The process of painting

I write a lot here about the process of writing. However, I don’t often address my process in painting, so I thought I’d take a few moments to offer an inside look into my inside thoughts.

I’ve been painting far longer than I’ve been writing. At the age of 14 my art teacher, Roland Model, encouraged my mother to enroll me in extra-curricular art classes. She did that, and for the next three years I studied under Dorothy Milne-Eplett, who then lived in my hometown of Aurora, Ontario. Once a week people gathered in the loft of her historic home and daubed oil on canvas or masonite. It was a plunge into the deep end of art for me. Mostly the people who came to paint did copy work. But I chaffed at the bit and wanted to explore my own compositions. Between Roland Model and Dorothy Milne-Eplette, and later another secondary school art teacher, Arthur Gallagher, I came to understand composition, the importance of light and shadow, how to weigh subject and negative space. It was a new language. And I loved it.

Dorothy Milne-Eplett

Into my second year my mother decided she would like to take up painting, and so she joined me on those weekly outings. What should have been a bonding between mother and daughter ended up a frustration for me, because once again I felt the restraint of Mother’s influence, and so my wings were clipped. And there was some resentment on my part in that suddenly her art was being framed, while my ended up stored in my portfolio.

I did, however, realize a certain amount of income from my art. During the summers I worked as an office clerk in my step-father’s business, G.B. Sales. He manufactured sliding closet doors, and for eight to 12 hours a day I hammered out invoices to some of Toronto’s largest builders. I also brought into the office some of my paintings, which ended up selling mostly to one of the installers, Oscar Labarge. Whether still life or landscape, Oscar seemed to love my work, and we’d haggle over a price. He’d laugh and walk away with yet another painting, and I’d bank my earnings. Most of the paintings I created over the course of those years sold either to Oscar, or my teachers, all of them unframed, most of them originals.

I often wonder where those paintings are now, if they languish in some junk shop, or in landfill, or if they still hang in people’s homes.

When I left home at the age of 18, my portfolio, which had been filled with sketches and prints, ended up in landfill, a purge on the part of my mother.

Over the years I’ve come and gone from the lure of painting. In my dry spells it was often a lack of inspiration brought on by the necessity of allocating funds to raising children rather than the indulgence of pursing art.

Some time during the 1980’s, after yet another reconciliation with my Mother, she urged me to enroll with her in a series of Georgian College art courses. I didn’t have the funds to do so, let alone invest in a whole new medium, this time watercolours. She, however, was feeling magnanimous and funded my enrollment, and so once again she and I attended art classes together. This time, because of learning to find myself without her influence for three years, I was able to express myself more meaningfully, and found in watercolours a new freedom in the play of light.

Mostly my work gravitated toward landscapes, often en plein air, places and spaces which moved me deeply. I found the discipline and exacting science of watercolours challenging and exciting, enjoyed the push and patience it required. In oils, if you screwed up, you could paint over it. In watercolours you had one chance, and only one chance only to get it right. In some ways it became a science not only of art, but of life, one discipline translating to the other.

For a time I succumbed to the pressure of juried shows and gallery showings. Of the former I continually missed the mark. Of the latter, had many successful experiences. I also spent a good part of the 1990s hawking my wares in the Orangeville Farmer’s Market, and undertaking both private and public commissions.

Orangeville Town Hall

These days, however, I paint for myself—the hell with what any jury or curator thinks. It has, however, been an interesting experience of late, in that when Mother died I inherited all her supplies. I don’t think I’m going to have to buy paper from now until I push up daisies. But it is strange to open her portfolio, inhale the lingering scent of her perfume, sort through paper and select what I’m going to use for my next work. She’s still there. In a way we’re still painting together. I suppose it’s the one thing we truly had in common. She painted primarily flowers. I paint primarily landscapes.

Why landscapes? There is an almost spiritual connection I feel when I’m in nature, witness weather unfold across the land, the way light plays through leaves, or smacks off water, the way a snowfall cloaks all senses in a grey hush. It is that sense of wonder I try to evoke in what I paint, to catch beauty and emotion, to feel that unfettered sense of a child when everything is new.

The Downer Bridge
The Downer Bridge

Anyway, if you like, you can visit my art page. At the risk of sounding crassly commercial, if there’s something you like, and would like to have as part of the ambiance of your home, email me and we can discuss price and shipping. Otherwise, leave a comment, or just enjoy.

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