When I paint I find I spend almost as much time working on the floor as I do on the easel...during the early stages in any case. I love the physicality of working like this, moving my body is as important in invoking those creative juices in my process as is paying attention to those things that draw my attention. I begin by pulling out the colours I want to begin with and then I allow myself to trust my instincts and just follow where I am led. I've noticed that I am constantly thinking and re-thinking as I work but it's quite fluid and done quite unconsciously. Even as the work gets to the final stages I catch myself just trying things, letting myself trust my colour and brush choices and allowing the marks to happen as they will...which includes any highlights and shadows. The more I let myself go, the better the outcome. And whenever I take a step back, I notice what's working, and even what's not, though often it is those stages that need to occur in order to bring the completed piece together.
Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of living in a log cabin surrounded by forest. In my dreams I also envisioned interesting neighbors near enough to visit, miles of pathways to explore and town close enough to walk to...so I could enjoy chatting with a friend at a café, pick up a book from the library, enjoy a movie or to pick up my groceries. Also, there is a lake nearby with a dock and a canoe for early morning paddles. Docks are the best place to read, with feet dangling in the water. In my vision I never drove though I owned a JEEP, you know, just in case. I don't know where this cabin is but I still believe it's out there somewhere and just waiting for me.
After I left college in the mid-80's and moved to Winnipeg, one of the first things I did was begin attending painting sessions at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the evenings after work. I love the Winnipeg Art Gallery and it was a special treat to work in the well-lit basement for many months under the tutelage of Craig Wells. He became a wonderful mentor, not only encouraging me in my work but in pushing me farther away from the realistic work that I had focused on for so long, teaching me to change form slightly and add strong marks and vivid colour.
Then I began working with Aboriginal sculptor Michael ManyEagles. He reminded me to pay attention to my past, my youth in a Cree community, and to honour it. At that point I thought I would become a sculptor but found that I kept being drawn back to paint on canvas and now, after many years, have remembered to include my past in my work.
When we moved to Alberta, local artist Audrey Mabee became a wonderful mentor and guide. Not only have I always admired her for her quality of work, but also her contribution to the arts in Calgary initially as a gallery owner and then in many other ways, including bringing Udderly Art to the city. I used to draw with charcoal on a stained ground and spray it with a fixative before painting but one day she suggested I let go of the charcoal drawing and go directly to paint and a brush instead. I found that my work became looser, much more free after that and I haven't turned back. She also discussed the business of art and said if I focus on the work and then share it my audience would find me. After all these years I have definitely found that to be true.
Throughout my career as an artist I have always asked many questions, speaking to artists and visiting their studios and galleries as often as I can in order to learn from them. I am fascinated by the variety and scope of not only the art, but the approach to art as a career. I have learned so much about the value of this creative life, even though most of mine has been lived in the solitude of my studio. Plus, in having mentors to guide me, I believe my work has improved and I have continued to grow.
It is always a privilege to complete a commission for someone, and a special honour to be entrusted with an image that means so much to that person. This piece has been my main focus for a few weeks and I'm so glad to be able to deliver it to its new home. I love the prairies and the foothills and the family history connected with this special place. Every generation of my family has been born in a different country and so I value those families who are grounded in a particular and beautiful place. There is something so special about families who keep coming together in a place filled with memory, of both good times and bad, and supporting one another through time. I am always so grateful when I'm given the opportunity to complete such a meaningful task.
When we lived on an acreage in the prairies, my daughter and I would search through the trees for open grasslands where the sun shone in abundance in order to find early blue violets. We would add these to decorate our plates, cakes, and salads and use them as a flourish on our lemonade because they were so pretty. I have also learned that the leaves can be used to make a mild tea, high in vitamin A and C. The seeds are spread by ants which means they end up everywhere. And, apparently the common garden pansy is a member of this family as well.
There have been a few books that have made a huge difference to me in this creative life, and though they were not necessarily about painting in particular, they resonated with me.
Taking a Leap: Building a Career as a Visual Artist by Cay Lang
I read this book before home computers, digital technology and the internet which meant I had to create artist's packages that included slides, resume, statement and all with a stamped return envelope if I wanted the slides returned. And let me tell you, slides were not inexpensive or that easy to get, so I definitely wanted them back. It was invaluable to guide me on researching galleries (which meant visiting them) and how to submit professionally. It's now been re-written to include our digital era and I'm guessing it's even better. I lent my copy out a number of years ago and haven't seen it since but it was invaluable to my initial introduction to exhibiting my work.
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
I'm sure most creative people have read this book and for good reason. Probably the best habit I developed because of this is to write daily, whether that is on my blog or in my journal. This leads to painting or drawing every day, too. Creativity begets creativity.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
This is actually a writer's workshop in a book. Because I spend so much time in solitude as a painter, I found that this book applied to the process of painting as much as it does to the process of writing. Plus it also helped build my confidence in writing.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp is a dance choreographer and this book is absolutely wonderful. It's written as exercises and is absolutely enlightening. It's wonderful to read about how she is inspired, how she gets out of ruts, and creating a body of work, some of my favorite things about any creative soul.
Steal Like an Artist & Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
After many years and many books, these little gems encapsulate everything I've learned as an artist. He really teaches that we just need to show up as ourselves. Brilliant!
How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist by Caroll Michels
Much like 'Taking a Leap', this book breaks down the business of art including the legal aspect. I'm currently enjoying it.
Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland
This is my latest creative acquisition and I love the simplicity of it...on how and why we approach our art (or avoid it) and why it can be so very difficult. Many years ago I became a painter just because I can't not. Doing the work is the easiest part for me, even if I feel it may not be good enough, I enjoy the process (believe me, there is a lot of work I have created that hasn't been shared publicly). But there are those times I feel immobilized by fear...whether that is in the creation of or sharing my work. It's not a good place to be and I find that I just need to push past that feeling and all is good.
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
This is one of two art books I have kept from college...my copy is falling apart so I've ordered a new one. It's filled with wonderful notes on both art and life. It is an easy to read guide that you can pick up and open to any part for creative inspiration and education.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
This is another book that I've had since college, though I did have to purchase another edition as mine fell apart. It is a step-by-step guide to improving drawing skills and is basically how I was taught in high school. Another fabulous book.
With Valentine's Day recently passed, I thought I should share my thankfulness for Hershey's kisses...and not only kisses, but any good chocolates (in case you were wondering, Lindt are my favorite). Kisses make me think of my girls when they were little. I used to place them atop cupcakes or on their breakfast plates for a treat. Of course that would be the day they were asked what they had for breakfast but I'm guessing the teachers chalked it up to them being the daughters of an artist. And in our house, no one ever leaves without a kiss, not chocolate, but still a treat.
As much I love seeing my paintings in public spaces, there are times when I am privileged to view my work in its new and personal home. Occasionally I am honoured to receive a photo of a piece in its new space and it never ceases to amaze me. And to hear the stories of how my paintings touch someone else is the greatest gift.
Each time I work on a painting there are these stories that circle around in my mind, whether they are of a place or time or simply a symbol that I cannot release from my memory, and I am so glad when others connect with that, even if their stories are different from mine. It's hard to put into words how much this means to me.
And so, if anyone else out there would like to share a photo of my work in your space, I would be thrilled to receive it...and if you'd like to share how the work has touched you, I would be honoured to hear your story.
I've spent the past two weeks in experimentation...with paper and canvas and tools and colour and texture. Some of these experiments fail, but other times and really even when they fail, I learn something new that I can take to my work-in-progress. Sometimes it's in those 'a-ha' moments when I suddenly have a resolution to a problem I'm working on and other times it's a new idea, image or colour palette. I remember learning in college that in Japan teachers suggest that the only way to learn is to paint 100 feet of canvas, and I believe that this is akin to that...just doing work of any kind in my studio leads to breakthroughs and education. These times of experimentation are invaluable to me, not only to open my mind to new ideas and my hands to new ways of working, but also to keep the work fresh and exciting. At these times I tend to research more, to read about the properties of the materials I'm using and methods of working and I do believe that by doing these things in conjunction helps me to understand my process better and to make connections that I might otherwise not make. I highly recommend it.
When I was a little girl I always felt that stumbling upon a lady's slipper in the forest was like coming upon a fairy home. Its genus name refers to Aphrodite and 'foot', and thus a tiny shoe or 'lady's slipper' and it is also known as moccasin flower (a name I preferred as a child). It is the only member of the orchid family that survives our Canadian climate but it doesn't transplant well and because of this it has unfortunately suffered reduction in the wild though when left alone can live up to twenty years. Medicinally the roots were used to treat tooth pain and muscle spams and as a sedative.