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Reminiscing on the Seeds of an Art Practice

When I lived in Colorado, I took courses and did drop-in life drawing sessions on a weekly basis at what is now the Cottonwood Center for the Arts. At that time it was founded and run by Sparky Lebold, who is a charismatic and talented artist. It was by chance that I started at Cottonwood, by finding a posting for courses in the mail room at the condo complex where I lived. I remember well the first night of a drawing course. The studio was in a small 2 story old brick building just a 5 minute drive away from home. As soon as I opened the door of the studio and began the climb up to the second story studio, I smelled the wonderful aroma of oil paint and a familar feeling of both comfort and excitement came over me. Ah boy, I hadn’t made art for quite a while (8 years!) as I focused on my career and I was looking for a little culture in my new home, having moved from Utah shortly before.

I was new to the group and nervous about that as well as about the challenge of drawing after such a long dry-spell. I looked around to get my bearings and determined that I needed to find a space among the other easels and horse benches. The first session was unremarkable as I found my bearings again but my skills returned slowly as the course progressed. I remember Sparky remarking that I kept getting so much better with every session. I wasn’t learning to draw, I was stretching familiar old muscles!

That first session led to years of mostly dropping in to life drawing sessions. I fell back in love with drawing. And I got to know a man whose work, character and passion for being an artist was incredibly inspiring to me. Sparky lived his love of art making and I was certainly jealous of that commitment. I didn’t have the courage to take that leap of faith and the financial choice, to quit my day job. I still don’t. However… as retirement nears, I imagine a time when I can just paint. Andrew and I will likely move up island (Vancouver island, that is) to retire to a smaller community and we intend to choose a town where there is a vibrant arts community. Perhaps we will open our own little studio/gallery. Perhaps the spare bedroom will simply be our studio. Either way, I will paint!

And lately I’ve been exploring the joy of painting pets. The seed that inspired that decision will be the topic of my next post. Another seed planted by Sparky. I owe him a lot. And I miss his passion for art and life. I know he’s still painting, which pleases me very much.

Painting of two cats
Sisters, oil on paper, 15″ x 22″
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About Inspiration

A few months back I signed up for a weekly portrait drawing group which had changed their practice from in-person to online due to the COVID situation. A weekly inspirational photo is sent to members and the portraiture begins. Participants send images of their pieces to the coordinator a few days later and they are shared by email and social media. I thought this was a fantastic way to maintain group practice and cohesion while we are all safely distanced. I was inspired to join!

A few months later and I had received all the emails and photos and yet I hadn’t participated. I wasn’t inspired.

Why? What is it that inspires me and what leaves me lacking? I wish I could say it was one thing or another but it’s… complicated. It’s about the subject and a spark of interest or recognition of familiarity they present to me. It’s also about what I’ve got already going in the studio that I want to maintain or complete. It’s about the stresses of work and life in general. It’s about my health and the way it wanes and waxes. And sometimes I think I will never be inspired again and will always have to push myself (or trick myself with a novel medium or challenge) to get work done. I did stop making art for 8 years at one point while I was back in Uni and building a career in IT.

And then it happens. It’s like my creative spirit needs to hibernate and gain strength but then jumps out of the cave like “Rrrrooooaaaarrrrr!” I’m back! That feeling of excitement and anticipation and hunger lit me up and I was already planning a strategy to get it done. Clear out my calendar, I’m gonna paint!

The photo of the week of Tommy Douglas and his face was begging to be expressed in a more animated way than a black and white staid photo (beautiful photo, just very traditional). I also liked that I knew my little brother could tell me more about Tommy Douglas than I already knew, what with his encyclopedic knowledge of everything Canadian.

Initially a monochromatic portrait came to mind because the photo is black and white. But when I sat down and painted, the palette expanded.

I’ve been working hard at landscape painting for the past year. That diligent work needed focus and dedication so I had not done a portrait for over a year. But I’d developed a process for practice which was working for me so I used it for this portrait; I find a subject of interest and prepare my tools to begin. Then I imagine what I’m looking for in this piece; how I want it to feel, look and say. With that in mind, I browse through the work of the artist who MOST inspires me, Richard Schmid.

And it keeps me on track. I know how I want to paint, what I want to express and Richard Schmid’s work reminds me of the level of professionalism that I am striving for. His work reminds me that I am working towards something, not just painting another painting. Because honestly, sometimes it feels like I’m just creating more work to put into the basement storage area. Even if some of my work is selling well, a lot of it goes into the bowels of mediocrity. C’est la vie.

With the Schmid inspiration process, I am striving to get to his level of quality work. It’s a DREAM and a very presumptive one. I’d rather aim high and eventually hit higher than I could have without that inspiration.

Blah blah blah. Enough words. More paint!

Later.

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Dry Spell

The temperatures, smells, blooms and pollen of an early summer have arrived with sunshine stretching out into the week. This is the time of year when I am preparing for summer and fall art show submissions, which means not much art gets made. However this year is particularly slow in the “create” mode. It’s been and continues to be a full spring of life’s surprises. I wish I could say they were all welcome.

Something which is welcome is the upcoming Al Frescoes plein air painting show at the Coast Collective, which opens tomorrow (Opening night is Thursday, May 17). Both Andrew and I have 2 pieces in the show. Mine were both painted in Jasper last summer. I rarely get the chance to paint with the group due to my work schedule so I’m grateful they still let me show with them. Andrew helped put the show up yesterday and I’m looking forward to seeing it on Thursday night. I hope to see everyone there!

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s Summer Small Works show opens Thursday, June 7. I have 3 of my favourite small character portraits in the show. This is always a great chance to pick up a lovely little piece at a reasonable price. I hope to see you there as well!

 

So, even though it feels like not much has been happening in the studio, the shows are ramping up. Submissions into the Sooke Fine Arts show have been done and I am preparing for what will be submitted into the Sidney Fine Arts show. This is another busy exhibiting summer and I intend to spend the majority of my month-long summer vacation either outside painting en plein air or inside enjoying the studio. Sigh. I can’t wait!