Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gary Morning–Brooklyn Bridge

PS: Again I did what I had promised myself I wouldn't do. I posted a painting before I was fully satisfied with it. I have since been reworking this painting and the colours have changed significantly. I am not sure how to use this blog anymore. I really don't want to show art that is not ready anymore but I also want to keep this blog alive. I am lost for ideas!!

It has been some time since I last posted here. Sorry about that. I have been painting and enjoying the family and something had to give way. This blog was it.
Over the past few days – on holiday – I have been cooped up in my studio working on this 16”x20”. I can’t make the photo stop averaging out the colours and allow for the subtle variations. Somehow only bold colours make for good viewing on the screen. This one is all about subtle moody colours and light. With almost no hard lines and a lot of atmosphere. A moody painting for sure.

Gary Morning–Brooklyn Bridge, Oil on Canvas 16”x20” 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

About Painting Trees

Trees are a ubiquitous element in plein air painting. They represent a major part of most works whether they are the focal points or a part of the general landscape. As an element in nature they also represent the most prolific group of growth out there. It is therefore worth while studying them and their growth and characteristics so that we can portray them convincingly in our artwork.

When it comes to studying tree one of the best sources is an Eastern art that is focused on trees: Bonsai. Bonsai is the art of growing trees in pots. These are normally small to medium sized dwarfed trees – kept small but constant pruning of leaves, branches and roots. The art form is highly stylized, but offers a very helpful categorization of tree forms and types. Each style of growth in Bonsai is derived from careful study of the tree types, how they grow and what characters they develop from youth to old age. Trunks and branches are carefully pruned and shaped to comply to natural growth patters in normal trees so that these small trees echo their older larger cousins in every way, and form a stylized, but true representation of them.

There are many aspects to pruning and branch placement and development that if studies carefully would be very helpful for the artist interested in depicting trees, but we will focus on the general styles or shapes of bonsai and try to relate them to our art-form of painting nature for now.

In Bonsai there are several formal types that represent the classical characters that trees take in nature. Each type tells a story of growth and life. I have taken each of these types and matched them with a painting of a tree so you can see how these Bonsai stylized forms actually work with our art form:

Formal upright
The Jack Pine     (1916 - 1917 )
Tom Thomson, The Jack Pine

Mulberry Tree
Vincent van Gogh Mulberry Tree

The Esterel Mountains
Claude Monet The Esterel Mountains

Informal upright
The Pine Tree
Tom Thomson, The Pine Tree

Fred Varley, Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay

Arthur Lismer, Pine Tree and Rocks

A Meadow at Giverny
Claude Monet, A Meadow at Giverny

The Last Gleam
Charles Warren Eaton, The Last Gleam

The Olive Tree Wood in the Moreno Garden
Claude Monet, The Olive Tree Wood in the Moreno Garden

Tom Thomson, Autumn Birches

Old Pine, McGregor Bay by Arthur Lismer
Arthur Lismer, Old Pine, McGregor Bay

Frank Carmichael October gold
Frank Carmichael, October Gold

Each of these styles would be worth a lot more study and understanding both from Bonsai and from nature itself. There are key elements in these styles that work to achieve believability and representation of a living natural trees. They come from centuries of careful observation and minimization of the forms. By studying these Bonsai tree styles and keeping them in mind, you can ask yourself the next time you are faced with a tree to paint: What Bonsai style is this tree? What is its form? How does it grow? What story does it tell?

For more on Bonsai styles look here:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Web Show and Sales (12 Days of Christmas - 12 Plein airs!)

Not many weeks left for the holiday shopping, so here we go: Following on my last very successful web show and sale earlier this year, I have opened three gallery walls here on the blog with 12 plein air works to go with the 12 days of Christmas theme. These are mostly very recent works. Some I have never posted to the blog before. And you may not have seen if you follow my posts. Please visit the gallery pages and take a look. I would love to get your comments there. (Links are above just below the banner).

The paintings are all framed in really nice Palladio Black/Brown archival plein air frames. I love these frames. they are simple and really give the art a good weight. If you like one of these, please click on the "own it" button and you will be taken to Paypal for quick payment. I will have them in the mail fast so you can enjoy them, or share them as a gift for Christmas. If you don't have a Paypal account and do not wish to pay by credit card through Paypal (you don't need to open an account with them), you can just email me and we will figure out a way for you to own the paintings you like in time for the holidays.

I have created a 2011 Calendar that includes all the paintings in this show. You can buy one here if the paintings are out of your budget.

I also made some Christmas cards and a stocking stuffer calendar with a painting I did of St. Michel de Sillery close to Quebec city. You can find all these here.
UPDATE: Get 25% off your calendar purchase by using Coupon code: FLURRY
I hope you enjoy all of these and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rain On Loon Lake

0800 Rain on Loon Lake
Rain On Loon Lake, 8”x 10” Oil on Canvas board, Plein air US$340

Loon lake is in the Haliburton East Highlands in Ontario. I painted this during a heavy down pour. I was on my way back from a weekend of painting when the heavy rains started. I had to park on the side of the road to wait out the worst of it and this was the view from my car window. I did this one in the car and glazed it a few times when it dried.
I love the way the haze turned out in it. Just what I was hoping for. A moody dreamy little gem.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Warming up - Plein Air

No the weather is not warming up :) It is the title of one of the paintings I did this summer at the Brush With The Highlands Plein Air Event. I finally got around to taking photos of a lot of the paintings that I did in the past few months and will start getting them on here.

It has been some time since I last posted. And it has been a very busy month. First I got to go to a great retreat for OPAS on Lake Clear. We were invited to Chris and Bob's Opeongo Mountain Resort where a good group of us spent the weekend painting away. Met a great group of OPAS members in the Ottawa valley. They will be opening what promises to be one of the most active chapters of OPAS ever! (More about this in another post to follow soon).

And now I am neck deep in preparation for the OPAS show at the JEH MacDonald house which opens next Friday. This is our first show and it promises to be a great one. over 100 artworks will be on display in this historic and hallowed ground for Canadian artists. We also have a great opening coming up on Friday with Susan MacDonald, grand niece of JEH MacDonald opening the show for us. You don't want to miss this one. It is going to be great. I will try to tweet from there.

Here is Warming up. I painted this one early on a summer morning in Wilberforce. The sun was still making its way up and the air and ground were still cold. The colour of the light had not yet turned warm as it does on hot summer days. It was still a cool light - warming up. This one will be on display at the

Warming Up, Plein Air 8"x10" Oil on Linen on board

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rouge Park Fall Plein Air

Yesterday I met with a group of other OPAS painters at Rouge Park to capture the fall colours en plein air. It was a glorious day. A bit nippy in the morning, but not uncomfortable at all. The park was a busy place with several groups taking advantage of the warmth and having events, as well as walking tours that passed by us almost every hour. Note to self - next time at Rouge park, stay off the main path where hundreds of people pass :). 
Six of us set up close together at a opening that had a beautiful view of the Rouge river while others scattered around the park. I was not entirely happy with my location, but I enjoyed the company, something that I usually avoid when I am painting.

My main focus was a few lovely trees in the foreground along the river, but I wanted to keep in mind the depth of field (aerial perspective issues) that is so hard to focus on with fall colours. You see, warm colours usually spring forward in a painting while cold colours recede. In fall, with warm colours everywhere you look, the temptation is to fill the painting with warmth, but then you loose the depth. I exaggerated the depth by dulling the background warm colours and heightened the chroma on the closer warms. I hope that worked to give depth for you the viewer.

All in all a successful day I thought, and just great to be out there in the fresh warm sunny open air one more time before the snow starts falling!

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Boxcar Anyone?

”Well, James, my boy, down on your knees and give great gobs of thanks to Allah! Sing his praises, yell terrific halleluiahs. That they may even reach into His ears – we have a car awaiting us on the Algoma Central!!!”
(Peter Mellen The Group Of Seven, P.80)

That is how Harris broke the news to JEH MacDonald about the boxcar that they were to use on their painting trips to the Algoma

mc_a5_k4_s4_algomaboxcar ay jackson frank johnson lawren harrisAt the end of WWI, a group of painters who later called themselves the Group of Seven, loaded their gear on a train trip from Toronto to Sault Ste Marie. There, they were to meet up with another train on the Algoma Central Railway that was to pull and then unhook and park their specially equipped boxcar at various locations in the Algoma wilderness of northern Ontario. They would stay there for several weeks painting and sketching the pristine views, from The canyon near the Agawa River, to Hubert near Montreal Falls, to Batchawana.
Thanks in no small part to Harris and the invisible hand of Dr. MacCallum, the Algoma Central Railway furnished this boxcar, namely boxcar A.C.R 10557 with the painters’ every need. It was in fact a studio on wheels. It was fitted out with windows, lamps, bunks, stove, water-tank, sink and cupboards was their home away from home. A true luxury in the middle of the wilderness.

The works that they produced on these trips – yes they made a few  from 1918-1925 – would become national icons and would etch their names in national Canadian history.

Last month a train retracing the same route took a group of tourists as well as art workshop enthusiasts through a trip in time. This event, sponsored by The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains sparked my imagination. While this is a wonderful event for their cause and indeed opens the Algoma area to added tourism, I had often wondered if it was possible to recreate the boxcar trip for plein air artists. Not as a day trip, but as a sketching trip for a week or more of painting in the Algoma wilderness.
So after reading about the tour train I went googling and finally stumbled across the answer.


You can actually book a boxcar similar to the one that housed the group of seven on their trip. A train will take you to several locations on the Algoma Central Rail and drop the boxcar and you in camping grounds in the Agawa Park. The boxcar can accommodate up to four passengers and can be booked for 5 days (4 nights) for a reasonable rate of around Cdn$800 per person. Now when you add a flight to Sault Ste Marie and back, the trip becomes a bit hefty but it is not one that you do every day.

I am hoping that someone reading this blog post will decide that they would like to sponsor 3 or 4 OPAS members (Me included of course) on a trip like this next summer. We could arrange for payment through works painted up there and an exhibition to recoup some of the costs. Anyone interested in becoming a true patron of Canadian Art?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Painting Fall Colours En Plein Air

Fall is almost here. The kids are getting ready to go back to school and there is a nip in the air and a crisp feel to the colours and sky. Fall is a tempting season for painting outdoors. The natural display of magnificent colours that we are privileged to witness here in Canada plays no small part in this of course. We are all tempted to dip into pure colour and record the dazzling display of yellows and reds all around us. And here lies the problem.

Fall is - in my experience - one of the more difficult times to paint convincingly and in an unsentimental manner. In J.F. Carlson's classic book: Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting, John Carlson lays down one of the most enduring principles of value distribution in painting landscapes. Simply put, he divides the landscape into planes with varying degrees of light hitting them and affecting the values on a simple 4 value scale.
  1. The sky of course is the lightest value since it is the source of light
  2. The flat land is the second lightest since it receives the most uninterrupted light from the sky
  3. The sloping planes (Mountains/ hills) are the third lightest because they receive less direct light than the flat planes
  4. The upright planes (Trees/ cliffs) are the fourth on the value scale because they receive the least direct light since they are perpendicular to the light source in the sky. 

Of course there are many assumptions that mitigate the principle such as time of day and water/ snow etc...

Fall is one of those tricky mitigating times where Carlson's principle has to be carefully navigated. Below is an image of a field with three of the four planes showing (1 - 2 - and 4). As you can see from the graphically rendered image, the division of planes corresponds nicely to Carlson's principles.

Even where there are highlights in the trees, the values are lower than those in the flat land making the separation of planes neat and tidy and the composition simplified and easy to capture.

Now let's look at a similar image in the fall. Again I tried to find an image with three of the four planes showing. The distant hills value 3 will remain the same. As you can see here, the values in the upright plane 4 (trees) and the flat land plane 2 (land) are almost the same with the highlights in the trees actually lighter than the ground.  

In my personal experience if you stay true to the values that you see here in the fall picture, you will end up with a jarring pretty picture but not a true representation of nature. The oranges and reds will pull forward (warm colours tend to come forward) and the image at best will be flat and won't read right. In my opinion (and I am sure others will have their own ideas) you have to dull the colours down and push them back to Carlson's order while keeping the colours as true as possible and rich. Confused? Yes it can be very confusing and tricky. That is why Falls is a tough time to paint en plein air. It is beautiful and in your face but also hard to render and tricky to translate at the same time.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Canadian Brush Strokes

I am not a big fan of art magazines. Frankly I feel ripped off every time I buy one with promising headlines. More times than not, the headlines fall short of what the articles deliver. So and So reveals his method. Yaaa NOT! What he/she reveals is that you can get his method if you buy his book or attend his workshop. And so the whole magazine, including its articles becomes a catalogue and not a magazine really.

Such is the case in every magazine I have purchased except for the free Canadian Brush Stroke magazine which is delivered to your email as a PDF file every other month. The Magazine is published by Jensu Design and publisher Susan Blackman out of Leduc Alberta. It features Canadian artists, seasonal contests and showcases art across Canada. The quality of the magazine is superior with meaningful articles and exposes about artists. It caters to a Canadian audience while maintaining a high standard for graphic and editorial control.

The fact that it comes to my email every other month, is a huge plus for me. I can - and do - print it because I like to read it at lunch at work or when otherwise occupied ehmm. But more importantly it is an ingenious idea and a forward looking method of magazine distribution. It by-passes the printing press and the costs associated with that and shipping and allows the publishers to maintain a standard because they don't have to skimp on paper, size or quality of colour. All that, and it is free!

No they did not pay me for this LOL. I don't even know them although they did publish one of my paintings last year in a showcase of plein air art across Canada. The reason I am writing this is to encourage Canadian art and art related businesses such as Canadian Brush Stroke Magazine. You can get your free subscription by filling out the form here. The next issue will be in your email box in September :)

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Brush With The Highlands - Day 3

Sunday August 1, 2010

Once again the pushy rooster had his way. I was up at first light and after a good breakfast (Daryl made eggs and left-over steaks) I headed straight to the Barns farm. Here I set up at the far end of the farm path and did an 11x14 of the hills around the farm. Bill painted close by and I shared some of my yogurt drink with him. For anyone working in the heat, the drink is a very refreshing concoction that is strange, but as old as rocks in the eastern Mediterranean. You simply mix ½ yogurt, ½ water and salt to taste. Not exactly what you expect from a drink, but so fresh and keeps you hydrated very well due to the salt. The last thing you need in heat is sugar, while salt actually retains water in your body which is a big plus. Back when I was in high school, I worked one summer as a translator for a Dutch company in Saudi Arabia. We were set up in the desert building a pre-fab town from scratch and we would take a salt pill every morning as a requirement before heading out.

I finished the 11x14, moved some 300 meters into the farm and looking back, painted the pathway. The light was perfect with shadows and lovely darks against lights. Tricia and her friend were painting close by and we shared ripe Ontario peaches with Dan and Bill who joined us around lunch. I took a small cat nap again, and then headed up on Essonville line to catch the afternoon sun beating on Esson lake. I set up on the side of the road behind the railings for safety but that meant that I was on a steep slope and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the view was grand and I was happy to capture it despite the fact that I knew I was going to have to work on it later on due to lack of time and comfort. The road rises over the lake and the view is long, something I was missing in the other paintings.

Colours come more easily after two days of fine tuning your eyes and living with the blobs of paint in the pochade box. Somehow mixing colours becomes more instinctive and on the mark. The day was a bit breezy and much warmer than the days before which meant that we all got some good sun. Thankfully most of us travel with some sort of sun shading (umbrellas or sunscreen are a must). Back at the camp, I found David putting finishing touches on a lovely painting he did at the Barns farm as well. I set up in my corner and did the same until the mosquitoes forced me to abandon the effort.

The night was going to be a quiet one. No guitars, no rowdy bonfires just a calm fading away with the last light. The humidity was rising though and sleeping in a closed car was tough. Opening the window or door would mean that the mosquitoes would get a feeding. Closing everything would mean a stuffy hot sleep. I chose the later, but next year I will figure out a way to install a screen on one of the windows to get some air in while keeping the vampires away.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Brush With The Highlands - Day 2

Saturday July 31, 2010

When you sleep in the woods, you wake up with the dawn... or in this case when Daryl's rooster decides to call 33 times in a row!!!!!!!!  But hey! Time is wasting away! I opened my eyes to see an image straight out of a Tom Thomson painting. Orange mist through tangled trees and branches set contre-jour against the orange sky. I quickly got dressed (in my sleeping bag) and headed out to Ron's camp site where he was making his usual eggs and bacon. Coffee from David later (yes I am a moocher) and I was on my way. I checked out the Painting site at Barns Farm, but decided to leave that for the afternoon. The light was just not right for me then. Besides, the creek just off Saunders road was calling to me again to paint it in Oil this time. I set up on a small slope just next to the creek and did a small 8x10 while fighting the mosquitoes.

(painting still wet I will post later)

Then I headed to dam on the Essonville Creek and did a very unsuccessful 11x14 in mid-day. The scene was a good one with a large tree all lit up by the sun set against a dark recessed forest, but I just mixed the wrong colours and got my self in a corner that I could not get out off wet-on-wet.

Not wanting to end the day's efforts on a bad note, I took a cat-nap in the car and headed back to Barns farm to paint the vista from there. On reviewing my day, I should have stayed at the farm and done a few from there. There was so much to see and do there it was a shame to leave.

 (painting still wet I will post later)

 By now I was covered with paint and sweat and bugs and dirt. I felt tried and spent and it was time to head back to camp. I took a shower courtesy of Tracey and Daryl's generous hospitality and felt like a million bucks! It was just in time for the BBQ and games. A steak and a couple of beers later, I was ready for the pillow. I left the others playing the guitar and singing and headed in the dark towards my sleeping bag. A day full of emotions spent and painted. I can't remember how I slept, but all I know is it was morning again the next day.

Sorry for not posting any of the paintings today, I promise you will see them all, but they are still wet and I would like to touch up a couple before I show them to the world. I promise to have them all posted by the weekend :)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A Brush With The Highlands - Day 1

Friday July 30, 2010

I woke up early today, dressed and packed the rest of my stuff in the SUV. Then I checked to see that everything was loaded. Sleeping bag, matres, two backpacks (Oil /Watercolours), an overnight bag with change of clothes, a cooler for water and yogurt drinks, hat, bug spray etc...

I headed out through the rush hour of Toronto, but this time I wasn't heading for work, I was on a 3.5 hr trip to Wilberforce, the site of A Brush with the Highlands one of the best plein air events in Ontario. I took my time on the road and got there just in time to help set up the panels for the show on Monday. Then I escaped, to the camp site and found a spot right next to my friend David. That was a great idea since David is a much better camper than I am and came equipped with a stove and everything! I was thinking canned food, but had eggs and coffee instead! You can’t beat that!

After heading out to the town for a last check of the local store for some cold drinks, I headed out and did a small watercolour as a warm up for the three day painting marathon. It wasn't much, but it got my brushes loose and put me in the right mood. Then I came back to the camp at Tracey and Daryl’s property in time for the bonfire and to meet old painting friends from last year. 16 of us were camping there with about as many other scattered around the B&Bs and hotels in and around Wilberforce.

Saunders Road, Creek, Watercolour on Fabriano Rough 300g, 9"x12"
The night was cold and sleeping in the SUV was comfortable if a little stuffy. I should have built a screen for my window so I could crack it open a bit and let air in, but no matter. A good night sleep was in order. Tomorrow is a big day and I needed all the rest I could get.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Blogs delayed!

I'm back from my 4 day plein air painting and camping trip to Wilberforce for A Brush With The Highlands only to find that the posts that I made from my Blackberry didn't make it online :(

Instead of dumping them all on you in one day, I will post them over the next four days as a diary from Wilberforce.

I'll start tomorrow... too tired tonight.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Plein Air Painting All Day Long At The Farm

I spent the day on Saturday at Scotsdale farm just north of Georgetown Ontario. I love this place. Everywhere you turn is another painting. I packed well with a ton of water in a cooler and snacks to last me through the day. I was determined to paint several pieces as quick as possible. Usually, I get out there and work on one painting for several hours, but after studying the works of some plein air masters, I made a decision that doing more, in this case, is better because you can’t overwork any. Besides the light changes so fast and if you are spending the day working on one, you end up working from memory or blocking in the shapes and waiting for the right moment to paint the light.

I started with this 11”x14” early in the morning. I need to photograph this one again because the glare on the near trees is very distracting. In reality, the trees in the foreground are in almost total shadow and are dark framing the passage of morning light through the meadow.

At about 11:30, I started this little one 4”x6”. I didn’t want to begin working on a larger one in the mid day heat and besides I needed to break for lunch as I was getting hungry and tired of standing.

After lunch, I took a long walk through the farm making notes of where to paint next. I found several locations with magnificent views for my next trip (this weekend I hope). I might bring a piece of plywood with me to stand on so that I can avoid being stationary in the tall grass in some areas. I just don’t feel at ease not knowing what is at my feet LOL. Maybe I should think of a painting carpet instead. Hmm… I will think this through.

The afternoon started getting interesting as the clouds rolled in and rumbles of thunder echoed from the distance. I did this one standing at a small bridge looking south-west towards a hill. For me this one held the most information that I could use for in-studio work. The colours and values are right. I finished this one at about 4:30 took a break, walked around a bit to stretch my back.

Then just after 5, I started on this one. Again I was close to the little bridge looking south-west. This time though the thunderstorm was getting closer and a different sense of colour and atmosphere took over the farm. I was racing with the approaching storm. You don’t want to be on the farm through a thunderstorm. Lightning may be a remote statistical calculation in the cold calmness of an excel spreadsheet, but out there, you don’t want to tempt fate. I was painting fast a furious through this one. When I finished, I quickly put my gear away as the cold wind was ushering in the advance guard of the big rain droplets. As I drove off the farm the heavens opened up with a torrential down pore. I was so glad I timed it

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Some Thoughts on Landscape Composition

This is just a quick personal take on landscape composition to show how I would compose a scene from this view. You may find a better composition of course, but I am trying to share the thought process in the hope that it will help some readers.

Most of the time if one is standing on the spot, one would see a much wider vista than the one in the picture below of course. The temptation is to paint it all. We are captured by the vastness of nature and our first instinct is to document the beauty before us as it is. How can we improve on something that just too our breath away?

So the fact that we are looking at this limited view picture is already an edit of the vast vista that we are standing in. Some may think this is a perfect picture. And why not? It has three levels of value changes in the areal perspective and interesting angles and planes.

If we squint (Picture below) we can see clear lines that make out the outlines of the planes. They look majestic!
But if we look closely, there are some traps in the scene that some painters will only recognize once they are too far into the painting process and perhaps too late to correct and work their way out of them.

Here I have simplified the planes and set them in a gray scale. Something that you can do in the field using pencil and paper. Can you see the problems?
No? Well let's go over them in the picture below:

Parallel Lines
Escape highways
Symmetrical slopes
Resting spots too close
Almost equal height towers

Moreover, away from the sloping lines and the resting spots, there is little that is of any interest to us. What if we were to narrow our view to the area below?

We still have the problem with the slopes, but we have reduced all the others.

Now let’s say we reduce the angle on the middle slope and bring up the tree line higher in the picture.
Here it is in gray scale

Let’s add some highlights

And finally let’s pull the closest tree line higher and flatten the farthest plane a bit.
For me, this is a much more successful composition than nature gave us. More powerful as a painting. What are your thoughts?