Friday, 25 September 2015

What to Do When the Rain Comes

            It was a Saturday closing in on September, and my good friend from Nanaimo was headed over on the boat to have a painting night with me. Before she arrived I worried we were going to have another one of our famous Gulf island blackouts...after a long summer of drought, I now lay curled in my bed with my dog, wearing my thick knitted slippers and listening to soaked branches whack the roof , and began wondering if it was possible for my fish pond to overflow. 

Rain at Last at Wildwood
I clicked on my iPhone and found myself reading an article about 71 Syrian refugees perishing in a truck in Austria. Horrified, I clicked from news article to news article about the mounting refugee crisis in Europe, and the different drastic approaches various governments were taking - the hounds and fences Cameron was resorting to in England and France, the wall they were building in Hungary. Little did I know that a week later, with the international response to the humanitarian disaster expanding at the rate of lightning, alongside news of Germans handing out chocolate and singing vilkommen at their borders, I'd be getting closer to volunteering for a group on Central Vancouver Island who wish to sponsor refugees to our area. 

Yes, all that lay invisibly and inconceivably ahead, but for now a suddenly harmless rain storm was brewing in the yard, and my even more appreciated friend showed up at the door laden with delicious food and drink and we hugged hello and got comfy in my cozy cabin and each took up our painting projects, hers a blazing red-haired self portrait in acrylic, mine a rustic sign for my studio. I had salvaged an old wooden frame which seemed perfect for the words DEER TRAILS to fit into. I discovered a delightful font called Garton to mimic for the lettering (also chose it for the back of my new greeting cards ~ more soon on those). Somewhat awkwardly I traced out the font over the image of a deer in oils....and this is how far I managed to come, having set the unfinished sign aside until next week: 

DEER TRAILS Sign in Progress
A day or two later, I awoke to sun in my yard, and sat in my wooden chair on the recovering green lawn and squinted into morning rays of light....a glorious September summer is still lingering here. The tourists have been trickling slowly away, the quiet is returning.   

Front Porch in Late Summer Morning Sun
I have sent high resolution photos of eight of my paintings to the printers, and the other day was able to pick up the final proof sheet. I cut the samples down to cards, added olive green and natural brown envelopes, and placed them in cellophane to be sure I liked the final look. I do, and have given the go ahead to print 125 of each card design! I've just taken a quick rather blurry snap shot of them to give you an idea.
Blurry Photo of 8 Deer Trails Greeting Cards!
When I get them back from the printers properly cut, I'll be placing them into a few local shops hopefully, and selling them directly out of my Deer Trails Studio at Thanksgiving and every Saturday after that. You are welcome to come and visit, beginning next month! The next job that lies ahead is painting the little shed that will house the art shop. Keep an eye out for the sign at the gate!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Turkish Panel and Unfinished Finishes

I did tell you I am a snail of a painter, did I not? If you don't think so, look back to my post of January 24, 2012...yes, when I began this painting. To recap...back then my parents had been to Turkey, and one of the places they went to see was the Sultan's Palace, Topkapi Sarayi in Istanbul, with its "Fruit Room" harem painted during the Tulip Reign in 1703-1730. I could only look it up in a picture book, but I could smell the sweet hookah shisha right away and wanted to make my own panel. I only got so far with the painting... I remember being on my knees with the canvas on the floor, painting the little pink roses and thrilling at the blending of the oils and the old fashioned patina I was somehow managing. Then I set it aside, the vase not finished, abandoned. 

Well, I've deemed this the month of finishing the great unfinisheds. With a glorious unencumbered Monday at my disposal, I went at the Turkish panel again. I spent an entire afternoon reworking the'd think I was actually throwing the damn thing three dimensionally on a pottery wheel, kilning and glazing it, then taking a cloth and wiping it back to a lump of clay and starting all over again. 

Turkish Panel ~ Oil on Canvas 24" x 30"
I want to stop right here and tell you this. My favourite EVER blending medium for oils is the Windsor and Newton Blending and Glazing Medium. (I have the feeling I have mentioned this before) It is perfect in every way, for extending the potential of your brush stroke, adding just the right sheen to the paint, and allowing for the addition of other shades to change your colours gently as you go....there must be some Italian word to describe its impeccable is slow drying but not toooo you don't pick up too much of the last colour you put down and pull it relentlessly into the new colour you are attempting to gently blend in.  Sadly, I HAVE RUN OUT. And not all art stores have it and I have to special order it. And now you'll want it too and that will make it even harder to get. Anyway, while working on the vase, I went and tried this Gamblin Slow Dry as well as Galkyd stuff, and OMG it drove me nuts. Now I'm sure these are very fab products for their intended purposes, but this creature of  habit became a creature of havoc....I created a purple shade that would NOT disappear. It was probably my method and not the medium, but I blamed the medium. I don't even know if I want to start another oil painting without my beloved W & N B & G M. 

And so, eventually, the vase appeared as it finally is, and there is no going back. I am at peace with the Turkish panel, but I never did embellish the border with a Turkish tile pattern. In fact on the right bottom corner are famous drip marks that remind me of the sweat that went into this piece...I think they should stay as a lasting birthmark or scar, they might have my DNA in them. Maybe if I  keep the painting long enough I will add a  tile pattern around the border but for now I will call it finished, though not fully dressed, kind of like John Singer Sargent did with his Portrait of Madame X. I can't believe I'm attempting that analogy. But you might enjoy following the link for a bit of fun art history. Even some of the the greatest painters hesitated on finishing touches, on occasion leading to scandalous result.   

Study of Mme Gautreau ~ John Singer Sargent 1884

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Autumn Deer

Start of August, up late one evening with CBC 2 on the radio and white wine in my glass...and along came the deer. This time again on a very small wooden board canvas, only 8" x 9". My beforehand sketch sort of doomed this painting to a certain formula...I used small brushes and oil paint, and stood one deer grazing in front of the other...on their own they looked very fine and simple...but on I went and painted the tree in the corner and couldn't get myself to refrain from the oval shape I did with my fox. I'm pleased with the colours...but what is it with me and oval egg shapes? It's the egg I really wish to burst out of, but I keep enclosing my images inside this ever reappearing shape. Egg is a symbol of earth, birth, renewal. Well, OK, I guess that's not such a bad thing to include in one's art. It must mean I see all creatures as precious and sacred, maybe it's my idea of a halo. Maybe I want to protect them in a bubble.  

Autumn Deer ~ Oil on Wood 8"x 9"

Navel gazing aside, I'm pleased I managed to finish this between two evenings...and I was able to emerge slightly from the depression I've been feeling all weekend. Sometimes I feel stranded and lonely, disconnected and melancholy, regretful and anxious, insecure and afraid, restless and panicked. What a glorious menopausal buffet! You can actually mix and match all the adjectives in any combination you like...for instance anxious and panicked creates a certain je ne sais quoi delirium all of its own. 

Somehow I eventually pull myself out of it, usually by doing one or more of the following, in no particular order:
~going for a jog with my dog
~calling a friend to come over
~listening to music
~going to the beach with my dog
~reading poetry
~staring at my fish pond
~lying in the sun
~watching a movie
~having a hot bubble bath
~clocking in at the library and working a full shift 

If I feel soothed, or useful, usually I can begin to feel better. And meditation brings gratitude.

So, now I have completed two smaller works on wood, and I will place the undone painting, Grizzly in the Wheat, back on the easel. This one is going to take some backbone. More to come.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Blue is What Made Me Beautiful

I have the feeling I shall return to the idea of painting a whale more than a few times. As is always the case with me, I begin with an image and a palette in my mind. I do a sketch, I think of colours. 

This time I would do a blue whale...and originally I wanted to use misty greys, portland greys, violets and muddy blues and beiges and create a very subdued image. I sketched my whale...and then proceeded to paint it tentatively....until along came the perfect blue! Prussian blue, and a whole whack of it....smoothed out across the back of my whale until I turned my round-headed brush in circles upon circles and produced the texture of my true blue beautiful whale. 

Blue is What Made Me Beautiful ~ Oil on Canvas 28" x 22"

So many thoughts went through my mind as I discovered my whale with her spout of butterflies. She is a creature of great strength and fragility, mystery and gentleness. One of the last things I painted was her eye....and I just sat down one night with my brush, and it opened up in front of me and blinked happily....and I was pleased with the wisdom in it, and the joy....the whale is the guardian of the oceans and all the unknown creatures that float within it...she knows about magic that we humans have no access to. She is a singular, confident, never-minding giant, and when she tells us that "Blue is What Made me Beautiful", we know what she means, and she knows us too. 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Red Fox in Winter

It's still summer, but I finished the little painting of the small red fox and have titled it Red Fox in Winter because it seems like a winter scene somehow. Actually, it may not be finished entirely, I still have to paint the sides a bit more....I didn't go very thick at all with the paint, especially in the circle surrounding the fox...I've been tempted to add another lighter layer upon the teal background but I'm liking the wood grain showing through. And he needs a shadow underneath him still...he looks like he's floating! Sometimes I just stop when I think I'm done enough and worry that continuing might wreck the painting. This is another aspect of the "precious complex" I have...another painter pointed out that I suffer from this affliction, and he is so's an uptight inability to really let go and mash through a painting fearlessly with no worry of the outcome...I paint carefully along like a timid illustrator, and more and more I realize my naive style is repeatedly revealing a folk art quality because I like safe shapes and tones and simple portrayal....that is fine....this is the exciting part of self discovery that comes with every finished work. 

Red Fox in Winter ~ Oil on Wood 10" x 8"

I have four more paintings I really want to finish before the Thanksgiving Tour...Blue is What Made Me Beautiful, Grizzly in the Wheat, Miroslava, and Chandelier Lady of the Woods. On top of those I hope to do several more of these smaller works on wood, perhaps an animal series...there is so much I want to get done but it will be a miracle if I can even finish two more works, because I am a SNAIL. I truly am a snail. Maybe I should paint a snail.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Chandelier Shadow, The Lady in the Woods and The Small Red Fox

Well over a year ago, when my father was on his way up from Saanich to visit me, he asked if he could pick me up a canvas from my favourite art shop in Sidney. I said sure, this time why not bring me a bigger one than I usually go for. Well, he showed up with this massive canvas, bigger than anything I'd ever thought of fact I have no measuring tape handy, but I think it must be close to 40" by 60"! My dear father's ambition and faith in my potential....

Well, it sat in various places while I ignored it....leaning against an entire wall in the small bedroom back in the blue house, then shoved mercilessly away in the shed here at Wildwood. But since I plan to renovate the shed for October, I moved it out and let it sit against the wall in my living room, a visible white elephant! I've been unable to get a grasp on what to paint on it....should I go abstract, or do a detailed landscape, or, or, or...maybe even paint the white elephant? 

Then one night, as the sun began to set, a bath of deep warm yellow light washed into the living room, and  the shadow of my chandelier appeared in gigantic form upon the canvas, casting sweeping woodsy curving shapes across it, and then I saw her....a woman gliding gracefully through the woods. I grabbed a pencil and traced her form. 

The Chandelier Lady of the Woods has slowly come to be:
The next night I started in on her face and upper body:

A vision has appeared for the whole canvas...I know almost instinctively how it will unfold...the colours, the entire palette, her green dress.... the only question being whether she will be walking alone or with a spirit animal at her side...either a deer or a fox, I figure.

For practice, I took a small light wooden canvas and began painting a little red fox. On it's own it's a sweet little painting in the making, and this canvas is only 10" x 8". More and more I'm loving the feel of oil on wood, the way it sinks and glides and comes up so vividly, the way the wood grain guides my brush and welcomes my flow of line. 

Perhaps there will be room for such a fox in the big canvas, or a deer or a wolf or other creature. Using the small canvas is a quick way to summon up creatures and ideas. In any case I've added more inventory to my world of unfinished works....and can certainly say that no size remains an obstacle, from teensy to towering!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Exotic & Erotic

I began this painting before we's based on two entwined erotic figures of the Khajuraho Hindu Temple in India. It's done in oils and I still feel it requires a lot more detail. K loves it just the way it is and other friends say it looks complete. That's pleasing to hear, but I keep hovering over the idea of fine tuning it. I admit, there is some peace and beauty in it's vague, relaxed style and simple palette.

Khajuraho Kama Sutra ~ Oil on Canvas ~ 24" x 36"

Right now it sits on a long wooden table in my bedroom, casting a serene and sensual effect next to my bed. 

 When the new store called THE HIVE Emporium opened up in the village here, I was excited to see they were carrying a line of linens imported from India called Maiwa Handprints (via the Granville Island Store Maiwa in Vancouver) as well as Alchemy patterned cotton dresses, also imported from India. As soon as I saw some of the Maiwa patterns, I was keen to add them to my room as a compliment to this painting. I purchased a red and black patterned bedspread and brought it my delight it really contrasted beautifully with the golden browns. A few days later I returned to discover an even more well suited bedspread with a similar palette of muddy grey and beige tones. Well, one must alternate....

I'm strongly drawn to Indian patterns and design, in textiles especially. Obviously one of the dresses was soon to follow, and I justified buying it because the price was very reasonable and I really should have a nice summery dress for the farmer's markets coming up! Below, the dress and the red bedspread, enhanced by a pair of perfect cotton arm gloves made by Scott of Tied Up and Dyed.

 Incidentally, Scott lives just down the road from me and is a seasoned Thanksgiving Tour attraction. He will be #7 on the Tour and I'm's nice having him so close by.

We should each be reasonably easy to find, since our neighbourhood lies just off South road, close to the Village, and less than a ten minute drive straight up the hill from the ferry. I decided I needed to create a better house sign than the one that exists already, and sat down the other night with a small wooden board to paint out my house number. This is the result:

Friday, 26 June 2015

Our Parting

 Hellebores in the early spring window at Wildwood:

So........We moved from the blue house, and were accepted as tenants at the new little cottage last December. During the course of the move, K sat me down in the empty living room to tell me that he felt our paths were diverging, that he loved me still but he needed to live by himself. I wasn't surprised by his decision....ever since the discovery of his degenerative spinal condition, which threatened to severely restrict his mobility and his speech, and his partial laminoplasty surgery in July 2013, our life together slowly began to change. I was now partner to a man who was living in constant daily pain, who couldn't sleep through a single night without sitting up and rocking in agony, who couldn't work, and who went through a huge psychological tranformation....K was evolving into a stronger man in many ways, resolved to take better care of his health, practicing a strict protein diet and daily exercise, and, eventually, when he began to enjoy a brief period of improved physical health, was jogging up to 8K, and even decided to go sky diving twice! This intense experience opened up his soul and spirit and his vision of where he wanted to go next in life. But by December 2014, it became clear again that he would need yet another spinal operation to alleviate his compressed spinal cord. The initial operation was not complete, and it needed to be finished....his motor coordination was deteriorating. K wasn't ready to carry on with the unbalanced dynamic of our lives together, and wished to concentrate on his recovery and rehabilitation as a solitary man. At the same time, his dreams and plans were changing too, and he couldn't envision us remaining a unit without far too much sacrifice on one side or the other. And much as I didn't want to agree, I knew that I actually did. Loyalty, denial, deep passionate love...none of these could stop the momentum of our parting.

Simply put, the last two years have contained a lot of heartbreak and growth. K now lives a short drive away, and both of his daughters have begun their own lives in Nanaimo. We are still seeing each other, and tentatively navigating the next course of our lives. Both of us now agree the separation was necessary, in fact it may be what we needed to preserve the best of our partnership, and if not that, it's what we needed to give us each the chance to concentrate on our individual goals and self sufficiency.

In May 2015, I travelled to Victoria with K for the completion of his final laminoplasty, and was there with him when he woke up from the operation. Because, in spite of it all, we still are who each other has. He now begins another long haul of recovery, and I'm dealing with my own challenges....

I haven't been writing in my blog, which anyway has always portrayed the beautiful aspects of our life and never the adverse details...and I prefer it that way, since my blog is really about art, and not a confessional or an open book about the raw moments of our private lives. Still, what I'm going through obviously greatly affects my creative output, my artistic outlook and my ability to thrive in my own element. Settling into my new space, breathing life again into the aesthetic of my home and designing my own daily agendas....this took some time. 
Flowers From My Garden Early Summer Evening

After working three years for the library and slowly moving up into a permanent position of 28 hours per week, it was all snatched away in a moment on June 1, when a wave of layoffs were rolled out across the Vancouver Island branches. Now, my hard won handle on stability suddenly appears as a mirage again. Not only that, some of the enforced changes to scheduling will dramatically limit the earnings of many workers.....4 hour work days and uneven bi-weekly shifts designed to cap employee's earning potential are evidence of a system bent on following a corporate business model rather than honouring the ideal of a community oriented public service. Myself and other coworkers are left disillusioned, feeling devalued and financially strapped, but of course we will hang on and ride the wave and hope for a fair outcome in the fall when the main branch opens after extensive renovations. I've been lucky, having been deployed to the small branch on my little home island for the time being.

All through my life, I've always landed on my feet. So here I am in the cottage at Wildwood, with two cats and my sometimes dog, 24 goldfish, and four frogs who make regular appearances.

Smudge Under the Dogwood Tree at Wildwood

My living room is yet again my art studio....that is, I have two easels set up and I use the dining room table as my painting table. I barely found the time or motivation to paint during this first winter in my new home, and knew I needed a goal of some kind. So in January on a whim, and because I happened to have the money to pay the fee, I signed up to take part in the Thanksgiving Studio Tour. This meant I would have to finally join the Arts Council after all these years of being an outsider. It was a way to force myself into a commitment to produce regular finished works. I can't keep waiting months for that spark of inspiration...I need to start living like a serious painter with a day job, and keep my paint tubes out all the time, sit down after dinner or with my morning coffee and dab a bit at my canvas. There is also the porch:

Smudge and Seeker Hang Out While I Paint a Whale

Until this coming October, I plan to finish 1-2 paintings a month  (I know, I'm a snail) , I need to renovate the tiny wee outside cabin (strong deja vu with this one... I ache just a little when I think of the pretty cabin out back of the blue house that I remodelled from scratch), I need to do a print run of new card designs. It's a LOT to get done in less than  4 short months. I shall keep reminding myself it's my first tour, and I have to start somewhere.

And no, the Grizzly in the wheat is not finished. Nor is Miroslava, but I here are a couple of completed pieces....the Cat and Thistle I wrote of months ago...

Cat and Thistle ~ Oil on Canvas 16" x 20"
....and this one titled "Swan Tree", inspired by Botero, whose smooth colours and balloon like forms have influenced me lately.

Swan Tree ~ Oil on Canvas 18" x 24"

I have a few unfinished pieces on the go, small and large works. More shall be posted soon. 
So I am back, this blog is awake again!