Why I paint

Summer is captured in the sweet taste and glow of a strawberry. (Strawberry. Oil on canvas. 6×6ÔÇŁ. 2017.)

 

Painting has become a compulsion of sorts, in the very best sense of the word.

I spend hours each week thinking about my paintings–mentally working out compositions, values, colours; considering how I will mix my colours to get the hues and shades I want; even thinking about the gorgeous texture of the oil paint and how I’ll create the brush marks. By the time I get to in front of the easel on the weekend, I have spent hours painting in my head.

The process of physically painting then is a sort of meditative affair. I immerse myself in the experience–in the colours, the smell, the textures, the sounds, the feel. Yes, I really do love the smell of oil paints!

 

I have always been driven to create, for as long as I can remember. Painting, drawing, sewing, baking, photography, and even writing or music at times. I don’t know why or where the urge to create comes from, but I am sure it is somewhere deep inside.

Three paintings in my rabbit series, developed from some work I did in high school and first year uni. (Acrylic on canvas, 10×8ÔÇŁ).

 

For a long time, I saw my inability to settle on one form or medium as a negative thing. That I was less serious a maker because I couldn’t dedicate myself to just one way of expression. Now, I realize that my diversity of expression is not a drawback, but a benefit. The various forms of expression enrich and complement each other.

When I design sewing projects, I am thinking about colour and texture and how to take an idea in my head to a 2D pattern to a 3D creation. I spend ages in the fabric store choosing fabric that contrasts or matches in colour, texture, and hand.

When I photograph things, I delight in details, in finding what I think is the essence of a place, an object, an experience. I am thinking about colour and texture and shadow and light. I am thinking about how I can (hopefully) make the viewer contemplate the small details of nature that are too easily overlooked. I am thinking about how I can capture the feel of a place in a single photo of a seemingly insignificant detail.

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It’s all about the little things.

All of these modes seem to come together in my painting. I am taking 3D compositions and presenting them on a 2D surface. I am thinking about form, colour, shadow, light, texture. As much as possible, I am using my own photographs and, hopefully, presenting everyday or insignificant items in a new way, in a way that forces the viewer to recognize their beauty.

My reference photo for my garlic painting. The beautiful hues of purple and the papery texture attracted me. I like the drama of drop-out black.

As a youngster I created a ‘studio’ space in my parent’s unfinished basement. It was my space to create, and gifts of art and craft supplies found their way there. Art class projects I couldn’t bear to part with wound up there–a plaster lion mask, an elephant head made from strips of cardboard, and my OAC final project on d├ętruis and debris.

But painting really started for me, I think, in my last year of university in Toronto. In blissful ignorance of what I didn’t know, I took myself off to a Loomis & Tooles and stocked up on pots of Golden acrylic paint. I propped my canvas up against a bookshelf and painted away.

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One of my very first ÔÇśproperÔÇÖ paintings, done from a photograph I took during my exchange year at Swansea. I even got it framed! (Acrylic on canvas, 11×9, 2002).

As life got busy, I drifted away from painting. But painting now has a hold of me again, and perhaps even stronger now.

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My first painting class after about a decade of not painting. I see the imperfections, but oh, how I enjoyed painting that fluff! Painted from my own photo. Full fluffy heads of dandelion seed are kinda boringÔÇödecay is much more interesting! (Acrylic on canvas board, 2016).

In November 2016 I sat down in my first painting class (and my first art class since the late 90s). I went home from that first class with my arms just aching to continue painting. My teacher became my mentor, and convinced me to give oil painting a try. So, in the summer of 2017, I had my first lessons with oil–and loved it.

My first oil painting. I couldnÔÇÖt get over how luscious oil painting is and how it glows on the canvas. After Citron de Nice by Julian Marrow-Smith.┬á(Lemon. Oil on canvas board. 11×14ÔÇŁ 2017)

That’s when the fruit started. The glow and texture of oil painting just cries out for painting fruit and vegetables! After my first oil painting–a lemon– I started a series of fruit portraits. I use that term deliberately: As with my macro photographs, I want to present the fruit in a way that will encourage the viewer to see its beauty. The luscious fruits and dramatic shadows of Dutch masters paintings inspire me to show the glowing summer sunshine captured in delicious fruits.

Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life
Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life.

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promises of spring

My personal barometer tells me that spring is happening. The snowbanks outside might not look like it, but there is definitely some warmth creeping back into the sunshine and the temperature fluctuations indicate the annual battle between the shifting seasons. Even though my body hates the weather issues, spring is my favourite of the seasons and I am feeling somewhat desperate for this year. I did see a robin on February 13th chirping at me from atop a snowbank and on the 19th I found a pussywillow out in soft grey buds. Perhaps the robin and the willow were just confused, but I am clinging to them as signs that spring is coming.

Pussywillow

Spring. Squelching through vernal pools and delightful mud puddles. Listening to the songs of mating frogs and finding tadpoles in spring pools. Daffodils and hyacinths, my favourite of the spring bulbs, pushing their green noses through the dark, moist earth to share their brilliant colours and fragrance. The red haze, already on the maple trees as sap begins to flow up from deep roots to the topmost branches, turns to red buds and spider-like flowers, then finally tiny umbrella leaves. Clouds of apple and pear blossoms, alive and humming with life, laden dark limbs. Dozy bees bumbling through lilacs. Shimmery beetles and chubby grubs return with clouds of butterflies. Worms trace their trails through soft mud in the misty mornings. Morning bird song changes as robins and blackbirds return. Creatures of all sizes, from insects to toads and snakes, basking in the warm sunshine. Purple violets peeking through the freshly green grass. Warm, sun-dried laundry scented with fresh-cut grass. Fresh thunderstorms rinsing away winter’s grim and leaving clean, rain-scented air filled with cheerful bird song.

Yup, I am ready for spring.

The Silk Road

This is another post from the past, written while I was in Turkey in 2009.┬áIt was originally typed on a Turkish keyboard, so the ÔÇśiÔÇÖs have no dots.

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May 12, 2009
Sultan Hanı Caravanseraı 

The Sultan Han─▒ ─▒s a Caravnsera─▒ on the road between Avanos and Konya (I th─▒nk?) as part of the old trade routes. Caravansera─▒ were bu─▒lt along the route every 20 m─▒les, wh─▒ch ─▒s the d─▒stance a camel tra─▒n could travel ─▒n dayl─▒ght. These are real forts, w─▒th th─▒ck, h─▒gh walls and one entrance. As we entered through the ornate Sel├žuk gateway ─▒nto the empty, weedy courtyard, my m─▒nd began to populate the place w─▒th people and an─▒mals. I ─▒mag─▒ned the no─▒se and bustle of act─▒v─▒ty as camel tra─▒ns entered and travellers found space for themselves, the─▒r cargo and the─▒r an─▒mals for the n─▒ght. After unload─▒ng the camels and bedd─▒ng them down for the n─▒ght (I am sure, l─▒ke most who care for an─▒mals, that they put the─▒r an─▒mals ahead of themselves) the weary travellers could conduct trade, have a Turk─▒sh bath in the small┬áhamam, conduct the─▒r prayers ─▒n the small, ra─▒sed prayer room ─▒n the center of the courtyard or sleep ─▒n one of the h─▒gh-ce─▒l─▒nged rooms. In summer the camels were housed ─▒n the long, open stable along one s─▒de of the courtyard. In w─▒nter, the an─▒mals were taken ─▒nto the cathedral-esque stables at the rear of the courtyard. Th─▒s space, d─▒v─▒ded by many arches and p─▒ers, ─▒s l─▒t by h─▒gh w─▒ndows wh─▒ch allow the heat to r─▒se and escape the bu─▒ld─▒ng. Cool, dark and qu─▒et except for the coo─▒ng of a mult─▒tude of p─▒geons, one can ─▒mag─▒ne the no─▒se and heat of men unload─▒ng and feed─▒ng the─▒r camels and shout─▒ng at the uncooperat─▒ve ones wh─▒le the camels themselves snorted, stomped and made whatever no─▒ses camels make ─▒n the sem─▒-darkness.

Muhammad the camel carries tourists up and down a short stretch of road in Cappadocia.
A camel– just in case you weren’t sure.

Sılk road 

Part of our journey followed one of the routes of the anc─▒ent S─▒lk Road. As we travelled I was transf─▒xed by the beauty of the Turk─▒sh countrys─▒de. It truly felt as though I were l─▒v─▒ng ─▒n a Nat─▒onal Geograph─▒c magaz─▒ne art─▒cle. We passed tent ÔÇśv─▒llagesÔÇÖ of m─▒grant (mostly Armen─▒an) workers. We passed men and women work─▒ng ─▒n the─▒r f─▒eldsÔÇöand more often than not th─▒s was true phys─▒cal labour, work─▒ng w─▒th the─▒r hands rather than mach─▒nery. We passed flora and fauna (─▒nclud─▒ng at least three wh─▒te storks and one black one) and f─▒elds of beaut─▒ful yellow and purple flowers. The farm f─▒elds are not la─▒d out ─▒n clean, prec─▒se gr─▒ds l─▒ke we are used to ─▒n Canada; rather, they are f─▒tted ─▒n at odd angles and shapes as the terra─▒n allows. Much of the so─▒l we saw ─▒n Cappadocc─▒a was sandy and stoney, not the fert─▒le clay-loam of southwestern Ontar─▒o. The f─▒elds were unfenced and we passed m─▒xed herds of cows graz─▒ng wh─▒le a herdsman watched over them. As we passed through v─▒llages we saw a m─▒x of tractors and horses used for haul─▒ng wagons. Unl─▒ke ─▒n Canada, farmers l─▒ve ─▒n v─▒llages w─▒th the─▒r an─▒mals and go out ─▒nto the countrys─▒de to work ─▒n the─▒r f─▒elds. The v─▒llages had a very gr─▒tty feel to them that made me wonder why I was born w─▒th the luxur─▒es that I was.

One view of the varied Turkish countryside.
One view of the varied Turkish countryside.

An Aladdin’s Cave of Colour

This is another post from the past, written while I was in Turkey in 2009.┬áIt was originally typed on a Turkish keyboard, so the ÔÇśiÔÇÖs have no dots. This carpet workshop made quite an impression on me. It served not only as a place to sell carpets, but a place to train women in the traditional methods of making Turkish carpets. Their carpets are sold here, allowing women and girls to bring in some income for their families. Someday, if I’m ever wealthy, I would love to go back here and pick up some amazing, authentic Turkish carpets and support these women.

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May 12, 2009
Avanos Halı (Carpet workshop) 

The Avanos Hal─▒ ─▒s an Aladd─▒nÔÇÖs cave of beaut─▒ful carpets. There are 57 showrooms hous─▒ng more than 10,000 carpets. There ─▒s also a workshop where some women, graduates of the─▒r carpet-mak─▒ng programme, knot carpets of var─▒ous s─▒zes on large looms, as well as rooms demonstrat─▒ng how s─▒lk thread ─▒s spun from the cocoons and how wool ─▒s dyed naturally.

The Avanos Hal─▒ tra─▒ns women ─▒n rug mak─▒ng and graduates of the─▒r programme go on to work for them, e─▒ther mak─▒ng rugs ─▒n the─▒r workshop on s─▒te or do─▒ng the work from the─▒r homes. The─▒r hands fly at l─▒ghtn─▒ng speed and ─▒t ─▒s easy to see why Turk─▒sh rugs are so expens─▒ve. Us─▒ng e─▒ther the s─▒ngle or double knott─▒ng method (the latter ─▒s only used ─▒n Turks─▒h rugs), they make rugs w─▒th up to 25 knots per square cen─▒meter. Turk─▒sh rugs are the only ones that use the double knot method. Knots are t─▒ed ─▒n a var─▒ety of colours follow─▒ng a pattern that looks much l─▒ke a cross-st─▒tch pattern. Per─▒od─▒cally, the women tr─▒m off the tufts of thread from the knots; after ─▒t ─▒s f─▒n─▒shed, the carpet ─▒s then run through a mach─▒ne that tr─▒ms the p─▒le evenly. S─▒nce the rugs take anywhere from months to years to complete, the women are pa─▒d accord─▒ng to the number of knots they t─▒e rather than the number of rugs they make. Rugs can be made w─▒th s─▒lk knotted on s─▒lk, wool on wool, wool on cotton, or cotton on cotton. S─▒nce s─▒lk threads are the f─▒nest, these are used to make exqu─▒stely deta─▒led carpets w─▒th as many as 20 to 25 knots per square cent─▒meter. Naturally, these are of h─▒ghest qual─▒ty and qu─▒te costly. The del─▒cate and prec─▒se deta─▒ls on these rugs ─▒s rem─▒nscent of very f─▒ne embro─▒dery. S─▒nce wool ─▒s a bulk─▒er thread, these have lower thread counts and a loft─▒er p─▒le.

Each rug ─▒s ─▒nspected by a government off─▒c─▒al and a lead seal ─▒s aff─▒xed ─▒f ─▒t ─▒s approved. Th─▒s ─▒nd─▒cates that the rug ─▒s government cert─▒f─▒ed and guaranteed. Interest─▒ngly, rugs become more valuable as they are used. Wear on the carpets releases lanol─▒n from the wool, wh─▒ch cond─▒t─▒ons the f─▒bers.

Carpet colours and mot─▒fs vary reg─▒on by reg─▒on. In Cappadoc─▒an carpets we see medall─▒ons (─▒nd─▒cat─▒ng the power of the sultan), a f─▒gure w─▒th her hands on her h─▒ps, flowers (─▒nd─▒cat─▒ng good news) and symbols ─▒nd─▒cat─▒ng eternal l─▒ght. In another reg─▒on, scorp─▒ons are knotted ─▒nto the pattern to ward off real scorp─▒ons and st─▒ll other rugs have a prayer n─▒che pattern. The workshop produces reproduct─▒ons of museum p─▒eces as well as creat─▒ng ─▒ts own patterns. I l─▒ke the rugs wh─▒ch come from the Eastern part of Turkey because of the muted colours and the styl─▒zed an─▒mals. However, I th─▒nk my favour─▒te rugs are those from M─▒las. The yarns ─▒n those rugs are coloured from the tobacco plant, wh─▒ch ─▒s grown there spec─▒f─▒cally for that purpose and g─▒ves beaut─▒ful muted earth tones.

Watch─▒ng the women work and the s─▒lk be─▒ng spun and the wool be─▒ng dyed w─▒th natural dyes made me feel very close to the centur─▒es of trad─▒t─▒onal carpet mak─▒ng. As─▒de from the sp─▒nn─▒ng mach─▒ne for the s─▒lk, the technology beh─▒nd the knott─▒ng and dy─▒ng ─▒s qu─▒te s─▒mple. It ─▒s also fasc─▒nat─▒ng to th─▒nk about how certa─▒n art─▒st─▒c mot─▒fs that we have seen on th─▒s tr─▒p are repeated ─▒n d─▒fferent med─▒a; the t─▒le des─▒gns we have seen ─▒n the Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) or the Rustem Pasham Mosque are here presented ─▒n soft, warm rugs.

Morland Place

A private, rural garden open for public tours. Morland Place can be found at 102645 Grey Road 18, Owen Sound. It is a large European-style architectural landscape including French, Italian, perennial and contemplation gardens. There are also interesting buildings, hedges and a large maze. http://www.ruralgardens.ca/ 

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