Early one Tuesday morning I went out to paint en plein air, alla prima in Watercolours at Jericho Park, which has wonderful ponds, reeds and marsh. It is so tranquil with all the birds chirping and fluttering about. It is one of my favourite spots to paint in the morning with beautiful back lighting.
This particular morning I had a bit more time to look for a different point of view of the ever changing marsh. I stopped in various locations to look over my shoulder to find a view that would appeal to me.
On one such place, I stopped just for a moment, with my painting back pack which my friend Marney-Rose gave me many years ago, my box of watercolour paper, paints and tripod easel, which I carried under my arm.
Suddenly a female Red Winged Blackbird landed on my tripod which surprised me as I had only stopped for a moment. I thought it must be hungry, having picked up the scent of my banana walnut muffin in a sealed baggie in my pocket on top of the camera.
I had to forego taking a photo and opted to feed the female with my other hand. It bravely flew over to my feeding hand and pecked away at the small bits of muffin, then flew away.
Later I stopped at a bench where a male Red Winged Blackbird came hopping along looking for a hand out. It also flew up to my hand to peck away at the crumbs but left a big chunk which turned out to be piece of walnut. I discovered he didn’t like walnuts.
Back to the painting. I found a spot on the other side of the pond in a precarious location. One of the jobs of a creative artist is to think of ways to overcome obstacles and challenges.
The objective was to get the picture I wanted to paint. Sitting down was not an option as there was no place to sit and the view could not be seen from the angle that attracted me to this location in the first place.
Setting up the tripod easel was the biggest challenge, followed by setting up the paints and a place to stand without slipping down the bank under the log.
As always with en plein air painting, I see what I’m attracted to and what I want to paint.
The big conundrum for me is to stick with what I see and feel without being distracted by all the other stuff in addition to the changing light.
Some artists really enjoy working from reference photos as the picture is framed in the photo. This is all very good but there is no atmosphere, fresh air, birds chirping and buzzing about. I too take a reference photo for discipline and staying focused when I’m painting.
Occasionally I touch up in the studio but I can get caught up beginning to add too much information. I really like to keep my en plein air, alla prima (on location, all in one go) work nice and loose. That is where the freedom and joy in nature comes in.Comment on or Share this Article →
I took my watercolours, paper and easel, as well as all the other gear for en plein air painting along to the Portico Gallery in Squamish, where I was to “freshen up” my collection of art work.
The #99, Sea to Sky highway passing through Squamish to Whistler, Canada, is one of the most scenic routes imaginable. The highway is carved out of the side of the mountain with a dramatic drop down to Howe Sound, with very few Points of View along the way as there is not much space available for stopping in this section.
To try to paint a painting or two required some careful driving and vigilant viewing of where to safely pull over, if there was such a place, and still maintain my speed. The drivers on this highway are sometimes a bit rushed to reach their destination be it Squamish the Outdoor Adventure capital of Canada or Whistler Mountain, rated the number one ski mountain in North America.
The weather was a bit overcast, dull, but not turbulent or sunny. My favourite skies happen to be the big moody ones. So I was keeping my eyes open for some suitable scenery to paint instead.
I finally I saw my picture around the curve of a cliff, between Lions Bay and Porteau Cove, and the ability to safely pull over in a small patch of dirt on the side of the road next to a 45 degree cliff. The challenge now was from where to paint as there was no flat ground for the vista I wanted and I did not want to make a spectacle of myself on the side of the cliff in clear view of the oncoming traffic going south to Vancouver. I was concealed from the north going traffic by the outcropping of the cliff, which was a good thing.
There was no option to set up my easel and barely enough space to sit and set down my paints so I opted for painting Toni Onley style.
I found a little crevice for the water container which I braced with a couple of rocks. My palette was perched on a few more rocks to maintain a slight level at a 20 degree slope.
I placed my painting board on my lap held by my left hand.
This set up appeared to be comfortable enough with my feet bracing against a bigger rock. All the other gear such a wiping cloth, tissue, brushes, sketch book etc, were all supported by some rock or another to prevent them from rolling down the cliff. Fortunately it wasn’t windy as it can often be in Howe Sound, one of North America’s favourite wind surfing locations.
I love painting en plein air, alla prima (on location all in one go). Now the decision was to draw on the painting board or not to draw after having drawn my value sketch in the sketch book.
Since there was so much sky, so much water and mountains, I thought perhaps I better draw a few lines to keep myself focused. The Balcony Skies form my balcony in town are pure brush strokes, no drawing on the paper. However, I do draw a rough outline of the ships in the harbour.
As I’m so used to “going for it” without drawing much, if any, I struggled with sticking to those few lines on the paper. Although I had my value sketch, but when I see that big wonderful space out there, I did not want to be restricted. I just wanted to make marks with my big red brush which I had purchased from Alvaro Castagnet some time ago.
The painting turned out all right but I think next time I will just “go for it” which takes a little practice to get into it again, as I don’t paint out doors much in the winter. I may loose a few paintings but this method brings out the gambler in me.
Far Side, Sea to Sky Highway
Comment on or Share this Article →
Sometimes an unexpected event pops up in one’s life that makes one re-evaluate the purpose of one’s direction. I know there must be some quote from some wise person who says it better. But for now, this is where I’m at after my sister Erna passed away, quite unexpectedly.
My only sister Erna lived in Chilliwack, about 1 ½ hours drive from where I live in Vancouver. She hated travelling on the Port Mann Bridge, and so did I. So we had wonderful long conversations on the phone on Wednesday or Thursday mornings when her husband was out swimming and my husband was out on some volunteer business.
We were connected, of the same blood, being from the same parents, born in the same country, Estonia. We could talk about everything and nothing and laugh at life’s idiosyncrasies. Erna was solid, to say the least. She was the pillar of strength with her good nature, kindness and generosity which touched hundreds of people judging from the overflowing crowd at the memorial service. She was the Be-er where I am the Doer, always striving to achieve something.
Erna’s sudden death really knocked me down. My mind was in a fog for 2 months. To make matters worse, I fractured my little left toe, twice, by absentmindedly walking into a heat register, followed by dropping a painting board on it 10 days later, even though I was very careful! But then I thought that it could be worse.
Everything outside of family became meaningless. All I wanted to do was to make stronger family connections with my immediate family and my sister’s family. I could not go into my studio. In fact it repelled me. I had lost my sense of purpose in art. All the completed work, the paints, watercolour paper, blank canvasses, notes, sketches, no longer had any value for me.
One day I concluded that I’m still alive and healthy with deep feelings and passion for art, painting as well as writing. I must pick myself up and get myself back into my painting saddle again and go on, which was so hard to do.
In order to get back into it again, I went downstairs into my studio and started tidying up, clearing out and reorganizing stuff in hopes of connecting with something - anything!
My favourite time to paint is in the afternoon and evening, while listening to jazz on Tonic on CBC Radio 2 or World music played from the heart. I hear stories about jazz musicians reminding me of visual artists. I hear about the musicians determination, how they got their “breaks” unafraid of being pure and original. This was so inspirational!
Thank goodness for music, the language of the world. Art began coming together again for me, planning for shows and coaching and submitting to competitions being mindful to maintain a balanced life with family, friends and colleagues, none of whom I could do without. Now I embrace all again in one BIG hug - family, friends and art.Comment on or Share this Article →
It just dawned on me the other day, when I renewed my Estonian passport, why I must paint Acrylic Hard Edge Abstract paintings, alternating with loose fluid Watercolour Skies.
It isn’t because I’m undecided. It is because I’m always in 2 places in the world. My feet are planted firmly here in Canada and my heart is in Eesti (Estonia) where I was born.
I long to be in the little country with the cleanest air in the world and a population of 1.29 million people, discussing “stuff” with my many cousins. Whenever I read about Eesti’s achievements, I am so proud to be Estonian from the country that leaped into the 21st century in one decade. However, I live in Vancouver, Canada, near my offspring, whom I deeply love.
The lyrics to the Estonian anthem, Mu Isamaa, mu Õnn ja Rõõm, bring tears to my eyes. They are so touching. Translated into English it is My fatherland, my joy and happiness, how beautiful you are. I shall never find another place in this huge wide world which could be as dear to me, as you, my Fatherland.
Back to my painting acrylic abstract and watercolour skies.
The watercolour skies are purely from my heart.
I’m overwhelmed by the open sky with its cloud formations, shifting over English Bay . When I paint these, I take a deep breath, wet my paper, and load my brush with watercolour paint, working very quickly to capture the moment, allowing the colours to blend, before the paper dries and light changes. It is working with nature, of which I have absolutely no control. I love the feeling of floating aimlessly.
The Non-Objective works are purely from my imagination, cerebral. The Structural collection is somewhat influenced by our Vancouver architecture.
The acrylic abstracts need to be thought out, planned in my sketchbook, measured carefully on canvas, taping and sealing the edges, and painting solid pure colour without blending or mixing. This very meticulous process provides me a sense of power and orderliness and hopefully control over my destiny.
This makes me two sided, inside (emotional) and outside, or should I say “upside”, from my head, my imagination.
The time has come to accept this as it is without justification, with 2 sets of brushes, 2 sets of paints, 2 sets of support.
UPComment on or Share this Article →
Much emphasis is placed on artists’ branding. It helps the public recognize an artist’s work forever.
For instance, everybody recognizes Van Gogh, my first favourite artist at the very tender age of 13. My dear Vincent Van Gogh had a unique brush stroke and a wonderful sense of colour which really appealed to me. His work appealed to me even more so when I read his biography “Dear Theo” in which Van Gogh writes lengthy letters in detail about his feelings about his work and their father to his brother Theo. In 1991, I even had the opportunity to view the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in Amsterdam at the 100th anniversary of his death.
I had just completed a trip to Morocco with a stop over in Amsterdam, one of my favourite cities, for a few days. The timing was perfect except I did not have an entrance ticket to Van Gogh Museum which should have been purchased in Canada as this was the largest and most popular exhibition to date in Amsterdam.
In order to obtain a ticket, I hung around the Museum looking for someone who may have an extra ticket for sale. As luck would have it, I connected with a young German man who had an available ticket from a family member unable to travel due to illness.
Since I had never purchased a ticket from a “scalper”, I nervously asked him to come to the entrance of the Museum with me to validate the ticket before I paid him. The ticket turned out to be good.
Upon entering the museum, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of actually seeing so many original Van Goh’s paintings up close. At the bottom of the stairs to the 2nd floor exhibition, I took a deep breath and climbed up with my audio phone in English. The work was awesome! I was touched and very connected! I simply could not believe that I was actually viewing the work I had only seen in books and calendars before!
Van Gogh painted nearly 900 works in his lifetime, but I don’t recall how many were in this 1991 exhibition. With just 3 paintings to go before the end of the exhibition and his death, I hesitated, stopped, and burst into tears. Knowing the story of what would come next, I could not listen to the end of the audiotape nor view the rest of the paintings. The experience was overpowering! However, after pulling myself together, I took my time to complete the viewing of these precious works. This was a most memorable exhibition!
Back to my branding - I need to paint hard edge abstracts in bold form and colours as well as soft fluid watercolours.
I need to construct, build, measure and tape geometric shapes on canvas, sealing the edges of the masking tape to prevent the colour from bleeding into the colour underneath. All this takes place in my tiny studio.
I also need to paint quick loose watercolours en plein air, alla prima (on location, all in one go) in order to satisfy my soul. The two painting styles are polar opposites.
So what to do about the branding? I have a need to balance between my left brain and right brain. There is no middle ground between hard edge acrylics and loose watercolours.
Some good, well meaning artist friends suggest that I have 2 names and 2 separate web sites for promoting my work. Then again, I wonder how people will find the real me when I have 2 passions.
Art experts say “Decide who you are and what you want and paint only that “.
Sometimes I wonder who I really am.
I feel very powerful constructing the hard edge abstracts in acrylic on canvas, leaving me with a huge sense of accomplishment.
I feel free and easy when painting watercolours out doors on quarter sheets of Arches cold pressed watercolour, leaving me with a huge sense of joy.
I have 2 sets of brushes (watercolour and acrylic), I have 2 sets of paints (acrylic and watercolours), plus canvasses and watercolour paper. I love both mediums!
What to do? Can I get away with painting both hard edge and soft edge as an artist? How will my art be recognized when I’m dead?Comment on or Share this Article →
GRANDEUR 30 x 36" framed
By going four times larger in painting watercolour skies and seas on a full sheet of 140 lb Arches cold press watercolour paper, even with a much larger brush, it is not the same as painting on a quarter sheet with smaller brushes.
Painting the full sheet alla prima (all in one go) has its challenges.
There is a larger area in which to pay attention with such things as water drips from an overly wet brush in an attempt to wet the paper faster, more edges to watch for back runs, more area to keep damp for the flow of colour, mopping up edges, preventing brush splattering etc. Sometimes it feels like I need another set of eyes to keep on the lookout for unfavourable happenings while I concentrate on a particular area. In order to keep the painting “fresh” looking, I need to work fast.
Most of all, I find I’m doing a lot of thinking; thinking about how and where to “go for it” next. There is more at stake with a full sheet. With a quarter sheet, I can quickly see what works and what doesn’t. With a full sheet, I need to stand much further back to really see and assess the progress.
My process in working bigger is thinking about the order of painting, arriving at a decision, taking a deep breath, followed by selecting the colours, mixing, and applying watercolour on to the paper.
Sometimes the first choices don’t turn out so great. Then I need to really sit back and think it out further to make the painting work. If it doesn’t, then tear it in quarters for use by students in my watercolour workshop.
Sometimes the first choices are great, then I need to make sure that I don’t lose the good stuff that I already have, by accidentally dropping water on the painting and not noticing it until it has already caused damage in an area that I had planned to be different.
It is thinking, and looking, and thinking and painting. I think there may be a couple of songs out there about thinking.
Although watercolour painting is said to be the most challenging medium, it comes fairly easy for me. However, I did not realize how difficult it could be for some people until I began teaching it. I’m finding myself saying “Look out for the back run”, “Check the dampness of the paper”, “Watch out for drips”, “Wipe up”, “Stop”,etc. to students working on quarter sheets. No wonder I feel I need at least another pair of eyes when I paint my full sheets, 22 x 30”, of watercolour.Comment on or Share this Article →
WHISPER, framed 30 x 36"
After painting dozens of en plein air skies, on quarter sheets of watercolour paper this past year, I wanted to go bigger.
The evening sky is big and exciting from my west facing balcony in Kitsilano, Vancouver during the months of August and September .
It must be painted fast as the light changes by the minute, with the sun dropping behind Bowen Island just at the right time of the day, during these months.
I painted wet into wet with a 2 inch flat brush to feverishly capture the shifting clouds and sunset. Sometimes it felt like the paper was too small. However, the sky painting season was also too short and not always with the turbulent cloud patterns and colour, which I love.
So I took reference photos for painting larger in the studio. The reference photos are small but the lingering feeling of the experience is still big.
Quarter sheets are very practical for en plein air painting. Toni Onley my mentor, now deceased, painted thousands of pictures on quarter sheets on location.
I find out very quickly if the painting works or not, at which point I must stop, not having invested too much time in it. There is also less space on which to pay attention to such things as an accidental water drip from the brush or excess colour seepage from the edges of the masking tape, which I use to secure the paper to the board.
Back to the full sheet which is 22 x 30” - four times larger!
I bought another 25 pack of Arches 140 pound cold press watercolour paper from Opus Arts on Granville Island and another 2” flat watercolour brush to go with my 4” Hake brush and other wide flat bristle brushes and my 2 Alvaro Castagnet mop brushes.
To go four times larger is like increasing a recipe four times. Sometimes the balance goes out of whack.
After I had taped the paper to the art board, with a bit of intrepidation, I took my big 4” Hake brush, wetted the top half of the paper to boldly begin painting the dark cloud formations over Georgia Straight.
I used the 2” flat brush with a lot of colour to loosely paint in the base colours, followed by rapidly dropping in darker colours, hoping to capture the essence of the dramatic sky.
A few things happened while I was busy concentrating on the cloud formations.
I didn’t notice that water had dropped on the paper from the big brush, creating a run, like a ski hill, all the way down to the bottom of the paper, lifting some colour. (I work with the board at a slight angle, sometimes flat, sometimes vertical). I also missed a “back run” which had accumulated at the edge of the paper and then a “bloom” appeared! Suddenly I found myself dealing with much more than the thrill of painting BIG!
I had to mix much bigger pools of paint resorting to now storing it in small containers. I had to be much more vigilant about wiping the excess water from the brush, slow down a bit as the bigger brush had a way of sometimes “sprinkling”, which had to be worked into the sky.
There were all sorts of unexpected things; one of which was tilting the board on my easel. With the quarter sheet of paper, I was able to easily pick it up with one hand, tilting it from side to side, in order to quickly capture the movement of the colour, encouraging it to blend into another colour. With the big full sheet I needed two hands to tilt the board or adjust the easel to tilt it, which took a moment longer, sometimes losing the momentum. The easel had to be set at such a tension, not too tight and not too loose, which allowed me to manipulate it easily.
Back to the painting part. As little “events” occurred, I needed to be more adaptable in incorporating them into the watercolour painting. Watercolour is the least forgiving of all mediums, especially in sky painting. However, watercolour is the best medium for clouds and water for creating that loose and fluid feeling.
This process of having to be so alert, with my eyes on a constant look out for unplanned marks, did not exactly fulfill me in the beginning. I ended up quartering up a couple of full sheet paintings to be used by my watercolour students for painting on the back. After all, it is only paper, and besides, it feels good to cut it up when it doesn’t work!
It’s best not to “fix” a watercolour painting which has a tendency to lose its freshness when worked too much.
Now that I’m getting a bit more accustomed to painting skies and water on full sheets in my studio, which is not at all the same as being out there in the open air on my balcony, I’m loosening up a bit. However, it is still a bit of a challenge as I love painting en plein air!
At the end of the day, it is another learning process. My inquisitive nature propels me to keep on discovering and experimenting to see what I can achieve. Even though I have made some poor choices, I feel that have never failed. There is always growth of some kind or another, whether it’s personal or art related.
Now that I have shared this experience it’s back to the studio!Comment on or Share this Article →
A number of years ago, I was invited by Mona Fertig, www.mothertonguepublishing.com , to donate a painting for a live auction at Westbridge Fine Art www.westbridge-fineart.com to raise funds for the publishing of The Life & Art of David Marshall by Monika Ullmann
All the artists, who donated work, were invited to attend the fund raiser in order to promote their work to the potential buyers, which was a brilliant idea.
Although Westrbridge Fine Art gallery is near my home in Vancouver, this was my first visit to the gallery.
Upon entering the gallery, I noticed a familiar painting of grey, black, white and red stripes on the back wall facing the entrance. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, that looks like an early work of mine from 1968”!
I walked up to it to look at the title and name. Sure enough it was one of my early abstracts titled White and Black with my former name Enda Bratt on it! Wow! What déjà vu!
When I mentioned to the woman standing beside me that this in fact was one of my earlier paintings, to which she replied “You must talk to my husband, Tony, who would be very interested in speaking with you”, which of course I did!
Tony Westbridge said that he had discovered 2 of my early paintings, White and Black and Flexure, in an antique shop in New Westminster. His long immersion in the art market enabled him to recognise the quality of the work. Wow! I was flattered and honoured to have been “discovered”!
Tony showed me the image of the other work Flexure on his computer. I was stunned, as I had no idea who had bought the paintings and when. The reason for this could be that I was in the middle of a marriage breakdown and have no recollection of some events taking place at that time.
Both paintings, White and Black and Flexure will now be available at 6 pm on Monday October 29th on www.westbridgeauctions.com
If you happne to live in Vancouver, please drive by 1737 Fir Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenue, at the entrance to Granville Island.
The moral of this story is that you never know what may emerge from donating a painting for a good cause!
White & Black
There are many different ways of raising funds for good causes, even for community art galleries. The most common is a silent auction, where an artist is asked to donate a painting, followed by people bidding on the work, until the closing of the bids, where the last bidder purchases the painting.
There is usually a reserve bid for which the artist is willing to let it go. If the painting does not get any bids for the reserve price, then the artist gets the painting back and the fundraiser gets zero dollars. This could happen, if the fundraiser features wine or other unrelated items, where there may not be any interested in art work.
The artist donating a painting to a fund raiser should first find out who the guests are in order to make a worth while donation and feel good about it.
One of my first donations of art without a reserve many years ago was to a fund raiser for a church group. I donated the work in good faith for a good cause, believing the group was passionate about the funds going to the reconstruction of homes in a developing country. When I inquired about the final bid, the minister of the church was too embarrassed to tell me the amount because it was so low! From then on, I placed a reserve bid!
There is a little gem, the Seymour Art Gallery in Deep Cove, on the North Shore of Vancouver, holding a fund raiser “3…2…1…ART PARTY” www.seymourartgallery.com on Tuesday October 16 at 7PM, in the format of a party.
The donated paintings from artists are priced at $100, $200, $300 with the artist receiving 50% of the funds. Yes, this sounds like the normal gallery split except for the uniform and low pricing, encouraging buyers and supporters of the gallery to snap up their favourite artist’s work! It’s almost like donating a painting but with a little return too! There will also be music, prizes, and fun!
There is something for everyone, the gallery, the buyer and the artist, in this type of fundraising. Brilliant curating by Sarah Cavanaugh and her associates!
Evening Shore riftingComment on or Share this Article →
What amazing support I recently received from Anna Horsnell Wade, www.annahorsnellwade.ca , an elected member of the prestigious Society of Canadian Artists, www.societyofcanadianartists.com currently holding the Members Exhibition in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Some time ago Anna emailed me, inquiring about a gallery and an organization of which I’m a member. I replied promptly with everything I knew which helped her make a decision about what she wanted to do.
When Anna was hanging the Society of Canadian Artists Elected Members exhibition in Halifax, she came across my juried painting WEB and decided to write a blog about it and the Society of Canadian Artists.
Anna lives in Halifax. I live in Vancouver, BC! We are both at opposite ends of our beautiful country Canada, and now we are connected!
Now I can hardly wait to fly to Halifax to meet her!
“What you give out by the spoonful, comes back by the shovelful full”
Comment on or Share this Article →