10 December 2013

The Classic Portrait

Do you admire someone from history? Is there an era that you would like to see yourself in? If you went to a costume party, who would you go as? Recently I got inspired to try painting portraits with a historical twist by putting contemporary people, portrait commissions, into fascinating settings. I love to paint what I see and capture the details, so  it was a thrill to copy the work of an old master into a modern portrait. I see it as a way to honor the original artist, and as a way for my modern subject to honor someone from history. Take Art, my husband, for example. He has a special admiration for Reformation theologian and scholar William Tyndale (1494 - 1536). He chose to be painted into this black and white portrait painted by an unknown artist in the 1530s as a way to pay homage to a great man. Can you see yourself in a classic painting?

15 November 2013


Every September, the SPCA in B.C. holds its annual main fund raising event, the popular walkathon Paws for a Cause. While significant funds are raised this way, other volunteer SPCA advocates are busy on their own raising awareness and considerable revenue throughout the year. I was asked by Chilliwack SPCA manager, Ivanna Ferris, if I would donate pet portrait gift certificates as part of the annual award package to this area's two top fundraisers, to be presented at Paws for a Cause. It was, therefore, a privilege to help honor Juanita with this portrait of her sweet little Schatzy. Thank you SPCA for the important work you do, and thank you Juanita and others for helping make this possible.

30 October 2013

Garden Tour

Every year in June the Rotary Club of Chilliwack puts on a garden tour featuring especially amazing yards and gardens of area residents. I had a great time getting photo references of roses and all manner of fabulous garden views from about a dozen or so very different gardens. Now I can paint summer gardens all year long if I like. This landscape is taken from a very special property high atop Chilliwack Mountain overlooking the Fraser River. The painting is small for this much detail, only 8x10", and was my second attempt at gouache. It has been such a long time since I painted an outdoor scene, and I was surprised by how similar it looks in style to my watercolour landscapes. This time I painted on cold pressed watercolour paper which I found to be easier to work on than the smooth surfaced mat board that I used on the gouache horse.

21 October 2013


This horse, called Squirty, is leased and ridden by my sister Elaine who is taking lessons (and doing very well). If he looks at all familiar, scroll down and check out the previous post, which was painted from the same photo. While the last painting was done in gouache, this one was done in watercolour. I wanted to be able to compare the two media with the same image. A couple of changes here, however, is that I chose to include the bridle that I omitted with the gouache, and I gave the background a more realistic colour. The vivid blue of the gouache was intentional, used to bring out the horse's colour. There is a lot more detail in this one, that I wasn't able to get with the gouache, but then I'm new to gouache and have lots to learn.

20 October 2013


Recently, I started experimenting with a kind of paint new to me, called gouache. It has been around for centuries, but as with casein, was largely overlooked by fine artists when acrylic paint came along a few decades ago.  It could be called opaque watercolour, since it is a very similar product, but has been made to cover or overlap the layer beneath. This painting was my first attempt at gouache (and of a horse), and posed some interesting challenges. Not only would it cover areas needing improvement, but it also inadvertently covered up some of the good parts as well. I found myself loosing my way and having to retrace my steps and redo areas repeatedly. Still, it was a fun experience overall, and I went back to my art store a couple more times to get more colours while their sale continued.
Compare this to the next horse painting.

19 October 2013

Colorful Kitten

This kitten went through some interesting stages before completion. I chose the image from a royalty-free photo image site online as I needed a subject to demonstrate my painting ability at an SPCA fund raising event. For some time now, I've been using an under painting technique similar to that used by oil painters, called glazing. I could simply paint this brown and grey kitten brown and grey, but the fur becomes so much richer if I start with other colors first, such as in this case, blues, mauves and pinks. I got some comments from curious onlookers who must have assumed that I had a pretty unique take on reality! In hindsight, I ought to have taken some pictures of the earlier stages to show how very differently this painting started out. 
And then there was that ear, the larger one in the foreground; it seems that every painting teaches me something. Working in a public setting, I was bound to get distracted, and so I did when using a particularly staining green background pigment. Later I saw that the green had seeped into the ear area, and was there forever. This wasn't and area where colorful glazing was going to work.

Lesson 1. Don't use staining pigments when you might get distracted!

I was able to cover the problem with a bleedproof white gouache product, sort of like white-out for artists. I would only use this in emergencies, and don't use it very often, but how great to have it on hand for times like this. I was able to paint over it, and now I can't even tell where the trouble area was.

Lesson 2. Watercolor mistakes CAN be corrected!

Paint and learn, paint and learn...............

27 September 2013

Alina's First

In keeping with the format of my grandson's portrait, Sylvan's First, I did this smaller (6" x 8") companion piece for his sister, my first granddaughter, Alina Rose. One year old already! Again, I wanted to include myself in the portrait to express more than a close up of this special baby, but rather to emphasize our relationship. An exceptionally good natured child, Alina often lights up a room with her smile, although in this painting, she is much more subdued. This pose is taken from a composite of photos taken by her mother while I was reading a picture book. Either Alina had a serious look of concentration as she studied the new book's illustrations, or I had that awkward look of someone in the middle of saying something! She was nearly 10 months old at the time. 

15 September 2013

My Sweet Pie

Of all the pets that I have painted, for nearly 15 years, Friskey was my favorite special friend. I am surprised that it took me this long to finally paint her. She was a close companion especially in that we shared a great love of books, she being an enthusiastic book sitter. This made reading rather awkward, but we did spend a lot of time together in that old wing back chair. She could be counted on to find the best sun beam, and had the most soothing maternal purr. Her son, the orange tabby Orville, has made his way into several of my paintings, including Journeys Through Bookland, and Catnap in China. Doing this painting brought back a lot of memories, and I do miss my old friend, my Sweet Pie.

11 September 2013


Jenny is our 11 year old rescued greyhound who we have had for three years. A track winner in her day, she can still run faster than most dogs if she wants to. But she doesn't want to. A trip to the off leash dog park will finding her schmoozing with the people, while the other dogs run and play. I had her certified with St Johns Ambulance as a therapy dog, and for a year and a half made we made weekly visits to a seniors home where she was a good fit. She is a senior herself, after all. It is not commonly known what an excellent pet greyhounds make. They are especially quiet, gentle and make few demands of your time. In spite of their reputation as performance athletes, they are not at all high strung, nor do they require huge amounts of exercise. One of the oldest breeds, they have proven their value as a companion to man. If you are interested in learning more about greyhounds, look for books by Cynthia Branigan, such as Adopting the Racing Greyhound.  Her website here tells more. We adopted Jenny from GRA in Ontario.

10 September 2013

Seasons of Fruit

As with January Fruit, this painting was several months in the making, nearly spanning all four seasons.  Although I am happy with the results, compared with the one on 300 lb paper, this 140 lb (thinner paper) one took a lot more effort at every stage of the process. Perhaps more beginners would stay with watercolor if they started out on the thicker, easier to use 300 lb paper. A thought.  Both half finished paintings were put aside, however as we embarked on a major cross country move, from Ontario after 15 years back to B.C., my home province. As the dust settles, I find myself returning to painting pets......

9 September 2013

January Fruit

In the spirit of experimentation, I decided to do two very similar paintings: the same plate of fruit staged with the same winter sunlight, painted with the same pigments. The big difference would be the paper. Watercolor paper comes in different thicknesses, or weights, and textures. The one I prefer (300 lb cold pressed) costs considerably more than the more commonly used 140 lb. Since I still had a stash of 140 lb tucked away, I though I'd better make an effort to like the stuff enough to use it up at least. How different was it, really, from the other kind? By painting the images at the same time with all things being equal, I would find out. The plan was to paint a little on one, and then while that one was drying, I'd paint a similar passage on the other. It started out that way, but before long this one had taken a strong lead, getting way ahead of the other. Like anything requiring a lot of concentration, I get into the 'zone' and the momentum just carries me along. It would be several months before either painting would be completed, since I was about to have yet another moving experience. This one, by the way, was done on my much preferred 300 lb paper.

20 January 2013


These are from my collection of old (antique)? electrical insulators. I love the imperfections in the glass, and how they look in a sunny window. Like this. I have about twelve or so, and no two are exactly the same. I chose a pretty complicated subject, what with the crocheted tablecloth silhouetted  behind the glass and all. And yes, it was time consuming! Not the best choice for trying out a new painting surface. Here I have experimented with illustration board instead of my usual watercolor paper. It handled differently, but worked out in the end. But now its back to good old Arches 300 lb 100% cotton rag cold-pressed watercolor paper. It is good to try new things. And its good to come home too. Learn more about the history and value of insulators here.