It’s all about the background – Progress report 2

"Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties. " ~ Gail Sheehy, American author and journalist.

working from this photograph

There are so few certainties when I start each painting.

Uncertainties are many as I continue to work on a large canvas featuring my granddaughter as ballerina and using this grainy photograph as my inspiration.

The flowers I had "tested" on each side of the canvas have been removed after I received emails from friends and subscribers when I requested feedback. The consensus was almost unanimous so I painted over them.

Another uncertainty had to do with the background which couldn't remain black even though it is very dark in the photograph.

A friend suggested that I examine some of Degas' ballerinas for ideas. I found two of his paintings with backgrounds including what looked to me like alizarin crimson, raw sienna, burnt umber, yellow ochre, and I think these colours work better than stark black.

I still have a bit of adjusting to do on the background, but I am much happier with the changes I have made.

the background on acrylic painting of ballerina

While the background dried, I returned to the ballerina.

Her face is partly shaded in the photo. The next steps will involve trying various skin tone recipes. The light on the ballerina is tricky. Her forehead and nose are in the light, but her neck and chest and the rest of her face are dark. Somehow, I have to find skin tones that will match the rest of her body and not be too far out of the colour range that we see on her arms and legs.

Rather than trying the recipes on canvas, this time I will use watercolour paper. I feel a lot of trial and error about to happen.

....And probably a few more uncertainties too!

A big blank canvas is always daunting

"Unless you put yourself on the line and give it your best shot, you'll never know what you could achieve." ~ Paula Radcliffe, marathon world record holder from Great Britain.

 Daunting big blank canvas 30 x 60

There are no guarantees in art. Each stroke of paint, each mark might result in disaster of colour or proportion or conversely, it could improve the work and bring about greater beauty. Artists speak of many trashed paintings on the road to their one successful painting. And so I understand what it means to be putting "yourself on the line."

Growth (or achievements) in any endeavour can only occur if one is willing to accept challenges and be on that line.

All winter, this 30 x 60 canvas has been waiting outside the art room. The canvas is too big for any of the easels I own so I will work on it propped up on the table in my art room.

For a few years, I have had something in mind for this canvas so last summer, I gave it a base coat of black acrylic paint thinking I would work on it over the winter.

Filling a canvas that size is daunting. As time went along, other projects kept me busy and I procrastinated starting work on this large surface. And thank goodness I did because I was recently inspired by a photo I found of my oldest granddaughter at her dance show.

She is the subject to be painted on the canvas.

Initial measurements on 30 by 60 canvas

As I have never worked on such a large surface, it was important to get the correct proportions right from the beginning. Out came the ruler followed by a sheet rock T square. Head, torso, legs, were all measured out before any paint was applied.

initial sketch on 30 by 60 blank canvas

At this point, my greatest concern is whether or not I have left too much blank space around her. I have to leave room for the stage at the bottom and that might change the look of the piece once it is added to the canvas.

Here she is with her body partly gessoed and roses lightly sketched on one side. I will be testing different flowers and deciding the type and colours that will be most suitable before proceeding too far along.

I like the idea of breaking up the stage and not having it run from one edge to the other. I have a possible title for the painting and the flowers on the sides would work with it.

underpainting for large canvas

Painting is putting myself on the line, and blogging is doubly so. Sharing the work that I attempt or that I complete and writing about it is always a bit of a risk. After all, both are lonely activities that I pursue in my art room each day and then publishing a post allows everyone to see my vulnerabilities.

Those of you who get to the end of my posts, (thank you so much for your understanding) or who have been in contact with me on social media sites or elsewhere, realize that I am not always happy with the outcome. However, I must let go and move on.

Each challenge, each decision is part of the journey I have undertaken in the last two years. Putting myself on the line means that I will give it my best try, and accept that where I am today as an artist is not where I will be tomorrow, or next month, or next year.

What challenges have you accepted lately? How have you "put yourself on the line"?

Snowdrifts and sea spray are not so different, right?

SPOONDRIFT - (n), a showery sprinkling of sea-water or fine spray swept from the tops of the waves. (Origin: Old English).

The Caribbean at sunrise - acrylic on canvas 24 x 48

Snowdrifts I know very well, and there have been many of those around our driveway in the last month or so.

Snowdrift, (n). a deep bank of fine, powdery snow (much like that sea spray) heaped up in one spot by the wind, with underlying possible crusts of ice and frozen dirty slush. Might look pretty on the surface, but is a bugger to get rid of as the wind keeps whipping snowflakes in all directions (more sea spray...ok, I know it's a bit of a stretch but please humour me!). Snowdrifts are the cause of much discussion after a particularly nasty winter storm as Canadians outdo each other in claiming to have the deepest snowdrifts in their backyards or driveways.

Can you tell that winter has set in for good in Ottawa, and in central/eastern Canada?

I need to feel a spoondrift, and soon!

Spoondrift is a new word I must try next time I visit the Caribbean.

"Did you feel the spoondrift against your face on that last wave?"

"That spoondrift should be bottled and brought back home for my parched, wintry skin."

"Leave your sunglasses with me. There is too much spoondrift today in the sea."

As I painted the seascape in the weeks leading up to Christmas, my mind was at the beach while the snowsdrifts deepened and the snowblower was put to good use.

seascape in its new location
seascape in new location

(Serenity Beach, acrylic on 24 x48 stretched canvas. The painting is hanging on the wall in its new home.)

taking photo of beach on snowy day

Here is hubby holding the painting on a blustery day recently. I was trying to take a photo before the painting left for good with its new owner.

The day was too dark to get a good shot not to mention all the snowflakes swirling around.

As you can tell, I do not have the special lighting and photographic gadgets to shoot my art work nor do I have a special easel for large works of art. Hubby becomes a substitute easel in such circumstances.

Below, the next day was sunny and I managed to take the photos I needed.

taking photo of seascape on sunny day

As I write this in the first few days of 2017, I know that I only need to paint a summery beach scene to escape the snow piling up in soft mounds around the house.

What forms of escapism help you deal with a long, cold winter?

Cheers everyone!

Wicked Odile the impostor, and her evil plan

"Not all fairy tales have a happy ending." ~ my hubby quoting someone else I am sure.

He will most certainly be surprised when he sees I have quoted him! (evil laughter). I searched to find the origins of this quotation but so many people have used it in one way or another that I couldn't correctly attribute it to anyone specifically.

I had writer's block for this post. I rewrote the introductory paragraphs twice. I probably sighed once too many times. Hubby was reading his novel across from me at the kitchen table, and he decided to see if he could help me. (that's just the way he is!) More than likely, he may have wanted to speed the process of writing this post so we could get out early on the bike paths with our granddaughter.

When I paint, I usually have a story in mind. In the last post, a brain worm just wouldn't let go and the song helped me to WRITE the story. But the story has never been painted on canvas: this was going to be my challenge.

After I had painted the figure on the left, I thought of the ballet Swan Lake, the contrast between black and white, and the evil woman who tried to disguise herself to fool a prince.

I wanted to paint the impostor Odile in confrontation with Odette, the true swan queen.

Odette the true swan queen confronting her impostor in Swan Lake. Acrylic on canvas.

Siegfried, the prince in Swan Lake, is a flawed character. His mother wants him to marry a suitable lady of the court, but he wants to marry for love. Mama has some control issues to be sure; however, she may have had good reason to direct her boy to the right woman given the tragic ending to this story.

Had he listened to his one true love and waited until midnight, she would have been transformed from a swan into his dream girl. But no! He let his impulsive nature take over and he married Odile, the sorcerer's daughter who was made to look enticing like Odette.

As Siegfried is about to marry Odile, the swan queen Odette is seen in the window, frantically trying to get the attention of her prince who is blissfully unaware that it isn't even midnight, and that he is being duped into marriage by an impostor. Definitely not a man exercising good judgment.

I wonder what I must have thought long ago of Siegfried who is outwitted by the wicked Odile and her devious father. Rereading the story as an adult, Siegfried now comes across as a weak, unappealing man in comparison to every other character in Swan Lake.

In my painting, the true swan queen wears the golden crown. She is holding a piece of ribbon from Odile's wedding crown made of flowers with golden centres. Odette appears menacing with her outstretched wings, but as a swan, there is nothing she can do to stop the wedding.

I still have The Splendour Book of Ballet written Shirley Goulden (now a vintage book). This enchanting storybook arrived in the mail for me shortly after it was published and printed in Milan, Italy, in 1962, and I remember being very excited as a child to open the parcel and examine its contents.

How many times as the years went by have I looked at this book? I drew the characters when I was a teenager. Much much later, I found the book and took it out when my granddaughter was old enough to appreciate the lovely illustrations.

My godmother sent me this treasure of a book. Growing up in a very small town in northern Ontario, I had never seen a ballet. The images in the book are still magical to this day.

Maraja, (1946-1983) the Italian illustrator, skilfully illustrated the movements of the dancers in the most poignant moments of this classical ballet. (

And so, as Swan Lake ends, Odette is dying because "her heart, so full of love, had burst with anguish, and she could no longer live. When Siegfried discovered this he wanted to die too."

Much like Romeo and Juliet, Siegfried follows his love and dies. He jumps into the lake with Odette and "the waters closed gently over their heads as the serene glow of dawn touched the tips of the trees. The storm was over."

And much like many other tragedies, "those who truly love can never be parted. Siegfried and Odette would stand together, in spirit, then and for always, by the quiet waters of Swan Lake."

This story proves that hubby was right and not all fairy tales have a happy ending. A simple lesson helped to get me out of my writer's block. Once again, my husband saves the day!


Another Christmas Past

"When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness." ~ Bob Hope

An after Christmas visit  - acrylic painting

Another Christmas, so greatly anticipated, has come and gone.

It was a strange holiday for me, one where the songs about a white Christmas, and sitting by the fire on a cold night didn't quite jive with the green lawns and warm southerly breeze here in eastern Canada.

When Canadians picture Christmas, we think of thick, lazy snowflakes falling from a heavy sky, of boughs of pine trees laden with sparkling snow, and of the crunch of the white stuff under our heavy winter boots.

But this Christmas Eve, we were outdoors in spring coats joyfully (mostly) soaking up the weak rays of sunshine and enjoying another day more like Easter and Spring Break than Christmas.

The wintry scene above, painted many years ago, came to mind as the type of Christmas we imagine. One with lots of snow, crisp, cold wintry nights where the warmth of home invites us to linger indoors with family and friends.

True, we didn't have that white Christmas this year. But there were other simple things to give us, as Bob Hope so aptly said, "the greatest glow of happiness".

There was.....

time spent with loved ones....
the excitement of Christmas in children's eyes....
good food, lots of it......
Christmas mass...
and a choir singing all the traditional songs ....
card games and laughter....
yes, there was laughter, and joy, and a bit of sadness too.

And now, with fresh snow, we are ready to greet 2016.

May yours be a healthy and happy new year.