Portrait of Adam

I don’t do a lot of portrait painting, though I love the genre. I have written here about the 17th century Dutch portraits that I always seek out in galleries.

 A few years ago I did a series of drawings of some older women friends of mine—it’s a long story, but suffice to say that a chance discussion of life drawing led a few of the more courageous of the group to step forward as models for me.

At that time I hadn’t noticed serious aging in my own body and thought of my models as showing the effects of the aging I feared, the wrinkles and sags. Truth be told, that is why I was excited to draw them. It was a chance to draw the less than ideal, the type of model who rarely poses for a life drawing class.

I told my friend Frances about the surprising experience that followed—how after a very short time all judgment faded—after 10 minutes everything was interesting and after an hour everything was beautiful.  More accurately, the idea of beauty I carried around in my head, shaped by art and (especially) advertising, just fell away, like gossamer.

Frances later commissioned a nude, as a surprise for her husband. The experience was a revelation for both of us. I felt like I had seen her in a new way –not the surface, the flesh and hair and eyes, but something deeper—just from the act of such intense observation.

I think she too was surprised to see this version of herself. She is a beautiful woman, but like many women, critical of what she sees as her physical faults. I think the portrait, which was completely truthful, helped her to see her essential self. She has written eloquently about portraits (looking at them as well as sitting for them) on her wonderful blog here, here and here.

In some mysterious way, from the very act of translating the figure into paint a clarity emerged. I can’t say I understand it fully. But it is different than looking in the mirror and it is different than a photograph—though I realize that photographs can have this quality.

I didn’t think much more about this mystery until I recently did another portrait.  This was a heavier task, which may have been the reason it took me so long to fulfill my promise to complete it.

Two years ago one of my sisters lost her 19-year-old son in an accident. I didn’t get to know him well, she and I had never lived in the same city but I found out a lot about him at his funeral. He was a gifted athlete, he was good at making and keeping friends, he loved the music of the 70’s and he had a quirky style and a comfort in his own skin, which attracted people to him.

Normally I would do a series of drawings as studies for a portrait but all I had was one photo to work from, taken by the river, where he had spent many happy days. He is 14 or 15, at that moment when his body was becoming one of a man but he still had the face and perhaps, heart, of a boy.

He has stepped out of his favourite running shoes and waded into the water to catch a frog, which he holds tenderly in his hands. The same square, short-fingered hands my own son has inherited from his grandfather.

 I decided to work in watercolour as that is the medium I am best at for accurate rendering. It was to be as good a likeness as possible. I put my head down to do the best “copy” I could.

As the painting developed, I was drawn into that moment in his life, burrowing into every detail. At the same time the painting shifted within me from portrait to something weighted with broader context: a boy moving into manhood in the logo clad clothing of his time, yet still connected to the essential, timeless things: a river, a frog, bare feet on the shores of his boyhood. 

It reminded me that art is always transformative. It is impossible to copy life. Each painting becomes something else, something new. It is not just the limitations of the materials and the task (wrestling something three dimensional into two dimensions). It is the human medium that it must travel through first. And that feels a little bit like magic. 

I regret that I didn’t get to know Adam better. Painting his portrait I felt like I was able to spend some time with him.



The Fruits of Fall

Just wrapped up an inspiring fall of teaching. My students never cease to amaze me; I always learn so much from them.

This fall I had two sessions of watercolour classes which ran 6 weeks; on Wednesdays a beginner class and on Thursdays some more experienced students, including several who had studied with me last year. By the time we had our last class a couple of weeks ago, some of them had had 20 classes with me.

 We began with fall leaves, using a series of experimental techniques, pouring, lifting, resist, printing, and then finding form with both positive and negative painting:

Barb LeBrasseur

Meanwhile, the Wednesday class was painting more traditional botanicals....

Sandie Rankin

Jane Teskey

Over the fall we explored transparent glazing:

Brian Emmerson








                                 Kris Barge














Jonnie Tunnell
Brenda Grice

Terry Grantner


As well as combining acrylic ink and watercolour:

Milena Essig

Anne Sedola

Suzanne Lamoureux

Sandy King

 In this excercise, students created form with negative painting (painting around objects, rather than the objects themselves)

Tanis Corfield

 Ocea Corfield

Jodi Le Masurier



















                                              Marian Luxton                                                                    

Maureen Johnson


We studied the importance of values with value paintings (using only French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna)

Sandy King

 ....and deconstructed still life, transferring contour drawings (drawings made by not looking at the paper, only the subject) before finishing with a limited palette of Cobalt Teal, Hansa Yellow, Quin. Rose, Green Gold, French Ultramarine and Raw Sienna.


 Frances Sprout

Mary Skellet

On the last class we returned to creating decorative surfaces with different media (acylic inks and watercolour) and processes, resist, printing, pouring, mark making with black and metallic pens....

to create Christmas images:


 Maureen Byrne

Yolanda Vandermeer

Julie Gettings

Judith Gibson

Barb LeBrasseur

We mixed India ink and watercolour to paint abstract snow scenes


I also offered a new 2 day class this fall: Fast and Loose. Here is the course description:

One of the most common comments I hear from students is “I’d like to loosen up in my painting.”

This class is designed to introduce you to some exercises, techniques and materials to help you break out of old habits, loosen up your work and find the fun in painting again!

We will work with graphite, pens, and watercolour in day 1 and acrylics in day 2. 

I love creating new classes because it always pushes me into new artistic terrain. Here are some of the results:

Joanna Streetly

Heide Brown

 Claire Crowe

Finally, I was pleased to take my new "Entering the Abstract Space" course, (developed as a 4 day for the Gibsons School of the Arts, last summer) to the Nanaimo Art Gallery, compressed into a one day.

One of the things I like doing with this class is a collaborative excercise where a drawing is passed from student to student. It is the best way I know of detaching students from product! The paintings begin as overlapping contour drawings, from which compositions are lifted and then developed with grey, white, black and more mark making.

 overlapping contour drawing


In the second half of the class, students created rich underpaintings with mixed media and proceses which included printing, resist, scoring, use of tools like brayers and squeegies, mark making...on illustration board. Compositions were "found" and developed and board was eventually cut down and mounted on wooden cradles. 

Diptych, Heide Brown

Treva Henchcliffe

 Brenda Borody

Marilyn Aman 

 Karen Brix












Paris photos

It is hard to find something to say that hasn't already been said about the recent events in Paris. Instead, some of my favourite photos from my visits to Paris this year--to celebrate it's beauty, wit, grace, and style.




More Sketches from Paris

This beautiful massive lion stands at the entrance to the Sculpture gallery in the Musee d'Orsay. It is, as my notes say, only a maquette for a bronze lion which is at one of the doors to the Louvre.

I love drawing sculpture--it stays so still!

the fountain near the Pompidou Centre of the Arts, playful scuptures, a wall with the image of Dali, and one of the city's oldest churches, all in the same view!

Architectural perspective is always a challenge for me. Had some help on this one from Kelley Aitken.

I never tire of drawing from the Egyptian displays in the Louvre. The figure on the left was very tiny (maybe only 5" tall) but very sensuous--in real life, one sees the contours of the thighs and belly under the dress, which is inlaid with fine gold mesh. 


Painting Giverny

Giverny is only an hour's train ride from Paris but it feels very far away.

First thing in the morning tour buses arrive, releasing a deluge which pours through the famous gardens and lily ponds. Still, it is not the press of visitors I remember of my two visits this September. It is the the simple elegance of the country house with its almost feminine sensibility and its astonishing collection of Japanese prints. And, of course, the gardens.

Our drawing there focused on the waterlilies, first, with Kelley, who I teach with, in graphite, to give students a sense of how to capture the way that the flat plane of water recedes. And with me, to use watercolour, dropping wet in wet to get the impressionistic quality of reflections. 

     Workshop students, drawing at Giverny                          

                     The house from one of the garden paths.    

Morning light in the kitchen


As always, drawing brings place and moment into still, sharp clarity. And this is what is also remembered: the lavish tapestry of the perennial beds, the play of reflections on lily ponds.

I think I understand Monet's obsession with waterlilies. He was endlessly fascinated by the play of light and reflections of clouds on water.

His ponds began as simple swampy ground.

Photos from The Jardins de Claude Monet in 1893.

He applied to the prefecture of the region to divert some of the River Epte into his property in order to create his famous Jardin d'eau planted with many varieties of and Nympheas or waterlilies.

In 1897, he started to paint the "Nymphéas", exploring the colours and texture of the surface of the ponds for years, arriving in some paintings at an almost abstract rendering, vibrations of colour which evoke the emotion and feeling of the ponds more than their accurate represenation.

After our visit to Giverny we visited the Orangerie Museum, in Paris.

On the day after the Armistice of 1918, Monet offered his massive cycle of waterlily paintings to the French State, as a symbol of peace. They were installed in the Orangerie a few months after his death in 1927.  

They line the walls of two oval rooms. Under gently filtered light we could walk along nearly a hundred meters of water lily ponds, passing through different light, atmosphere, and times of day. They are breathtaking. It is hard to comprehend the sheer effort of covering such massive paintings with the rich layers of colour and brushstroke. 

Detail, waterlilies