Saturday, April 05, 2014

Sketch Therapy

Since I've been working full time I haven't had a lot of time to start or finish any large paintings.  I've been reconciling myself with a lot of photo taking and sketching as a way of collecting future ideas and to keep my skills sharp.  I haven't always been a fan of sketching though.  The perfectionist in me always wants a perfect, flawless drawing as well as perfect, flawless conditions under which to perform.  The thought of keeping a sketchbook during art school was so abhorrent to me mainly because I couldn't think of anything brilliant to draw and the pressure I heaped on myself made it feel like a repugnant practice.  I also wasn't very good at drawing from my imagination as I would put down any idea within seconds of starting a sketch.  It wasn't until I started reading "Free Expression in Acrylics" by John Hammond that I finally realized that it's actually okay to have a personal preference when it comes to subject matter and to work within it:

"I like to paint in a way that is true to my initial response to the subject matter and therefore my starting point is always something I have seen and felt inspired by.  Working from imagination, or from what I know or think something should look like, is not for me, because it lacks the significance and emotion associated with a specific place or experience." (Hammond, Pg. 16)

I've always preferred to work from some sort of reference and I love to practice my amateur photography whenever I come across an interesting scene so it felt good to finally admit that I too prefer to sketch from reference.  Nothing wrong with that.  There is so much you can control when seeking out references, from composition to colour to tone.  I realized I need not wrestle with my imagination when there is so much natural beauty to refer to.  With that in mind I took a four week sketching class last fall through the Art Gallery of Ontario which specifically focused on drawing on location.  I wanted to rely on photo reference less and more from life, and to get over my crippling anxiety over perfection.  I approached the course objectively and shared my personal obstacles with my instructor so I could try to surpass them.  4 weeks is not a long time for any major revolutions but my instructor did help guide me towards a looser hand when drawing.  He stressed the importance of laying down the massive structures on the page first before descending into detail.  This advice has helped me a lot in my own approach and I find I don't obsess over minor mistakes as much anymore.

The process of roughing in the most general details first has helped me with sizing up my compositions so that everything that I want to be in the drawing will be there.  I find that if I can figure out the spatial and size relationships accurately enough everything else will work out by the time I get down to the details- kind of like assembling a puzzle.  My mind gets itself into a kind of zen state when trying to lay out all the size relationships out on the page and it's incredibly relaxing and rewarding to see the image unfold before you.

As much as I do miss painting, I've also learned to approach sketching like painting by loosening my grip on my drawing instrument- literally holding it by the end and letting my wrist do the work.  I spend more time observing the subject in front of me than focusing on the page.  If I focus too much on the page I begin to notice my hand stiffens up and the drawing begins to lose accuracy by my glazing over details.  I've created some drawings that don't look like drawings at all- more like big messes on the page- and I consider those to be as worthy as some of my more polished drawings because the process helps to inform me about what I'm trying to capture.  The ultimate goal for me is accuracy through looseness because it's more enjoyable for me and I think they make for better finished works.

To see some of the sketches I've done since I took the course, you can visit my Facebook fan page:

Friday, April 04, 2014

Where Have I Been?

Okay, so it's been a while since I last posted anything.  There have been some dramatic life changes in the past year- first, I got married to my partner Jason last summer and I basically went right into full time work from there.  There hasn't been as much time for creating artwork as I would like.  It's been very difficult for me to balance between a full work week and painting and I do miss it dearly.  I have been doing a few sketches here and there but nothing major.  Come this summer I have big plans to reignite my art practice.  I have a new website I'm working on and this blog will become more of a personal art journal- still mostly the same content but maybe with a couple more introspective entries on some of the struggles I share with other artists who are trying to balance between passion and getting paid.  Nothing too heavy though- there will still be instructional pieces and artwork posts.  I look forward to sharing my stories with you and hearing from you too.  

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Meeting MP Olivia Chow

I participated today in a Art Show being held at MP Olivia Chow's constituent office during her annual holiday party.  It was pretty much grab a painting and set up anywhere you can but it was just such a great opportunity to show your work and gain exposure at a high profile event.  The turn out was amazing and I got a lot of interest in my work which was a (much needed) boost to my ego.  Part way through the event I had the idea of propping up my iPad next to my painting in order to showcase a lot of my other work and that really seemed to get a lot of peoples' attention just by the innovation alone.  As one of my art teachers once said, 'never leave home without your portfolio because you never know when you're going to need it'.  That proved especially true in this case.

Meeting Olivia Chow was indeed the highlight though.  I have so much respect for her and the devotion she's given to making Toronto, and now Canada, a better place.  She is an inspiration to me and I'm just so grateful to her for giving artists this opportunity to show their work and just really taking the time to shift some focus on the value of the arts.

Me with MP Olivia Chow


Monday, October 22, 2012

What I'm Working On

It's been awhile since I've been able to update the blog.  The piece I've been working on has been more of a challenge than I was anticipating.  It's also larger than I usually work and I'm discovering a whole new set of obstacles-- though I don't really like calling them that-- more really just observing issues-- like when you paint this big it's harder to get away with minor mistakes but you also get to wield a bigger brush which is always fun.  As you can see I've strapped my iPad up beside my easel so that I can quickly reference my photos (the zoom feature is very nice to have).  I'm speaking heresy to other landscape painters, but that's why I don't hang around other artists that much anymore.  I find I'm more productive that way.  

I'm depicting the forest that's behind my apartment building during sunset one February afternoon.  I wanted to make this a large painting so that when you stand in front of the painting you feel like you are there-- that's actually quite tricky, but I'm always problem solving along the way.  I hope I can show off the finished piece soon!

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Young Mother" info-graphic

I've really been getting a kick out of info-graphics lately so I thought it might be fun to share this informal info-graphic assessment I drew up of my last painting. It's a fun way of reviewing and self-critiquing a painting once I finish with it to highlight the though processes and weaknesses for improvement. As you will see below, I'm not entirely sure if I want to finish the bottom if the painting or not. Leaving it unfinished would nod to one of my painting idols Mary Cassatt so I may just leave it. This is a very experimental piece for me so it was a very enjoyable piece to work on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Black Coffee

Hello! Another season, another blog post from yours truly.  It's been a relatively quiet summer.  I did however manage to finish working on a long-standing unfinished painting (which you will also observe at the top in my snazzy new website header) of none other than my regular model Lyrea.

"Black Coffee."  Oil on Canvas. 24x30" 2012.

Also, a quick FYI:  my artwork on display at Le Commensal has been extended for a couple more weeks while the artist who will follow up my display is arranging the transfer of her own artwork back from New York.  So if you haven't yet had a chance to see it you still have time!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Last Rites

I did this painting today of this path that was close to my old house and which I always found to have a romantic quality to.  I feel I am becoming more confident with landscapes-- because believe it or not, I'm actually quite intimidated by them; it's all those minute details that really make me nervous.  I've been studying the paintings of other artists and pouring over my book on the Group of Seven and Tom Thompson and I was able to pick up a few little hints here and there on how to go about staking out the different areas of the painting without them over-lapping into a giant mess.

"Last Rites" Oil on Canvas. 8x10" 2012.

What I especially enjoyed when painting this piece was experimenting with different tones of black for the bark of the trees-- actually they look more brownish-- and that's because I balanced between concoctions of ochre, ultramarine and alizarin crimson with just the slightest bit of black.  I find the different tones give it a more realistic look.

I painted this landscape over a canvas primed in red and burnt sienna acrylic wash, which really helped give the piece that warm quality-- you can see some of the original red peeking out in spots in the finished piece.  I started out by just drawing in the dark elements with a thin wash of black and then proceeded to add other areas of generalized colour, building up towards light.


I'll just toss in another painting here at the end that I forgot to mention in earlier posts which I also did recently, but in acrylic.

"Rainy Afternoon, University Ave." Acrylic on Canvas.  24x30". 2012.

This piece is much larger than I usually work at 24x30" but it was also a rewarding experience.  Also I don't have as many city scapes in my portfolio and I was also just salivating at the chance to paint a rainy scene with all those delicious reflections of light.  I worked very fast in laying my elements down, working very rough and expressively.  I find acrylic to be a lot easier to do this with because if you make a mistake you can literally paint over it in seconds.  Once all the basic elements and colors were down I was able to focus in on finer details, which is how I love to work.  I also painted this over a canvas primed in a number of wacky colours akin to an abstract painting and some of these colours worked to great effect, such as the smear of red to the right which looks like reflected light in the wet asphalt, and the windows on the building to the far left which I merely painted rectangles around and edited as little as possible.  It helped to contribute to the overall vibrancy and looseness of the painting.  I certainly hope to churn out a couple more pieces like this before the summer is through.  The feedback for this painting has been really positive.  I'd like to see if I could pull off something similar using oil paints instead because my only criticism of acrylics is that they dry darker and seem to lose some of their vibrancy in the process.