Kate Bush epitomized the 1980's for me...she was interesting, beautiful and wrote a song after my favorite novel, Wuthering Heights. I was a huge fan of British music and she definitely stood out for me...a haunting storyteller...and I loved the fact that she was a writer, singer, pianist, dancer, choreographer and producer, plus she also studied mime (I thought that was cool). Her first album included music she wrote when she was 13 years old. So much inspiration.
For many years I have used a 6x8 inch hardbound sketchbook that lies flat when open and has a lovely medium weight paper which is wonderful for drawing, light painting and also journaling as I use my sketchbook for everything. A few years ago, I came across these sketchbooks at Indigo and Chapters that feel very much like the ones I used to use though come are available at a fraction of the cost. They do have a few less pages (maybe 50?) but they feel just as lovely in my hand. I typically use one of these sketchbooks each year but also use a small pocket moleskine which I keep in my purse - also for notes, doodles, and sketches. I think if I were a writer I would use these as well as I tend to prefer unlined paper and this works just as well with a fountain pen as a pencil or almost everything else I use. I have tried gouache (which was lovely but I find that the paint dries too quickly and I really don't like the smell of it), watercolour (less water is better so I use the Peerless watercolour papers which are nice and vibrant along with a koi waterbrush), M.Graham water miscible oil paint (though I am a bit impatient and it dries too slowly), acrylics (excellent especially when I prepare the paper with gesso first) along with conte, chalk pastel, charcoal, pencil, pencil crayon, crayon, sharpees, pen and ink.
Since I began my current method of painting several years ago there have been many comments that the work seems to be inspired by graffiti, which is true to a point. I had been experimenting with abstraction since attending Red Deer College in the mid-1980's but never felt truly at home in that form of expression, not as a completed painting. Shortly after that, my husband gifted me with a graffiti pendant from David Rice jewellery (I have been obsessed with his work from the moment I first saw it) in Winnipeg and I loved the circles and lines and began incorporating that into my play. I still begin all of my paintings this way, painting circles and lines in a huge variety of colours - these days my favorites run from green gold, dioxazine purple and pthalo blue, to quinacridone magenta, napthol red and alizarin crimson (that one seems to be a staple) - and then returning to add images once those initial layers have dried well.
I have also been asked how I began this work. It was an interesting transition as I had begun painting a canoe for myself because I missed my northern home so terribly, and much like the chairs I had painted for so many years I began a simple canoe image against a simple background, At the same time I was playing (as always) with abstraction though I rarely shared it publicly. I took an online painting course for fun (a Christmas gift to myself) and one comment struck me...that was to take everything you loved and combine it all. So, as I stared at the canoe and abstract paintings that were sitting side-by-side in my studio, I thought I might as well go for it and began drawing a canoe on the abstract. Years ago Calgary artist Audrey Mabee suggested that I just go straight to my canvas by drawing with a paintbrush and I have followed that advice to this day. I was nervous but since I have always enjoyed drawing I thought I might as well try...and I believed it wasn't as if I would be showing the work to anyone in any case. I also kept a spray bottle and rag handy - they are great to remove wet acrylic paint if things go horribly wrong. But I liked it. So I began to paint around the image in order for it to stand out better. And I liked that, too. Then I decided to add other images I liked...and it seemed to work, plus it was so much fun.
Prior to that I had been struggling with my work. I knew I didn't want to paint chairs anymore (though there is still a demand for them and I do paint them on occasion). I knew I wanted to do something different but I also knew I wanted to love whatever it was that I did as I had loved the chairs. And I really do.
I have finally completed the painting I began at the Federation meeting last week. A couple of days ago I thought it might be complete but I put it aside to look at awhile as something didn't quite feel right to me when suddenly I realized that it just needed some warm colour and now it is finished. The bison is a kind of conglomeration that was inspired by several images...one is the symbol off of a Bison Transport truck which I doodled into my sketchbook as we were travelling north one day, another is the linear imagery of Isaac Bignell and the third is the symbol of the province of Manitoba where I was born and raised:
I love the fact that bison represents abundance and gratitude, blessing and prosperity. There is a traditional story that tells of White Buffalo Calf Woman who came to share that all things are interconnected. She reminded the people that the presence of each one of us impacts others and influences everything around us and with this, there comes great responsibility.
I first heard Stevie Nicks in 1977 with the release of the album 'Rumours' and I was smitten, I was 11 years old and I wanted to be Stevie. She was beautiful, bohemian, creative, and had the most lovely voice I had ever heard. Her songs were stories that made me want to write poetry. When I found out that she was also a painter I was even more obsessed, in a good way. I love so many of her songs, but to this day 'Landslide', especially when it is sung by her is my absolute favorite song of all. Stevie should really have been my number one on this '52WEEKS::Heroes' list but I was saving her for the time I have found to be a difficult one on this annual year-long project. I'm glad I did.
Many years ago I had the kindest mentor. She was a potter in her 70's, a busy and wise woman. One day when we were having tea she commented on the fact that I kept making excuses for not being able to paint. She told me not to make excuses or to apologize for not doing anything in my life, but rather to focus on what I was doing and why I was doing it. She reminded me that even Georgia O'Keeffe didn't always paint - at times because of health reasons and at others to focus on travel - but she never apologized to anyone. This lovely woman also helped me to realize that as humans we always do exactly what we want when we want to...it's just a matter of paying attention to what is most important to us at the time.
I gave her words a lot of thought and began to realize that I had time (one of my biggest excuses), I was just using it differently and so I began to rise early and paint for an hour before getting ready for work as mornings tend to be the most creative times for me. I also began carrying a sketchbook around to capture ideas and for doodling. During the evenings I would draw and read while my husband watched hockey. I also began the habit of carrying books around with me as I love to read and learn.
I continued this pattern when I had my children, creating a space for them in the corner of the basement that I carved out for my studio. And as soon as they were able (which was very young) I began to include them in food preparation (a plastic knife works wonders on mushrooms and strawberries) as well as clean up...we made a game out of it in order to have more creative time together since I was also working outside our home. The biggest thing I had to let go of was perfection...sometimes canned soup was enough for family dinner and when a four year old makes a bed it's not pretty but, boy are they proud. I spent many years in an orthodontist office with my eldest (ten years) and utilized that time to read and draw. To this day I am grateful for her kindness in sharing her wisdom with me as I realized at the time that I may have been more afraid of failure than really of not having enough time. To this day I make time for what is most important to me - my family, learning, community and always art.
There are a few things in my life that make me very happy and this bucket of paint is one of them. No matter how much I struggle with a painting or can't seem to find my groove, I still love to look at these colours. Each year that I work on the 52 WEEKS projects there are several moments (weeks) that I think, 'This is terrible. I should quite while I'm ahead. Nobody would notice if I stopped anyway.' The things many of us artists tell ourselves. But then I remember why I'm doing it. It's not just to complete something I've started, though that is very important, but it is to help me grow as an artist. To help me see better and to translate what I see in my own way. It really does help me to find my voice as a painter. And sharing it publicly certainly helps, as difficult as it can be, as I am forced to continue. So thank you to everyone who has commented and connected with me about these projects. The encouragement really helps.
Last night I had so much fun speaking and painting for the Calgary chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists. Throughout my years as an artist I have always treasured those times when other artists who have gone before me have shared their trials and triumphs, encouraging me to continue and I hope to do so for others. And though I have so much more to do, and so much further to go, I so love connecting with other artists. Now, I just have to finish this piece.
After Stevie Nicks, Royal Wood is my favorite singer/songwriter and last weekend I had the great privilege of seeing him perform live. Along with the Civil Wars, Hozier, Birdy, Whitehorse, Lord Huron, Ed Sheeran, Coeur de Pirate, Loreena McKennit, and a few jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, this is the music I listen to while I paint, I think it is the hauntingly beautiful melodies and stories that inspire my own work. I tend to be drawn to those musicians that write their own music and I wonder if it is because I feel a connection to what is created by an artist? I was also introduced to Jadea Kelly that evening and she was incredible. She's definitely going on my playlist.