Sunday, March 28, 2010

The portrait of David Thomson

oil on canvas
48 x 48
         Much of our days are filled with ping pong thinking, being affected by what ever is right in front of us, reacting to the randomness of our lives, taking care of the minutia of existence. The laundry, what’s for lunch, the oil change for the car, the doctor’s appointment next Tuesday, these and a million more fill our conscious  to the exclusion of life. It living with out life and then we have those moments when for a second the world is revealed.  If we are lucky we can take that moment and extend it to hours that pass so quickly we are shocked. As a painter these are things I want to stop and hold to share to attempt to relive the wonder of that recognition. It is remarkable that as a painter I am fortunate that many times I can enter a moment that lasts hours while I try to capture the fleeting.
               It was one of those ‘fleetings’ that prompted me to paint David. We had talked about doing a portrait of him for many years.  My uncle would say you don’t start something until you are ready to finish it and this portrait was one of those. One afternoon David and I had been discussing Constable and his cloud studies but the time had come. We went to the kitchen returning our glasses. As I turned to say goodbye  I was struck, stopped dead in my tracks. I was looking directly into David’s face, there was an afternoon sunlight crossing his face from his right. In that light he was shown. It was in the thinness in his skin, the cools and shadows, in the pinks and blues, the vulnerabilities and strengths. It was in his boyish joy, in the simple honest man with guards down. It was all there and I knew I wanted, no needed to paint that, to attempt to capture the man I knew in that moment.

Like most people the idea of sitting for hours while I work on a canvas is daunting. It is for the sitter extremely boring for the most part. It is for this reason I tend to work from photos however good honest photo reference is very hard to capture. The subject has to forget there is a camera in front of them and relax. Some people are very good at this and others need to be tricked into it. David and I spent an afternoon at the CNE. I started shooting till I had filled the memory card. Much of what I took home that day was useless although fun however there was a few very good shots, one in particular. This became the primary reference augmented by many of the other shots.

It had long ago decided I wanted the portrait to be on a larger scale so I started with a 48 x 48 inch canvas. I gridded off the canvas to give a loose guide and started preliminary painting using mostly burnt sienna.

Here I have started some shaping with yellow ochre and scarlet lake.

I switched to a #3 round which for a canvas this size is quite small however it is the only way to get the detail I was looking for.
my main focus was the eyes.

back to the 1/2 inch blade to rough in the hair

the final painting still on the easel.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Two hours from home

Quite by accident I came across and packet of photos I had taken when I was, perhaps 18. They were taken with a 110 mm camera that I was in the habit of carrying in my bag along with my sketchbook. This camera has an absurdly small lens and film so the resolution is extremely low, however the images it produced are still some of the most interesting I have taken. They are oddly colored, sometimes very grey and lacking in contrast. Many of the prints were also damaged, some creased, while others had water damage which made them all the more attractive.
 ‘2 hours from home’ came out of a couple of those prints.

It was twilight. I was driving back to Calgary and Art College after visiting home. I stopped the truck and snapped some quick shots as the light faded. These cameras were really bad in low light so the shots were not the clearest or brightest however there was something. For me looking back over the years they carried the feeling of that landscape and brought back a memory that was so strong I found I needed to paint it.

I decided it needed to be large so I painted it as a diptych totaling 12 ft in length and 3 ft in depth. It would be my first large-scale landscape. I felt I needed to try to convey the overwhelming space and distance I feel when ever I am in Saskatchewan. With very little, if any deviation of the horizon you are left with room in you sight to see the landscape. The sky becomes massive and the fields and roads go on forever.

I started with a burnt sienna sketch painting with a flat watercolor brush. Working quickly I roughed out the basic shape and placement of the road and grain elevator. The light was very low and was just catching the tops of the hills. There was still a fair amount of snow in the fields. It contrasted nicely with the dark brown of the dry frozen grass.

two hours from home
oil on canvas (diptych)
36in (91.44cm) x 120 in (304 cm)