studio, look at the painting,
and say, "You're coming along, you're probably going
home soon, don't worry, everything will be fine," then
I add a highlight along the nose.

So I hope all is well with all of you.  And to Flora and
Larry: take it easy and thanks for posing for me today.

Have an enjoying-the-photos-of-people-you-love day.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Anniversary and the painting progresses

At the art show (detail) Work in progress
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
Today was our wedding anniversary.  We are hopeless
romantics even though we've been together a long time,
but decided to keep it simple today -- with flowers (the
flowers we buy one another every weekend), cards,
a quick bite at home and then a very funny movie tonight --
Bridesmaids -- exactly our cup of tea.  Afterwards we
drove by the house I was living in when we fell in love,
and then toasted one another with champagne on the back
porch and felt quite giddy with happiness.
One of many bad photos we took of ourselves in
Montreal a couple of weeks ago, trying to get
ourselves under the Narcisse sign (French for
Narcissus). Well we look at least as silly as this

Tonight I'm showing you the portrait of the mother
and daughter -- still a work in progress.  I am working
on commissions that have to remain unseen for a little
while yet.  Then all will be revealed.  It's been a lovely
evening, and we've decided to make it a weekend of
celebration -- so if no more paint graces these
pages, you'll understand.

Have a falling-in-love-again day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the studio, and studious cats

 At the art show (detail) Work in Progress
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011

I'm working on a double portrait right now of an artist
and her daughter from a photo I took last spring.  The
mother is a lovely woman and I was moved by the
love between the two when I took the photo, and
wanted to paint the mother from the first time I met
The painting At the art show on the easel in the studio
Tonight I'm showing you a close up of the mother's
face so far, and a picture of the whole painting on the
easel as a progress shot.
Timbah and Fiona in the window.
The studious cats are my own Timbah (on the left) and Fiona
(who I call Fon in the video) -- the bird on the roof
has their complete attention and they are not pleased
that it's there.  The two cats rarely sit so close together,
although they sleep side by side at night.  Please excuse
my cat voice.  Fiona (the Siamese) likes to be talked to
in a meowing high pitched voice.

I have just learned how to upload videos and although
I haven't figured out how to edit them, I'm
very happy and beholden to Caitlin who taught me how.

Have a loving-your-cats day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The cure for a broken heart -- Hockey blues

 Sean's Garden #2 (work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(This one is almost done, I added some
sunlight, and may work a bit more on
definition. Sean's Mom bought the
smaller one, and I told Sean I'd
work on a larger one from a
different view.)
Canada is hockey crazy -- you have to know that
about us.  I am not a sports freak (please forgive me),
but it's hard not to notice that the rest of Canada is.
Tonight was going to be Vancouver's big night --
Stanley Cup fever was rampant, and the Canucks
lost to Boston.  It looked like fans in Vancouver were
going crazy, overturning cars, lighting fires.  But now
people think it wasn't hockey fans, but a few drunk
teenagers.  Still people were depressed.

So here's the cure Canada -- leave the insane crowds,
go home and take a walk with your dog.  Even I got a
bit excited today. I was afraid to watch the game, and
Steven had to turn it off when Vancouver was losing.

But let's get back to painting.  Sometimes a painting
doesn't work, or doesn't work right away -- and the cure
is exactly the same.  Take a walk.  If you've got
a dog who loves to walk so much the better.  You
can look like a nutter walking along the street
talking to your dog, but who can understand your
problems with colour and composition better than
your walking companion.  And when you get to
the really sad part, the dog will take a refreshing
bathroom break. (Don't tell me that's not social
commentary -- after the 15th pee break, you know
there's a message there somewhere.)

I thought of this the other day.  My painting is actually
going well, and I'm in great spirits.  I've been lucky
only to have conversations with people who are
cheerful, kind, funny and supportive.  I feel
genuinely blessed.  But I know that when I don't,
when I'm feeling like Vancouver must feel tonight,
a walk under the lovely silver moon, passing by glorious
peonies wafting out their subtle perfume, seeing the
pattern of trees against a deep blue sky, the big dipper
in pepper spot stars.  It lifts your spirits.  So for
one last time Go Canucks Go!  For a walk.  There's
always next year. 

Have a going-out-to-smell-the-flowers day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'm walking on sunshine

 Pam in New York
36 x 48 inches
Acrylic on canvas
Barbara Muir © 2011

(One year ago today I finished this painting. 
Thinking about the work I'm planning to start
tomorrow -- this painting, which I haven't seen since
it went home to Chelsea, Québec, is on my mind. I was
very happy with the final result -- a beautiful painting
of a truly gorgeous and talented woman.)

There is a thunder storm happening right now and
I only realized it was happening because my dog
started shivering and shaking.  Earlier I was dancing
in the kitchen with the cat to the song "I'm walking
on sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves.  She likes that
quite a bit, but protests in her talkative Siamese way. 
So I put her down and she stands at my feet while I continue
to dance for a minute, and then I swoop her up to hang over my
shoulder again and the whole dance starts over.  (Too
bad Pam, the dancer in the painting couldn't have been
here to improve our steps.)

The truth about Fiona the cat is that she loves music, dancing
to it, listening to it, and on the piano and keyboard in
my son's room, playing it.  So does my other cat Timbah.
He loves being held while we dance -- fast or slow -- it
doesn't matter.  I often think we underestimate the
intelligence and understanding of animals.  Zoey the dog
just proved it -- because she's right it is thundering,
but our house is so brightly coloured inside that all
I do on gloomy days is turn on the lights.  She's right
though.  It's thundering and my neighbour's deck is
soaking wet.  Whenever this happens Steven and I
joke with one another and say, "I watered the garden,
you don't have to water."

Later:  The rain dried up, the dog and I went for
a walk.  And at the end of the walk as we went up
the hill in the park we were graced with a spectacular
sunset.  We were "walking on sunshine."

Have an enjoying-the-animals-in-your-life day.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dancing in the park, and the antique market

 John Hinrichs
Quick sketch in the St. Lawrence 
Antique Market Coffee Shop
Black marker on Moleskine paper
5 1/2 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
It's been a lovely weekend.  The weather
has been my ideal -- slightly cool, but warm
enough with a light sweater.  Yesterday we
bought flowers for our front door pots, and
for the pots on our back porch.  Then we
walked our dog in the park nearby.  The path
meanders past bullrushes, forget-me-nots and
wild yellow Iris.  Steven took some pictures
with his cell phone of the Iris, that he'll give to me
tomorrow. Then towards the end of the walk there's a lovely
open part of the path, with huge trees forming a
canopy and a view through the trees of some
magnificent, large and lovely old homes.

One of these was holding a party it seems, because
fabulous music was playing loud through the woods,
and Steven and I danced to a couple of the numbers,
surprising ourselves and our dog Zoey.
There we were essentially alone under the trees
dancing while Zoey looked on in pure confusion
never having seen such behaviour.
Wild Irises in the park
Photo by Steven van Schaik

Today we met our friend John Hinrichs at the Antique
Market in the St. Lawrence market and walked around
enjoying the endless array of china, glass, silver
and fabric on display.  My friend Jan Marriott has
a table there, and if you're in Toronto, you should
check out her excellent vintage fabric.

I did a quick sketch of John to share with you here
while we were grabbing a coffee.  John is an
astoundingly good architect.  And John is incredibly
funny -- a distinct pleasure.

Have an enjoying-your-friends-company day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Reading a fabulous book

 Sean's Garden #2 (work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
12 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(apologies for the quality of the shot -- something
strange is happening with my camera.  I promise
to work it out and reshoot tomorrow.)

I'm reading a novel so good, I have to force myself to put
it down and sleep at night.  In fact I'm raggedly tired,
and fall asleep holding it in my hands.  Funny.  It
might not be the book for you -- Nicholson Baker,
The Anthologist, but what I love is his exact and
poetic observation of life as he wastes time not
writing the introduction to a poetry anthology.
For someone who loves words -- me -- this is

Of course the reason it's so good is what it's about --
not being able to be creative -- the dithering we do
when we can't paint, or write, or sculpt, or sing, or
play the piano.

Warning:  The entire novel is an interior monologue --
the thoughts that go through a creative person's head.
If you don't like the guy, and have no problems with
procrastination, you won't get it, and won't like it.
That said, I like the guy so much wish I knew him,
and I share some (thank goodness not all) of his
delaying tactics.

Now I'm heading out to buy canvas.  So don't worry.
I think if this fellow in the book knew you
he'd be writing.  You certainly help me to keep
going, and get excited about making art every day.

Have a reading-a-book-you-love day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Oh Montreal -- you are so beautiful

 Ladies at lunch
Black marker on lined Moleskin paper
5 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011

Thinking at dinner
Black marker on lined Moleskin paper
5 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011

It turns out my little stay in Montreal has been the cure
for my nasty bug.  I am, for the most part, over my
dizzy, sick feeling.  We had lunch yesterday in a lovely
restaurant -- sitting outside under maple trees.  The
meal was a delicious concoction of sautéed veggies
pressed into jelly, and married to a soft slab of
frighteningly good cheese. You know what's funny.
The entire time I've been here I haven't had one meal
on a round plate.  The square plate salesperson made
a bundle in Montreal.  Wonderful food - squared.

I did a little drawing while we sat listening to the birds
under the trees and enjoyed the afternoon.

Napoleon et al
The day before we visited the Montreal Museum of Fine
Arts.  There's an exhibition on of paintings, furniture, china,
and sculptures from Napoleon's life.  My favorite thing was
this little pink and gold covered dish.  I am a complete
china freak -- and this would be a piece I could covet.
Judging by Napoleon's death mask, done when he died
at 52, he was a good looking man.  But there is also a
sculpture of him in the exhibit which tells the same story.
Covered dish from the Napoleon exhibit 
at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art
Circa 1800 - 1836

Sculpture of Napoleon
(Sorry I didn't think about 
getting the name of the sculptor.
I was too in awe of the exhibit)
We wandered into the permanent collection and I was delighted
to see a Raeburn.  Actually there were a few.  He was a Scottish
painter and his name crops up in Alexander McCall Smith's
Isabel Dalhousie series. This portrait explains why I tell my
students not to cross their arms.  The lady looks quite gruff and
angry about having her portrait done.  Too bad -- because the
painter dutifully painted what he saw.
Portrait of Mrs. O'Beirne
Oil on canvas
Henry Raeburn 1823

This gorgeous city
We wandered around old Montreal yesterday and I picked out the
window I'd like to replace our window in the living room (studio)
back home.  It may be a bit grand for a rug brick semi-detached
Toronto house, but I like it.  Then we happened upon a lovely
garden and settled on a bench to take it in.  We aren't too good
at taking our pictures by ourselves, but must have tried 10
times to get our heads under a sign that says Narcisse, French
for narcissus, because one of our friends loves to point out
that people are narcissists, so we thought it would be funny.
Unfortunately we couldn't get a great shot because we kept
laughing about our terrible photography.
 My ideal window -- found in the market building in old Montreal
A gorgeous garden in old Montreal
Steven and me laughing in the garden

 I will miss you Montreal.  I love your grand avenues, your carefully
preserved architecture, your understanding that history matters,
your lack of dedication to the condomania plaguing my home town,
Toronto.  And I will miss the food! Hmm.  So good.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Late night and early start

I can't talk for long now because it is super late, and the
morning comes early tomorrow.  It's been an ideal day
today in Montreal.  I haven't had a chance to paint,
but I am feeling better, and couldn't be happier about
that.  I finished a Moleskine notebook today that I started
exactly a month ago. Tonight I'll share a couple of recent pictures.
On a diet
Black marker on Moleskine paper
5 x9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(People think that living on the road
is a glamorous life.  Hotel food, eating out
at restaurants.  Wow -- we homebodies
think.  But the drawing above
details the standard fare of people
away from home -- fries -- not so good.)
In the hotel Lobby #1
Black marker on Moleskine paper
5 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(We spent some time today in the lobby, because
we were waiting to get into the room.
I couldn't resist trying to draw the place,
an odd collection of palm trees, strangely shaped
chairs and lamps.)

In the hotel lobby #2
Black marker on bond paper
5 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011

Thank you to everyone who has been wishing me well.  Your kind
thoughts are having a great effect.  I feel almost normal.

Have a loving-your-friends day.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Great news, a Hotel sanctuary and more from the bus

 After breakfast meeting
Black marker on Moleskin paper
5 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(My oatmeal this morning was cold, not hot,
but even so, eating breakfast in the
room is one of my favorite pleasures of
hotel life.  I love the china, the tiny jars of
jam, the thick, old hotel silver, the breakfast
wheeled in on a cart table with an ironed
white tablecloth.  So we eat beans for the
next month for a meal of cold oatmeal,
I still think it's worth it.)

After last night's somewhat taxing trip from Toronto
on what was supposed to be a first class train, and
quickly turned into a quite uncomfortable bus (but
not the yellow school bus some of us were afraid
would be provided), I am relaxing today.

Sally Chupick who recently opened the Gallery at
the Porch Door just outside of Kingston, Ontario,
Canada was featured in the local Kingston paper,
The Whig Standard. I think Sally's a media natural
because she's so warm and kind, pretty and talented.
So she better get ready.  My name is mentioned in the article
along with all the other terrific artists she's showcasing.
Sally is the kind of person who loves people. That
makes her the ideal gallery curator.

More from the bus
After we were switched to the bus yesterday for a
long, long ride without rest stops, beverages,
anything -- I settled down to talk with my seat
mate Mike.  We talked about many things, the
legal system, politics (we shied away from that
one quickly), and finally got around to 'what do you

This lead to a conversation so engrossing that I
hardly noticed the horribly uncomfortable seat.
You know I am dead against nuclear power.  My
normal reaction to anyone raising the topic is decidedly negative.
But the atmosphere on the bus was so genial, people
were so tired, dispirited and disappointed, that
when I found out Mike worked for a government
organization that manages (among other forms of
energy) nuclear power, we delicately negotiated
an open, thorough discussion on all forms of
energy. We discussed the trouble with our over consuming
public, with storage of nuclear waste, and he told me about
exciting new developments in energy creation (not nukes).  And
when we got off the bus in Montreal we were friends.

I haven't changed my mind about nuclear power one bit,
but I am thankful to Mike for the information he gave
me on several other (clean) sources of energy.  When
Steven and I went to the hotel I said I've just met the
first person working with nuclear power that I like.
 I hear your reaction.  You're saying the poor girl is sick, and
maybe I was a bit more vulnerable, but I have to
say if peace and understanding is our objective, maybe
that's not such a bad thing. I do believe that there can be
no change without understanding.

Have a listening-to-other-points-of-view day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Train ride from the "h" word

 Tracy on the train 
Black marker on Moleskin paper
5 x 9 inches
Barbara Muir © 2011
(Forgive the lighting -- hotel
bathroom shot again.)

Okay.  So I have been sick all week with an inner ear infection.
I really just got up for a little while yesterday, but Steven and
I had planned that I'd come to Montreal this weekend, so I
dutifully got the train, thinking well I'll take a taxi, and then
be on the train -- how hard can it be?

Well... pretty hard as it turned out, because after leaving
Toronto half an hour late, we were floating along through
the pretty landscape along Lake Ontario.  I was talking to,
and drawing my seat mate, because we got along very well.
Then...the train stopped at Belleville, and we were told to get
off -- we'd have to go the rest of the way by bus to Montreal.

We were all indignant, but so well behaved and Canadian,
while we waited for 50 minutes standing outside the train
station for the buses to arrive.  And we got into Montreal,
with no stops, no water, no goodies on the bus at 11:15 pm
instead of 8:23.  So that was a rough beginning to the trip.

Luckily I drew this little picture of my friend until Belleville,
Tracy.  (She was going to Kingston, so put on a different
bus.) Thanks for posing for me Tracy, and remember that
you offered to let me draw you when I was doing a bad sketch
of myself from my camera.  Hope you have a great weekend Tracy, and
best wishes to all my brave and plucky fellow travelers.

Have a being-grateful-for-arriving-safely 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!