Friday, June 26, 2015

More from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and the Group of Seven!


Quote by Lawren Harris on the wall of the
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
My work is often compared to the paintings by the Group of Seven.  For a long time I wondered if all landscape painters in Canada were compared to them simply because we paint landscapes?  I think it's more than that.  Then of course, I thought people were just being nice and paying me a huge compliment?  But I think it's more than that too.  Once in a while I do see glimpses of their influence in my work.  My mentor Shane Garton recently commented on my blog "Next time you are at the easel Caprice, imagine as you are painting that one by one your favorite artists are quietly coming in looking over your shoulder. The studio is full...then slowly as you progress into your work they leave...gone. Then magically as you lay down the final strokes...even you leave. You then see your work and are amazed and ask yourself...wow, where did that come from?"  I love the idea that each one of my art heroes is with me while I paint!

What is it that draws us to the paintings by the Group of Seven?  So much has been written about them that I hesitate to write more, but thought I would write from a painters perspective.  Since visiting the McMichael Canadian Art Collection last month, I've had many of the paintings I saw swimming in my mind.   Something magical happens when you see their original paintings rather than in a book.  It's a strange sensation, but I really feel like I got to know them just by viewing their work.   

From my notebook...notes on my impressions of
Emily Carr painting!
"Edge of the Forest" by Emily Carr
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
 For one thing, their brushstrokes were simply amazing and each painter had their own individual style.  It was a thrill to be able to view the paintings right up close and memorize individual strokes!  How did they do that?  Tom Thomson's paintings have such thick paint that you would expect it to almost fall off the canvas.  On the other hand, Lawren Harris must have done layer after layer of thin paint.  His strokes are barely visible but still handled with so much grace.  In books his paintings look very hard-edged, but in real life his ability to handle paint in such a spectacular way is very near to genius.  If you look at the crazy notes I took during my visit to the collection, you will see that on occasion it was a single stroke in a painting that drew my attention.  In the Emily Carr painting called "Edge of the Forest" I took note of a single bright blue stroke in the middle of the trees.  How did she come up with that?  It's a stroke I would have never noticed if I had not been sitting in front of the original...in fact, as I look at the reproduction, I can't even see this one brilliant stroke!

 

3 versions of "Mt. Lefroy" by Lawren Harris
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Seeing the original paintings also gave me ideas on the processes the artists used.  Several of the artists would do small studies of paintings before turning them into large oil paintings.   I can certainly see how they worked out difficulties in the small paintings prior to tackling the large canvases, but I personally find that when I try to do that, some of the magic is lost along the way.  Can you imagine trying to paint the exact same subject matter four or five or more times?  It worked very well for Lawren Harris as these photos prove.
"Mt. Lefroy" by Lawren Harris
McMichael Canadian Art Collection


"Mt. Lefroy" was not on display at the McMichael this time, but I had the priviledge of seeing the large original at the Glenbow Museum in 2002 during the "Group of Seven in Western Canada" exhibition.  This painting continues to be one of my favorite Harris paintings.  For some of the other painters, I found that I preferred the small study over the large studio painting.  An example of this would be these 2 Tom Thomson paintings: 
"In Algonquin Park" by Tom Thomson
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
"In Algonquin Park" by Tom Thomson
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
 
Two small Tom Thomson paintings
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
The Tom Thomson exhibit was a thrill.  I had the pleasure of seeing a larger exhibit of his work at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2003 but the McMichael presented his work in a more intimate way.  Some of my favorite pieces that were on display were his tiny on location paintings.  I know they would have been done very quickly possibly only taking minutes of his time.  Thomson had some art education, but it was his raw talent that makes his works stand out above so many others.  Very difficult to believe one man could produce so many masterpieces in only four years when his untimely death took him way too soon.  Thomson's death is one of Canada's greatest mysteries.  He was an exceptional outdoorsman and was most comfortable alone in nature.  He was an experienced canoeist and swimmer, yet somehow drowned in a lake that he was extremely familiar with.  There was a large bruise on his head and many that new him felt that foul play was involved.  Thomson died in 1917 and therefore was not an official member of the Group of Seven since it was not formed until a few years later.


Lawren Harris painting in his studio.
I am currently re-reading one of my favorite books called "Inward Journey: The Life of Lawren Harris" by James King.  Since returning from the McMichael Collection, I like to try to put myself into the mindset of the painters.   I try to imagine their lives and what it would be like to be a painter during two World Wars and the great depression.  How on earth did they do it?  I love to imagine the Group all working together in the Studio Building in downtown Toronto.  Lawren Harris painted while wearing his suit and tie...always a gentleman!  He even wore his tie on his hiking trips through the Rockies! Can you imagine doing that?  At the McMichael, they had Lawren Harris' paintbox and brushes on display.  I wished I could have touched them and maybe some of their paint magic would flow into me!  J.E.H. Macdonald's paint box that he carried for miles through the bush was on display as well.  What a thrill to imagine that strapped around his shoulder as he travelled to painting locations throughout Canada!
J.E.H. Macdonald's Paintbox

Lawren Harris' painting supplies
I think one of the reasons we are so very drawn to the Group of Seven is because of all that they were able to accomplish and the fact that it will never happen again!  Why do I think that?  They worked and painted together and fully supported each other and artists today rarely do that.  In fact when I rented an art studio in downtown Calgary many years ago, I didn't talk to a single artist that worked in the building.  How sad is that?  Times are certainly different.  They managed to create an entire art movement here in Canada and went out into the wilderness and painted the landscape in ways that had never been done.  As I sit here in my Studio and contemplate the paintings that I saw, I am deeply humbled by the fact that I would not be doing what I am doing if it had not been for them.  The old saying is true that all artist's stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.  I owe the Group of Seven a tremendous amount of gratitude.  When I look at their paintings, I am forever inspired, but I also have a feeling of being completely inadequate!  This is a hurdle I have to overcome every time I go to art galleries.  It always takes me a while to get back into the groove and just let it all come through.  I am in awe of them, but it also gives me hope when I see that not all of their paintings are great.  Yes, you read that correctly. In fact there are quite a few of their paintings, in my opinion, that are simply awful.  Nice to know that even the very best of the best can't win them all!  The Group of Seven represents so much more than what I have written here.  I have photos and notes on so many more paintings, but decided to write today on my "big" impressions from my day at the McMichael.  They left an indelible mark and will stay with me for the rest of my life....so grateful!
Here I am having some one-to-one time
with my favorite paintings!




Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Trip to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection - Oh Ya!



Now I do realize that fine art is not exactly main stream here in Canada but when I recently announced that I was heading to the McMichael I was a bit shocked when several people asked "what's that?".  The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is truly a hidden jewel located in the little town of Kleinburg, Ontario.  The museum features the largest collection of Group of Seven paintings but it is much more than that.  Would you believe this has been my second pilgrimage to the hallowed halls of the McMichael?  My first trip happened nearly twenty years ago when I had just barely picked up a paintbrush.  I saw it this time with completely new eyes but I still have memories of certain paintings as if I had just seen them yesterday - they are still so vivid in my mind even after all these years! "Every work of art which really moves us is in some degree a revelation - it changes us." (Lawren Harris)  Yes.  I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to drink in the magic of the Group of Seven once again.  These are literally life changing moments that will stay with me forever!

"Montreal River" by Lawren Harris,
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
The museum began as a private property in 1952 when Robert and Signe McMichael purchased 10 acres in Kleinburg and built a beautiful log home there.  They began to passionately collect art, primarily of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, as well as Aboriginal artists.  Their first acquisition in 1955 was a painting called "Montreal River" by Lawren Harris.  They purchased it for $250 and since they could not afford that large sum they wound up paying for it in installments of $50 per month!  It's hard to wrap your head around the fact that six decades later the painting is now worth millions!  The home was frequently visited by artists, particularly the Group of Seven.  In fact, A.Y. Jackson lived there during the last months of his life.

View from the Museum
By 1965 the art collection had become quite extraordinary and the McMichaels decided to donate their collection, their home and land to the Province of Ontario and thus the McMichael Canadian Art Collection came into existence soon after.  The museum has dramatically expanded over the years and is now 85 000 square feet and the collection contains over 6000 pieces of art (only 10% of the collection is shown at any one time).  Although the house itself is no longer a home, several of the original beautiful log walls are still there.  The "feel" of the property still exists.  The museum has many floor to ceiling windows to allow visitors to look out on the forest that is reminiscent in many of the paintings found inside. The property itself now consists of 100 acres of forest with hiking trails throughout.  No!  This is not your typical art museum!

One thrilling sight for me was the Tom Thomson Shack that was re-located to the property from it's original location in Toronto.  Tom lived there for a few years and it was overwhelming for me to look upon the front door and I could imagine him as he walked in and out so many times.  I gazed in through the window to his studio and could picture him standing there creating some of the greatest masterpieces in Canadian art.  I truly hope some of his creative energy has rubbed off on me!

The Tom Thomson Shack
The Artists' Cemetary
Another moving experience was visiting the Artists' Cemetery.  Six members of the Group of Seven and their wives, as well as the original owners, Robert and Signe McMichael are buried on the property.  I sat in silence and had a quiet moment with Lawren Harris at his final resting place.  The gravestone for Lawren Harris and his wife Beth resemble a pyramid mountain reflective of so many of his great mountain landscapes.  You have to look hard to see his name engraved in the rough stone.
Lawren & Bess Harris' Gravestone

That, in a nutshell, is what the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is!  But I can hear you asking, "what about the paintings?"  Of course, they are the highlight of the entire museum!  There is a lot to tell you about so you will just have to be a bit patient and wait for my next blog post coming very soon, but here's a sneak peek...
Here I am hanging out with a Harris painting.  Do I look happy?


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Accidental Artist -Part 4 and then we move on...


As I was preparing to write this post, I received a very special gift from my friend and mentor Shane Garton.  He featured me on his website and told me he was proud of me!  This meant the world to me and I am deeply humbled by his words.

Day Dreams #1 by Shane Garton

If you have been reading my blog posts, you may see a trend developing in the way I "found" my art teachers!  Call it fate?  Call it what you want...whenever the time was right, another art teacher would magically appear in my life.  It was the same way when I met Shane Garton in 1999.  Prior to meeting him, friends kept telling me "you have to meet Shane".  Next thing I know, I wound up meeting him by accident at a coffee shop here in Kimberley.  We had an instant connection...we shared a love and passion for art!  The only problem was that Shane and his wife Edith were packing up and moving back to Tasmania where Shane was originally from.  If only we could have met sooner as we had so much to discuss and so little time!

Hanging out with Shane was very cool!  One day we were downtown having coffee on the patio of a coffee shop and all of a sudden he was struck by the fascinating shapes that were reflected in my sunglasses.  It was at that moment when it occurred to me that yes, artists truly do see things in a different way than everyone else!  It was great to be with someone else who could see things differently.  To quote Jack Shadbolt - "It is one thing to have roamed museums and to have received stimulation to the imagination from great forms of the past or present.  That is a permanent and understood phase of any artist's development.  It is another thing to receive clarification of ideas from a teacher or mentor."  This is what Shane did for me.  By the time I met Shane, I had already learned a great deal of art theory and art history but Shane helped me to really cement all that I had learned.

Homage to Kandinsky by Shane Garton
On our last evening together before he left, Shane and I went into my studio and he decided to teach me absolutely everything he knew about art...IN FOUR HOURS!  My head was spinning and as I look back I wish I had taken notes.  I learned so much from him and somehow everything he taught me in that short period of time sunk in!   He did tell me that someday the mountains will quit talking to me.  Through the years, there have indeed been those moments when I cannot hear the mountains and no doubt the day will come when it will be time for me to leave the mountains.  For this moment, the mountains are still talking and I will continue to listen!  Shane also told me that the way I was painting was not how I will always be painting.  As I study the painters that I truly admire and look at their early and late works I am mesmerized by how their work evolved and changed.  It is very exciting to imagine how my work will change.  What will I be painting when I am 50, 60 and 70 years old?  Will I still be painting landscapes?  What direction will I go?  I am eager to find out and maybe you will join me for the ride?

Day Dreams #3 by Shane Garton
As with my other mentors, Shane helped open the door to a whole new area of art that I had never experienced before.  His paintings were like nothing I had ever seen.  They were abstract and his work was very much guided by emotion and inspiration. Art really is an adventure....you just "gotta take a line for a walk" as Shane always says!  He would simply begin with one line and let it take him to some amazing places!

One of Shane's favorite artists was Kandinsky.  I have studied Kandinsky and this lead me into other abstract painters. I was then able to understand the work of Jackson Pollack, Clyfford Still, Borduas, and Riopelle.  The world of art truly is a wonderful place and I hope I never quit learning!

My time spent with Shane was way too short before he moved to Tasmania.  I miss him terribly, but we have been able to stay in touch through the wonders of the internet.  Please take the time to check out his website at shanegarton.com. I feel that I received the best art education possible...with not one, but four great mentors.  With all the advice, encouragement and knowledge I received in my early days, how can I possibly go wrong in my art career?  So blessed!  Thank you Shane. 

Shane, Mom & I, Kimberley, BC
September 1999

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Accidental Artist - Part Three!

I began writing this blog to share some of the stories along my art journey, but more importantly to introduce you to some of the extraordinary people I have met along the way.  It has been quite the trip for me and it has been fun going back...way back to the beginning.  I have already introduced you to my first two mentors Karen Hersey and Keith Smith...but my art education continued in the most serendipitous way.

Once again, this story begins with my Mom.  She had come across a job in the newspaper advertising for "a contemporary Mary Poppins".  This intrigued my Mom and she phoned and set up an interview.  Well, Mom was hired on the spot!  It was the perfect job for her, as she was basically hired to be "Grandma" to three beautiful little girls.  Would you believe that the woman who hired my Mom was actually an European artist?  Yup, you read that right!  Her name is Janicke and when she found out that I was a beginner painter she immediately took me under her wing and she had a huge impact on the way I see art!

Until this point my art studies had mainly been on Canadian art, primarily landscapes, such as the Group of Seven and Emily Carr.  Janicke introduced me to a whole new world of art and I realized at that point that I had only barely touched the surface!  It was my first introduction to the work of Matisse and the Bloomsbury Group.  I had no idea how naive I was about art until I started reading about the Bloomsbury Group.  They lead very liberal, promiscuous lives, yet their art was fascinating.  This group of painters, writers and intellectuals (probably the most famous of the group would be Virginia Woolf) lived and worked from a beautiful farm house near London called Charleston.  Here they painted everything inside the house.....every piece of furniture, dishes, walls, you name it...had been painted!  Reading their life stories was an eye opening experience!  Janicke had loaned me a fantastic book called "Bloomsbury - It's Artists, Authors and Designers " which is now out of print.  I was able to finally get a copy of my own on Ebay many years later but I had to stay up half the night bidding on this book which in the end cost me over $200.  It was so worth it!  They have inspired me more times than you can imagine!  If you do not know about the Bloomsbury Group, please do yourself a favour and look them up. 

Janicke also led me into abstract art and modern art.  My first teacher Karen Hersey did not believe in abstract art and felt it did not belong in the art history books so this was all new to me and I loved it!  Janicke's painting had a much freer style, her education was more along the lines of letting inspiration flow and letting go of the rules.  This was a huge turning point for me. 

Janicke taught me a great deal about the art world and making it as an artist.  She had a studio space in a trendy neighbourhood in downtown Calgary.  It was an old red brick building that had been a warehouse by the train tracks.  The building was filled with artist's studios and you could feel the creativity everywhere.  She explained to me how important it was to have your studio outside of your house.  Not only is it more professional and you will be taken more seriously, but it is a more creative environment with no distractions while you work.  I wound up renting a studio space in the same building.  What she said was exactly true!  Somehow once I arrived at the studio I was suddenly "at work".  My home life was left behind.  There were no distractions, no dishes to be done, phones to answer, etc.  All that I needed to do was paint.  When I wasn't painting I was reading my art books.  It truly was a creative space and I wound up producing a painting called "Grandfather Time".  This was my first large canvas and it was a pivotal piece in my career, as I felt it was truly inspired.  Janicke thought it looked like Van Gogh!  How about that?  I did as Janicke had suggested and let go of the rules and just let the paint flow.  This was the first time that I truly went into "the zone".  It was such fun!  This was a wonderful opportunity and I value the experience, but in the end I discovered that a studio at home works best for me!  I often get my best ideas in the middle of the night and need to have access to my art books and my paintings when I first get up in the morning...I like to spend time in my studio at the end of the day in the dark contemplating my half finished painting...etc, etc, etc.  This is just my way! 
Grandfather Time
'Grandfather Time', oil on canvas, 48"X24"

Mom and I moved from Calgary to Kimberley in 1997.  In June 1998, Janicke helped me organize my first solo art exhibition at her studio in Calgary.  She completely emptied her studio of all her things so that I could use the entire space.  It was incredibly successful and I could not have imagined I would nearly sell out on opening night.  Janicke truly knew what she was doing!  I had personally invited a lot of people I had not seen in years. I was blown away by the love and support I received that night.  Even one of my high school teachers came from Lethbridge!  Janicke had also invited many of her friends and they supported me as well (with a nudge from Janicke who suggested they bring their cheque books)!  A couple walked into my studio this summer here in Kimberley who had purchased a painting that night.   They still have their painting hanging on their wall!  What a surprise.

My first art exhibition
Janicke, Mom and I at my first art exhibition
at her studio in Calgary, Ab. 
June 12, 1998.
Ironically, Janicke was in my life helping me with my professional career at a time when my personal life was at it's deepest low.  She was a light in the dark and helped me and my Mom get through some very difficult days. She gave me a pin that said "Due to recent cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel has been temporarily disconnected."  Her sense of humour was a god-send! Her artistic talent and her professionalism was a great blessing to me, but more important was her friendship.  I will always be grateful for that!

As sometimes happens I lost touch with Janicke for several years.  She had moved and so had I.  Then years later we re-connected and I received an email from her stating "We are building a villa in Tuscany and you must come."  I was flabbergasted.  I pulled out my old journals and in May 1996 I had written "I've been reading a book on Michelangelo and it has really been inspiring me.  As I look at these brilliant pieces of work I know that someday I will go to Italy and see them in person."  I found out 14 years later that dreams do come true, sometimes you just have to be patient!  Mom and I went to Italy in 2010 and it truly was a life changing trip, thanks once again to Janicke!  Michelangelo completely lived up to my expectations!  Stories about Italy will just have to wait for a future blog post...
Our first night in Tuscany
Our first night in Tuscany with
Janicke & "momma"
April 30, 2010.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Further Adventures of the Accidental Artist

I have discovered that blog writing is not as easy as one would assume!  Karen Hersey was my first teacher who in turn introduced me to her mentor Keith C Smith.  I've been wanting to share some of the experiences I had with Keith and am finding it extremely difficult to put into words all that I learned from him.  Keith was a larger than life type of person - full of passion, a great sense of humour and just one of the neatest people I have ever met.  When I knew him he was in his seventies and he was in the prime of his life, extremely prolific with his painting and prosperous, his paintings were selling as fast as he could paint them and for big bucks!   One thing I know for sure is that Keith adored me and the feeling was mutual!  I am lucky to have had the opportunity to know him especially so early in my career.

Even though Keith lived on Vancouver Island and I lived in Calgary our connection was immediate.  Our relationship began with hand written letters.  Yes you did read that correctly, it was the time before everyone had access to email.  I spent the last week re-reading Keith's letters and what a gift they are to me.  Keith passed away in 2000, but reading his words in his hand writing is just like being able to talk to him. 

In his first letter he wrote: "You have certainly come a long way in your new found career.  How fortunate you are to have fallen into something as wonderful as this.  Especially to find it as easy as you obviously do."  Yes indeed how fortunate for me to have fallen into this career and to have Keith fall into my life!  He taught me so much about life, about art and about painting.  I would send him photos of my paintings and he would write back with a critique.  He would tell me all the things I did correctly in the paintings and he would give me a long list of things I could do to improve them.  Reading his words takes me back to 1996 when he wrote "I bet you are thinking what on earth does it take to please this guy?  Well I am going to see to it that you improve to the point that even you will not believe what you have done!".  Thanks to Keith he was right!

In June 1996 my Mom and I drove to the Island to finally meet Keith in person.  This was one of those trips where all the pieces fell into place and everything went perfectly, like living a dream!  We rented a small cottage on French Creek Marina, but since the cottage was not wheelchair accessible the owners upgraded us to a suite.  Everyday Mom and I watched the fishing boats coming and going in the marina and watch the tide ebb and flow.  A perfect setting for what became a life changing week. 

Keith was teaching a week long workshop where we painted on location each day at a different place.  It was inspiring to have the opportunity to paint outdoors with a group of artists, especially when we were painting incredible scenery such as the old growth forest at Cathedral Grove (if you've never been there you must go).  One of the fellow painters named Walter decided that I always managed to find the very best places to paint, so he was going to paint wherever I painted.  Truth be told is that because of my wheelchair I simply could not go everywhere so I basically got out of the car and started painting the scene that was in front of me.  Keith commented on this in one of his letters saying "During my workshop you would be placed perhaps not exactly in the best place to paint a scene.  Yet you made no fuss and simply got at it.  Now I find that a genuine sign of someone who will realize a solid future in painting."  I was just happy to be in a beautiful place, with great people and with a paintbrush in my hand!
 
Photo of me painting at Rathtrevor Beach, Vancouver Island, June 1996.

For me the real magic happened when I was able to spend time with Keith in his studio.  He taught me how to paint rocks and trees.  When he picked up his brush paint would fly and within a half hour there would be a completed painting.  So that's how it's done!  Oy!  Keith's way of teaching was a bit controversial.  Karen taught me that one artist should not touch another artist's canvas.  However, Keith sometimes had a tough time explaining what he meant so he would take my paintbrush and show me what he wanted by painting on my canvas.  For me it was a thrill to watch the way he moved that brush.  I was there after all to learn from a Master!  I had taken some of my paintings for Keith to critique.  One painting was a mountain view with a lake and a pile of driftwood in the foreground.  Keith thought it was a good painting and that it needed just a 'few' minor changes.  Well, a little here and a little there and before I knew it Keith had repainted the ENTIRE painting....the only brush strokes of mine that were left on the canvas was my signature!  How ironic that I own an original Keith painting signed by Caprice!  No matter to me, I was on cloud 9 because of what I had learned from watching him! 

Photo of Keith in his studio. 

I think Keith was excited to have a student that was as focused and passionate about art as he was.  One day while we were painting on location, Keith told my Mom that "I love the way she paints.  She paints like a man!".  He had so much confidence in me and was proud of the work I was doing at the time.  Keith wrote to me and said "Just try and maintain that fresh bold technique that you have.  That is the honest magic in your work.  It is powerful, colorful, along with a spontaneous quality.  These are all desirable attributes in good art."

I was happy that Keith was able to see me on TV when I appeared on the Variety Club's "Show of Hearts" Telethon.  I had donated a painting to help children with special needs and they sold prints of the painting.  When Keith was really sick I sent him one of the prints.  I phoned him and he spent the entire conversation critiquing the print and how I could have made the painting just a bit better!  That was the last conversation I had with Keith and it was so typical of him to have talked about art the whole time.  I only wish he could see what I am doing now.  I think he would be proud of me.  I wonder what other great paintings he would have produced if he was still alive?  He was at his creative prime, still so full of life and he left us way too soon!

Two years after Keith passed away Mom and I went to visit Keith's wife Arlene on the Island.    Arlene was gracious enough to allow me to hang out in Keith's studio by myself.  I took a box of Kleenex with me, fully prepared to be sad and emotional, but the tears never came.  Instead, as I sat there surrounded by all of Keith's last paintings, I had the strongest sense that Keith was right there with me.  The experience made me look at all paintings, particularly my own, in a completely different way.  It was profound to realize exactly how much of myself I put into the paintings that I produce.  I have to smile when I realize that as long as I still have paintings out there people will never truly be able to get rid of me!  Somehow there is also a little bit of Keith in every one of my paintings as well.  No wonder some paintings are able to stir people's souls.  Now I understand!  Thank you Keith for teaching me so much, even long after you died.....

To see some of Keith's paintings, please check out my Pinterest board called "Paintings that Inspire".

Friday, November 29, 2013

Longevity


Someone recently commented to me that it is impressive that I've been in business for over ten years.  Funny thing is that I never really thought about it in that way.  Instead, so often I think I should get my head examined as no sane person would stick it out for this many years!  I can't tell you the number of times it occurred to me that I should get a "real" job.  But it never takes long for me to discount that idea!  One of my favorite movies is called "Shadows in the Sun".  I watched it again the other night.  There is a great line when the one young writer asks the older writer if all creative people are crazy?  The older writer replies "There are thousands of artists and writers.  Most of their dreams will never come true...you'd have to be crazy!"  So very true!

Don't get me wrong, I have been one of the lucky ones to have actually enjoyed some success!  My paintings somehow strike a chord with people and they do sell.  This is not the norm for most painters and it is a very unpredictable business.  Even though I've had my fair share of the ups I have also experienced the lows.  Yesterday I talked to an artist friend from Ontario.  He's in his 80's and explained to me "thank goodness I sold that painting or I don't know how I would survive"!  Oh my gosh, I can't imagine still saying that when I am 80...talk about longevity!  It is true though, there have been those days when the bank account gets so low and then in the eleventh hour someone walks in and buys a painting in the nick of time.  This has happened to me a number of times.  It is a lifestyle that is certainly not for the faint of heart!

Truth be told, it's not about longevity or sticking it out...it is simply the fact that I can't imagine doing anything else.  I really have no choice in the matter.  I go through dry spells, yes indeed.  I was recently in a dry spell that lasted for what seemed like forever.  This year there have been overwhelming personal life changes for me and I am now a different person than I was before.  Sometimes I have to step away from the easel for a bit while this new person settles into my being. I have new things to express and then suddenly, the inspiration hits and the paint starts to flow again.  When that moment finally comes there is no way to describe what a rush it is!  I am a firm believer that inspiration would not hit if I forced myself to sit in front of the easel on a daily basis.  It's important to be in the zone!

Another reason for my longevity is my support system.  I could not do what I do without the support of my family, my friends and my customers.  The thought of letting down all the people that have supported me through these years makes me shudder.  I have sold many paintings and it never ceases to amaze me that people will hand over their hard earned money to me for doing something that I love to do.  I am honoured by that and will never take it for granted.  I consider my painting to be a gift and for some reason what I do tends to make people happy.  How could I possibly make the decision not to paint?  This is not my choice to make! There is a saying "do what you love and love what you do".  I guess this applies to me!

The Accidental Artist

I've been wanting to blog for a very long time, but like most of us I kept wondering "who on earth would ever be interested in reading about me?".  As I sat pondering this question it occurred to me that my life is certainly not the norm.  Every morning I wake up and wonder what the day will bring, what will I create...or not create....and who will walk through my studio door today?  Since finding myself in this crazy business of being an artist, I have had many extraordinary experiences that I would like to share with you.  I am not the most regular, consistent person.  I am an artist!  So, a warning; I paint when I am inspired and I will write when I am not painting…so if you are following this blog…please enjoy, but I am not on a calendar!  It is my hope that maybe you will get to know me just a bit better....and maybe have a glimpse of what it is like to be an artist.

How did I become an artist in the first place?

In January of 1994, in the spur of the moment, I decided to take a semester off from University where I was majoring in psychology.  My sudden withdrawal may seem like an impulsive decision, as I had been told many times that since I was in a wheelchair I needed to get an education. I did have a full scholarship, so I planned to return to school in the fall.  You can imagine my surprise when I returned to register for the fall and found out I would have to start all over again as a first year student even though I was in third year!  Forget that!!  I had moved back home with my parents in January and spent the year just floating, travelling and wandering aimlessly trying to discover exactly what it was I was meant to be doing!  All I knew was that psychology was NOT IT!!!

In December everything changed.  Karen Hersey walked into my life.  She came to visit my Mom at our large log home in the country and as soon as she saw the place she said "I want to live here!".  We all had a good chuckle...little did we know that she soon would be!  On that day, Karen offered to teach me to paint and I politely replied "No thank you, I have absolutely no talent when it comes to painting and drawing." When I was a little girl my mom put me in art lessons and bought all the supplies but I didn't like it.  I had no interest in taking art in school or university.  My Mom had always kept me very busy with creative projects, she taught me to be a custom seamstress...I made all my own clothes, but painting was not my thing!!!  Karen was determined and in the end I took her up on her offer to teach me to paint simply because I had nothing better to do at the time!  It wasn't until years later that I would fully understand what a life changing moment that was.

Karen had just moved to Calgary.  She was a professional artist and teacher for 30 years, but due to health issues she wasn't painting and had plenty of time to teach me.  She was a strict teacher let me tell you!  She insisted on abiding by the rules of fine art so I had to learn to paint the way the Masters painted. I could have searched high and low for an art teacher with Karen’s qualification as very few artists are capable of passing on the knowledge that she had and she just fell in my lap by accident!  Our weekly lessons began with a sketchbook and pencil as she trained me in endless art theory.  She handed me a three inch art history book and said "read this".  Ya...right!  Considering I wasn't interested in painting in the first place, she was starting to lose me and finally she handed me a paintbrush!  Hallelujah!  From that point on there was no turning back.  In 30 years of teaching, Karen said she had never had a student that could sign and sell her very first painting (I never did sell it…it’s still here in my studio) so we were on to something here….

At the time, Karen was living alone in downtown Calgary and one night while she was asleep in her bed, she was robbed.  She awoke in the morning to find her front door wide open and her jewellery stolen.  Obviously she was very shaken and since we had the room, we offered her a place to stay with us.  What a gift for both of us!  Our art lessons not only continued, but it was non-stop art!!! We had the great fortune to also have the support from my Mom, who cooked for us and gave us the opportunity of not having to think about anything BUT art.  We discussed art from the time we awoke in the morning, over coffee and then painted in the afternoon and the discussions never stopped until we went to bed.  It was a very bohemian lifestyle…great food, great conversation, great books, great music and of course great painting!  Karen and I set up our studio in the living room and we painted side by side every day.  We went out sketching and painting on location on the beautiful prairies. I remember the day Karen took me to the art supply store for the first time...I was so excited that I spent $850 on my first trip (which took me years to use up)!  Karen was a strict teacher, but I became a student obsessed and I drove her crazy with my incessant questions!  Every morning she would wake up and wonder "what am I going to teach her today?".  Yup, this indeed is what I am meant to be doing with my life!  My poor family was in shock (except for my Mom and Dad who have always been my biggest supporters).  Can you imagine?  The plan was to get a university degree and now I’m going to be an artist??  Who knew?  I certainly had no idea what I was getting into but one thing is for sure, it has not been dull!  Karen’s health began to return and I was on my way to becoming an artist...and still am...it was a magical time!

Photo of Karen & I at her art show in Invermere, BC.  July, 2005.  I was her guest artist!



My first painting!  Tie Lake, 16"X20", oil on linen