Learning to Paint

Forever…

???????????????????????????????Learning to paint*

I’m learning to paint. I’ve been painting for decades. I know how to do this. I need to know more.

When the last piece for my recent exhibition Beholder (Art Gallery of Regina, 2014) came off the easel, I was pretty pleased. The show had been in production for about two and a half years, so of course there was some variation in the subject and the way it lived in its frame. But the process felt fine. All I expected to do was keep going.

But then came a summer of change and an autumn of fragility. And something wanted me to pay attention.

At first, it looked like an image I’ve held for awhile. A white rose, a white picture plane, white shadows. I began on that first small painting. But there was something else there, something more than whiteness. It was just outside what I could see. So I went to what others have seen.

Now, one of the stands in my studio is covered with reference images. It isn’t that I’m painting from them or that they’re what I’m aiming for. None of them looks like me. But there’s an idea there about relationships among colours and meaning in brushstrokes. I want to find out what it is.

A second painting is now in progress. I can’t tell if it’s exciting or if it’s just fluff. But this new practice, if that’s what’s happening, is challenging, engaging and totally fun.

May it be forever.

For you, too.

*Images clockwise from left to right: Alla Prima by Al Gury, cover painting by Arthur DeCosta. Padraig McCaul. John Singer Sargent. Karen Mathison Schmidt.

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All the Time There Is

What if it was ours…

Shadow-project-1a-webThe Shadow Project #1″, by Laureen Marchand (oil/board, 5″ x 5″, $295 unframed)

It’s amazing how time extends when you can’t do much.

In early October I caught a seasonal flu. It turned into pneumonia. I didn’t know it was pneumonia, so I spent a week waiting for the cough and fatigue and weakness to go away on their own. Eventually, when they didn’t, I went to the doctor and thence to antibiotics, and to another week of coughing and fatigue and weakness. In the end, for almost four weeks I did almost nothing.

Here’s what’s interesting. During all that time of lassitude and very little accomplishment, I never felt the pressure to do more.

You know that pressure. Not enough hours in the day. Everyone wants something. You are responsible and you have to respond. There’s nothing you can do about it. Every demand has to be met. You’re indispensable.

Then there was pneumonia. I just…stopped.

You know what? I wasn’t indispensable at all.

So much time. To think, to read, to dream. To sleep. To refill the outdoor bird feeders. To rest again. Lovely books. Lovely birds. The days were spacious and calm. By the third week, once or twice, I went to my studio. An hour to paint. What gifts! I had all the time there is.

What if we all just…stopped? What if we did what was possible and no more? What if we gave ourselves an hour in the studio? What if we always felt that space? What if we always had all the time there is?

What if…

The small painting above was one of the gifts of my pneumonia studio time. It’s available for sale at the price stated, taxes and shipping extra as applicable. If you’d like more information, drop me a line using the contact tab in the navigation bar. I’ll get right back to you.

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What Will You Do With the Rest of Your Life?

The time that remains…

blog-Georgia-O'Keeffe-1971Georgia O’Keeffe in 1971 (photo: J Krementz)

Everyone knows about Georgia O’Keeffe. Born in 1887, she was 29 when her art career took off, supported by Alfred Stieglitz, her mentor, art dealer, and as of 1924 when she was 37, husband. By that time she had become recognized as one of America’s most important and successful artists. Stieglitz died in 1946 when O’Keeffe was almost 60. Three years later, O’Keeffe moved from New York to New Mexico where she continued a stellar career for the next 35 years, until failing eyesight forced her to retire two years before her death in 1986 at the age of 98.

blog-agnes-martinAgnes Martin in 1994 (photo Chris Felver)

Perhaps less well known is Agnes Martin. Agnes Martin was born in 1912 in Macklin, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Vancouver. She moved to the United States in 1932, where she studied and taught art. Her first solo exhibition took place in 1958 when she was 46 and by 1966, she was a highly influential abstract painter. In 1967, at the age of 55, Martin stopped painting. She too relocated to New Mexico, where she didn’t begin painting again until seven years later. From that time until her death in 2004 at the age of 92, she worked steadily and exhibited regularly, as well as receiving a number of international publications and awards.

blog-mccarthy-2004Doris McCarthy in 2004 (photo: Fred Lum)

Doris McCarthy was born in 1910 in Calgary, though she spent most of her artistic life in Toronto. She attended art college from age 16 to 20, and made her living as a high school art teacher until she retired at 62 in 1972. Though she had painted and exhibited as much as possible throughout her teaching career, it was retirement that finally freed her to fully develop the art that advanced the Canadian landscape tradition, that was widely exhibited nationally and internationally, and that brought her the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario, as well as numerous fellowships and honorary doctorates. McCarthy published the first volume of her autobiography in 1990 at the age of 80, the second volume a year later, and the final volume in 2004 when she was 94 years of age. She continued to paint until 2004, and she died at home at the age of 100 in 2010.

blog-carmenh-portraitCarmen Herrera in 2012 (photo by Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu)

Carmen Herrera was born in 1915. After six decades of painting privately, she sold her first painting in 2004 when she was 89. Her artworks, considered important milestones in the evolution of the geometric minimalism movement, are now in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, the Walker Art Center and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. At the age of 99, she continues to paint and to exhibit, and says, “I am always waiting to finish the next thing.”

Do any of us know if the best of our art lives is still ahead? Of course not. But maybe the more important question is, what will we do with the remaining time we have?

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Frustration and weakness?

Or the ordinariness of change…

???????????????????????????????The box of tissues

My constant companions these last two weeks. Not the painting table and the palette and some of the pieces from my last exhibition for courage. For this venture I have a box of tissues, a water glass, a warm quilt.

It wasn’t what I had in mind. I dreamt of an artist’s life. Painting every day, distractions set free like butterflies, a sense of well-being in every corner of the universe. Sure, there was transition. Letting go. A need to move into the future.

Instead of discovering the future, I’ve found seasonal flu. Seven long days of tissues and aches and fever and weakness. Then, just as the faint stirrings of creativity began to gather again, a secondary bronchitis. Add coughing to the list.

I know. People get sick. Terrible things happen. Flu and bronchitis aren’t them. This will pass. I’m trying to be patient, to recognize that change has its own order. But patience was never my long suit.

My easel calls. A new little painting, begun in September. A new project, and a new sense of purpose.

Soon.

What are you trying to be patient with?

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No Place Like a Home Studio

Where you hang your heart…

???????????????????????????????House, studio, home

At the end of a long day of driving I pull up in front of my little grey Val Marie house. There have been many miles on the tires in the last week. Good miles. I’ve been on a road trip through the province of Alberta, visiting my past, thinking about my future, re-connecting with friends. Sometimes part of transiting through change requires just taking a break from transition. That’s what I’ve been doing.

Day one: the farmhouse home of Elizabeth Kirschenman, one of my former Grasslands Gallery’s former artists, and her husband Brian, near Hilda, Alberta, about an hour north of Medicine Hat, right near the Alberta/Sask border. They were beautiful hosts.

Day two: lunch in Sedgewick, Alberta, the town where my grandparents lived in the 1950s and 1969s after they left their farm. Then on to Edmonton, Alberta. A haircut in a very groovy salon, dinner on my own at the bar of a lovely restaurant on Edmonton’s gallery row, an Airbnb room.

I grew up in Edmonton. Its map is printed in my head. Amazing how good it felt to be back.

Day three: still Edmonton. A nice hotel on Whyte Avenue. Shopping in bookstores and cool boutiques, lunch with artists Marlena Wyman and Michael Cascanette at their house in the Parkallen neighbourhood, gallery visits in the afternoon, then an evening of laughter and honesty with consultants and naturalists Karin Smith-Fargey and Pat Fargey. Karin and Pat lived in Val Marie for two decades and raised their family here, and we lost them to Parks Canada government cutbacks in 2012.

Day four and five: Banff National Park with old friends J. Jill Robinson and Steven Ross Smith, both writers, and Ruth Smith, Steve’s mom. All friends for decades. Hours of talk, sights to see, and the accommodating you can do when you love people that much.

Day six: an acreage near Strathmore, for a Marchand family reunion-ette with three cousins and some of their children and even some grandchildren. Marchands do not reunite, so this was an Occasion. Family stories for hours. It was a great thing to do.

Day 7: Home.

It was all great to do. So much past, so much present, so many good folks. Then so good to be back. Back to my small house, and to the studio inside. Home is where the studio is. I feel ready for whatever it gives me.

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Terror Doesn’t Count

It’s just fear talking…

015-Marchand-You-are-so-beautiful-1-web“You are so beautiful #1” by Laureen Marchand (oil/board, 2014)

When you haven’t made art for awhile, starting feels scary.”Do I still know how to do this? What if the idea doesn’t work? What if it does and no one wants it?”All that beginning mumble-jumble stuff. The same stuff, over and over.

Why? I think it’s because we as artists use our very souls to make things that didn’t exist before we made them. And once I think that, being scared is all kinds of sensible. Once we’ve been doing it for awhile, skill and habit take over and you don’t notice the fear as often. But before then, the trick is to realize that it’s only fear talking.

In early September, the ecomuseum whose board I chair hosted an Open Mic in the Val Marie Hotel in the village where I live. It was a great night, with lots of community contribution and many talented musicians on the stage. I’m not a musician. I decided to read a story.

I’m not a performer either. I can give a workshop or a speech without blinking, but that’s me acting as myself. Acting as the voice of another character is something else entirely.

The story I chose is The Dishcloth Concert of Oliver Hyde, by Richard Kennedy. It’s a good story. It’s about music, and it’s about what the human heart is capable of if we let it be. It’s also a bit strange and a bit long. At 10 or 12 minutes’ reading time, there’s lots of opportunity for failure. If people start to whisper, you’re dead.

So I don’t know why I decided to read a story. I was scared beyond thinking.

I begin to read. And my left leg begins to shake. I look for audience awareness of my fear. None so far. My leg is vibrating like a tuning fork. I send it a wordless message: “Just don’t, okay?” It stops.

I’m into the story. My mouth is so dry I can barely speak. Once again, I watch the faces. They don’t know. I need all my language for reading, but there’s a part of my brain that doesn’t use words. With it, I think, “This is only terror. It doesn’t count.” I’m literally scared spitless, but how could I stop?

And once more I calm a quaking limb. The audience can’t tell. They’re still with me.

It must be about eight minutes now. A glass of water? Really, it wouldn’t help. This isn’t about thirst. Again I think, “Just terror.” In another few minutes, when my throat goes dry, it’s a relief. The terror isn’t holding, it’s working through me. I will get to the end.

And I do. There’s applause. Warm applause. Not sympathy, not “Thank heaven that’s over.” Appreciation. I may never know why I needed to get onto that stage, and I did it. No one died. Not even me.

So if I can read a story, I can begin a painting. All that muttering? It’s just fear.

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Passing Over, Across, or Through

Transit is an active verb…

???????????????????????????????An art gallery closes

I always underestimate the time and effort that change requires. I always think transition will happen by itself.

Take now, for example. Recently I closed down Grasslands Gallery, a home of my heart for the last five years. I began teaching my last online course ever for University of Maryland University College, where have I laboriously worked my way up to Adjunct Assistant Professor (the only time in my life this will happen), where for 10 years I’ve helped new non-traditional graduate students learn some of the research skills they’re about to need, and where for most of those 10 years I’ve also been Assistant Course Manager. I moved back into my home studio to figure out what happens next in the life of an artist who opened a major solo exhibition in April after two and a half years’ production and who hadn’t painted a stroke since June.

Just walk away from the gallery, breeze through this last whack of students, remember how to create. Easy.

Blog-computerA class and a career end

Apparently not.

It’s been just over two weeks. In the mornings in the studio, I’m setting the timer for 20 minute slots. 20 minutes is almost possible. Three 20 minute slots makes one hour. Six makes a not-bad shift. If I keep this up, in two or three weeks I might know what flow feels like. In the later afternoons, it’s the gallery. I pack, contact artists, think about where all that display furniture might go. Taking it down in a month is way less fun than building it over five years, but it’s getting there. In scattered bits of the day, there are the last of my students and the end of my course. First thing, lunchtime, after supper. Two more weeks and they’re done forever.

I chose all this change. I want it. And physically, emotionally, mentally, fatigue is my constant companion. Turns out that during transitions, one must transit. It’s an active verb. Who knew?

Blog-new-painting-1aA painting begins

There are many packed boxes on the gallery floor. I imagine wishing the students, and my academic career, well and good-bye. There’s a small painting beginning on my easel.

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When is an artist?

A question about meaning…

???????????????????????????????A studio, waiting

As I move back into a studio life after closing Grasslands Gallery permanently last week, I wonder – when am I an artist? Am I an artist as I unpack and re-home oil paint and brushes and all the bits fitting into an artist’s workplace? As I move from studio to office to dining room table, photographing the objects that might become new subjects, editing and printing the photographs, considering and marking and discarding the resulting images? As I fiddle with this new website and blog, struggling into knowledge I’ve never had before?

Or am I an artist only when the colour is mixed and the brush moves in my hand, making the marks that might become expression?

I tend to think it’s this last that matters. That what I am to do is make paintings. That nothing else really counts. So far in this renewed studio life, I’m shifting, sorting, thinking. Not making.

When do I become the artist I’ve chosen to be?

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How to be an artist

It isn’t an instruction. It’s a question…

July 1-b-web

The hills of home

I’ve lived here for five years. Val Marie, Saskatchewan, gateway to Grasslands National Park, one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote regions. For most of that time I’ve operated Grasslands Gallery, with gorgeous and original art and craft by about 25 artists, inspired by the Grasslands experience. On Saturday this week, the gallery closes permanently. No one person can do everything and I’ve decided it’s time for me to focus on my own painting. The decision wasn’t arrived at lightly or quickly, but I know it’s the right one to make. The time and energy that went to promoting and selling the art of others will go into creating and marketing my own.

So what happens when you become a full time artist? An all-the-time, no-excuses artist? How do you really make it work?

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll find out. The intention, the commitment, the action, the money. Please join me. We’ll explore this together.