Podcast companion

Sometimes, having a conversation playing in the background, especially an interesting one, can motivate art at the easel.

In process: Back alley coreopsis

I’m talking about tuning into Podcasts, although really this could be a family conversing, coffee shop chatter, a radio program, or, I guess music. It could be an audio book or a webinar, potentially even a Zoom meeting so long as you don’t need to be there on video and participating.

Lately, I have been tuning into Youngman Brown’s “Your Creative Push” and I am finding his resource of almost 400 episodes worth exploring. He is taking a break right now from podcasting, so it is a great chance to research the archives and pick what suits you for today.

Take, for instance, this conversation with Martha Beck. There is a lot to digest from this episode, and one take-away is to tune into your gut when considering a pursuit. Whatever it might be – and since this is the Artists’ Journey, let’s say a painting subject – consider the idea. Do you want to spend 10, 20 or more hours detailing a painting of, say, back alley coreopsis, like the one I am currently creating? Would something with detail like that make your stomach turn/churn or excite you? (Honestly, I must have spent more than 20 hours on it already and I keep finding things to do!)

Another inspiring conversation Youngman had is with artist James Gurney. I just listened to this yesterday, and it speaks to what I will be doing today in about an hour – heading outside to do some art. Something small and quick, or something that takes all day – regardless of what it is – if it is furthering your art experience, it will be a healthy pursuit. Gurney suggests giving chance to explore different mediums, not caring whether the end result is show-worthy or sellable. That, the best education in art comes from doing.

Today, I will be cycling off to a location with lots of cover. There is a low cloud drizzle so I will be experimenting with soft pastels on coloured paper. This isn’t my usual medium, but I tried it last week in the fog and it seemed perfect for the day.

As we were working, the fog started clearing and by the end of a few hours the sun was hot and everything had changed. I personally preferred it foggy – just for its mysterious quality, and sitting beside the shore with birds calling but unseen was magical.

So, have a listen to Your Creative Push and let me know what you think. Then, grab your art supplies – especially something you are unfamiliar with using – and head outdoors. It is only early October and there is still lots you could interpret from 3D to 2D so go for it!

Journey of 1000 strokes

The same year as artist Drew Burnham came to town, I signed up for a day’s workshop with local artist Alfred Muma; two artists with extremely different styles, yet both willing to share their techniques and encourage others on their creative path.

We have two lino prints of Alfred’s in our house, one of the old North Island Princess ferry that ran for 60 years between Texada Island and Powell River (a new ferry, the Island Discovery, took over that route last week as the NIP retired), and the other of our local beach and the paper mill.

An artist since the ’70s, Alfred is quite an inspiration. And so it was that on this particular Saturday in late fall I arrived at a portable school room on the premises of one of our elementary schools with three other students.

We learned about perspective, about view points, and about thumbnail sketches. Alfred created a still life display out of various objects and we walked around it, stopping, sketching thumbnails, then moving on. We started our main pieces by using charcoal to sketch in the design, which was then hit with a piece of cloth like swatting a fly (not that I do that). I decided to try something different, and got out my set of palette knives.

Unnamed, palette knife study – 2016

The finished painting is stored in my basement and likely will never have a title or be put on display. However, I remember time slowing in that workshop, and me feeling totally supported as I tried out this new way of applying colour. Whatever the outcome, I learned a lot that day, and I have gone on to use my palette knives with somewhat confidence since then.

If you get the chance to study, even just for a few hours, with an artist in your own community who knows what he or she is doing and can convey that information in a supportive way, take it. You never know where a little help along the way can lead.

En plein air

It is overcast with a little sliver of sunshine poking through, five degrees cooler than yesterday and the wind is threatening to build. Today is an en plein air day and I will be meeting up with four artist friends in a couple of hours.

The west coast of British Columbia is a place joined by ferries. Inlets curve and curl, deep fjords cutting into the mainland. In a car-cultured world, ferries are a necessity and our destination today is down at one of these ferry terminals.

Well, actually, it is right next door to the terminal. There is a little harbour and it will be the small boats tied up to the dock that will be our subject.

So, what to take? Over the years I have wisened up to reduction. Less is definitely more and although it would be good to take an easel, canvas, all my paints, it just isn’t practical. The intent of painting outside is not necessarily to paint an entire picture from start to finish, but to immerse within the environment and gather enough information so that back home, where I have everything I need, I can use that research to create, hopefully, a compelling piece of art.

A deck chair, waterproof jacket, extra sweater – should I take the umbrella? – two sketch pads (one for just the black ink pens and the other if I decide to use my Promarker pens), lunch, water, camera, and a backpack to carry most of these items.

Ok, seven hours later and here I am back at home, with a few mosquito bites and a sketch to show for it. The weather was beautiful, a slight breeze kept me holding my paper down, and the insects kept me distracted. However, that is what en plein air is all about. Here is my sketch.

Sitting at the dock, Saltery Bay

If you look at the photo above, you can see I have narrowed down the focus to just include one and a half boats. The sailboat is the one with the yellow door, followed by the red awninged motor boat behind. I decided to ignore all other boats.

And, you can see it is unfinished. I have yet to fill in the rest of the trees on the island beyond, but I gathered enough data to know I could finish that at home.

A note, too, that these boats move…literally. One of my artist friends was creating a lovely watercolour of a line of boats along a dock and one of them left. So, it is good to take photos as soon as possible to at least have something to work from should your subject move away!

I hope this inspires you to grab pen and paper, a snack and some water, and venture outside – even into your backyard – and draw.


WordPress provides two weeks or more of instruction for new bloggers. As I follow along the tutorials and do the assignments, I come across inspiring blogs from others. One such other is Bobbie Herron.

Bobbie recently posted The Perks of a “Look at that” Attitude on her Aloft with Inspiration blog. In it, reference is made to a 12-minute video from John Muir Laws: Be a Nature Journal Ambassador. As Bobbie suggests, take a moment and watch the video and then make sure you read through her post.

We all have our reasons, said or unsaid, why we find solace looking at an element of nature with a sense of admiration. Really, what isn’t there to admire about nature? The colour palette always works – if unsure, look at a meadow in full bloom and the depths of colour that thread together to create the tapestry of unified chaos that we observe.

Shortly after starting my own Artists’ Journey, I realized I was looking at things – anything – differently. I was seeing the lights and darks, the shapes, watching how the “thing” moved (if it did) or took up space, and how the shadows played off its surface (think of a wooden stool). This was the calming, taking a breath, slowing down, meditative nature of looking with all senses.

Poinsettia in ink and colour pencil on paper

You can do this. Just like Bobbie spent a few moments admiring and then sketching a rhododendron, you have the time to pick up a pencil, pen or paint brush, and paper, and first look then look and draw. See what you can come up with and how time slows down.

A few days away

Being on the Artists’ Journey does, of course, include time to be creative. When I had first chosen my acrylic paints, I had envisioned spending countless hours sitting on the bow of our very modest sailboat painting the splendid scenery we are able to access. I tried that once and the boat moved so much I gave up. I have now realized that pen and paper is a much better solution, and rather than sitting on the bow, I hole up in the cockpit.

I did just that yesterday morning. We had anchored at Smugglers Cove, north of Vancouver, Canada, and were stern tied to the shore. This is one of my favourite locations and looking up at the shoreline bluffs is one of my favourite pastimes. It wasn’t long before I got out the pens and paper – a new type for me: Strathmore’s Mixed Media 400 series – and time melted away.

Rocky Outcropping, Smugglers Cove, 01.06.20

I recently purchased a set of cool and warm grey Winsor & Newton Promarkers along with their portrait set. Most of what you see on the rock is created by the Promarkers. I was really happy with how they worked with this new paper.

This post is a bit of a blip in the Artists Journey posts, but it was inspired by a blog post I read earlier today by artist Christine Mallaband-Brown. She’s participating in the sketch challenge set by Stoke on Trent in the UK, and her materials of choice are pen and paper.

You can pick up a regular black biro, a pencil, or a sharpie marker pen and use a piece of scrap paper and just look at something – a plant, a bookshelf, a table and chairs – and start drawing. Why not give it a go?

An invitation

I have a white 22″ x 28″ canvas sitting on my easel to my left. It’s waiting for my imagination to determine what image it will hold. A blank canvas, a blank page, a blank anything, is a pause, holding space, for the spark of creativity to burn.

I am inviting you to climb on board the Artists’ Journey – plural because it is not just me, it is you and all other creatives who are opening up to those sparks – and share insights, motivations, resources, and mentors, that help you craft your creative spark into the eyes of tomorrow.

The day before yesterday, I installed hanging hardware on the back of two paintings, then moved them downstairs into the basement. I brought up my freshly gessoed blank canvas, which I had just sanded off, to take its place on the easel.

Yesterday, I cycled 20 kilometres to meet up with other artists at a local beach, to sit in the shade and sketch a scene. It’s the middle of spring and a cool wind still blows from the northwest. I sat, with cycle jacket zippered up, looking out at the sunny view from beneath a large cedar. Cycling home got me warm again.

And so it is, that six years after I bought myself some rather expensive Golden Open acrylic paints, I find myself wanting to share this journey. I tried to start that a few years ago with the birth of “Follow the Artist” newsletter. I managed three monthly episodes before that fell through the cracks. Here’s my second try.

I think the world is a better place when we all follow our own passions. If we can share the process along the way with a willing audience, all the better. For me, it is predominantly visual art, however, I am writing a novel, so putting words on a page to create a picture, as opposed to using a paintbrush, is just as thrilling.

Join me on this Artists’ Journey and together we will unpack the creative baggage we’ve been carrying around. Sign up to never miss a step.