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Showing posts from 2015

Authenticity is not an Easy Choice

I've written before about courage. Many times actually: at times when I have changed directions in my work, when I have felt vulnerable, and when I moved into abstraction in my painting.

Before the two advanced painting workshops I taught this past month, I invited the students to send me some suggestions for topics they wished me to address in the workshop. Many wrote to say that they wished for some discussion of authenticity and truth. They wondered how to achieve that.

Authenticitytakes courage. It takes courage to show your art, to open yourself to criticism and rejection, to pick yourself up when things aren't going well. Painting teaches that.Not everyone will like your work. Some will hate it. Others will totally understand it. But opening that way, showing that vulnerability is how you find the truth of who you are. It's saying, "This is who I am." 

Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection says, "Authenticity is the daily practice of letting g…

Visited by Awe

Sometimes there is another presence at work when we make art. Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic, calls it "eudaimonia", a word coined by the  Greeks meaning an external daemon of creativity. All artists feel this at one time or another. Call it the muse, or an angel or a spirit guide or flow. It doesn't happen for me all the time. But that creative presence has definitely visited me. I remember early on in my painting career when I made a painting that was far above my ability at the time. Of course, I painted it, but there was a sense that I couldn't have. I remember the first time it happened. The painting painted itself very quickly and confidently and when I stood back, I was shocked. Something magical had happened! At first my ego puffed up and took full credit. Only trouble was, I couldn't repeat that feat. It took another year or so for me to bring my paintings up to that level. A similar visitation occurred sometime later. Yet another year passed b…

Mindful Play

I've always considered play to be the driving force that leads my work. It takes me into new territory, helps me break boundaries and express myself in different ways. Mindful play is the sort of play that It involves preparing ourselves in an inner way, calming our minds and bringing ourselves into the present moment. It also involves coming to the work with an understanding of structure. It's not thinking about design, it's more that we have incorporated that knowledge and then we let it go. In the same way, we can't pick up a saxophone and become jazz musicians by blowing random notes. Jazz has structure and skill behind it and the musician moves beyond it in order to fly.

My current work as in the photo above, began this past winter after an intense year of work in preparation for a major exhibition. After the work was completed, I needed to have a respite and simply play with paint on paper. There's a freedom in working on paper. I can experiment in a different…

Can You Play?

Each class I teach has it's own personality and demands different things from me. In the workshop I taught last week  my students were gradually moving forward in their work but seemed to be struggling. I spent the first few days teaching them techniques of working with cold wax and oil as well as the elements of design, encouraging them to make small quick paintings alongside the others that they were developing. The idea was to combine play and structure. Often students figure it all out on Day 3, but on the fourth day into this workshop, many were still stuck in the structure part. It was my job to find a new way to help them break through. Several people asked me if I'd demonstrate how to play.

I have always had respect for teachers who are able to paint in front of their classes but I am reluctant to do it, partly because I find it hard to be a performance artist, but also because I want the students to realize there are many ways of working and to find their own way.



There is a timing for things. It isn’t a mistake or a sign of weakness when a person comes to art later in life. The time hasn’t been right for them to arrive any earlier. Like late-blooming plants, they’ve weathered the heat, the winds and the fierce summer storms and now, the autumn is their time.

In nature most plants and trees bloom in the spring and summer. But some are only ready to flower in the late fall or winter. In Southern Ontario, some fall and winter-blooming plants include Chrysanthemums, Burning Bush, Amaryllis, Christmas Cactus and species of Witch Hazel. The magnificent Saguaro Cactus, which grows in the Sonoran Desert between Arizona and Mexico, can live for 150-200 years but only blooms after 35 years. And the Madagascar Palm Tree blooms with hundreds of tiny flowers only once in 100 years.

 Like the Saguaro Cactus, I bloomed late too, attending art school in my late 40s. It was the right time for me to go through that experience, as I needed maturity and confidence …

Coming to Art Later in Life

I've been back from my artist residency in Southern Lapland for nearly three weeks now. Almost all of my creative time there, and since I've come back home, has been spent working on a book. The idea for this book came to me in a dream about three years ago, when I was on another artist residency, and it's been sitting there at the back of my mind for all this time.

It's a book dedicated to all those artists, who have come to art later in life, as I did. While I was in Sweden, I sent out a questionnaire to a number of artists. The scope of the project grew as those artists suggested others. I've received incredibly touching stories from people, telling me how important it is that they finally have the time to focus on their art. It's as though they are getting in touch now with part of their soul that they'd longed to connect with.

They've come to art later in life for a few reasons. Some, like me, never considered art an option. I grew up in a family whe…

Notes from Lappland

Rebecca Crowell and I have just finished our month-long residency in Southern Lapland. We leave tomorrow. As a sort of wrap-up, we wrote a co-blog post about our experiences here.  I'll include a few other photos here, but click on the link below if you'd like to read our stories.

Art and War(planes)

In this artist residency at Ricklundgarden in Southern Lapland, I've been writing a lot and painting and the days pass in a dreamy state of creativity. It's a disorienting place for the quiet and the beauty and the endless daylight. The sun rises shortly after 3am but it's never really dark so my body is unsure what time it is. It can't form a rhythm. And in that disorientation, I feel I'm moving as though in slow motion through another world where there is no time. I paint, I write and I sit dreamily watching the clouds slowly glide across the rounded snow-covered mountains beyond the lake outside my window.

This is such a silent place. Even though I live in the countryside in Ontario, this is a more silent silence. I am moving into it. Yesterday morning the sky was grey with heavy low rain clouds. I was painting in my studio when all of a sudden, a loud booming, rumbling sound came from the sky. I ran outside to see what it was. I couldn't see anything. If it…

What Does This Place Know of Me: Connecting with the Landscape

Here at Ricklundgarden in the little village of Saxnas Sweden in Southern Lapland, Rebecca Crowell and I have just finished teaching a 7-day painting workshop. It was an incredibly memorable week for us all, from a campfire in the Sami kåta to a hike in the snowy, dreamy, treeless landscape of Stekenjokk near the border with Norway, to working in the studio here at Ricklundgarden.

We saw late late sunsets that lasted long into the night, and early morning sunrises only a few hours later in this land so close to the Arctic Circle.

As a way of connecting to this powerful landscape, and as a time for contemplation and reflection, I asked the artists in the workshop to each find a quiet place to sit outdoors--a sit spot--where they would spend 15 minutes each day.  They were to return to the same spot each day at different times of day.  As part of that process, I posed a different question each day for them to contemplate as they sat in the landscape. Two of the questions were from Robert…

Artist Residency in Lapland, Sweden

I am currently at Ricklundgarden, an artist residency in Southern Lapland, Sweden where I am co-teaching a painting workshop with Rebecca Crowell. This is the view out my studio window: Kultsjon Lake with snow-covered mountains behind it.  It was a journey to get here--a long flight from Toronto, a layover in Munich, overnight in Stockholm, a 90 min flight up to Vilhelmina and an hour long bus ride to the tiny village of Saxnas. We are only one hour south of the Arctic Circle here, so the days right now are about 18 hours long.  But it is twilight until long past midnight.

There are five artists in the workshop, three from Canada and two from Sweden who are working together in the bright studio of the main building. I'm ensconced in the cozy Annex next door to the main building where I have a beautiful studio overlooking the lake and the mountains beyond. Paradise. 

There is much more snow here than we expected to find. There was at least a metre of snow outside my door when we arri…

Being a Juror for an Art Show/Being Juried for an Art Show

Yesterday, I was invited to be a juror for the Etobicoke Arts Group annual juried exhibition along with an artist whose work I admire, Warren Hoyano.  Although I have juried several exhibitions in the past, it has been a little while since the last time. I realize that all the teaching I have been doing has given me the clarity to be a better adjudicator and has given me the words to be better able to articulate my choices. The process also brought up for me, early memories of being on the other side of the jury process, as an artist whose work was sometimes accepted and often rejected from juried exhibitions.

Although we knew each other's work, Warren and I had never met.  In the time span of 90 minutes, we were to figure out how to work together and to choose up to 60 artworks from the 108 submitted.  As well, we were to choose from the works selected, 6 award-winners.
The task was daunting not only for the time constraint but for the excellent quality of the work submitted.  Ther…

Helping Artists Discover Their Personal Voices-Part 3

To read Part 1, click here

To read Part 2, click here

Elements of Design

Part 3,  is about looking at your work and the work of other artists to help you discover what you like. In my workshops, I love to teach techniques of working with the medium of cold wax and oil along with the elements of design. The process of painting involves the head and the heart- free and expressive play, along with an understanding of structure. Not one without the other. I'm interested how to read abstract paintings, and understand what elements of design an artist uses to express their ideas. For each design element, I teach various ways of working with cold wax and oil. For example, when I teach the design element, Line, I teach several different techniques for making interesting lines.

And then I invite each student to consider the importance of Line in their own work, asking them to think back over earlier work and see if line appears in their work. We tend to naturally gravitate to using certain el…

That Essense is Light-Åsa Bostrom Interview with Janice Mason Steeves

My friend,Åsa Boströmis a Swedish artist and writer.  She is also coordinating the workshop in Cold Wax and Oil that Rebecca Crowell and I will teach at Ricklundgarden, Saxnas, Sweden in May.  Åsa is collecting stories from artists about their creative process. Here is her recent interview with me:

Studio Practice:
Can you describe your studio practice? For example when and how you work, what you surround yourself with while working, and how you switch over to studio-mode?

When I go into my studio each morning, I begin the day with a little ritual that sets the space for my creative work.  I wrote a blog post about this last summer.

I have a comfortable old chair in a corner. A couple of big stones  and a white pillar candle rest on a small table beside the chair. My morning ritual is to sit in the chair, light my candle and meditate.

A wood-burning stove is in one corner, bookshelves filled with art books in another corner.  On the windowsill, I have beautiful small objects gathered on …

Helping Artists to Discover Their Personal Voices-Part 2

In Part 1 of Helping Artists to Discover Their Personal Voices, I wondered if there was only one voice we could have. I said that so much of discovering your own path, is making choices, and then creating a body of work to explore those choices.

In this post, I'd like to write about discovering what you like.

What do you most love to paint?  When my children were younger and trying to decide what to study or what direction to follow, I would always tell them to follow their giggles. When we are on the right track, there is a gut feeling that is very much like giggling. Sort of bubbly. And I advised them to follow that. And they have. It's Joseph Campbell's expression, 'follow your bliss' integrated into a bodily sensation! 

What do you want most to paint right now? It helps if you tell yourself that the choice doesn't have to be set in stone for the remainder of your life. It's a choice for now. Follow that choice.  Make a body of work around it. If …