Many artists play with a variety of subjects but, in the interest of developing a professional image, we are almost forced to choose one aspect for our focus. I work best immersing myself in something for 3-5 years before moving on. As a studio needs to make money, at one time I did animal portraits. Left: is Spike, a much loved cat.
Children and animals seem to go together. I remember someone persuading me to paint their children by saying: “Just think of them as family pets.” I sketched their children in a playground and everyone seemed happy with the results.
Imagining Sunflowers: Happily immersing myself in the flow of a pen, pencil or brush across paper, I love to draw. This flower piece is done with one simple black roller pen. Barely touching the paper with feather strokes produces grey areas; shading on leaf lower right is achieved with a little saliva on my fingertip to slightly blur the ink whilst it’s still damp.
Tangled Trunks: Lines in this graphite piece are infinitely more varied in tone and texture. Here changes in pressure produce greater depth. Both drawings contain useful information, reflecting my moods. Top is a doodle, bottom is a study from a real subject.
My paintings grow from a simple idea into a series. Research often involves a series of small thumbnails. Art school years ingrained my life long working methods, habits which feel comfortable and hard to change. This bird doodle is approx 2 by 3 inches, similar in size to others on this page.
Here are three series of small design ‘doodles’ done talking to a client who had something in mind and images help us meld our thoughts – The first is vertical, others broader. The process helped them understand what elements the piece wanted to capture from a memory filled property, now sold to a new owner. (None of these doodles resemble the final piece.)
Last week’s blog explored the value of habits and thumbnails … here are some more: quick doodles that form strong memories when travelling, not just for their content; it’s looking at the subject to draw it that cements an awareness for essential character and detail. A friend never takes notes when someone is lest he misses something else said: he just jots point form lists of what was covered … these are my visual point forms.
These small sketches merely a few inches big were done flying in a small airplane in Arizona, from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. I see them years later and immediately remember not only the strange land formations but all the colours of that spectacular trip.
The pines in the Okanagan valley are mostly ponderosa, with reddish heavily textured trunks and twisting branches. I have always loved drawing trees, from the imported pines in Sierra de la Ventana, Argentina to old olive trees in the Bosque in Lima, Peru. (drawings shown here are from an Okanagan sketch book.)
Studio Life: I often travel with a 3-5 felt pens or coloured pencils.
Designs using two colours
On a long airplane flight, I sat thinking about workshop I was going to give. The flight attendant spoke to me in a strange way but I was absorbed by my thoughts. When she brought my meal, she sudenly said: “You are an artist aren’t you??” Then I realised she had thought I couldn’t read.
Besides local flora and machinery, I took time to contemplate my surroundings. With a studio in a rural setting by the Okanagan Lake, its influences crept into my work as I absorbed ever changing lights and shadows bouncing off water, and long vistas filled with moving clouds and approaching weather. One magical morning, I was standing at my easel in the dappled shade of sumac trees, painting a view down the lake. A small red bird came and landed on my easel and when I looked around, I noticed a deer laying in the grass just below where I worked. Magical moments like that embodied everything that studio offered me. But eventually I found cold winters with the long nights compelled me back to urban settings … until the following spring.
In the Okanagan, I had a new studio and new subjects but as an artist always similar subjects nestle in my mind. Although plants and machinery may appear poles apart they present me with similar puzzles: fitting shapes together to present an interwoven image. Plants inspire colours which liven otherwise “dull” mechanics. Agricultural machines often more colourful than those in the canneries.
After a year at the Steveston Cannery, I moved to the Okanagan where two subjects intrigued me: indigenous plants (after winning an award for a painting of arrowleaf sunflowers which grow wild all through the valley) and my continued interest in machinery, shifting from fisheries to agricultural.
Whilst working at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, I went up to see Port Edwards outside Prince Rupert, pictured above, a more extensive cannery site though less frequented year round. (I would have enjoyed more time there; easier to do more work in Steveston, a short bus ride from my studio.)
At the Gulf of Georgia, I worked with the program director, developing images for their brochure, aimed at drawing students on site to really look at and understand the machines. ( image right: detail of a fish canning machine + images below: colourful renderings of real machines – details)
More on colour: Black and white archive photos don’t help owners researching historic colours when restoring heritage homes. Writing color notes, I rarely paint on site in my sketchbook – adding pigment later. (When dawing a quick series, damp pages can easily damage ).
Vancouver owners can choose from Dunbar Buff, Strathcona Gold, Comox Green and Pendrell Verdigris are just some names of Benjamin Moore house paints. In the 1990s, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation (VHF) began a program to assist Heritage home owners with a grant under the True Colours program. See link for details: True Colours-palette – Don Luxton: The True Colours program has been a remarkable experience. When the program started, we could not have anticipated the depth and richness of the historical palette that we would uncover, the interest that this would generate among homeowners and the general public and the ongoing desire for information about authentic heritage colours. … He worked with VHF, showing how to scrape down through layers of paint to find hidden original colours, then Benjamin Moore paints produced a whole line based on colours found in Vancouver. The web page explains it in detail. (Access at Vancouver Heritage Foundation web site.)
Walking along Jackson St on a breezy sunny day, I was first attracted to this white building by thedappled shadows, then to its icing sugar colours
In the 1980s, when I began painting old grocery stores and their adjascent sites, colours appeared consistently across a variety of neighbourhoods. How had they looked originally? Hard for me to know. In Buenos Aires, where I was born, original buildings in La Boca used the bright paints from fishing boats. In the newly growing Vancouver of early construction, it is easy to imagine builders using whatever was available.
Colours alter atmospheres in both life and painting. This original is filled with soft muted hues with an occasional jewel. When I accepted a commission to paint three old hotels on Main St, north of the railroad station, I was delighted to find them of full life and detail.
all art works on this site are copyright protected and cannot be used without express permission
In community advocacy, start an idea and watch it morph. In art, drop a strongly pigmented ink onto a wet surface and watch it infuse every wet area if it’s a dye – or creep into fascinating random patterns if it’s pigmented. Cover the wet surface with wax paper, cling film or lace or leaves etc. Let it dry — random patterns emerge.
In the 1980s, when I began looking for old character buildings in Vancouver, I’d glimpse something from a bus or car and later return to draw it … only to find it altered or demolished. Curious to ascertain local plans early, I was directed to the Heritage Committee at the Community Arts Council. Thus began a new quest: the promulgation of the worth of retaining historic threads in communities and towns. My drawings to pose the question: Is this of value to you? – I’m not a public speaker, my work made palatable ideas. House portraits for proud owners also helped.
Many trees shed their foliage in winter, revealing many features hidden from the road, an ideal time to draw houses. Then, a walk in the park also shows us the graceful spread of wooden limbs in places like Jericho Park (sketch)
On COVID neighbourhood walks, I took seasonal pictures for friends abroad. Their reaction was unanimous: nature in Vancouver displays spectacular palettes. Autumn inspired my brush.
Vancouver sits on a wide delta where many fingers of the Fraser river spill into the Straight of Georgia. Like all waterfront cities, marine traffic plays a key role for commerce, fishing, tourism etc. Vancouver waterfront aws originally heavily industrial. I often drew warehouses that ceded their spots to development pressures. Granville Island had houseboats and warehouses long gone. The privately owned cement factory continues to be and operated, economically ideally situated to serve an ever developing city; its uniquely decorated iconic tanks constantly fill barges and trucks leaving the site.
I like to sit and absorb the atmosphere before starting a detailed piece. As I enjoy drawing, what began as an idle doodle grdually grew into a more detailed study, which was used as the title for the series drawn on the old Versatile Shipyard site in North Vancouver – the words were added later . The sketch below is the drawing used to make a larger mixed media collage.
When first exploring Vancouver, I sketched older buildings which seemed to encapsulate unique neighbourhood character whilst not knowing much about the city’s history. In the 1980s, many areas had clusters of wooden buildings that included commercial stretches of two-three storey apartments, with stores and cafes, as well as a variety of areas with single family homes. Leafing through these sketches now, they hold iconic glimpses of a period prior before building boom which took planners by surprise. Many of these sketches reflect the dominant aqua blue that was used mostly as a trim , like this house — but occasionally used more extensively. See two houses belowplus trim on commercial buildings
All images are copyright of the artist and cannot be used without permission
I love markets as I grew up partly in Argentina and Peru, with a break for high school in Ottawa. There’s something irresistable about poking through piles of “stuff” in search of a treasure. A “find” to me – versus you – can be a very individual reaction. I treat my sketchbooks the same way; they hold a myriad of memories. Often an image will morph with time to become something rare … old stores can be like that. Suddenly one day they are gone, without a trace, and we bemoan their absence.
(All images are copyright of the artist and cannot be used without express permission)
In 2015 I was taking a UBC course with John Atkin: Understanding Neighbourhoods. On those walks we looked at original houses, built on newly cleared lands, circa 1910 to 1920s. Even more so now than seven years ago, these older houses continue to disappear as land values in Vancouver escalate, far outstripping these house values in an ever increasing ‘need’ to create density. More and more I treasure these drawings as memories of walks along original streetscapes whilst acknowledging the needs of a thriving modern city.
A majestic house on the up slope of Salisbury Street afforded it a sweeping view of a wide panorama when it was built. The painting remains unfinished as it had enough details focused on its main features. A proposed townhouse development came to the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Commission in the 1990s , which I strongly favoured as it included respectfully preserving this house on the corner. The neighbours were pushing back against the townhouses but looking at what is happening now, I am glad the site was built out then and not available for high desinties being proposed now.
The east side of Vancouver has pleasing areas of older neighbourhoods, developed early thanks to streetcars and interurban trains that facilitated a direct journey to downtown. Early decades in Vancouver saw downtown industries clustered near the water, and the many creeks that flowed down the south slopes of False Creek. Downtown air was polluted by tanneries, pulp mills and breweries so new housing developments often advertised fresh clean air.
BARNS – (images copyright protected – request permission to use from the artist)
In the 1980s, when I was driving regularly to Seattle, I developed an interest in barns. Some were abandoned and overgrown but most were well maintained, functional and appeared to fit into set design styles. Learning more on the subject added to the pleasure of my drive. The pampas of Argentina where I grew up, have a scarcity of wood so cement and galvanised tin were more usual building materials. In my Strathcona series, John Atkin told me about the barns which still existed there and I painted several. Recent floods here have reminded me of the barns I painted in the Fraser Valley. Only this yellow barn, with its iconic silo, remains in my collection. Sadly, a flood in my studio in the 1990s destroyed my photos of others, which had all sold. (If you own one, I’d love a picture.– Jo)
In a painting I was able to emphasise the red alarm, upper left, red sign on the wall and red fire hydrant with its companion red sign. It makes the yellow awning (right) more poignant as the building deteriorates.
When I noticed old wooden grocery stores vanishing in the 1980s, often under vinyl siding, I began searching out originals. As people heard what I was drawing they told me about their own favourite – often with childhood memories of spending pocket money. My quests took me to previously undiscovered treasures as I learned more and more about Vancouver.
I had a similar experience researching original medieval church benches in East Anglia UK. When drawing them, people would stop to chat and suggest other churches I should visit. They offered information – or personal contacts – on accessing a site if it was locked. Local friends were happy later to be shown interesting ancient churches in villages, with a charming local pub selling quality ale and good food.
Painting near water is magigal. Dappled light, flickering reflections, ever changing shadows and colours. When not working on a project, I fill sketchbooks with quick studies, a habit left over from art school. In public places, figures add to the story. People are quick to sense being watched; quickly capturing an image is like stream of conscious writing -without pause for thinking or crticism. Though landscapes don’t care how long you stare I still apply the same rule.
When sketching, I often add written reminders about weather, or place or why I drew something.