Monday, October 9, 2017

My Journey Into Creating Portraits - Part One of Two

Early Foundation Work

Several interventions or suggestions that have clustered together during the last week have led me to lend some thought to stepping away from my usual landscape interests. The first intervening thought strangely occurred during a recent morning plein air session along the Parkway. I had decided upon the location because the subject, a long vacant two-storey stone Georgian home suddenly became a sudden bee hive of activity. It seemed that the long neglected interior was undergoing significant  stripping out and the stone exterior was being repointed... from the chimney tops... right to the basement level.

What had long appealed to me was the unusual character of this landmark along the river. It loomed as looking misplaced in comparison to other wooden architecture in the area... all of a lower architectural pedigree. In passing by it each time over many decades, I never stopped feeling that the building had a story that it wished to share with me... that it possessed a spirit and personality that made it seem more like a person than a building.

During the three hour plein air session, I discovered a great deal of historical information about the Gray House, its owners and its early history. The last surviving member of the Gray family, a bachelor had passed away during the recent  ice storm.

It relieved me too, to learn that this elegant Georgian-style country house was being prepared by developers for potential buyers... a much gentler fate than I had worried about - demolition. and another loss of heritage. Instead... the house would record another chapter of renewal and beauty for visitors along the well-travelled Parkway.

"Seen Better Days -The Gray Homestead- Landon's Bay" - oil on canvas 20x24 inches

Over a lifetime of sketching and painting I have searched out such unique homes and buildings that spoke to me of lives lived or functions of an earlier era. Their names still denote their specialness and distinct character and historical origin. MacPherson House, Gildersleeve House, Bedford Mill, Larue Mill come to the fore easily. However... simple homes and outbuildings with their simpler brand of distinction were as well a consuming interest in my paintings.

One could truly call these paintings portraits because they contained details that easily identified them as unique structures to people who live in the area. Though the paintings are often rendered in an impressionistic manner they maintain the distinct personality traits which separate them from other buildings around them.

Here is an ink drawing from a three print series, "Kingstones" that I created and sold in 1976 for visitors and residents in Kingston. The city of Kingston is fondly referred to as "The Limestone City" because of its multiplicity of stone buildings. The sum total reflect a cross section that easily spans the entire range of architectural styles in Canada. The  limes stone used is found locally and was easily quarried and put into use directly from within the city limits .

This building is known as Gildersleeve House and is located very centrally in downtown Kingston. It currently houses legal firms .It was originally built in 1825 as the prestigious Georgian-style home of the prominent Henry Gildersleeve family. Directly behind it you can see another exquisite limestone masterpiece... St. George's Anglican Cathedral.

The list of important limestone construction buildings is endless in the City and environs. Not only was the availability of the material to do so present locally... so was the numbers of skilled trademen. They were Scottish master masons who had been brought to Canada to construct the Rideau Canal from Kingston to Ottawa, Fort Henry and the KIngston Penetentiary by the British.

India ink and pen rendering on lithograph paper - 24 x 30 inches

Rideau Street Row Houses - Pen and India ink on lithograph  paper 24 x18 inches

Grand Trunk Railway Station - pen and India ink on lithograph paper - 24 x 36 inches

Enough said about buildings being treated as portraits. My view of buildings as "sitters" for portraiture opportunities yields one great benefit to the artist - They don't move and can hold a pose for a long time. Another plus lies in the fact that most are constructed of lines and angles that are easy to read as you construct them.

Buildings were a lead in which supported practice and variety for me as an artist. I felt comfortable and unobserved while I worked. There was no scarcity of willing subjects... where I chose to live, or set up my easel. I view the study and comparison of these subjects as a launching pad for entry into later human portraiture attempts.

My journey proceeded slowly into another genre of painting... a step closer to human portraiture... but still distant for someone as yet unskilled in anatomical and figure drawing experience. The elements of this genre were "kindly" to a newbie too. Though not yet human in their form... they did elicit human comparisons- in my mind at least,

Onward the journey...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving... or Being Happy... Giving Thanks!

Thanksgiving represents that moment in the year when the busy-ness of our lives reaches a natural conclusion. For eons, the changing of the seasons and the celebration the abundance of harvest have given mankind around the planet the urge to recognize and to share the bounty ceremonially with those around them in celebration.

That ritual often physically brings together the young and the elderly in most families to sit around a common table prepared and shared by those we cherish. Thanksgiving has remained a precious moment of giving thanks and reflection that I have always looked forward to  sharing with my family members and special friends. This Sony moment from 2015 captures such a momentous occasion and clearly illustrates the tenor of such celebrations for the whole Sherman clan.

What a difference time can make... as it passes silently without notice or warning. Thanksgiving 2017 will indeed shape-shift, as it must to accommodate changes that none of us could have imagined at the time that Andrew took this photo.

This year's Thanksgiving will be moved to Andrew and Melissa's home in Rockwood, an hour west of Toronto. Allison, Deb and I will be attending... in spirit only... for Thanksgiving 2017. What is important to acknowledge... is that the tradition must prevail to preserve Allie's precious memory and the need to ... give thanks for the daily blessings... past and present.

Our other family members will be celebrating in other places with their own loved ones... which left Deb and I with a "short list" of attendees at our table here in Rockport. I learned from the experience of my Mom and Dad's Thanksgiving observances that I attended here on the River... that there were always friends in our lives who would face being alone as well.

One such wonderful friend in Allison's life and our own is Chris Howitt. Chris has been an ever present supporter of all Shermans... so reaching out was easy. His willingness to be included at this year's Thanksgiving table brings Deb and I both great joy and happiness. I'm sure that Allison will smile upon... and be present in spirit both Sherman gatherings.

A glass of Prosecco will be hoisted by each of us to begin our Thanksgiving meal... to toast her continuing and ever lasting presence at our table and in our hearts...

I love you forever dearest Jemima

Strange how the Universe works its magic... mysteriously... moment by moment. A comment via my blog from a very dear and supportive Scottish contributor, Caroline Simmill jumped out at me and has (perhaps) shifted me artistically... in a slightly new direction.

Stay tuned.

These three favorite paintings depicting past "thanks - giving" moments and sentiments add three small clues...

                                        "Bounteous Blessings" - oil on canvas 30 x 24 inches 

                                                      "Memories of Allison in Venice"

A table top painting gifted to Allison to commemorate her undergrad convocation and first experience in her beloved Venezia. Again... the words that I chose to include on its surface ominously (now) foreshadow events ... as they unfolded in her later life.

Happy Thanksgiving... and rich blessings of Health, Joy and Happiness to All!!!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Basking in the warmth of her spirit...

Tap images to enlarge

Allison often joked that: "She was the curator of friendship..." and on Sunday afternoon at the gathering of three hundred or more of her students, friends and family who gathered to celebrate her too short... but wonderful life... that description seemed ever so obvious and appropriate.

The setting for the event... The Ivy Restaurant and Resort was chosen by her mother Joan because Allie so enjoyed the combined ambiance... food and closeness to the River and The Thousand Islands which she knew intimately and loved so dearly. Even the unusual presence of the muggy heat wave  added an additional surreal and unexpected flavor which further set the mood for this special event.

The intimate evening of sharing revealed and interfaced the many facets of Allie's academic and personal lives. It seemed that the gathering knitted together the lives of so many seamlessly of all of those attending into a tapestry of love... humility and thankfulness. Each of us departed with a better understanding and the immensity of our good fortune to have walked that short distance in her company.

While all of us as Allison's family were abundantly familiar and aware of her generous spirit and her unbridled and often irreverent sense of humour... few us (including myself) outside of  her academic circle of peers and colleagues fully understood the respect and prestige that her academic world  held her in. Allison rarely spoke of her accomplishments, preferring to minimize recognition and singling out. It was her "work" and her students that mattered most to her.

I believe that the quality of her person which meant the most to me...  that I will sorely miss most... was her unique ability to blend her vast gift of intellect and her sense of inner child. She never ceased to value nor to display that child openly and proudly. It was that difference that set her aside in the hearts of all who met her... and came to love her.

Here is a gift that Allison presented me with in September of 2008. Little could either of us known how closely the course of the theme of the book by Professor Randy Pausch would run parallel to  Allison's own journey in 2017. Perhaps... at that specific moment, the Universe offered a glimpse into her future. I could entertain that thought...

Her other gift along with that book... were the words she chose to pen to me on the fly page within.
Today... those words...

"Leadeth me beside still waters... and help to restore my soul."

Thank you dearest Jemima... "I" love "You" Forever!...  and I shall honour my promise to live for you


"I see your face... in all the old familiar places..."

God speed!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Taking Back Joy


"As we get older we define happiness less in terms of excitement and more in terms of peacefulness."
                                                   -page 103 "Option B" by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

I find this statement to apply to all facets of my life. Though I have always needed to experience solitude throughout my life and actively sought it out through my plein air painting experiences, I find now that noise and the chaos of crowds is actually painful to me. More and more, I retreat from the din and avoid having to attend parties and gatherings where I can't filter out conversation from noise.

My evening walks are more than for the sake of exercise. They primarily allow me to gather my thoughts... organize my ideas and to look without interruption. In a passage I have always favored from "another wonderful guide book:

"He leadeth me beside still waters... and it restoreth my soul."

It is when I am on these walks that I encounter "signs" (to me at least) of  Allison's renewed presence in my life...  manifest in the simple blessings of Nature and life that we shared together. Hand feeding chickadees... netting butterflies... capturing preserve sealers of twinkling August fireflies. All such perceived simple blessings weave us together into a tapestry of complete Peace and Joy.

                 "Peace is joy at rest and joy is peace on its feet." (Reverend Veronica Goines)

This personal perception of my continued connection to Allison might cause many to scoff... equating this to denial at best, or worse... delusion. But no matter the skeptics' views... "She" remains firmly embedded in my consciousness in a fashion that offers Hope in lieu of despair on a daily basis.

I have accepted that her spirit has left its physical vessel. Her presence now exists only in memories we each carry of her. But that spirit and energy which belonged to her alone and defined her continues to manifest itself in ways that only we shared... and understood.

I choose to take back Joy... and to pass it forward through my thoughts and actions to honor her... and my Self. Art and painting are the cement and underpinnings of our separate life's work. Hers was  achieved through research and scholarship. Mine through a combination of art history and fine art. Both shared a common passion and pivotal centre - Venice.

"La Serenissime" - the  Molo in Venezia - oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches

Forever serene!

Love you Jemima 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Mindfulness... Gratefulness and Responsiveness

My post today embraces lingering feelings and thoughts that emerged within me during of my most recent plein air experience. I returned to the field in search of a quiet retreat from the noisy tourist traffic and constant bus traffic in the village.. and the incessant growl of whining jet skis and motorcraft out on the river.

It required little more than a few words of encouragement from my painting friend Paul Taylor from Rochester, NY to pack up our gear to seek out a site where we could escape the din and enjoy some plein air painting. I suggested a short twenty minute jaunt to the sleepy backwater hamlet of Lyndhurst... a place where I knew there was lots of painting material that would interest us both.

Paul chose a site up on the road which runs across the three span stone bridge spanning the Lyndhurst Creek. Constructed in 1856-7, it is the oldest existing bridge in Ontario and still functions in linking Lyndhurst to the neighbouring communities of Delta and Lansdowne. I set up just below the bridge on the shore of the pond looking westward towards the United Church.

My painting was to become a smallish vertical 10 x 8 inch sketch on panel which began poorly due to my agitated state. I could not get my right hand to "behave" in its usual way. It simply couldn't settle down to business and permit me to draw... as is my usual approach to establishing a beginning.

Rather than continuing to fight against the problem... which I knew would persist, I chose to shift my approach from mapping my beginning... to massing. I built form out of massed colour blocks to shape composition. I then took a walk away from the resulting colour patchwork to gain some space to think... relax and recalibrate before stepping back to the painting to finish.

I decided to add only minimal detail and to survey the whole thoroughly to ensure that I hadn't missed necessary information. I simply looked for the remainder of the session while Paul finished up. I decided to complete the few remaining licks needed to finish... away from the site back at the studio from memory. No camera reference!

Mindfulness... is the act of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring totally in the present moment. The plein air painting approach maximizes the opportunity and the atmosphere most conducive to encourage this state.

Gratefulness... is the combination of many blessings that I realize and appreciate more than ever in my life since Allison's tragic passing. I am grateful for the treasured memories of Yesterdays which remain protected forever in my heart. I am mindfully grateful... for the Today that I have been given to enjoy and share with my friends and family that I love. Finally... I am grateful for the gift of being able to dream and envision a Tomorrow... and hopefully... to be given the time to actualize it.

Responsiveness... The culmination of Yesterday's plein air adventure was this small oil sketch. Though surely imperfect... it mirrors  a small, but significant insight into the journey that I have begun to establish a "new normal". It was executed out of physical necessity, using an alternate response to solving the problem of commencing a painting on location.

Electing to navigate one's daily life and solve daily problems incorporating these principles enhances the opportunities for success... and joy. Are they such hard to achieve objectives????

I wonder...

Good Painting to ALL!!! ... and Rich blessings!

                            " A Lazy August Morning in Lyndhurst" - oil on panel 10 x 8 inches

                                 "A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step."
                                         - from the Tao Te Ching ascribed to Laozi

Sunday, August 20, 2017

August... on my mind

This still life symbolizes a blend of summer which encapsulates memories of both my parents. My Dad's awakened tastes for ripened summer fruit and corn is paired with my Mom's penchant for equally colourful and fragrant roadside flowers.

The card "Keep Smilin" was pinned to a cork board in his basement "Inner Sanctum" retreat. It is now tacked to my own cork board facing this computer space where I retreat to to think and write.

In 2015 we were blessed to share this festive weekend with Joan and Allison here in Rockport.We were optimistic as Allie passed the halfway marker in her chemotherapy that she would emerge healthy and victorious over this dreaded cancer that threatened her life.

August is once again ... on my mind. But in a whole new fashion. Allie has joined Mom and Dad. Who could have believed????....

But today my memories of her are added to theirs. All I can do is continue to believe in her miracle... and to serve them with Faith and Courage. I paint... I feel and I dig deeply to continue my journey for each of them.

"He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How."  - Friedrich Neitzche

Happy Birthday Mom and Dad... I love you FOREVER Jemima Puddle Duck!

God bless the three of you! I love each of you forever.

Till we meet again...

"He leadeth me beside still  waters... and fields of ripening hay" It restoreth my soul.

"God's Green Acres" -  recent plein air oil on canvas 10x14 inches

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Alone... Together

Strange "couple" here in this title. But they do in fact best describe both my state of mind at times... and my connection to Allison. This Yin and Yang pairing perhaps create a better understanding of the complex dynamics of grief and loss... and also the process whereby one navigates this "new normal".

There is no setting aside the deeply embedded yearning for her presence... nor are there any words to sufficiently describe or soften the ongoing grief that we who loved her so dearly feel because of her absence. But paradoxically, within the state of aloneness that grief creates there also exists an opposing and unexpected feeling of togetherness.

My painting serves today as it always has in my life as something that I pursue with joy and passion. It is the rudder and the compass of my ship. Art conjoined Allie and I during our entire lives... and even in death's company... Art draws us strangely ever together in spirit and purpose.

Shown below is a smallish plein air sketch completed during this past week. It was completed on site in less than two hours and lifted my spirits greatly.

"Summer Psalm" - oil on canvas 10 x 12 inches

And for my own purposes at this moment...  I can "see" Beyond.

I love Jemima Puddle Duck... forever!

Good Painting !... to ALL... and rich blessings.