20 December 2005

Vancouver Tug Boat

That Christmas, my dad would be getting a painting as well, although not a portrait. One of his great interests is tug boats, particularily the ones he watches working the waterways around Vancouver. He knows them all by name, and could probably tell you what kind of engine each one has. But where to get a reference photo? I had not taken any on my previous trips home, and there are not many to be found in the farming country of Southern Ontario. None, actually. This painting was taken from a photo at the website of Seaspan International. I loved painting the mountains that I grew up beside, and the water reflections were time consuming. But the big challenge was making sure that I painted the boat accurately. A stickler for detail (on important things like tug boats) I knew my dad would be checking. I must have gotten it right, because he knew which one it was instantly. This photo is blurrier than the actual painting.

Thank you to Seaspan International for granting me permission to display this painting here.


No stranger to a camera, I think that Danielle, my husband's youngest, could have posed all day. She had read enough fashion magazines and watched enough top model tv shows to know how its done. Or perhaps she is a natural. Getting good shots of Danielle was easy, but for some reason, I stuggled with this painting.

Having done three other portraits, I may have let my guard down and gotten careless. Also, with a deadline fast approaching, I was working quickly. In the end, the rescue effort took more time than doing the painting. But the challenge was a good one, and I learned a lot. It is all part of the process of being 'self taught'.


Val is my husband's oldest daughter. She had just gotten off work and was tired when I sat her down to take some pictures. Not used to having a camera pointed at her, she was at first self concious and the results were strained. However, there was something spontaneous and natural when she rested her head in her hand, and I knew I had the shot I wanted.

By now of course, they all knew what they might be getting for Christmas. It had become obvious. They just wouldn't see the painting until that day.

20 November 2005


Ian's portrait would require something different. As a gift, the picture would mean more to him if it was of something that he was very much into, namely skateboarding. I took him out one day for an action photo shoot and went from there.

He is really very good at this difficult and sometimes despised urban sport. Unfortunately, he took a bad fall a few months ago and will soon undergo major surgery on his knee.


Ariane is my husband's middle daughter, and she was with Annie and I on that fall hike. I had brought the camera along to get landscape shots of the flaming Ontario fall foliage that was everywhere around us. It seems that the portrait shots were better; either that or I was ready for a change.
My next challenge was to see if I could paint a face directly. It was facinating to paint the effects of such strong lighting.
With two done and three to go, I decided that I would paint portraits of all the kids for Christmas gifts. But I would have to work fast.


It was time to attempt a portrait. I chose a windswept pose of my daughter for my first try. She was overlooking a high bluff on one of those rare clear fall days. The late afternoon sun made her hair appear very red. Also, I liked how the hair partly hid her face, making the features easier to tackle. I was reminded of album cover art.
It became her suprise Christmas gift that year.

20 October 2005

Late Swim

I happened to be in the right place at the right time with my camera when these girls jumped. The sun had set behind them but there was still time for one last swim. It was at about this time, somewhere between day and night, that the loons began their haunting call.

This was my first painting to be rented out in an Art Gallery rental program, a special milestone for me.


I thought about the original owners of this home as I painted it. Did they often sit out on their wrap-around porch? How was their garden different than the one I was now painting? How different we are from the people of that era. And yet in many ways we are the same. We all reflect the values of the culture that we live in, and our perspectives are therefore different. And yet we are all human. Human strengths and frailties, and emotions; the human condition does not change. I am facinated by this concept. The houses are an echo of these people, now gone. So similar, so different. We learn from them by what they left behind.

When painting, I become very well acquainted the subject I am working on and all its little details. It is interesting, then, after a painting is finished, to revisit the site and have another look. I see it so much better after I have painted it. One fall day I took a slow drive by this home that I had come to know so well. I was in for a bit of a shock, however. The porch was a riot of garish halloween decorations. There were polyester cobwebs, cardboard skeletons, plastic witches and hollow eyed sheets where the flower baskets had hung.

This was not the essence of a people who had come and gone before us. This was a different kind of ghost. I quickly left.

Cottage Country

The great thing about photographing provincial park landscapes, is that no one may question what you are doing, unlike houses. Of course, Northern Ontario is a beautiful place, even if it is lacking the mountains I was used to, having come from BC. So the camping trip was an ideal opportunity to capture landscapes that were begging to be photographed. On this trip I also sketched.

Now some artists will take all manner of painting equipment out with them and paint right out there on location. They get very good at knowing exactly what to take right down to the sun hat and the bug spray. They also manage to shrink their art materials down to a very tidy little bundle, suitable for long hikes in the bush. They call it "Plein Air" painting, after the french for fresh air. It is especially popular in the UK. I however, was not quite up for all that. A sketch book and pencils would suffice. And of course, my trusty camera.

I sat on this Pre-Cambrian Canadian Sheild rock for a very long time one evening, sketching the lake and the rock and the trees. Actually, as I found, disecting the scene I was painting, the way an artist does, while being a living part of that environment myself, was a powerful experience. I wasn't only deeply seeing what was before me, but I was breathing it and hearing it and feeling it myself. I know my backside certainly was feeling it......

The sketch was an experience, but a painting was what I wanted.

20 September 2005


Of these six paintings of homes in Dundas Ontario, this one is my favorite. It is very likely the oldest one that I painted, probably being built around 1840. Dundas had high ambitions to be a great major city back when it began in the very early 1800s. By the time this stone house was built, international commerce had passed Dundas by, favoring the exploding city of Hamilton just to the east. Ultimately, Dundas was spared inner city decay, and it remains today a peaceful community of well maintained heritage homes.


I don't suppose that I am any more outwardly patriotic than the next Canadian, yet I found myself painting several homes with flags. There is a grace to them, I think. Even when they are hanging like a windless sail.
This painting proved to be an experiment in color selection. I used a lot of a pigment called Raw Umber in it, just to see what would happen. I learned that if you use a lot of dark brown paint in a picture, that you will get a picture with a lot of dark brown in it. The process of learning is filled with many great discoveries.........


Foliage is painstaking work. It takes a long time to paint leaves in trees, leaves in bushes, leaves in little plants. Landscape artists don't seem to mind. Was I a landscape artist? I didn't know. Paint what you love, people would say. Well, to paint the house, you paint the foliage. They just seem to go together.

This porch actually belongs to the house in the last entry.

Late Summer

The days were hot and hazy under a late August sun when I took these pictures. In the cool fall days as I painted, the memory of summer lived on. I would be so engrossed in painting the lavish garden in this one, that I would be somewhat suprised when I would look up and see autumn out my window.

On the Street

I stepped out of the magazine and onto the street, with my camera in hand. It was time to take my own pictures.

I loved old architecture and Ontario abounded in it. Old, that is, by North American standards, very old by BC standards. The quaint cottagey Victorians especially interested me. There certainly were some fabulous features in the grand estates, but the more accessable, down to earth, modest places suited me better. I could imagine my ancestors living there. The plan, then, was to find a neighbourhood of good photogenic homes, and snap them up, so to speak, for reference material. Photography wasn't enough; I had to paint them.

It is an odd thing to do. Stopping in front of a stranger's home and analyzing the best angle; staring, really. Then pointing a camera at someone's private property and clicking. It was awkward. I felt that at any moment a suspicious, irate or even enraged occupant would come flying out after me. I could never do what the paparotzi do. Fears aside, I did it anyway, trying very hard to be discrete. As it happened, no one seemed to notice or care.

Of the pictures I took, six became paintings.

20 August 2005

Baby Steps

I did one last magazine painting, this one bigger than the others, at a whopping 7x8". Each painting was taking more time as they became more complex, but it was so much fun. I had taken the baby steps to learn to trust myself again. Now I felt ready for some bigger steps. It was time to step out of the magazine.

Training Wheels

The limes painting was small, about 4x6", but it gave me confidence to try another. Take a step with the left foot, and then with the right foot, and then you are walking.

The magazine photos were my training wheels and I felt safe. I tried a more complex kitchen scene, also very small.

2 August 2005


Back around the time of my first painting, I had a friend named Debbie. As our kids played together, we cross stitched and read art magazines and dreamed of artistic success. We even did a craft show together, me with handwoven rag rugs, and Debbie with hand painted flower pots. Her pots were painted with her original 'country' motifs and were very popular. In fact, for several years Debbie would completely sell out at large craft shows. But they took a toll on her health. The weight of the terra cotta pots and the repetitive assembly line process was causing tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. The work became boring and she was underchallenged.

I had seen the few paintings she had done, and knew she was capable of much more than 'cute cows on pots'. I kept encouraging her to aim higher, but for Debbie at that time there was always just one more show to do.

With my move to Ontario, we lost touch for a number of years, until one day out of the blue I called her up.

Well. Whatever it takes to become a recognized and successful fine artist, Debbie had done it. She had worked hard in those years, and had taken her talent to great heights. She taught painting classes, her work was published in a national art magazine, she had a waiting list for commissions, and she was represented in two prestigous galleries. She gave me her web site, and when I looked it up, I cried. Her paintings were so good. It was clearly Debbie's style, but the work had matured so much. Once we were a couple of painter-dabbler-wannabes. Debbie had taken a decade of determination and focus and work, and acheived the goal. I had not.

It made me think.

And the thinking lead to painting. A fresh start. New determination. Focus. Goals. And Debbie as my shining example.

More than a year after the Niagara-On-The-Lake painting, I tentatively took up the brush again. For a whole month I did nothing but paint color swatches. I was like a musician practicing scales. I think I was afraid of failure.

The day came however, when I saw a photo in a decorating magazine. A simple bowl of limes. It seemed basic enough. Maybe I could paint it............