Saturday, July 08, 2006

Artist retreats

This sketch was a copy of a self portrait by James McNeil Whistler, completed in 1858. It was a quick charcoal sketch for the Weekly Drawing Thread at Wet Canvas. I enjoy recreating the masters work. It gives me a sense of what they saw and felt and the process of their drawing as I complete mine.

Artists and creative people require time away from their homes, their cities and away from their daily lives of thought and imagination. They must "breathe" by getting out and experiencing the majesty of nature. Without this they are too easily trapped in their own thoughts, isolated and, moreover, their creative impulses and works suffer as a result.

One option is a artist's retreat where you can live and breathe your art for a week or a month or longer. The appeal is great, and the possibilities expansive.

The closest artist's retreat to me is the Pouch Cove Foundation, in a small town (1500 pop.) where I used to live. So many artists from around the world have settled in Newfoundland, first drawn by retreats, then entranced by the rugged wildness of the island and unable to stay away. A number of artists who experienced the Pouch Cove Foundation artist retreat have now bought ocean-side properties in Pouch Cove.

Worldwide there are many artist residencies offered. Even within Canada, the numbers increase yearly. Its a matter of choosing wisely, asking questions of other artists who have been there and ensuring that you will make use of your time.

There are artist retreats and artist community living which are a bit different.
Retreats differ from artists’ communities in two main ways. First, the full or majority of the cost of a retreat is typically the responsibility of the artist, whereas most or all of the residency costs are provided by an artists’ community. Second, retreats are generally open to artists on a first-come first-served basis, whereas artists’ communities use a formal artist selection process.

Of course funding is usually required to attend a residency unless your work is well known and well sold or you are independently wealthy. There are a number of sources for grants for residencies and in the Canada Council for the Arts is a good jumping off point. A fuller list of worldwide grant opportunities is here. More local and Canadian grants and opportunities are listed with the Craft Council.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Reality or fantasy?

I have tracked down a life class, but at the wrong time of day for me. I'll keep looking. I believe there is another through the Anna Templeton Centre that is held in the evenings. They run the course provided there are enough bodies to make it viable. Here's hoping.

Meanwhile, I've started some sketching of the human form to get back into the feel of it. I found some good references and was interested in some more non-traditional ones. Artists so often draw perfection. Yes, that is what many people want to see; perfect bodies and perfect faces, but I usually find that sugary sweetness quite boring. I like a face that shows character and a body that represents the average person, not an airbrushed version of reality.

So I chose my first image to show a more 'rounded' view of reality, not fantasy.

I just came from the barn where a rooster attacked me and I'll have some good bruises to show for it. I was walking down the middle of the barn and the little bugger crept up behind me and drop kicked me...several times. I turned around to face him and he did it again. He was coming back for another try when he was 'persuaded' otherwise...grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and hanging him upside down by his feet. Horrible beasts are roosters!

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Thursday, July 06, 2006


I came across some old notes I had taken after talking with my mother years ago. I was trying to piece together some history on my materal grandfather's side of the family and my paternal grandmother's side. It is a bit piecemeal, but I found out enough to give me some knowledge of the times and thoughts of those days.

There are gaps as to be expected, where individuals broke with tradition and were ostracized by family and society at the time. Yes, every family has some skeletons in the closet and mine is no exception.

What started all this was an image sent by a cousin some years ago of my great grandfather. My sister had an art student at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College translate it into a drawing (this was before I rediscovered art) and she gave me a copy (not a very good one) of it. I always think he's rather forboding looking and wonder what he was like in real life. William Henry Reid, who was my maternal grandmother's father. Like most family roots, he was from England. In fact, on my maternal side, geneology was traced back to the 1600s to a small town in Dorset in England.

Since then others have dug deeper on various sides of the family and came up with regimental records. It was interesting to have a glimpse into other's lives and speculate how they got where they did in their lives.

The one I have particular interest in is my own grandfather. I have clear memories of him and his patience as I seemed to be stuck like glue to him from an early age until his death. He never turned me away or refused me anything. He played with me, made mudpies in the garden, walked with me, amused me and loved me. I spent every waking hour with him close by.

I must get some photos of him from my mother and do a portrait of him. I think I would enjoy that process.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Making time

I wanted a better likeness of the girl I worked in watercolour a few days ago and tried it in graphite. Its far from complete, but I believe the likeness is better than the original watercolour. Graphite is my comfort zone. I can control it and know what it will do. Watercolour I am still becoming familiar with and it tricks me more often than not.

There isn't enough time in my day - or night - to accomplish the things that I want to do.

Yes, I get a lot done. I work all day,b ut some days I just seem to tread water and not get anywhere with constant interruptions that keep me from completing a task. So my desk is littered with lots of different tasks at different levels of completion.

Life at home is similar. I go from room to room, doing little bits of cleaning or cooking or rearranging or washing.

Now I find its moving over into my drawing. I was doing ocmplete drawings and now with time pushing me always, I seem to have switched to little drawings or sketches. They have their own charm, but I want to do something significant, with substance that has completion all over it.

So over the last couple of days I've still done small drawings, partially finished and wonder why I can't push myself to tackle something large. Its all in the mindset I believe. I have the references, I must stop procrastinating and tackle something and not get sidetracked by the simple things.

I tried this family portrait from the WDE at Wet Canvas. The likenesses aren't as good as they could be, as the reference wasn't very clear, but I liked the composition and interaction of it.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Life classes and memories

Its been a long time since I've had a chance to draw the human form. I remember clearly my first life class, probably around 1980 maybe. I had the chance to attend a Thursday class held by Tom Greenshields and, as it turned out, I became a regular then and a protege of his until I left the UK to return to Canada. The class was held in a converted studio over the barn. You reached the studio by climbing up a set of stairs rather like going up a ladder, they were so steep. Armed with large sketchpads and bags its a wonder none of us fell up or down those stairs.

The studio itself stretched over a section of the barn and a door led from the studio into the house itself, albeit through a bathroom. I even recall drawing there one evening, as the power had gone and so no electric fire, the model was getting cold, so we put her into a bath of warm water and drew by fading light and candlepower. The same bathroom was where my daughter posed for reference photos for Tom's sculpture of her and where we trooped by family members having baths or brushing their teeth. It was unique.

The studio had several small windows, one of which let grapevines inside the studio and one year we had a bunch of grapes actually growing inside the studio window! The floor sloped, so that any pencil that was dropped, rolled off into oblivion. You learned to bring a number of pencils just in case...

But that first life class...I was so nervous. There were a variety of people of different ages present, seated on drawing donkeys around the room, with the model on a daybed raised on a pedestal. The background was littered with drawings in frames, books, sculptures, works in progress and work of years gone by. My nervousness was part due to just being in the presence of these people and partly by not quite knowing what to expect. Then faced with the nude figure. I remember the butterflies in my stomach and forcing myself to look at purely light and shadow and concentrate carefully to get something vageuly resembling a figure from my shaking hand.

These are a couple of the drawings from those classes. I am still searching for new life classes, but just haven't found ones that fit into my schedule yet. I'll keep trying, or perhaps just start my own.

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Monday, July 03, 2006


Artists have wild desires and a terrible hunger to achieve... Without it they haven't the juice for striving or loving. But desire also can make them greedy and turn dreams into unrealizable obsessions. (Eric Maisel)

About a year ago, I rediscovered art. It was such a strong part of my life for so many years but for a number of reasons, it got left behind. Lack of time, commitments to my children, no studio space, etc., etc. I had all the reasons not to do it and no push to do it.

What was the push to start again? Some came from within, some was external and I tentatively picked up a pencil again to see what appeared out of the paper. This was the first thing that I drew in nearly 10 years perhaps. It has just moved on from there.

I liked the photo of the two goslings sitting in the puddle, so decided to recreate it in watercolour. Watercolour makes me think, as one misplaced brushstroke can ruin a picture. I am not experienced enough in the medium to control the paint as well as I want to and I'm not experienced enough to trust myself with using stronger pigment washes to deepen the colour for impact. I know it is an area that I must work on. This one was created with a set of Winsor & Newton watercolours that I bought many years ago in London. The fact that I still have them and that they're less than 1/3 used shows that I haven't practiced much in this medium.

I will try to do a little watercolour sketch most days to try to bring some control to this medium.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Growing up

The goslings are growing rapidly and seem to stride across the garden and field with the parents from dawn to dusk. They have access to standard feed but prefer to graze on grasses and weeds, and they're getting suspiciously close to the strawberry beds...

This sketches were done when the geese brought the goslings close to the house to rest in the shade yesterday. I was working with my watercolour pencils so had time to start a sketch. Its a bit pale, I really need to work on deeper tones to create a more intense image. This is too pastel looking, but it does imply the softness that the young bird possesses.

I am working on developing a series of gosling drawings and paintings that I hope to compile into a storyline with the help of some friends who have experience in the business of publishing and writing. The continual hatching and development of goslings and geese on the farm provide a constant source of material to work with.

The photo is of the same goslings, who've discovered a pool of water in the driveway after a shower of rain yesterday. Its a perfect baby-sized paddling pool, as they have had to be 'rescued' out of the large paddling pools a couple of times. And if you've every had to rescue a gosling with the parents standing guard you'll realize that its no easy task, as they don't want to let you anywhere near them!

Lucy, the mother goose, stands guard while the babies sit in the puddle. She's ever watchful, but at times seems to get a little fed up and hands watcher duties over to Angelo. Angelo is so named as he has a disability found in waterfowl called 'angel wing'. It causes him no distress, but he is unable to fly. In a domestic situation there should be no problems but in the wild it would mean that he would not survive.

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