How a novel and a serendipitous treasure inspired me

"She listened and waited, holding her breath, wishing against hope for a lightning bolt of truth to descend and reveal the path she ought to take." (p.175) from After the War is Over, by Jennifer Robson.

mixed media "Charlotte" on 6 X 8 wood panel

I am often asked where I get ideas for my art. Truthfully, there isn't really one specific answer.

However, "Charlotte" above, is an example of the coincidental way that art often happens.

Now that the painting is completed, you will see that a novel on one hand, and an old book of Ontario Statutes dated 1919, on the other, served as inspiration for this painting.

If like me, you love historical novels, After the War is Over, by Torontonian Jennifer Robson, should definitely be on your list of books to read.

This gem of a novel had me reading into the early hours of the morning and I was sad to see the end of it. What will happen to Charlotte in her new life?

Charlotte is a perfect specimen of strong British backbone, and aristocrats and commoners alike, including Charlotte, seek a meaning to life after witnessing the atrocities of WWI. Charlotte finds herself employed in two quite different fields of work, each with its own challenges.

After the War is Over explores social status in Britain and Charlotte is torn between the life and career she is building for herself as an independent woman in Liverpool, and her feelings for the Earl of Cumberland, a battle bruised war hero.

By the end of the novel, Charlotte seizes an opportunity to change her life and make her dreams come true.

There were many characters I found interesting but Charlotte was most endearing. This is a period in history that I will definitely revisit in future paintings. I know that I must try to get more of the clothes and the feeling of that era in my art.

Once I had the character sketched out on my wood panel, I needed a background. Backgrounds are my Achilles' heel. They must not overwhelm the painting all the while providing a suitable backdrop for the subject.

Ontario legislation 1919

I remembered that last year, I had bought an old book of Ontario Statutes from 1919 in a used book shop in my hometown of Sturgeon Falls, Ontario.

The book was in the garage and I hadn't touched it since I had bought it. I really couldn't even remember the date, but as I said earlier, luck was on my side and the date coincided with the time period of the novel.

Just reading the different legislation from nearly a century ago is worth more than the price I paid for the book.

I admit I was reluctant to rip the yellowed paper. However, since I had bought the book for my art, I tore one of the pages of Ontario Statutes and used it in the background of the painting.

Look in the top left hand corner of the painting and you will see "April 1919" as well as the strips from the book all around Charlotte. She must be reminiscing about all the events that took place in her life during that month.

soldiers and sailors settlement in Ontario Statutes 1919

The book has statutes for different cities in Ontario including by-laws that Ottawa could pass without seeking assent of the electors for "$5,000 to provide for additional expenditures upon the Soldiers' Home, beyond those previously authorized" as well as "$35,000 to provide for altering and improving the pavement, walks and approaches of the Bank Street Subway".

Another chapter specifies agreements that Counties in Ontario are authorized to enact for the "Settlement of Returned Soldiers and Sailors".

And so this book of Statutes is an interesting piece of history and it specifies the ways Ontario was managing the return of its men from the war abroad.

There were laws enacted with respect to "Compulsory School Attendance". "Every child between eight and fourteen years of age shall attend school for the full term [...].

Although it is rather dry reading, this old water stained book is a look back in time to the way Ontario was dealing with various issues of concern for its citizens including temperance, school attendance, managing growth in its cities...

school attendance statutes in Ontario 1919

History, literature, and art all came together quite naturally in my painting of Charlotte.

This doesn't always happen, but when it does, it feels great.

2 thoughts to “How a novel and a serendipitous treasure inspired me”

  1. What a great story Louise. No wonder you were such a good teacher as you put things so succinctly . And I smiled when I read about the children having to attend school, a pity it isn’t so stringently enforced these days.

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