Painting flowers

Every year, some time between mid-January and mid-March, I get the urge to paint flowers. This feeling last weeks, even a month or longer. Winter in Ontario can drag on, with grey days that just don't want to end. I know, I shouldn't complain - I live in a pretty moderate climate, and don't get nasty, snow-filled winters. But maybe this lack of snow just adds to the greyness. There's no white ground to reflect the sun.

In any case, come late winter, I want to inject some freshness, life and colour into our grey days, and into my painting. So I pick up some flowers, set up a still life in the studio, and paint. 

Unfortunately, floral painting sometimes gets a bad rap - I know painters who refuse to paint flowers because they don't want to be associated with making "pretty pictures". And I have to admit, I am not immune to this bias. But I try to fight it, because I hate the idea that some subjects are off-limits, simply due to pressure to be a certain type of artist. The fact is, I find flowers visually appealing. Gorgeous, even. And if I can't paint something that appeals to me because I'm worried about being pigeonholed, well, that's dumb. So I go for it.

This year, because of an art class I'm teaching, I've been rediscovering my watercolour kit. With it's fluidity and freshness, watercolour is a wonderful medium for painting flowers. So I'll explore floral still life -- grey winter and preconceived notions be damned. I'm going to paint me some spring.

Fumbling onward

When I'm painting, I often feel like I haven't a clue what I'm doing. I don't know how to proceed, or what to do next.

In progress...

In progress...

It can be scary to paint without knowing what I'm doing, feeling lost and out of control. But I just have to keep at it, and trust my intuition. I try to accept that I won't always 'know' what to do. I don't need to know what to do, I just need to do it.

It helps to realize that, as a fumbling artist, I'm not alone. Over the years I have heard many artists, in all sorts of disciplines, talk about being in the same situation.

In an interview, Alex Kanevsky said "The moment something works well and is under control - is the time to give it up and try something else."

Duane Kaiser has inspired thousands with his daily painting practice . Even he has moments of doubt, but he realizes that sometimes you have to just keep going. "My best painting often seems to happen when I'm lost and haven't the foggiest notion how to proceed."

Irish artist Cian McLoughlin "is invigorated by the uncertainty inherent in the creative process. Working without any prescribed vision, he embraces the challenges and impediments he encounters in his work." 

So, we fumble on, embrace the struggle, and just do something. And, if we're lucky, we might even be making art.

Lose yourself

A long time ago, in a land far away, I attended a painting residency. (It was 2003 in Pouch Cove, Newfoundland.) During the day I took my paintbox to work on location, struggling through ridiculously windy conditions, but happy to be there, focusing on my work. In the evenings I painted interiors in my studio. The studio was not visually appealing, but, back in the day, I was religious about painting from life. Since it was too dark to paint outside, I painted my surroundings - my chair, my easel, my paintbox. Not very exciting.

One evening, discouraged with the painting that was happening in the studio, I gave up and sat down to watch 8 Mile. Within two hours, my world had unexpectedly opened up. To my surprise, I was really moved by the story (Eminem? - I wasn't a fan particularly). But I was especially inspired by the look of the film. I had never thought of painting from a movie before, but I was seeing paintings in so many scenes. It was an inspirational and visual delight. I dragged the VHS player into my studio, hit play (then pause), and started to paint. After a few minutes the movie would automatically resume playing. So I'd grab the remote, rewind, find my frame, hit pause, and paint. Then repeat: paint, play, pause, rewind, play, pause, paint...It was pretty comical. (If you're old enough, you'll remember that VHS players automatically resumed so as not to stretch or burn the tape. When I got home I switched to a DVD player, which made this process much easier!)

This one movie sustained me for a long time, and opened me up to painting from video stills and photographs. It truly changed my world: art inspiring art.

Here is one of my paintings that came out of 8 Mile:

Trailer Park, 2004,  from 8 Mile Series  SOLD

Trailer Park, 2004, from 8 Mile Series SOLD

Painting from video

It boggles my mind to think of all the still images in one movie. Endless possibilities! When I'm shooting source material for later painting, I sometimes shoot video instead of still shots. If the subject is moving, at all, it gives me so much more to work from when I'm back in the studio. Subtle differences in a slight tilt of the head, or the relationship between a car and a lightpost, or the placement of clouds in the sky.

Movies also provide a ton of reference material for painting. This painting was inspired by a movie shot partly in Hamilton. I'm not concerned with capturing exact likeness, so you probably won't recognize the location -- but if you do, please let me know -- post a comment!

Red Building, 2014, 8" x 10", oil on panel

Red Building, 2014, 8" x 10", oil on panel