Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snow at last!

We woke up this morning to a fresh coat of snow 15cm or so. It reminded me of a line from a poem I wrote many years ago:

Winter steps into the bed of seasons once again
With fresh white sheets
And gray blankets.

This little gem went out to one of my newsletter subscribers (Susan Land). Susan won this small painting on Christmas Eve and I will have it shipped to her as soon as I can get my snow blower to work today.

Cottage Christmas, oil on canvas panel 4”x6”

Sunday, December 02, 2012

No Snow Yet! Plein air at Scotsdale Farm 8”x10”

No Snow Yet! Plein air at Scotsdale Farm 8”x10”

I did this one today at Scotsdale Farm while sitting in my car. Sorry for the shadows on top and the glare in the trees. I am going to set it aside and look at it again in a few days to see if it is any good. So far I like the general feel. It does capture what the day was like out there. What do you think?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Opeongo Sunset, oil on canvas panel 9”x11”


Opeongo Sunset, Oil on canvas panel 9”x11”

This summer I did a lot of pencil and felt pen sketches during a trip to Algonquin park. I forgot about them and just discovered them again this week. This is based on one of them.

It is very hard to paint an Algonquin park motif without somehow raising the ghost of Tom Thomson. I tried very hard to avoid that, but at the end, I still seem to have channelled him in this one.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

White River, Ontario–Oil on canvas 16”x20”


This one took me some time to finish. I kept going back to tweak the aerial perspective. You see there are two dimensions to the perspective: The obvious one back to the distant hills, and the altitude distance from the location of the easel to the river. Both had to be perfect for this painting to work.

White River, Ontario – Oil on canvas 16”x20”

Unfortunately I am not sure the photograph does it justice. Aside form the glare which I tried so hard to avoid but just couldn’t, I am always dissatisfied with how the camera averages the subtle color shifts especially in the water.

Anyway, I am very happy with it. I hope you enjoy it too.

PS: Please be aware that I will ship through the end of November for the Holiday season. I do not like shipping in December because of the temp hands that are usually employed in shipping during December. I have not had a good experience with them. So if you insist on choosing late, you may wish to consider paying for courier shipping. Either way, email me if you have any questions

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Red, Watercolour Nude Figure


Red5Red, watercolor on paper, 10”x8”

I have always found myself intimidated by the figure as a subject for my artwork. I am sure it has something to do with my limited formal art training. But I find the figure as exciting to paint as landscapes are.

I have been doing a lot of figure self-tutoring and exercise lately which has given me enough confidence to go ahead and paint the figure and enjoy it. What do you think?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Free Art Giveaway this weekend on my Facebook page


Weekend Free Art. This weekend I am giving away this 4"x6" watercolor.


This one is varnished so you can display it under glass or in an open frame. Your choice.


  1. You must like my facebook page to join
  2. Like the picture and please share it.

We need at least 20 likes and shares please and good luck.
Draw happens Sunday evening so go to the facebook page come back and look here for your name :)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Composed Concept and Design


Let’s be honest: It is very rare for an artist to create a valuable work of art without planning or forethought. Plein Air myths not withstanding, that’s not how art is made. Art is a cerebral activity at its core. A lot of thought goes into a well made work of art. What do I mean by that?

Whether you are painting plein air, a still life or a figure or portrait, you have to start with three critical elements:

  • Choosing your elements
  • Designing your work
  • Composing your painting

Many excellent artists spend most of their time working on these three elements. Reams of paper, charcoal, pencils etc. are spent testing, scrapping, reworking until a clear picture of composed concept and design is put together. The rest is the easy part really.

I know that if I setup a workshop on Concept Design and Composition and told people that they will be spending three days NOT painting but thinking and planning, no one would show up. But honestly, a workshop like that would help so many artists today because I see so many who have good skills in everything else but these three key elements.

I have to blame it in large part on plein air. Something I enjoy a lot, but have come to recognize as an excuse for bad art. It is as if the fact that you hiked half a day in the snow or waded through alligator infested waters to paint a badly designed work makes it valuable. It should be valuable for you as a study, but a badly designed work is not really art. It is a sketch that needs more thought on its way to become an artwork.

OK I hope I haven’t pissed off anyone with this post. I am as guilty of all the faults stated above as anyone. I just hope to get us all thinking creatively. What do you think?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blog or Facebook Page?

As the title says, I am wondering if a blog is redundant if you have a Facebook page. I find it much easier to post on my Facebook page and the interaction is wonderful.

Now here is my dilemma: I have been blogging for over 6 years and many of my posts are still googled and commented on many years later. On Facebook, the half-life of a post is about two days at max. After that you may get a hit from someone who is looking through your page with a lot of interest.


So here posts have a long life and are searchable and accessible. On Facebook, they are not. On the other hand, My Facebook page is dynamic and  interactive, and I can post to it without much effort. I can also engage with people and get a valuable insight into what is being enjoyed by them on my page.
How about you? What are your thoughts? Should I keep both going?

If you are getting this post by email or on a subscription bases on a reader, please visit my Facebook page and like it because I am frankly doing much more posting and interaction there than here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sweet Peas Watercolors

For working with fresh vibrant colours, there is nothing like the watercolor medium. I don’t really like painting flowers for their own sake. There is a cottage industry of that with technically adept leaders that capture every detail of a rose or a lily.
In my work, if you can tell what the flower is, that is an extra! The goal is color and mood primarily. Here are a couple of recent watercolors for you.
Yellow Dress, Watercolor on 140lb paper, 4”x6”

Some times I like to varnish watercolors. Yellow Dress is such a case. Purists do not like to see watercolors varnished, but it does allow one to frame a work without glass, which is a huge plus for viewing and enjoying the work. In most cases, I will leave it up to the future owner of my works to tell me if they would like it varnished or not.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fly Fishing–Morning Rise–Oil on Canvas 16”x20”

Fly fishing is an art form and a sport that I can’t claim much knowledge of at all. The last time I was invited to take part in it, I spent all day just learning how to cast… unsuccessfully  I might add! Still the experience was fascinating. I can’t think of another sport where one has to be as focused and in-tune with the nature around him/her. The best times to fly fish are the worst time for painting of course. Fly fishers rejoice when there is a hatch of flies and the air is full of the monsters! I don’t know of many painters who can paint in such times. I actually tried it once and was covered from top to bottom with a net over my hat and face as well. By the time the 20th fly was stuck on the painting panel though, I had to give up. You just have to accept when its not your time in nature.

Recently I did a bit of pencil sketching and took reference pictures of fly fisher on the credit river. These are the base of some of the works I did and the ones I am working on in the future. I hope to have a fly fishing series to show in my annual fall e-show.

This one is called Morning Rise. It is a larger piece (16”x20” – 40cm x 50cm). Thanks to David Benavidez for helping me name it.

Morning Rise, Oil on canvas, 16”x20” $750

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

After The Big One

"To him, all good things - trout as well as eternal salvation- come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy."
~ Norman Maclean from the book "A River Runs Through It"

I plan to do a series of these paintings related to fly fishing and canoeing this summer. I hope you will enjoy these and come back to see them.

I had a chance to sketch a few anglers on the credit river in Mississauga and these will be the base for the series. It is an amazing sport and one that is kin to painting since you are so close to nature almost at one with it to have a successful catch.

After The Big One
Oil on panel, 8”x10”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Looking in the Mirror–Interview on Zen and Genki

Last week Anne Molna posted an interview she did with me on the Zen & Genki blog. We had been working on the interview for a while and I must admit that despite Anne’s heads-up that it was being posted, I was not fully prepared to see it. I mean I knew the questions and the answers and nothing in the interview was a revelation to me… it shouldn’t be right? But somehow reading through the interview through Anne’s eyes brought about a whole ton of emotions that I was not prepared for.

Was it because the questions and answers touched areas of my life that I had not turned over for a while? Was it because of the wonderful comments that followed the interview on the blog and off? I don’t know. I think that maybe the answer is yes and yes.

So Anne, thank you again for making me look in the mirror. And thanks to all your readers who commented so nicely about the interview. I am touched and grateful.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How To View Art Online For Maximum Pleasure.

We usually view a computer screen 2-2 ½’ away; an ipad or hand-held device about 1’ away and a TV screen about 8’ away. As a rule of thumb the viewing distance should be 3 times the length of the diagonal of the TV, computer screen or hand held device. Of course you can view your 42” TV from 12” away, but your eyes will be darting back and forth to follow the action and you will soon develop a headache. Similarly you can place your phone 3 feet away to read your emails on it… wait I do that now when I don’t have my glasses on!! You get the idea though. At these approximate distances, we are able to see the full image on each of the screens with minimal strain to the eyes.


Now here is another interesting thing: The next time you are sitting watching TV, close one eye and try to measure the screen size using a pencil about 6” from your eye. Put one end of the pencil on the edge of the screen and use your thumb to measure the other edge of the screen. Now open your laptop, ipad or other device and place it at the normal distance from your eyes at which you usually use it. Grab that pencil and keep it again 6” from your eye and measure the screen size. Notice anything interesting? Yes. The screen are approximately the same distance to size ratio from your eyes.

So how does that relating to viewing art online? Look at the painting on your wall from a comfortable distance. You should be able to see the whole painting and enjoy the details at the same time. If you are too close, you will see more details, but  you won’t be able to comfortably enjoy the full painting without moving your eyes or neck. If you are too far, you won’t be able to see the details as much. Normally the same rule of thumb that the viewing distance should be 3 times the length of the diagonal of the TV applies here too. you would stand about three feet away from an 8x10 and about 6 feet away from a 16x20 to view it well. The smaller the painting of course, the closer you would stand. On the other hand, for epic size paintings, you may have to stand tens of feet away to absorb them in full.

So let’s bring it back to the viewing art online. Let’s say you want to enjoy looking at an 8”x10” painting online. You want to be able to properly view it as you would in an art gallery or museum. If you have an 8”x10” you would stand 3 feet away for optimal viewing as we said. Now use a pencil in the same way we did before to measure the painting distance to size ratio. Now go back to your computer. You should make sure that the distance to size ratio of the painting on the computer screen is the same as the one for the painting on the wall. You Should step forward or draw back until the distance to size ratio is relatively the same as the painting on the wall.

Most of the time we are viewing paintings in multiple magnification online. This may be good if you are looking to review the details or brushwork on a painting, but it is not the normal way we look at a painting on display. Sure we want to look at the details, but normally we look at the painting as a whole first to get a feel and an impression of it, and then we move closer to look at the details for areas that might interest us. If all we see are magnified paintings online as most of the displays are, it would be similar to us walking through a museum or art show and viewing the artwork two feet from the wall. You will learn a lot about the artists’ technique, but very little about the artworks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Most important advice about painting


Whenever I can, I get into my studio and paint. Sometimes I have something in mind - an idea, a painting is shaping up in my mind. Other times there is nothing. But that is OK too.

Just sitting there and playing with colours/ lines/ shapes is an important part of the creative process don’t under estimate it. Even if you come up with nothing at all. It is not always about the end product. It is mostly about the journey. You need the "letting loose" without a goal in mind to let your brush wonder, your mind float and your eyes see through the haze of nothingness.

Look at what the cat dragged in . I had some fresh paint on my palette and didn’t want to lose it, so I put up this old failed landscape (Not ashamed to say I have a few of these) and started playing. Soon shapes started forming. I started seeing something happening and started working on it. I added some lines in Photoshop just so you can see it better. I really didn’t have much time, but I will go back to it soon to bring it out. It may fail or it may turn into something wonderful. It doesn’t matter. The experience is always thrilling.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Pin to Win! Let's have some fun!

I am taking on a project to create 100 new works in the shortest time possible (not saying 100 days… I just can’t). I am trying to build up areas in my technique both in oils and in watercolors and there is nothing like practice to do that. Some of these are going to be great, and others will be filed away. Here is where you come in. I need your help!

I am looking for photos THAT YOU HAVE TAKEN that would inspire me to paint something in them. You can win a free painting this way. Here is how:

If you have a photograph that you have taken yourself that you wish me to consider painting, please pin it on PINTEREST with the hashtag: #ArtistZanBarrage. If I find something inspiring it your photo, I will paint an 8”x10” picture of it and pin it on my PINTERESTArt board”. If the painting inspired by your picture captures 30 or more repins, it is yours! I will contact you, get your mailing address and send it to you (unframed).

I won’t be painting every photo, and I will pass on photos that seem to be someone else’s, so please post only ones you have taken. I don’t want to walk over anyone’s copyright. Oh, speaking of copyright, I assume you agree to let me paint the picture if you post it with the #ArtistZanBarrage hashtag!

So what are you waiting for? Look through your photos and start pinning away! Remember to add the hashtag so I can find the photos and know you are allowing me to paint them. I will check daily and paint almost daily as well :) Let's have some fun!

Monday, April 23, 2012

In The Clearing, Oil on Canvas Panel

I have been working hard lately with little time to dedicate to my art. So I have been doing smaller works just to keep the art muscles from going into atrophy. I am also looking for new directions in my art. Tentatively working through changes and exploring and experimenting to stay fresh.

In The Clearing. Oil on canvas panel, 6”x8”

Colour and abstraction are the theme in this small work. I was less focused on rendering the trees and the opening in the forest and more interested in the feeling of light and colour. I am growing less interested in realism. The brain is so much more powerful than we can imagine and will complete a scene much better than any of us can with a brush. We just need to give it enough to work with and then let the viewer work his/her magic

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Utility Tray Addition to the Portage Pochade Box

I just finished building an addition to the Portage pochade. This utility tray attaches to the pochade and helps me keep all my gear together and not lose things along the way.
Here is the video on how to build it. If you need help let me know.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Importance of Keying A Painting

There are so many stimulants bombarding an artist painting outdoors that often important elements of painting are missed. Most notable of these is composition. I remember spending little time trying compositions in thumb-nail sketches and going straight to placing what I saw in front of me on the canvas. In the excitement of being in nature, I would skip slowing down and contemplating the scene before I commit paint to canvas. The results were and - yes I admit I still do it from time to time – some times still are mediocre. It is very rare for a good work of art to be a faithful representation of the elements in a scene as they are in nature. A good work of art should remind you of the scene and give you the feeling of being there, but it rarely does what a camera does in recording the scene faithfully.

Up The Hill, Oil on panel 8”x10”

Another element  is the process of keying a painting. In music – in general -  if you wish a piece to sound strong and energized, you are better off playing it in a major key, while if you wish the melody to be contemplative and smooth, you would use a minor or even a 7th key.

There are two essential ways to key a painting, and when that is done well, the painting can’t help but attract the eye. Just like in music, you key your work by choosing the dominant key and working the rest of the work around it.

PouringOnGlamourlake1a  morningfoglifting
Pouring On Glamour lake, 8”x10”                    Morning Fog Lifting, 11”x14”

The first keying decision is to choose a value key. Is your painting going to have a high value key (i.e. Light values dominate with a few darks representing full sunlight) or a low value key (i.e. dark values dominate with a few lights representing deep shadows), or even a middle value key representing mostly middle values (i.e. overcast day or fog where mid-values dominate).  The feel of the day should tell you what you should choose and for the most part it is better to comply otherwise you will have to be alert at every point to make sure you stay on … well key!

Another way to key a work of art is more subtle but no less important and effective. In fact it draws the line between the beginner artist and the accomplished one. That is the colour key. If you look through an artist’s early works,  you inevitably see a dedication to local colours. a Trunk is brown, a tree is green, a sky is blue etc… As the artist progresses, colour keying becomes more and more pronounced. Monet said he doesn’t paint objects in nature, he paints the effect of atmosphere and light on an object. We may believe that a tree is green, but the fact is depending on the time of day, and the type of light in the day and the distance it is from us, it could be any colour at all from orange to blue to violet to even black!

Travers In Blue Minor, Oil on panel, 8”x10”

Normally, there is a colour that dominates the scene. It could stem from a setting sun that bathes the scene in an orange glow (Orange Key), or it could be a bright day in the forest that vibrates with a green glow (Green Key). There are as many possible colour keys as there are different feels or types of days. It is important to spend the time and ask the question what colour key is the scene in? What colour key best reflects the day? What colour key best expresses the feel of the day? Once the colour key is establish, a sense of harmony and beauty permeates a work of art and it is a pleasing thing for the viewer.

DappledLight  Shade500
Dappled Light, 8”x10” Oil on panel               Shade, 5”x7” oil on canvas panel

The next time you look at a work of art, try to see these keys. They are subtle messages from the artist to you. A way to share a feeling that cannot be expressed in words.  Enjoy your art!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tension As A Design Element in Painting

There are courses and numerous books that tackle the subject of design in painting, so I can’t possibly put together a small blog post that will spell it all out. But I will try to focus on an area that is seldom explored in art blogs or even art books: Tension as a design element.

 Round Hill Road
Round Hill Road, John Twachtman

When I want inspiration for design, I usually explore the works of John Twachtman. He was a true master of building tension in a painting. Tension as an element of design is something that few art books explain well. Granted a lot of artists instinctively feel it and build it into their work, but few have learned it formally.

If I were to teach someone the concept of tension as a design element in painting, the first thing I would do is to take them to an old 70’s style arcade hang-out and have them play a few pin-ball games with an eye to understanding the equilibrium point in the game. In painting, that point between two hills or the intersection of a slope and a trunk for instance, these are what I mean by equilibrium points; The points at which if you would imagine a ball rolling through the picture, would stop and rest in that nook. That point is the area of least tension. Kids instinctively put the sun rising or setting in the nook between two hills. It is a peaceful place to put something in. Whatever you place there comes to rest. It does not compel movement.


Now, up to a certain point, the further you pull an imaginary ball away from the equilibrium point on the plane of the picture, the more tension you load into the picture. To continue the analogy, that is because the ball will want to roll down from the spot you place it at down to the equilibrium point. I say up to a certain point because there is a distance beyond which the relationship between the ball and the equilibrium point becomes too weak and the theory falters, but in general it holds true.


So if you want to paint a restful picture of a couple picnicking in a field, positioning them right at or near the equilibrium point would be perfect and would exude the perception of rest. If, on the other hand, you wish to paint a picture of a boat battling the rough seas, lifting the boat away from the equilibrium point will create the tension you desire. The eye wants to move the boat to the equilibrium point to create stability and in so doing it completes the story. The tension is held in the picture and its resolution is in the mind of the viewer. By understanding the concept of tension, you can be in control of the anxiety or comfort that you want your painting conveys. I hope this helps you either enjoy art more, or apply tension as an element of design in your paintings.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Spring is here! We didn’t have much of a winter in Southern Ontario this year, but I am glad to see buds swelling and the hint of green in trees and hills.

Here is a small welcome to spring!

Spring Cleaning, oil on panel, 8”x10”

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Mystery of Painting

What is it about the process of painting a picture that is so mysterious and almost holy? This creative process of seeing composing and then splashing coloured together to create something that makes us stop and look in wonderment. A wordless prayer for our common humanity.

Take a moment and look at these two pictures of Anders Zorn Valsen, Notice how the ink study of shades, shadows and light is translated into a symphony of colour and tone in the painting. 

PlateIII Zorn_Anders_Valsen

There is something about art and the creative process that brings us closer to our humanity, then again there is the unbearable reality that even Hitler painted in his youth. What happened to the young man who did these works? How could he have become a monster? How do people like that change and shed their soul along the way?

In a world that somehow cannot stop piling on one tragedy after another, will art ever triumph? Or will it have to co-exit with horror, the yin to the yang? Can we see beauty if we haven’t seen horror?

Sorry this post has turned dark I know, but with so much suffering around the world, it is not normal to ignore it all the time. Some times you have to just take a deep breath and stare into the eye of horror to remember how lucky we are to live without it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Solitude – In Tom Thomson’s Footsteps

One of the moments that I will never forget on my trip to Algonquin Park last week, was when I left my companions who headed back to the motel and drove deep into the park until I got to the end of the road on the shore of Opeongo Lake. I am sure that during the summer, the spot is busy with campers and day visitors who come to enjoy the crystal clear waters, but in the middle of January, with the lake frozen and snow covered, the sense of solitude was a feeling I had not experienced before. Not to that extent.


For miles around me, there was not a single human being. I stepped out of the car hesitantly and could not paint for a while. All I could do was experience the vast wilderness and me alone in it. Can I tell you a little secret? I felt an acute sense of anxiety. I have heard and read many stories about people who have spent days and years even secluded and away from human contact. Then there is the whole idea that the worst punishment you can impose on a pack animal like man is isolation. Isolation. That’s what I was feeling. Solitude is a gentler term for it I guess, but isolation is what gave me the anxiety.


Thankfully I had my paints and a car that I knew (hoped?) would take me back to where other humans were. A bit later as  I was painting, my thoughts went to Tom Thomson, who painted not far from the spot I was at and he also did it in winter. He was made of better metal than I am of course, but he must have felt the melancholy of isolation at these moments I think.

For all the anxiety, I am glad I was there though. You have to experience this at least once I guess. Next time – given a choice – I would prefer the company of humans. Does that diminish me in a way? I don’t know. Some are loners. I thought that I could be… I know better now.

What about you? have you ever felt isolation? solitude? were you anxious about that? 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Plein Air at Algonquin Park

AlgonquinParkatDawnI took off early on Monday morning to beat the city rush hour and got to Whitney at 10:30 after crossing through Algonquin Park. I checked into the old style East Gate Motel took a small break and headed out exploring. I had studied the area of Whitney in Google Maps, so I knew the spots that I wanted to explore, but there is no substitute for first hand scouting. I checked out a few spots, all were excellent, and then I settled down and did a watercolour off the dock in Whitney.

Galeairy Lake, Whitney. Watercolour on Paper, 9”x12” ($98.00)

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That was followed by another one off of Airy Road. The evening was festive with 6 artists telling tall tales and enjoying the warmth and a glass or two or more.
20120109_2272aTuesday was park day. I headed into the park with a couple of other artists and we were told that they were expecting us and had freshly ploughed the road all the way up to Opeongo Lake. I drove in all the way and did three 8”x10”s on the lake shore. The seclusion was amazing. My two fellow artists chose spots about two km back and I was alone on the lake. At first I couldn’t paint at all. All I wanted to do was take in the feeling of being all alone in a vast winter wilderness. Breath-taking and humbling. It was getting dark by the time I gathered my gear and headed back to Whitney. Along the way out of the park, I had a brief encounter with a moose crossing the highway. Thankfully I will driving slowly and we ended up just eyeing each other while I waited for her to cross.

Distant Shore, Galeairy Lake. 8”x10” Oil on Panel, ($300.00)

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The next day I chose to paint in the outskirts of the park along old highway 127 and Airy road. We had a nice bright day and I did another three 8”x10”s. Back for a quick shower and dinner with the hope of another half day of painting before heading home…
20120109_2270aAlas, that was not meant to be. I woke up on Thursday to heavy snow coming down. The town was happy to see the snow because it meant the start of the snow-mobile season. For me and the other artists, it meant a hasty retreat back home before the roads became impassable and we were stuck as unwelcome guests.
The trip was exhilarating. I am  battle hardened and ready for a few more months of winter and winter painting on weekends. Stay tuned!