04 August 2019

County Coyote: Explorers

County Coyote: Explorers
20" x 30", oil on wood panel, 2019

I always enjoy participating in the shows put on by Peter and Alice Mennacher at their Blizzmax Gallery in South Bay, here in Prince Edward County, and when I got the invitation for this year's County Coyote group show I quickly began brainstorming ideas.

The main concept is that participating artists take Peter's drawing of a coyote and do whatever we wish with it. I decided to take the plentiful coyotes out of PEC and sent them out into the final frontier, exploring strange new worlds.

The main background of mountains and a ringed gas giant in the sky was borrowed from a Robert McCall painting, the rocket is based on Hergé's design from his Tintin comics, and the hoodoos are based on photos I took in Alberta more than a decade ago (I was going for a sort of Roger Dean-inspired landscape, and the surreal (and unlikely) tripled hoodoos lend themselves to this notion). Naturally, these canines would build doghouse-shaped structures for their outposts. The simple, bubble-shaped space helmets further contribute to a 1950s retro sci-fi feel.

Coyote by Peter Mennacher

I wanted to keep as much of Peter's coyote as possible, so they remained white in my painting, perhaps as a sort of genetic modification to aid in space exploration. After all, they have space helmets but no space suits, so it could be a pressure-based technology, perhaps, like a hydrophobic coating that they're dunked in or is sprayed on. Or maybe it's like the original Star Trek and how the warp drive and the transporter work isn't important, but what happens because of them is what counts, story-wise.

Show Poster

A lot of great local artists participated in this show and it was great to see a few faces I hadn't seen in years at the opening. See the show if you're around. SEE IT!

03 August 2019

The Clarity of Empty Vessels, Phase 1

CEV Phase 1 A
14" x 11", oil on canvas, 2019

In the winter of 2017-18 I kept seeing the first painting in this "full-bodied" group of paintings I did in 2010 and, because I really liked how the glass was rendered, with all the distortions and reflections, I came up with an idea for a larger group of paintings that would feature clear glassware as the main subject.

CEV Phase 1 B
20" x 10", oil on canvas, 2019

I felt painting those distortions and reflections convincingly would be a fun challenge, so I collected a few interesting glass items and photographed them in various lighting conditions, emphasizing the fact that they were all empty (more on that later).

CEV Phase 1 C
20" x 10", oil on canvas, 2019

This group was shot at night with extreme lighting mainly coming from above, with additional light sources causing many of those highlights and interesting reflections. 

CEV Phase 1 D
20" x 10", oil on canvas, 2019

I also got to thinking philosophically about a specific area of human nature, and this series became, coincidentally, a literalization of that idea, which I will elaborate on in Part 2.

17 July 2019

Minerva McCrimmon (study)

Minerva McCrimmon (study)
20" x 16", oil on wood panel, 2019

When Krista and I moved to Prince Edward County in 2010, we were very interested in its history, feeling we could explore and celebrate it through our artwork in various ways. I won't get into all the historical work we've done, but I'll say that, over the years, we've gathered more than a few books to help educate us. One of these books is "The New Improved Legendary Guide to Prince Edward County" by Janet Kellough, and it was in this slim, spiral-bound text (that everybody seems to get upon arrival in PEC) that I first became aware of Minerva McCrimmon and her big heroic act in April 1880. There isn't much information on her actual life, but the story from from well over a century ago is really all I needed for this project.

I liked the story a lot –especially because she was so young– and I kept revisiting the tale to see if I could come up with a way to paint her portrait or adequately illustrate the event (much the way I illustrated another fascinating County story concerning a Mrs. Irwin during World War One). I pored over my existing photo reference of friends and co-workers that I'd used (and continue to use) in my paintings, but no one seemed to fit or looked young enough.

There are four paragraphs in total in the Kellough book concerning Minerva (spanning pages 66 & 67): the first one doesn't mention her, but informs us that many women signed on to ships as the cook, occasionally taking the wheel during storms while the men dealt with the sails; the second paragraph tells us that no one could steer the schooner David Andrews straighter than Minerva; the third paragraph tells the relevant story:

"...on April 13th, 1880 the David Andrews drove into the reef three miles below Oswego, New York in a blinding snowstorm. The lifesaving crew was already responding to other vessels in distress, but they managed to shoot a line across to the David Andrews. The only way ashore was by riding across this line on a bosun's chair. The crew was petrified. Minerva went first, to show them it could be done, and then she returned to the ship. One by one she escorted the crew, including her father, safely to shore;"

...and in the last one we're told that "soon after" she married Henry Whattam (but their marriage record says she and Henry were married on February 10, 1880, two months before the storm incident), and died a short time later at the age of 21. That's the only mention of her age in this book, but some sources place her age at the time of the ship's grounding at 17, while others say she was 19.

Penciled and prepped.

Months ago I was approached to be part of a group of portrait artists who would create a portrait of a notable woman from Prince Edward County history during a fundraising event for our local museums. Naturally, my thoughts turned to Minerva and I immediately began composing a "symbolic" portrait since there's no photographic record of her. The final portrait of Minerva herself is based on a photo of a young woman I bought from a stock house (I again revisited my existing model refs, but I still felt none of them fit or looked young enough).

The parameters of the fundraising event at the Wellington Heritage Museum changed a bit since the initial invitation, but now were that we would create these portraits on a 20" x 16" canvas (or wood panel, in my case) and that they would be completed in exactly 60 minutes. People would pay to watch us paint, and then, afterward, they would bid on the portraits in a silent auction.

I don't mind taking a calculated risk in front of people, so how well or poorly I painted during the hour would be just a look into my process or whatever, and not a great concern to me. But, knowing the portraits would then be up for auction, I wanted to maximize the potential for the museums to raise money from my painting by doing the best possible work I could in an hour –and that meant coming prepared, so I started with the penciled image above, acrylic ground also already in place.

Repaint begins.

Having only an hour in which to paint this portrait, I deliberately designed it to have a limited palette, sticking closely to blues to evoke both icy cold and serene calm. I knew from the get-go that this would serve as a study for a larger piece based on the exact same reference illustration I created in Photoshop; I'd be able to really get in there with the detail work on her face, the ship's intricate rigging and sails, and all those water effects, both calm and stormy. I'm happy that this fun fundraising event lit a fire under me to finally (nine years after I first "met" Minerva) come up with an image that I feel does both her and her story proper justice.

I felt lucky to get a 20-minute extension during the night of the fundraising event and felt satisfied to have achieved what I did in that short a period (in the photo above only the clouds and calm waters have been repainted, the rest is as it was after 80 minutes' work). Then we were told that the auction would take place at a later date and that we could take our portraits home to work on them some more if we wanted to. Well, sure: of course I'd like to take it home and take my time to get it closer to my initial vision for the portrait. The repaint benefits from increased contrast and I did a better job on the stormy water effect, but I didn't do any new work on her face at all, feeling the rendering, as is, would suffice for this study.