Saturday, 21 December 2013

Observation #9 Terry's Farm Part 2- Dec 21

                                 Back again to finish this nowhere near 'step-by-step' demonstration-it is more like a                                                                'hop skip and jump'sort of thing.
                I ended part one talking about the old windmill. Windmills are not something I talk about when  I'm in the area around Kingsbridge- too much controversy and since I'm not a local anymore I'm not sure what side of the issue the person I'm talking to is on. The issue of course, is that of the Wind Farms. There are people 'for', and people 'against,' and if I were a politician,(perish the thought!) I'd say: "I'm on the side of the people"

                 I repainted the windmill this time treating it with that approach I use when regarding something as                                                       a finished part of the painting
            The Moral of the story: don't block in something like a windmill in a sketchy manner-it's OK for trees but not a structure as fine in it's edges as the steel structure in a 100 year old windmill (I'm guessing it is at least that old). I would claim that I should have used a smaller brush too but it's a poor workman who blames his tools. I wonder if the cost of electricity gets too high if it  wouldn't be a good idea to pump your water out of the ground the way they did a century ago.
                         Before the pencil lines were erased-  enough about the windmill

             Here is an observation that argues for making a detailed drawing before any paint is applied.
Remember these observations are just mine -some painters will be saying :" well of course Dalton -that's obvious -it's even taken for granted!" ....  others might be thinking that you shouldn't be too precise to start with because  that does not allow you any flexibility...I have no advice on the matter-"you gotta do what you gotta do". I do however, recall the realization that drawing 'first' turns the space into volumes and that's never a bad thing. The observation in question is that of the  questionable placement of shapes in this next                                                                                       photograph
I found my eye going to that place where the green tape leads to. The trouble is I didn't notice it soon enough
Geez.... for a painter you don't notice a lotta things...yeah that's a problem...
It is all those edges converging at one place that pulls your eye to it like a magnet-and yes you would have noticed it even if I hadn't drawn your attention to it...eventually.
...not only that but that bottom foliage on the tree seems to have been painted so it would fit into the green shape at the front of the cattle wagon- a terrible thing to do! a 'dumb' thing  to do- it's so obvious that the leaves seem to be 'placed ' in that green rectangle -so...
...after I did what I could to diminish the  converging shapes effect, I scraped away the surface paint from 
the leaves in front of the wagon and .....
-repainted that area, as well I messed around with some leaves above that-
Also at this stage I painted some sky shapes into the tree and if you look closely at the right side of the silo
you can see I repainted it and that left some floating leaf shapes to get rid of.

There is more to the story  but that's all I  am up for on this work-On the last day I had to clear a space on my worktable so I pushed all the paint to one end and I was somewhat surprised at the numbers of tubes and bottles I had taken out of storage for this work. The following is the photograph I thought I was taking  for the record
overall the photograph  is too light (compare with the image behind the Soft Gel jar below) but the painting itself  felt complete. As  my habit of taking a few months to live with a painting wasn't available I thought I'd take a few shots with a change of the camera settings -(colour temperature settings)  to see if maybe I could see any effects that might help me establish more of a 'mood' The following are some of the shots I took.
too warm
too cool
too green
too violet

 As you can see the too warm, too cool, too green, too violet all have different 'atmospheres', different 'feelings'. I like those words better than mood. Some painters say  success of a painting is due to the
 effective use of the value scale (the light and dark values regardless of the colour used). If that is a good test for the quality of a work then I guess I am content with the effect of the black and white shot below  After considering these photographs all I did to the final work was to darken the driveway and the bottom edge of the painting a very little  bit. 
     If anyone thinks they may prefer the more decorative effect of  one or another of those changes of colour, that's cool; I might too, over the long term, but I don't think a painting that is about the place a person grew up in and has an early life of memories should violate the fundamental 'Perceptual 'Reality' of the place -that is what it generally looked like in the early Autumn. 

Looking at the black and white photo I think if I ever do something like this again I will do a monochrome under painting.(and if put into a blog, take better pictures and crop them)
To finish this brief look at how the thing was done I'll include the final stages.
The first final stage is to apply a separation coat- the theory is that if anyone ever wants to remove the final varnish the separation (gel-coat) will protect the surface of the painting. Some artists don't think this is essential but it doesn't cost much and I conclude that it can't hurt.
Golden  soft gel(gloss)- the separation coat was applied and let dry for 24 hours
-then the final varnish-Liquitex Satin varnish brushed on. I gave it two coats with 6 hours between them. Now that I see this on the screen  the colours look richer and it should be mentioned that this is a better representation of what the final painting would look like if you could see it from the proper viewing distance (Which some say is 'arms length)
Here are a few other options I have used -if I were working in summer I may have used the Golden Spray Varnish- One  needs a well ventilated space that I don't have just now .

                          I guess that's it- if you stuck it out to the end I hope it was somewhat  interesting-since I posted my first blog I haven't had any feedback... I guess that's neither here nor there....   but since I'm not even sure the blog site   address got sent to who I put together in my address folder as the Blog Group...well maybe some kind soul will at least let me know if this got by the Art Censors!
till next time ....Brian
Post blog (P.B. )written on Dec 22
When I think back to post #7 in which I claimed my goal was to present the Why and How of it all, I don't feel that this was all that successful...however, it is what it is..... 
I have had some feed back (thanks) so I now  know this site is accessible and won't be bothering people to tell them I've put some new stuff on (which I think I might do) when other more demanding work gets too heavy. If I were still teaching I think I'd assign a blog project to my students 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Observation #8 Terry's Farm
    Dec. 20
 -: how it came together-a few notes on just some of the stages in the making of the painting.

First of all, let me say that this work could be called an 'illustration'. When I was an art student one of the worst things one could hear about one's  painting was that it was 'JUST an illustration'.Well I don't intend to get into a discussion of the difference between a painting and an illustration -and I don't think I care anymore...
   No matter if I am doing what I may call a painting or an illustration, the principles of design, composition and all the aspects that constitute a quality work remain the same .For me a good illustration is a good painting-a lousy illustration is just that-a lousy illustration.
                 This farm picture also has nothing at all to do with my interest in those old places.
                 What I'd like to discuss are just a few parts of the painting that  might be interesting  -mostly 'problem' parts because it is the solving or fixing the problems that I think may be interesting. I will skip over a lot and I won't mention any problems I may have noticed after the final varnish went on-luckily  I didn't see much I would have done differently.. really I didn't !.

This time I'll put my comments above the pictures
                                         This is a view of the farm taken from about the same location as another photograph I received at the time of the request for the painting.This picture was taken on my second last trip to the site....It was October and I was hoping the leaves would all be gone so I could see what had been obstructed in my spring and summer research trips.The initial choice of where to stand to paint the place (some folks call it the station point) was made the spring before.That wasn't an easy decision because there was no one place from which to look to include everything that was needed.
           I also realized that this would be a picture without that allegedly all important 'center of interest'.- don't mean to sound sarcastic but as an old painter there are some terms that get more and more annoying as I get older. I think I like 'rules' less and less ('principles' I can live with...) but yes I know, a good painting can't usually be made by monkeys or come out of the end of an elephant's trunk no matter what the Freudians say....Several more trips were made to get information about sizes and locations and to see what liberties I could take to include everything that was asked for. Arranging and rearranging nature is what landscape painters do all the time, but in this case I couldn't lie about what trees went where or what the distances were between various parts.
                                    This was not to be a copy of a photograph  (I have never worked exclusively from someone else's photograph and never will!) there !    As always I'd like the result to be something that someone who just 'likes paintings' and couldn't care less about whose home it is, would still say it has merit as an aesthetically pleasing painting. My original scribbles or what some might call preliminary sketches are so messy and drawn all over it is of no value to include them here. However I do have to get the composition into my head by making quick little scribbles,or sketches. I know from experience that  for me this is a step that enables me to 'see' the final outcome. That is not to say things don't change, but the basic composition remains intact once I start believe in it.

Because this is a Blog, I'll leave out a lot- I'll assume I'm not writing this for art students.
My old students may be impressed if I can manage to keep this brief.
The size of the painting originally asked for was obviously going to be too small to do my plan on so I  decided to seek forgiveness rather than permission and chose a canvas that was 20 X 40 inches-cotton  with 3 coats of sanded Gesso.
    I did a full size drawing on tracing paper and the traced it onto the canvas in the 
old fashioned way in pencil-(turned the tracing paper over and put pencil (8B) on the backside).
I then blocked in the sky area after a lot of indecision about where to put the horizon line. I used a photograph of the sky that I took in late summer from this location and knowing the lower part would be painted over kept it fairly simple.That sky is to the west- a little north of west and I hoped it might have the familiar-to-me look of the sky over lake Huron. This farm is about two miles from the lake. I grew up about one mile from the shoreline. Several times while I was at the farm there were seagulls in the distance and I think now maybe I should have included them-even if birds in a picture often feel inauthentic to me.

                                                 When massing in the large areas I kept the paint thin so I could see the drawing through a layer of paint.The heavily applied opaque paint is applied at the end. I approach painting like this in a way that does not make me feel committed to any colour or texture initially. Everything is sketchy and is in flux. I know from experience that I have to keep making adjustments as I go along and the  even if I think I'm close to the finish I know I'll have to make some areas more intense and some areas less so-push some things back and pull some things forward-sometimes that is done by means of contrast or exaggerated perspective or overlapping planes and sometimes colour temperature. I don't have a hard and fast approach. I envy those who say they have a technique that they find tried and true and use all the time.Sometimes I paint like a watercolourist, sometimes more like an oil painter, sometimes I  work on a coloured ground sometimes om the white of the gesso.

I know I should use a bigger brush at this stage but I tend to build up shapes in a shape like a tree gradually so I more or less draw in colour the edges of things. Beginning the painting of the trees is  partly through observation of those actual trees and partly through watching what happens when one keeps an eye on the overall balance of the composition. The liberties I took in this painting will forever remain a secret but I am sure no one will look at one or the trees and say that tree is smaller than when we planted it -or that it is in   the wrong place-
 The red of the farm wagon and the warm brown of the mail box will need to be watched...

The west door of my studio lets some light in but the window(not seen here) to the left
is one of the main sources of light -this room is not ideal and as I was finishing the painting during a week of nonstop snowfall(darker than usual daylight) I had to bring in some more artificial light-that mess on the table gets organized each morning before I begin and incidentally unlike a lot of my work, this one was done more or less at one go over 3 1/2 weeks and I calculate it took about  100-120 hours- that's not a lot in my books, it just happens to be one work that was easy to tell how long it took to do because I uncharacteristically did it 'in one go'.
As I said above I don't have hard and fast rules- that goes for colour too. Some painters boast that they use only 6 colours or 8 colours or just the primaries and some like to say they never use black. It would, I'm sure, be easier if one's technique were 'cut and dried', but I think I'm too much of an experimenter to ever stop trying out a colour just to see if it works. I don't think I really even have an colour 'preferences' -it all depends on what I'm painting. In this case the local colours in the farm setting  need to be'what they are'.
Maybe it's a good time to repeat that my paintings aren't about me-they are about my subject matter.
 Regarding colour,I really appreciate a good water colour in which the artist uses a well thought out combination of 3 colours other than black in order to make his or her blacks. I also appreciate good colour harmonies when I see them. Aesthetically I don't think you can beat a rich luscious, luminous Rembrandtesque oil painting but I might change my mind tomorrow if I bumped into a large colour field work
by any of the many Abstract Expressionists whose work I enjoy at the level of  pure colour.    I am certainly here not recommending that anyone ever paint like me.
Those tubes and bottles of paint  that can be seen on the table include fluid acrylic and soft body and heavy body acrylic  in all brands.     I need all the help I can get. I seldom use acrylic medium for a work like this.

  I debated with myself about including the vehicles that were there when I took a photo close up of the garage doors ...A painting like this will stay in a family and knowing how time passes I know that someday these vehicles will look like antiques- they will be a part of a family's history, just as are farmer's tractors. While my  family did not live on a farm when I was a child we did live in the country and I remember the loyalty farmers had to one make or another of tractor -It might be worth mentioning here that when Terry was a child his father was still using horses-so the vehicles stay... 
the colour came later and the driveway and bricks  got considerably cooler.The old windmill was blocked in and it was something I didn't want to think about....

Now for a confession: I overlooked  the abstract shapes that happen in a painting regardless of the content and failed to notice the way the eye movement caused by the positioning below of the mailbox relative to the tree behind it caused.... well it's obvious.
When I did the initial layout I didn't even include the mailbox thinking it would just be a small aspect of the
overall composition-anyone who takes pictures knows that if I had taken  just one step to the left the mailbox would have appeared to be  more to the 

so, I took that imaginary step to the right and looked again at the mail box and noticed it was not so tall, not so high- that's better-One can also see from the previous picture that by this point I decided to include the farm Truck and cattle wagon. At first I thought  maybe I don't have time to include it- it looked complicated -a lot of parts and I never did like drawing wheels and then the thought (the problem of scale) : how big should it be ? Since it wasn't there in that exact place in  any photograph, I had to draw  and redraw it at least 4 times !-each time making it bigger or smaller or higher or lower on the picture plane before putting it more to the left, then more to the right.... after 4 days of living with it in this position I figured it made sense- Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night wondering if you put a truck in the right place ? 
I drew the mailbox in with white chalk

This section  had to be looked at closely and altered a very little bit to enable
 me to show the house behind that tree in the front yard. While I had  I visited the farm at various times of the day, it was only at this point in the process of doing the painting that I even thought about shadows. I noticed the shadows were going from left to right on the ground. In my photographs the time that seemed to work to have the subtle shadows creating a sense of light, and space was mid-morning... I did visit the farm one morning- just at sunrise -in August, but the light then was too dramatic and harsh and there was too much green. It was about this point that I began to consider how I would deal with the large areas of grass and the fallen leaves.It also became apparent that the colour of the stone/brick driveway was drastically different depending on the time of day it was perceived.

The large spruce behind the driveway stone pillar seemed like a quite a major part of the composition 
and I knew I had to get it right -Blue Spruce are much bluer at some times of the year than other times.
I blocked it in about the size it should be and began to think that  it is not blue enough-sure enough looking at my hundreds of photographs of the place I was surprised at how I failed to notice its colour when I initially painted it in... That windmill in the back started to really bother me about this point.

As this picture below conveys I had begun to intensify the values in the blue spruce and fortunately
I had a good photo from which i could determine the tree's colour temperature. I confess I did not make it as blue as I could have- maybe even should have to be literally faithful to what the eye sees, but,(and it's a big but), what the eye sees when this painting  is on the wall, is what is important- it's obviously a blue spruce and that is enough... throughout this painting I thought it would be nice to have a bigger monitor-my good, old, much bigger monitor died a few weeks before and  I thought in replacing it I can live with this refurbished $70.00 monitor for now...when I win the lottery there will be some changes here!
The spruce with contrast added...
This one is out of the order but never mind -
these are not all the colours I used either...
..what the monitor showed me...

after using some cool blue/green and before adding the darks and the 
little brown cones near the top-by no means finished yet...

...that tree in the front yard with some mid value greens added
notice the trees to the left have been darkened down a lot and that 
annoying windmill is still waiting for it's salvation.

This is closer to the actual colour of the tree but now I notice that I don't like the 
way the leaves in the frame above are not cooperating with the bottom roof line  so... 
so I painted them out, yes, having to fix the windows and repaint the eaves trough
...but I think it was worth it...
You'll notice here I painted in the emergency numbers on the small
sign in the front yard-had to be sure to get that right !

now for that windmill........
or maybe I'll save it for next time 
     This  writing about what you have done is hard work and nothing looks as good as it did when the work was finished and varnished... and I feel like I'm leaving out too much... ho hum...
 It feels a bit like talking to myself too... I'm seeing quite a few things I'd do not exactly differently, just better- and no, I'm not being overly critical and don't get me wrong, I feel pretty good about the final results- I just know that, like every painter who is honest about it and doesn't have to carry around a big ego, painting -or making any kind of art means always striving for that result you know you can get a hold of and actually do sometimes.  
            The close up of that blasted windmill may give the impression that the canvas had a heavy texture but that is because I held an artificial light quite close and immediately above the area I was shooting
creating a 'raking' light

The next three pictures are about the beginning of the repainting of the windmill
Painting over it.....
then deciding how big to make it....

That's enough for mow-have to go shovel snow before it is rained on and turns to cement
...till next time...........................B.D.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

 Observation # 7
Observations During  painting of  cousin Terry's Farm:

    Over the years I have painted pictures of dozens of family farms, residences, churches,barns schools, even factory workplaces- buildings that have significance for those who lived in them or otherwise used them. When a relative asked me to make a painting of her childhood home  a part of me said : "Oh no I thought I was finished with that topic !" but a relative is a relative so I agreed.
           While doing the painting I took pictures everyday for the  3 weeks it took me to finish the work. Then of course I said to myself : why take the pictures if no one will ever see them ?....thus the Blog entry that follows...which may or may not be something anyone other than another illustrator painter would be interested in.
                           First a bit of background ( you can check out when my 800 words are up.)
    My earliest experience drawing a building (an architectural structure!), was during my first year at OCA.
(now called OCAD) The course was, as I recall, called Field Studies. I chose a building along Lake-shore Blvd -the Redpath Sugar Plant -no longer there I suspect. I spent the entire day (missing my afternoon classes) trying to solve the problems of perspective and proportion -so many confusing shapes to control. It was around that time I saw works by other truly talented students, works much more advance than my beginner stuff that made a strong impression on me-  Previous to that I never thought I would like drawing buildings and if I had not been exposed to the works of those truly talented students I would not likely have seen the potential in such subjects.
                The drawing I did wasn't very impressive but I was surprised that I rather got to enjoy the process of judging the angles and shapes in buildings on the streets of Toronto -especially in Kennsington Market. The Market then was a brand new experience for me with live chickens and the smell of fresh fish and fresh pastry and an overall foreign feel with languages I had never heard before- a fun place to sit and draw..In my second year at OCA I got the dream job for an art  student -a part time night  'grave yard shift' job as a security guard. In the dozen or so places I 'guarded' in Toronto I filled a sketchbook with what I saw around me  on the streets or in the factories.
             Later as I experimented with various subjects I noticed on my trips home to Kingsbridge that there were dozens of old houses in the area where I grew up and walked to school and rode my bicycle to fishing creeks. Later when I got my licence and could drive and worked for local farmers as a teenager in summer jobs, I came in contact with many of the other old abandoned farm houses in the area.
          When I began to draw those places I knew as a kid, I started to feel like this was a subject that spoke to me. When I was a child the community around Kingsbridge seemed to have an unusually high number of seniors- 'older' bachelors- retired old farmers who lived in the same house they grew up in, or close by. I knew them all and when I entered my last years at art College most of them were deceased but their houses still stood. It seems like it would be ungrateful not to mention an Artist mentor Eric Friefeld-an instructor at OCA. He and his work provided me with a lot of inspiration, validation and encouragement to do what I was doing, at a time when other well meaning instructors said I should be doing work that was more 'current'.
                    I knew what they meant and even agreed with them, but I kept being called to by the voices and ghosts of those old places and spaces.
        Often the houses of the old folks were left unlocked when the old folks went to the 'Home'. Many of them never came back to pack up their belongings. On weekends I would wander through those places taking many photographs.These were not houses that were built for the ages, as some of the stone houses built before the turn of the century were. It became clear as time passed and the rural agricultural society changed that they would soon be taken down.
    As part of a photography course in my 3rd year I took hundreds of black and white  photographs of those old places.One of the greatest losses of my life as a painter was when the roof leaked over a garage in a house we were renting in Guelph and my boxes and boxes of negatives were destroyed. However  I  did retain quite a few slides.
       All the old houses are now gone but not before I managed to a explore quite a few of them. For me they were like stage sets -full of the presence of those who had walked off that stage years before but had left the set as it was when the curtain came down their time was up.

     When I started this Seventh 'Observation' my intention was to present a step by step (almost) series of observations on painting my most recent farm 'scene'. I use the word 'scene' cautiously here because it is so often associated with the typical rural images one sees in calendars and sentimental illustrations of a  bucolic countryside.
   However now that I've been reflecting on how I got interested in painting buildings, maybe I'll toss in a few examples of early works on the theme.These will be works from the abandoned houses(buildings) series that apparently I am not finished with yet!

This is a drawing from 1969- one of the oldest drawings I had still had in my possession at the time I retired in 2003.
It was done in Ripley while on a painting trip with some college friends.During a trip to Lake Huron from Toronto,when we found ourselves in a worn out little village called Ripley .The students from the city were impressed by the  run-down old fashioned look of the place and we spent a few hours drawing and painting.
Little did I know that 34 years later my wife Ruth would open a Pottery shop in Ripley where we spent close to a decade- Ruth making Pots and I making Paintings-good years.
this is the corner of Queen St and Huron St  done on that same trip
the building on the left became Ruth's Potter/Gallery 34 years later.

Before final renovations were done I did a study in ink . The Original doors and windows
were replaced thanks to landlord David Brown and this corner building served as a
great spacious light filled gallery for our work for 8 years

 -a look at some of the shop/gallery area
where the real work got done

....where I hung out

...and did some drawing on Ruth's pottery
....still doing buildings, in this case
the Point Clark light house.

Back to the old buildings topic about 1970 just after OCA

An early Painting of a deserted house just north of Guelph on Hwy 6.
This was started as an under painting -imprimatura ,but I liked it as a monochrome so
left it that way.

Another old building just upstream  from the meeting of the Irving and Grand rivers
 -this time an Etching with aquatint from a copper plate. Etching- Intaglio was something I did a lot of while at the University of Guelph-found an excellent pair of Printmakers there -Walter Bachinski and Gene Chu-I
learned a lot from those two men.
This one was done during a great time in a Shop/Studio-Gallery in Elora with a couple of
 University of Guelph pals-good friends- Barry McCarthy and Werner Zimmermann.
 We each have good memories of a generous patron Bill Robinson.

 This is typical drawing of a church that was turned into a home -
 one of many drawings and paintings  that helped to pay the rent during the Ripley years

This one  is an example of a drawing done while inside one of the abandoned houses
This was done while still at OCA and was one of dozens I did while sitting in rooms
surrounded by ghosts of the past-at least it felt that way.
Sitting and drawing for 8 or 9 hours noticing all the things from the lives of the previous
dwellers often caused me to think of how brief life is and how impermanent everything is.....

Mabels's Kitchen-I spent a lot of hours here a midst scurrying  mice, 
 sleeping bats, a raccoon who grumpily waited for me to leave and the old paraphernalia 
of the people who once lived there.
It seems to surprise a lot of people that places like this really did exist and were
 suddenly abandoned-but some of the old folks must have had no relatives
 and their old neighbors had already gone to the home or had  shucked off this mortal coil-
in some cases decades before anyone got around to checking out 
those old houses that were overgrown with trees and bushes-
That reminds me of a place I went into at least 2 decades ago 
and it is still there !

From October of 2013- I draw the line at entering some places without a hard hat
and even then...I know I have photographs of this place from much earlier days.
Maybe I'll go back and poke around next spring.

 -a study done from a small sketch and photographs from a trip to Ireland-none of the Ontario ruins
I used to poke around in could be called 'old' when one thinks of what my old relatives here used to
refer to as 'the old country' 
this was somewhere in County Cork
-the land of my Paternal ancestors

About 1979 I went into an old barn with the boards falling off
and the top floor falling in.This was a barn that stopped being used suddenly while it
was still one of those very authentic 'Family Farm' barns-with evidence of chickens and pigs
 and cows and horses-as well as being a great place to draw I thought if I could design a stage set
with this kind of feeling, any old play would be successful in that space.
While sitting there I kept wondering if those timbers above  might just collapse on me.
I did two more versions of this place on it's way to  total decay.

a poster for an exhibition that was mostly old buildings
a pretty poor example of poster design-neglected to include
the date which was 1990

     that dumpy lookin guy found himself selecting a door from the back porch
 of an old house as the main image for  a poster
for an Exhibition in Harriston in Spring 2013  -thanks Wesley Bates and Tony Tsotros

an example of a work I had to start and finish at the site
-that is ice on the pond

the 'shop' after all renovations

This has been a very brief look at  48 years of  only one subject  in the drawings and paintings
that I have messed around with. To keep it from getting too long I'll not include the last few works in this series that I finally finished after  more years than I care to mention.
I'll save the two 'Attic' paintings and the Bookish Family painting for another time.

I'd like to return now to my original plan of depicting and saying a bit about how and why I draw and paint
using my latest and maybe last work in the family farm series- cousin Terry's farm.That will be next time.