Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Narrative In Design - A pastel by Clarence Gagnon


Lucille Rodier Gagnon, Olive and Edna Pretty at Sainte-Pétronille, Île d’Orléans / Clarence Gagnon - 1919

This deceptively simple pastel by Clarence Gagnon is a study in design and composition. The design is not simple or formulaic or done for aesthetics alone as we will see. It impacts directly on the subject of the painting in a way that builds a narrative that can only be told through this design.

At first glance the pastel is a simple image of three ladies sitting on a fence at the edge of a river. The scenery is de-emphasized in favor of the three figures that are painted in higher chroma (brighter), and harmonious colors that make them stand out from the rest of the painting. But is there more about these girls than meets the eye? What is the story?


The blue clothing brings the right and middle figures together in the shape of the letter M forming a bond between them. The white clothing does the same in the shape of a W between the left and right figures. Their harmony of color intermingle to tell us of a friendship or a relation of the three. But something is amiss. While the two figures on the left each has her own lines that signal affinity with the figure on the right, somehow this linear affinity is not shared between them. They are close in proximity, but they each have an underlying secret affinity with the figure on the right.



There is an air of deceptive calmness to the painting that is brought about by the horizontal likes that outline the river banks. these split the painting into three almost equal horizontal areas also adding to the seeming calm. It is when you divide the painting vertically that you start seeing the tension that Gagnon has placed in there. You can clearly see that the left and middle figure have their heads almost touching. This is counter balanced by the further head of the right figure. The direction of the torsos in the figure also echo this affinity of the left and middle figure and the alienation of the right one.



More importantly though if you also draw vertical lines to divide the painting you would see how the tension is so expertly placed. The two figure on the left occupy the calm center of the painting. While the right figure literally teeters on the edge. 

The scene is peaceful, but something is not quite right with the ladies in the painting. How complex are their relationship with each other? Are there secrets that are not shared between the three? Gagnon hints to that, but leaves us to build the rest of the narrative. What an amazing painting isn't it?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Casting, Watercolor

Longing for the summer days but not the black flies. Still I long for the cold water on warm skin. That moment of anticipation when your body is say "no no no" and your mind is say "yes please yes".

For all of you who enjoy fly fishing. This one is for you.

 Casting, watercolor 14"x10"
Casting, watercolor 14"x10"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

After, watercolor 8"x8"

Proper drawing is one of the foundation of painting. I know many people think that painters don't have to know how to draw. That probably comes from the modern art movement and its lack of focus on fundamentals. It's like saying you don't have to know grammar to write poetry.

The model is the best way to hone drawing skills. The reason for that is simple really. An artist can fake and fudge a landscape and in the process mask his/her drawing skills, but the model is something you can't fudge. We are all familiar with the human figure and you can't really fudge distortions unless you are going to paint like Picasso. Incidentally Picasso was a great drawer. His distortions come from a deliberate style and not from a lack of fundamentals.

I painted this one in the studio from a reference recently. I hope you enjoy it!

After, watercolor 8"x8"
After, watercolor 8"x8"

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Meditation, watercolor start of 2014

Happy New Year!

2014 has finally arrived and with it the promise of fresh beginning and a year to get things done in.

I took some time off from work at the end of the year and focused on family and friends. Lots of food and drink and smiles and love. The best in life. I hope you all did the same. Work is good, but there must be a time for life as well.

Today I spent the morning in my studio and painted a pastoral scene for the start of 2014. I hope you will enjoy it. I call it Meditation.

 Meditation, watercolor