Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tom Thomson and The Group Of Seven

I headed to the McMichael gallery just north of Toronto to visit their collection of Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven paintings. Like most Canadians, I am very familiar with some of their works since they form a back drop, and influence so much, of 20th and 21st century Canadian art.

Yellow Sunset, 1916

After spending the better part of the morning absorbing the Group of Seven exhibit, I went back and revisited the works of Tom Thomson, spending a few more hours in detail study of his plein air works. I was completely under his spell. The economy of his brush work and his mastery of colour and design were exquisite. I learned so much looking at his 8.5"x10.5" works. I got so engrossed in them that I did not notice the gallery guard who was looking alarmingly at me because I was so close to the works. She finally came by to let me know that I was welcome to take notes but I would have to use a pencil rather than my pen. Oh that! OK. I switched... She felt better. Seriously though I do understand. You don't want an accident with ink on these delicate works. I couldn't forgive myself if that happened.

Lake in Autumn, 1916

Tom Thomson (Not Thompson) was an avid outdoors man. He was also a draftsman by profession. He spent his summers up north in Algonquin park and supplemented his stay up there by working as a guide. He introduced the Group of Seven to Algonquin and although he died before they were to form their group, he was, in many ways, their inspiration. His career as a plein air artist was very short, but between 1912 and 1917 he built a huge collection of panel paintings. These were small 8.5"x10.5" plywood panels painted using a hand held cigar box or pochade box. Tom never primed his panels. He actually used the colour of the wood to advantage. He placed his colour thick and with a certain hand. His plains were clear and his vertical and horizontal strokes are masterly.

Evening, Canoe Lake, 1915

Tom died on Canoe Lake in the park in a canoe accident. His short career leaves everyone wondering what he would have accomplished had he stayed with us a while longer.

I will be revisiting the McMichael again and again to study Tom's work and when I am done with him, I will move on to Arthur Lismer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Plein Air in Port Dover

Yesterday I packed my gear and headed to Port Dover. Port Dover is a small town on the shore of lake Erie. The sky looked grim and gray, but by now I have grown defiant of weekend weather. We have been going through a miserable summer (Call it monsoon season) in Ontario, and if you enjoy plein air painting you have to find a way around it or else change your stripes.

The storm hit as I exited Hwy 403 on to Hwy 6. It came hard and heavy, but I pressed on. I have come to realize that the heavier the summer storm, the shorter lived it is. Although at some point I was doubting my beliefs, by the time I crossed the Port Dover bridge and headed down Walker Street, the clouds had broken up and the sun was shining.

I stopped for a quick lunch and scouted the beach for the best view. There is so much to paint in Port Dover, that I probably will spend a few sojourns going there to do it justice. I decided to paint the cliffs to the west looking towards Turkey Pont. I set up my gear on the pear, took in the scene and started painting.

Cliffs at Port Dover, Oil on canvas board, 8"x10"

Painting on a pear where weekend walkers are bound to stop and comment is not for the shy or insecure. I stopped counting at 24, but I must have had twice as much people stop by and comment. All were of course very nice and polite. There was a gentleman who wanted to talk about the Group of Seven and get my opinion on their works, but I very gently convinced him to read more about them. At about 4:30pm, I was satisfied with what I had on the canvas, I carried my gear and headed back to the car. On the way, I saw a magnificent view deep into the harbor looking back towards the bridge that leads into Port Dover. It was too late to start another oil painting, but I went back to the car, dropped my gear and took my watercolours out. I had not done a watercolour in a while and no time was like the present I thought.

Port Dover Bridge, sketch, watercolour on 140lb paper, 5"x7"

I bought a bottle of water (I didn't have any left and didn't plan on painting in watercolours), and settled on a bench and painted a quick sketch of the view. I was glad I didn't have my camera with me. Normally, I would have taken a shot of the view and skipped sketching it, but the sketch helped me resolve a few issues with the scene that will come in handy when I go back and paint it in oil.

I am running out of weekends where I can spend the whole day painting outdoors, but Port Dover will get another visit soon I am sure. It was a great day at a great place to paint.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A painting marathon in Wilberforce, ON

This long weekend I was among around 60 artists who enjoyed three days of painting and fun in and around Wilberforce in the Highlands in Ontario. We were participating in the first annual "A brush with the Highlands". An event that was very well planned and executed by a devoted group of artists from the area.

Day 1 Friday:

The drive to Wilberforce was long but leisurely. I enjoyed the scenery along the way and stopped for a fish and chips lunch at a stand next to a stream in the highlands. I arrived at the property of Daryl Sands and Tracey Lee Green in the late afternoon. I pitched my tent and went up to meet everyone who was roughing it and staying in a tent or trailer. The evening was wonderful. Drinks, guitar, and all around good fun. Sleeping in the tent was weird. I had not slept in a tent since I was a boyscout many many moons ago. [Note: Thank god for Deet!]

Day 2 Saturday:

I woke up at 5am with day break. I got out of the tent and walked down to the lake to wash up. The morning mist was breath taking as I walked towards the water. I managed to wash my face and throw a bit of water on my head when I noticed that I was being eaten up alive. I had walked into a veritable mosquito breakfast trap. I managed a quick retreat and was greeted by my neighbour camper Ron Murdoch. Ron is a wonderful man who owns the Spruce Bog Studio and the Northart's Art Gallery in Dwight, Ontario. He invited me to a great breakfast of fresh eggs and bacon and we talked about were we wanted to go on the first day of painting. Eventually 4 of us headed to the outskirts of Algonquin Park. Nothing really inspiring here unless if we wanted to go into the park which would have been a longer drive and we were not prepared for that. We headed back. 2 of us decided to stop along the way and the other two got lost and drove for miles in the wrong direction. Eventually We made it back to camp and decided to paint close to home to avoid wasting any more time. [Note: Having driven over 3 hrs to get to Wilberforce, why did I have to find the furthest spot to go to on the first day?]. I did two paintings on Saturday. I climbed down from a bridge and settled near to the river. There I painted one view and then turned to the other side of the bridge and did a loose watercolour before evening. A shower later and back to the festive mood around a camp fire. This time with a great dinner, wine and fellowship of lovely people all around.

Brigadoon, 9"x12" Oil on canvas board

Day 3 Sunday:

A bunch of us headed to a close by property called Brigadoon. A scenic property with a lake and river enclosed in it. It used to be a girl's camp site, but eventually was abandoned and the owner is hoping to turn it to an art hub. I interrupted my first painting as he took me on a tour of the property and we agreed to talk again. Along the way, I learned that Gerry Wigg was a successful insurance man and we spent some time talking about the business. By noon I had finished the first painting and after a break for lunch, I started another one on the same property that took me to late afternoon in a leisurely pace. The evening was much tamer with only the hardy folks around. After being warned that a family of bears was close by, I decided to skip sleeping in the tent (Basically a blind trap) and slept instead in the car.


Day 4 Monday:

I didn't tell you that on day one we each entered three art works in a juried show and sale. Monday was the show. We took our time breaking down our camp, taking pictures in the area for future reference and paintings and just resting in general. At 10am we went to Town and walked through the exhibit. The show started at 11:00 and at noon the results of the juried show were announced. I was shocked when my name was announced as the winner of The Hawk River Log Award. That placed me in fourth place among a hoard of excellent works. I was so proud and bewildered. Moi? A winner? heheee! What a way to end a fantastic long weekend.


I bid farewell to good friends and headed back home through a long but traffic free route stopping many times on the road for photos. I got home late that night laden with many works and many more in mind to paint as well. A brush with the Highlands was a great success and the Hosts were delightful and full of generosity and love for art and fellow artists. I couldn't have asked for a better experience.