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?

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.

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.

The Pond at the End of the Lake…

The Pond at the end of the Lake – Lake O’Hara

Painting #2

9×12 Oil on Canvas Board

When I look at the time stamps on the photographs, I’m amazed that I am seeing Patti and Patricia painting at the edge of Lake O’Hara at 4:00pm. Within 18 minutes I’m set up and ready to paint my second painting of the afternoon. I had been drawn to this spot on last years trip but for whatever reason decided not to set up there. This time was different. I had to acknowledge there was something within me that said “here is where you paint” I didn’t have a whole lot to say about it. I set up.

First off, I knew I didn’t have much time. I felt sunset approaching and I knew I had to get things down quickly. An interesting side note; I decided right off the bat that whatever I got down would be better than getting nothing down at all. It was simply an exercise or practice.

I knew I was drawn to the scene although it wasn’t your typical landscape. Slightly off kilter and subtlety obscure. I liked the bush nestled in the trees at the end of the pond. I liked the contrast. I liked the water, the bush, the trees, the mountain, and the subtle nudge it gave me. It would work.

“You need to listen more” myself whispered to…myself.
Pay attention to the direction I give you.

I listened. I tried with whatever I had, to get this down. This was a local contrast problem. There was no extra light. No sprite to help me out. I had to PUSH what I had. What was important? Obviously the bush was what drew me in. I needed to get that down and the mountain in behind was playing a pretty big role. The water was supporting actress while the trees were somewhat below that. There was a lot of information to get in and I had recently learned how to get rocks down. Paint the bulk of the rocks in the shadow tone and then add the mid, followed by the highlight. So I was able to get them in pretty quick. The rest fell into place easily as they were large masses. Everything was in shadow so much and my original values were not where I wanted them to be. Overall, I was on the dark side and I adjusted them in the studio. It’s still a shadowy piece of work. I think the thing I like the most about it is the fairly loose application of paint and the unusual composition and subject matter. It’s not usually what I paint.

I worked until the cold took over and I packed up and headed for the hut where my Jartini awaited. It was a great day filled with great people. Bliss really. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Alice and Bill could have been there with us. All in all, I love the mountains, I love the small scenes that sing so loudly, but most of all, I love the friends I paint with.

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…

Thoughts on Conventions

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So #Pace16 is now a memory. A really good one at that. I travelled to another planet really in that the Arizona landscape is up there with the strangest topography and accompanying  flora and fauna that one can imagine.

Pam Springs-285 copyThe only other place that I felt this same way was in Joshua Tree State Park where it looked like the Play-Doh playground of giants.

I was treated to an amazingly well planned convention experience that included an full line-up of some of the worlds best Plein Air Painters. As attendees, we got to watch them on the main stage demonstrating an incredible depth of artistic talent. From the calligraphic flourishes of Jove Wang to the straight forward and wonderfully humorous demo by Matt Smith. There were several others (I think the faculty was in the 70’s) and these were all a treat to watch and try to absorb through pen and paper instead of brush and paint. The paint outs were great in that I tried (along with 899 others) to translate the rushed scribblings in a notebook onto the canvas in some of the most beautiful and inspiring landscapes I had ever seen. Only one of the four painting I did, was anything close to successful. I met some great people and have to say the sheer volume of like minded people was energizing.

Would I do it again? – Most likely not.

As I sat at the dinner table with my friends Pamm and Paul on the night before I had to leave, we began discussing all the wonderful things that had happened and how exhausting it all was at the same time. I began to realize some of the things that I didn’t really like about the experience. As much as I was talking the talk about how fun it was, there was a part of me that kept raising it’s small finger going “um, um” and “what about?”

So, here are the thoughts on what the Party Pooper had to say.

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I had just spent the better part of $2200 to attend this event. The Main Stage demo’s were interesting but nothing I couldn’t get from a well produced video that most of major artists put out. The only thing I would miss was watching it in a large room with hundreds of other people.

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The next big benefit was going on the paint outs where a couple of dozen instructors went out as well and had red hats and green flags and a sign so you could identify them. The sad part was that, unless you stayed in the parking lot or less than a 3-5 minute walk from parking lot, you never saw one so they could never help. I didn’t realize just how many people were tailgate and trunk painters.

The Expo was great fun to walk around and have a look at the latest and greatest gear but I have some pretty wonderful art stores here in Calgary. I did pick up a Shade Buddy Umbrella which turned out to be invaluable in the sweltering heat.

Don’t get me wrong, the convention was a blast and an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life thanks to my wonderfully supportive wife Stephanie. But I found it to be much more about the bonds and friendships that were made and less about REALLY learning anything that was worth $2200. It was vacation and gathering for the converted. A place to chat and reflect on the days events and works which was wonderful.

But…

If I have say $2500 to spend on professional development, I would rather do this:

Purchase videos by my favourite artists and watch them at my leisure  $50-$100

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Min Ma

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Mike Svob

Sign up for workshops by some of my favourite artists which I could target to my style $500 – $1000. Depending on where I take them. The true beauty of the workshops is that I can direct my funds (laser like accuracy) to the exact learning style and most importantly, learning environment that benefits me most. One instructor, 3-5 days and a small class comparatively. This I believe is where those bonds are formed and valuable lessons learned.

Did I have fun at the convention? I sure did, but I have to be smart with our money.

And I think the smart money is in targeted learning.

 

 

#Pace16 Day 6

The Last Day

I woke up with that strange sensation that one feels when out of town friends or relatives, who have stayed with you, pack up and head for home. The hugs and waves and “see you soon” as the car drives off down the road and you close the door to the quiet house still filled with the laughter that filled the room not twenty minutes earlier . Although it wasn’t truly over, it was lingering – sitting in the passenger seat beside me as I drove up to Picacho Peak State Park for the last paint out.

Picacho_Peak

It didn’t look anything like this when we were there.

The park is beautiful although I preferred Catalina State Park for its lush riparian areas. After paying for my park pass, I drove around exploring as much as I could to see what the park had to offer. It is essentially a small (very small) mountain range with sloping approaches covered in a variety of cacti and other scrub vegetation. I parked, put my pack on, and headed out to find the “perfect” spot to paint.

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Researcher Stumbles Across the Remains of Wandering Painter

After I think an hour of
wandering around in the desert heat I was reminded of “Moses Syndrome” – a term I first heard from Stefan Baumann, artist and instructor which refers to an artists who’s spends far to much time looking for the “Promised Land”. Someday I’ll wander out too far and I may not come back.

 

I finally decided on a spot I passed fifty minutes earlier… sigh.

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I joined Guy Fish who I met in the parking lot and passed not once, but two times in my quest before finally giving up needing company rather than visual perfection. I have to say the company turned out to be far better than the painting although it did start off promising. I had four instructors come by – Tim Oliver who reminds me of John Goodman said he liked the overall composition. I had only done a sketch at that oint. Next was Cindy Baron and I believe Kathryn Stats who liked my block in and gave me some great advice regarding small adjustments to composition.
Two hours pass and Bill Anton came by. We exchanged greetings and talked about the heat and he asked how I was doing although I could tell by the look on his face that he could plainly see the carnage inflicted on the poor little 9×12 panel. We joined hands, said a prayer and he said “thats a wipe off” before walking away taking a few snaps for reference and disappearing into the brush. I gave in, packed up and headed back to Tucson where dinner with friends was going to be a welcome end to an overall great day.

I learned a lot from that wipe off and hanging out with new friends in the desert heat. You won’t have success every time you go out but as long as you take something away from it you’ve ultimately achieved what you set out to do.