I am working through the final chapters classic text, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Some of the drawing exercises I embrace with giddiness and joy, others
I painfully slog through until "I get it". The premise of the book is to shift focus from our ideas of what objects look like, to perceiving and drawing objects with greater accuracy and ease while taking the mystery out of the activity. Learning the techniques have felt like artistic weightlifting, gaining drawing muscles with the intention of strengthening other creative activities.
While studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design, I took several drawing classes, reaching some competency yet feeling the activity was difficult. I've always been a little self conscious about my skill level and wanted to get a handle on it. Currently with every painting,
I work out the composition with a preliminary sketch and/or tonal drawing. Although my paintings are fairly abstract and impressionist, strengthening these skills would enrich the artwork overall.
It is rumored the Meadowlarks are back in southern Alberta, I am keeping my ears alert for their cheerful sound.
The snow is still thick on the ground and quickly turning to mush on this first day of spring. Thinking ahead of hiking and painting adventures in the prairies and mountains, I'm making optimistic warm weather plans.
Digging around through my digital treasure trove, I discovered this short video clip taken in Grasslands National Park last May. I spent a few days hiking, sketching and painting the surrounding valleys. On the last night camping, I was treated to an epic storm that howled through the Frenchman River Valley. At three AM, the wind ended and a single note from a Meadowlark indicated the world was still intact. Later as the sun was rising, the valley filled with the loud, complex birdsong. I set up and worked on plein aire canvases and sketches from which several paintings were inspired.
Early May, I drove east to Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. I spent four days collecting sketches, photos, recording sounds-scapes and soaking up the environment.
Upon my evening arrival at the Frenchman River Campground was a sonic birdsong wall-of-sound. The squeaks, tweets and whistles continued about 18 hours a day, it was like digital, old timey computer noise. Walking by the river, I heard a bird mimicking a cell phone ringing, I thought I was losing it for a moment, as there was no one else around and definitely out of range.
Snake gators, where do you get snake gators? You can borrow them from the visitor centre in Val Marie. After reading Parcs Canada's spooky brochure about snakes and bison, I was feeling freaked out about my reptile friends, thus I got set up with snake gators before setting out on a hike. I hiked on the opposite end of the valley from the hibernacula and did not see any reptile friends, however did run into a bull bison. Apparently, they are cranky during the spring season and I made a large exhausting loop through the hot valley to avoid the fella. Mosquitoes, the brochures should have warned me that the mosquitoes would be the ones that make me really lose my mind. Arms flapping all the way back to camp.
GNP is one of the largest dark sky preserves in Canada, all night the prairies were lit up from the moon as though it was a street light. The last night, a classic prairie thunderstorm rolled in and flattened the tent. After the tent pegs detached themselves from the earth and I felt a little airborn, I rolled up the tent and all its contents like a giant burrito and shoved it under the car until the wind, lightning and rain abated. I waited in the car until it cleared and a single song from a meadowlark stated all was well with the world.
Overall the trip was filled with beautiful sounds and sights. I managed a few sketches and paintings and a ton of reference photos for inspiration. In Val Marie, I had the chance to visit artist friend Diana Chabros and see her artwork for her upcoming show in Swift Current and my cousin Denise in Medicine Hat.
I love the natural grassland areas, if these images and stories inspire you, please consider signing this petition to protect the pasture areas in Saskatchewan:
Grasslands are the most endangered, the most altered and yet the least protected ecosystem on the planet. They contain more Species at Risk than any other region of the country. The Community Pastures in Saskatchewan contain some of the largest, best managed and biodiverse rich blocks of remaining native grasslands in North America. A conservation network will not only protect our grasslands but support Canada's biodiversity Target 1 to protect 17% of all terrestrial areas and inland water.
Yesterday I packed the car full of art supplies, camera, binoculars, note book and headed south to Writing on Stone Provincial Park. For two weeks, I imagined this little reprieve and finally hit the road. It was a quiet hike among hoodoos, cacti and rolling trails during the four hour walk. Prairie falcon, deer, rabbit, great horned owl and magpies were my companions.
The unusual green hills resulted from a rainy season. September’s single digit temperatures made for quick plein air paintings on the wet hillsides. On a high butte scattered with tipi rings and a view of the Frenchman River Valley, I found my favorite painting site. This large scale studio painting was inspired by plein air paintings created here
Exploring the wide valley near the tipi rings, I followed a path through sagebrush, shrubs and late blooming flowers. Over the crest of a hill I stopped in my tracks at the sight of an enormous bison nearby. Slightly shocked, I backed away slowly from this indifferent beast. In GNP, bison are a potential hazard. Rule of thumb, if you see the bison and you hold up your thumb, if the bison is bigger than your thumb, you are too close. Back away! Returning to the high point, I made my paintings where I had a clear view of all directions.
“Plains bison (Bison bison bison) were re-introduced in Grasslands National Park in December 2005, after 120 years of absence. The results of the spring count in April 2013, suggest that there are approximately 330 adult bison and 40 calves in the park.
Bison were reintroduced to restore a 'grazing regime' of large herbivores in a portion of the West Block of the park. Bison are symbolic of the prairies and provide visitors a greater diversity of native species to view when visiting the park. The reintroduction will contribute to the Canadian and greater North American restoration efforts of bison.”- Parks Canada
Clouds threatened, but I chose to ignore them driving towards a southern Alberta painting adventure
Making the trip to Writing on Stone Provincial Park, after rainy days of being cooped up, I needed to shake out the cobwebs. Camera, paints, canvas, picnic, car full of gas-here we go. Driving toward the US border, the Sweet Grass Mountains are seen from the park coulees. Writing on Stone is a favorite year round hiking destination, with rolling trails and strange formations and mysterious history.
Plein air painting is like weight lifting for artists, painting on site in the elements is a chance to build painting muscles. The result may not be the finest work, but the accumulation of practice and experience is worth the effort It was challenging to step outside my box and paint this unusual landscape. The resulting painting may be a bit of a dog, but it has some spirit.
I’m fascinated by a box of thread inherited from my Aunt Marie. It has every colour of the rainbow. I can’t recall ever seeing her or any of the family wearing outfits in the wild colours found in the sewing kit. I love the spools all lined up in a row in the way I would squeeze paint onto my palette.
Lately I’ve been mending and altering clothing and household items. I’ve been using this as a tactic to go off the computer and chill out. No unnecessary input or output. Just a few minutes of relaxed focus on the task of repairing a hem or darning a sock with my non-domestic skill.
I love that magic box of unlimited colour that gives inspiration for my new paintings. There is something special about inspiration that comes from everyday objects around us.
Several weeks of work was distilled into this six minute video. I wanted to share the process of building up paint into an image using light, contrast and texture in creating the artwork.
Beginning with a freshly primed canvas, I under painted the general shapes, and light and dark areas with many layers of watered down acrylic paint. The thin washes of color puddle; dry and build texture as I alternate layers of warm and cool color. As the major components are developed, brushwork is added to emphasize the direction of light and shadow. Coats of acrylic gloss medium were used between thin washes to stabilize the paint and deepen the glow of the color.
While finishing the painting I also completed one of my goals for 2014 in creating a video; I used the Windows Movie Maker software to cobble still photographs and footage. The software was intuitive and easy to use, after some trial and error I was able to piece together the elements. In the process of creating the video, I became strongly attached to the painting I had just completed; however it was a commissioned artwork that was going to a home and it left the studio shortly after for Wallace Galleries who kindly organized the project.
Creating both the painting and video was a real treat for me as I had the experience of working in the large scale while taking time to document the process. I also wanted to create something unique for the person who commissioned the work and share what happens behind the scenes at the studio.
My old french easel (Van Gogh's Magic Carpet) travels again, this time to Effusion Art Gallery in Invermere for a painting demo.
Effusion Art Gallery is unique in its strong representation of mixed media artists, sculptural paintings and glasswork created by owner Heather Cuell. Gallery Curator Daryl DaCosta hosted the event and set the upbeat tone for the day. Invermere bustled with the Family Day crowd as Panorama was receiving fantastic snow. The gallery presented both myself and fellow Artist David Zimmerman, a gregarious fellow who creates sculptural mixed media paintings.
Fascinated with new processes, I looked over David's shoulder as he layered fabrics, paint, ink and gold leaf, building up an image of a bear. David is a resident of Bragg Creek and is quite familiar with bears. He shared a few stories of his encounters. We both agree that these magnificent creatures endeavor to avoid humans, despite the media hype.
The subject of my canvas that day was Canal Flats, part of the Columbia River Wetlands. The first time I drove by on my visit in the fall, I knew it was something special. It is the longest continuous wetlands in North America, important for many critters and migratory birds. In September I stomped around in the rain, shot many photos and set up my easel in the hatchback of my car making soggy plein air paintings.
My demo canvas "Canal Flats-Early Bright", was a result of studies from the photos gathered, I was happy the painting seemed to paint itself after having struggled with the preliminary sketches. Underpainting with red can shake anyone out of a creative funk.
A world of strange rock formations and ancient spirit embody Writing on Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta. Off season visits provide snake free paths and quiet reprieve at this popular heritage site, making it my favorite winter hiking destination.
Something new is discovered each trip including geology, petroglyphs, animals and plants; yesterday’s trip did not disappoint. Our adventure took us hoofing our up an old trade route of horse and wagon tracks in the canyon. A clear view of the Sweet Grass Hills of Montana in the near distance was our constant companion.
Bizarre lunar rock textures on sandstone formations baffled. The discovery of a tiny fanged jawbone had me scratching my head until I identified it on Google as the skull of a mouse. The trail was a highway of animal tracks revealing busy coyotes, raccoons and deer in the valley.
These small adventures are fuel in the long days of January and are refreshing.
Click the picture below for a short video of this special place: