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Well I realized I should either stop pretending to have a blog, or post something in it. I have several topics of interest to muse on, but life has intervened. Now that I have resumed a more settled existence, I am back finding more time for art. With me are my cats, as always. But in the process of leaving the old house, I left behind some footprints on a window ledge that a now-deceased kitty had left behind, so I photographed his paw prints in the hope of incorporating them into a future painting.
Years ago, Heather Busch and Burton Silver published a whimsical book entitled "Why Cats Paint" showing cats painting abstracts, which Amazon describes as "An unprecedented photographic record of cat creativity that will intrigue cat lovers and art lovers alike." Well, it was fun, albeit unscientific, and spurred many people at the time to try convincing their cats to paint.
On a more serious note, a recent book entitled Artful Cats by Mary Savig caught my eye. It's an investigation, using works from the Smithsonian, of various famous artists' relationships with their cats, providing a glimpse of the personal lives of many of these artists in the process. Again, from Amazon:
"Artful Cats explores the quirky and charming relationships of artists with their cats in 130 rarely seen photos, paintings, sketches, manuscripts, and letters from the Archives of American Art. Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Louise Nevelson, Marcel Breuer, Yves Tanguy, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Weston, Robert Indiana, Judy Chicago, Berenice Abbott, and Romare Bearden show off their artful cats, which appear as companions, inspirations, instigators, and often regents of the home or studio."
I don't often paint animals, but when I do, it's usually my cats. Perhaps it's something to do more often.
Elaine L Hughes
12" x 9" watercolour on paper
As a glaucoma patient and visual artist, I became interested in the effect of blindness on the ability to paint. As it turns out, it's not always critical. The first thing to realize is that most folks - about 93% - who are legally blind are not totally blind, and retain the ability to see some values, colours and shapes. In fact, going blind is a process, with inconsistent, light-dependent effects and a changing patchwork of impairment. One of the best descriptions I have read is Annalisa D'Innella's article "The Way I See It."
There have actually been some interesting books about the effect of various types of visual impairment on artists. The seminal work in the area is Patrick Trevor-Roper's book "The World Through Blunted Sight," first published in 1970 and revised and reprinted in 1988. It's available on Amazon here. The author, an opthalmologist, describes the effect of various types of visual impairment (due to cataracts, colour blindness, myopia, etc) and the impact that he theorizes it had on a variety of artists and writers, and the way they conveyed their visual impressions of the world. Unfortunately from my viewpoint, glaucoma (which causes loss of peripheral vision first, and can lead to total blindness over time) is given short shrift in the book.
A more recent book along the same vein is Michael Marmor & James Raven's 2009 book "The Artist's Eyes: Vision and the History of Art." It is also available on Amazon here. It is a series of case histories that looks at the impact that eye disease may have had, over time, on the works of several famous artists, particularly Impressionists Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh and Monet. (The authors also have an earlier work on the topic, the 1997 title "The Eye of the Artist.")
There are also some books out that help blind artists learn how to go about creating art, such as Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel’s book "Art Beyond Sight" (available here).
Keith Salmon, "Towards Ben Lomond, winter" 2017
Not all blind artists are historical figures. For example, Keith Salmon is an award winning Scottish landscape artist who exhibits regularly, who suffers from diabetic retinopathy. More about Salmon and his work can be found on his blog at http://www.keithsalmon.org/ Another well known artist, who died in 2015, was Sargy Mann, who lost his sight to cataract surgery, retinal detachments and burst corneal ulcerations. Information about Mann is available at http://sargymannarchive.com/ They and other contemporary artists have shown that visual impairment, even total blindness, can't stop artists from creating art!
Sargy Mann, "Three Figures By The Sea" 2014
Where will changing eyesight lead me on my own journey? Time will tell.
Years ago, in my days as a zoologist, I studied animal art, or more accurately art by animals. Desmond Morris was a big name, along with Congo the chimpanzee and his abstract impressionist paintings. Many other instances of people encouraging human-style painting by animals - elephants, dogs, other primates, dolphins - have been documented. One of the most noted was the humourous book "Why Cats Paint" by Heather Busch and Burton Silver. It also continues to be the subject of more serious study.
Painting by Congo (chimpanzee)
Of even more interest to me these days, however, is the idea of natural animal behaviours being expressed in a way that human artists can integrate into their own creative work. Perhaps the epitome of this is the scuptural work of Aganetha Dyck, who combined her porcelain work with the building of honeycombs by bees to create remarkable interspecies constructs.
Sculpture by Aganetha Dyck (with honeybees)
Another very interesting collaboration that goes one step further is the work of Diana Scherer, who creates her artworks by interacting with the growth of plant root systems, creating remarkable textiles in a sort of collaboration with living plants.
Textile by Diana Scherer (with root systems)
All of which makes me alive to the possibility of some type of collaboration with my own animals and plants. So, we shall see what comes of it, beyond the acrylic paint cat footprints on my windowsill.
There has been lots written about famous collaborations in the art world, and how unique creations can arise out of such a meeting of minds. See, for example this article.
While my latest project is somewhat less illustrious, it certainly was fun and inspiring and resulted in some art that I wouldn't have done on my own. With an eye on an upcoming show at our local art cooperative, artist Linda Anderson and I decided to paint a nearby sculpture, the Moss Lady in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC (patterned after the Mud Maid in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, England.
The plan: each paint a full sheet watercolour. Mine in summer, Linda's in winter. Combine them somehow into two fused paintings. Become famous! Or at least impress ourselves with our success :)
The process ended up being complex. Linda did a drawing to which I added bits. We both traced the same drawing on to our watercolour sheets. Once the paintings were done, I did a bunch of design prototypes using colour photocopies. Once we settled on a plan, Linda bravely chopped up the paintings. Then we mounted them on wooden cradles, varnished them and Linda painted the sides in acrylic to imitate a gallery wrap. The hardest part seemed to be coming up with names!
Here are some photos of different stages of the process:
The Drawing & Starting to Paint
Cutting them up
Pieceing them back together
On the Cradle
The finished pieces will go on exhibit at the Coast Collective's Collaborations show, August 2018.
Recently I went to Cuba for the first time. Ahead of the trip I knew little about Cuban art, but as it turns out there's a fabulous tradition of visual arts and craft as well as the more stereotypical music and dance scenes. There were two sites in Havana that were particularly interesting.
The first was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba, in particular the building housing the Cuban collection. It was a fabulous collection of Cuban painters from colonial days until the present and featured some of their best known artists.
Exhibit of work by Leandro Soto
The second was the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a converted paper mill that serves as an exhibition space for the visual arts, dance, music, theatre, film, etc, as well as housing a bar, nightclub and restaurant. With a clear focus on modern art, this was clearly one of the 21st century hubs for the Havana arts scene.
FAC Dance stage and bar
While I can't say that this brief trip provided enough time to truly immerse myself in Cuban art, it certainly provided an interesting taste of what I've been missing so far! Here's the link to Wikipedia for a brief synopsis, if you want a start on further reading.
I recently attended a workshop on framing watercolours without glass. The basic idea is to mount the finished watercolour on a wooden cradle and then finish the surface with varnish or an equivalent. The painting can then be hung without a frame (on a deep cradle) or framed like an acrylic or oil i.e., without a mat or glass.
Step one is to "glue" the watercolour to the wooden cradle, using acrylic polymer gloss medium, with or without GAC100 added. These are all archival materials. Once the watercolour is glued in place, its edges are trimmed to match the size of the wooden panel. At that point there are two options:
1. Dorland's cold wax can be spread over the surface, dried, then buffed. This protects the surface (in lieu of varnish). Photo below, the painting on the top right - here it is drying and not yet buffed up.
2. The surface can be painted with more acrylic gloss medium (enough coats to create an even sheen), then once dry, an archival spray varnish can be sprayed over this separation coat. Photo below, bottom painting.
The sides of the cradle are painted using acrylic full body paint.
The result is attractive and it keeps costs down substantially as framing costs can be reduced or even eliminated.
So, I decided to take an armchair travel art workshop. I love Dreama Tolle Perry's art and she had an online oil painting workshop based in one of my favourite places in the world - Provence! So I signed up and have been happily mucking about painting romantic images of various Provencal delights. Dreama's Website
So the one big issue is that I haven't painted in oils for decades, and have been trying to learn acrylics, so after inquiry I decided to try the course out using Golden Open Acrylics
These are described by Golden as " a slow-drying paint with a slightly softer consistency than our Heavy Body paints. The increased working time of these colors expands their range to include more traditional techniques once only possible with oils." In short, they stay wet a long time, especially if applied thickly. So it is possible to work alla prima with them, and do more blending than is usual with acrylics.
It's also possible to make horrible messes with them, haha. Many of them are very transparent and there is a dearth of opaque colours. You need to apply them thinly if you want them to dry within a day or two. They get tacky on the palette but can be thinned with one of the mediums that Golden makes for the Open line.
I am still reserving judgement on them. I don't know if my struggles with them are due to lack of familiarity with them, or if they are truly as awful as they seem. Some of the colours are horrible (eg. there's an ugly sap green that seems good for nothing except making mud). So my initial impression is that if you want to paint with paints that dry slowly, go buy oils. My future in acrylics will most likely involve going back to the traditional heavy body paints.
What to do with my leftover Open acrylics? I think once this course is over I will use them up doing monotype prints.
I thought I'd just post a few images from my Graduating Exhibit at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Extension in June 2017. It was the last of my program requirements for my Visual Arts Certificate, although my formal graduation won't be until the spring of 2018. I was honoured to have two of my mentors, Jerry Heine and Gregg Johnson, attend the exhibit, along with friends, family, colleagues and fellow Visual Arts students and instructors. As well as a few random street kids who ate lots of snacks but politely looked at the art!
I had over 30 paintings ranging in size from 5" x 7" miniatures up to full sheet 22" x 30" size. All scenes in and around the Rocky Mountains - primarily Banff, Jasper, the Icefields Parkway and Valemount. All the framing was done by Westshore Custom Picture Framing in Langford, BC.
Along with all the paintings I had some famous quotes about the mountains and their inspirational qualities.
Last but not least, here is my artist's statement from this show - my first solo exhibition!
I hope everyone who was there enjoyed the show and it was nice to sell a few paintings too!
Painting en plein air is a time honoured tradition. Most of my instructors and mentors extoll its virtues. I've done loads of workshops and courses en plein air - most recently this month - and I do always see the value. You work quickly, which often allows you to capture the mood and lighting of the scene in a way that is very fresh. It's excellent practice at simplifying complex subjects and creating compositions. It's difficult too - conditions change rapidly and the light you are painting in doesn't match the indoor lighting under which your painting will be viewed.
Here's one that I liked that I did in a recent workshop. "Esquimault Lagoon" Acrylic on canvas panel.
Of course, I should say that I hate it. It's always too hot, too cold, too windy, too buggy. It's hard to find a comfortable spot and your paint dries too rapidly. I rarely like my plein air work compared to my studio work. I usually just do it as a challenge to get me out of my comfort zone but honestly I'd probably have a better time just sitting around a campfire or reading a book on the beach if I want to spend time outdoors.
Still, I keep trying .... just joined a local plein air group and plan to start getting out there after some upcoming travel is over.
Since I've been doing blog posts about some of my mentors, I thought I'd do the next one on Jerry Heine. Jerry was a friend of my Grandfather and it was more or less a coincidence that I ended up in his classes at the University of Alberta Faculty of Extension. His bio and works are available at the Bugera Matheson Gallery website: http://bugeramathesongallery.com/artist-item/heine-jerry/
I love Jerry's use of colour and value. I'm constantly striving to integrate his sage advice into my watercolours. Two areas in which he excels are the use of wet-on-wet techniques (let the paint do what it will do, and let the colours mix on the page .... all in a fashion not entirely outside the artists control), and leaving the white of the paper as his lightest lights. Combined with deep colour saturation in his darkest darks, he creates amazing effects.
For me much of what I love about his painting style is best illustrated by his large waterfall paintings. I'll upload a couple of them here although many more are available on the Bugera Matheson website, above. Once you see them, you'll see what I mean!
Jerry Heine, "Below Stanley Glacier"
Jerry Heine, Autumn Falls