Thursday 29 May 2014

The Pensive Palette: The Value of Mirror Image

‘Stillness’ (Study) | 16”x20” | oil on canvas

We all have a natural bias when creating a composition.  Our brains feel more comfortable leaning one way or the other when looking at the visual weight of a design. 
Usually, we aren’t aware that this is happening and will only see it when someone else’s “fresh” eye point it out.  How can we catch it before this happens?  The easiest way is to look at the image in reverse. 
If you are working digitally, simply flip the image over and you will immediately notice if the piece is unbalanced.  If you are working on something physical, look at the image in a mirror.  I like to get at least 10-15 feet away from the painting and use a hand mirror over my shoulder.  If your studio is small, take the work outside.  You can also take a digital photo and reverse it horizontally. 
In time you can start to notice your tendencies and address them while working, but old habits die amazingly hard!

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Inspiring Image: Artist Frederick Mulhaupt

Frederick Mulhaupt (1871-1938) was an American painter specializing in East coast harbour scenes and landscapes in the early 20th century.  He concentrated most of his efforts in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and often depicted the fishing and working docks.   Mulhaupt, along with Winslow Homer, helped romanticize Gloucester with his beautiful paintings that showed the area in every season.

He was often seen working on studies directly from life which he then took back to his studio to help him create larger masterpieces.  These small works, often 8”x10”, are full of energy, and show his keen eye for color and value.  

In the selected painting, you can see his frenetic brushwork rushing to capture the fading light of the day as the shadows creep further into his frame.  He expertly implies detail with carefully layered paint that resembles a jigsaw puzzle.  What a gem!

Saturday 24 May 2014

From Behind the Easel: Gentle Reflection

‘Gentle Reflection | Canada Geese | 24”x36” oil (available on Etsy!)
I’m drawn to the alluring sounds of water and the cooling presence along a favorite hike. Discovering a hidden pool deep in the woods is a magical experience, and studying the interplay of reflections in water was my earliest form of meditation.
In “Gentle Reflection”, I explored the intricate patterns created on the calm pond’s surface. The harmonious quality is enhanced by the calligraphic nature of the intertwining winter reeds along the marsh border.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Inspiring Image: Wyeth He So Great

Piece by N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew Wyeth) - 1907

N.C. Wyeth was one of the great illustrators of America’s golden age at the beginning of the 20th century.  A student of Howard Pyle, Wyeth was well known for his amazing visual ability to capture a complete scene.  Often, his paintings accompanied great works of lit

erature like Treasure Island, Robin Hood, and Robinson Crusoe.  He was famous for dressing his friends and family in period costume to model for him.

What I love about his work is the strong efficiency of line and composition.  His paintings are uncluttered and clear while maintaining our interest.  In this painting of a Native American from 1907, Wyeth creates a beautiful mood of solitude and reflection.  His vertical format shows the influence of Japanese prints and, although heavily weighted on the left, maintains balance with the paddler’s gaze to the right.  Wyeth’s ability to conjure these images from his imagination are an inspiration to anyone who has ever sat before a blank canvas.

Saturday 17 May 2014

From Behind the Easel: Morning Has Broken

'Morning Has Broken' | Okanagan Valley | 24" x 36" Oil

I am not by nature a morning person. I have always loved working late into the night when the quiet stillness somehow makes you feel like you are the only one still awake in the world. I love the idea that I am squeezing some extra hours out of the day. Consequently, getting up in the morning is hard. However, when I do get up early and have a productive start to my day, I can completely understand why people love packing in a few hours of quality time before the world has awakened. My painting “Morning Has Broken” came from a very early morning plein air painting trip I took near Penticton, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley. I was working on a small painting of the mirror reflections of the distant shore, when the first rays of sun crested the hill we were on and poured through the valley opening to my left. It was such a moving and joyous experience that I knew right away I had witnessed a future painting. Perhaps if I didn’t work so late into the night painting, I could wake up early more often! This piece is available through Harrison Galleries:

Thursday 15 May 2014

The Pensive Palette: Opposites Attract

The Pensive Palette: Opposites Attract

'Annika At One' | Aug 26, 2001 | 16”x12” Acrylic on board

When I decided to paint our eldest daughter on her first birthday, I chose to work in a fairly simple and classic portrait format.  I wanted the emphasis to be on her without a lot of distractions…
In order to keep the painting interesting and alive, I made color choices from a design point of view.  In this case, I employed complimentary or “opposite” colors.  These are the colors that are across from each other on the color wheel and are often used to enhance contrast. 

The main complementary pair I used was blue and orange, but there is also the yellow/purple pairing.  In order to make all of these colors work together, I chose blue to be my dominant color so the four colors wouldn’t compete.  I also made sure to desaturate most of the colors to keep them all fairly quiet.  Orange, the complement of my dominant blue, is the most saturated color.  This was done to help emphasize her hair and the shovel and create visual points of interest for the eye to go between.

I made the shadow side of her face a very subtle purple to give our eyes a break from the dominant blue.  In order to give this purple shadow a bit of color harmony, the background on the right side of the painting tends toward yellow.  Because I kept these colors quite desaturated, they do not look garish.  In fact, if you look closely you will see all of the colors of the rainbow in the painting, but desaturation keeps the color palette—and the final painting— in balance.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Inspiring Image: Across the Moorland by Bracht

Inspiring Image: 'Across the Moorland'

'Across the Moorland' (1890) | Eugen Bracht | oil on canvas
 Artist Website:

Eugen Bracht (1842-1921) was a German landscape painter who traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East for his subject matter.  He was best known for his depictions of the Alps, the desert, and the burgeoning industrialization happening in Europe at the end of the 19th century.

In his painting “Across the Moorland”, Bracht has romanticized the steam engine which he relied upon for his travels to distant lands.  He has captured the fairly unexceptional landscape beautifully, enhanced by the heavy, dramatic sky and mood lighting.  The train, despite being rather small in the painting, is made the focal point by the contrast of the black engine next to white steam. 

Sunday 11 May 2014

From Behind The Easel: The Subject for Subject's Sake

From Behind The Easel: The Subject for Subject's Sake

Tiger Study | 9" x 12" | oil on canvas 

Sometimes subject matter is so inspiring that it needs little else— in this case, I was moved to simply paint a tiger portrait without an environment, without strong action, without needing to show him doing more than being his magnificent self.

This vignette is oil on canvas— I chose background colours to imply a natural setting through rhythm and variation as well as to complement the tiger’s brilliant coat.

We met this tiger personally at a reserve in California… his magnetic presence and the stunning impression of being a few feet away from this powerful cat gave me such a profound sense of respect that I felt moved to paint him. 

Saturday 10 May 2014

From Behind the Easel: In the Style of...

From Behind the Easel: In the Style of...

1) Untitled | 7”x12” | acrylic on board by DJ Cleland-Hura
2) ‘Little Island’ by A.J. Casson:

I love art!  I’m a fan of art.  I love to look at art as much as create it.  The more I study art and artists, the more I appreciate what is possible.  

Sometimes the work of another artist will inspire me to learn more about what makes their work different from mine.  In certain cases I have done small paintings in their style or manner.  By working this way, it breaks me from my normal way of seeing and frees me to explore within my own style.  I also gain a new level of understanding and respect for that artist.

Here in this work (first image above), I have done a study in the style of A.J. Casson, a Canadian artist from the early twentieth century.  Casson was a member of the Group of Seven who were known for their stylized depictions of the Canadian wilds.  These artists were heavily influenced by the Scandinavian artists with whom they had studied before immigrating to Canada. 

Casson is known for using strong, front lighting and depicting trees and foliage as solid, stylized shapes.  In his painting “Little Island” (second image above), Casson shares his reverence for nature with dramatic lighting and bold, monolithic shapes.

Friday 9 May 2014

From Behind the Easel: What's in a Name?

From Behind the Easel: What's in a Name?

 "Pumped" | American Robin | 12”x16” | acrylic on board (sold)

There are many ways we can be inspired.  Our senses feed our spirit and our intuition and experience lead us down the path.  When it comes to concepts for paintings, I will work with any method that keeps me excited which, in turn, yields my best work.  And sometimes, that method can feel like I’m working backwards.  Usually, I will title my paintings as they are nearing completion or after I’ve lived with them for a little while.  But in the case of “Pumped”, the name inspired the concept.

While looking through reference to start a new painting for a show some time ago, my eye caught an image of an old well.  Trying to think of how I could use the reference, I kept coming back to the interesting pump… I realized that I needed to listen to what the pump is saying to me.

I’m usually not a fan of silly or punny titles, but in this case the pump led to the idea of being “pumped”.  I thought a nice little bird all pumped up would look great sitting on the pump.  The orange patina of the painted handle led me to look for a bird that would work well in that color scheme.  Quite happily, I found some reference of a puffed up robin with his brilliant red breast on display that complemented the design.  And when the painting “Pumped” was finished and well received, I was pretty pumped too!

Thursday 8 May 2014

The Pensive Palette: Teacher as Student

The Pensive Palette: Teacher as Student

Untitled | 4 1/2” x 4 1/2” | watercolour on paper

I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to teach art.  It is an honor and privilege to be in a position of having something you can share with others.  The greatest gift of teaching is witnessing the moment when another person “gets it” for themselves.  The piece of information that was alluding them is finally uncovered and understood, and they can move forward with a clearer view of their own truth.

Another gift of teaching is the unexpected things we learn while teaching.  Along with a greater understanding and respect for those who have taught me, I have gained a greater understanding of who I am and, perhaps more importantly, who I want to be.  Sometimes I feel a bit guilty that I may have gotten more from teaching than the students who took the class.  Of course, hours of grading takes care of that!

This is a watercolor piece I did for students as an assignment demonstration in a colour theory class.  This experiment inspired me to continue to work on a series of abstract colour pieces— the teacher as student!

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Pensive Palette: Call of Beauty

The Pensive Palette: Call of Beauty

(personal photo reference)

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

I love this quote and try to heed the message, which only seems to grow in importance as I get older.  It’s so easy to become weary under the weight of “worldly cares” and sight of our higher purpose. 

 Making a point to include a little beauty in our lives helps counter the drudgery of the mundane.  In fact, consciously adding beauty to our daily routine leads to the habit of looking for it in every aspect of life. 

Monday 5 May 2014

The Pensive Palette: On Negative Space

The Pensive Palette: On Negative Space

‘Alight’ | 24” x 14” | acrylic on board (sold)

“The design of negative space can be just as important as the positive image.” (Joan Fedoroshyn)

As an artist, it is easy to be seduced by the primary subject matter we choose to represent.  But when you think of a painting as a flat space to be filled with interesting shapes, then design places just as much importance on the elements that aren’t immediately obvious. 

In music, pauses in a song add interest and build tension-- in the same way, spaces between objects in a painting become necessary and integral elements that require just as much thought as the objects themselves.

In this painting, ‘Alight’, featuring an oriole perched on marsh grass, I was conscious of the repeating arches of the grass bending under the bird’s weight.  The spaces between the blades created an interesting rhythm of pleasing shapes that allow the eye to dance with the positive and negative despite the relative simplicity of the background. I made an effort, in this case, to vary the shapes and keep them both feeling natural and asymmetrical while still giving a sense of balance and movement to the composition.

Sunday 4 May 2014

From Behind the Easel: On Colour and Design

From Behind the Easel: On Colour and Design

‘Into the Black Forest’ | 12" x 8” oil (sold)

The design of a painting encompasses many facets: composition, weight, scale, movement of the eye, texture… and colour.  Colour is often overlooked or underutilized as a design element.  Many artists feel that the use of colour is simply intuitive (though intuition certainly has value) when in fact it can be one of the most powerful tools in conveying the artist’s intentions. 

Bringing colour under conscious control is a fantastic device for creative communication and expression.  While I’ll design a painting using my own approach to colour theory, it’s also inspirational to see how certain colour combinations appear in nature such as the particular green of stem and leaf complimenting a red rose. 

During a family trip to the Black Forest in Germany, we went for a hike in an alpine meadow and came across this lovely scene of a mountain stream carving its winding way down the slope.  I was taken by the natural harmony of the various greens in the grass enhanced by the analogous blue of the distant hill and reflections in the water as well as the hints of yellow in the setting sky.

For all you colour nerds/enthusiasts, these colours work well with each other because of their close analogous placement on the colour wheel.  In other words, it is the third of the colour wheel between yellow and blue.  Despite the dominant colours being green and blue, I feel I achieved an overall warmth in the painting through the use of yellow.

In the design of this piece, I consciously used colour (and saturation) to help move the eye through and around the various elements of the landscape. For example, the use of the two blues near the top and the bottom of the composition, move the eye back and forth between those areas.  The yellow of the sky reflected in the stream and then played up in the bottom left hand corner creates another path for the eye.  These keep the painting interesting and gives the viewer a sense of movement, despite the scene being idyllic and restful.

From Behind the Easel: Animals with Attitude

From Behind the Easel: Animals with Attitude

‘Rough-Legged Hawk’ | 16”x12” | acrylic on board

When I feel compelled to paint an animal, it is usually because of their innate beauty or unique pose that enhances a composition.  Sometimes I am simply drawn to an animal’s attitude or personality.  This is certainly the case with this rough-legged hawk.  While he is a beautiful specimen in his own right, what I love is the regal way in which he carries himself with human-like poise.  He looks good and I think he knows it!

Anyone with pets or who has spent a lot of time around animals knows they have very distinct personalities.  We also know that animals are  capable of complex emotions and feelings.  Sometimes when I am photographing animals, I will quietly ask certain “models” if they would like to be featured in a painting.  Believe it or not, this usually leads to them holding a specific angle I am hoping to capture.  Coincidence, maybe, but I like to believe animals are operating on a higher level than we imagine! 

Saturday 3 May 2014

The Pensive Palette: The Value of Plein Air Painting

The Pensive Palette: The Value of Plein Air Painting

Sea Ranch | 9”x12” | oil  (available) - painted on site

These days, it’s easy for artists to gather reference with digital cameras or clicking around on Google. Photoshop can assist in perfecting that composition or combining multiple images into a single dynamic reference.  But ultimately, our best tool is our own perception, our senses in the moment in the space where we are.

Our eyes see three dimensions, colour, value, the quality of light and air differently than a camera, and the place we are in makes a deep impression on us well beyond the digital film plane.  The camera can help remind us and jog our recall, but the experience of capturing the moment, the mood, the emotion, and sense of space is invaluable in understanding and then interpreting out into the work. 

An artist’s experiences help generate their unique view of the world and the resulting art that they create.

While a plein air painting is often less refined or more raw than studio work, it has a sense of energy and immediacy.  Whether it's in preparation for a studio piece or just for the fun and satisfaction of capturing the essence of the moment, adding some plein air expeditions to your life brings richness and reward.

Introducing: 'Moon Rise'

Introducing: 'Moon Rise' | Okanagan Valley | 12" x 8" | oil on board

Small study in preparation for a larger studio piece.

Thursday 1 May 2014

From Behind the Easel: Sentinel

From Behind the Easel:
'Sentinel' | Western Gull | 12 x 9 | acrylic on board (available)

The reference for this fence is an old split-rail fence from Pt. Reyes (Northern California) that we saw at sunset one day while hiking.  

The vertical cropping reminded me of a Chinese character, which created a quiet, peaceful mood for me.  But the solidity of the fence also provided strength and grounding, making me think about a soldier walking on a parapet, standing guard.

So this idea emerged, of a gull standing quietly, keeping watch over his domain.