31 March 2011

Finest Worksong

22" x 15", watercolour, 1998

Starting in a couple of weeks I'll be teaching a watercolour workshop at an art supply store here in Picton. I'll be trying to demystify watercolours inasmuch as I want the students to feel less intimidated by the medium an learn to accept its often mercurial nature; the mantra being "Don't Panic."

For example, I'll try to show how to avoid such "errors" as in the painting above (unblended areas like the red circle on her cheek, her left hand knuckles, and her right hand), as well as mixing colours so they're not "muddy," controlling the paint to avoid the need for masking, and various techniques I've learned over the decades, among much else. Since I'm largely a self-taught painter, I'll be taking a fairly non-textbook approach to teaching.

Workshop details:
Thursdays: 14 April - 12 May*
6PM - 8PM
$35 per person, per class, for six weeks

7 Elements Artists' Materials & Studio
230 Main St. Picton, ON

*we'll likely add a second class on Monday nights since there seems to be a big demand

I took the title for this from an R.E.M. song of the same name from their Document album. The song is a sort of call to arms: "The time to rise has been engaged..."  (appropriate, since I painted this specifically to use on my first image-based business card). Incidentally, Document, Fables of the Reconstruction, and Lifes Rich Pageant are the three R.E.M. albums I listened to exclusively in the fall/winter of 1988 when I first began painting, and those songs are forever linked to my watercolour "origins."

The sketch that inspired the pose in this painting can be seen here.

25 March 2011


15" x 22", watercolour, 2002, private collection

Here's a perfect example of a lighting situation I couldn't capture with a point-and-shoot camera (either film or digital), but did so with my Minolta SLR film camera. My studio is far from sophisticated, but I can usually get the look I'm going for with my limited setup --provided I have a good camera to capture that look.

It's also a really good example of how I like to paint my watercolours. I like strong contrast so I have really dark areas in the hair and glasses and nice light areas in her face, neck, and shoulder, the lightest being bare, unpainted paper. I do this to show watercolour's versatility and range; it can be very delicate (as in the glazed areas of her forehead, for example) as well as very bold (again the dark areas). This is something I'll be covering in my upcoming watercolour workshop in April (more on that soon).

The model is once again Ashley...and I think there are still over a dozen paintings of her I have yet to blog about. The background is a slight abstraction of the actual background in my previous studio (bookshelf, wall, supporting beam, painting frame).

I really like the glasses in this one.

18 March 2011

My Camera

Minolta X-370 35mm Film SLR
with 28-210mm Kiron lens

I use tons of photographic reference for my artwork and I prefer to take my own pictures whenever I can. Before the days of digital, shooting on film was the only option (which, for me, sometimes meant a roll of film might only get me two or three good pictures to use), but over the past 20-or-so years, and after literally thousands of pictures, I've learned to take some pretty good ones --my paintings depended on it. So, through necessity, I've become a pretty decent photographer.

I bought this beauty back in 1993 in the "used" department at Henry's in downtown Toronto. The body cost $200 and the lens cost $300. I've only needed to take it in for repairs once about ten years ago when the frame counter stopped working. Hm, now that I mention it, I've been noticing the frame counter's on the fritz again...

I've been taking a lot of digital photos with my tiny point-and-shoot for reference in the past five or so years (including the shot at the top of this post), but my Minolta gives me so much more versatility with its manual settings and that whopping lens gives me some great shallow depth of field (plus it can give me really tight close-ups or nice wide shots). Because of this control, I've brought this wonderful machine out of semi-retirement to shoot the reference for my 12-painting portrait series I'm halfway through, using my didgie only as a backup.

I don't usually show my reference photos, preferring to let people focus on the final paintings, rather than the image/s that led to them. Below, however, are two photos that were meant to remain photos and not be turned into paintings. In 1999 I did some poster/t-shirt/programme work for Markham Youth Theatre's production of "City of Angels" and part of my work was to shoot the main cast in retro 1940s-style glamour shots (shot on black & white film, of course). These two are my favourite:

UPDATE: I've now been shooting with a Nikon D3100 DSLR with an 18-105mm lens since summer 2013 and it suits my needs perfectly. Here's a photo that would have taken more time, effort, and film using my Minolta:

Milky Way and Silo.
30-second exposure, 3.5 f-stop, 3200 ISO.

I mention brand names here only incidentally, as it really doesn't matter to me who makes the cameras I use or what format they are, only that it can do the things I need it to do (or that I can make it do the things I need to see in the end). I'm not interested in the film vs digital debate –I'll leave that to actual photographers.

For my own needs (documenting things here at Small Pond and shooting reference for my paintings) digital is more cost-effective (no more having to develop several rolls of film to get half a dozen usable shots) and faster (just insert the camera's chip into my laptop and I'm ready to composite elements in Photoshop, no scanning required).

For me, while the means can be quite interesting, they're justified by the ends. That goes for painting supplies, too.

10 March 2011

Near Lake Saguaro

36" x 48", oil on canvas, 2011, private collection

Krista and I spent the past five weeks in Mesa, Arizona (AKA Small Pond Southwest), on a working holiday: I brought 3 portraits to paint and she worked on some cool new puppet creations and wrote a short play. Having finished my portraits, I found I actually had time to paint this large landscape based on a photo from our trip to Lake Saguaro, which is amazingly just minutes from Mesa.

I mentioned in my previous post that the key to rendering drapery is keeping track of all the folds and wrinkles...well, keeping track of the folds and wrinkles in a mountainscape is even trickier --there were a few moments when I had no idea what I was looking at (is this jumble of rocks in Grid 5A or 5B?). There was some improvising with highlights. Colours were changed and/or enhanced. There was some deletion and relocation of some of the giant saguaro cacti. Plants became rocks and vice versa. But I think I did pretty well for my first Arizona landscape.

Here it is in progress.
I worked top-down on this to keep track of details.
Note the grid and the yellow underpainting.

This painting is now owned by the owners of the house we stayed in.

Once I've finished my 12-painting portrait series, Field to Canvas, I'll be planning my next series: I took tons of photos at the Grand Canyon that seem to want to be painted on very large canvases...