Currently there are four canvases in my studio at varying degrees of completion - 36"x48", 36"x40", 36"x36", and 30"x40". The beauty of working a number of pieces at once means that I can continue to work even though a canvas may be absolutely saturated and dripping with colour; that I can incorporate images or symbols that may not be relevant to one of the other canvases; and that I can keep working through problem areas in my mind while I'm working a separate canvas. I enjoy having these works in progress around me to remind me that each one of them goes through a challenging stage and to problem-solve as they inhabit my space...when I think that I will have to scrap it and begin again I am suddenly struck with inspiration. In order to move forward, I must continue to work and to resolve issues as they arise. Looking at each piece with a critical eye at some points and then, at others, just allowing my intuition to reign. The canvas in the front only has two layers of colour and pattern, the one to the left has about five, while the one on the easel has probably a dozen and the one on the right is nearing completion and on which I've lost count. Working in these layers adds such a depth and richness to the canvases. It's a real pleasure allowing my medium to dictate much of what I do in these early stages.
Yesterday I spent the day at the Royal Tyrrell Museum with my youngest daughter's class and was inspired anew not only by the remarkable hoodoos in this almost desert-like landscape in these badlands but also by the delicious textures and patterns of the fossils and dinosaur bones. It's really wonderful to learn about the billion year old history of this place - I do feel blessed to live here.
This has been an interesting and busy week - delivering new work to galleries, planning a solo exhibit for fall, and, of course, still painting. I also managed to finish the Hunger Games trilogy which I had promised my daughters I would. In our home, we choose not to see movies before we read the books they're based on, and, as the movie is being released today, I had a deadline. The series was actually quite wonderful - I love the role of imperfectly brave Katniss. This week I also had the great, great pleasure of meeting friends for a fabulous sushi lunch. Sometimes I go too long in between visits with some of the women whom I admire greatly so it was particularly nice that they pressured me for a date. Perfect. Great lunch, great conversation. And today, after my busy week, I'm enjoying a quiet day. I have to remember to listen to my body when it needs rest and it seems I've been going steadily for the past two months - between research and learning new techniques, coordinating the Art Programs at the library, organizing different things for my family, and preparing work for exhibit in fall I'm quite exhausted. And, though it is all good...great actually...I'm glad to have this day.
I don't know what the ravens are saying this
morning of green tenderness and
rain but, my, what a collection of
squallings and cracklings and whistles, made
with the ruffling of throat feathers and the
stretching of wings, nor is it any single speech
one to the rest, but clearly, an octet, since
they are eight coal-black birds with
dark-brown eyes. I have been in this world just
long enough to learn (not always easily) to love
my neighbors and to allow them every
possibility. Maybe the ravens are talking
for some ultimate vicious but useful purpose, or
maybe it's only directions to the next mountain, or maybe
it's simple, silly joy. "hello, ravens," I say, under
their dark tree and, as if courtesy were of
great importance, they turn, they clack and spill their
delicious glottals, of no consequence but
friendly and without the least judgment, down and
Whenever I travel I take my journal/sketchbook with me (along with a good book, of course). I've tried taking other art supplies but I find watercolours take so long to dry and acrylics require space for supports and paints. But my sketchbook can go anywhere. In fact, I keep a small moleskine in my purse so that I always have something to do whenever I'm waiting anywhere...school, dentist, doctor, physiotherapist, chiropractor, traffic (when I'm not driving), etc. I've found that it helps improve my patience ten-fold, so much so, that I'm sometimes disappointed when I don't have to wait too long. I've taken to drawing at campgrounds, on hikes, in museums and historical villages - favorite haunts of my family. I use it to write down ideas for gifts for my family, for grocery lists on occasion, and always sketch out the items I will pack whenever I travel. I love the fact that I can draw and write with the simplest of tools - paper and a pen - which makes the creation of art so much less intimidating. I remember my first art class in senior high. On our first day, we were given a pencil, erasor and sketchbook and told to draw something every day. After graduating I tried to keep up with the practice but then got caught up in trying too hard to make things 'perfect' - as if that is even possible. And then I switched to a pen, something that couldn't be fixed, and oddly enough it gave me the freedom to make mistakes. And knowing that the sketches in my books will most likely not be seen by anyone else but me gives me that much more freedom.
These two 'smalls' are complete and I'm quite pleased with the results. I always prefer to paint large so reducing the size to 20 inches and changing the format to square definitely adds challenges but I'm happy with the final result. It's been interesting to utilize different colour palettes on each piece, while continuing to work on a few pieces at a time as my instinct is to use the paint on the palette but, now I've begun to focus more on what the painting calls for instead. This intuitive process has been a huge departure for me...really, really enjoyable but also quite intimidating. There are many, many times throughout the work that I think that this time the piece is actually ruined. But I plod along, still excited to spend time in my studio, though I do slog once in awhile. There are many moments of sitting on my daybed and just looking, waiting for that flash of inspiration. A lot of research, writing, dreaming, and painting until the canvas just 'feels' right. 'Chasing Dreams' was the piece I sprayed and rubbed back many times, not liking the work very often during it but it has ended up being my favorite at the moment. I'm not certain if that's because of its colour palette (my favorite) or the image, or perhaps the combination. The dreams I chase are of community, a place of simplicity and silence. And 'Her Guardian' was a huge leap for me as I attempted to keep the colours feminine - I'm not a fan of pink in my life though I have a teenage daughter who doesn't go a day without it and she looks beautiful in it. I'm pleased with the end result as I feel that I've given the piece enough of the 'feminine' without being saccharine, by still giving the image strength. One of the things I have most admired in the Cree culture in I grew up with - the strength of the women, the honour and wisdom of the elders, the grandmothers. I hope I have captured this essence.
I think most of us are familiar with Danny Gregory's work. I'm always amazed how he can create contour drawings and then fill in the rest of the image while creating something interesting. His skills for actually seeing what is in front of him says a lot for the practice of drawing every day. Here is a link to a beautiful video of him at work which was created by his son - http://dannygregory.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/the-art-of-breakfast/. It's a good way to start the day ;)
I've begun work on two smal (for me) pieces - they each measure 20"x20". Not only is the size different but the format, square, presents a new challenge. The canoe on the left flowed out of my brush and I immediately knew that arrowheads would be present in this piece because I dreamt about it last night, a dream I had all but forgotten until I began painting...but the second, the one on the right, has been a challenge for me, lots of painting and scrubbing back, layering on more colour, etc. I wasn't liking this one at all, until I realized that I was trying to force it. I let go, drew images, a bison chasing a man - in navy on the background - which made me laugh, and which freed me up to creating something that I think could be very interesting. The amount of paint I use in this process is absolutely astounding to me but I do think it's necessary to create the layers of depth and meaning that these pieces have for me.
This painting is a pictoral representation of how I feel about the north - incorporating stars and bronze metallic paint as a symbol of the dancing aurora borealis; dotted circles for the multitude of crisp, white snow; a family of birds for the abundance of wildlife; teepees scratched into pthalo blue for community and also the deep, blue waters of the lakes and rivers that surrounded us; and a group of girls to share the close bonds of the friendship of my childhood, those beautiful females who have grown into wonderful women. The north isn't an easy place, filled with many of the same challenges of any community, but also compounded by isolation, by forest fires in summer and by killing cold in winter. But it is where I feel 'normal', accepted, expected. It is where I feel most Canadian.