I was thrilled yesterday to receive acceptance of two of my submissions into this year’s AIRE exhibit at the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA). This show is one of the most competitive of the year, and it is an honour to have two works included.
This one, Twilight at the Flying U, was inspired by a very fuzzy and poorly lit photo I snapped on my phone during an early evening horse-drawn wagon ride at the Flying U horse ranch (www.flyingu.com) in the Cariboo region of BC. I was attending a 5-day plein air retreat sponsored by the FCA and enjoying every minute of my experience, but this wagon ride was truly a highlight. After the sun set behind the rolling hills, the moon appeared, and the sky turned a brilliant sapphire blue. In the distance, one of the horse ponds glimmered silver. Magical light! This piece will be in the AIRE physical show at the Federation Gallery (Granville Island, Vancouver, BC) from Oct 9-28.
The piece also represents a couple of recent experiments. I’ve been working almost exclusively in oils lately, determined to build up my skills to my desired level. At the end of the painting day, there are inevitably a few blobs of paint left on my glass palette beside the easel, along with some leftover Liquin medium (which thins the paint a little and also helps it dry more quickly). Rather than discard these, I’ve been mixing them into a pile of dark and a pile of light value ‘neutral’ colours and then using a wide metal putty knife to scoop, scrape, and spread these two values into abstract shapes on a clean canvas. The use of the putty knife—a new technique for me— ensures that I make only broad shapes rather than details or recognizable objects.
The next morning, this underpainting is dry enough to begin a second coat of paint, and the value study is a ‘kickstart’ to a new composition. In this case, the dark warm value (mostly umber) was easily shaped into the dim fields of the pasture, and the lighter cool value (mostly indigo) morphed into the glowing sky. With very few details, the mood and landforms appeared. The final touch was the luminous moon, created with a judicious thumbprint of pale yellow paint. I was pleased with the result, as I feel it has captured my experience of the moment. It just goes to show—even a poor photo can inspire a successful piece!
The second accepted piece, Solstice Shine, below, is another unexpected success story. I originally painted this piece about three years ago, based on some photos taken during a Boxing Day hike through a local forest. It turned out ‘okay’—you know how that happens, a piece will be acceptable but somehow be lacking the ‘magic’ we’re always chasing. I stashed it away in my storage rack and essentially forgot about it. Then a few weeks ago I happened upon it while looking for something else, and pulled it out again. I still liked the composition and the subject matter; I was happy with the rendering of the objects in the scene. What, then, was missing? It seemed to me that it was a problem both with values (too many middle tones) and temperature (somehow too warm for the season I was portraying). I decided to sleep on the problem, as I often do. My sleeping brain works away and I often wake up with a solution—and I did this time, too!
The answer came in a vision of the scene cloaked in snow. I live on the very temperate Sunshine Coast, and even on Boxing Day (Dec 26th) there was no snow to be found in the actual scene. However, adding snow would solve both of the perceived problems—it would add lighter values and a cooler hue. Sure enough, as soon as I spread the blue hue over the snow-in-shadow area, the painting improved. And when I judiciously added both bright white and warm white highlights on branches and across a selected area of the path—well, the painting suddenly came alive! There was that missing magic! The lesson: don’t give up on the ‘almost-made-it’ ones—but don’t frame them until you’ve fixed the problems, either! This piece was accepted for the extended online AIRE show, and will be seen on the FCA website during the AIRE exhibition.
Acceptance into this show completes the required seven acceptances for me to apply for the next level of membership in the FCA (Associate Member), which I plan to do in 2019. Wish me luck!