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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
One of my mentors is Edmonton artist Gregg Johnson. Gregg was my high school art teacher. Years later, I discovered him running plein air art workshops in Jasper National Park. I attended these sessions for several years. While Gregg has retired from doing the intensive workshops now, for years he ran weekend workshops every spring and fall out of the hall at his church, and a loyal following of watercolour enthusiasts (myself included) returned time and again to participate. Now that I live in Victoria I miss his leadership and inspiration.
Gregg is not afraid of colour. Anyone who thinks of watercolour as a medium of pale pastels has never seen Gregg's work! One of his challenges to me has always been to push my limits - be bolder, less realistic, more vivid. Use lots of paint and let it flow! I've not yet mastered this but every time I return to his work or his workshops, I try once more.
A simple example or two will suffice. Do you think the sky needs to be blue? Gregg doesn't. Here are a couple of examples:
A Golden Beacon, Gregg Johnson
A Beacon Gone, Gregg Johnson
For more of Gregg's work, see his webpage, www.watercolors.ca/ or at the Picture This! gallery website at: http://www.picturethisgallery.com/gregg-johnson-original-art/
I first got interested in watercolour collage when I stumbled across the work of Gerald Brommer. He's written loads of books on the subject, and although he doesn't have a big web presence I was able to find a couple of spots where his work is online. One is Fishink, where I found some examples of his work to showcase:
He has some of his work at New Masters Gallery as well. While I was vaguely familiar with collage as a modern art technique invented and popularized by famous artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, it was Gerald Brommer's use of the technique in landscapes, especially his hilltop villages, that really got me going.
I've used collage with watercolour several times now, both as a primary technique and also as a way of "rescuing" a painting that didn't seem to be working (or where one area had become an irretrievable mess). It is slow but fun, and is something that I found I liked to do alongside a "pure" watercolour of the same subject. While one dried, I could work on the other. Collage does create a big mess relative to watercolours, but it is more like fun and less like work, at least to me.
Maligne Lake, 15" x 22" watercolour, torn paper, and acrylic medium
It's definitely an area for further exploration, perhaps with acrylic, perhaps with ink.
For those interested in the technique, whether with watercolour or other media, I highly recommend Brommer's book Collage Techniques: A Guide for Artists and Illustrators.
I've very little to say about the topic of how to keep working steadily on ones art. I'm really bad at it. Painting is hard work for me, not the "fun" that it seems to many artists. I find that producing "product" for some sort of goal (a specific show, for example) keeps me working. I'm not so great at disciplining myself to paint every day, although I do at least try to do something art-related each day. For example, today I was reading the late Robert Genn's website, The Painters Keys, for some of his pearls of wisdom on motivation. http://painterskeys.com/motivation/
As a result of my inability to press on with the hard work of painting, I often get distracted by other crafts. Last weekend I went to a workshop on rigid heddle weaving. Indeed, I own a loom, which has gathered dust for a number of years. The workshop was a blast, and now I want to find my loom and start weaving again. Of course, I have a half-finished painting triggering vague feelings of guilt.
Over the years I've been distracted by pottery (which I'd also like to take up again!), as well as tie dye, jewellery making, cross stitch, quilting, creative writing, basketry, sewing ... and of course other 2D media besides watercolour, including ink, pastel, oils and acrylics. No wonder I never have time to paint!
The big plan for the future is to actually set up a dedicated studio and then actually use it. Right after I walk the dog ...
When I was little I always wanted crayons for Christmas, and by the time I was in elementary school my Grandpa started to teach me to draw with charcoal, then pastel. Eventually we turned to oil paints and colour charts. Grandpa, as it turned out, was artist J. Gordon Sinclair (1889 - 1980).
Born in Komoka, Ontario, he moved to Edmonton, Alberta in 1912. He taught art and design at the Edmonton Technical School for 25 years, and was a lifelong oil painter (with the occasional watercolour that crept in). He had a great deal of formal training in art from places like the Chicago Art Institute, www.saic.edu/ and the University of Washington, washington.edu He studied with J.W. Beatty, and had a swack of connections to the Canadian art community. He was a Charter member of the Edmonton Art Club, edmontonartclub.com/ (founded 1921) and the Alberta Society of Artists, albertasocietyofartists.com/ , the first professional juried art organization in the province, founded in 1931 (their first president was A.C. Leighton). Gordon aka Grandpa was also the Western regional organizer of the Federation of Canadian Artists artists.ca/ That national organization was founded in 1941, and he was participating on equal footing with colleagues such as Lawren Harris (who organized the West Coast) and A.Y. Jackson (who organized Ontario).
Grandpa loved plein air painting, and spent his summers most years in the Rocky Mountains, most often in Jasper National Park. He was a prolific artist and painted hundreds of paintings over his lifetime, many of them on hardboard (masonite) as well as on canvas. Small plein air boards were often turned into larger canvas pieces at his Edmonton studio in Garneau.
While I can't say I like to paint outdoors as much as he did, I certainly love the mountains, and focussed on them for quite some time. My recent move to the West Coast is starting to have its influence, as suddenly coastal forests and beaches are drawing me in. I predict a shift in focus very soon.
I wish I knew more details off the top of my head about Grandpa but he died when I was barely out of my teens, and had retired from painting years before due to age and infirmity. The family has a box of clippings though, and I think I'll have to spend a bit more time with them in the future.
In the mean time, thanks Grandpa!
More information about the early years of the ASA can be found in Kathy Zimon's book Alberta Society of Artists: The First Seventy Years while more information about the history of the FCA can be found in Ellen Poole's online publication 65 Years of Artistic Achievement: A History of the FCA.
Grandpa mixing paint
Lots of folks know about at least some of the hazards of art materials - white lead in paint, for example. Yet many artists don't think about the many hazards of their occupation, particularly since they may have chronic exposure to small amounts of material over long periods of time. By working daily with the materials, they can get an exposure that can be harmful, even if a short term or acute exposure would not be particularly terrible.
There's a very good set of informative links on the US Government's Department of Health and Human Service's website that every artist should bookmark, entitled (link current as of the time of writing)
While some risks are fairly obvious (that turpentine you rinsed a brush in probably has skulls and crossbones right on the front label!), others are often more subtle and artists really need to think through their studio practices. Are you inhaling pastel dust or dipping your paintbrush absentmindedly into your coffee cup? The pigment in the material might be something like cadmium, or cobalt, and you could be putting your health at risk. The links above will help you outfit your studio with whatever it is that you need - masks, gloves, fire extinguishers, etc.
Artists also get set in their ways. Learned to paint oils with linseed oil and turps? How about getting down to an art supply store and replacing those with many of the non-toxic or reduced-toxicity modern solvents that are on the market. Manufacturers have modern substitutes for many of the toxic pigments too - take some time to learn about some of the newer pigment lines that are being used to replace some of the toxic chemicals. As a bonus, many of these also have improved lightfastness. Every major manufacturer has information on their websites about health and safety of their products. For example, here is Winsor & Newton's Health and Safety Information page.
So, we've thought about our safety. What else? People usually think about their children's safety too. No, your artists' paints are not OK for your kids to play with, and not just because of the mess. Get them some paint that is specifically made for children's art. The page I headlined above also has good links on children's art supplies, at home and at school.
Then, let's not forget about pets! Dogs as we know will eat and/or roll in just about anything. Think your cat is fastidious? My cats will try to drink water out of my watercolour container. And just wait until you try to clean up pthalo blue off their paws (and all the furniture they walked on before you noticed).
So if you have a pet, make sure you are supervising them in your studio space, and secure your materials before you leave the area. Ideally you don't really want mixed media pieces containing fur anyway ..... right?
Finally, let's think about the environment. If those chemicals are toxic to you and your kids and your pets over time, then guess what? They are toxic to the rest of life on earth too. Look into how to dispose of your materials safely. Some ideas to get you started on thinking greener about your art practice are nicely summarized in the Blick article
One of the best tips in my view is the one I've already mentioned - when choosing your materials, go with a choice that is less toxic to begin with, so that at the end of the day you will have fewer issues with ongoing safety and eventual disposal. I'm going to take my own advice and see if I can't find a reduced-toxicity alternative the next time I need to buy paint.
One of my sidelines is making ATCs, or Art Trading Cards. These are miniature artworks (playing card size) that are created with the intention of trading them for other ATCs. They are always traded, not sold (a similar size work intended for sale is called an ACEO).
ATCs are in any medium, although I always aim for hand drawn/hand painted swaps. They can be traded via exhibitions or live meet-ups, but there are also many mail art swap sites on the web. Here, ATCs and other tradeable art (altered books, art journals, etc) can be swapped with other artists around the world.
My favourite site is ATCs For All. It is a non-juried site with swaps of all types.
Here's one of my ATCs that was used as cover art for an ATC magazine, and which also won an online art contest:
ATCs can be used for fun and inspiration. They are usually done in swaps of at least three cards, so one of their most interesting side effects is that they can teach you the value of doing a series. It can even serve as a bit of a test run, to see if there is "something there" in a subject you think you might like to paint. It also gives you a chance to try painting something you haven't ever attempted, and figure out how to do it!
Here is a series of fire paintings that I did for a Midsummer-themed swap. I'd never tried doing a fire in watercolours and it was loads of fun figuring out what needed to be done.
Finally, lest one think that this can never be "serious" art ..... well, doesn't matter does it? However, there are also juried sites where folks can swap ATCs, and I even have one ATC that was entered into a show at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan. (Most of the cards were traded to other participants, and the Gallery kept one card from each artist to put into its permanent collection).