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?

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…

Assiniboine 2017: Three Paintings Over Two Days…

This year I was lucky enough again to be a part of the annual PleinAir trip to mount Assiniboine organized by my artist friend Patti Dyment. Along for the adventure were Pat and Bob Allin, Michele Austen, and I had the added pleasure of bringing my son Sam along (he was going to fish). It was a bit touch and go as to whether or not we were even going to be able to go because of forest fires in the area and the park had been closed twice due to the danger. But when the time came, we were lucky enough to have the main portion of the park reopen. The fire was still raging several kilometres away and the smell of smoke hung in the air.

We were the last helicopter out which meant many of the supplies went with us. Laundry and beer seemed to be the bulk of it. When the pilot lifted off he paused for a moment a few feet off the ground, then slid sideways, went backwards to the edge of the clearing, tipped the nose down as he took a run at the trees to get over them. I looked at the staff member beside me and she simpy said “we’re a little heavy”. The flight felt like we were on an old country road with no suspension. Nevertheless, we made it with all our bits and pieces.

The first order of business was to get up to our cabin and quickly settle in as the group wanted to get painting as soon as possible and Sam wanted to get fishing. We were in the Jonesy Hut which had a covered porch which meant my ritual of staying up by myself, listening to a good book and having a nite cap in the company of my mountain friends could happen no matter the weather.

We decided to head up to Gog Lake to paint for the afternoon. I painted up there last year but looked back in the other direction at the “Lump” as Alice Saltiel described it.

#1 The Towers (day 1)

The Towers 2

I trudged around for a good twenty minutes looking for something to paint as I usually have the habit of doing. While walking I thought that this may be the time that I try a full vista. I normally don’t like full vistas because I find it unusually challenging to get the entire scene onto such a small canvas. Took me three attempts. Patti said that’s normal. Overall it was a great afternoon painting in great company.

Sam went off and fished and caught two.

Naiset Falls (day 2 am)

We were up, fed, and coffeed by 9am an then down the shores of Magog lake to scout out a spot for our morning paint. I decided against “The Grand Vista” and remembered the falls which are on a separate path that branches off to the right from the main path the the lake. The problem is you’re looking down on them. So I had to find a route which led me to the bottom of the falls without climbing down the rocks. I ended up here (you can see my easel set up on the right if you look closely). This was worked on in the studio but after looking at the work done in the field, I think I prefer the direction I had out there. I think I over worked it.

Jonesy Hut (day 2 pm)

The third painting was done close to home. We had lunch and decided to paint close by the cook shelter. I thought a painting of our hut was in order. I just had to find a good vantage point and I found one that fit the bill about a hundred yards towards the rangers station. Within a half an hour of starting I could see a large cloud moving in and as is typical in this area, I expected a good shower so I started to rush getting values down and trying to get the hut accurate before having to pack up quickly and making a run for it.

Then something odd happened… ASH started falling from the sky. It looked like a light snow. It got in the paint and on the painting. I got covered in it. I walked over to Patti who was about 50ft from me and we marveled together at what we were witnessing. This one is untouched and you can still see the ash in the work. As a matter of fact, the wet paintings which had been set up on the front porch of the hut got covered as well.

As far as the success of the painting, I’m not sure. Still, any painting shows you a path to the next one. I did learn a few things which I’ll take away from it.

Sam caught another three I believe. Overall, more fish in two days than he caught in months on the Bow.

After…

Before dinner we went for happy hour at the lodge and I asked the girl who runs the desk if that was a new fire? “I don’t want to talk about it” she said. “Too many fires”. After dinner the staff came by and took a roll call call of those present in case they had to evacuate but “not to worry “.

We had a great last night and got up early as we were hiking out 29km to the Mount Helipad and it was going to take all day. We headed up and over Wonder Pass which was breathtaking which looked over Marvel Lake which is where we’re headed. It was so beautiful.

The descent into Marvel was very steep but at least we were going down. Then a nice hike along the NW side of the valley to the Bryant Creek Ranger Station. From there, down to the very southern end of the Spray Lakes and after that?… kilometres of the most boring road imaginable back to the parking lot at Shark. Our bags got flown out and we had to drive into Canmore to pick them up. When Sam and I arrived at the parking lot our muscles had seized so badly that when we got out of the car we looked like a couple of very old men.

We heard later that they closed the park an issued an evacuation order at 10am. I wish I had known they were going to so I could have told all the hikers heading up they should turn around.

Overall, another grteat trip. Next on the list was Lake O’Hara in September.

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.

#Pace16 Day 4

#pace16

Me Painting SmallWell another early start but well worth it. Bootcamp started with a chat with Stuart Johnson who is the owner and founder of Settlers West Gallery here in Tucson. The first name he mentioned was Harley Brown who is a legend in pastel  portraiture!

Harley Brown

Harley Brown

He was the first professional artist to critique a painting I had done a very long time ago. Not only critique it but demonstrate what he meant by reflected light and or lost edges by using his finger to “blend” some of the still wet paint of some trees into the still wet paint of a small white house. It was great to hear his name again in such a creative environment.

Jove

Jove Wang

The first demo on The Main Stage was Jove Wang who is an incredible artist from China. With the help of his wife’s english speaking skills, he painted a portrait live on stage. It was incredible. Jove paints with incredibly deliberate strokes and an attention to an inner artistic sense which pours out through his brush onto the canvas. I actually got slightly emotional while I was watching. It’s the way I would like to able to paint. From something deep inside that manifests itself in artistic expression.

After that was a great panel discussion on an art video project called “A Timeless Legacy – Women Artists of Glacier National Park” 

Amery

Amery Bohling

Then Amery Bohling – A great young artist who is starting to really get a name for herself.

Then Lunch outside in the shade followed by Paul Kratter who did a demo on the demo stage called Importance of the sketch. Great work!

Katter

Paul Kratter

Then it was paint out time! We headed off to the incredibly beautiful Catalina State Park and by we I mean The talented and tenacious Pamm Cuipa and her husband Paul. After a couple of hours and after the sun set forcing me to stop.

I ended up here. It’s missing a few things which I’ll add later.

 

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Grant Waddell

Overall a great day

 

 

 

#Pace16 – Day 3

Me Painting SmallSo, tonights post is going to be a short one. It was a busy and awesome day! Up at 5am to get ready for the 30 minute drive to the resort. Arrived by 6 am to get seats for Art Marketing Bootcamp.

This morning featured a marketing powerhouse – Lee Milteer.

“an intuitive business coach, best-selling author, blogger, award-winning professional speaker, and TV personality. She is the founder of the Millionaire Smarts® coaching program for entrepreneurs and is the author of 11 books and over a hundred audio and video programs. Lee is a regular guest on national TV and radio shows and has appeared as an expert guest on CBS, NBC, ABC FOX, CTV, QVC, PBS, and CNN.” – PACE website

It was a great listen with lots (too much) to take in – just going to buy her book!

First one up on the Main Stage was none other than Matt Smith. An amazing painter and an even better speaker!  Have a look at his work here.

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Matt Smith

Next up was a man I had the pleasure of meeting at the STRADA booth (after all, he was the brainchild behind it) His name? Bryan Mark Taylor. He gave a presentation on Masters Mind – which examines the effects of neuroscience and clinical psychology on developing habits that have a direct effect on the brain and it’s ability to adapt and change through practice and positive reinforcement.

Bryan.jpg

Bryan Mark Taylor

After that (as if all this wasn’t enough) was a dual painting demo with Dave Santillanes and James Willis. I have to say, the dual demo was an awesome way to showcase and present two Painting Powerhouses such as these. From an audience point of view we had to great painters onstage who took turns commenting on what they were doing as well as answering questions on the fly. Then there was the added benefit of the spontaneous banter between the two. It was great fun!

Dave S

Dave Santillanes

james W

James Willis

Thank the good lord it was such after that because I was flipping starving!

The afternoon started out with a glazing demo by an amazing young artist “who has become a leader in the revival of the techniques and philosophy of the Hudson River School.” I came back to my seat and and saw what I thought to be a finished painting – albeit very monotone . it a skilled hand it was transformed through glazing into an incredibly deep subtly colourful finished product. His name was Erik Koeppel.

Erik-Koeppel-Storm-in-Tuckerman-Ravine800.jpg

From 4-7 we all went out onto the resort grounds to paint. I struggled through this one as I found the subject unfamiliar and quickly changing. I tried to garb the initial values but was way off from the beginning. It turns out you can’t start a Saguaro Cactus the way you start a pine tree… I managed ok but wasn’t happy with the result. It’s ok though, one more bad painting out of my system – only 1,241 to go!

After a quick dinner of salad out of tupperware with my painting companion Pamm Cuipa, we headed to watch one of my favourite painters Stefan Baumann give a demo about nocturne painting. Stefan is a great speaker!

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Stefan Baumann

One of the best things I’m learning is that even the respected pro’s are human and mess up a lot of paintings – the stories are pretty funny but the important lesson is that growth requires vulnerability.  

Back to the trailer for a bite, shower and bed. Up again at 5 for tomorrows events – can’t wait!

#PACE16 – Day 2…

Me Painting SmallSo today was the big day – the start of The Plein Air Convention and Expo! Starting at 1 pm with an art business symposium followed by  the Opening Ceremony. Th morning was free time and I decided to head out to Saguaro National Park. After driving 40min through the city which included several construction sites I finally arrived and found out that the Park charges $10 and from what I could tell was a landscape just filled with Saguaro Cactus. Nice but with the amount of time I had I wasn’t willing to part with the $10 for an hour Saguaro after Saguaro. Back to the trailer and lunch then off to the Symposium.

When I got to the resort I was pleased to see the Expo was open with all the vendors and their wares – an artists dream! There is some very cool stuff! I was disappointed that the venue for the Symposium was too small. I did;t get a seat and stood in the door to watch but only for a bit. I decided to go and pick up some of the supplies I needed which I couldn’t take on the plane – Gamsol and Galkyd from Gamblin. And, I picked up an umbrella called Shade Buddy for 1/2 price! Greta deal at $69US.

The opening ceremonies at 4 were amazing. They opened with a small western skit put on by Eric Rhoads and some of the artist speakers which included a duel – 10 paces and… draw! And they drew each other on large easels. Great fun! The Salon Award winners were announced and there were two lifetime achievement awards. One was to Ken Auster  awarded posthumously and the other was to Dean Mitchell.- Both incredible artists. 

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Ken Auster

Dean Mitchell

Dean Mitchell

The evening concluded with a wonderful cocktail reception where I met Lori Putman, Bryan Mark Taylor, Matt Smith and Bill Anton. More to come over the next few days from these folks!

Back to the trailer for a good night sleep. Up early tomorrow for Eric Rhoads Business Bootcamp!