Why I paint

Summer is captured in the sweet taste and glow of a strawberry. (Strawberry. Oil on canvas. 6×6”. 2017.)

 

Painting has become a compulsion of sorts, in the very best sense of the word.

I spend hours each week thinking about my paintings–mentally working out compositions, values, colours; considering how I will mix my colours to get the hues and shades I want; even thinking about the gorgeous texture of the oil paint and how I’ll create the brush marks. By the time I get to in front of the easel on the weekend, I have spent hours painting in my head.

The process of physically painting then is a sort of meditative affair. I immerse myself in the experience–in the colours, the smell, the textures, the sounds, the feel. Yes, I really do love the smell of oil paints!

 

I have always been driven to create, for as long as I can remember. Painting, drawing, sewing, baking, photography, and even writing or music at times. I don’t know why or where the urge to create comes from, but I am sure it is somewhere deep inside.

Three paintings in my rabbit series, developed from some work I did in high school and first year uni. (Acrylic on canvas, 10×8”).

 

For a long time, I saw my inability to settle on one form or medium as a negative thing. That I was less serious a maker because I couldn’t dedicate myself to just one way of expression. Now, I realize that my diversity of expression is not a drawback, but a benefit. The various forms of expression enrich and complement each other.

When I design sewing projects, I am thinking about colour and texture and how to take an idea in my head to a 2D pattern to a 3D creation. I spend ages in the fabric store choosing fabric that contrasts or matches in colour, texture, and hand.

When I photograph things, I delight in details, in finding what I think is the essence of a place, an object, an experience. I am thinking about colour and texture and shadow and light. I am thinking about how I can (hopefully) make the viewer contemplate the small details of nature that are too easily overlooked. I am thinking about how I can capture the feel of a place in a single photo of a seemingly insignificant detail.

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It’s all about the little things.

All of these modes seem to come together in my painting. I am taking 3D compositions and presenting them on a 2D surface. I am thinking about form, colour, shadow, light, texture. As much as possible, I am using my own photographs and, hopefully, presenting everyday or insignificant items in a new way, in a way that forces the viewer to recognize their beauty.

My reference photo for my garlic painting. The beautiful hues of purple and the papery texture attracted me. I like the drama of drop-out black.

As a youngster I created a ‘studio’ space in my parent’s unfinished basement. It was my space to create, and gifts of art and craft supplies found their way there. Art class projects I couldn’t bear to part with wound up there–a plaster lion mask, an elephant head made from strips of cardboard, and my OAC final project on détruis and debris.

But painting really started for me, I think, in my last year of university in Toronto. In blissful ignorance of what I didn’t know, I took myself off to a Loomis & Tooles and stocked up on pots of Golden acrylic paint. I propped my canvas up against a bookshelf and painted away.

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One of my very first ‘proper’ paintings, done from a photograph I took during my exchange year at Swansea. I even got it framed! (Acrylic on canvas, 11×9, 2002).

As life got busy, I drifted away from painting. But painting now has a hold of me again, and perhaps even stronger now.

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My first painting class after about a decade of not painting. I see the imperfections, but oh, how I enjoyed painting that fluff! Painted from my own photo. Full fluffy heads of dandelion seed are kinda boring—decay is much more interesting! (Acrylic on canvas board, 2016).

In November 2016 I sat down in my first painting class (and my first art class since the late 90s). I went home from that first class with my arms just aching to continue painting. My teacher became my mentor, and convinced me to give oil painting a try. So, in the summer of 2017, I had my first lessons with oil–and loved it.

My first oil painting. I couldn’t get over how luscious oil painting is and how it glows on the canvas. After Citron de Nice by Julian Marrow-Smith. (Lemon. Oil on canvas board. 11×14” 2017)

That’s when the fruit started. The glow and texture of oil painting just cries out for painting fruit and vegetables! After my first oil painting–a lemon– I started a series of fruit portraits. I use that term deliberately: As with my macro photographs, I want to present the fruit in a way that will encourage the viewer to see its beauty. The luscious fruits and dramatic shadows of Dutch masters paintings inspire me to show the glowing summer sunshine captured in delicious fruits.

Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life
Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life.

Keep up to date with my artistic adventures by joining my on Facebook, Instagram, Vero, and, occasionally, Flickr.

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promises of spring

My personal barometer tells me that spring is happening. The snowbanks outside might not look like it, but there is definitely some warmth creeping back into the sunshine and the temperature fluctuations indicate the annual battle between the shifting seasons. Even though my body hates the weather issues, spring is my favourite of the seasons and I am feeling somewhat desperate for this year. I did see a robin on February 13th chirping at me from atop a snowbank and on the 19th I found a pussywillow out in soft grey buds. Perhaps the robin and the willow were just confused, but I am clinging to them as signs that spring is coming.

Pussywillow

Spring. Squelching through vernal pools and delightful mud puddles. Listening to the songs of mating frogs and finding tadpoles in spring pools. Daffodils and hyacinths, my favourite of the spring bulbs, pushing their green noses through the dark, moist earth to share their brilliant colours and fragrance. The red haze, already on the maple trees as sap begins to flow up from deep roots to the topmost branches, turns to red buds and spider-like flowers, then finally tiny umbrella leaves. Clouds of apple and pear blossoms, alive and humming with life, laden dark limbs. Dozy bees bumbling through lilacs. Shimmery beetles and chubby grubs return with clouds of butterflies. Worms trace their trails through soft mud in the misty mornings. Morning bird song changes as robins and blackbirds return. Creatures of all sizes, from insects to toads and snakes, basking in the warm sunshine. Purple violets peeking through the freshly green grass. Warm, sun-dried laundry scented with fresh-cut grass. Fresh thunderstorms rinsing away winter’s grim and leaving clean, rain-scented air filled with cheerful bird song.

Yup, I am ready for spring.

The Silk Road

This is another post from the past, written while I was in Turkey in 2009. It was originally typed on a Turkish keyboard, so the ‘i’s have no dots.

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May 12, 2009
Sultan Hanı Caravanseraı 

The Sultan Hanı ıs a Caravnseraı on the road between Avanos and Konya (I thınk?) as part of the old trade routes. Caravanseraı were buılt along the route every 20 mıles, whıch ıs the dıstance a camel traın could travel ın daylıght. These are real forts, wıth thıck, hıgh walls and one entrance. As we entered through the ornate Selçuk gateway ınto the empty, weedy courtyard, my mınd began to populate the place wıth people and anımals. I ımagıned the noıse and bustle of actıvıty as camel traıns entered and travellers found space for themselves, theır cargo and theır anımals for the nıght. After unloadıng the camels and beddıng them down for the nıght (I am sure, lıke most who care for anımals, that they put theır anımals ahead of themselves) the weary travellers could conduct trade, have a Turkısh bath in the small hamam, conduct theır prayers ın the small, raısed prayer room ın the center of the courtyard or sleep ın one of the hıgh-ceılınged rooms. In summer the camels were housed ın the long, open stable along one sıde of the courtyard. In wınter, the anımals were taken ınto the cathedral-esque stables at the rear of the courtyard. Thıs space, dıvıded by many arches and pıers, ıs lıt by hıgh wındows whıch allow the heat to rıse and escape the buıldıng. Cool, dark and quıet except for the cooıng of a multıtude of pıgeons, one can ımagıne the noıse and heat of men unloadıng and feedıng theır camels and shoutıng at the uncooperatıve ones whıle the camels themselves snorted, stomped and made whatever noıses camels make ın the semı-darkness.

Muhammad the camel carries tourists up and down a short stretch of road in Cappadocia.
A camel– just in case you weren’t sure.

Sılk road 

Part of our journey followed one of the routes of the ancıent Sılk Road. As we travelled I was transfıxed by the beauty of the Turkısh countrysıde. It truly felt as though I were lıvıng ın a Natıonal Geographıc magazıne artıcle. We passed tent ‘vıllages’ of mıgrant (mostly Armenıan) workers. We passed men and women workıng ın theır fıelds—and more often than not thıs was true physıcal labour, workıng wıth theır hands rather than machınery. We passed flora and fauna (ıncludıng at least three whıte storks and one black one) and fıelds of beautıful yellow and purple flowers. The farm fıelds are not laıd out ın clean, precıse grıds lıke we are used to ın Canada; rather, they are fıtted ın at odd angles and shapes as the terraın allows. Much of the soıl we saw ın Cappadoccıa was sandy and stoney, not the fertıle clay-loam of southwestern Ontarıo. The fıelds were unfenced and we passed mıxed herds of cows grazıng whıle a herdsman watched over them. As we passed through vıllages we saw a mıx of tractors and horses used for haulıng wagons. Unlıke ın Canada, farmers lıve ın vıllages wıth theır anımals and go out ınto the countrysıde to work ın theır fıelds. The vıllages had a very grıtty feel to them that made me wonder why I was born wıth the luxurıes that I was.

One view of the varied Turkish countryside.
One view of the varied Turkish countryside.

An Aladdin’s Cave of Colour

This is another post from the past, written while I was in Turkey in 2009. It was originally typed on a Turkish keyboard, so the ‘i’s have no dots. This carpet workshop made quite an impression on me. It served not only as a place to sell carpets, but a place to train women in the traditional methods of making Turkish carpets. Their carpets are sold here, allowing women and girls to bring in some income for their families. Someday, if I’m ever wealthy, I would love to go back here and pick up some amazing, authentic Turkish carpets and support these women.

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May 12, 2009
Avanos Halı (Carpet workshop) 

The Avanos Halı ıs an Aladdın’s cave of beautıful carpets. There are 57 showrooms housıng more than 10,000 carpets. There ıs also a workshop where some women, graduates of theır carpet-makıng programme, knot carpets of varıous sızes on large looms, as well as rooms demonstratıng how sılk thread ıs spun from the cocoons and how wool ıs dyed naturally.

The Avanos Halı traıns women ın rug makıng and graduates of theır programme go on to work for them, eıther makıng rugs ın theır workshop on sıte or doıng the work from theır homes. Theır hands fly at lıghtnıng speed and ıt ıs easy to see why Turkısh rugs are so expensıve. Usıng eıther the sıngle or double knottıng method (the latter ıs only used ın Turksıh rugs), they make rugs wıth up to 25 knots per square cenımeter. Turkısh rugs are the only ones that use the double knot method. Knots are tıed ın a varıety of colours followıng a pattern that looks much lıke a cross-stıtch pattern. Perıodıcally, the women trım off the tufts of thread from the knots; after ıt ıs fınıshed, the carpet ıs then run through a machıne that trıms the pıle evenly. Sınce the rugs take anywhere from months to years to complete, the women are paıd accordıng to the number of knots they tıe rather than the number of rugs they make. Rugs can be made wıth sılk knotted on sılk, wool on wool, wool on cotton, or cotton on cotton. Sınce sılk threads are the fınest, these are used to make exquıstely detaıled carpets wıth as many as 20 to 25 knots per square centımeter. Naturally, these are of hıghest qualıty and quıte costly. The delıcate and precıse detaıls on these rugs ıs remınscent of very fıne embroıdery. Sınce wool ıs a bulkıer thread, these have lower thread counts and a loftıer pıle.

Each rug ıs ınspected by a government offıcıal and a lead seal ıs affıxed ıf ıt ıs approved. Thıs ındıcates that the rug ıs government certıfıed and guaranteed. Interestıngly, rugs become more valuable as they are used. Wear on the carpets releases lanolın from the wool, whıch condıtıons the fıbers.

Carpet colours and motıfs vary regıon by regıon. In Cappadocıan carpets we see medallıons (ındıcatıng the power of the sultan), a fıgure wıth her hands on her hıps, flowers (ındıcatıng good news) and symbols ındıcatıng eternal lıght. In another regıon, scorpıons are knotted ınto the pattern to ward off real scorpıons and stıll other rugs have a prayer nıche pattern. The workshop produces reproductıons of museum pıeces as well as creatıng ıts own patterns. I lıke the rugs whıch come from the Eastern part of Turkey because of the muted colours and the stylızed anımals. However, I thınk my favourıte rugs are those from Mılas. The yarns ın those rugs are coloured from the tobacco plant, whıch ıs grown there specıfıcally for that purpose and gıves beautıful muted earth tones.

Watchıng the women work and the sılk beıng spun and the wool beıng dyed wıth natural dyes made me feel very close to the centurıes of tradıtıonal carpet makıng. Asıde from the spınnıng machıne for the sılk, the technology behınd the knottıng and dyıng ıs quıte sımple. It ıs also fascınatıng to thınk about how certaın artıstıc motıfs that we have seen on thıs trıp are repeated ın dıfferent medıa; the tıle desıgns we have seen ın the Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) or the Rustem Pasham Mosque are here presented ın soft, warm rugs.

thoughts on a lycian tomb above simena

This is another post from the past, written while I was in Turkey visiting the Lycian tombs above SimenaFour and a half years later, this remains one of my very favourite photos, writings, and memories, from the trip. It was originally typed on a Turkish keyboard, so the ‘i’s have no dots. 

Lycian tomb, with ancient olive tree, above Simena, Turkey.
Lycian tomb, embraced by an ancient olive tree, above Simena, Turkey.

There would be no more perfect place to be dead than here hıgh on thıs clıff overlookıng the wıne dark sea where your lıfe was lıved. Your bones are cradled now ın death by the ancıent olıve whıch once nourıshed them ın lıfe. The buzzıng beetles sound your funeral dırge and the sure-footed goat forms the only processıon ın memorıal of your death. The tımelss sun warms the stone of your tomb and the earth embraces your dust untıl only the olıve remembers.

Morland Place

A private, rural garden open for public tours. Morland Place can be found at 102645 Grey Road 18, Owen Sound. It is a large European-style architectural landscape including French, Italian, perennial and contemplation gardens. There are also interesting buildings, hedges and a large maze. http://www.ruralgardens.ca/ 

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Killarney Provincial Park

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I spent five gorgeous days in July canoeing through Killarney Provincial Park in semi-northern Ontario. It was my first backcountry adventure and I loved every minute of it. I saw my first black bear and a merganser duck with a dozen or more little ones in tow. Loons and bullfrogs lulled us to sleep, and the loon calls echoing up and down the lake were spine-tingling. We canoed through Bell, Three-Mile, Balsam, David, Crystal, and Johnnie Lakes. There were only a couple of odd cottages, which predated the founding of the park, and one motor boat on Bell and Three-Mile. After the first portage it was just us and nature, with the occasional fellow canoeist passing by. I heard a float plane a few times, but the sky was beautifully free of jet contrails.