What You Can Do When No One is Watching

Unacknowledged-interlude-web“The Unacknowledged (interlude)” by Laureen Marchand, 2016, oil/board, 5″ x 5″

Until this project showed up in my artist’s life, I hadn’t painted in black and white for a long time. I used to. There was a period of several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and sometimes up to a decade later, when the feelings suggested by old black and white photographs seemed both more personal and more universal than anything I could dream up in bright colours. But sometimes the colour appeared in those black and white paintings too, depending on the idea I wanted to explore.

Twenty years ago we used slides to document artwork so I don’t have digital versions of those paintings, expect for this one. It’s a work that’s been re-documented for resale at the Assiniboia Gallery, one of the commercial venues that currently handle my work.

Fourteen_16x32“Fourteen” by Laureen Marchand, oil/canvas, 16″ x 32″

The colour range is called black and white, but of course it isn’t. It’s many variations of grey, each mixed separately from the component hues I see in the photo’s overall colour mix. For the Unacknowledged paintings I used seven grey colours. Eight greys got mixed to start with, but one of them was too dark and in the end wasn’t used. All were mixed before I started to paint, out of titanium white, ultramarine blue,  burnt sienna, cadmium yellow deep, and cadmium red deep.

It’s my usual, very limited colour selection. Sometimes I add cadmium yellow middle, or one of three other reds I like, and once in a rare while when I need to mix a green that can’t be got with ultramarine blue, I’ll use phthalo blue instead. No Asphaltum or Caucasian Flesh or Portland Grey or Prussian Blue or Transparent Earth Red or Viridian Green or any of the other wild and wonderful possibilities available. Everything is mixed with my five to nine or ten hues. I used to buy other paint colours but then wouldn’t use them so I stopped.

PalettePalette

I don’t have a very sophisticated-looking artist’s palette, either. I mix the colours one at a time on throwaway paper palettes then transfer them to a piece of stiff cardboard wrapped with aluminum foil. At the end of a painting session, I cover the mixed colours with plastic film to help them stay workable longer. If I need to change to another colour range mid-painting, I can take the plastic-wrapped aluminum foil off the cardboard and file it flat on a shelf under my painting table, then put another piece of foil on the cardboard. Oil paints don’t dry like water based paints, they oxidize. If oxygen doesn’t get into the paint, the set-aside palette can still be useful weeks from now.

Some artists might think that these five paint tubes, and colours mixed in advance, and the aluminum foil palette, look so amateur-hour. Good thing that here in my studio located in remote Val Marie, Saskatchewan, no one is watching.

What are you doing that might appear unorthodox but really, really works?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Unexpected Outcomes

Wedding-web“The Unacknowledged (part 1)” by Laureen Marchand, 2016, oil/board, 6″ x 6″

The definition of an adventure is that you don’t know how it will turn out.

My 2016 new year’s resolution was to plan an Adventure for each month of this year. January’s was a winter driving trip back to my old home city to enjoy connection with friends and celebrate a fellow artist’s triumph. All of that was a joy and all of it expected. What wasn’t expected was that it would bring so much change. The painting shown here gives only a hint.

For years I painted figuratively. Then during the production of the paintings that became Bequest, a two-person exhibition with Canadian artist Honor Kever that toured in western Canada for 20 months in 2002-03, the figures left my work. I didn’t think they’d ever come back, but here they are. It isn’t clear yet how long this is for, but I’m having a wonderful time as long as it lasts.

Even more unexpected is that this is a collaborative sort of exploration. The pieces I’m working on are for another artist’s exhibition. In that forum they’ll  be scanned and printed on two by five-foot panels and seen with responses to the idea behind them from yet other artists. In a couple of weeks February’s adventure will take place, when I travel to work with the instigator on scanning and designing the panel. The exhibition will likely be shown for the first time this summer, and there’s lots of time between now and then to talk about the show’s concept.

In the here and now, I’m loving the work. There are three small oil paintings, two of which are close-ups of faces. The one shown here is six inches square, painted in grey and white, like the reproduction. Isn’t she beautiful? An important day in a new life, with so much hope. I wonder what happened to that life.

I don’t know what this will mean for my back-here-on-earth output when the project is completed, but I’m ready to find out. And I want to share what I find out with you. So this blog is changing too. It’s had a month-long rest and it’s figured out what it’s ready to be. Three posts a week from the artist’s studio, exploring painting, thinking, ideas, and the walks I take to sort it all out.

I hope you will join me.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. To receive updates, with beautiful images and stories from the artist’s studio, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

Know someone who’d like to see this? Please pass it on!

 

Have An Adventure?

Dec-blueVal Marie, December Blue

On a cold winter day in the late afternoon, I’m walking. This narrow gravelled road surrounded by the wide hills of Saskatchewan’s southwest grasslands, near my home in Val Marie, is a favourite route for its varied and beautiful terrain and for its feeling of remote emptiness, even though I can stroll out my door and be here in five minutes. Today, coyotes have set up a cocktail hour singsong not far away and a lone magpie streaks south. Nothing else disturbs the stillness. Ahead, my tiny village nestles in its valley.

I love this place and am at home here. I love the silence and space, and the wild landscape, and the time to work and to walk. And yet, once in awhile, I miss my old city life.

Once in awhile, especially in winter, especially when I’ve been in the studio a lot, I miss other artists. A person could get to feeling lonely. Maybe even lamenting. If a person thought it would do any good.

So let’s not stand around regretting things! What are we going to do about it? This is the time of year for change.

I never think much of New Year’s resolutions. They seem so arbitrary and no one really keeps them anyway. Imposed self-improvement is artificial, and without meaning or structure it’s just a lot wishes without genies attached. An North America-sized industry based in the assumption of personal lack can’t be all that good anyway.

I have a better idea.

This year I’m going to have Adventures. This year I resolve to plan one adventure for each month of the year. They  might be large or small and they might be artistic or travel or new ways of thinking. To qualify, all they need is the Laureen Stamp of Adventure.

Betsy-2016Betsy Rosenwald, “Untitled (flow knot)”

So here’s January’s. At the end of this week I’ll travel back to my old home city to go an exhibition opening. It’s a drive of almost 400 km/240 miles and I’ll go for two days. In the middle of January with forecast overnight temperatures to -25 C/-13 F, that’s almost adventure enough. But weather isn’t the adventure I have in mind. My artist friend, the amazing Betsy Rosenwald, has new work in an exhibition at one of Saskatchewan’s premier commercial galleries, Art Placement, and I’m going to help celebrate. Along the road of celebration there will be lots of conversations with other artists, and new ideas and catching up with old ones. And I’ll come back tired and exhilarated and ready for silence.

Are adventures really the cure for what ails us?

What adventures will you plan for this year? Might they be more useful than a library of self-help manuals? I invite you to share in the comments.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. To receive updates, with beautiful images and stories from the artist’s studio, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

Know someone who’d like to see this? Please pass it on!

 

Life Brings House Sparrows

House-sparrows-webHouse sparrows in unexpected late afternoon sun with wind

This time of year on the southern Canadian prairies you want all the life you can get. 16 hours out of every 24 are night-time, and though our daytime highs are cold at -5C/23F , that isn’t quite cold enough to freeze cloud and fog out of the air and give us our much-proclaimed blue winter skies. It’s dark. It’s grey. It’s December. And it’s going to be a long time until the first green leaf shows up.

So I’m feeding house sparrows. I didn’t set out to feed sparrows. I wanted to attract blue jays, backyard winter redpolls, rosy finches. If you feed them, they will come.

What came was sparrows.

Do you know how many different kinds of sparrows live in or visit Saskatchewan? Grasshopper, Baird’s, Le Conte’s, sharp-tailed, savannah. American tree, Brewer’s, Lincoln’s, swamp, clay-coloured, Vesper, song. White-throated, white-crowned, fox, Harris’, lark, golden-crowned. Towhees, juncos, longspurs, snow buntings.

Do you know what kind stays here year round? House sparrows. They aren’t even native. Brought to eastern North America in the 1850s, the species has since spread throughout the continent, coming into Saskatchewan in 1899. It can live anywhere people do, has an extremely large range and population and isn’t seriously threatened by human activities.

Which means that if I’m going to feed anything, house sparrows will be included. Their brown fluttering fills my back garden with movement and whirring. They eat like little horses. At first there were just a few. When I started, a couple of winters ago, it was terribly cold out. They needed to eat. I had a big bag of mixed seed that had been around for a couple of years and I filled feeders. And filled. And filled. The bird feeding websites I looked at said birds don’t like mixed seed. Um. The big bag ran out and I switched to whatever Val Marie’s Whitemud Grocery  has in stock. “Oh my,” said the sparrows. Turns out house sparrows love that local stuff. Now I think they’re tweeting on Twitter. “Party at Laureen’s!” Everybody comes. They aren’t tidy feeders. They seem to throw away as much as they eat.

Here’s the wonder: Despite all the bird food and spillage, I like house sparrows. This time of year, when spring feels far away, they’re so alive. Fluttering. Cheeping. Bolting in panic at shadows. Little sparrow-ish fistfights, just to keep in practice for mating season. I can hear their choir practice right through tightly closed windows. They’re never going to be any good. But still they sing. Right through cold, wind, snow, freezing drizzle, all these short grey days.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. To receive updates, with inspiring images and stories from the artist’s studio, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

Know someone who’d like to see this? Please pass it on!

How to Find Your Way Through a Maze

Metamorphic-Marchand-web

Metamorphic, by Laureen Marchand (oil/board)

The artist’s brain is like a labyrinth, a maze in an old fashioned garden. Try this path. Now that one. Turn left. Retrace your steps. Turn right three times. In the centre, untold delights await. On the other side, incredible vistas. Usually the hedges that form these green walls are too high to see over, but once in awhile you get a glimpse of what might be around the next corner. And now you’re lost. You go back to the beginning and start over.

Yet somehow you find your way. You didn’t know where you were going or how to get there, but here you are. And see how beautiful it is. Just look…

How to find your way through a maze: Find a turning point. The turning point is where the maze swaps the direction that it is designed for. To find the turning point, trace walls of the maze inwards. You will find a place where there is only one point to cross the entwining walls. This will be the turning point. Pass through this point, and you then can work backwards and forwards.

Blog-maze-russboroughRussborough House Maze, Blessington, Co Wicklow, Ireland

How to find your way through a maze: Use an algorithm. Trémaux’s algorithm requires drawing lines on the floor to mark a path. Every time a direction is chosen it is marked by drawing a line on the floor. In the beginning a random direction is chosen. On arriving at a junction that has not been visited before, pick a random direction that is not marked  When arriving at a marked junction and if your current path is marked only once then turn around and walk back. When you finally reach the solution, paths marked exactly once will indicate a direct way back to the start. If there is no exit, this method will take you back to the start where all paths are marked twice.

blog-maze-glendurganGlendurgan Garden Maze, Falmouth, Cornwall, England

How to find your way through a maze: Follow a wall. Since mazes start and end at the edge, follow a wall. If you follow the wall on your left or right, you will eventually reach the end of the maze.

maze-scone-palaceMurray Star Maze, Scone Palace, Perthshire

How to find your way through a maze: Walk in and walk out.

blog-maze-cockington-greenGrass Maze, Cockington Green, Canberra, Australia

How do you find your way through the mazes you encounter?

The painting at the top of this post was at a recent centre of the maze for me. You can see more information about it here. It is currently available for sale.

(The instructions above are adapted from www.wikihow.com/Find-Your-Way-Though-a-Maze)

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. To receive updates, with inspiring images and stories from the artist’s studio, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

Know someone who’d like to see this? Please pass it on!

 

Cat Contemplates Beauty

Art-cat-webCat and roses

Like many artists, I feel most at home in my studio.  I have a nice small cottage-y house in the tiny village of Val Marie, Saskatchewan, gateway to Grasslands National Park, one of Canada’s most remote and beautiful locations. What would in a normal person’s house be the dining room has been turned into my studio and office and that’s where I spend most of my days. The studio isn’t huge but it’s bright and sweet and all mine, and everything I need to work with is there. Though sometimes, especially when I’m figuring out some new idea, the studio can spill over into the living room, dining area and kitchen.

And then the art cat helps.

The art cat understands inspiration. She knows the value of considering, of spending days imagining, of doing less. She knows what beauty is, because she inhabits beauty herself. She knows how to dream.

So now, after time with the art cat, I’ve begun something new. This period of exploration always feels scary and at the same time like a path is stretching out in front of me. It feels as though if I can see that path, all I have to do is follow.

Does the art cat wonder why I don’t accept her help more often?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s studio. To receive updates, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

How to Fail Like an Artist

Blog-ThroatSingersInuit throat singers at Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony (CBC photo, Globe & Mail video)

What do you do when you reach for a goal and don’t quite get there?

It was a moment for the history books. At the swearing-in ceremony for Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 4, 2015, two young Inuit throat singers laughed and the entire country fell in love. The girls, Samantha Kigutaq-Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre, both 11 years old and residents of Ottawa, performed two throat songs and broke into giggles at the end of each. They should be the new Ministers of Cute, said social media.

But what social media missed, at least at first, is that laughter is built into Inuit throat singing. According to the Inuit Culture Online Resource, “Throat singing was traditionally performed between two women. The songs are sung as a friendly competition; played as a game. One person sets the rhythm, the pace, the sound and the other follows. The first person to outlast or not laugh is the winner, as each song tends to end in laughter.”

This isn’t competition as I’ve been taught to understand it. In the world I learned in, competition was (a) essentially male and (b) essentially serious, and losing a competition was (c) essentially shameful. Just think of all those children’s team sports with dads on the sidelines insulting volunteer coaches and humiliating their own kids.

Now think about a different kind of competition. This one is (a) for everyone who plays and (b) essentially joyous, and losing is (c) essentially a reason to laugh and play again.

These girls have been throat singing since they were two years old, at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre where they became friends. They were interviewed by Canada’s national broadcaster CBC after the performance.

“I lost that first round,” said Samantha.

“But then on the second round, I messed up on the speech I was trying to do in the throat singing and then I started laughing,” said Cailyn. “The game is whoever laughs first loses, and I messed up so I laughed.”

I messed up so I laughed. What if we all thought about “failure” that way? Not as something to hide or hide from, and never risk anything else, but as part of the joy of reaching for a goal, then being able to reach again.

When asked what she liked best about throat singing, Cailyn said, “Laughing.”

May all your goals bring laughter.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s studio. To receive updates, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

Where Are You Going? What Will You Do When You Get There?

Blog-Curve-BlownLaureen Marchand, “Blown” (oil/board)
to be exhibited at Assiniboia Gallery beginning Nov. 21, 2015

What will you do when you get what you want?

In the insightful and brilliantly supportive book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Every artist should own a copy! Get yours now!), the authors talk about what stops artists making art. Two reasons? They don’t get what they want. And they do.

“Artists quit,” Bayles and Orland say, “when they convince themselves that their next effort is doomed to fail. And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work – for the place where their work belongs.”

You can lose the destination for your work when you lose a support system. “Not many people,” say the authors, “continue making art when their work is no longer seen, no longer exhibited, no longer commented upon, no longer encouraged.”

And artists stop making art when they reach a goal. The solo exhibition they’ve been aiming at for years. The completed body of work. The perfect painting. Success “transmutes into depression.” You got what you wanted. You reached a destination and you don’t have another one. Now what?

According to Bayles and Orland, “Avoiding this fate has something to do with not letting your current goal become you only goal. With individual artworks it means leaving some loose thread, some unexplored issue, to carry forward and explore in the next piece. With larger goals, (like…major shows) it means always carrying with you the seed crystal for your next destination.”

Um. I guess I missed that instruction.

From 2010 to 2014, I worked toward one major exhibition. That was Beholder, shown at the Art Gallery of Regina in the spring of 2014. I mapped out a course, forged new trails, figured out my directions. The path wasn’t easy but I could just about see where I wanted to go.

Then I got there. The exhibition opened and its reception was lovely. I was proud and happy and it never occurred to me, not once, that I didn’t know what I’d do next.

There’ve been a lot of false starts between then and now. Some of them looked like they might lead somewhere and some were less certain. At every point I wondered if I’d ever get back on track. And now? Not sure. I like the current paintings. Will they become a new destination, one to keep me going? Only one way to know.

Go.

Do you know where you’re going? I’d love to help you with that. Currently there are three places in my artist mentoring schedule. I invite you to apply. Your application comes with a free introductory session, to make sure we’re a good fit. There is no charge for the introductory session – and no guarantee I will offer you a mentoring place afterwards. I’m taking new applicants until Friday, November 6. Everyone who gets in touch before that time will receive their free-of-charge intro session before the end of the month. And we’ll go from there.

Don’t wait. Click here for more information. Let’s go together.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s studio. To receive updates, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

Does Sharing Help Art Flow?

Blog-September-SongLaureen Marchand, “September Song” (oil/board)
to be exhibited at the Assiniboia Gallery beginning Nov. 20, 2015

This was my research question: How does sharing work in progress affect the work’s completion?

So far I have a small sample of data. Firm conclusions cannot be drawn. But the data I have is exciting.

Last week I started posting images of the progression of a painting. It felt breathtakingly daring. And one day when the piece was close to completion and terminally uncertain at the same time, I wondered if instead of being daring, it was just nuts.

It might not have been nuts. Because I wonder if maybe, just maybe, sharing has made the process faster. Like I said, the data sample is still small. But I wonder if the expectation of sharing without censoring has broken a dam in my artistic flow.

I started a painting. I shared it as it developed. This is the first painting since August that got completed instead of being abandoned partway through. Is there a relationship between these facts? Still too early to tell. The research is ongoing.

I’ll be back with more.

Would sharing help you break a dam in your own artistic flow?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s studio. To receive updates, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

Questions and Uncertainties

Blog-IMG_5115-webPainting progression, October 12, 2015

I begin each painting with a drawing on the painting surface, an elaborate contour drawing that provides the initial structure. Then I apply a wash of colour to produce a warm underpainting. After that, I mix oil paint colours in response to my source photo, aiming to develop one area of the painting before moving to another, and beginning with an area that seems to be key in informing the rest of the piece. If the plan works, my initial colour choices stay as I make them.

This one has plans of its own. I’m not getting quite the value changes and contrast I was looking for. Some of the initial drawing needed to be changed. And even though almost all of the underpainting colour is gone, I still can’t quite tell what the piece will look like when that colour isn’t there to influence all the others.

With this post series on the development of a painting, I’m exploring the sharing of unfinished work with all its questions and uncertainties. Because art is not about appearing never to have them.

If you feel like it, I’d love to see what you’re working on.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.