(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.

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!

January 1, 2019.

Happy New Year everyone!

From Teelo!

I didn’t have much time off for the Christmas holidays but I’m definitely ready to get back to normal. I’ve single-handedly eaten my way through nearly two bags of my sister-in-law’s famous peanut butter balls while binge-watching the entire series of Friends on Netflix (again). I can tolerate the Christmas tree for about two weeks but it will be thrown to the curb later this morning. I’ve definitely had enough bonding time with the tree but I know it’s not totally gone – I’ll be finding needles until June I’m sure. And even though I always start December loving all the holiday treats I’ve been living in stretch pants for a little too long now. There’s nothing I love more this time of year than throwing out all of the leftover excess and moving on – literally and figuratively.   

Riggs!

I love the spirit of New Year. I love the idea of starting over. I love packing up everything after Christmas, and getting back to a routine. My goals for 2019 involve all of the usual: Eat better, exercise more, be a nicer person. But I’m also hoping 2019 will be a year of big change, especially artistically.

and… our New Year’s Eve Birthday Girl 🙂

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Paint more.

I would really like to focus on my personal artwork in 2019. I have a mental list of paintings that need to be completed. I started painting for the first time in a million years in January 2018 and since then I have just felt so much pent up creative energy, ideas, and a desire to make something. It hasn’t really let up, and if anything, the more I paint the more I want to paint. I’ve seen so much growth in the past year and I’m crossing my fingers this continues into 2019. Just like exercise and training, I need to make space for creating everyday. I do believe that the most growth happens when I’m drawing and painting a lot so I’m really excited to produce a lot of finished work this year. Do I have a theme? Yes, I can see one emerging, and I’ll talk about that more in an upcoming post as my ideas around it sort of crystallize. This unifying theme for my painting is something I’d really like to use to work towards…

First painting of 2018.

My first art show.

I would really like to mount my own art exhibition in 2019. I would like to rent a space and send out invites and create a program and display my work for the public and serve champagne in chic champagne flutes and buy a new dress for the occasion (of course!). Not a lot to say about this yet except that I think it’s really important to work towards publicly displaying my art and I need to make that happen. I’m aiming for September/October of 2019.

And last but certainly not least…

Grow my blog!

I want to spend as much time as I can on evachristensenart.com. I have been loving all of the work I do for my little website and I would love to be able to grow it as much as possible and reach as many people as I possibly can with my work. I wish this could be a job! I love writing and planning posts and telling the story behind each painting that I do and exploring how that makes me feel – and then hearing how it makes other people feel. I see this site as a mix of art diary, art teaching, and personal art gallery. I love, love, love getting feedback from my readers, and having conversations. That has been such a great, unanticipated bonus of starting my site – getting to know the online artistic community and discovering other artists and their work. Blogging has been such a valuable way to feel connected with other artists who I can identify with! I work alone but I love to know that my art has touched others, and to be able to speak with other artists and also be inspired by them. I absolutely loved Judith’s post to mark her milestone of 1,000 followers!! – She drew a pile of rocks like a trail-marker to mark the occasion, which I thought was so simple and so clever. It got me thinking about my own blog goals and I really hope that I too will be able to mark some milestone(s) in the year(s) ahead.

I would love feedback from any art bloggers reading! In the meantime, I’ll keep posting regularly and we will see where it goes!

Last painting of 2018.

And those are my 2019 goals. I am hoping 2019 will be a year of big change. Mostly I want to be happy, and I want my family and my fur babies to be happy, and I also want to see where I can take my art. Looking forward to revisiting this post 365 days from now 🙂

Thanks for reading everyone! Any goals you’d care to share?

Which Paint to Paint With?

The story of my painting evolution.

Say you want to start painting but you have no idea where to begin. Let me help you.

I am thirty-seven and I started painting when I was twelve years old. Over the years I have worked my way through watercolours, acrylics, and now I am focusing primarily on oil painting for my personal work. But depending on my mood I will jump between mediums. Maybe my personal experiences can help you to decide what’s right for you.

Before I was introduced to painting I had mainly used pencil crayons for my “serious” artworks. I think because it’s so accessible for so many kids (hello, Crayola) pencil crayons get written off as being kind of a juvenile art form. There are artist quality pencil crayons that can be used to create beautiful drawings – same goes for pastels, charcoal, graphite. But ever since I was introduced to watercolours I have considered myself to be primarily a painter.

Oh and save for school-mandated projects I have never wanted to make a sculpture – I express myself through my brush. 

First watercolour, c. 1995.

I started out with watercolours and was taught by a real watercolour artist for a number of years. Over time I transitioned from primarily painting with watercolour to dabbling in acrylic, then primarily acrylic until quite recently (summer 2018) when I decided to take the plunge and take up oil painting for my personal paintings. Because I have a lot of experience, I’m comfortable moving between each medium depending on my mood or my vision for the finished work, but for many years now I have tended to gravitate towards heavier-bodied paints (acrylic, oils) for paintings that I think are important or significant.

Watercolour c. 2003. I used to spend a lot of time painting the flowers in my dad’s garden. It may be a clichĂ© but watercolour is so pretty for flower painting. You can see in this painting that my control really improved over the years.

I still paint with watercolours regularly, but I usually view these sessions as a warm up, or a break from the more serious work I might be focused on with my oils. With my art room set-up as it is, I can just swivel my chair around from my easel and push myself across the room to my watercolours waiting at my art table when I need to switch things up. If you’re open to how the paint behaves and flows, and if you are accepting of some lucky mistakes here and there, watercolour painting can feel very relaxing and just help to loosen you up. 

One of my favourite, but unfinished, watercolour paintings. I should really get this framed. This was done sometime during undergrad.

So how do you choose what type of painter you want to be? There are definitely many,  many artists who identify primarily with one type of paint and don’t really veer off course to dabble in any other mediums. There are definitely practical reasons for this – from a financial and storage perspective it is definitely easier to focus on one type of painting. And if you are new to painting and trying to learn you will probably be well-served to pick one and stick with it for awhile.

For me, I never felt totally comfortable with using watercolours. I have been able to achieve some level of personal success and sense of control over this type of paint, and I do go back to it regularly, but I just hate that you’re always kind of one wrong brush stroke away from ruining your entire painting. That’s a lot of risk and I’m pretty risk-averse. It’s a very clean type of painting. The paints are so beautiful and translucent and luminous and meant to show the beautiful paper underneath. If you do make a mistake, the work to fix it can ruin the delicate surface of the paper (drawing even more attention to your mistake) or any extra unnecessary layers of paint (to try to cover things up) can take away from the spontaneous properties that make it special to begin with.

Watercolour is such a good medium for whimsical, pretty paintings. Vizsla E. Kandinsky, watercolour on paper, 2018.

So even though I have created some watercolours that I really love, and even have framed around our house, I find this to be the exception for me, rather than the rule. I also tend to prefer watercolour and ink paintings (like my east coast series) because using ink to create more detail within the painting is very attractive to me – it is pleasing in a way that I can’t achieve with watercolour alone. I guess that’s my rigid nature coming out but I like when things are defined and under control. It’s not just paint, it extends to the dogs, my hair… I like to be in charge 🙂

From my east coast watercolour series, based on our summer 2018 travels. I love, love, love watercolour and ink paintings of interesting buildings.

When I was in my teens I started getting into acrylic painting. Oils seemed like too much of a jump and I had to transport a lot of art projects back and forth between school and home so drying time was definitely a concern – acrylic (being water-based) was just the natural next step. I now feel that I like a heavier-bodied paint because I like the feeling that I am “sculpting” an image in two-dimensions on my canvas. Maybe I sound a bit weird but I know my brushes and what they can achieve with what pressure at what angle. One brushstroke can really be so powerful or central to the entire work.

One of my first acrylic paintings. A study for OAC art class. I really don’t like this, but I love the colours. I just had no control over this paint. So frustrating.

For a long time now with acrylic (and more recently with oil paints), I have practiced painting with a very conservative number of brush strokes. The fewer the better I feel to convey the essence of the subject. When I get away from this, when it gets to be too fussy, too fiddly, something important is lost. All the planning and thought in the world should go into the painting beforehand so that the actual process of painting is very easy. My best paintings are also usually the ones that take the least time to paint. 

Another early acrylic painting. I remember really disliking this but now looking back… maybe not so bad? Again, love the colours.

Even though I feel very comfortable painting with acrylics now, for many, many years I struggled with acrylic paint because I didn’t know how to use it properly. I was trying to paint with acrylic on canvas like I did with watercolour on paper. As a result the paint just seemed too thick to me, it dried quickly, it seemed plastic-y. I couldn’t achieve the details that I wanted to.

Beesa! Compare this with my recent oil portraits of her. I found it really difficult to achieve any detail with the acrylic paint – I love this painting for nostalgia purposes, but I don’t think this is a very good painting skill-wise. Part of my evolution though!

If I can offer any advice, my top suggestion would be: for any type of paint you use, you should always buy the best that you can afford. As you go up in price point usually you’ll have a greater pigment load to binder ratio which means that your paintings will automatically look better. That alone will feel like an improvement.

Teelo. 2018. A year of huge growth in painting. I am so happy with my progress this year and it’s like something truly clicked for me. For the first time I really felt in control of my acrylic painting. A great feeling.

In the past year or so I’ve really levelled up in a big way with my acrylic painting because I started to work with it rather than against it. My approach became more sculptural. I take more time now to consider every brush stroke before it happens. This has been a huge game changer for me.

Other breakthroughs: I started painting in layers and creating an under-painting. I spent a lot of time getting to know the nature of the paint and then one day it really was like a switch clicked for me. I look back on my old acrylic paintings and I just cringe, but I’ve included them in this post to (hopefully!!) show my progress.

Now I really love using acrylics and I continue to use it for all of my commission-based work.

Oil painting!

I made the switch over to oil painting this year for my personal projects for a number of reasons. Even though I’ve made a lot of progress dealing with the properties of acrylic paints, I still felt limited by the super fast drying time. There’s a stage during painting when literally the entire painting surface is just tacky-sticky and no good can come of that. That’s the time when bad things happen to good paintings. The level of luminosity and realism I have been able to achieve with my oil painting so far has been so rewarding. I also feel like I can achieve more detail with oil than acrylic. It seems to work better for me when thinned down than acrylic paint – it doesn’t seem to lose its structure as quickly.

Detail of Beesa portrait. I think this is my best work of 2018 🙂

So, what do you do if you’re just starting out? What type of paint do you pick if you just want to try painting for the first time and you’re standing in the middle of the paint aisle at your local art store feeling intimidated by all the artsy looking people milling about? What do you do?

For ease of use, watercolour and acrylics are both water-based – water to thin, water for washes on paper and canvas respectively, water for clean-up. Soooooo easy. And actually, oil painting is only slightly less convenient in terms of having to use solvent and painting medium. Really, if I was advising someone on what type of paint to pick if they’d never painted before, I’d ask them to consider their favourite paintings and artists – what medium do they work in?

I put off oil painting for a really long time because I was intimidated. I told myself acrylic painting was basically the same (it’s not!!). The motivation I needed to change came this past summer when I saw the work of Canadian artist Heather Millar at Details Fine Art Gallery in Charlottetown. She is a phenomenal artist, one of my favourite contemporary artists, and such an inspiration to me. I am in awe of her talent and mastery of technique. When I experienced the impact of her beautiful oil paintings in person – I knew I had to try it for myself. I have so much to learn about oil painting, but I am grateful for the change and the opportunity to grow into a medium where I can really express my vision for painting.

Next oil paintings on deck!

No matter what you pick, the progress you make with painting technique and colour theory – it’s pretty transferable to some extent between mediums. If you want to paint, the most important thing to do is to just get started. Like today. Don’t wait. There’s no time like the present. If you want to paint give it a try! And if you do, let me know how it goes in the comments below. Thank you for reading and happy painting!

What I Painted – Christmas Edition

One week to go before Christmas Eve – I spent some time working on our Christmas card this weekend. It features all of our sweet little monsters. Scroll down to watch me paint 🙂

It was a busy weekend. We got Christmas errands under control, including wrapping most of our presents. I finished and handed in the final assignment for the instructional design course I’m taking (after calculating the final mark I would get if I didn’t hand it in at all – but then I came to my senses and realized I could never live with myself if I did something so rebellious).

I got a lot of work done on Big Beesa over the weekend and today – half an hour here and a marathon session tonight after the gym. It really added up – she’s nearly finished and I’m just loving this painting. I will update you all about the painting process in a post later this week when she’s dry and I can get some proper pics – she’s impossible to photograph without wet painting glare right now. Here’s a preview 🙂

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Not Enough Hours in a Thursday.

Teelo scoping out the situation at the vet. 

Teelo went to the vet on Thursday afternoon and got his stitches out. We found out that he has lost even more weight on his diet. Our sweet little boy is doing so well. He’s like a puppy again. Teelo is a devious, clever fellow who has the world wrapped around his little paws. He hid under the chair at the vet’s office (as per usual) and eventually I had to drag him out for the stitches removal. I told him, “Teelo, this is life, this is happening.” By some Christmas miracle the vet tech was easily able to pull out the stitches as I held him in a bear hug. At this point Teelo, sensing that he was now out of hot water, danced around the office bum first, accepting bum scratches and liver treats as he sashayed like a little dog maniac around the room. 

Our skinny little pork chop. Safe at home after the vet. 

I spent Thurday evening working on a new video for the website! If you’ve ever wondered how to start an oil painting, or if you just want to watch an entertaining and fun video, you should definitely check it out. I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile now but just wasn’t camera ready at the right times :). I really want to add some regular instructional content here and there – I love teaching. I’ve been toying with the idea of a “learn to draw” type series or ideas little art projects readers can do themselves. Anyway, I figure (I hope) it might be useful to someone out there, and it was really fun to create.

Showing off for the camera with my pretty, prepped canvas.

I’m still learning how to use iMovie. I could not for the life of me find the voice-over control tonight, I had to watch a YouTube tutorial to find it. So far, I find that the editing is the most time-consuming part of the process. In comparison the speaking was the easy part! – I had been rehearsing what I wanted to say in my head and thinking it through for awhile – especially on dog walks. I enjoy public speaking – I had to do a fair number of presentations when I was in graduate school and other than being nervous about messing up, I kind of always liked the idea of it. I would say that was one of the lasting skills I kind of took after grad school – not the science as much as being able to hopefully string together some coherent sentences in a somewhat entertaining way. 

If there’s art learning content that you would like, if you have any art-related questions, if there’s something you’d like to ask about – ask away in the comments section below or send me a message. I’ll see what I can do! Art school and many (many!) years of working at Curry’s art store in high school and undergrad means I have quite a bit of technical and product knowledge. I still remember the item codes for the cash register after all this time (and yet, I couldn’t tell you much about something like physical chemistry, even though I took an entire course in 2nd year university and got an A… So many exams I feel like I carefully held onto my knowledge as I gingerly walked into the exam room, dumped it all onto the papers in front of me for an hour, and retained literally nothing the moment I handed everything in). 

Big Beesa before (earlier tonight).

I didn’t have as much time for Big Beesa tonight as I had anticipated. I worked on her ears for a bit and some of her coat. The light colour in her ears was a bit challenging to blend – it’s actually a mix of white, burnt umber, Payne’s grey (always those colours!) and varying amount of alizarin lake and burnt sienna for warmth.

With any animal like Beesa where there is a lot going on with her pattern and all the different colours in her coat (same goes for animals with lots of fur!!), there is a big risk that you will lose sight of the elements that make it distinct and just kind of muddy it all together with too many colours and not enough dominant lines and a lack of order and detail. So I always try to take a step back when dealing with something like this, try not to get lost with too much time working on it and sitting too close to really see what’s going on. Frequent breaks are good and so are pictures. I find it really difficult to assess the painting when seated right in front of the painting. Looking at the work through a photo really helps to show me what’s good and what may be veering off course. After an hour or so I figured it was a good place to stop even though I hadn’t really got too far. I was getting tired and I just had the sense that I should stop before I ruined Big Beesa. 

Tonight’s progress: Big Beesa after.
Check out those ears!
To be continued. Soon!

Thanks for visiting everyone. Happy Friday and happy weekend!

Always a dog mom.

1995 –

My art history would not be complete without revisiting high school – however cringe-inducing it might be.

I started grade 9 in 1995.

Grade 9 me!

Even though I’m talking about my past in the context of my artistic development, any walk down memory lane would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the glaring awkwardness. So let’s get it out of the way. I look back on my old photos from high school and I sincerely wonder, what on earth was I thinking? At the same time, I remind myself that it was such a different time from now. Just to give you an idea, the week I started high school the number one song on the radio (because we listened to the radio!) was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, and Friends was the most popular show on television. We all wore jeans, white t-shirts, and plaid button-downs over-top, sometimes tied around our waists. We all thought we were sooooo cool – even me! Pant waists were still pretty high back then – not total mom jeans but it wasn’t great. Nowadays people wear their high rise pants and feel ironic. Back then we did it because we just didn’t know any better. How could we – we barely had the internet!


Growing out those bangs in Grade 10…

I think most people usually just go from elementary school to their feeder high school. I had a few choices. I guess as an alternative to art school or my local high school, my mom actually lined up overnight at an all-girl’s Catholic high school that only did admissions via a lottery – it was really popular with local parents. Suffice it to say my mother put a lot of effort into getting me into this school attached to its very own nunnery.

This seemed like insanity to me. Grade 8 me was totally appalled. I already had my sights set on going to art school anyway. So in the winter of 1994-95 I applied to the Cawthra Park S.S. Regional Arts Program. The admissions process involved a few steps including a portfolio audition – it was all very proper. Two of the art teachers interviewed me, asked to look at my portfolio, and then had me draw a still-life scene for twenty minutes. 

Grade 11!

I was accepted and I was thrilled. My mom came to terms with it 😘

Cawthra Park S.S. was “famous” for being real-life Spike-from-Degrassi’s high school, but we never saw her. Students in the Regional Arts Program majored in visual art, music, drama, or dance. Art class was really great. I remember enjoying it very much right away.

The grade 9 art majors had Mr. Jensen, and let me tell you that was both an awesome and terrifying experience (I feel like that was a theme throughout grade 9). It really gave meaning to the expression, “baptism by fire.” Mr. Jensen was a no bullshit kind of guy. When you sensed he was in a bad mood (like the time he told us he got into a fight at hockey practice as an explanation for his black eye?!?) you would just stay out of his way. He was also awesome. Just a really awesome guy. He was a legitimate artist – he’d paint landscapes at his easel right alongside us sometimes. And he taught the most captivating art history classes. My knowledge of 20th Century art and the progression from impressionism through post-modernism is solidly intact because of this man. He was just a fantastic teacher. Kind of like Dead Poets Society: Cawthra Park Freaks and Geeks edition. Despite being a little bit scary, I just loved Mr. Jensen. His talks on Picasso and Dadaism and Michelangelo made me appreciate artists and styles I thought I knew or would have written off as being “dumb” or “boring”. And I loved the way he seemed to appreciate my art and my vision and what I had to offer. He seemed to think there was real merit in my work and I loved that because Mr. Jensen didn’t have time for fools – on this point he was incredibly upfront.


Cawthra Park S.S. library, drawn on location. 1996? Pencil crayon on paper.

As an aside – I had really high hopes of finding magic again when I took art history as an undergrad at Queen’s but no such luck – it turns out Mr. Jensen was the diamond in the rough of our class. We had other art teachers over the years and they were good, but Mr. Jensen played a huge role in my high school experience and his teaching guides how I judge myself and my success as an artist even now. Definitely a lasting impression.  

Academically I did very well. I think when I started in grade 9 I had enough raw talent to do reasonably alright and I thought a lot of the projects were fun. I liked getting good marks and I wanted to do well, that’s in my nature. At the same time, class didn’t feel like a chore in the first year or two. In the beginning we spent a lot of time drawing and then there were introductory “units” on painting, print-making, sculpture. Looking back, the projects were pretty disjointed. We spent time on colour theory and produced a series of abstract drawings focused on light and shadow. We spent a month on watercolours and produced a still-life watercolour painting at the end. It was pretty cool to get to go to art class everyday but I guess I’m not surprised looking back that a lot of my work has a sort of empty quality to it. It really wasn’t very inspired. 

Grade 9 watercolour.

I’m not sure that I became a better artist by going to “art school”. I do think that it kind of opened up more options to me. Being a creature of habit I probably would never have experimented with acrylics (for example) without being assigned to do an acrylic painting. Likewise for oils. And I learned I hated printmaking. Like, I hated it so much and could never apply enough pressure to get an even print and it was just so… messy.

I did so well in my first year art class that I was awarded the Year 1 Visual Arts Award. I didn’t know this even existed but once I did, and once I found out that it was offered for every year of the Regional Arts Program – the gloves were off. I feel like people are really surprised about this aspect of my personality but it’s true – I am really, really competitive. As such I mounted a Herculean effort to be “the best” at art class.


A design project that I did not enjoy but other people always seem to like. 1997? 
Ditto.

What did “being the best” mean to me? Number one it meant achieving the highest mark in art class, every year, which I succeeded at. This made each year less fun than the year before. And in the process of aiming for the top, I also totally ruined the enjoyment of learning for the sake of learning. I was just so obsessed with the number awarded to my work. Not only that, I know that I wasn’t “the best”. I don’t even know what this means now. A lot of my fellow students went on to become very successful professional artists. I just got to be really good at playing the grade game. In fact, one of my life regrets is that, despite doing so well on paper, I didn’t decide to do art as a career… 

One of my lasting takeaways from art school is that I really got a bit of a bug in my head about art needing to have meaning. I kind of learned the hard way back then that it’s just not good enough to create a carbon copy of the world around you. It’s ok for practice, sure, but what you paint matters. Without meaning, without a story for a Mr. Jensen to tell his grade 9 art class, the work has no soul. The story can be the colours, or the choices made by the artist, or all the things in their life that led to the pivotal point in time when a work was created. For me, art without purpose really became art that’s not even worth doing. This concept created a huge artist’s block for me in my last year in the program and lasted for a number of years (as in, what’s the point if there is no point?) but I’ve come back to it in a big way now and I find it’s really my central motivation. 

Grade 9 yearbook.

By grade 11 there was a significant contingent of students that chose to focus on abstract and conceptual art, especially for our thesis project in our last year. I thought it was all just madness. I just wasn’t open to it. We got a new department head around this time who really championed conceptual art… and I really struggled to continue to paint in a realistic style with some sort of heart. When I look back on a lot of my art projects from high school they seem kind of lacking, and I remember feeling a bit empty when I was creating them too. It’s funny how that feeling isn’t lost on me even now. 

Portrait study, grade 9.

Because of art school I have a soft spot for the work of Mark Rothko because it reminds me of our class trip to the Albright Gallery in Buffalo. I also have a soft spot for the super weird movie “Metropolis” that we watched there and back. I love the Group of Seven even though they are “overexposed” perhaps in the history of Canadian art – it reminds me of art history class. I’ll never forget the day students were invited to bring their dogs to art class and we spent the morning sketching in the middle of this off-leash crew of pups just wandering around the room, coming up to us to say hello. It was the best. And I’ll never forget my classmates, because even though I’m not in touch with most of them now, it was a really great group of kids. I actually recently had the fortuitous experience of reuniting with a high school friend through kind of five degrees of separation and from our conversations – it was like no time has passed. We may be separated by nearly a continent, but having this shared history makes these friendships feel like home 🙂 

If I could go back in time, I would try to enjoy the “journey of learning” a little more. I suppose that’s easy to say now that I’m twenty-five plus years removed from the awkwardness of trying to paint a masterpiece while worrying about being popular and pretty enough too. I felt so creatively burnt out after art school and it took a long time to want to go back to it in a meaningful way. I was so hard on myself and my work for so long. In the past year, the most freeing thing for me creatively has been thinking – it doesn’t have to be perfect. In so doing, I feel like I’ve been creating the best work of my entire life and I really feel like the best is yet to come. I’m grateful for the solid foundation provided by the incredible learning opportunities that I had when I was younger. I just hope it’s not too late to still make something of myself in the art world.  

Grade 12 me!

Stay tuned for part two of my high school reminiscing – my last year in the art program and my last year in high school was a pretty pivotal time and worth its own post… thanks for reading!

Learning to Paint

My first serious art teacher lived four houses down from my childhood home. Who I am as an artist will always be a product of everything I learned from her.  

I don’t remember learning to draw. Drawing came before painting. At the same time, I can’t remember ever not doing it. I remember when I was younger I would get fixated on drawing something and then draw it on repeat until I sort of levelled up and felt that I had mastered that subject or shape or technique and then move on to the next challenge, always incorporating what I had learned previously. I didn’t realize that I was following any process back then but it was very methodical. 

I loved art so much. Even though I don’t remember much discussion about it taking place, I was signed up somewhat regularly for art classes (in addition to swimming and baseball in those early days – my family still calls me The Slugger). My parents seemed to abide by the same approach that I apply to my fur babies – tired kids (and dogs) are the best kind of kids (and dogs) 😉

My earliest memory of any art lessons was on Saturday mornings one spring when I was still single-digits years old. It was in an old white church near the now University of Toronto, Mississauga campus. My one memory from that class is that we learned to draw three-dimensional cylinders, circles, and squares. I became obsessed. Even now, more than thirty years later, whenever I am bored and armed with pen and paper, I will doodle the same shapes on repeat, always the same way. It’s like a reflex. I literally remember nothing else from that class, except this one deeply ingrained habit which can be found on all of my notes through university undergrad right up to my latest property tax bill.

My most significant art instruction came from a real-life artist who lived four houses down from my childhood home. She was friends with my mom. When I was in Grade 6, she started offering classes to neighborhood kids at her home. So every Wednesday at 4pm I would head to her house with my little art tool box and that’s when I really started to learn – painting at Ann Fullerton’s dining room table. I had no idea back then how lucky I was and what an amazing opportunity I had been handed.

Up until then my experience with painting had been with school-grade tempera paints (does anyone other than every board of education ever buy that stuff??) and paintbrushes that clearly showed the care of tens of hundreds of grade schoolers and their penchant for glue-based arts and crafts. Shudder. 

Mrs. Fullerton gave us a list of supplies to buy for her classes. For the first time I went to a real art store (Curry’s! which would become a big part of my life as my first employer in high school a few years later) and I bought real (watercolour) paints and real brushes (soft bristle round #6 – still my go-to) and real watercolour paper (Strathmore 9×12″ student quality block). Lesson number one: Watercolour paints don’t just come as dehydrated bright primary colour discs a la Crayola. It also comes in tubes! In fact, if you’re serious about your painting at all you probably want to stick with paint that starts out in a tube. Amazing. And there was no tube of “red” or “blue” or “green” – they were replaced with alizarin crimson, cadmium red, and ultramarine blue, and green – there was nothing that looked like green at all. It was confusing…

Mrs. Fullerton spent that first class in February 1993 showing us how to squeeze out a small amount of paint onto our palettes, how to mix colours (hello green!), how to hold our brushes (life-changing). And then we painted and followed along with Mrs. Fullerton to create this, my first watercolour:

My first real painting.

Everything started to change for me then. Prior to these weekly art classes I would draw all.thetime, but kind of without any direction. Now I had moved on from the doodles of cylinders and cubes and was learning about composition, painting with a reference image, painting from the world around me, painting regularly for the very first time, and being inspired by a real artist. Truly, my dream was that I would one day be as “good” as Mrs. Fullerton. I had levelled up in a big way but her talent and skill – back then it just seemed impossible that I could ever hope to paint so well. Even now, my memories of her unbelievable artistic talent seem like a carrot kind of dangling in front of me. A higher level to achieve, still unattainable. From her I gained my lifelong love of realism, design, painting technique, and painting subject matter close to my heart. 

By Grade 8, I had been visiting Mrs. Fullerton for art lessons for two years. I had amassed quite a collection of paintings by then. Just like the circles and cubes years before I got on a big portraiture kick and would paint portraits of people I knew and also the models from Seventeen magazine (which also addressed my love of fashion and makeup).

Mrs. Fullerton helped me to prepare my portfolio for my high school audition and portfolio review. She showed me how to mount my paintings on black cardstock, and to use an x-acto knife (not scissors!) to make sure I was cutting straight lines. I stopped going to see her when I started art school in Grade 9. I learned a lot at Cawthra Park S.S. but I owe all of my fundamental art skills and sensibilities and even my very definition of art to Mrs. Fullerton and the Wednesday afternoons I spent at her house, learning to paint.