Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Playing with baby and making lists

 Untitled (work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
I am having a great time working on my baby
painting, but am amazed at how much time it's
taking.  Anyone who has never painted a baby
may think -- wow that's easy.  But it's not true. 
Babies look straightforward -- but they are as
full of personality and physical quirks as
any grown up. 

One of my friends is studying classical drawing
and painting methods.  I was trained in those
methods as a teenager in art school.  But one of
the qualities that line of study values is -- time.
Poses last for weeks on end, just like they do
when you are painting a portrait commission from
life.  Thinking about these sorts of studies, I let
myself off the hook.  This baby will be done when
it is done. 

At the moment I am still fleshing her in and fine
tuning her.  Sometimes at night before I go to bed
I make a list of what to look at/work on tomorrow.
It's helpful as it is in this case for deciding what to
work on next.  So here she is at stage I don't know
maybe 4 in her development.  I will keep you posted
as the painting progresses. 

Have a working-through-the-list day

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pleasing baby and thoughts of Goya

 Untitled (work in progress)
Acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
I was standing in my studio last week realizing that
like my current hero Lucian Freud I have paintings
stacked against the wall that are in stages of completion.
When I don't like something I paint over it, but
when I can't decide what to do a canvas can linger.
I am so preoccupied most of the time with the current
project, that the wall flowers might have a long wait.

Last year I did a commission of a baby, and before
I got the painting that I knew was right I'd started
another one.  The pose was a bit awkward, the face
wasn't delighted.  It didn't seem right for my client,
so I put it against the wall and began a fresh canvas.
Long after the commission baby had gone home I
kept her other mood. Every now and then I'd pull
that canvas with its rough drawing and underpainting
out and think about it. But last week I was ready to
get working on the girl.

At first I thought the baby looked a bit like a Goya
I remember, but as I've kept on painting she
is becoming something all her own.  I quite
like her, but she's not ready for viewing yet.  So
I thought I'd just show you a detail.  This is her
face, which I'm still working on.  But it's almost

Have a finishing-up-the-work day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Our monthiversary -- and loving life

 The two of us in Quebec City
watercolour and marker on
watercolour paper
9 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
(This is a watercolour sketch I tried to do
as a surprise for Steven while he was
out of the house.  Luckily he was
eager to go biking)

Steven and I have two monthiversaries.  How crazy eh?
Twice a month we wish one another 'Happy Monthiversary!' 
Today is the Monthiversary of our wedding day.  The
 other is for the day we began dating. We started dating
at the end of July, and were married the following June.
We were definitely a case of love-at-first-sight, and I'm so
glad we were.  The fact that we're still together, and I'd say
happier than ever is a miracle.

The kindness and understanding of friends, great advice
from my sister, the therapist, and then a few years of
therapy with a really great therapist during harder times
have helped us learn how to be happy and in love.  Apparently
we make the decision to fall in love on the cellular level. I am
grateful to my cells for that decision.  And I'm grateful to the
wide community in our lives for helping us to grow up

And above all I'm grateful to my sweetheart for loving me
no matter what.  I am so glad we share an overwhelming
love of funny, a delight in our children, and the antics of
our animals.  It's also lucky that we share a love of nature, and
are touched by small things like the daffodils blooming
valiantly in our garden despite the snow and ice of recent
weeks. So Happy Monthiversary to you Steven, and I hope that
my other blogger friends have people in their lives who
mean as much to them as you mean to me.

If you don't have someone who loves you this much now,
I am wishing that that person walks through the door in
the next few weeks.  Be ready.

Have a celebrating-a-happy-time day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More pansies, and life changing books

 Pansies' party
Watercolour and marker on 
Arches watercolour paper
6 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013

There has to be some reason for my prolonged ill health.
I don't hold with the philosophy that everything happens for
a reason.  (So many senseless things happen, and have been
happening lately -- out of chaos, not reason.) But I do
believe in extracting the positive out of most situations
I find myself in. A challenge sometimes -- like now.
Perhaps the upbeat answer may be that reading is setting
me on the path to new ideas, ways of living, and learning.

One of my students gave me the book The Five Love
Languages by Gary Chapman a couple of months ago.
She said it would change my life, and it has been a radical
read. I consider myself lucky to have a happy marriage for
the most part -- but you may be surprised to learn that
a book that teaches you how to be more loving, has
made my marriage happier.

The message I found most profound in the book is that
our sole purpose for being alive is to love.  It's not that
 I haven't thought loving was important.  But thinking
about love as the main purpose for being alive can change
 your focus in a heartbeat.  Chapman has a system for
 analyzing what matters to you to make you feel loved.  If
your partner can respond to that, and for example speak to
you in an affirming way, you will feel more loved, and...
happier.  I was ready to scoff at the whole concept of
dividing love into five languages, until I started reading.

Now I am a convert and want to know more.
Today I am reading The Happiness Project.  My sister-in-law
gave me the book last summer, and I put it away dismissing it,
thinking it would be 'light.'  But it is anything but.  (In fact several
non-fiction books I've read this winter were recommended
by my sister-in-law, Lina, who I adore.)  Back to the book --
the writer, Gretchen Rubin is a wonderful researcher, and
there are fascinating cross references and bits of
information all through the book.  I've taught people
how to improve their happiness, and done
a lot of reading on the topic, and I am learning so much.

One of the ideas in it that I like so far is the idea of "extreme
niceness."  I think that this is probably a habit we all
encourage through the blog.  With fellow artists there
is a tacit understanding that this work we do is isolating,
brave, demanding, difficult, and also the best thing in
the world to be doing.  We are extremely nice to one
another.  I cannot tell you how much I love that enough.
I do love that.  It has changed the business of making art
for me forever.

So there's a snapshot of what I've read lately.  The
pansies are from the same pot our friend John gave us.
Apparently the name pansy comes from the French
penser (to ponder), which means it's not surprising we
become thoughtful looking at them. Their beauty was
in sweet contrast to the horrific news I was hearing on
the radio.  And I say good for the pansies.  They say
spring, life, health and the good earth carrying on despite
the madness of a few.  They say this is where it is at.
Look at me. So I did.

Have a looking-at-the-spring-flowers day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day and my ocean series

Me with two of the Water Image paintings
at the International Women's Day Show at
Ayrspace Gallery in 2011
Barbara Muir © 2013
Photo by Georgia Fullerton

Happy Earth Day.  I haven't been able to paint today.
It was my first day with absolutely nothing to do
in a month.  I took advantage of the fact that
I could rest, and it was a beautiful day on the planet.
So I did rest.

These girls will have to sub for me today.  The whole
theme of my ocean series was about saving the world's
oceans.  I didn't want to do paintings that screamed
the message out.  I thought that beautiful young people
set against the ocean where they'd like to be,
made my point clear.  The young will have to fix
what our generation, and the one before us have
done to the planet.  That's a tall order.

Meanwhile I hope you had a good Earth Day.  I'm
sure it pleases the planet when we celebrate, and
are more conscious about her. We had a candlelit
dinner tonight and toasted the earth.

Have a Happy Earth Day.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Snow on the pansies, and beloved posts

John's pansies in a silver jug
watercolour and marker
on watercolour paper
6 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
(I took a new photo today in daylight.
Much more like the real painting!)

Over and over again on Facebook we're getting exclamations
on the late snow.  Today I woke up to the sight of
snowflakes outside my window. Again.  These poor
pansies.  My friend John brought them to dinner two weeks
ago, and frankly it's lucky they're in a pot and not the ground.

They've had some vacations on the back porch.  I had to bring
them in on more than one afternoon because it was too hot!
Then bam, freezing cold and in they come.  Yet still they keep
putting out flowers and more power to them.  I picked some to
put in this lovely little antique, silver jug.

I'm posting tonight, even though the doctor had to come
again today because my horrid cough would not disappear.
More antibiotics were ordered and bought and here we go
again.  For a healthy person this is dragging on and on.

But yesterday my husband, not a saint, gave me a sweet
compliment.  He said that when I don't write my blog, he
feels sad the next morning.  I didn't know that he reads the
paper and my blog with his morning coffee, and misses
my contribution when I don't post!  How adorable.

This from a fellow who has been known to make scary
faces when a work I'm developing is not at a perfect
stage.  So all the more moving.  Before I take the antibiotic, the
evening's cough syrup and head to bed -- here it is for you
Steven.  Apparently the temperatures are going up again
tomorrow.  Maybe both of us will feel much better and be
able to join the pansies on the back porch, and watch the
neighbourhood children digging for worms in the garden
for a school project. That would be bliss.

Have a getting-out-into-the-spring-world day.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Down to it and rolling thunder

After the play
Watercolour and marker
on watercolour paper
9 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
There is so much work in April that is not about painting
that an artist's soul can get rebellious.  I always paint.  That
is the beginning and end for me.  But of course what I want
to paint may be cooking inside the three -- four pounds
of matter inside my skull.  Lately I have been dreaming of
going really big again.  No doubt Lucian Freud who I've been
reading about has been the inspiration in part for that dream.
But I have been such a sick puppy this past week,
that that dream has to remain a sleeping giant until I finally feel
normal (okay my normal) again.  Meanwhile I am always
happy to give you something a little smaller.

I started this as heavy thunder rolled over our house.
Thunder crackled on my portable as I talked to a friend
in the states worried about the news from Boston,
because her son was in Spain when the marathon
was on, but he's back home now and lives in Boston. She is
halfway across the U.S. and talks to him on Skype.

Then this morning I learned that Boston was in lock down.
This painting captured the look on my son's face when it
was time for us to take him back to his house at university
in Windsor, and leave him behind to drive to Toronto.  It's
poignant to me because I never left him without crying.  I'd
recover quickly listening to one of our favorite funny
shows on the radio as we drove away.  But leaving your
children is a wrench.  And this week it's hard not to
think of parents and children in so many ways.

Have a loving-the-people-in-your-family day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Listening to Yoko and painting flowers

The night of the tulips
Watercolour and marker
on watercolour paper
9 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
Eleanor Wachtel is interviewing Yoko Ono tonight
on Wachtel on the Arts on CBC Radio. Eleanor is
such a super interviewer and the music
she's playing by Yoko Ono sounds quite cheerful.
Yoko's story is a rough one.  She lost John Lennon,
her third husband, the famous Beatle in 1980.
And Ono also lived through her second husband's
abduction of her daughter, Kyoko in 1971, and lost contact
with her daughter until 1994. And yet she sounds
happy, exuberant.

Ono is quite inspiring -- so alive and young sounding
at 80.  In a way she's like Lucian Freud, the artist
I'm reading about this week. Freud was still working
on several paintings per day in his 80s.  Yoko is so
electric and alive in what most people would consider
very old age.  She's just put out a new album, and has a
major retrospective exhibit on -- the Half-A-Wind Show,
that opened in Frankfurt, Germany in February.

Yoko says to Eleanor, "Think about it, we [women]
 created the human race." True, Yoko, but I think it's
lucky that we didn't have to create it alone.  Yoko's point
 is that if you've ever witnessed a woman giving birth,
risking her own life in the process, you know that women
 aren't weak.  But I think artists (men and women) are
brave because we create worlds of our own -- in
fact that is our daily work.

You might enjoy the interview.  I did.  Here's the
painting I started while I was listening.  I thought it
would make a nice break from my self-portraits.
At this point those could only become even more
disturbing.  Let's give the antibiotics a couple of days!

Have an enjoying-learning-about-other-artists day.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The doctor comes and not everyone loves Lucian Freud

 Under the weather
watercolour and marker on
watercolour paper
9 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
You'll have to forgive me.  I'm stuck in bed and reading
a riveting story about a man having his portrait painted
by Lucian Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf by Martin
Gayford.  I know I've been talking about nothing else
for days.   And the obsession is worse because I have
bronchitis, and the doctor arrived tonight, confirming that
 I'm not in the best shape.  I just hear Steven coming in
 the door with the prescription for antibiotics, and am
crossing my fingers that good health will rule again soon.

My brother got quite upset when I wanted to talk
about Lucian Freud today.  He doesn't like his work --
at all.  And I think he's afraid that I'll paint like Freud.
I don't think that's a worry, although I wouldn't mind
selling a painting like he did in his lifetime -- Big
Sue for 33.6 million dollars.

Plus I like Freud's work a lot He was a dedicated
painter, and painted vigorously until weeks before
his death at 88.  I don't want to paint like anyone,
but I do admire Freud's dedication to his art.
 Off to bed now, with the deep hope that tomorrow
will be better.

This self portrait tonight says it all. Apparently
our faces do change all the time.

Have a being-dedicated-to-your-work day.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reading about Lucian Freud

Woman with red glasses
Watercolour and marker on
watercolour paper
9 x 12 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
(This is me in the studio.  One of
my favorite painters in our group
Peter Adam appears in the 
portrait behind me.  
Coincidentally that is a painting
I like almost as much as the
painter. He can really,
really paint.)
The book about Lucian Freud that I mentioned in my last
post is fantastic.  That's good because in addition to slogging
through finance details, I am sick again.  In fact we're
waiting for the doctor to come -- maybe tonight because
today my cold has developed into a painful wracking cough.
My poor family.

When I was feeling a bit more chipper, I thought I'd try
a not altogether flattering portrait of my sick self.
Reading about Freud totally exonerates portrait artists
for painting themselves.  As it turns out the watercolour
looks considerably better than the writer at this point.
So I'll spare you.

Have a don't-you-dare-catch-this! day

Friday, April 12, 2013

Blogging joys and sorrows

Sleeping dog with cat food can
Watercolour and marker on
Arches watercolour paper
6 x 10 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
A friend I met through the blog sent me a wonderful book
on Lucian Freud, an artist I greatly admire.  I was working
very hard on dull administrative tasks when the mailman
delivered this book Man with a Blue Scarf dropping it
between my front doors with a thump, to lift the day into
an entirely different level of pleasure.  This is what we
bloggers do for one another -- with our blogs, our
comments, and the unique and moving friendships that can
arise out of the experience of sharing one another's art and
writing, and caring about one another's lives.

My friend Henriette Sonne, who I met in Florence, and who
I've painted numerous times, said that with the ability
to see into one another's houses via Skype, comes the
responsibility we feel as neighbours, even though we can
be half a world away. When we meet people through their
art and words, we care about their lives.  And this is a
good thing.

In the past month one blog friend lost her mother, and
another was saddened at the loss of a beloved pet.
When my friend, the wonderful artist, George, died
this winter -- friends in the blog world understood that

This is the best of what the cyberworld can do -- create
communities of people who offer kindness, support,
intellectual encouragement and ideas -- sometimes from
the other side of the planet.

Thank you for being there for me.  And thank you for
the inspiring book!

Today's painting is of my dog Zoey sleeping on her
fake sheepskin rug, with her precious empty cat
food can nearby.  She fished that can out of the
recycle bin by the kitchen door.

Have a sharing-each-other's-joys-and-sorrows day.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

When life gets thick, paint it thick and thin

Patient with you
Art Group Painting
Acrylic on canvas
14 x 18
Barbara Muir © 2013
My life is insanely busy at this time of year. 
I can easily panic, and freeze up artistically if
I don't keep going.  Finding the time for art is
more of a challenge than ever, and yet art is my
work, my joy, my bottom line.  That's why I went
to paint with my art group tonight. And it was
lovely to see my friends, and watch them paint.

Studies show that even though we think a
hectically busy life is bad for us, it really isn't.
Our brains like the activity.  Good.  One of
the things I love is sliding great gobs of colour
across a canvas.  I did that in this painting
to rough in the lights and darks, with a fairly big
brush. Initially I thought I'd paint the model in a
black outline and stay very abstract.  But the model
was beautiful -- her face demanded a different

Try it yourself.  Take a few minutes from this
busy day, and put some colour down.  Tomorrow I
hope to slice some colour across a canvas
with a palette knife.  That really feels amazing.
Try it.  There.  Don't you feel great!

Have a loving-the-paint day.

Monday, April 8, 2013

My brother's fish

My brother's fish
oil pastel on bond paper
11 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir ©
As promised I am back in my old sketchbook
which is taking me down memory lane.  It's
bizarre in a way to remember your crazy youth
when you're a long married, happy wife with
two lovely grown children, and a wonderful
daughter-in-law, a dog and two cats.

But before all that life was pretty wild.  This
fish is a case in point.  For a while before my
brother became a writer, he was an artist in Toronto
with various hyper-imaginative, inventive ideas.
 One of them was plasticized fish pins.  He took
enormous health risks making them -- dipping tiny,
pre-dried fish that came in a bag into clear plastic resin,
and then drying the glossy result on a cookie sheet.
He then glued pin backs on them and sold those
lifelike fish pins at fashion accessory counters
 in major department stores, including
The Bay. And the fishy pins even made their way
 to high fashion outlets in Paris, France.

In our early days together Steven and I had so
much fun with my brother, and we still do every time
we visit with him and his wife, Lina, in Ottawa.
He is funny and creative -- turning his talents to
writing for the most part now. But who could
forget the hundreds of plexiglass women he
baked in his oven for a combination sculpture and
slide show, conceptual art piece showcased at a
huge nightclub in the capital city? My little fish
drawing is a compliment to him.  Andrew Muir,
my bro, is the height of cool.

Have a recognizing-clever-art day. 
P.S.  A friend tells me those dried fish were usually
used for soup, or pasta sauce

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Back in time in the sketchbooks

 Thomas Edison Sketch
Brown Pentel marker on bond paper
11 x 14 inches
Barbara Muir ©
(The blue on his hand is a mystery)

I was not going to post tonight, and then I had a
brilliant idea.  Pardon my pun.  But I went
searching through an old sketchbook,
and found this sketch of Thomas Edison.  As
 you can see some things about my drawing
style have not changed that much, and that makes
me happy.

I was fresh out of art school and university when
I drew this sketch.  At OCAD drawing in sepia was
big, and I really loved my sepia Pentel drawing
marker.  It's good sometimes to look back on what
you were doing artistically in the past.  Your
drawings and paintings from that time document
both your preferences and your life, in a way
that no photograph can ever match.

I was delighted that I liked the idea of Edison
and his light bulb back then. Now I'm sure I'd
illustrate the light bulb with more light. I think
I may have worried it a bit when I drew it, which
seems funny. But I ended up marrying an engineer,
and an inventor.  Aren't I lucky?  I feel especially
lucky that Edison invented the electric light bulb and
made life much easier for artists.

It is an excrutiatingly busy week, so you may
see more out of my notebooks.

Have an-enjoying-your-brilliant-ideas day.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

At home with going big

After Breakfast
Black marker on bond paper
18 x 24 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
The other day I picked up some super bond drawing
paper.  I had the idea of working on some black
and white drawings.  The sheets are a good size, and
I've been craving a large space to work in.  I know I'm
gearing up for another work in very large size, but don't
know what I'll be painting...yet.

Tonight after a hectic day racing around, I settled down
to draw.  In art from my student days, drawing was my
first language, and it is a bit like meditation for me.
The feel of the pen gliding over the smooth bond paper
is magnificently pleasurable.  One of my themes this year
 has been the celebration of meals.

To me the idea of a shared breakfast in a hotel room
is one of the nicest, most intimate meals a couple can
enjoy.  But all aspects of dining are intriguing to me.  In
this drawing, the breakfast is over, and only the empty
glasses, coffee cup, bread basket and open jam jar are
left to tell the story.  I'm sure it's a happy one.

Have an enjoying-a-meal-with-a-loved-one day.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Proud to be fickle

Party at the beach
(work in progress Stage 3)
Acrylic on Birch panel
5 x 7 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
Just reshot the photo, I knew the
colour was not right at all last night.
Part of painting is changing your mind.  This little
painting in progress is a case in point.  She started
out in Nova Scotia.  In fact she was going to be
another lemon, in praise of the fruit that pulled me
through the cold, and to gratify my sense of humour.
But the very day I was going to put the lemon on,
the beach, another artist friend posted a painting
with an unusal perspective and -- a lemon!  The position
of the lemon was so much like what was in my head that
I went back to the drawing board, or the painting
in this case.
Party at the beach
(work in progress Stage 2
starting to flesh in face and dress )
Acrylic on Birch panel
5 x 7 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
I started painting a portrait of a little girl in a party
dress, with the beach behind her.  But in the night
last night I realized that the beach, and sky, and
perhaps even the ocean were the wrong colours.

Party at the beach
(work in progress Stage 1
drawing and starting the painting )
Acrylic on Birch panel
5 x 7 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013

This is okay, because the girl is Californian -- or
half Californian/half Canadian.  The result?  More
changes are in order.  And that's how most art gets
created.  If we couldn't ever change our minds we'd
stick to the first image we imagined, whether it
worked or not.  But we don't, and that's a good thing.
This baby will go through many more changes tomorrow.

Have an enjoying-the-right-to-change-your-mind day

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Painting all day and art group

Thinking about Life
Acrylic on canvas
12 x 16 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013
 I worked for most of the day today on a tiny portrait,
 then headed out to my art group tonight and did this
painting.  The model's face was compelling -- so I did a
very quick sketch,  and I like it.  I always enjoy talking to
 the people in my group. One of our artists got written up in a
magazine today, and she was showing me the story.
Pretty exciting. 

Thanks for all of your wonderful wishes last week
to help me recover.  I think I'm there -- still massively
tired.  But back in the land of the living.  Gratefully.

Have a working-on-what-you-love day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

No April Fool

 Self portrait with winter scarf and coat
Black marker on Frabriano note paper
6 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches
Barbara Muir © 2013

April is a crazy busy month for me, and I'm sure it is
for you.  We have daffodils coming up in the garden,
and it was so warm the other day that I could sit out
on my back porch and imagine a whole summer of
meals looking at the garden.

But today it snowed and I looked out the window
a few minutes ago to see a thin spring blanket of
snow on the lawns, car roofs and over the budding

The snow was quite beautiful on and off today --
big lazy flakes coming down over the palest blue
skies.  The weather in a state of spring fever --
snow one minute, sunshine and bright day the
next.  We are all stuffed to the gills with a second
Easter dinner (turkey is the meal that keeps on

Have a changing-with-the-weather 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!