This morning I woke to the cawing of crows in my yard - something akin to roosters I suppose but more grating. A sound I don’t usually hear so close by.I got up, made coffee and sat by my back window to watch. I love crows for their interesting altruistic behaviours and strong family ties but not keen on their baby bird predatory behaviour, however, I accept it. As I sit here sipping my coffee, I reflect back on all the changes this year, in particular, those happening in my yard.
My 13 year old Golden Retriever, Daisy, is aging. She has lost the reign of her yard and handed over pack dominance to her younger doggie friends just recently. All these changes seemed to occur quite quickly. Up until last fall I would have told you my dog was going to live forever as she had never shown signs of aging. But now I see her time is coming.
I would never see squirrels in my yard.The numbers that I have now enjoying leisurely meals under my bird feeders tells me they feel safe here now. In the past, Daisy would frantically ask to be let out to chase any up a tree, always narrowly and thankfully missing them by a hair. I seem to be over run with every colour of squirrel now as they chase each other around the yard and visit me at my window sill for the peanuts they've become accustomed to during covid. Squirrels, my new “lockdown friends” never minded that I wasn’t wearing a mask as long as I handed out breakfast on time.
And the sound of crows... Well that just made Daisy crazy in the past. There was no way a crow could sit in my yard, or in a tree, cawing, or even silently fly over the yard. She had a “hate on” for crows for some reason and would race across the yard chasing them out of the no fly zone, pound on any tree they landed on and bark frantically at any that challenged her. As they feed under my feeder this morning and call for their mates to join them, she doesn't seem to hear them anymore, nor does the site of them bother her nearly as much as before. She has accepted this change too.
I would rarely see any live rabbits in my yard sadly. Too often she would find a rabbit nest in my yard, unbeknownst to me, and would unearth and kill all the babies sadly. Her hunting instincts were very strong, often too strong. Rabbits, now plentiful here, seem to have no fear of her. I often have three adults coming for dinner under those same feeders. I watched Daisy the other day, having a snow bath no more than 15 feet away from a pair of rabbits munching and enjoying the dog antics without any concern. I believe my dog finally realizes they leave her favourite “rabbit snacks” all over the yard for her.
As the cawing continues this morning and the squirrels are scurrying, Daisy now lays here at my feet, slightly deaf, cataracts in her eyes and stiff from arthritis that has made mobility challenging. She was my daily hiking partner and we would spend hours together, just she and I, in the back woods and swamps, exploring, getting dirty, while I found artistic inspiration. Being an overprotective dog, I never feared being out in remote areas with her and we enjoyed hours of exploration in all the green spaces close to where I live. Those days have passed and she can no longer walk that far anymore. It saddens me to think how much she and I both enjoyed these adventures and I will miss her company in the future. For now short walks around the block and lots of sniffing seem to fulfil her. And thats OK too.
Life is forever changing and as hard as it is sometimes, we adapt to these changes. As for future artistic inspiration, I will always seek them out but it will be different. But different isn't always bad, its just different.
Every artist goes through it, writers, painters, musicians, whether they admit it or not, we experience those times when we feel like we’re in a rut. Maybe it’s a personal issue in your life or just a creative funk. But it happens. Oh it’s not that you can’t technically produce a piece of art, but it’s when you desire to produce something new and different that excites you and shows growth. We strive to paint that “IT “ painting that is always beyond our reach and it this desire to create that masterpiece that drives us to continue to create. Oh we artists are certainly a moody bunch and we cycle through those highs and lows with regularity. So what to do... do you work through it or take a break and hope you will be inspired one day?
I currently have two large half finished paintings in my studio. Technically they are fine but I lost interest in them half way through and there they sit. Waiting for my muse to come along.
My approach to these times, which can last days or weeks or even months, is to pick up a brush and paint something small. Painting a quick sketch forces me to be more expressive and worry less about detail. There’s very little commitment when painting an 8/10” in terms of time or expense. And often I’ll push my comfort zone doing them, experimenting with colour and composition. Even better is to take it outside and do some plein air painting. Often just being in nature will kick start me again.
I think it’s important to admit our human side and admit our creativity can be affected by our psyche. Artists are often our own worst critics and that alone can stifle creativity. For me it’s important to “feel” my painting. I want each painting to be a reflection of my passion and I refuse to paint solely to sell.
It took a recent visit to the islands of the Massassauga in Georgian Bay to clear my head and get my mojo going again. New landscapes and a new palette seemed to be just what I needed to feel excited again and I look forward to produce a new series of paintings from this area.
Why are we drawn to sunsets? Is it merely the glowing warm colours that attract us or is it something more. Staring at a sunset often causes us to reflect on our day, our life perhaps, feeling thankful to be able to experience such beauty in nature. Symbolically sunsets represent the end, with a period of foreboading darkness to follow. Perhaps it gives us the opportunity to reflect on our day or life and give us the time to put to rest those troubles that ail us with the hope that tomorrow the sun will rise again and we can begin anew.
What is it about water that attracts us? Its peaceful quality comes both from the sight and sound of it. But why? Does it unconsciously bring us back to the womb where we were bathed and rocked in watery fluid? Is it because the sound of rushing water drowns out all external noise giving us a sense of solitude? Or is it the spiritual symbolic nature of water's purity and its ability to cleanse us and wash away our past that draws us. As I walk my familiar path through the woods and see the streams refreshed by last nights downpour, I stop along a bridge and reflect upon the flowing stream. It is particularly beautiful and serene this morning, reflecting the blue sky and early morning sun. I feel refreshed and hopeful. Rejuvenated. Maybe we are attracted to water for all these reasons or simply because its beautiful to look at.
An artists life can be a lonely one. It is often necessary to spend a great deal of time alone, contemplating ideas, composing images in your head before pencil or brush is put to canvas. We need to have time to think and feel the inspiration and be in touch with our emotions. All this alone time can take its toll but the end result can be so rewarding. And yet we are social creatures by nature and the need for company is often satisfied by joining art groups or finding other like minded artists that you can share the often lonely journey with. Someone to encourage you in your down times or paint with on occasion can help you get through those artist doldrums we all seem to suffer from time to time. I too belong to an art club, SOYRA (http://www.soyra.ca) for the purpose of building friendships, doing shows and networking with other artists.
Many artists believe they should keep to themselves and fear other artists stealing their ideas and concepts. I disagree. We can all learn and benefit from one another and networking in the art world is as beneficial as it is in all business environments. A great inspirational email subscription for artists is the Painter's Keys ( http://painterskeys.com) originally written by the well known Canadian artist Robert Genn and now written by his daughter Sara Genn. They are a collection of inspirational and informative "letters" or blogs that all artists can relate to and learn from. Its this sharing of ideas that can often reignite the creative process, give you a new perspective on your art journey and encourage you to keep creating.
So you've purchased some original art work and want to know how to look after your investment to keep them looking as beautiful as the day you bought them. There's not much to it but you may want to follow a few simple rules.
Like your furniture, prolonged, direct sun, is something best avoided to prevent fading over the years.
Oil paints are generally the most light stable. Painted on gessoed canvass or treated wooden panels, they dry to a very hard surface and most colours are very lightfast.
Acrylics are a fairly new medium, having only been available since the 1950s and thus their long term stability is not known yet. It is my understanding that they are slightly less lightfast due to preservatives and additives in the paint.
Watercolours, prints, or any medium painted on paper is the most sensitive to light degradation and fading. It is important to keep these behind UV treated glass and away from direct sunlight. Paper in generally deteriorates in bright sunlight.
Basically, environmental extremes (light, temperature, humidity) of any sort should be avoided with any art original or print.
It is important to prevent a build up of dust on your oil and acrylic paintings. Compressed air to blow away dust is best or a very soft sable artist brush can be used to dislodge dust from highly textured surfaces. Never use polishes to clean the surface of either an acrylic or oil painting. Acrylic paintings have a softer finish than completely cured oils and dust can stick more readily to them. Oil paintings can take at least 6 months to a year to cure completely and may be varnished by a professional at that time if you wish. Often the artist can do this for you is you but is not necessary as oils become very hard when they dry.
Protecting the Surface:
When storing or transporting a canvas painting, never lean the canvas against an object or a dent or worse, a tear, can occur. Always wrap a completely dry painting in tissue paper followed by bubble wrap if you need to transport it. When transporting more than one painting, the canvasses can be stacked if their surfaces are protected and their wooden stretcher bars rest directly on the bars of the other painting.
If you have a canvas that has accidentally leaned on a sharp object and a dent is visible, try misting the backside of the canvas with water. As it dries it should tighten the canvas again in that area. Should you have a tear, these can be repaired professionally and often by the artist.
Don't fear buying original art. Place it where you can enjoy it and with some basic care you will be able to enjoy it for a lifetime.
Have you ever wondered how an artist decides what to paint? I'm sure while it is different for every artist there are probably many similarities as well. I will begin by saying the creative process for me is an ongoing thing. I am never without my camera/iphone for that very reason. Inspiration is everywhere and I am constantly taking photos, for later use, I tell myself. Needless to say, I have a lot of photos sitting somewhere in a cloud...
The active process for me is as follows. Sometimes, I just don't know what to paint and that is when all those photos come in handy. I'll scroll through them, crop and save and eventually pick one to paint or base a painting from. Other times, I have a basic idea of what I want to paint.
The other day, I had decided on houses. So I scrolled until I found what I wanted. City townhouses, old Toronto, Roncesvale... hmmm ... should I do a large one? Or maybe this one, smaller and wider...I cropped and stared at them, moved them to my favourites folder, and stared at many different sized canvasses I have laying around. I put them on my easel, walked around them, stared, turned them, took them off, scrolled through my photos again...came across some rolling hills...cropped...and YES! I felt it at that moment. Picked up a small canvas laying at my feet and quickly sketched in the composition with an oiled dirty brush. Yes I liked it. I quickly laid in some foundation colours and was satisfied. I had errands to run, but I felt a sense of accomplishment and excitement to return to the painting.
Painting, has got to be a feeling in the moment. Its not to say that I don't sketch and and preplan some paintings because I do. But I may not paint them until later, until I feel it, until I can visualize it on a canvas. It may be an hour or sometimes weeks before the painting comes to form. And other times, it is pure spontaneity, which can often give a painting a freshness.
If , as artists, our process differs, I'm sure we will all agree we have to be able to feel the painting, be moved by the subject, in order for it to be a successful painting. And today, I felt rolling hills :)
I wonder what I will feel tomorrow...
Certainly no self employment road is without its highs and its lows and when an artist wakes up and decides his or her life will be one of painting pictures for a living it is a little like standing on the edge of a high cliff and trying to decide how close is too close? Fortunately it gets better!
In the lows of an artists career one discovers truths about themselves that are very revealing. It is during these lows that an artist pushes their limits. You can choose to throw your hands up in the air and give up, or push forward and experiment with new media or tools or both. I find it is during these lows that I make the greatest strides in my artistic journey and push my creativity to paint something out of my comfort zone and head into new directions.
Discovery is not a bad thing, in fact, for all of its nuances it ends up being the most fulfilling choice a person can make, leading to new heights and enriching discoveries which do not necessarily involve only monetary rewards.
I have presented "Discovered" as a beacon to the crossroads of change and it says to you: Go forward! and discover!
As a Canadian landscape artist, there is no shortage of beautiful lakes to paint. But on a recent cross Canada trip this summer, I was stunned by the rugged beauty of our more northern Great Lakes. White pine studded rocky shorelines of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron are nationally iconic, but to me the wild and rugged beauty of Lake Superior had me awestruck. White pine gives way to the dominant scraggly black spruce which form dense stands along rocky shorelines and islands. The dramatic skies over these expansive shorelines begged to be painted.
It was through posting one of these paintings, "SuperiorDay" on twitter that I got the attention of a young journalist from Michigan, Steven Maier, who writes for the environmental group, Great Lakes Echo, greatlakesecho.org. and featured my art and biography on their site. This group fosters and serves as a news community for the environment of the Great Lakes Watershed. As both Canada and the United States both benefit from the Great Lakes, it is reassuring to know that there are environmental groups on both sides, looking over the well being of our lakes. It is important to work together to keep these bodies of water healthy for future generations to enjoy and perhaps paint!
I recommend anyone interested in the Great Lakes environmental issues to check out this group.
As an artist, you're often told that its important to develop a recognizable style, a brand. But what does that mean? Many artists stick to a theme, and paint that theme over and over, so they become recognized by their content and style. I personally feel that to grow as an artist I need to explore different themes. I too believe that in order to perfect a theme it needs to be revisited several times. But then I need to move on. Creative ideas can occur almost anywhere and anytime and I try not to limit myself to one theme but rather explore each new idea as it occurs. Perhaps I'm attracted to a new colour palette or a new painting tool or different medium. Each time I venture outside of my comfort zone I grow as an artist , pushing myself to try new things and new ways to express my ideas. In the end, whether I'm painting a landscape or flowers with a brush or a credit card there is always going to be a commonality to my work. And that is, it is painted with my hand, my right hand. For now...