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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

"December Violets"
Oil on linen - 8x10"

Merry Christmas you fabulous artsy types!

I recently listened to a speech Daniel Graves (founder and president of the Florence Academy of Art) made to his 2014 graduating class, and I was inspired by his questions so wanted to share them with you:

He started by asking, "What does great art do?" and then gave some cool things to reflect on:

"Think of a painting you think is a great work of art and ask yourself "Why?" i.e.:
  • it inspires me
  • it stimulates me
  • it moves me….
Then ask:

How does it accomplish that? What is different about this work of art? Why do I think this is happening?

There is no wrong answer. Here are some possibilities:
  • technique
  • beauty
  • innovation
  • evocative
Finally, here's the most significant question - a great one to reflect on:

Are you applying what you think makes other art great to your own work?

"Paint your own paintings, don’t be swayed. Have the courage to paint the paintings that you are meant to do, that are uniquely yours. Just do it, no excuses." - Daniel Graves

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a fascinating relationship with painting in 2015!

Friday, August 8, 2014

3 Tips to Make a Boring Plein Air Subject Fun

"Lançon de Provence" - oil on linen - 8x10" - purchase

Here's the scene I was painting from.

Nuthin' to Paint Here

How many times have you gone out to paint plein air and found there was simply nothing that interesting to work from?

I was in Provence in July, and one day my painting companion Kaye and I drove around all day on a quest to find something great to paint. The light was overcast and flat, we didn't know the area at all, and we just kept turning corners and running into underwhelming subject matter.

These times are an opportunity to really tap into your creativity.

A Bit of Inspiration and Full Permission

What I've noticed in choosing subjects, both from life and from photos, is that my gut tells me if there's something there first, and then I start exploring from a technical perspective.

If the volume is turned way down on my gut message, what's needed is a willingness to be in exploration, and full permission to make shit up. You want to use the scene as a jumping off point and then let your creative muse take the ball and run with it.

Get Curious

Roll up your sleeves, put your painter brain on, and look through the the lens of possibility. If you feel even a glimmer of inspiration, ask yourself: "What's here that I can work with?"

In the scene above, here's what I saw that I could push to create interest:
  • lots of depth
  • a zig-zagging pattern of diagonals leading into the distance
  • a warm foreground and cool background
  • a variety of shapes/sizes to arrange in interesting ways
  • a balance of weight on the foreground right answered by the background mountain


Since the scene wasn't especially compelling, I used brushwork and colour in an expressive way to spark my sense of playfulness, and followed where it led. If it seemed like a fun move, I went for it to see where it would go.  

The best thing about a day like this is that there is little expectation of a great outcome. It's an opportunity to just play with paint, letting each brush stroke lead you to the next with no specific end in mind.

"Painting from nature is not copying the object; it's realizing one's sensations." - Paul Cezanne

Upcoming Plein Air Workshop Adventure

Stephen Quiller and I will be co-leading a unique plein air workshop this September. Carrying on the annual tradition that Bob Genn and I created 5 years ago, we are taking a group of painters on a fabulous adventure heli-painting in the Purcell Mountains of BC, Canada. 

The 4 day workshop starts with a full day of plein air instruction in the gorgeous Rockies of Banff, where Stephen and I will be giving 6 hours of hands-on instruction covering all the essential elements  needed in order to get the most out of this 3 day heli-painting experience.

It's a super cool opportunity that will truly flex your plein air painting muscles. You'll fill your tool kit with all kinds of tips and techniques for tackling outdoor painting, and bring home a wealth of great reference material, inspiration and memories.

Follow this link for more details and registration info.

Click the link below to see a mini heli-painting slideshow:
Heli Painting Photos
(Note: You may need to give the page a moment or two to load).

Feel free to contact me directly if you have questions about this trip:
Phone: 403-763-9035

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Farewell to a Master of Painting and Life

Robert Genn painting in the Bugaboos - August 2013

This morning I spent some time resting my hands on two beautiful paintings that were created by my friend and mentor Robert Genn.

I was quietly feeling him in them, sensing how every inch of them held his personality, his expression, his unique way of responding to the world. It was so clear that these paintings are and always will be my direct connection to him, no matter where he is in the Universe.

There are some important truths I learned from Bob in the time he was in my life, and I feel inspired to share them here as a way of honouring and remembering the remarkable being he was.

On Painting

When you are painting a babbling brook - make gurgling, splashing sounds 

One day when we were painting together, Bob came over to help me find my way in a plein air piece. I had the rocks nailed but was struggling with the moving water.

As he placed a few brushstrokes on my painting, he mimicked the dancing, playful sound of the water. He was connecting with the ‘creek-ness’ of the creek, bringing it fully into the painting.

Singing helps, too

I remember painting fairly near to him on a plateau at Lake O’Hara one sunny July afternoon when I heard him start singing to himself “For he’s the jolly good fellow...”  in a quiet, self-entertaining way.

He was completely immersed in an experience of joyful curiosity, in a state of play and wonder, as he explored what was possible between the world in front of him and the world inside of him.

Stop searching and get started 

(A variation of "Go to your room.")

I spent a day painting in a peaceful cove on Gabriola Island with Bob and his constant four-legged companion Dorothy. For the first hour or two, Bob painted while I roamed around with my camera, looking for something that inspired me to paint.

As I returned to where he was painting, Dorothy was anxiously whining about something and I was amused to hear him admonish her. “Dorothy”, he said, “get a hold of yourself.”

He looked up at me from his perch on the beach, surrounded by 4 really good ‘starts’ and a 5th on his easel, and shot me a glance with a wry smile that suggested I also take his advice...

Stop searching, sit, settle. Let the paintings find you.

On Life

Do what feels true for you

Bob wasn’t ruled by what others thought, or ideas about what he ‘should’ do. He did what compelled him, and didn’t do what didn’t. He was an example of how to live an incredibly authentic life.

Stir the pot - It’s where all the good stuff happens 

He was bold enough to ask inflammatory questions and declare controversial opinions. Whenever he put out an especially ‘hot’ letter, I could sense him sitting back and rubbing his hands with gleeful anticipation as soon as he hit send, deeply curious to see what polarized, emotionally charged, lively discussions would ensue.

He believed that contrary opinions made for elevated, interesting conversation, and he was always more than happy to stay and participate in the debates he initiated.

Ask others who they are, what they believe, and why

I saw Bob do this with pretty much every person he met. He knew he would learn something new, and it often created friendship. People were a wonder to him, an adventure, an opportunity to lean in for exploration and discovery.

He was genuinely, absolutely fascinated by human nature - both other’s and his own.

Be generous with your wisdom, influence and time

The first conversation I ever had with Robert was when I was starting out with galleries. I quickly found there were many confliciting policies, opinions and expectations, and I wanted clarity about what was fair for both the artist and the gallery. I decided to make a list of all the questions I had, and call up several professional artists to ask their opinions.

I had never met Robert, but I cold called him in his studio, thinking, “What’s the worst that could happen?” He engaged in conversation with me for more than an hour that day, and so began a friendship that lasted over 15 years.

It was an integral part of his nature to share and be of service, to give a leg up, to get behind anyone he saw was invested in themselves, and to help them get where they were headed.

Be in the vibrant drama of life unfolding - instead of ‘creating’ drama around it

Bob met his diagnosis and the hard reality that came with it head on, with absolute simplicity and clarity. His moments from his diagnosis to his death were spent living fully into them - free of spinning a story about them.

He chose to respond instead of reacting. He brought presence, care and attention to his dying, meeting each moment, right to the end, with skillful intention.

I heard a great Virginia Woolf quote today:
“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

Bob arranged his last pieces as powerfully as he arranged brush marks on his canvases. He met this experience in the same way he met every one of his paintings. Rather than focusing on ‘what was’ - he was far more interested in exploring “what could be”.

He was, and continues to be, an inspiration and an incredible gift in my life.

Fare well my friend, I wish you continued fascination and curious exploration as you continue on your journey. xo

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2 Great Painting Tips from Kevin MacPherson

"Alfred" - underpainting in progress - oil 9x12"
Just got back from a fantastic workshop in San Francisco with Kevin MacPherson. He is not only a masterful painter, he’s a great guy. He is passionate about teaching, lots of fun to learn from, and really knows what he’s talking about. Super worth studying from!

Though most of what he taught was not new to me - it was like taking all the value study work I’ve been doing for the last few years, paring it down even more - and launching from there.

The Power of Black and White

I’ve worked with doing pre-painting value studies before, but always including a midtone. With Kevin, we started every painting by doing a value study of our subject using only black and white to create the pattern that is light, and the pattern that is shadow.

It’s super challenging to simplify to this extent. What’s needed is a big sharpie marker and a willingess to abandon detail in service of design.

Once you feel the sweet spot of this approach, you cross into a new world of possibility. You become liberated from the idea that detail is needed to tell a powerful story.

Photo from Chinatown - San Francisco

Value study of above Chinatown photo

The Essential Truth About Light and Shadow

Once you begin painting, the trick is to move back in the other direction without going too far.

The biggest thing I got from Kevin was this: the way to preserve the compelling design you just created is to honor a fundamental truth. White in shadow is darker than black in light. Everything builds on that, no crossing the line.

You can deepen your comprehension of this principle by putting a piece of white and black cloth side by side in a direct light source - sunny window for example, and then casting a shadow across them. Now squint down and compare the values and you’ll see it. I've posted a photo as an example, but it’s great learning to do this yourself and see it live.

Cover everything except the white in shadow and the black in light and squint. You'll see that the black in light is lighter than the white in shadow.

What to Consider As You Bring Color Back In

The next thing is to decide if your painting is about the light or the shadow. A good place to explore when considering this is to ask which takes up the larger part of your picture plane.

Once you decide if the light or the shadow will be the star player - put your richest colour there.

If it is the shadow, then you have to create enough light in it to see the colour, which means you need to add a lot of white to your lights (to keep them lighter than the shadow) - and adding that white will be at the expense of pure colour.

On the other hand, if it is in the light where you want to have your richest colour, you will have to darken the darks to get the shadow family where it belongs, again at the expense of rich colour.

"Doorway" - underpainting in progress - oil 12x9"

Try this approach, stay out of the weeds of detail, and see what happens when you let strong design and skillful use of color become a foundation of your work.

Photo reference for "Alfred" painting at the top of the post.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Co-creating With Robert Genn: What's Next for Heli-Painting

"The Bugaboos Spires"
Oil on linen - 6x8"

In September 2010, Robert Genn and I taught an inaugural plein air workshop in the Bugaboos. We used the helicopter to lift us quickly to high, stunning vantages. It was a life changing and unique painting experience for everyone involved, and we all returned home with records of time spent in very sacred, magical places.

In 2013 we completed our 4th annual trip, and each year it has gained in popularity. Heli-painting is a rewarding and challenging experience that can’t help but grow you as a painter - it has become a “bucket list” opportunity for adventurous artists looking to expand their range while connecting with like minded souls.

Taking A Hard Right

Shortly after our 2013 trip, Robert was diagnosed with cancer. As many of you who follow his blog The Painters Keys know - he is meeting his diagnosis with remarkable grace, and a surprisingly pragmatic attitude to getting on with things.

I spent a few hours with him in his studio when I was in Vancouver this January. For most of our visit he reclined in a comfortable chair in his studio, working away on a painting. It was so obviously a form of meditation for him, a way of staying present in the moment, of navigating his new reality while staying connected with one of his greatest passions in life.

Over the course of our friendship Bob has been an inspiration to me in many ways. Observing how he is meeting this experience has taken that to whole new level.

I watched as his assistant, his son, and voices from the outer world all kept checking in, interrupting his sacred space to get input on the unfolding tasks of getting and keeping his affairs in order. He would pause to address what was needed, and then return to his painting and our visit. He is clearly choosing peace, acceptance, and a commitment to living now - not in past or future.

Where We’re Going From Here

We discussed at length what direction we wanted heli-painting to take going forward, and determined that we both felt strongly it was a distinctive workshop experience that should continue.

We considered what artists might best complement the kind of teaching and painting experience we have created, and for 2014 we have invited Stephen Quiller to co-instruct. Stephen is a very accomplished studio and plein air artist who has taught painting to hundreds of students. He has developed a proven approach for creating transformative shifts in the students he works with.

Stephen and I taught together on Salt Spring Island in September of 2012. He is incredibly laid back, extremely articulate and infinitely generous with his wealth of knowledge. Our intention is to continue to share with you a remarkable, trip of a lifetime painting experience.

If you’d like to join us next year – please click here for full details and booking information.

Click here to view a Heli-painting photo album

Monday, February 24, 2014

Diving Head First Into "Wrong"

Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

What kind of relationship do you have with getting it wrong? Does it feel like it's something to be avoided altogether, or resisted after the fact?

It can be so compelling to edit in advance, to deny our creative urges, to not take risks in order to avoid potentially making a mess. There are moments when fear of screwing things up can be almost paralyzing. (Think: painting that's 3/4's done and working.)

On the other hand, it's tempting to beat ourselves up when we do act and then decide what we did was stupid or a mistake. (Think: painting was working, and you just killed it.)

If we decide killing the painting was a bad thing, we start to reinforce our tendency to act with caution in future paintings. Our focus shifts toward painting "successful" paintings instead of exploring 'what might be' from the beginning to the end of the painting process. It becomes an ongoing cycle of painting timidly in order to edit all risk out of the painting process.

Stay in the Game and Keep Shooting

Through a lot of trial and error, I've come to the realization that getting it wrong is not the problem, it's our interpretation of it that sends us into the ditch.

A great metaphor for this is a basketball game. Can you imagine only taking shots if you were sure they were going to go in? Or if every time you missed a shot you started telling yourself a story about how much you suck, how you should be better than you are, how you shouldn't be on the team? Every time you do this, you are effectively benching yourself.

The point isn't to have every shot go in, it's to stay in the game and keep playing.

What's Right With Wrong

So what about a reframe. What if wrong is a magical, essential part of the creative process unfolding? Yes, you may have killed the painting. And you may have no idea how you did that. Even so, every wrong stroke was information - rich, juicy, creative feedback for your soul. Wrong is always valuable information about what 'not right' is.

Trust that you know more now than you did before, even if you don't know what it is that you know. Your cells know. The space knows. There's important data on the hard drive that wouldn't be there if you had held back and been unwilling to step into scary land.

You don't get better by developing a shot that works and then taking that same shot over and over. You rise to the top of your game by taking shots from every possible angle, expanding your range, not caring about 'wrong' or 'failing', and trusting everything is information to create from.

Wrong is a necessary part of getting to right, in painting and in every area of our lives. The more we choose to befriend it, the faster we can integrate the value of it - and get on with the game.

PS: Huge shout out to reader Roxanne Tongco for reaching out to connect - and calling me forth to get my butt in the seat and write a long overdue blog post. This one's for you!