Cathedral Painting…

Cathedral Mountain – Lake O’Hara

Painting #1

9×12 Oil on Canvas Board

It was the first of four paintings done over two and a half days at Lake O’Hara in early September. I don’t know why it takes me so long to get these out. It probably has something to do with the fact that Patti is talking again about our next trip to O’Hara. Anyway, after getting up to our humble abode and getting our spaces claimed by laying our sleeping bags in just the right spot we started the process of figuring out where we were going to paint first. So many options and half the day was gone. We decided to take the long and arduous journey, trekking about thirty five feet from EP Hut.

The subject?… Cathedral Mountain.The painters? Patti Dyment, Sharon Lynn Williams, Patricia Allan, and myself.

Everybody but me set up right in the grounds around the hut. The trodden and packed earth of so many explorers while I, of course had to find a different view and of this wonderful mountain. I went this way, and then that, then up there and then over to that other spot. Down to a mostly dried up pond and then back to where everyone else was. Just off the beaten path. By the time I had set up Cathedral had dawned a white shawl and I could no longer see her head, her shoulders hunched amongst the clouds. I had to use my memory and the only photo I had taken which didn’t show much more but it was at least something.

This time I wanted to try something a bit different and painted the general shape of her in black, gestured in the sky with line and dropped my trees in. I was trying to work quickly which has always proven to be elusive. The mid tones kinda came next which is a bit backwards from the way I’m used to working which is lay in the whole thing with darkest darks and lightest lights and then start the mids. This was the darks, up into the mids and then add the highlights.

I was a bit frustrated by the lack of light! There was lots around the hut but nothing up on the mountain. I was waiting… and waiting for SOMETHING to happen up there but nothing. Then, in the mid-ground, a bright spot of light illuminated a natural devision between the left and right portions of the frame. Some nice greens and the snow leading into the foreground. Finally.

I mixed some color and dropped in the effect which proved to be wonderful and a much needed kiss on a pretty bland date. She responded affectionately. But within a couple of minutes the glow was gone, replaced with the dullness of too brief an encounter. I looked at my canvas and was pleased to see that it had actually happened. Albeit, a little tepid in execution. Maybe this little flirtatious sun sprite would be back I thought. I continued working on the mountain. Then decided to get a more defined foreground in. A bit of cold snow mixed with the late fall grass.

It was coming along nicely I thought and just when I was about to call it quits, there she was again, dancing back and forth between grass and forest, she opened up and let her light shine on the tall pines and the meadows edge. I once again, having the color mixed, adjusted the value and and tried to capture this little angel but as I put brush to canvas she seemed to sense she was being watched and slowly, began to fade once again leaving me wanting.

I looked at what I had made and felt some success for this first painting. I really liked the way the sky worked with the mountain and the way I rendered the snow. I liked the way the, by putting the masses in very darkly followed be the mids, that there was that outline around base shape of Cathedral. I was mostly thankful that I had been visited by a sun sprite just when I thought all was lost to gloom and local contrast.

We all packed up and made the thoroughly exhausting journey back to the hut for some tea and a bite. After looking at everyone’s work we all agreed we had a great start to our trip.

Our discussions quickly turned to where to paint after our break. Somewhere down by the lake we thought…

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.

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.