Tag Archives: painting

Madras fabric, banana trees & raindrops challenge

Madras banana in rain, 20"x16", acrylic on canvas, ©2014 Donna Grandin. $800.
Madras banana in rain, 20″x16″, acrylic on canvas, ©2014 Donna Grandin. $800.

The plaid design in this painting is not arbitrary, in the sense that any St. Lucian will read it as Madras, a component of the National Dress of St. Lucia. October is Creole Heritage month, and many patriots like to dress up in Madras (from the traditional full outfits to the more modern use of the fabric in accessories like ties, belts, earrings or handbags) for the Jounen Kwéyol celebrations. Especially in the last decade, the fabric has become a symbol of National pride.

In 2000, I did a few paintings which I refer to collectively as my Madras series, however they were created one by one in between my other projects as I tried out different concepts incorporating the pattern. My favourite of these experiments is the heliconia on the top right of the image below. I liked the semi-abstract effect of the broad bands of colour against the tropical vegetation, and always intended to return to this theme one day.


Then recently someone challenged me to do a new version of Madras Banana (first image in the collage below). She liked the way I painted the Madras border around the banana tree with some of the leaves overlapping, but was also a fan of the raindrops in my hibiscus painting, “Precious gems”.

I started with a simple pencil thumbnail sketch, then primed the canvas with golden ochre acrylic paint. Next I took a look at a swatch of Madras fabric that I purchased in St. Lucia many years ago, to choose the colours for the border.


Over the last 2 decades I’ve taken many photos of tropical vegetation, so it took a while to search through my digital files for reference photos, but I settled on the one in the photo collage above. Then I proceeded to lay in the general composition based on a combination of my thumbnail & the photo. Once I blocked in the general areas of colour, the image started taking shape. Unlike the original painting, which was a more distant view, in this painting I placed a banana leaf in the foreground, so that I could add the raindrops.

The painting evolved slowly, I would think I was done, but then something would not feel quite right, so I would come back & work some more on it. That’s how it goes sometimes, painting is a dialogue … you may think you need to make just one little change, but when you step back to look at what you’ve done – that little change may affect the way you see other parts of the painting – and now you may discover you have a few MORE little changes to make!

This painting is currently available for International Shipping – in a mailing tube – from my studio in Burlington, Canada. Or for local pick-up or delivery. E-mail donna@bluerootsartstudio.com if interested.



Easter lilies & polka dots – a new painting

Easter lilies & polka dots, 20"x16", acrylic on canvas, © 2014, Donna Grandin. $800.
Easter lilies & polka dots, WIP  – finished painting at the bottom of this blog post

The woman ahead of me in the line at the grocery store bought three potted Easter lilies. She had to send her son to grab another one for a price check, “$3.99” the cashier confirmed. The pots were covered with layers of pink, and white polka dotted wrapping paper, ready for Easter gift-giving, except it was now after Easter, so they were on sale. On impulse I sent my son to pick one up as well, because it would be worth it even if I only got one painting done before killing it with my non-green thumb. This is the story of how I get all my houseplants… they have to appeal to me first as a painter.

I placed the plant on the table next to my easel, with the track light shining down on it to create some interesting lighting effects. Instead of photographing the Easter lilies to build up my digital image reference file, I jumped right into painting them from life.

I vaguely intended to do a fast, alla prima, plein air type painting, but due to the larger size of the canvas & the fact that my usual artistic practice consists of studio paintings developed over multiple sessions, I got carried away creating a more complex image.

I primed the canvas yellow-orange & then mixed a darker colour to draw in the basic structure with a bristle brush. I should have spent a little more time at that stage laying in all the leaves, but as often happens, I was impatient to start blocking in areas of colour.  I payed for my impatience when I had to spend a second marathon day editing the composition, reworking the shape & direction of the leaves.

Gradually the painting progressed as I built up the illusion of depth and balanced the composition. I’m not sure how many days I spent on this painting- because I was going back & forth between it & another, but I think it was over the course of a week. I add this because people always want to know.

Late one night I decided to darken the edges, it added to the overall effect and pulled everything together.

Mar ’15 Edit – This painting has been in storage in my studio for some time, the orange and pink combination was bothering me, so I decided to play with the background. Here is the updated painting:

Easter liles
EasterLilies & polka dots, WIP

Mar 30 ’15 update – the brown was a nice colour, but still didn’t quite work for me, so eventually I landed on this lilac colour, and although it’s more girly than any other painting I’ve done (says the person who has painted flowers for years) … I’m quite happy with this version!

Easter lilies, potted plant
Easter lilies and polka dots, 20″x16″, acrylic on canvas, © 2015 Donna Grandin. $800.

Some of you will no doubt prefer one of the previous versions, as we each have our own colour preferences, but for me this one works to unify all elements of the painting the best. The background colour is whimsical, like the wrapping paper, and this is the softest, most alluring iteration.

If you’re interested in this painting, e-mail me at donna@bluerootsartstudio.com







Corporate commission and a tale of Connectors

Photographs of ceremony honouring top travel agents in Canada in the PASS programme for 2013 – held March 25, 2014 – courtesy of St. Lucia Tourist Board.

The life of an artist has its ups and downs, but one thing is for certain – whenever you show your art, you open up the door to new opportunities, and to unique experiences.

I learned pretty early on in my art career that there is a snowball effect that happens when you exhibit, and when you talk about your art. In 1998 I participated in 19 group and solo exhibitions, even though the year before I did not know any of those opportunities existed. As an International student, I knew no-one in the city of Hamilton and spent most of my time in a little bubble on campus, but that had to change once I graduated, because I married my Canadian fiance and needed to start seeing the city as my new home.

I began with volunteer work, and ended up on the organizing committee for Public Hanging, a 3 month long exhibition on the empty top floor of a downtown mall. For security purposes we had teams of 2 participating artists located at either end, and I signed up for two 3 hour shifts a week – a great opportunity to meet and network with local artists. Now I look back I guess it was like speed dating!

Anyway, each exhibition led to another, and before I knew it I had paintings on the set of the morning talk show of a local television station, a solo exhibition in the atrium cafeteria of a hospital, and I was part of a short-lived artists’ collective exhibiting in a pop-up gallery in an empty storefront (long before that became a thing). Even before that I had a exhibition in a library which led to an interview on a Caribbean radio show and participation in a Caribbean Arts Showcase.

Each new person who sees your work has the potential to become a collector or a connector, and there is no time limit as to when that might happen. My best friend from University used to invite her high school friends from Toronto to party with us on the weekends. Fifteen years later she forwarded my exhibition invite to one of those friends who remembered me and my paintings. She came out to the exhibition and went on to become one of the biggest collectors of my work, AND a wonderful friend and supporter.

The path ahead is never completely clear, which is both daunting and exciting, but when you look back at the way you’ve come, your footprints form a pattern.

So a call out of the blue from the president of the St. Lucia Toronto Association to invite me to participate in the 35th Anniversary Independence Arts Showcase leads to me exhibiting at the Gala event as well, and to an e-mail from Alison at the St. Lucia Tourist Board – which leads to them ordering these plaques as awards. Saint Lucia Tourist Board Director of Tourism Mr. Louis Lewis and Saint Lucia Tourist Board Deputy Director of Tourism Tracey Warner-Arnold presented the award winners with their plaques.

Then I did a blog post about the Gala (which was re-posted on the St. Lucia Consulate website), and I forwarded the link to people who signed my guest book at the event, and one of them contacted me to order “The Sunday Hike” – the original painting of Pigeon Island National Park in St. Lucia that was chosen as the image for the plaques.

And the tale does not have to end there … now there are 8 plaques, 1 original painting, and this blog post all going forth as ambassadors of my art. How can you add to this story?


If any of the travel agents get to read this – Congratulations, and I would love to receive a photo of your plaque on display in your office – maybe I can do a follow-up photo collage!















Pineapple & pattern – new painting

Pineapple, 8"x8", acrylic on canvas, © Donna Grandin, 2014. $125.
Pineapple, 8″x8″, acrylic on canvas, © Donna Grandin, 2014. $150.

There’s a pineapple in my studio, starting to smell yummy. In an attempt to start shedding the winter pounds, I bought a high-end blender that will break leafy greens down so well you won’t see a single chunk. Actually, I don’t have a problem with chunky green smoothies, but if I’d like to improve my kids’ vegetable intake as well, then consistency is second only to taste.

It has been fun trying new things in the blender, and when I brought this pineapple home, I decided to let it ripen in my studio so that I would have something beautiful to look at, and eventually smell. A low-cost version of a bouquet of flowers I guess.

I’ve never painted a pineapple before, but like anything else that occurs in nature, it has some wonderful patterns. I painted this one from life, but I also took some photos – the great thing about photos is that you can blow up a section to paint from, and you will see all sorts of details that you never noticed before. You also have more time to study and play with those details, you don’t have to worry about rotting fruit or changing light. There is so much to be learned from each approach.

The other element of this painting is the background pattern. I have always liked playing up the naturally-occurring patterns when painting foliage, visual rhythm adds to the illusion of movement and life in a work of art. However, my interest has grown, and like a woman who has just found out she is pregnant, and now find she sees pregnant women everywhere – I find myself drawn to examples of pattern in art.

Art Nouveau has always been a favourite and I was so lucky to see first hand examples in Paris, Brussels and Barcelona. I mean, talk about cultural tourism, I’m sure I’m not the only person who went to Barcelona just to see Gaudi’s buildings. When I was an art student I gravitated towards Impressionism and Post-impressionism, and I thought that the gold in Klimt’s paintings was just too gaudy (see what I did there?). Now though, I have  a deeper appreciation for his work and the way he blended whimsical pattern with sensitive figure drawing and painting, to create art that has both visual appeal and emotional depth.

Now that I am on the lookout for it, pattern is everywhere … my next commissioned painting includes a textile pattern that I’ve used before, and in a recent post I mentioned Zentangle. Also, my prized possession from the trip to Paris in December was a Desigual handbag. Click the link, you’re going to thank me.

Anyway, this little painting is just one more step to finding a fun way not just to highlight pattern inherent in my subject, but to actively introduce it into my work.

If you have any favourite artists/art featuring pattern, please share in the comments below, I’m always open to new inspiration!







Fresh new painting for Spring!

Fast food workers, 8"x8", acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. Sold
Fast food workers, 8″x8″, acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. Commission.

On the calender at least, it is Spring … outside, not so much (piles of snow & leaf-less trees). Still, I realize now I have been preparing for the change, when we shake off the snow & salt and make a fresh start, unencumbered by heavy winter coats and boots.

Truly, I have been going full steam ahead for so long that no sooner do I get through one deadline, do I set another because the feeling of racing even an impossible deadline is so much more comfortable than the overwhelm that envelopes me when there isn’t something taking obvious precedence over everything else.

In our digitally connected world, and with the “supermom” expectations  of our culture – not to mention my own perfectionist tendencies – I am often driven by the need to always be doing something productive. Do not get me wrong … I am not above occasionally spending the entire Saturday watching Netflicks in my PJ’s and only getting up to feed our family of plugged in Zombies every couple of hours. However, this is usually the day after a big event, when I’m completely wiped out.

When the guilt has built up to a breaking point – usually it’s my youngest jumping into our bed to ask for food AGAIN, or showing us some great craft or experiment he did (often inspired by a youtube video) – I finally drag myself out. Typically I make a meal for all of us, clean the kitchen, throw some laundry in, delegate a few chores, and try to tame the growing pile of paperwork that has hitched a ride in by way of the kids’ schoolbags. After this whirlwind of domestic bliss, we sometimes fall back into our beds, and plug ourselves into the grid again.

The next morning though, I wake up with resolve, I make plans, pull focus, go out to do errands, get stuff done, maybe start a painting. It’s business as usual.

And that’s what Spring is like.

March break was perfect this year. I needed it desperately, I was burning the candle at both ends. So I announced on Facebook that I was taking a week-long hiatus from social media, and for the most part I pulled it off. I did not stop working, but I took off entire days to go on day trips with my family. I lived in the moment. And I found out that “quality time” 24-7 is exhausting for kids too, so while they did their own thing, I got some work in. Of course I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do that week, but I did gain some valuable insight.

In fact, none of it is completely new, but I had lost sight of some of these truths – like how much we can learn looking through the eyes of a child, or how much positive energy can come from having a great conversation, spending the day with a friend, or an outing in a new environment. Trying something new.

I had forgotten that BUZZ of inspiration, which is not always there even when you engaged in creative work. And I had not realized how that feeling, that high of happiness and possibility can open you up to a flood of creative ideas. AND it translates into all parts of your life. Wow.

I have already been having a great year, since I shook off an old mindset and accompanying beliefs that were holding me back. But now, I feel energized – not every minute of the day – but in general, my optimism has returned.

So as I look forward, I see a handful of paths I can take, and instead of worrying that I might take the wrong one, I realize I have the desire and the energy to do them all.

I will try not to give you whiplash, but this is fair warning, as we move forward into a new season – I am going to be a busy bee.  My path may seem a little erratic – but hopefully it will result in a great big pot of honey!

Then again, first I have to do my taxes …!!!


Oh, and I don’t know how long this link will be active, but Thanks to the St. Lucia Consulate in Toronto for re-posting my last blog post!












New Art – Flights of fancy

Flights of fancy, 8"x8", acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin.
Flights of fancy, 8″x8″, acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin.

So, I’m feeling kind of rebellious lately. It might be the February blues – I don’t know how much more of this d$#% snow and bitterly cold wind I can stand. I’ve already started an informal petition on Facebook to move Canada to somewhere warmer …. but the winter sports enthusiasts & kids are jamming up the works!

Or it could be because this week I had to turn down an opportunity for my art to be included in a book of 50 Canadian painters who paint flowers, because it would cost as much as a non-discounted flight to St. Lucia! A little less than I made in art sales while painting my heart out last month during the 30 in 30 challenge.

It probably does have something to do with hitting a milestone birthday in a few months.

Anyway, the painting I was working on earlier this week turned out to be a very dark landscape, a gloomy reflection of my mood. Technically it has potential, but it just doesn’t feel like me. So last night I took it off the easel. Then at 11pm, when the last kid was asleep, I pulled out a fresh canvas.

While I was reading to my kids, several old themes had mingled with influences from the week, coming together as an image in my mind. Then the image permutated into a possible series. I felt more excitement than I’d felt in weeks, so instead of heading to bed, I returned to the easel. The last time I glanced at the clock it was 3am, and I woke up this morning in my clothes from yesterday – not for the first time this year.

From my bed, I could hear the reaction to the painting … “it’s a fish”, “Mom let her mind go wild last night”. Harrumph! Not what I was going for. Though, when I took another look, there was no denying it looked like a fish, underwater. I was about to make a slight change that would have made it less fish-like, when I realized I liked that added dimension to the painting – the multiplicity of meaning. In fact, for now at least, I’m not even going to go into my own interpretation. I think as I do a few more of these, it’ll become obvious.

Traditionally, an artist goes through the process of developing a series in the safety of their studio, occasionally seeking feedback from those whose opinions they trust. Then when the work is done, they edit out the dead-ends or out-right failures, select the best work to document and then promote through exhibitions or portfolio websites. A blog is a whole other beast.

There is a beauty, and a danger, to making this creative process visible to anyone who chances on to your blog. Ultimately though, I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.






Flamboyant path and a positive attitude

Flamboyant path, 14"x11", acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. $250.
Flamboyant path, 14″x11″, acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. $250.

As promised, my first weekly “painting in a day”. This one is based on a path at Pigeon Island National Park, in St. Lucia. Not far from the site I painted in “Nature Walk, during the 30 in 30 Challenge last month.

The flowers of the Flamboyant (Royal Poinciana) trees fall along the path, the red a temporary contrast to all the green. I’ve made it wider here though, it’s really just a simple trail, where the grass has been trampled down in time by people taking a shortcut up and down the slope.

As is often the case with a path you’ve never taken before, only the next few steps are visible – you can’t see what awaits you at the top. It is an uphill climb, so it will take some effort, but with the right attitude, it could also be a lot of fun!



Daily Painting Challenge, 30 paintings in 30 days. Day 30

The story within, 10"x8", acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. $150.
The story within, 10″x8″, acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. SOLD

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.

Daily Painting Challenge. 30 paintings in 30 days. Day 29

It's a jungle out there, 14"x11", acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. $250.00
It’s a jungle out there, 14″x11″, acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. SOLD

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!



Daily Painting Challenge, 30 paintings in 30 days. Day 28

Bird out of Paradise, 10"x8", acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. $150.
Bird out of Paradise, 10″x8″, acrylic on canvas, © 2014 Donna Grandin. Sold

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!







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