Lake McArthur

Lake McArthur

9×12

Oil on Canvas Board

When your in the Elizabeth Parker Hut there is no such thing as privacy or lounging around. You pretty much get up when the group gets up. The group I refer to is the other twenty five some odd soles who start the day off from the two trays of souls that make up the two “beds”.

This was the day we decided to head up to Lake MacArthur which I didn’t do last year and thought it was the best idea considering I had no better ideas in which to indulge in this delicious smorgasbord of nature. I was relying on my more experienced travellers and from what I saw from Odaray the day before I could hardly wait.

It was a 7.5 kilometre round trip with 310 meters of elevation gain through some beautiful scenery. This is really not saying much as it’s all beautiful scenery.

As far as the weather goes? Let’s just say it’s your typical day in the mountains. A bit of everything. Some sun, some rain, and a bit chilly. I set up under a tree to keep as dry as possible. The moss was a nice cushion. I also had a visitor who was trying to find something for lunch.

I probably got in about a half an hour before Patti came by saying she was packing it in and I decided that I would join her. We took a different route out which made it more of a circuit and added something new to look at and take pictures of for possible paintings.

Once back at the hut, the weather was more on the plus side and I thought to myself that I should try to finish the painting under the eaves of Wiwaxy. I used my memory as well as a photo that I took on the phone for reference.

When to Stop…

Trembling Aspens...

Trembling Aspens – 9×12 – Oil on Canvas Board

As part of Alberta Cultural Days, the Leighton Centre held two days of activities including an invitation to plein air painters to come and enjoy the beautiful scenery that makes the Leighton such a treasure. A.C and Barbara Leighton’s house sits on a hill west of highway 22 on Range Road 23. The vista looking west is breathtaking and I have witnessed several people who, after parking and walking around the north side of the house are left speechless, motioning to their significant other to come quick as if what they are seeing isn’t real and will vanish from sight before the other has a chance to see it.

Normally, when I have arrived and have seen what others are painting, the view is paramount. How can you resist sitting on the hill and not be seduced into staying right where you are and painting the colourful foothills and mountains. After all they’re right there in front of you.

But, I try to make things as difficult as I can. I walk around looking for something more intimate with colors and texture and light. Oddly, I realize that I shy away from the “Grand Vista” because it is so complex. Too big, too broad and open. I can’t have a conversation with it. Yet I am drawn to the complex colors and textures of a stand of trees nestled in a bed of prairie grass.

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This painting was done in two hours and is probably the most abstract subject matter I have painted to date. Simple color and value, yet unbelievably complex. Squinting didn’t quite do it. I put my reading glasses on and used them to see my canvas up close, and happily blur the natural subject matter. Simplify and mass as the rule states.

Stephanie Doll, the curator of the Leighton thinks this is one of the best piece she’s seen so far. I instantly bite my lip and become doubtful as usual – the rules of painting flooding into my brain. It seems complex and yet crude at the same time. I understand it’s abstract but I’m not sure I hit the mark. It’s a sketch but I instantly want to make changes. The main tree trunks are not defined enough. the sense of depth in the foliage isn’t where I think it should be. Do I stop or keep going? I find it interesting that I am becoming much more aware of what I feel the problems are in a painting, whereas before, I would stare at it and not be able to put into words what was needing attention on the canvas.

What I begin to understand is, a work of art, any work, whether it’s painting, sculpture, or dynamic video, will find an equilibrium. A place where the artist and the subject meet. if your shy of the mark, you are too tentative. If you overshoot the mark, you didn’t stop when you should have. It’s a feeling. It comes with discipline, challenges and years of practice. A sensibility as many have called it. I guess as every artist through the ages has discovered, each shot at the target is a crap shoot. One shot is right on, while the next three are way off. Practice brings the cluster closer to the center and a silent understanding that every attempt after will never be perfect. There will always be something that can get in the way of of your success on a given day and something equally as powerful which will move you forward to a better understanding.

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.