Quick, Quick, Slow, Slow

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Flora #2, 2019, egg-tempera on panel, 14″ x 11″

When I was a kid, making my own art with left-over paint-by-number paints, it took a long time to get a painting done. Not only because I didn’t know what I was doing (I didn’t) but also because the things I painted were detailed and required a lot of work. I wish I could find one of those paintings for you. I know that somewhere there is a painting of a deer leaping through water, fear in its eyes. On a cliff above lurked a mountain lion. Only the mountain lion was beyond my abilities so I didn’t paint it in. I was working from a photo from one of my father’s Field and Stream magazines. It was slow work.

Fast forward to my thirties, I went off to study studio art-painting at university. The Canadian prairies had a whole lot of art envy going on and we were particularly smitten with the Abstract Expressionism coming out of New York City. Most of our professors studied in America and the university had an off-campus camp at Emma Lake where guest artists came to lecture. Artists like Barnett Newman, Stanley Boxer, Kenneth Noland and Donald Judd along with critics like Clement Greenberg.

The focus was on abstraction and if you were going to paint something recognizable it would be best if it was in an expressionistic style.

Expressionistic work was all about quick lines, by its nature quick and you didn’t labour over an abstraction for weeks either. In fact, we didn’t labour over any one painting. Part of that was the school schedule was heavy and no student had the time for work that took weeks or months to complete.

I loved all of it, the quick, quick of expressionistic work, the pouring and splashing of paint. But the need to go slow found me. I began to make large paintings made up of small bits of paper. The process took time. First the gluing of paper, and then the pouring of paint and more gluing of paper.

I think my recent fascination with making highly detailed paintings of flora have some of that same process and quality my paper constructions had. The abstract underpinnings are still there.

Flora #2 isn’t quite done, but you know, slowly, slowly.

I also managed to find time to write the last half of a short story I was stuck on. It’s still in first draft, so who knows what flaws are lurking in it, but fixing them is working for another day.

Making Lemonade

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Old Woman #1, 2019, oil on paper, 5 x 5″

Some time ago, someone gave me sheets and sheets of fabulous d’Arches watercolour paper. This is seriously expensive paper: deckled edges, cold pressed texture, and thick. It has to be at least a 250-pound paper. Bond paper, the kind you use in your printer, weighs about five pounds per ream (500 sheets). This paper is 56 x 72 centimetres. If paper weight is measured is the same with all papers, 500 sheets of this paper would weight 250 pounds or more. The paper does not buckle or wrinkle when you get it wet.

And did I mention, that it is very expensive?

The thing is, I don’t like it. I don’t like how it takes water mediums. And I don’t like its rough texture. It’s been kicking around for ages. I’ve moved it from one studio to another and used very little of it. It occurred to me, recently, that if I gave it a good coat of gesso I could practice oil painting on it.

Years ago I painted in oils—when I was a kid really—and I didn’t have much of a clue on how to use oils. It seemed like a good time to learn.

The gessoed paper works well for this purpose.

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Old Woman, #2, 2019, oil on paper, 10 x 8″

I’m continuing with a foliage motif in my egg-tempera paintings, but on this paper, I decided to do portraits of old women. Above you have portraits of two colourful ladies whose photos I found on Pinterest.

On Inspiration

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Blue Moon Rising, 2018, acrylic on panel

I read books on creativity all the time. I’m not sure if it’s because I, somehow, want to be assured that I’m creative, or whether I want to understand what goes on in that process. Either way, one thing that comes up time and again, is the admonition not to rely on inspiration. In fact talent and inspiration are two terms that almost everyone disses.

I understand it to an extent. Talents aren’t share equally among everyone, and we don’t want to make anyone feel bad because they were born with a little less of a particular talent than someone else. And there is in the creative community this idea that the talented rely only on their talent and don’t work hard. That’s wrong I think, but I’m going to leave that for another time.

Another thing that books on creativity disparage is inspiration. I’m not saying you should sit on your duff and wait for inspiration before you attempt your creative project, but for heaven sakes if it comes along grab it with both hands and enjoy the blessing.

In my last post I noted that I’d finally painted something I didn’t hate. I made a tiny beginning. Then a day later I had the opportunity to visit Lorenzo Dupuis’s studio. What a wonder! I still feel all melty inside when I think about his luminous work, and I was/am inspired. For months and months I’ve been feeling as though I’m repeating myself or taken what wasn’t mine from others. Now, there is a path, a way to learn, a voice to find and I’m going to follow that inspiration. And surprise, surprise there are hints that I’ve been moving in this direction for some time. Yes, I’m worried that my work will look too much like Lorenzo’s, and guess what, he worries that his work looks too much like someone else’s. Creativity is a funny circular thing. Accept your talent, your inspirations and make something of it!

Help! I’m Drowning

14102383_10153305589557537_7493960287916582389_nWell, no, not really. But I am a little overwhelmed with all the work that comes along in spring. I have a huge yard and vegetable garden that needs all kind of attention this time of year. Not complaining, I’m very lucky.

I spent this morning buying seeds and looking for trees I might to plant in a bare spot. This afternoon I’ll need to reseed grass where Caro, my dog uhm…burned it out.

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On the plus side I finished Hannah’s Hearing, my fantasy/boomerlit novellayesterday and sent it out to beta readers and I managed three small sketchbook drawings (one was awful) and a cover mock-up for Hannah’s Hearing.

Have a great week!

Bear with Me

Drawing of a bear
Bear, digital, May 6, 2018

Spring is truly here! It’s astonishing to have temperatures of +27C so early in the year. With this marvelous weather comes birdsong, budding trees, and a tonne of yard work.

Between bouts of raking and digging, I continue to revise Hannah’s Hearing, a novella featuring a boomer-aged woman (think: Fredrik Bachman’s, A Man Called Ove) and I managed to get out to do at least one urban sketch.

It’s lame, I know, but I couldn’t bring myself to plant a stool on the sidewalk to draw, so I parked my car at a nearby mall and tried sketching a senior’s high-rise. I need to get over my fear of having people watch me do my work.

The bear was a digital practice drawing. I’m trying to expand my abilities and repertoire. Like many people, I gravitate to drawing faces or figures. It’s nice to change it up. For instance, I hate that my ability with perspective drawing is so iffy, that’s why I’ve been going out to draw buildings.

I’ve been listening/watching Youtube videos while I draw. Some on drawing, some on publishing, and many on thinking, philosophy, and psychology. It’s a bit like being back at university—without the writing papers bit—and I love it!

What about you? What do you listen to while you are doing your creative work?

Creativity and a Memoir

Cellist, digital drawing, 2018

 

 

On my recent visit to my granddaughter, she was persuaded to show me what she’d learned in her cello lessons. We talked about the cello while she was setting up. One of the threads on the bow was broken and we wondered what you did about something like that.

“What are they made of?” I asked.

“Horsetail hair,” was the reply.

“Hmm.”

Google told us, soon enough, what to do with the broken strand. Cut it off.

But this use of horsetail hair reminded me of another time in my life when these hairs had done something more than brush flies off a horse’s back end.

I was five, possible six when I first made use of a horsetail hair. On a regular weekday afternoon my two sisters and I, pestered our mother to let us sew doll clothes. We wanted to use a real needle and thread. We’d been allowed before under her supervision. This time Mom said no. She was tired. We had a little brother and he was keeping her up at night. She was going to take a nap, and we were to go outside and play. My mother wasn’t careless of her kids. These were different times and children were taught to grow up faster.

Grumbling and complaining–I’m sure I was the loudest–we went outside with our little scraps of fabric. We wondered around the farmyard in a desultory fashion for a while and ended up in an old broken down storage shed.

It was a grimy place full of rusted metal things, some hanging from the walls on nails, some in boxes stacked on makeshift shelves. There was one tiny window through whose dirty panes light strained to come in past the dirt and fly-blow. Blue-backed flies bumped against the glass trying to get out, wishing they’d never come in.

We found some boxes, arranged them in a row,  and sat.

And sat.

What to do?

My eyes roomed the walls. Nothing of interest. Nothing of–wait! Thread. Long thin threads.

For some reason, our dad had collected a clump of horsetail hairs and hung them on a peg in this shed.

“Hey, we could–”

I wasn’t sure what we could do–but thread! It seemed somehow that we had half the answer to our sewing needs. Where, in this place, could we find a needle?

I pulled one of the horsetail hairs from the peg and had a flash of understanding. The hair wasn’t limp like a thread, it was firm and springy. Maybe…

I came back to the boxes to sit with my sister. I folded the bit of cloth in half and threaded the tip of the horsetail hair through the layers of cloth.

I doubt we got far with our horsetail hair sewing. Little children lose interest fast and it was a dark and dirty place to hang out. I remember the hair going through the fabric, but it must have been a loose weave, for I tried, it again with the broken cello bow thread, and it was reluctant to go through the polyester fabric of my top.

You know those creativity tests where they ask you to think of a zillion things to do with a brick or a paper clip? I don’t do those. Tests make me nervous. But if they ever ask the question: what can you do with horse tail hair? I have at least one creative answer.

What about you? Do you remember a time when you came up with a truly creative idea?