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…

Art College, Growth, and the Group of Seven…

Group of Seven and Tom Thompson

Years ago, I attended the Alberta College of Art in Calgary and was a painting major for all of a year before shifting into photography. I had grown up as many of us do, with easy to understand representational art in the house. Very commercial. The type of art you would find at the local gallery. Generally, landscapes with horses (we do live in Alberta you know). Exceptional work by some exceptional artists.

So, pencils and paint brushes in hand, I entered college with the idea that this is what art was all about. I knew about modern art but thought that “my” type of art would be nurtured and supported. Not so much. I remember one instructor in particular – Dave Casey. He would get us going on drawing a still life, and would walk around the class looking over your shoulder at what you were up to. If he thought you were being too “precious”, he would pull out his trusty giant red marker and draw a line through your work and tell you to start over. Sigh… You would think I would not like this, Mr. Casey character very much, and possibly want to poke his eyes out with a Staedtler Mars Lumograph – but no. He taught me some very valuable lessons about letting go of what I believed to be “good art”, and start to open up to art that I didn’t really like specifically because of biases I had developed during my upbringing. As a matter of fact, the college seemed to be bent on removing that part of my brain. Kinda like a – LabARTomy.

Enter Art History and our dear professor Hannah White. Over the course of her classes, and with the help of my new open view of art, I was able to begin to understand the various art movements and yes, start to actually appreciate them. Even Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and more.  This, despite the fact that apparently, my father had a trained monkey that could do almost any of the work produced by these so called artists. Dad was never able to produce this monkey unfortunately, as I would have taken him around the world and made a fortune.

So, as you may or may not know already, I switched majors and became a photographer. Looking back, sadly, much of this came from the pressure to make a living and I believed I could never do that through painting.

So, how does the Group of Seven enter into this? I held onto the stubborn idea of what good landscapes looked like. Upon refection, I probably still do to some degree. My first paintings in twenty eight years would have been well received by my dad. But recently I picked up a copy of The Group of Seven and Tom Thompson by David P Silcox and was mesmerized by the work again. I was then treated to seeing some of this work at the Glenbow Museums “Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery” and I began to realize that this was something that I wanted to explore. The internal arguments were (and still are) highly annoying. – no no Grant, you have to make the tree look like this, here, let me show you, there ya go – But what if I make the tree look like this? – Well, that would be silly, trees don’t look like that – But I’m going for the way the tree and the rest of the landscape make me feel and trying to simplify and convey that to the viewer – feel schmeel… and on and on it would go.

So, where to from here? I’ve decided that I’m going to let go of what I think I should be doing, and just letting what happens happen. Paint and sketch with simplification in mind. Reduce the noise and volume of the landscape to it’s forms. Hopefully, that trained monkey won’t show up and start painting next to me.



Digital Painting…

Here is a digital painting that I just finished. These works are more sketches than final pieces in the themselves  so I could work out composition and colours etc. An interesting exercise in that, I know the way I personally make a living is through digital manipulation of photographic elements to create a final image for advertising. I never really gave any thought to using this practice for my painting until I was reading an article in the latest Plein Air Magazine about Chad W Greene who uses both digital and traditional materials to create works of art. So I thought, why the hell not? I could at least use it for a study. Here are a couple of digital paintings that I am going to paint in oils most likely starting today. Proctor Barn LR The Road copy

Painting Retreat…

“Thats a thickener Grant, not a thinner” – Doug Swinton.

These were the words I needed to hear obviously, and after tackling my first painting from a photo Doug provided, it became pretty apparent that this was where I was messing up. I realized, that when I was painting before the long 28 year drought, I only ever used Turpentine, which is a thinner. When I decided to get back into painting last year, I bought all new supplies and was told to use Walnut Oil and other mediums like that to get the consistency the way I wanted it. So when I was trying to thin the paint, I was actually thickening it and well, making a goopy mess that didn’t behave the way I remembered at all. The painting that I blogged about back in November never made it past the initial first color pass. With a large “X” through it, it ended up in the garbage.

So Doug gave me a small 3″sq pic to paint and I had to complete it in 20min. Here’s what I came up with…

20 Min Study

I felt really good about it and Doug took and placed it in a frame and put it on the wall which is one of the ways he likes to show his students work to the others. Success!

Ok, then onto the next which was from one of my pics up in Sunshine Meadows. This one I did in about an hour.

Sunshine Meadows

Then this one inspired by another photo but I decided I wanted to add the dark drama to it.

Morning Light

And finally this one which was of the same creek but looking in a different direction. And done with a completely different color palette.

Elbow Lake CreekThe first three done on the first day and the last one done on the second.

Overall, I’m shocked at how fast it seemed to come back and how photography and Photoshop has had such an affect on the way I see and compose and problem solve.

I just need to start to gain a better understanding of techniques and particular behaviours of oils. A weekend with some great people, a great instructor and some much needed personal success.

Painting Class…

by Grant Waddell

So, it was a Saturday unlike any other. I woke up with an anticipation that I haven’t felt for a long time. I could smell the coffee and the faint scent of oil paint, the latter of  which was purely in my mind. A fabrication of a small part of my brain that remembered what it really smelled like when they were on the pallete. Arranged sometimes in a line, other in a semi circle. Cool to warm. I just had enough time to get my brushes and grab a quick cup of coffee and head out the door. It was time to head to Swinton’s Art Supply where I had enrolled in a one day class. A “paint an entire painting in a day” class. I could really get one done! A whole painting! That I’d want to hang on the wall and proudly show off. To show myself that I could really do it!

As you remember if you’ve been reading my blog, I started a painting a while ago and have yet to get back at it and “finish” it. After all, this is a blog about creative exploration. Getting things done and facing my very odd but powerful fear. That little 6×6 board had managed to bring me to my knees. If I stare at it just a bit longer, maybe look at it while eating, or brushing my teeth. Take it outside. Take it for a walk… Somehow, it would come to me. The secret code to breaking this damn flat piece of wood covered in Gesso and a thin layer of oil. Nope.

But an art class! Where I had no choice. Had to “do what the instructor was asking.” Or I would be sent to clean brushes or something. So I arrived at the studio and introduced myself, was told to pick one of the many easels around the room and set up. On the easel was a canvas and to the side was a small rolling cart with pallete paper and several colors in neat little squeezed out piles. And the smell… Oh that smell!

Loretta (our instructor) gave us a brief overview as to what was going to happen which basically was, “I’ll paint this little part of the painting using these colors, and you’ll copy what I’m doing”. Simple enough. We got to work roughing in the basic composition and then went back and forth. Sky first, then the mountain, then the trees on the left, some of the water and so on. A few helpful hints as Loretta walked slowly by tipping her head this way and that, gesturing at a part that needed work. “Your water’s to dark”, that sort of thing. And a few welcome compliments.

After 6 hours, we all had pretty close to finished pieces. All of them completely different. It’s not exactly as I’d hoped but not bad for just getting back into it. Not my color palette or way of working but felt great just the same.

Back into the World of Painting… Part 2

So I took the plunge last night and pulled out my paints and brushes and underpainting and started to lay in the first color pass. Like I said I haven’t painted in 28 years and I was a bit surprised at how natural it felt. I was really nervous to start. Yo Yo Ma played over the stereo (thought a little classical music would help) as I laid out the paint on the pallet. The trees were first, then the sky, then the mountains. and finally the foreground elements. It’s not even close to being done as you can tell but I like the general feel of it.I just wanted to get some color down to see how it would come together. Lighter clouds in the notch of the mountain, define the trees more and richly develop the foreground. I think I’ll bring the mountain down a bit so it’s peak cuts behind the tree rather than ride over it.  The apprehension I was feeling has dropped away and I am excited to start the second round of this… my first painting in a very long time.