What shape is your block?…

“a memory of walking with your grandmother through the meadow past the red barn to the orchard where you picked ripe apples, while laughing at the golden lab named Milton as he chased that crazy squirrel”

What shape is your block?

It’s calm, the morning dew hangs from long alpine grass while a low cloud lays lazily over the lake, it’s head on the northern shore. A bank of trees slopes in from the left, the sun just kissing their tops. The mountain slopes steeply from behind and scree forms fingers reaching into the cold glacial water. On the right? Well, nothing on the right and there’s a funny looking log hanging off a drab rock like a shipwrecked sailor.

I move on.

This happens several times. I look at different variations of the scene from alternate vantage points. Crop that out. I need to see more of this and less of that. I walk along the shore looking intently for nothing in particular but waiting for what I always wait for – the artistic sense detector to start clicking with more feverish activity. It’s kind of like that old childhood game we used to play – “your getting warmer….waaaarmer….REALLY HOT! Oh, colder, colder…. ice cold.”

Maybe there’s a subconscious art director in my head that directs me to move this way and that while not really telling me what it’s looking for until it finds it. The best scene of the bunch.

But based on what?

Where did this sense come from? What shaped it? Remember the blocks in different shapes and the board that had the corresponding holes activity we had when very young? I watched my children play it. Round hole, round peg! Yay! This is what it’s like I believe. We have developed a particularly complex shaped block based on many different influences. What art our parents, friends and mentors liked. What we read and watched and what art caught our uniquely personal eye. The shaft of light coming through the kitchen window, lighting the coffee cup and bagel on the table. Or simply the flowers in the crystal vase on the sill.

Something shaped our artistic sense. The like of a particular palette or style or subject matter was something shaped from birth and developed over years or decades. Events that had meaning for us whether positive or negative that move us in a particular direction. An art show, or a performance. An accident, a garden, a death, a birth, a sunset, a memory of walking with your grandmother through the meadow past the red barn to the orchard where you picked ripe apples, while laughing at the golden lab named Milton as he chased that crazy squirrel.

These moments over our lifetime. These inputs that our brains gather and fold or toss away. Large shapes, small shapes? Colorful or muted? Dark or bright, still life, landscape, portrait or figure. Formal or informal? Soft or hard, warm or cool. Combinations of each in thousands of possibilities.

There’s a reason we prefer certain things and dislike others. It’s something I’ve been wondering about. Why the landscape? What not flowers? What about abstracts? Portraits?

Well the landscape is obvious to me as my influences were all landscape artists early on mainly my grandfather as he was a landscape painter. I also have a had a deep connection to the landscape, especially the more intimate places where I feel alone, and connected. One reason why the “Grand Vista” has never played a big role in my art; I like a place nestled in the woods where I feel protected. Close to waterfalls or small open spaces with boulders or a small creek. I like swamps or small mountain lakes. I love the texture of nature close up. I need to paint more of this.

Flowers? They hold no particular sway with me. I mean, there nice to look at and may pose a challenge and I really admire those that can paint them well but it’s one subject that I’ll probably not bother with.

Abstracts? Simple…fear.
Portraits? Same thing.

So? What shape is your block?

Odaray

Odaray

We awoke to a gloomy morning. No rain but the threat hung, looming. Boiling water and steam, the smell of coffee and tea, eggs from a carton. Maple too. No bacon sadly. Stepping outside into the brisk morning air and seeing the hardy adventurers looking forward to the rewards that await the day.

The sun pushed hard through the thick cloud and lit a sliver of the mountain to the north. A welcoming of sorts. An invitation.

We pretty much all decided to go to where the sun laid God’s finger… Odaray. One of the most amazing hikes but not without its price. A steep wildlife corridor with limited group access only. We were in Grizzly habitat.

Sadly, we didn’t see any wildlife at all but the views were mind blowing.

No painting today but a glimpse from high up on this amazing hike where we would be painting tomorrow; McArthur.

Enjoy the pics.

Winston Churchill as Artist…

churchill_1365468cA long time friend of mine Mike Brown, tired of the onslaught of very depressing news decided that ART was a better way to fill the newsfeed on Facebook. Mike would assign anyone who liked his post an artist to research and post back to FB what we found. I was given Winston Churchill.

Most of us know Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945. A cantankerous and brilliant man who’s career spanned over sixty years. Most of us probably don’t know that he was also an accomplished artists. It wasn’t until he was forty that he took up the brush and over the next 48 years produced over 500 works. This seems to be a theme as both Mike and I breathed energy back into a long dormant interest in creating art.

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Winter Sunshine,Chartwell

His painting was mostly personal as a way to unwind from the stresses of his busy life but on a couple of occasions he tested the waters of his abilities in a public forum. He entered an amateur competition with “Winter Sunshine,Chartwell” and to his delight,won first prize! Encouraged by his success he sent five pieces to be exhibited in Paris and four of them sold for £30 each. Interestingly,he submitted them under an assumed name – Charles Morin. And just to be clear, money was not the motivation for his art.

He used a pseudonym once again (Mr. Winter) when he delivered five paintings to The Royal Academy for consideration in 1947. Apparently,he didn’t want his notoriety to have any influence on those making the decision. Two of his paintings were accepted and were shown in the Summer Exhibition.

For the most part, Churchill painted mostly while at his home at Chartwell and during his travels around the world. Here are a few of his works. I even managed to find the spot where he painted in Pompeii with Sams help who recognized the spot from his visit there last year.

Churchill’s work now fetches several hundred thousand pounds at auction. This painting “The Goldfish Pond at Chartwell” set a record at 1.8 million Pounds. Maybe someday, after I’m dead and gone,my paintings will sell for that much. Ah, one can dream.

Thanks Mike for making me have a look at a man who I thought I knew something about and discovering a lot more than I had imagined.

Plein Air to Lake O’Hara

“I got to the beautiful Lake O’Hara lying in a rainbow sleep, under the steeps of Mount Lefroy and the waterfalls of Oesa. And there I realized some of the blessedness of mortals.”
– J.E.H. MacDonald in A Glimpse of the West, 1924

Well again, I was lucky enough to have secured a spot in another trip organized by Patti Dyment. This time we were to paint at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. Steph drove me up early so we could be at the parking lot for the bus ride by 10am. When I arrived, there were many cars in the lot and several excited adventurers. But what excited me the most was when I saw the familiar faces of Alice Satiel-Marshall and her husband Bill, Sharon Van Essen, and Sharon Lynn Williams and her husband Dave. Alice gave me a big hug and with smiles on our faces we climbed aboard for the 20 minute bus ride up to the Lake.

Well if I compare the way we got to Assiniboine and the way we got to O’Hara – a helicopter versus a big yellow school bus respectively – the helicopter wins out. There’s leg room on the helicopter (I’m not eight anymore) and your kidneys don’t end up where your liver should be. Oh, and I think I lost a tooth. You get a grand view from the chopper and a view of nothing but trees from the bus. Not even a hint of what we were to expect.

ohara-blog-1ohara-blog-4We pulled up to the coffee shelter called Le Relais, gathered our stuff and decided to head to the lake which was just to the left of where we stopped. What the bus and bumpy ride up had hid, revealed itself within 50ft from where we stopped. The very place where John Singer Sergeant painted his masterpiece in 1916. It was beautiful. Mountains that rose up, reflected in a lake of clear emerald glass. Patti and Jan Chalupnicek were there painting as they had arrived two hours earlier. Their work was wonderful and inspiring and made me want to get going.

We took our gear up to the Elizabeth Parker Hut, found or sleeping spaces (mine didn’t work out – more on that later) donned our paint gear and decided to head up to the Opabin Plateau.

When I say we, I mean Patti, Sharon Lynn Williams, Sharon Van Essen, Jan Chalupnicek, Gwen Davis and myself. Dave, Bill and Meg Nicks head off for a different adventure. The one Hour hike and 250m elevation gain from the Lake O’Hara Lodge was well – steep. It didn’t help that I had my studio on my back. Jan decided to stop half way up and paint the creek that the trail follows up to the plateau.

ohara-blog-13We arrived at some small ponds which are beside Moor Lakes and the group decided to set up there. By the time I got going (late as usual) I could see a veil of either rain or snow in the distance. I very slowly, squeezed out my paints, starting with White and then onto Ultramarine. I paused, eyeing the veil suspiciously trying to determine if it was going to pay us a visit. By the time I got to Yellow Ochre it made a final rush moving swiftly up and over the ridge. Snow was sticking to the back of my neck and the temperature felt like it dropped by 15 degrees. I was reminded how unpredictable and potentially dangerous mountain weather is if your unprepared.

We made our way back down to the lake and back up to the the Elizabeth Parker Hut. On and off showers but no snow or wind. I still had the need to get something down and ventured out of the hut to scout out something worthy of setting up. I found a small grouping of rocks about 2 mins from the hut and set up there, took some reference pics and began to paint. I was rained out after 30 mins but managed to get this on the board.

Grant Waddell

 

Within tradition, we ate a great meal and talked and sang well into the evening. Many of the group had done this before and again, I felt very lucky to be with such wonderful people. And what is also a tradition for me, I waited till all was quite, poured myself a night cap and sat out under the mountain sky and thought of the day and what tomorrow would bring.

DAY 2

I spent a very uncomfortable night on a bench in the dining area after I was crowded out on my bunk. What I thought was a comfy cushion turned out to be carpet on wood. I woke up several times during the night and when I saw the first hints of twilight I knew my suffering was over! I was glad to see the very early risers getting ready for their day of hiking. I got up and dressed quickly, made a cup of coffee and was happy to see Alice sitting at the table. We chatted and talked of where to paint but were somewhat dismayed that the weather was still not cooperating. Low clouds clung to the mountains and intermittent rain hung dismally over our creative verve. We had a second cup and some a third.

The damp seemed to stall for a bit and Gwen and Alice and I headed down to the Lake (Lake O’Hara as “The Lake” will now be known) to see what we could find for inspiration. Gwen set up fairly quickly painting the cabins on the lake and I headed off looking for – you guessed it – the promised land. During my venture I ran into Bill who said “Alice is here somewhere” and then we could see her purple coat at the far end of a small lake on the outlet side of O’Hara. I headed in her direction thinking she had found something worthy. Sadly, she hadn’t and I met her as she was making her way back.

ohara-blog-21To make a long story short, we painted very close to where Gwen had set up which was, where Patti and Jan had set up the day before and where Sergeant had set up 100 years ago.

I spent around 4+ hours trying to paint this scene with intermittent rain. ohara-blog-22I had my umbrella but it was too dark and I had to keep pulling it up and away to see where my values were. (I need to get a translucent white as an alternate) Overall, it’s not bad but was very much like “The Queen” at Assiniboine. LOTS of stuff to decipher and get down. I wasn’t massing and simplifying like I should have been. Ultimately, I finished, without being finished. My values were off and my colors muted. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t successful in my opinion for the amount of time I spent on it. I could blame the weather and the light… and you know what, I will!

sargents-point

Another night of food, drink and song is always a welcome end to a day of art and exploration. I again sat up with a light rain and this time sat under the eve of the Wiwaxy Hut which is a smaller hut beside Elizabeth Parker and in the stillness of the night, I could hear Patti sing a lullaby (probably a show tune) to the group in her cabin. ohara-blog-20

It was magical and I rested my head against the outside of the cabin and thought to myself that it’s moments like these that are like simple strokes of paint. Bits of recorded memory. We start with a blank canvas and with each stroke, each memory, some good and some not, we create a masterpiece of who we are and who we have been. From the underpainting, the adjustment of values and edges with some hard and some soft, and maybe even wiping some, if not a good portion of it off.- we are never finished until the end.

DAY 3 – The Hike

We awoke to a dismal day of gray and wet and the shuffling and quite clatter of hikers eager to get the day underway. The painters sat and looked out the windows at the gray dismal day and drank coffee and tea. Sharon Lynn Williams and I looked at a book on the Paintings of O’Hara and were very happily surprised to see a piece by Alice in the book! Gwen Day mentioned to me later that we were amongst some amazing talent in the group and I would have to agree.

After some discussion, the idea of painting was out as the weather did not appear to be improving and I needed to get to Victoria falls to take some reference pics as I had seen them in paintings many times before. That was my goal for the day and I had no intentions of going much past that. Many of the painters were in and I, as well as Patti, Gwen Day, Sharon Lynn Williams, her husband Dave and Sharon Van Essen headed up with common intent. Dave and Patti decided to split off and hike a different route which would intersect the trail farther up. It apparently is a beautiful hike but bypassed the falls.

ohara-blog-25Well, once I reached the falls I was struck at how much smaller they were from what I had imagined – but I could see why so many artists had tried to capture this beautiful whisper of what lay just beyond. ohara-blog-27After some pics I had to move on as I could see a ridge or plateau just ahead. Where there is more road, more trail, or running water has always said there’s something more and you better not miss it. This has been something I have come to expect from my wandering spirit. What is over that hill? Or around that bend? It has always driven me farther… the “what if” of driving up a logging road or hiking up a mountain trail. What if I turned around right now and went back…

If I had turned back having reached my goal of getting to the falls I never would have seen what was just over the ridge that was calling me onward. SharonLW was behind me and as I came up over the edge a mix of awe and elation pulsed through me, Victoria Lake opened it arms and wrapped me up and held me for far too brief a moment, dropping me to my knees. It was so beautiful and I was so wonder struck, I instantly turned to Sharon with a beaming smile and gave her a huge hug which she gladly returned having seen this before and knowing the experience I was having. Victoria Lake without a doubt, is one of the most beautiful places I had seen in my life. A smallish lake surrounded by pine and Larch trees in their beautiful fall yellow outfits. Another set of falls lay enticingly at the far end of the lake whispering that there was more to come. “Keep going” they said. “Keep going”

(I think a cabin would be nice. A bit of a trek in but soooooo worth it.)

We waited for a bit thinking Dave and Patti were going to meet us there but after consulting a map we realized the trail they were on intersected farther up. We headed up that way and after a short while the two hi level adventurers met us at the intersection and we were off for the very short romp to the shores of what had been calling to me – the magnificent Lake Oesa.

I – at this point am not surprised at how much beauty resides in such a relatively small area – Lake Oesa is no acceptation. An amazing geography of high mountains and cliffs, scree, talus, and snow all displayed two-fold in the reflection of an emerald mirror. We wandered around, took some photos, and had a wee bite, and decided to head over the Yukness Ledges which terminate at the Opabin Plateau. Needless to say, the traverse over this face was incredible. High above the plateau we could see Alice and Bill and some of the others where we were two days earlier. When we arrived at the intersection we marched on to the the majesty of Opabin Lake. I think I’m running out of adjectives to describe the sheer natural beauty of this place. It has re-invigorated my love for high alpine hiking. Through the barrier of the trees to open meadows filled with wild flowers, this vast open beauty will remain unseen by most city dwellers sadly and I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to hike and rest in a place that plants the seeds for future exploration.

In the words of Robert Genn from his trip to the the O’Hara region…

“What a privilege to be with creative and observant companions past and present. To see and share an environment where sheer power and the delicate flower beg to be studied and honored. To be surprised and delighted at every turn of a path. To flirt with the gods of the larch forest and the granite mountains. To be in a place where human understanding is submissive to impression. What a high it is to be an artist. What a responsibility. How natural. How tragic it might have been to pass this one up. My complaint is that I almost did.”

And to think – I almost did.

 

Our hike out circled around some wonderful painting spots. Lots of reference was shot and there were moments where I wish I could have had all my painting gear and a moment to hunker down and dig in. We eventually ended up on the same trail we were on two days before but with much much better weather!

Again, the evening air filled with song and the scent of fine mountain cuisine. We even broke into poetry in which we agreed, next year, we all had to learn an epic poem. I started with Jabberwocky and Dave recited The Cremation of Sam McGee.  We had table #2 (another group we were getting to know) singing with us at one point and Alice yelled over “Hey Table #2 – if you have wine we’ll pay top dollar!!!” I can’t remember his name but one of the other hikers came over with a flask filled with Fireball. It was so bloody fun! This night I had my last night cap sitting in the darkness of the hut save the glow of the fire, on the bench I had slept on two nights earlier and listened to my book – The Island of the Lost – by Joan Druett.

Day 4

Next morning was a mixed bag of rain, sun, more rain, some blue sky and even more rain. The day was open but many of the party decided it was time. The weather had won and it was time to call it quits.

We thought it would be a good idea to take a trip down to the Lodge to see the artwork hanging on the walls which included one of my favourite artists Robert Genn. There where also photographs of J.E.H McDonald and Lawren Harris Painting in the area .

A few caught early busses out and a few of us stayed a little longer in an optimistic haze. Sharon set up on the dock and painted a view along the shoreline in her very characteristic very colourfully wonderful style. I was convinced (read hounded – ok maybe not hounded) to start something and decided on a 4×5” panel. I was only 20 minutes into it when time ran out and we packed up to get the bus. (I knew it!) 🙂

I had brought several of these small canvases down and after getting home, I thought it may be a good idea to start almost every painting with a very small gestural study. One that sets the values and colors in a format which does not allow for detail. I remember watching Jove Wang at the 2016 Plein Air Convention in Tucson and he did exactly this. Two separate pieces – A small colour  study and a black and white value study to set the tone for the larger painting to come. He referenced these often as he worked on the larger piece.

Again, like Assiniboine, this trip was filled with friendship, great food, song, poetry, and best of all we had an opportunity to paint in an area rich in artistic history. What a wonderful feeling knowing you have painted where legends have painted before. The common factor being, no matter who, we all felt the same awe and incredible inspiration of a landscape born from nature, and we have tried to capture it………….

What a great group – What a great time.

Till next year!

Cheers all!

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The Gang!

Plein Air Trip To Mount Assiniboine!

My Favourite Alpine Flower

My Favourite Alpine Flower

It was Sunday August 7th. The V-Strom, was loaded up with all the essentials for my painting trip into one of my favourite places in this world. A place I had been, by my recollection, 35 years earlier on a school trip with the Outdoor Class at STS. I kissed Steph goodbye and rolled out for the ride up to Canmore and then onto the Spray Lakes Road for the 36km gravel portion to the Mount Shark Helipad. It was about 12:15 by the time I arrived and it was very warm. I stripped off my gear, stowed it in the panniers and headed up the road to the waiting area. I rounded the corner and saw my group which included Patti Dyment and her daughter Megan, Laura, Anne, Sharon, Alice Satiel and her husband Bill. Oh, and yours truly. Four painters and four hikers. A wonderful group and a beautiful day to hop on a helicopter for the far too brief (8min) flight to Mount Assiniboine.


I was in awe as the chopper dropped in rapidly (I swear these young pilots have watched Apocalypse Now a few too many times) Mount Assiniboine and the surrounding vista called to a distant thread of memory from a time I can barely remember. I can’t describe the combination of feelings I felt that reverberated from my past memories of this place to the stunning reality that enveloped me now. It was nothing like I remembered it. The trees were bigger (naturally) and there were new cabins just below the helipad. These cabins were added maybe in the last 10 years and were made for guests who had my current net worth in their wallets. They were nothing compared to the rustic beauty of where we were all staying – the historic Naiset Cabins.

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Aster Cabin

They weren’t where I remembered them, but were 500m up the trail from the helipad. Our hut was one of several built by the Alpine Club of Canada in 1925. Ours was called the Aster and sleeps eight in two bunkbeds – and there not very big bunkbeds. Think advertised two man tent – then go look at it. Anyway, after getting settled in I headed down to Lake Magog with Patti Dyment and Sharon to try and get a quick painting in before dinner. The sky was a mix of blue, white and a bit of dark grey. To mountain people, that means anything is possible without warning. We all set up within a couple of hundred meters of each other and got to work – and within thirty minutes we were packing up quickly as the rain began to fall. I got something roughed in but not finished. Patti and Sharon faired about the same. It was back to the cabin and off to the lodge for happy hour where we met up with Bill and Alice for wine, beer and talk of art.

Dinner was fantastic and after, we all sang songs, laughed and enjoyed each others company. Then it was off to bed for the group but I sat up and listened to a story and had a nite cap sitting out on the porch of the cabin under the night sky, in the dark among the trees and the mountains. Simply beautiful.

DAY 2

The morning light sifted through one of the two small windows in the cabin as the slow stirrings of hikers and artists alike broke the stillness. In no time we were in the cook shelter – coffee in hand – discussing what we were going to do – where to paint that day or where to hike. Patti, Sharon and I decided to paint at Gog lake which was only a short 15 minute hike. It was again, beautiful in the shadow of what’s called “The Two Towers”. I could see Patti and Sharon and was pleased to see Alice setting up as well. I wandered around suffering from Moses Syndrome (looking for the promised land) and after about a half hour decided on spot much closer to the lake from where the girls were setting up. On a side note, I could hear a waterfall around a blind corner up at the end of the lake. I wanted to have a look but I thought I had wasted enough time and needed to start something. The falls were for another time.

Your first thought is to paint these iconic mountains and lake but I decided to paint the view 180 degrees to the west. A pretty nondescript mountain (not even sure of the name and I think Alice referred to it as “The Lump”) was in the background but it was beautifully lit and the trees on either side of where the lake began it’s downhill run to Magog were stunning. I loved the colors of the grasses and visual interaction of the reflections in the lake. Thank God I had my umbrella as it began to rain and I wasn’t ready to finish. My painting partners retreated to have a bite of lunch and a spot of tea. I finished up and headed back for the same.

The afternoon looked like it was setting up to be a repeat of the previous day with a full sky of mixed blessings and possible curses and we decided to go back down to where we began the previous day.assiniboine-processed-1-2 Since the light was pretty much the same ,I was able over two afternoons, to get this little 5×7 wrapped up and then it was off to the Lodge for a beer and more art talk.

 

The night again was filled with song, great food and for me, developing friendships. The night swept in and everyone headed for bed. I sat up and listened to my book and watched to the north where a developing thunderstorm lit up the sky, revealing the dark pines for a brief second. It was so peaceful. img_7357

 

Day 3

The next morning we awoke to clear skies and a very excited group who wanted to see what Assiniboine looks like at 6:15am and let me simply say it was stunning. I grabbed my camera and headed off down the path to take some reference shots as I didn’t want to miss the morning glow on such an iconic mountain – The Matterhorn of the Rockies.

 

After  the trek back up to the cabin, a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, Patti and I decided to head down to the flats in front of Magog to paint “The Queen” as Alice likes to call Assiniboine. I set up a couple of hundred meters below Patti and we got to work. I quickly discovered that there is a lot to take in in a scene like this. Not to mention trying to capture the fleeting early morning light. We both did the rough in with the intention of getting the light correct and then developing the details, ignoring the changes as the sun tracked across the sky.

Time passed, adjustments made, paint mixed and applied. Repeat.

Patti came down after she finished up and took a picture of me before she headed up for some lunch and a small break. We discussed heading up on a ridge between the Two Towers and Magog Lake for the afternoon but when I got back to the cabins, I couldn’t figure out where to go  or where Patti had gone.

assiniboine-processed-43I thought that I should investigate the falls I had heard at the far end of Gog lake the day before. The sound of rushing water excites me. It has been a source of a deep spiritual connection. I sometimes find that the lack of sound when in the mountains or sitting under the canopy of the forest almost *too quiet* The talk and banter of the water, and what it discusses with the rocks, stones and pebbles as it moves excitedly past on it’s way to some lake or ocean I find calming.

As I rounded the bluff, I could finally see what had invited me earlier. It was beautiful. Some falls are large and majestic, some small and reflective. These falls were lively – lacey. Going in several directions with a common intent. assiniboine-processed-44How the water fell through the rocks on the way down to Gog lake was well – inspiring.

I set up and gave myself 45 minutes to paint. I thought that the falls were going to be too challenging. More to take in than painting “The Queen”. I decided to rough in my underpainting with Alizarin (normally Ochre). I then wiped out the falls with a rag and thought the best way to go about this piece was to work from the inside out – paint the falls and it’s discussion with the bordering rocks and pebbles and work out towards the edges. If I had to stop, at least I didn’t waste time I thought, on what wasn’t important. This is where I ended up.

I learned more from this little painting I think than any other so far. It was quick and free. The brushstrokes placed without much thought but yet very deliberately. Confident because I didn’t place very much hope in it’s success. I knew I just need to get it down.

I was reminded of something an instructor at ACA said to me.
It has stuck with me since my time there – “Art in not precious”
I took this to mean that you need to keep an openness and freedom and innocence about what you make. Rather than restrict your work to whats saleable or what your friends or family will find acceptable. Let go. Art for art sake – work for your self.

I hope this little painting will continue to speak to me. It has been sitting on my windowsill since our trip and I’m drawn to it. It is closer to the way I want to paint than any other thus far.

Just as I was finishing up, Alice and Bill and Sharon wandered up and I was very happy to see them. Happy hour at the lodge was at hand, I had four plein air paintings in the bag and I knew another great night with new friends and song, warmth and a night under the Assiniboine sky was before me. I felt content and connected in so many ways.

It had been 35 years since I had been to Assiniboine with my crew from school. Some of the best people I have known. This trip, reminded me about how precious our relationships are – with family and friends, our passions and most of all, ourselves. It’s through who are, and what we value, that we can give the most.

Thanks Patti for everything. For creating an opportunity for me to become a part of an amazing community of such wonderful people – and inviting me back into an environment that I have found so inspirational then, now and in future trips.

Quang Ho Quote…

I came across this in the latest Plein Air magazine. A quote by master artist Quang Ho. In the article he describes how he starts with simple shapes, breaks these into details – shapes within shapes – and defines the shapes by adjusting the edges between them.

Painting is ultimately about completing spaces. In many ways, the beauty of one’s life is also about completing spaces, if having breakfast is considered a space, or a walk in the woods, all the way to the attention one  gives to a lifetime. The more attention or beauty one gives to the spaces, the more depth and meaning the entire space may have.

Before I Even Started, I Could See My Direction Was Predetermined…

 

Paint by Numbers copy

Cup a JoeSitting in my studio the other day sipping a cup of coffee, I looked around at all the canvases propped up against the walls and leaning against the easel, and noticed something interesting -there all landscapes. Now to most people, that wouldn’t be an issue, and really its not. After all, I love representational landscape paintings. I seek them out, and the artists that paint them. I look at the way the light and mood has been captured. The way the paint has been applied to the canvas. And when it works – for me – its magical.

But still, I sat there wondering why I paint them. I also greatly admire abstract, and photorealist work in relation to almost any subject matter. When I was a painting major for a year, I didn’t produce a single landscape. This fact, I found odd.

I took another sip of my coffee and eyed the work suspiciously. Leaning back in my chair, I began examining the deep, or not so deep question of why?

Gus Kenderdine

A painting by Gus Kenderdine that hung in our house. It had a big influence on me in my early years.

 

Here’s what I came up with.

#1. I love the landscape on a personal level.
#2. I was raised on representational landscape painting.
#3. Based on #2, it’s expected by everyone in my family.
#4. It’s safer and more commercially viable than say, abstract expressionism – my grandmother would buy a Constable but not a Kandinsky.

I have been aware of this for awhile. I’ll catch myself saying something like “oooh, Id like to paint that parking meter” or “what if I painted the rear view mirror of my car and what I see behind me”. Then I quickly dismiss it based on my simple four step test:

#1. It’s not a landscape painting
#2. There were no parking meter paintings in my family home.
#3. I would be ridiculed at the family BBQ.
#4. It wouldn’t pass the grandmother test and eventually lead to financial ruin and cardboard living quarters.

So, I thought to myself, am I painting landscapes because I truly want to? Or am I painting them because I would like to be able to support myself financially as an artist, and, landscapes are a viable subject matter for that purpose? Would I be ok becoming known for a particular flavour of painting.

Style + Subject matter = Grant Waddell?

After some thought, I realized that there are many subject types I would like to paint or create digitally. Art college, I can attest, opened my eyes to a greatly expanded world of artistic possibility. Art I was trained to dislike at home – “any monkey can do that”, was understood through education. Like a scotch that is too peaty for your liking – it’s not bad scotch, actually it’s damn good, just not what you prefer. There’s a big difference. Not to mention I like that educational process.

My honest belief – if I really open it up – is that I paint landscapes because of my four step test. An ingrained way of thinking that is safe and comfortable and maybe thats ok. While writing this, it dawned on me that this post is an extension of my last blog post about art and how to approach it without making it precious. I now realize this belief, extends beyond the fear of making a technical mistake, but also the fear of choosing subject matter that may not be accepted – subject matter thats very safe and reasonably free of judgement. Thats one of the reasons I’ve learned why some art buyers don’t buy a piece they may really like – fear that someone may ridicule their choice. Do we create safe, so others can buy safe?

Fall Colours

In time, I may be able to get rid of reasons #2 through #4, and relish the fact that I simply choose #1- I love the landscape. But it’s going to require some exploration – and a lot of painting. It’s an interesting exercise – examining something as deep as our inspiration for creativity, and really beginning to understand what our motivations are in respect to our fears – what may or may not be real. What is fact and fiction, and what is true expression. Maybe I’ll never know, and maybe thats what will keep me going.

Looking Down The Path, I Knew It Wanted Me To Come Closer…

Copyright - Grant Waddell

I have always had a love affair with everything that wasn’t the city. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of city life – being able to get a six pack or jug of milk on a moments notice. But the escape is what I have always loved. As a child, I spent hours by myself in the woods feeling a deep contentment and inner calm that most children today don’t get to experience. I attribute this to my father, who loved the outdoors as well – camping, skiing, canoeing and small hikes.I was always off into the deep woods with an inner confidence and love that pervaded my being. At peace by myself – never lonely as I had the best friend I could have ever found.

This is where my creativity was nurtured. My mind was free to wander and dream. Walk among the trees, look up in awe at the mountains, the warm sunlight and the sounds of the wind and birds helped create visions that made me smile as I lay on my back looking up into the canopy.

But then things changed…

There was a point in the last few years where my life as I had known it collapsed out from under me. I fell hard. And when I came to metaphorically, I had lost that love and that security. Going to the mountains brought a sad feeling and as you can imagine, brought  unbelievable internal conflict. What the hell! I can still feel the openness, a yearning for the connection, but at the same time, a smothering pain that draws off the memories off a different time.

Creativity, unfortunately vanished to sadness and a deep depression that I never thought I would survive.

Up Heart Creek

What I was surprised at, was how I still felt the pull. 

Amazingly, I was compelled to go out again and again, to paint, walk, write, take pictures, or lay in a hammock and read. Like an old friend who takes your hand and says “everything is going to be ok, you can trust me”.

Trust now, is something I find elusive. But day by day, those I love most will still be there, coaxing me forward, those who know the deepest parts of my story, stand beside me. My defences are slowly coming down. My connection to my friends, family and the natural world are deepening thank God. I know it will take time, patience and a practice of active engagement to wear away the sharp edges of a story that will always be there. To allow myself to open up and allow an old friend back inside.

Sam Train Tracks

As an artist who has always loved the the spiritual nature of the landscape, I have a ways to go with my dear companion – to peel away this strange sadness and feel that innocence I felt not so long ago. I just have to keep moving forward. To keep painting, writing, and taking pictures.

Art, in whatever shape it takes will be the way I honour my relationships, regain the trust in myself and those things closest to me and make each day and each creation something I can be proud of and I can proudly say that after 28 years, I have started painting again. I am on my way!

The Farm

My New Website…

After many hours up late selecting images and populating the wonderful Squarespace template, I have officially launched my new site.  Squarespace made the entire process very simple and fun to use in the process.  It has spiffy eCommerce integration through Stripe which made setting up a store very easy. Swing on over and have a look and let me know what you all think.

GWP Website

Music that Inspire me #1…

Music has always played an important roll in my life. It’s almost as if there is a sound track to the various chapters as I’ve grown. It gets into my soul and takes me away. Makes my creative mind stir and weaves imagery as rich as my deepest dreams and sweeps my imagination into a place of connection and peace. This is the first of many pieces I am going to share with you. I have listened to it several times over the last year while driving out to Bragg Creek. The mountains loom as I listen and eventually it will be the score to one of many short films I am going to create over the next year. I can hardly wait to get them underway. When I quickly did a search for the song, I found this in Wikipedia and after reading it, I was amazed to see how many things in my life are reflected in this particular song and meaning behind the title. I love astronomy and the heavens although I have to say I have never been good at math. When someone asks me about God, I say we will never understand the true essence of what that really means. It is simply beyond us. I describe it as a “Hum” that occupies the entire universe.

Reminds me of August Rush, one of my favourite movies. Things happen for a reason as I’m beginning to see…

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From Wikipedia

Musica universalis  or Harmony of the Spheres is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun,Moon, and planets—as a form of musica (the Medieval Latin name for music). This ‘music’ is not usually thought to be literally audible, but a harmonic and/or mathematical and/or religious concept. The idea continued to appeal to thinkers about music until the end of the Renaissance, influencing scholars of many kinds, including humanists.

The Music of the Spheres incorporates the metaphysical principle that mathematical relationships express qualities or ‘tones’ of energy which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds – all connected within a pattern of proportion. Pythagoras first identified that the pitch of a musical note is in proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios.[1] In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum (orbital resonance) based on their orbital revolution,[2] and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear.[3] Subsequently, Plato described astronomy and music as “twinned” studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions.[4]

The Creative Soul…

Creativity copy2

 

“Creativity makes what it makes, does what it does, and fully understands that we see our true beauty reflected in works that reveal our deepest selves.”

The only thing that I have ever known for sure is that I am creative. It has been, is, and always will be. It is the only constant thread in the entirety of my existence. It is a dear companion and, I used to believe, a dreaded enemy. One that I have a caressed lovingly and stabbed repeatedly in the heart. It has loved me deeply, and has left me bloody and bruised. It will offer a hand up the last challenging pitch of a frightening mountain climb, only to let me fall to the self critical rocks below. The resulting recovery, very painful and slow.

To let creativity be what it is meant to be, we need to understand that the truly creative person, holds their creativity close to their soul. Lets it flow from deep within and lets it produce from a place that is so connected to this “creative other” that we can feel it as if it were a living breathing entity within us. It taps deep into a place we have rarely, if ever met. That makes our senses draw in experience, and lets creation begin, naturally and without question. No internal judgment. Creativity makes what it makes, does what it does, and fully understands that we see our true beauty reflected in works that reveal our deepest selves.

Sounds airy fairy, I know, but I don’t believe it’s a skill that we are born with. We develop the skills to satisfy the insatiable hunger of these creative musings. I believe this creative force lies in us all. Some have natural talent, some have to develop it. Some don’t acknowledge it, give it a voice for the fear that they won’t be good enough. I used to say to my son when he said “I can’t draw” that we all have drawings in us, that we won’t like, and you simply have to “draw them all out of you” till nothing but the drawings you like remain. Simply practice.

Cook, draw, paint, garden, knit, write, sing, and play as much as it takes to get better at your craft. Honour it.

Creativity is one of the greatest gifts we have ever been given. It is a part of who we are. It is everywhere. We hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it, and see it. It is not an enemy or dreaded foe, but a gifted friend. It draws inspiration from it’s experiences and surroundings. What we listen to and what we see. What it teaches us about ourselves. What it reveals about our vulnerabilities and insecurities. And, if allowed, contributes to our ever growing self expression, and to the creativity of those around us fortunate enough to experience our journey. And maybe, just maybe, give them the courage to embark on their own.

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What does creativity mean to you?

Upside Down Painting…

Painting Upside Down Painting revealed Painting Finished

When I walked into painting class last week, Robert had a surprise for me. He pointed to my easel to which he had taped a 4×6 glossy print. The image was of some unknown landscape full of complex detail that I would never had picked. The simple fact that it was upside down didn’t help either.

He motioned me over and said, “For the next three hours, I want you to paint that. And yes, upside down and no peeking at it the right way”.  So, I dutifully did as I was told and thought it looked like junk. I couldn’t make heads or tails as to what I was actually painting. I had a very rough idea but still couldn’t differentiate between the various areas of the image. I knew there was water, rocks and trees. Thats it.

At the end of the class, he walked over for the great reveal, and grabbing the canvas by it’s edges, he rotated it 180 degrees and I was stunned by what I saw. It was amazing to suddenly see a creek with fairly steep banks, sunlit rocks  and the interplay of light. By painting it upside down you remove the left side of your brain which says… this is how a tree is supposed to be painted, or water, or anything. It forces you to see shapes, values, and colours and thats all. Robert said he did it for two years and it changed the way he painted forever.

I took the painting home and continued working on it as instructed. It was an eye opener as I had always believed that a subject like that would be too difficult to paint with all the branches etc.

Overall though, I am really pleased with where this ended up.

 

 

Leaves…

Leaves

I used to think I would always want some property by the ocean as I loved the smell of the salt air, the expanse of water in front of me , but I mostly loved the sounds of the surf. Especially at night as I sat up late at a friends cabin, windows open, a nightcap in hand and a good book to read. It was very soothing.

As a prairie boy who grew up in the mountains,  the one mountain sound I fell in love with was the distant sound of a train rolling through the valley and blowing it’s horn. Strangely haunting.

Since I’ve moved back from my stint on the coast, I have missed the sound of the ocean. But as I discovered awhile ago, I can hear it almost whenever I want to. I just have to stand in a grove of Aspens and, when a breeze blows gently through, I close my eyes, and I can hear in the canopy above, the memories of sitting on the beach in the cool evening air.

So, while laying in the hammock last weekend, and taking in the smells and sights and sounds, another wonderful thought came to me which inspired this small bit of writing…

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These little hands held silent in nights touch

Understand and wait for the whisper of dawn

and as the warm light crests,

mornings breath fills them with glee, setting them to tremble.

with arms outstretched these little hands begin clapping

and their sounds of joyous applause can be heard throughout the glen.