Inspiration in Unlikely Places.

An artists’ guide to finding brilliant ideas in a pizza delivery box – or wherever else you least expect it.

Big Night. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30″.

This painting, and this post, are inspired by a photo of our three vizslas lined up and waiting for pizza scraps to be shared with them. But let’s back up a little bit. Our dogs are always hungry. They love to eat so much. This association with food and love and nurturing is all tied together in our relationship with them. It’s the basis for nicknames, inside jokes, and showing love.

Teelo dreams of beef.

We take a lot of care in feeding our dogs nutritious and tasty-to-them meals. Each morning they have dog food with a side of berry, spinach, and yogurt smoothie. Maybe some apple slices and peppers thrown in for good measure, leftover from lunch prep. Dinners are usually a variation of dog food with one of their favorites – sweet potato, scrambled eggs, leftover roast beef, steamed carrots. “What’s for dinner?” is a question that applies to the dogs as much as it applies to us when we open the fridge to figure out the evening meal.

Work in progress – December 2018.

That all three dogs are such food fanatics is a little surprising, especially for Teelo, who has reversed course in a huge way. From years one through three, Teelo was so busy, and such a picky eater. He was all dog ribs and long skinny teenager legs. We could not tempt with anything. And he could go days with only a few bites of food. To be honest, it was super annoying. The tides have certainly turned and Teelo has spent many years making up for lost time. We lovingly refer to him as, “The Beef Man,” (pretty self-explanatory – he loves it and looks like a pot roast). That Teelo is able to maintain a healthy weight is really only due to our extreme efforts to save him from himself. Teelo even eats a special “satiety blend” dog food to try to keep him sated – it turns out, he cannot be. He’s so clever and dexterous, that in his older (no filter) age he has taken to unzipping my bag packed with food for work, selecting a few snacks, and popping open the Ziploc bags to enjoy. This past January I came in one morning from cleaning snow off the cars to find Teelo in the middle of the living room, finishing off a peanut butter sandwich and carrot sticks (but not the celery, he left that littered around the carpet for me). There was no shame in his eyes for stealing my lunch. What a guy.

In comparison, our gruesome twosome Clicquot and Riggs are a lot less devious, but certainly are no slouches in the begging department and suffer from significant treat FOMO.

Good behavior is all an illusion.

And pizza – Pizza trumps all (except roast beef). It is king in the vizsla snack world.

Reminiscing about warm deck dinners in July.

This painting was inspired by our vizslas who love pizza so much that we lovingly refer to them as The Crust Dogs. Example of this used in a sentence: “Make sure you save your crust for The Crust Dogs”.

Clicquot.

The Crust Dogs do not discriminate – homemade or delivery. One summer we invested in a pizza oven for our BBQ and literally ate pizza for two months straight. As a hobby my husband set out to perfect his pizza dough-making technique a few years ago and in our house humans and dogs have enjoyed the benefits of this immensely.

At the same time, the dogs have granted the pizza delivery man a stranger-danger exemption – he is not to be scared off, but instead he is a stranger to be trusted, wagged at, toys offered to – and he is welcome to knock on our door in the dark at 10 pm on any random Saturday night – I can’t say that luxury is afforded to anyone else who visits us.

Just a typical Saturday evening in.

The reference for this painting was a picture I took of all three dogs lined up in front of me, good as gold, my three little angels, waiting for their share of my pizza crust one evening. They are never better behaved than when they are waiting for a valuable handout. This is why, “Dogs waiting for food,” is a standard pose for all dog moms. Other fail safes include, “Dogs sleeping,” and, “Dogs sun-tanning,” (the latter of two sometimes being one and the same – there’s often some overlap there).

This was such a great photo and I knew right away that I had to paint it.

Teelo.

Bringing this painting to life took a long time – the reference photo was taken last summer but I waited until I had transitioned to oils and then waited some more to think on this composition of all three dogs.

A single portrait is a big task, multiple figures poses many more challenges and I spent many months working on other paintings while the reference sketch of three vizslas hung in my art room. Sometimes even if I’m not physically working on a project, having it around to think about is like a type of work. And then when I sat down to finally get started – all those months of pondering it made the painting come together really easily. It was also painted against a backdrop of a lot of personal stuff – I was painting this piece when the email invitation to interview for my new job dinged through on my phone, and I completed the painting over the ensuing weeks of huge life decisions, serious conversations with my husband about what we wanted our future to look like, and the resulting upheaval that a big life decision brings. This painting was one of the very last items packed for storage before our move.

My paintings often play double duty – They capture a moment in time on the surface, but they are also closely tied to the time when I created them and everything I was feeling. While begging for pizza was the comical inspiration for this painting (picture me, I’m behind the lens probably with a slice in one hand, camera phone in the other), what is serious about this piece is how accurately it captures each dog. I love portraiture. I love capturing these moments in time and working through my feelings about my subject matter as I paint. In this case studying their sweet features and ruminating on my love for them.

Clicquot.

In this work, each dog looks just like their unique self. Teelo is Big Teelo, standing firm and gazing right at me, looking straight into my soul. Clicquot looks a bit like, hey, how did I end up here? Which is basically her standard. Always late to the party but never left out. The girl with the big, brown eyes. And that is a classic Riggs pose. There he is, with all of his middle-child narrative that we’ve created for him. He’s first in line, continuously inching his bottom forward with his head cocked in a pose that is at once inquisitive, but non-committal, eyes half closed but really fully alert, gaze partially diverted but still totally aware… ready to pounce if pizza is offered (deliberately or by accident).

Clicquot and Riggs.

I love these simple moments with the dogs, with my family. I love remembering them forever through my art. More and more I see my style evolving to remember people, places, memories frozen in time in my work. I find endless inspiration in this idea. A painting is really so much more than what you see. With so much change and uncertainty in my life right now, it’s comforting to reflect on a time and a place when I was at peace. I miss the routine of our quiet Saturday nights with The Crust Dogs. And I look forward to getting that familiar feeling back again. Soon.

Thank you for reading!

(Not) Born to Run

Thoughts from the dining room table as we transition to a new life in the Maritimes.

We made it! And just like that, I feel like I literally exploded my old life. We packed up all of our belongings, spent one last night sleeping on the (very bare and very hard) living room floor in our old house, locked the door behind us, and drove forever until we reached our new home.

Mom, WHAT is going on?!?

Except we’re not home, not for a little while yet, because our new home won’t be ready until the summer and my in-laws (very kindly) let us move in with all the animals. And reaching our destination didn’t mean that we were done dealing with the fallout of this life bomb in the least. In the past eight weeks, I feel like it’s been one major butterfly-inducing to-do item after another. I sort of envision this giant thumb just pressing down on me constantly during all waking hours – the pressure has felt so real and intense for so long. But, we made it here physically, and the pieces are ever so slowly falling into place and the pressure is decreasing.

We went out this past Friday for the first time since arriving here – not to go to the gym or run an errand – just a nice, casual evening out. Granted, there was no casual strolling through the streets of Fredericton. It’s been frigidly cold for May and our walk back to the car ended with me running through the parking lot to our car to escape the wind and drizzle – but still, our first evening out and a feeling that things are starting to return to a new “normal”.

During times of stress, I find there are a few constants for myself. I will definitely eat more, and I will definitely create less. With the combination of cold weather and prolonged exposure to high adrenaline – most nights I’ve been crashing with the dogs way earlier than I ever used to. The thought of painting or writing was as unappealing as the Mrs. Dunster’s donut holes have been appetizing – which is to say very.

View from my new office in mid-April 😦
Fredericton flood from the pedestrian bridge, end of April 😦

But, a new colleague and friend helped me to get out of my funk. She connected me back in April with a, “call for artists” for the summer art auction for a local restaurant called Isaac’s Way. One of the most appealing aspects about our new life in Fredericton is how arts friendly this beautiful city is. There is just no shortage of artists’ collectives and groups and galleries and prestigious and wonderful art schools – and I can’t wait to be part of it. Not to mention the beautiful scenery and architecture and rolling hills and life on the St. John river. I love it here. I found out about this ongoing art auction during brunch last summer at Isaac’s Way and I instantly wished that we could live here so that I could participate (and so we moved here, just like that! Ha!). The whole restaurant is set up like a gallery and over the months of the art auction diners and patrons can bid on their favorite paintings. Paintings are donated by New Brunswick artists (hey, that’s me!) and raise funds for various charities.

I was very happy to answer the call for artists, and so excited/flattered/thrilled (pick your favorite ecstatic adjective) to be accepted. Of course, then came the hard part – creating a painting when my entire art room is in storage and my life is in chaos. I knew I could only commit to creating something on the small side. I also didn’t want to invest in a lot of supplies because I have everything I could ever possibly need in a storage container in Ontario. Also, my current “art studio” is limited to a corner of my in-laws dining room table – suffice to say there were a number of logistical, spatial, and monetary considerations at play while I was considering my next masterpiece.

Current art studio 🙂

I have a lot of personal photos of Fredericton that I’ve been meaning to use for painting reference, and I’ve really been enjoying urban sketching so it didn’t take me long to narrow my focus to watercolour and ink on my favourite Canson art board.

Great little palette of paint, useless little brush.

I ordered a Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Pocket Palette with 12 half pans for its economy of price and space. The set comes with a #5 pocket brush (which is actually horribly tiny with short handle to fit into the palette and which I have never used). I also ordered a pad of Canson Plein Air Watercolor Art Board – this board has a slight texture pressed into it but overall handles like a hot press surface that allows for nice sharp pen lines and quick, expressive paint application.

My economical plan was compromised a little because I had to supplement the too-tiny paintbrush with two Simmons paintbrushes from Endeavors but otherwise this has been my simplest set up in along time. I should also say that despite getting a lot of mileage out of this little palette and enjoying it for the most part, as per the online reviews it was nearly impossible to open when I first received it – my husband had to pry it open with a butter knife and I’ve never closed it again since.

Sketch for August Evening at Officer’s Square – just testing the waters to see if I’ve still “got it”.

I had my supplies but waited (aka procrastinated) another couple weeks to get started – that initial push to paint after a long time away can be a big barrier to overcome. Like when you take a day off from exercising and it turns into a year. I told myself I would just sketch and paint as much as possible over the next week and whatever came out best I would frame for the artists’ auction. No pressure! I was sketching for the first time in three months and at first it did feel forced but quickly I got back to my “zone.” And then I felt like I had so much to say with my paints, and became very focused and the week that started with a few uncertain lines on a random piece of paper ended with three finished paintings and a sketch for a fourth.

I sketched August Evening at Officer’s Square and eventually it turned into my first post-move painting.

August Evening at Officer’s Square. May 2019. Ink and watercolour on Canson art board. 9 x 12″.

I’ve been really enjoying taking the dogs to the University of New Brunswick for long weekend runs since we moved here and I have so many pictures waiting to be sketched. UNB has to be one of the most scenic, lovely, begging-to-painted universities anywhere.

This is one of my favourites so far, Head of the Class:

Head of the Class. May 2019. Watercolor and ink on Canson art board. 9 x 12″.

The reference photo was taken looking up College Hill at UNB at the Old Arts Building:

I love the gestural, unrehearsed feeling of these paintings and this style I’m developing. Such a nice break from my more “serious” works (which feed my artist soul in a different way). I also keep going back to pictures I took of Queen St. in downtown Fredericton last summer and it’s not the first time I’ve sketched the old Owl’s Nest location – I find these old buildings with their bright colors and different personalities to be so visually appealing and all the years spent visiting the Owl’s Nest Bookstore on vacation tug at my nostalgic heart. I rounded out the big week of art with this painting:

Everything Must Go. May 2019. Watercolor and ink on Canson art board. 9 x 12″.

It was a great week for art, and our casual Friday out wasn’t so casual afterall. I had August Evening at Officer’s Square framed for the auction and we had the big fun task of dropping my work off at Isaac’s Way. This is a dream realized – to be displayed in a public place makes me feel so happy and so validated and so honored.

So happy!
Nerdy photo with the Isaac’s Way’s Saucepan Sam 😛

It was a fantastic day and there was nothing left to do except return to the dining room table and get back to it…

Fredericton Playhouse

Change is hard. I keep saying, I never want to move again. Ever. But like my mother-in-law said to me once, “Sometimes a change is as good as a rest”.

Thanks for reading everyone.

What a Difference a Little Time Makes.

In art. And in life.

Wow. It’s been a really long time since I last posted. Every winter, once the New Year’s festivities are over and all the fun of the holidays is behind us, I always start a mental countdown to spring. And my mental countdown always seems to move.so.slowly, punctuated by snowstorm upon icestorm. Not this year. We’ve had the same bad weather but this year I feel like I could use a little (or a lot) more time. I feel like my life has been a blur since January. At first I tried to keep up with everything, but eventually I had to prioritize, and my blog posts took a bit of a hit.

The big news – I have accepted a new job and we are in the midst of packing up our house and moving across the country! We just sold our home this past weekend which was like finding a place for one of the most giant pieces in the entire puzzle. In a few weeks we will load our animals and an overnight bag each into the car and head east. And even though some of the stress over the past few weeks has made me question, “Why am I blowing my life up like this?” I am so excited for this adventure and so grateful for this amazing opportunity.

I had to pack up my art supplies for our home showings, but now that we’ve sold I took a bit of time this weekend to finish up Wiggis on the Green Couch. I think this will be my last large scale painting before the move, and then my stuff will be in storage while we’re looking for a new home. So I may be focusing on my sketchbook for the next little while.

This painting and everything going on lately has me thinking a lot about time – how quickly it passes, how you can never predict quite where you’ll end up. A year ago, I was in a totally different place, with no idea of all the change to come.

At the same time, Wiggis deserved a new portrait since his last painting was this cartoony tryptich acrylic on canvas from 2008:

This painting has been displayed in our last three homes, and it will have a place in our east-coast house too, but it was time for an update. I can honestly say that back then, I think this was the best I could achieve with acrylic paints. I found the heavy-bodied paints really difficult to work with, and they controlled me more than the other way around. And what a difference a little time makes. For his new portrait I used oil paints (of course) and focused on realism. I’m so happy with the results and so proud of my progress.

I painted this over the past two months, with a really long interruption due to our home staging (always a huge life upheaval that I find extremely difficult to deal with). Old Holland Oil Paints, 12 x 24″ gallery-stretched canvas.

Some progress pictures:

And up close:

Altogether now:

I think the next few weeks are going to be really up and down with our to-do lists around here. I have some posts that were intended to be written but in the mayhem from the past few weeks got pushed to the side. So when I have some time I’ll check-in to write, and I’ll focus on sketching and packing up the art room as safely as possible. I’ll miss this space that I’ve built for myself here, but I’m so excited at the possibility of a new home with an even better room for an art studio. And the arts community in our new city is really thriving and inspiring. I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in it and hopefully putting my work “out there”.

Thank you all for reading!

My Muse, Miss Clicquot.

To love her is to paint her. ❤️

Oh Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Sweet girl with the biggest brown eyes. She joined our family when she was two years old. Clicquot is the younger sister to Teelo and Riggs. I did worry about her blending into our animal menagerie at first, and how that would go. I remember letting her out of the car her first night in our home and she trotted into the house like she owned the joint. She spent the next 48 hours chasing Beesa everywhere and she placed herself firmly and unwaveringly at the top of our animal hierarchy. Since then, she has ruled over our home like the Princess and the Pea with all of her delicate sensibilities and constant demands.

Like clockwork, every night at 9 pm she cries and grunts until you cover her with a blanket. Hers is a pushy, aggressive type of love. Clicquot thinks nothing of climbing up on an already crowded couch and camping out on top of one of her brothers until they make the sensible choice and leave, vacating their spot for her. Or body-checking her grandmother when she comes to visit (sorry mom!). Or head-butting everyone in sight when she knows it’s “walk time”.

She loves the fireplace in the winter, and sun- tanning on the warm deck in the summer. Sometimes you have to save her from her love of heat – turn the fireplace off or bring her in from the sun when it seems like any sane animal or human would’ve had enough. It is impossible to get mad at her, and that is how Clicquot gets away with it all. Really, all she wants is to be warm, and to be loved, and she is not shy to demand either when her meter is running low. And we – we are so happy to supply her with all the cuddles, blankets, and love she could possibly need.

With her almost cartoon-like features, and that face, Clicquot has been a huge source of inspiration for my art. She’s my little vizsla muse.

I realized I’ve done quite a few portraits of Clicquot and I thought I’d share them with you. Miss Monkey Bananas, below, represented a real level up for me. The solitary figure, vibrant colours, and solid background cutting in with confident lines around my subject – this is a style I returned to and experimented with many times in the latter half of 2018.

Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. August 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12″.

My husband and I took Clicquot for an epic 35 km backcountry hike at Algonquin Park the summer she came to live with us. We planned it as a bonding experience for just the three of us (the boys stayed with their grandparents and were thoroughly spoiled). Clicquot was such a good little hiker. She stayed right beside me even when we was off-leash, and she was NOT interested in meeting any other hikers, human or canine. We hiked about 17 km the first day and when we arrived at our campsite at Hart Lake we spent the rest of the summer afternoon chilling on the rocky shore. Clicquot was our little lookout dog. This painting makes me want to take her back to the backcountry… such happy memories.

Clicquot at Heart Lake. February 2018. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 18 x 24″.

And finally, this painting was inspired entirely by Edward Hopper’s Pensive Lady in Pink, replaced by our own little pensive lady in red. I went through a bit of a Hopper tribute phase in the first half of 2018, covered in this post. Every time I finished a Clicquot painting, I would think of another painting idea, or take another perfect photo of her that was just begging to be painted.

Pensive Lady in Red. May 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.

Clicquot 3 x 3

The Clicquot 3 x 3. I love this. This is an ongoing Clicquot project that I started about a year ago and which I would really like to return to and finally complete. My recent sketchbook tour sent me looking through other sketchbooks for fun and I was reminded of this series. This was inspired by a sweet book my husband gave to me many, many years ago: Arty Dogs. In it, dogs are added to famous paintings accompanied by a short story that explains how they ended up there, and it’s just really whimsical and great. It gave me the idea to feature sweet Clicquot in nine different scenes inspired by nine of my favourite artists. Whenever I don’t have another project going on, I try to finish a Clicquot sketch. Lately – that hasn’t been very often and this project needs some attention. I envision finishing all of these on hot press drawing board, with white frames, and hanging on a wall in a 3 x 3 formation (obviously).

This first sketch is inspired by Salvador Dali’s melty clocks and the Persistence of Memory. I absolutely love this quick sketch that I did in about five minutes during lunch at work one day. I hesitate to try to create a more polished, final drawing from this sketch because I think it might be difficult to reproduce the spontaneity.

The Persistence of Clicquot.

This is Clicquot standing outside looking into the old Apollo Grill at Hunter and George Streets. Inspired by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks it puts a local spin on the classic painting. This makes me think of an independent little Clicquot who took a stroll downtown to get herself a hotdog only to find out, “No Dogs Allowed” inside the diner.

Nighthawks Clicquot

This is Clicquot starring in Edvard Munch’s The Scream and reimagined as, what else? The Howl. Clicquot doesn’t howl much. None of the dogs do. Teelo is the only one who ever really has, but the conditions need to be exactly right. He used to howl when we lived in Downtown Toronto, and he was still Downtown Brown. Sometimes when we were out for a walk, a firetruck would pass us with the sirens wailing. If the firetruck approached us from an adequate distance, so that the sirens were going for awhile, Teelo would sit down, throw his dog head back, and hoooooooooowl along with the sirens. Everyone on the sidewalk would turn to look. It was kind of his thing. This sketch reminds me of that, even though Clicquot is the subject.

The Howl.

Oh this is one of my favourites. I made many drafts of this sketch to get it just right. It is inspired by Roy Lichtenstein. We have three Lichtenstein prints hanging in our house. We spent many months trying to source that perfect trio of prints that explore domestic un-bliss and melodrama. I love pop art, I love Lichtenstein’s primary colour, dot-matrix portraits, and this is a combination of the “I don’t care…” sentimentality of Drowning Girl, and Kim Carnes’ song, “Bette Davis Eyes.” I always think of the line, She’s ferocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush. I’m pretty sure that Teelo and Riggs think Clicquot is a spy sent from outer space, or from our breeder’s house. Hence the title. 😉

All the Boys Think She’s a Spy.

I recycled this title for my Beesa painting, This is a Cat. I sketched this with Magritte’s pipe in mind – The Treachery of Images. I like it. It’s cheeky, just like Clicquot.

Another Magritte, another surrealist painting, another portrait of Clicquot. A cross between Magritte’s Green Apple and Decalcomania. I like how it pays tribute to three Magritte works in one. This will be the final composition for the Magritte drawing.

Ceci n’est pas un chien.

Below is a rough sketch of my Andy Warhol Clicquot Portrait. I think we all know the silk-screen Warhol Monroes on repeat, and the Campbell Soup Cans. This would be neat as a sketch but also as a mixed-media kind of decoupage that combines a black and white photocopy of Clicquot with multiple contrasting colours. I’ll have to think on its final execution a little more. I remember going to see the Warhol exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario on a wintery weekend with my MOM back in grade 10. I wore high heel boots that really hurt my feet and she insisted on taking the subway. After living downtown for ten plus years, taking the subway is no thing at all now but I was quite concerned for our safety on that first roundtrip into the big city. Anyway, the whole exhibit focused on Warhol’s work as a graphic designer. I loved it – I was really interested in graphic design as a career for myself back then and it was so interesting to see it elevated to fine art at the AGO. The exhibit was partly Warhol’s work interwoven with snapshots and pieces of his life. There was even a little display within the exhibit that featured a bottle of Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion that Warhol used. I used the same lotion then, and I use it now! And I’ve been a fan of Warhol since way back then too.

Candle in the Wind Clicquot.

My husband’s favourite artist is William Blake, the British Romantic painter unwittingly responsible for so much of the imagery in the Red Dragon movie (of Hannibal Lecter infamy). Unbelievably, he was a watercolour painter – I think his works are amazing. This is Clicquot howling along with the dragon in a sketch appropriately title, The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun. Not sure if I’ll take my chances and paint the final work as a watercolour too… it’s not always guaranteed to be a success for me.

The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun.

And that’s the entirety of my works inspired by Clicquot. Now that I’ve had a chance to return to the Clicquot 3 x 3 I hope I’ll be able to make it a priority to finish in the next few months and finally get it framed and on display. I counted and it looks like I’m two sketches shy of having all of my ideas. Kandinsky? Cezanne? Picasso? Seurat? We will see.

Representing my loved ones and my own memories through painting is a huge theme for my work. This is a subject I hope to explore more deeply through portraiture for the rest of 2019. I think it’s interesting to kind of push my own idea of a portrait a bit, paint my subjects from unconventional viewpoints, play with the colour and background and contrast. I have a number of paintings already lined up.

Clicquot has such an easy face to paint – I’m in the middle of a portrait of her and her brothers right now, and as soon as I filled in the darkest parts of her eyes I sat back and thought, I’ve got it! Those expressive features, and her fierce and pushy and lovey personality – we are just so lucky to have Clicquot in our family. I always call her my sweet girl. I feel like she’s been my little girl forever. There was no warming-up period, it was just an instant bond. That first weekend with her in our home my husband had to work. So I ventured out for a solo walk with all.the.dogs. It was unusually hot and when we got home it was quiet in the house. I lay down for a rest after the triple-dog-walk excitement (um, mayhem) and I remember distinctly that Clicquot just jumped right up beside me on the bed and curled close in next to me. It was love. It’s been her spot ever since (not counting her first few nights here when she was crated to stop her from hunting Beesa while we slept 🙄).

And there you have it – Little Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Thank you for reading everyone and happy Monday!

Paint-along still life apple.

Acrylic painting for absolute beginners. Everything you need to know ☺️

If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of my Absolute Beginners painting series, you can check them out here and here.

So, you’ve chosen to paint with acrylics! Excellent choice! Or maybe you’re just reading this post for the heck of it – also excellent! Thank you so much. If you’ve never painted with acrylics before, please, let me be your guide.

Today we are going to paint this (if you want to):

First up, let me explain the basic of acrylic paints in this video below:

Notes

What exactly are acrylic paints. Well, as we covered in Part 1, all paint is made up of a binder or vehicle (the stuff that keeps the paint together, sticks to your painting surface, and holds the colour in place once the paint is dry). The pigment is mixed with the binder – this is what gives your paint its colour. Acrylic paint has a similar consistency to oil paint – both are generally pretty-heavy bodied and thick. The binder in acrylic paint is acrylic polymer emulsion. Straight out of the tube acrylic paint is water soluble. So all you really need to thin your paint and work with them is basic water. If you like you can buy a product called retarder which is an additive for increasing the working (drying) time of your acrylic paint. Once acrylic paint dries it is water impermeable and permanent. It is a great paint for beginners.

Basic acrylic painting shopping list

Yay, you get to go shopping! Here’s what you’ll need to get started with acrylics:

  • Acrylic paint, 60 ml tubes (I recommend TriArt or Golden paints): Alizarin crimson, cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow medium, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna, chrome oxide green (optional), Payne’s grey, titanium white
  • Brushes: Round #6, flat 1/2″ thick, filbert #2 or #4 – short handle if you’ll be working at a table, long handle if working at an easel (I prefer synthetic soft bristles, other option is hog hair, see what you like) – inexpensive is ok, but I don’t recommend dollar store paintbrushes – you would regret it
  • Pre-stretched canvases – you can buy a bulk pack for a volume discount (12 x 12″ is a good size to go with) and/or pad of inexpensive canvas sheets for practice
  • Retarder (optional) – Golden makes a good one
  • Palette: Disposable palette sheets (optional, looks like a pad of paper) – or a piece of plywood or Masonite board – it is up to you
A bunch of well-loved brushes. From the top: Hogs hair filbert, synthetic soft bristle filbert, flat synthetic soft 1/2″, round synthetic soft #6.

Paint-Along: Still Life With Apple

Here’s what you’ll need for our paint-along:

  • Titanium white
  • Cadmium yellow medium
  • Naphthol red medium (or cadmium red medium from basic palette0
  • Alizarin crimson
  • Payne’s grey
  • Chrome oxide green (optional)

Click below to watch me paint. You can paint along with me! I recommend you get all your supplies assembled, a nice cozy tea, and then press play! You can follow me, skip around to the parts you need. You’ll have your first painted masterpiece in no time. I’m no Bob Ross but I really try to break it down for viewers. And I apologize for the length! This is my first kind of “paint-with-me” video and there’s definitely a learning curve. But I thought, ah, I’ve got to start somewhere so here we are.

Our apple palette!
Today’s subject.
Reference drawing.
All the colours – before.
All the colours – after.
Remember to paint your canvas edge to finish everything like a star!
Don’t forget to sign your work!

I hope you all enjoyed this little how-to and tutorial. The best way to learn how to paint, is to paint – as much as possible. If you painted along, please please please share your work in the comments below! Any comments? Questions? I love to hear from you!

Thank you everyone for reading and watching!

Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room.

Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room. May 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.

Today I wanted to tell you the story of this painting, Viszla and the Sun in an Empty Room. It’s from the spring of 2018 and while I like the actual painting just fine, it’s the title that makes it one of my favourites. I posted this on Instagram back when I finished it, but I’m not sure that everyone (anyone???) picked up on the reference so I thought I would explain. Did you get it? It’s a big time nod to Edward Hopper, my favourite artist, and his painting, Sun in an Empty Room. Actually, it’s entirely inspired by that painting (and of course Riggs who loves to stretch so gracefully).

I love Edward Hopper’s art. Everything. Not just Nighthawks – I know you know this painting, everyone knows it. Corner view of three people sitting in the nearly empty diner, scene from outside looking in? So famous it’s been parodied in multiple episodes of The Simpson’s? It’s a good one. I like it so much I did my own little parody last year, featuring Clicquot (this was during my Clicquot-as-a-muse phase last winter):

Clicquot and the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. 2018. Ink on paper. From sketchbook.

I like all Edward Hopper paintings. Chop Suey,  Pensive Lady in Red,  Summer Evening. For my birthday one year, my husband surprised me with a print of Summer Evening printed on a gallery-wrapped canvas. I see it everyday and I always think, What on earth is going on here? How can something so simple be so narrative? It’s awesome! (yes, that’s my technical art critique :)).

Edward Hopper, Summer Evening, 1947 courtesy of http://www.edwardhopper.net

My interest in Edward Hopper goes way back to high school. I discovered his work when I was doing research for my OAC art thesis which focused on realism and architecture (and considering my subject matter it’s not really a surprise that I discovered him). Along with favourites like Lawren Harris and Andrew Wyeth, there stood out the work of Edward Hopper – quiet scenes of post-WWII American suburbanism, people lost in thought or just not talking on purpose (what were they thinking? what??), the contrast of lightest lights and darkest darks, the play of colours, and shadows cast with absolute geometrical precision. He had me at geometric precision.

My Grade 13 art journal:

I love reading what 17-year-old me had to say. There is some pretty angst-y stuff in here.
Edward Hopper journal entry.  He’s been inspiring my art for 20 yeras!

So as I said, MY painting is inspired by Sun in an Empty Room, another classic Hopper work. This is one of his later paintings and he totally forgoes any lonely-looking people in favour of just a totally empty, lonely room. Note the shadows – so, so, so great. And note the view outside the window – anyone else think that those trees look totally foreboding in spite of the sunshine? This is a great one – really begs the question, What is going on here? 

Edward Hopper, Sun in an Empty Room, 1963 courtesy of http://www.edwardhopper.net

Back to my painting – The vizsla is not any old vizsla – it’s sweet Baby Riggs and if you knew him you would know this is Riggs, because THAT is a Baby Riggs classic stretch pose and he is always stretching :). The house is our house, I took a ton of reference photos, and the shadows and highlights are all done in the style of Hopper.

The painting is on a 16 x 20″ gallery-wrapped canvas. I completed it in May 2018. It was painted with acrylics – a mix of TriArt and Golden paints.

Some progress pictures (always my favourite!):

Why, why, WHY did I used to do my acrylic under-drawing in black Sharpie marker???
Reference picture.

This painting took me forever to finish. I think I started it in March and I finished it in mid-May. Yikes. That doesn’t happen too often anymore. I swear I listened to The Weakerthans song, Sun in an Empty Room (so cool!) the entire time. If there was a way to infuse this blog post with that song – oh who am I kidding, there probably is, but I’m so technically-challenged I feel lucky that I was even able to create this website in the first place. Anyway, if I could embed that beautiful song to play over this post, it would really set the tone of this painting for you. I’ve given you the link instead ;).

I went through a real Edward Hopper phase from March 2018 onwards. I painted Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room, and then I painted sweet Clicquot in Pensive Vizsla in Red (yet another cheeky Hopper reference):

Pensive Vizsla in Red. June 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.
Clicquot critiquing her portrait. Serious stuff.

And some more Hopper-esque sketches from the same time period:

Riggs and Clicquot, on the couch. Riggs is the one looking out the windows. It’s always Riggs. Ultimately I decided one vizsla and the sun in an empty room was enough. 2018. From my sketchbook.

My intention for this post was just to discuss the one painting. But in so doing I have summarized a nice little period in my personal art history – the time represented by these drawings and paintings has a really positive feeling around it. When I think back to it, it’s kind of cast in a warm and sunshine-y glow of late spring-early summer (as seen through the rose-coloured glasses of my mid-January perspective :)).

These paintings and sketches were completed at a time when I had just started painting again after the longest dry spell ever. For these months I felt super inspired to just study my favourite Edward Hopper paintings and allowed myself to kind of learn from him. It was a really freeing little art experiment. It seems kind of counter-intuitive because it was the opposite of easy-going, laissez-faire, let’s just see what happens! kind of painting. I learned a lot and that was really motivating.

I made some significant changes to my style and brushwork that have really stayed with me. Specifically, I simplified the forms in my sketches and paintings, and I tried as much as possible to keep.it.simple. Nothing fussy. I learned restraint. I learned to plan more in advance – especially my treatment of my light source. And that has kind of followed me through up to now, where I’m in a place where I’m becoming happier and happier with my painting.

Looking out my backdoor. March 2018. From my sketchbook.

I always loved the sketch shown above. It was inspired by a photo of my husband and Teelo and Riggs barbecuing in late winter. On the one hand it unfortunately led to my largest unfinished painting ever. I could never get it right. In fact, I’m looking at all 30 x 40″ of its unfinished glory leaning against the wall by my desk as I write this. But on the other hand, this sketch led to this portrait of Teelo, which was a real game-changer for me in terms of how I approach acrylic painting, and marked the start of my most prolific and productive period of 2018.

I once read that Edward Hopper spent a really long time working out each painting. I think it’s important to practice your craft a lot. But I also think it’s important to take a step back and really think about what you’re doing. I always see my productivity as kind of a wave function (yes, I’m referring to math :)). It goes up, it goes down. I feel inspired and invincible, then I’ll have a week (or two, or more) when I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to “do art.” But every time there’s a down, there seems to be an up that is better than ever before. And it’s neat to look back and link everything together in a post like this. It’s important for me to follow the process, take the time to work everything out in my brain, and think about what inspires me most 🙂

Who’s your favourite artist? What inspires you?

Thanks for reading everyone!

Those Summer Nights.

Halifax Harbour at Night. January 2019. Watercolour and ink on Canson watercolour board. 9 x 12″.

I was zero for two on Thursday evening in terms of following plans. I didn’t go for a run (it was soooooo cold and I didn’t hear any dogs complaining about the cancellation) and I didn’t get any oil painting done. My canvases are ready to go but I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it’s good to take a little break before diving back in – oil painting seems a little more serious to me. And maybe because it’s the beginning of January, my thoughts are definitely on warmer days, and I’ve been busy painting scenes from last year’s summer vacation (again). Fortunately, I was up bright and early this morning to take the dogs for a run and make up for being a bad dog mom yesterday. 🙂 AND I finished two paintings last night!

My favourite painting of the two is the feature of today’s post, Halifax Harbour at Night – wishing I had filmed myself painting this one now! This is from a great nighttime walk we took around the waterfront on the August 2018 long weekend.

Some detail views:

I really love the contrasting colours in this painting. Orange and blue colour schemes are always so pleasing to me! I used a mix of Windsor & Newton artist quality watercolour and gouache paints. The opacity of the gouache paints was really essential for getting the nighttime scene right with the reflection off the water. Maybe a little bit of a watercolour cheat but I love how it turned out.

I used my new Canson watercolour artboards. They have a cold-press texture. They remind me of Strathmore watercolour paper. Quality-wise the Canson artboards are definitely inferior to something like Arches watercolour paper but they are just so easy to use! There’s just something very appealing to me about these sheets and I realize I keep talking about them but I can’t stop!

I’m feeling super productive right now, I’m on a good run. I made a time-lapse video of myself working on my first painting of the night, View of Dartmouth Ferry, Halifax Harbour and you can watch it here 🙂

I have a few photos from downtown Fredericton that are next in line for a painting and that will probably wrap up my east coast series.

I’ve been toying with the idea of photographing these east coast watercolour paintings and getting some high quality prints done that I can sell. Ah, maybe that’s just wishful thinking, I’m not sure. These paintings have been consistently some of my most popular. If I did do it I was wondering about the format I would print them in – just 9 x 12″ pictures that could be framed, or maybe sets of blank greeting cards, or post cards?? Thoughts?

Any feedback would be very appreciated!! Have any other artists done this (sold prints)? Care to share your experiences? Erica Kilbourn wrote this excellent post about making art prints. Ever since I read it I’ve been thinking these maritime watercolours would be great for my first set of reproductions. Stay tuned!

Thank you for visiting. I’ll be back Sunday with a recap of the week and plans for next week. Happy Friday!

What I Painted – Halifax Harbour.

Dartmouth Ferry from Halifax Harbour. January 2019. Watercolour and Ink on Canson Artboard. 9 x 12″.

Last summer we took a road trip around the East Coast starting out from our vacation home-base of Fredericton, up and east to Prince Edward Island (hitting Charlottetown, Cavendish, Summerside), looping down through Halifax (and Dartmouth then back to Halifax) and back to Fredericton. I took as many pictures as I could and I have been loving painting these in pen and ink and watercolour ever since.

My first set of paintings focused primarily on PEI. I picked up this series again on New Year’s Day as a little break from my oil paintings. This time I’m focusing on a few great shots from Halifax harbour, from our first night in the city. This was also a great excuse to give my new Neewer light kit a try for filming. Watch me paint the Halifax Harbour at Night below then keep reading for more work from tonight and more details!

We arrived in Halifax on the August long weekend. We walked through the Harbour – the air smelled like the ocean and even though there was record-breaking heat during the day (it was seriously horrendously hot) the evenings were downright cold. Here’s my reference picture. Across the water you can see Dartmouth :).


Every time I look at this picture I hear Joel Plaskett singing, I took the Dartmouth Ferry into the town… 

Some painting close-ups:

I used my artist quality Winsor & Newton watercolour paints combined with my new set of Winsor & Newton gouache paints – the opacity was key for adding details in the night scene.

And painted on Canson Watercolour Artboard:

My painting set-up with Neewer light! Awesome! Ignore my cluttered table. It’s pretty multi-purpose these days.

I’m loving the Neewer light kit. I have to play with the angle and height a bit more for my video set-up but it’s a huge step-up from my previous arrangement of children’s alphabet blocks, wood board, and playing cards for leveling. Thank you to my sweet husband for the fancy Christmas light kit and to my in-laws for the Christmas gouache paints and artboard that made this painting possible 🙂 xoxo

It was so much fun to make this video tonight. Thanks for reading and watching everyone!

The Story of Downtown Brown.

Oil on canvas painting
Downtown Brown. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24″.

Should we get a dog? My husband asked me. Back then he was my boyfriend and we had been living together in the big city for nearly five years. We were sitting in Queen’s park with a picnic, drinking the “good” soy chocolate milk, back when I was still a pseudo-vegetarian. At this point we had Beesa and Wiggis, the cats, and we had been living a pretty carefree life. We were both graduate students living together in a cozy one-bedroom condo in an old converted building, aptly called, The Gallery.

So, should we get a dog? Sitting on that park bench I thought, it would be pretty nice to have a little dog here with us. Of course the scene I pictured was of the two of us and an angel dog waiting patiently for us while we enjoyed a quiet afternoon at the park – and I can tell you that the peaceful scene I pictured has a never, ever played out in real life.

Should we get a dog? It was a question we would go back and forth about for a few weeks. And while we are now in a place where adding another animal to the brood seems like literally no problem at all, back then, this was a big question. There was a time in our lives, years before this chat in the park, that we had discussed getting a lab. But by the time we started to seriously discuss getting a puppy, vizslas were the only breed we ever really considered. We don’t really remember why. There was a neighborhood vizsla that we would see sometimes. My husband loved how she looked. And then my Runner’s World magazine did a piece on the top dog breeds to run with and – you guessed it – the vizsla was heavily favored (here’s a reprint from 2018). Not a lot to go on I suppose but all of a sudden this sweet, goofy, skinny red sporting dog was at the top of our list.

Vizsla puppy waterfront
Teelo inspecting Queen’s Quay.

My husband really took the lead on getting our first dog. I think he really wanted a little buddy. I continued to protest, it’s what I do. I hate change, even good change. I had a list of concerns. What about the extra responsibility? What about the added expense? What about the shedding? I pictured balls of dog hair rolling like Wild West tumbleweeds around the condo. My husband persisted, he showed me pictures of vizsla puppies and suggested I could have a running partner. I relented and we started contacting breeders.

Now, when you enter the world of purebred animals there’s quite a process involved in actually obtaining a pet. I actually really appreciate the sentiment of these proverbial hoops you have to jump through because I am a huge proponent of responsible pet ownership and I love how much a good breeder cares about where her puppies are placed. We had gone through this with the cats already – attending several mandatory introductory sessions at the breeders house and passing a screening test before we could take sweet Beesa and Wiggis home.

Teelo napping at Yonge and Charles.

After contacting vizsla breeders for a few weeks we found out about puppy Teelo (then known as “green boy”) on a cold call. His breeder actually had two vizsla puppies – Teelo and his sister, Pippin. We drove out the following weekend to meet him. After an hour of chatting with the breeder and meeting puppy Teelo – we were sold. His breeder? Unfortunately she was not so sold on us. Over the years we became good friends. She eventually told us that she lost sleep thinking of Teelo living in an apartment in the city. Where would he run and stretch his little vizsla legs? Would he be ok??? So really, we were incredibly lucky that she didn’t change her mind and allowed Teelo to go home with us in August 2010. We are so grateful she took a chance on us.

Teelo brunching in the Beaches.

Perhaps sensing that we would have to make extra effort to give Teelo the best life experience possible as a downtown dog, we did everything with him. He had the requisite dog walks everyday, visits to the dog park, and then many visits to the vet to treat ear, eye, and GI infections picked up at said dog parks 🙄. We also took him on all sorts of fun adventures while he was a single child. He was the Prince of Downtown: High Park, Riverdale Park, Queen’s Park, Rosedale Park, Allan Gardens. Every single beautiful corner and side street of the University campus (back in the good old days, before dogs were banned). We signed him up for city-specific dog obedience which found us putting him in a sit-stay outside St. Lawrence Market and practicing his recall on the tennis courts at Kew Gardens.

And all these trips, all these adventures involved taking little Teelo on the TTC subway and streetcar like it was no thing at all. And so, half-inspired by little Teelo’s travels around the city, and half-inspired by Amsterdam Brewing Co.’s beer of the same name (note the awesome streetcar illustration on the can!), Teelo became affectionately known as Downtown Brown (even though Downtown Red would have been more accurate, strictly speaking).

Oops.

This particular painting was inspired by a series of pictures from a trip we took with baby Teelo to The Pawsway back in 2010. He was probably about five months old here. I had a day off from work and my husband had a day off from school. This photo was taken on the College Street 506 streetcar heading eastbound. We would get off at Spadina and transfer to the 510 southbound, en route to The Pawsway at Queen’s Quay. We were always trying to think of creative ways to socialize Teelo and get him some exercise. The Pawsway was an indoor dog play area with a dog-friendly restaurant where your pup could sit at your table with you. So this was our field trip for the day and it is such a wonderful memory from our first few months as newbie dog parents. Normally packed during rush hour, at midday the 506 eastbound was empty, and Teelo hopped up to sit half on the iconic red fabric TTC seat, half on my husband’s lap.

I remember this trip, this simple day off with our new puppy, like it was yesterday. Now that we have three dogs, all around fifty pounds of muscle, and all on high alert to bark at anything askew in their immediate environments, field trips like this don’t happen the same way anymore. And certainly, many of our city travels were not as peaceful as this picture. Teelo isn’t Downtown Brown in the literal sense anymore He has a backyard now and he likes to inspect the perimeter several times a day, and he runs with me in the suburbs. But, he will always be little Downtown Brown in our hearts. This was a special day (what is it about simple days that just unexpectedly turn out to be the best days ever??) with my husband and the original Downtown Brown. It was really nice to be able to spend some time reflecting on it through painting it, and now it can be remembered forever with this painting. I’m really glad I persevered.

Painting Details

This painting took nearly two weeks to complete. The canvas is 18 x 24″. I wish it was bigger. I will never attempt a portrait with this much detail with a canvas this small again. It was really difficult to paint, I felt really confined. I wish it had been something like 30 x 40″ instead. I also just had horrible misgivings about this painting after my first evening working on it.

Painting my husband’s portrait was very difficult at first, I felt a lot of internal pressure to get it right. I went back with a transparency sheet with an outline of my reference drawing two times. Just taking a step back, allowing the painting to dry when I had these misgivings, and do this check was really critical.

I always have to remind myself that fussing never helps me. Once I had my husband’s face “right”, and my mother-in-law confirmed that I had got it, everything else seemed to come together quite easy in comparison.

The underpainting was done in Payne’s Grey because of all the black and cool tones in the reference photo. I transferred the sketch with Saral white transfer paper as per usual. This was the first painting I got to paint with my Neewer light gifted to me this past Christmas and it was soooooo nice being able to paint with good light regardless of the time of day I can’t say enough good things about this beautiful light 🙂

Colours used (all Old Holland):

Despite my initial misgivings, I absolutely love this painting now. I am so happy that I stuck with it. I particularly enjoyed painting the scenery outside the streetcar – it makes me feel like an Impressionist, so loose and carefree compared to my usual – and the repeating pattern of the streetcar seats behind my husband, and of course the bright pops of red in the streetcar seats. It just ended up being a really great colour scheme and I stayed pretty true to the reference photo. I don’t know what quality it is of oil paints but I find that they really lend themselves to realism. The blendability (not a real word), the softness and texture of the paint – I’m so happy I transitioned to oil painting this year.

I love painting from old photos. I love capturing and meditating on these moments in time, captured on film and then explored on my canvas. I’m looking forward to exploring this subject matter – the important moments, people, and animals – more in 2019 (in oil on canvas of course). Looking forward to posting about my 2019 art and life goals soon 🙂 so stay tuned for that.

And THAT is the story of Downtown Brown. And so to answer the question, Should we get a dog? Now I can’t even imagine having to ask myself that. Bringing home sweet baby Teelo, then Riggs, and then Clicquot – best life decisions ever. They make our family a family.

Downtown Brown is on the case!

Thank you for reading!