29 May 2011

Bay Woodyard and Gavin North

Bay Woodyard

Gavin North

Bay and Gavin run Honey Pie Hives and Herbals and their products can be found in shops from Ottawa to Toronto and, of course, throughout Prince Edward County. For about ten years they've been making soap, teas, candles, lotions, etc., but they're probably most famous for their unpasteurized honey, and it was this aspect that I chose to feature in their portrait.

The idea I came up with to tie in their honey production was to superimpose a hexagonal (i.e. honeycomb) pattern on the painting and then make subtle colour shifts to differentiate the cells (see below). This got tricky when it came time to paint the grass and trees because of all the complex details.

I shot the couple in various locations (starting with inside their straw bale house, then moving outdoors), but this painting is based on a photo taken when we approached a group of bee boxes to see what the honey bees were up to. They're mostly dormant in the winter, but a few come out from time to time...to poop. You can sort of see a bee on Bay's hand and a few are on the snow (in the detail further down). Some bee boxes also appear in this portrait on the far left side but aren't shown here.

Towards the bottom of the painting the cells were easier to differentiate, but the "subtle colour shifts" ended up not being so subtle...but still successful, overall, I think.

Even Bay and Gavin's soft shadows on the snow were tricky to modulate subtly in the cells and still keep them convincing.

I simplified the tall grass to keep the painting from looking too cluttered --besides, the top portion has lots of wintry foliage already.

See the full version of this painting HERE.

26 May 2011

Blaine Way

Blaine's happy smile here comes from having to steadily hold onto a piglet while I took pictures...and I'm very glad for it, as it really shows his good-natured character.

We got lucky with some sunshine for a few minutes, but, as you can see from the close-up details below, it's mid-winter and Blaine is out there, tending to the animals (with his son, too). Again, what I initially was worried would become a sameness in my paintings (photographing the farmers in winter) actually underscores the fact that farm work has to be done all year round, regardless of what we would consider uncomfortable working conditions. Winter farming isn't something that comes to mind when we think of pastoral farming scenes, so I'm happy to have depicted this aspect in a number of these portraits.

Blaine has a variety of animals on his farm (cows and calves for beef, horses, wild boars, and muscovy ducks), but I was quite taken with these red-haired cuties, and he was quite happy and proud to pose with this little squirmer).

His secret to raising these adorable (and yummy!) porkers is feeding them barley from local Barley Days Brewery and whey from (also local) Black River Cheese Company (this practice started in 1954 with his grandfather, continued with his father, and now makes Blaine the third generation to do so). The whey is costly to get rid of and not only does recycling it like this make for efficient, cost-effective symbiosis, but, according to Blaine, it makes for sweeter pork. Small Pond Arts will soon become part of this symbiotic chain when Blaine starts harvesting hay from our fields later this summer.

The hands of a farmer.

Abstract close-up detail.

More impressionistic than abstract.

See the full version of this painting HERE.

24 May 2011

Cody Vader

I met Cody in Angéline's parking lot on a snowy morning which gave me perhaps too much diffused light, softening everything and not giving me strong, contrasty shadows. When looking at the photos afterwards, I determined Cody's portrait would reflect this softness around the highlights on his face, but I'd add my own contrast in the form of a very dark background and slightly rough texture on the coveralls. This was the first portrait I completed for Field to Canvas and, I believe, set a strong precedent that I was onto something here.

Cody was "born and raised farming," and his large family has a grand, well-known, and respected presence in the County, farming vegetables, sheep, cash crops, and their famous maple syrup. Follow this link, scroll down to the bottom, to read about their syrup (you'll see John Nyman on that page too!).

Thick, luxurious hair.
(plus negative space)

Amazingly-fun-to-paint coveralls.

Cody showed up dressed for the part because he was actually on his way to work. Unfortunately, that meant I didn't get to spend much time with him (maybe ten minutes --enough to take a few photos), but I got to include these very cool coveralls. The attractive element for me is their colour and texture...and also the way the colour just happens to complement the blue hoodie.


Only when I got to painting Cody's portrait did I notice this mysterious thing in his pocket; I should've asked him what this tool was. Is it simply a knife? Is it a cool measuring device of some kind? Is it a secret agent gadget fresh from Q Division? I had enough information to be able to paint the clasp, but I got more and more curious about what it actually was. Maybe I'll ask him at the reception...

See the full version of this painting HERE.

UPDATE: This painting is now sold.

22 May 2011

Ed and Sandi Taylor

Ed Taylor

Sandi Taylor

The Taylors run Honey Wagon Farms located just at the outer western edge of Picton, growing a wide spectrum of vegetables (note the lovely potatoes below) as well as producing maple syrup in their own sugar shack.

They've been at it for fifteen years, not using any herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides, which often means extra, often tedious, work is needed. In fact, to get rid of the Colorado Potato Beetle from their spuds, they go out into the fields and actually vacuum the little buggers off the plants. With a vacuum cleaner. For real. That's pretty amazing. But the Taylors love it, feeling that farming allows them the opportunity to work with Mother Nature (Sandi told me that Ed comes in the house, gleeful as a kid, every season when the new sprouts begin to poke out of the ground, retaining that wonder in the miracle of life). They also feel farming provides them the great opportunity to meet like-minded people who are as interested as they are in growing and eating natural food.

Sandi's rubber boot.

Basket o' taters.

The abstract close-up.

This is actually the neighbour's dog, Socks, who often accompanies the Taylors during their farm work --so much so that they wanted to include him, and, of course, I had no problem with that as I'm growing quite fond of painting animals.

I mentioned in my post about Tim and Vicki that this painting was always intended to be monochromatic, and to keep things interesting for me, I wanted to give it a sort of vintage photo look, so it's not truly black and white, but, rather, it has a slight greenish tint from the olive green I used as the primary colour. Look close enough, and you can see quite a bit of orange from the acrylic underpainting showing through, warming it up a bit.

See the full version of this painting  HERE.

UPDATE: This painting is now sold.

20 May 2011

John Nyman

John Nyman's been farming all his life (over 31 years now), but six on his own (but that doesn't mean by himself). Visit John's website for tons of great information.

I visited John's farm in the dead of winter, and there he was, clearing snow, feeding the sheep and cows, tirelessly (and impressively, to me) just doing what needed to be done --and without complaint, I must add. That's another thing I found all my subjects had in common: although a few explained some of the frustrations and challenges facing farmers (versus the big agricultural corporations like Monasnto), they never complained to me about the actual work they needed to do (I've seen it; it's not easy work). These great folks are examples to everyone.

This portrait allowed me to incorporate elements of John's farm, giving me the chance to try out different techniques and subject matter. Like in my portrait of Lukas Lister-Stevens, I wanted to use a shallow depth-of-field to help make the foreground subjects pop. My approach to convey this effect was to render the background elements in an impressionistic and slightly abstract manner. The detail above --just a tiny part in the top left of the actual portrait-- could be a satisfying winter landscape on its own.

I'm really, really happy with these boots.

The now-obligatory close-up detail masquerading as an abstract painting. This time: a blander, boringer, lamer Rothko.

Talk about free-range! These pretty little chickies were wandering around here and there, contrasting sharply against the snowy ground, looking incredibly healthy and happy (and, therefore, incredibly tasty!). Also farmed by the Nymans but not featured in this painting: sheep, pigs, turkeys, and maple syrup from their own sugar shack.

My portrait of John Nyman is actually made up of five separate reference photos: John's head is a separate element from similar pic, turned more appealingly to the camera, because his head in the shot of him petting the cow was turned downward at an angle that didn't show his features very well. The chickens are from a completely separate photo of them by themselves, incorporated here for compositional balance. The boots had to be drawn from a separate, full-body shot where you can see the boots because in the ref I did use, the photos cut him off just above the knees. And the cow and his right petting arm are from a shot that better denotes their friendly relationship.

When I say "friendly relationship," I'm not exaggerating; these Jersey Cows were very friendly and curious. I don't know if it was the one in the final painting, but one cow did come up to me and began licking my coat's sleeve just like a dog might. It was a leather coat, though, so I don't know what that says about the cow...

See the full version of this painting  HERE.

18 May 2011

Tim Noxon and Vicki Emlaw

Tim Noxon

Vicki Emlaw

The farm may be called Vicki's Veggies but it's very much a joint operation between this husband and wife team (and a few others who help out/work there from time to time --like Lukas). They've been farming for about ten years (mixed vegetables, heirloom tomatoes, etc.), but Vicki's Veggies is somewhat of a cultural hub in Prince Edward County. When Krista and I moved here a year ago almost everybody we met asked us if we'd been to Vicki's Veggies, so much so, that we found a few free minutes (we were very busy setting up Small Pond Arts, after all) and paid them a visit.

Our visit coincided with their annual Heirloom Tomato Seedling Sale, and we were dumbfounded at the sheer number of different varieties (see a few in this short video clip). We also met Tim and Vicki who, like all of the farmers I met for this project, were incredibly friendly and welcoming. We had now met the Cultural Hub of the County, and we've been friends since. Vicki even helped me flesh out my initial list of potential farmers to paint and locate them on a County map (thanks again, Vicki!).

Vicki's Veggies also offers Veggie Bucks which can be redeemed for amazing vegetables and other great, local food items (like honey from Bay and Gavin) that they stock in their shop. There's so much to say about this concept that you're better off clicking on Veggie Bucks to learn more about it at their own website.

Earlier this spring, we bought a great variety of seeds from Vicki to plant in our garden which we doubled in size from last year. So far, we just have some tiny sprouts, but by midsummer, we'll have a huge smorgasbord for our table.

Here are a few close-up details showing very subtly stylized colour shifts and a textural technique I thought I'd try out with this painting to keep the series fresh and each portrait uniquely different. I was going for a monochromatic effect using non-realistic colours. I would revisit the monochromatic theme more intensely in the portrait of Ed and Sandi Taylor.

Enough abstraction;
here are some ears:

In case you're wondering about order, I've been posting these portraits in alphabetical order, which includes order of appearance within the paintings themselves, that's why this one is here and not after George Emlaw (Vicki's dad).

See the full version of this painting  HERE.

16 May 2011

Erika Mohssen-Beyk

Erika runs Reachview Farm (which is also a bed & breakfast) in Prince Edward County and has been farming for about ten years. She's got vegetables, fruit, grain, hay, sheep, goats, and chickens, but there's another feature that Erika's got that makes her operation quite remarkable: she's entirely off the grid; she supplies her electricity via wind and solar power.

None of the farmers featured in these portraits work alone, but, for various reasons, some appear solo and some appear as couples. Erika is not the only woman in the series, but she is the only woman who appears by herself. Just as I felt it was important to show an age range, it was important for me to represent both men and women here, and I am very happy to be able to include Erika.

Close up, the weave of the sweater becomes a big, blue field of abstraction.

There are areas of thick acrylic underpainting I added for texture (click on the pictures above and below), but only surrounding Erika's head and neck because I wanted to render her skin softly by smoothly blending the paint --the opposite of the way I painted Ted Maczka.

When I photographed Erika in her home she was backlit by a bright window, creating a nice sort of halo around her which I chose to emphasize by making the background in the painting very dark green.

See the full version of this painting  HERE.

14 May 2011

Lino Micheli

Lino, AKA The Accidental Farmer, runs Bethel Organics and has been farming chickens, hogs, ducks, and veggies for about three years, but specializes in heritage breeds: Chanticler Chickens, Canadian Horses, and Berkshire Hogs. The last of which, Krista and I were lucky enough to taste in the form of naturally-smoked, nitrate-free, organic bacon a few weeks ago when Lino announced he had some available. I saw the notice on Facebook and immediately drove out to Lino's and bought about 7 pounds of bacon (most to freeze for later enjoyment). It was the most bacon I'd bought all at once, but worth it...and I may have even met the source pig when I went out to Lino's in the winter for our photo shoot.

The first time I saw Lino was during the 2010 Maple in the County festivities in the Town Hall in Bloomfield, PEC, where he was selling his wares as The Accidental Farmer and I was displaying some of my artwork, representing Small Pond Arts. I didn't actually meet him until later that year when Chesterfield's in Picton had a Pork Night where various cuts of pork were served with a local cider from the County Cider Co. that went beautifully together. Check him out with some of his gorgeous produce in the second half of this short video clip. Here's another, more recent, video clip featuring Lino.

(forgive the low resolution of this image)

Click on the pic above and you'll see some Xs which I used to indicate to myself areas that were to be painted black (actually a mixture of several colours that appear as "black"). It's an old comic book shorthand from the penciller communicating to the inker that an area should be filled in solid black, without the penciller having to spend time (and graphite) needlessly filling in those areas.

Behind the canvas.

In this sneaky preview shot from behind, you can see the orange acrylic underpainting showing through as well as the red oil paint underpainting filling in the darkest areas (which I marked with an X in the pencilling stage) and describing various other forms. I only do the red oil if I feel I have enough time for it to dry before continuing. The concept is the same as the orange underpainting: where layers of paint are thin, a warm colour shows through, rather than the white of the canvas. I especially like red for dark areas (maybe I should just do this red stage with acrylics from now on...hm, I'm learning while blogging!).

A close-up of the background becomes an abstract painting.

Another close-up view.
(that's dusk outside the barn windows)

In this close-up of Lino's hand, you can see the dark areas indicated by the Xs in the pencil detail above, as well as some of the orange underpainting showing through.

Note the layers of clothing.

At first I was a little disappointed that I'd have to shoot all my Field to Canvas subjects during the winter, missing out on some potentially great shots of the farmers working their fields, but I learned immediately during my (very cold) visit with Lino (the first farmer to be photographed for my reference...and also the first portrait I completed) that farmers work all year round. Sure, the working-the-field aspect is seasonal, but crop growers still need to prepare for the coming year...and those that have animals certainly need to tend to them even on the coldest winter days. The care and attention (and love!) for their animals I witnessed in visiting the farmers was evident --and comforting, knowing the food produced by them was in good hands.

One of the most memorable moments of my visit with Lino was seeing him enter a hog pen and play with Orson, a gigantic, 500-pound porker who thought he was a puppy, playfully running towards Lino like a freight train. With puppies, a gentle pat is a nice show of affection, but Orson liked to be punched, and the more Lino punched him, the more Orson seemed to be loving it. It was strangely adorable.

UPDATE: This painting is now sold.

See the full version of it  HERE.

10 May 2011

Ted Maczka

Ted's eyes seem to tell it all.

Also known as the "Fish Lake Garlic Man," Ted is so famous around Prince Edward County that I could have just used this close-up as his portrait and people around here would probably still recognize him.

Ted came to Canada in the 1970s and it was while working in a non-agricultural job that he learned that Canada imported its garlic from China. After looking into this further, Ted came to the conclusion that there was no reason Canada could not be self-sufficient in garlic since our climate was ideal for growing it. He then took it upon himself to become an evangelist for garlic and, since 1978, apart from operating his wildly successful garlic farm, he's been interviewed and featured in dozens of papers and on nearly as many TV programs across the country and abroad (he showed me several binders of clippings).

A strong advocate of locally-grown garlic, Ted's entirely self-taught with regards to the scientific research into all aspects of it, regularly helping out (and correcting!) governmental agricultural research.

It was only fitting that I paint him wearing a garland of his beautiful garlic (incorporated from a photo he supplied).

Ted's famous garlic.
Plant in fall before frost.

After our photo shoot, Ted gave me a bulb of garlic which was then split up into its separate cloves and planted in a large pot. A few months later, by early March, sprouts were coming up and now the garlic is ready to transplant into our garden. The photo below was taken in the midst of writing this post (just after 10am, 10 May 2011).

Garlic ready for transplanting.

Garlic now transplanted.

For fun, here's an MRI of some garlic from a great blog by Andy Ellison.

Shirt area detail.
I tried to make this look as flannelly as possible;
seeing the weave of the canvas helps.

Ted's ear.

I love cropping areas that look like abstract, impressionistic paintings.

Garlic Man in progress.
Note the orange acrylic underpainting evident in the head area.

This painting is now part of the County of Prince Edward Library and Archives collection.

See the full version of it  HERE.