This is the last painting of the challenge, a photo I’ve wanted to paint for a long time, I think it has a narrative quality to it. I could dispel the mystery right now by giving the location, but I’m curious to see who will recognize it. Let me know, in the comments below!
Technically this painting was completed before midnight, but I waited to photograph it this morning. I really should have picked a simpler image so that I could get done faster, but I was drawn to this one, and I’d rather paint something that intrigues me than something easy.
This is another painting that I could see myself doing again, larger. It would be completely different of course, since each brushstroke I make and each colour I mix is in the moment, but the general structure would be the same. Then again, there are so many things to paint – each day brings new inspiration if you’re open to it. So I probably won’t circle back.
I’m going to create a collage of the 30 paintings, that will be in another post later today.
One of the things I love about tropical landscape is its resilience. Even with drastic weather – drought and hurricanes – Nature persists, it finds another way to exist. If a big tree comes down, it lets light in for smaller plants to flourish.
On one hand you have beautifully manicured lawns and flower gardens, which take regular maintenance to upkeep or else the wild will take over! On the other hand, left to itself, it turns into a big tangle of bushes, trees and flowers that are strangled by vine and bloom anyway! There is a intensity about this lush vegetation, the sunlit leaves and bright colourful flowers scream with optimism, with a great gusto for life.
The landscape endures natural and man-made changes, and outlives us all. You can stand under a coconut tree and look out at the seascape, and the view, the feeling of the gentle breeze on your face, the sun on your skin and the sand between your toes is the same that someone would have experienced hundreds of years ago. Being in Nature makes you realize how small we are, how insignificant in the flow of time, and it gives you perspective.
This painting is based on photos I took in an elderly friend’s garden, when I visited the island many months after she had passed. The aging house had been left to rot away, she didn’t have family or means, and only minimum maintenance was done in her later years. New owners had plans to level the building to the ground and build something new and big in its place. Her beautiful and bountiful garden was left untouched, except for neighbours and passersby picking fruit off the trees. The roses, ginger lilies, bird of paradise flowers etc. that she used to make bouquets as gifts for friends were strangled in vine.
It was sad, and yet so beautiful.
I took so many photos that day, and then on subsequent trips. Later, I did the same thing with my Grandfather’s garden, I was drawn to it. As an avid horticulturalist he had some amazing things in there, and although it has not been completely neglected, little by little the magic slipped away.
At one point I was going to do a series of paintings based on this theme, but I guess I got busy with some project, followed by another project and it’s just been sitting waiting for me.
I feel as deeply about this idea for a series as I do about the one yesterday. And although the theme/sentiment is different, the paintings seem to go together. I think it has to do with the personification of the flowers. I’ve always maintained that I’m not just painting a flower, the image usually has more meaning to me that that … which is sometimes reflected in the title.
Hmm. The cogs are turning … time to figure out what I’m going to paint for Day 30!
I think this is my breakthrough painting from this challenge. The image is from a photo shoot I did a few winters ago where I wandered around my backyard taking pics of a Bird of Paradise flower. I think the concept is obvious, in fact I probably didn’t paint it earlier because I felt it was TOO obvious, but now that I’ve actually painted the image, I love it!
My original idea was to photograph the flower in different obviously-Canadian scenes, the flower personifying myself, and to use the reference to paint a series. However, I have lots of other painting ideas and projects, so they sat on my hard-drive biding their time. Now, I can see doing a series of different tropical flowers in snow scenes. And that’s just the tip of the ice-berg.
The original title that came to me was “Self-portrait for Antonio”, because recently I asked my Facebook friends if there was anything they’d like to see me paint during the 30 in 30 Challenge, and that was one suggestion.
Antonio & I met through a mutual artist friend in Paris in December when she & I were exhibiting in the SNBA exhibition at the Louvre. We had our first conversation sitting across from each other at a dinner table in an old Gaulish restaurant with boar heads mounted on the walls. The walls had embedded timbers and the “handles” on the front doors were the horns of some animal. Not really the place for vegetarians. But I digress … from my digressions. It was a private event for the Canadian and American artists participating in the exhibition, and Antonio is one of those people who likes to ask questions to find out what makes a person tick, and I am one of those people who lives for deep, intense conversations like that. It didn’t take him long to reduce me to tears, even though I saw it coming right from the first question.
That’s just who I am, if I feel there is a connection I’m more than willing to open myself up and be vulnerable. I feel that is the only way to learn, to gain the insight that leads to growth – spiritual or otherwise. It’s also why I held myself back from blogging for so many years. I write like I talk and while I might sin by omission, what I do say is usually the truth. The dam has broken though… a side-effect of the Challenge.
So, it was very fitting when Antonio suggested I paint a self portrait. It’s been a very long time since I’ve done one, and the last time I even attempted painting a conceptual self-portrait it was actually a back view (with me painting banana trees, with an elephant on my head, and an acrobat on the elephant. Another concept I decided was too obvious to pursue). I’ve been putting my career goals first in the last few years, going “balls out” and I’ve pretty much regained the 50 lbs that it took me two years – and many miles of running – to lose, so I’m not comfortable staring at my own image right now. When I came across the images of the Bird of Paradise in winter photo shoot, I thought of Antonio’s suggestion and everything fell into place.
This image is part of a deeper stream of thought that I will delve into in a subsequent post, especially if it develops into a series. A major theme for me is search for cultural identity, and I use landscape as a vehicle for this, but I think this painting is the best visual expression of this search that I have created.
I just want to put it out there, for the few awesome individuals who will have read this far (shout out to ma “tribe”!), that I don’t hate living in Canada, and I don’t wish I lived in the Caribbean. I am however, always happy to be hopping on a plane. Some time ago I came across an expression – Third Culture Kid – that explained so much about myself, and it was like coming home somehow. If you’d like to find out if YOU are a TCK, take a look at this great article. And the fact is, the very nature of me being a TCK, means that a significant number of my friends, even virtual ones, are as well!
Today I painted in the conservatory at the Burlington Art Center with my friend, Bridie. We haven’t painted together in a long time, and we probably haven’t painted in the Conservatory since last Spring, so I’m really happy we finally made it out there.
Although I paint from my photographs most of the time, I also enjoy painting from life. I changed the background to a sky blue – to simplify the composition. Overall I am happy with it, and although there are a couple things I can see to tweak, I’ve learned that an observational painting is best done in one session. If the weather was warm, instead of bitter cold and snowy, I would have loved to paint outside for the whole month.
The IDEA of plein air (outdoor) painting as a regular practice fascinates me, but to be honest I haven’t been able to make it work for me yet. I’d have to be organized/motivated enough to have my art supplies, lunch etc. packed the night before so that when I take the kids to school I could drive straight to the location. Usually, by the time I get to the site, set up my easel etc, choose a composition, it’s later in the day that I’d like. Then I have to leave to get the kids before I’ve had enough time to bring the painting around to a satisfactory level of finish. Today I didn’t have to pick them up, so I had an extra hour, which really helped. At that point anyway the light had changed enough – as you can see in the photo of the painting on the easel, in front of the actual vine – that I had to stop anyway.
The remedy for this is just to make it a habit, then I’d develop systems to make it work. As it is, especially in this cold climate, I’m much more comfortable staying in to paint.
The other thing I have to figure out, with repeated trips and experimentation, is what media I want to work in for plein air. I’ve found that in the summer, or in the Caribbean, my acrylics dry out too fast. A good mister (spray bottle which puts out a very fine mist) helps to keep the paint wet but not runny. Still, I do really like using my Staywet palette in the studio, but I’ve found it awkward to use on location. The small version gives very little room for mixing, the big one is too heavy to hold with one hand while you paint with the other. I’ve thought of bringing a side table, but that won’t be practical for some locations.
Today I worked on a disposable paper palette pad (the kind with a hole for your thumb), and it was strange how much it felt like working with oils, because of the thicker consistency. I guess I’ve been using a Staywet palette for so long, I’ve figured out the tools (eg. bristle brushes) and techniques (eg. dry brush) that work well for me in the studio. I use heavy body acrylics most of the time, because they absorb water from the Staywet palette – if I used a more fluid acrylic the paint would spread too much and the colours would mingle.
However today, I found that my heavy body acrylics were both drying out/getting hard too fast on the disposable palette, AND it was also thicker than usual, which somehow feels messier. That may be because the paint doesn’t have time to dry in between layers as much so the colours blend together even when you don’t want them to, and in general it feels like I’m just globbing on colour, and don’t have the control I’m used to. Of course, if I were outdoors and painting a landscape, instead of today’s painting subject which is more like a still-life, then I could have taken a looser approach and it would have been smoother sailing.
I suppose that’s all relative though, just how much you render or imply something in your painting is a matter of taste.
I realize that most of what I’ve written is boring – even for another artist – because the process of painting is so subjective. There is no right or wrong to the thickness of the paint, just of how appropriate it is for the intended application. And yet this level of scrutiny when it comes to the materiality of paint … probably speaks to how long I’ve been using acrylics, in that I’m noticing a slight loss of control.
By that I mean, in the studio if I want to add some thicker paint to a painting I push aside my Staywet palette a little to expose the glass palette below and just mix the colour there. And I have a few bottles of fluid acrylics that I use all the time … raw sienna for applying straight onto the canvas with a wide brush as a quick background colour, or titanium white for quickly tinting a colour on my Staywet palette.
Anyway, I’m going to give pastels, oils and watercolours each another shot outdoors – or maybe just skip ahead and invest in Golden’s Open Acrylics because they sound like they’d work out better on the disposable palette.
It’s all part of the journey, the creative process. An artist is naturally a life-long learner, because the nature of art is to study, explore and express our interpretations and opinions of the worlds within and without.
These red sunflowers and the metallic green bee (agapostemon) exemplify the beautiful colour variations in Nature. We’re so used to seeing yellow sunflowers and yellow and black bees, it feels like we’re witnessing something special when we come across less common colours.
I photographed these at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, near the tea house in the Hendrie gardens. Come to think of it, I’ve also painted lily pads in the pond a few steps away, roses that surround the pond, and tulips and magnolias from the Rock garden.
The first time I saw green bees was a few summers ago in my own garden. I had been painting all morning, stopped to make lunch, saw how beautiful the weather was & decided to eat outside. I walked over to where we were trying to start a flower bed and sat on the edge of the retaining wall, right next to the dahlias so that I could study them. All of a sudden I saw something that looked like a bee, but it was metallic green! I wondered what sort of insect it could be, so I took some photos and looked it up on the internet. Apparently Agapostemon bees are sweat bees, and they burrow in the ground.
Anyway, I’m posting this painting which I did last year because I’ve been doing some more complicated/time-consuming paintings and have been falling behind with the 30 in 30 challenge. “Always wanting more” was done for a group exhibition of 8″x8″ paintings, and it has a simple, black floater frame on it.
I only discovered the “Sexy pink” heliconia a few years ago on a trip to Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens in Soufriere, St. Lucia. I love coming across a plant/flower that I’ve never seen before, and this one is such a beauty. I have painted the more popular red & yellow version before but that was years ago, it might be time to do another.
The funny thing for me about this flower was that it was a Canadian landscaper guy who introduced it to me in St. Lucia (seeing as I’m a St. Lucian who lives in Canada). He was working to repair damage in the botanical gardens after Hurricane Tomas devastated the island in 2010. Many of the beautiful, tall, old trees had fallen, which is sad … but it’s also part of the cycle of life. With breaks in the canopy, certain plants are able to receive more light and a new dynamic occurs in the gardens.
I was actually photographing on private property attached to the gardens – arranged by my gallerist in St. Lucia – when we met. I told him I paint from my photos, and he told me I had to photograph this beautiful flower that was in a hidden part of the garden. My mother jumped out of the car to join us, she works sometimes in her friend’s flower shop on the island and wanted to see this exotic flower. We walked along the driveway to get to where it was growing along the hillside. It was partially hidden by some foliage, so he had to hold me steady half-way up the incline, among big leafy plants, so that I could get the shot that inspired this painting.
Later, in the actual gardens, I did come across a few other Sexy Pink heliconias. They were the highlight of an otherwise wonderful trip, and whenever I see that flower I think of the adventure and thrill of discovery.
Before I began this challenge I wrote a list of 30 different things I wanted to do this month – monochromatic, figurative, portrait, abstract, oils etc. – and even though I haven’t looked back at the list, I think I’ve been hitting them all.
Yesterday turned out to be the day for the abstract, and like most abstracts I do it came about because I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to paint. I’m not thrilled with the photo I took, I can’t seem to avoid the glare today. That’s probably because it’s snowing outside, it has been the coldest winter in a long time, and if it weren’t for the challenge keeping me busy, I’d probably be a little depressed.
I started painting late yesterday because I had to take care of some other art business tasks, one of which is to do some prep for an exhibition I have coming up next month – The SLTA Arts Showcase. I’ve been asked to be the artistic director for the Showcase, and I have been involved thus far, but this month I’ve been too busy to give it any attention, so it’ll be one of my priorities next month.
The event is on Feb 22nd in Toronto, presented by the St. Lucia Toronto Association at the Brockton Collective Gallery. It is part of the celebrations commemorating the 35th Independence Anniversary of St. Lucia – the Caribbean island where I was born and raised till I came to Canada at age seventeen to continue my education.
One day as I was coming upstairs, our cat was sitting at the top watching me, and my 4’x4′ painting of a rose was leaning against a wall behind her. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of the cat & the painting, and the idea of doing a painting of a painting. Though as it worked out I didn’t even try to paint the rose as if it were a flat object. I just had fun with it. Even the colour is emotive rather than realistic. Which is often the case in my paintings.
This is a view from Fort Rodney at Pigeon Island National Park in St. Lucia. I grew up very close to this location, and I often do this hike when I go back to visit my parents. Long before it became a National Park it was a popular place to go for a “beach picnic” with family and friends.
We would hang out all day at the beach, in and out of the water (and in my case, reading under a coconut tree). While the adults sat around drinking rum and playing cards or dominos, the kids would go exploring. The look-out point at the highest part of the island just had an old, shaky ladder in those days and it was quite scary climbing up or down, but the reward at the top was a fantastic view. Which is why there are also a couple of old cannons up there.
I encourage you to read this article about Pigeon island, it has some very exciting history of the place which includes pirates, battles (St. Lucia changed hands between the French and English 14 times) and even a period when the island was owned by an English actress (my Mom and her friends remember having to row a boat out there to go to parties). That was before they dredged up the sand and created the causeway joining the island to the main land.
The more I think of it, the more stories I have about this place. I even went there to take pictures on my wedding day. The red roofs you see in the painting are those of Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa & Beach Resort, which attests to the beauty of the location as well as to its popularity.
If you’re ever visiting St. Lucia, I recommend Pigeon Island National Park as a great place to spend the day, or even a couple of hours.
Intense I know. I might paint the pair to this, from photos I took while the rain was falling. On a mountainous island, when you’re up high, you can see the rain coming. When you have no-where to go, and can just look out at the rain, it’s quite beautiful.
My favourite thing as a child was to read on a rainy day. Actually, I read every spare moment I got, but my idea of bliss was to curl up in bed and read my weekend away. I loved to sit up and look out the window next to my bed at the water falling on the croton leaves. Or down the hill where the rain made puddles in the dirt road. And who doesn’t like the soothing sound of rain? Especially on a galvanized rooftop.
The rain can come on suddenly in the Caribbean, big fat drops that soak through your clothes and cool you down. Then just as suddenly it stops, and the sun shines down and dries you up. I never wore a raincoat as a child, very seldom used an umbrella. We weren’t worried about things like “acid rain”, it was just a part of nature, a fact of life.
If you were in town when the rain fell, you’d huddle under the nearest storefront with a bunch of strangers and exchange smiles and maybe some conversation. It never lasted long. And maybe we welcomed it too, after the long dry season … the same way North Americans welcome the spring after a long winter.
BLUE ROOTS ART STUDIO – acrylic paintings of Caribbean & Canadian landscape, flowers & foliage. Burlington, ON, Canada. 905-639-3419