Recognizing and Counteracting Magic

What’s interesting to me is that I don’t always know the source of inspiration or how to feed it, I’m just acutely aware of when I’m in the moment of it happening. When I have to pick up my idea book and write something down. When I obsess about a photo reference for weeks or even months awaiting the opportunity to turn it into a finished piece worthy of the drive that it instilled.

When those flashes hit, I feel, I create some of my best pieces. My Sable Island horses were inspired by a dream I had while trying to think of a good “horse based” subject to paint for an auction. My “Long Time Running” Gord Downie jean jacket painting was the 1st time my brain took me off the rails of the original photo reference to put added touches to the canvas that were specifically me. Then there was my “Facing your Light” painting.

Look at her for a moment and think about how she makes you feel. What do you think it going on in this painting? Write down a couple of words that immediately pop into your head so you can compare later. Remember art is personal but gather your thoughts and then see what I and others got out of this piece.

Facing your Light.jpg

I consider this one of my 1st paintings to flow… literally. You can view the painting of this on my YouTube channel in a time lapse. What I love about it, there is no pre-sketch, it’s a huge painting and it just comes out non-stop in a single sitting. It was the 1st painting to me that felt like it had an energy of it’s own. Some how beyond what I had put in. I thought about the things I felt and that other people told me that they felt about that piece. Words I’d often hear used were strength. Peace. Faith in yourself. Looking up and forward to what great things are to come. Being true to yourself while the world is swirling around you. All the great possibilities of life are available if we want to believe we can reach them. All in all I think you’d agree, this is seen to many, and myself, as a very positive powerful piece. I had made people “feel” something.

I wanted to do it again. Could I make them feel the opposite way and still like the painting. This was my impetus for creating “Free Falling”. I had a clear image of my mind of my goal but gave myself some specific criteria. I wanted it to potentially be the same person as the subject of the piece. I wanted to use an almost an identical colour pallet. Then I wanted to flip everything else to the opposite.

Now here is my opposite painting. Take a look at it and let me know what you think. What are some of the things you feel? What are some of the things you notice? Write down a couple of words on this piece and then I’ll tell you all about the concepts I brought purposely to this piece.

Free Falling.jpg

(**ARTISTS NOTE** I’m going to be referring to these 2 paintings in comparison a lot, so FYL=Facing Your Light and FF=Free Falling)

I used a lot of literal opposites for this piece. One above the water line, the other below. From a landscape view which is wide and open in FYL the view is narrow and long portrait in FF. I even pushed this ratio of length to width so FF is 20% deeper than FYL is wide. I wanted that to be perhaps felt but not immediately obvious… to tighten that feeling of being pulled down in FF while you have that feeling of being lifted in FYL. The skin tones in FYL are warm while they are cold in FF. Here hair is up and in control in FYL while it is wild and free in FF. The light is above and movement is side to side in FYL. In FF the light is muddied out, really loosely painted at the top, leading to pure blackness below. While there is a strength and resilience in FYL, there is a sense of giving in or giving up with FF. I have a strong personal feeling and thought about who/what I was thinking of when I painted it (which I’ll share if you ever ask me personally one on one) but I will say that it was important to me that the figure was smiling when it was going on. Is the smile fake or just oblivious to what is happening? While there is only implied nudity in FYL, there is a certain level of titillation there that I don’t feel at all in FF. What do you think?

“Free Falling was 1st shared at my solo art show Oct 12 2019. I had a wide range of responses. One of my biggest fans said it was their 2nd favourite pieces I had ever made. Many said it was beautiful but I also heard words like “powerful”, “dark”, “sad” and my favorite descriptive word “heavy”. If FYL is light… then FF is definitely heavy.

In the end it is up to the viewer to determine for them if either piece has that elusive “feeling” I was seeking. It is up to the viewer if one makes them feel like one is opposite to the other. I do though now feel like they are eternally linked as each ones polar opposite.

Where do I go next? Tell me what you think.

My Story - Sunday Sept 21 2019

This is old hat to those who know me, but I thought for the curious among you, this will give you a good starting point on me, my art and what inspires me.

I have been creating artwork, specifically pencil sketching since I was a kid. I remember tracing Archie comics and then moving on to draw my own. All before even going to kindergarten. While I don’t recall this happening, it is my mothers favorite art related story. I was at my pre-school assessment and the person doing the assessment asked me what I liked to do, I said draw. He then asked me to draw him something. He wouldn’t show my mother what I drew, but he said “Jim what is this” and I said “Leonardo”. To which all he said was “Correct”.

Replicating what I saw on paper started to come more naturally to me and I was frequently asked by friends to draw things for them. I continuously drew cartoons but realism started pulling me early on. The pull was so strong I frequently butted heads with my art teacher in High School, Alice Whitney. She was (and is) a wonderful artist who was very patient with a young stubborn artist who wasn’t prone to listen. I won a blue ribbon in the Kings County Art Exhibition in 1987 at the age of 17 for a pen and ink landscape sketch I had created entirely with vertical lines of various thickness to create the scene. I dreamed one day I would animate for Disney.

Having left home at 15, I balanced working and school. I applied to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Having submitted too late for that semester, I opted to go to UNB in Fredericton. With work and life I allowed my artwork to be pushed back to a personal respite with the occasional commission for those who knew I could draw. At most I might do 1 drawing for someone once a year. Foolishly I often thought of myself as an artist, though rarely lived as one. Rare moments popped up when I created my own web comic that ran almost 20 years ago now… but by and large my art sat.

Then there was a sharp turn. On a whim, and to see if I could do it, I took part in the annual drawing challenge Inktober in October of 2017 where you have to do 30 ink drawings in 30’s days. The routine and seeing the body of work slowly build up was refreshing and revitalizing. I wanted more…. but wasn’t sure where to go next.

My entire world changed with a Facebook message on April 4 2018. A friend, Esther Vaswani, asked me to fill in for an artist that dropped out of an upcoming Paint battle event at UNB called “Art and Cheer”. I was told I would need to paint live for 20 minutes, with no reference and no drawing on the canvas. After a moment of panic I told Ester I didn’t paint. She said “just do the best you can do” and gave me contact information for the person organizing the event. Being completely unfamiliar with the painting process I looked up a video on YouTube and found a time lapse painting by Andrew Cadima. There was no instruction. I just paused the video as he painted and worked along with him to keep up. I looked through a variety of references and found images that I could use math to map out quadrants of the canvas and allow myself to replicate 2 different images by always starting in the same place and use the dimensions of the canvas as lynch points. I practiced for 2 days, maybe doing 20 or 30 paintings on paper and a couple on cheap dollar store canvases.

The result of my brief effort, I ended up winning my round and having the 2nd highest piece sold at auction the night of the event. The organizers had lots of paint left over and when asked if anyone wanted it, I scooped up what I could.

The last 18 months have been an absolute whirlwind. In order to learn a new medium as quickly as possible, and with the Inktober challenge still fresh in mind, I created and gave myself the “100 paintings in 100 days Challenge”. Which I completed. This transitioned to a new challenge “Art a day for a Year” where I created pieces of art in different mediums (mostly acrylic paintings but also water colour, digital, pen and ink) but always something every day. On day 265, I decided I should close the year with a bang and then did a 2nd “100 paintings in 100 days” challenge all within the same calendar year.

I progressed into multiple avenues of art creation and offerings to the public. It started with only original paintings. About 20 paintings in on my 1st 100 paintings in 100 days, I started getting requests for commissions. At around 30 paintings I started live paintings at events throughout Fredericton including the multiple city markets and live events. My work started to go up at local restaurants and in auctions. I’ve won juried selection into some of these events and started offering prints of my more popular pieces.

What I love the most about the last year… above the creation.. above the sales of my work… is the self reflection and desire to learn. Not just the medium, the materials and techniques.. but also about myself.

I was an artist who didn’t create. Who looked down on others work. Would never ask for input, took criticism poorly and was jealous of others success. This year has provided me a gift. I now truly understand and know there is ALWAYS more to learn. That NO one knows it all. That no one else’s success is robbing from me. That we are all creators who just love to create. Who can support each other. Learn from each other and grow. I’ve learned who I would call my art parents. Realistic painters who capture real moments of life and tell stories in a single image, regardless of the subject matter. I’ve learned that it’s not just people who inspire me, but all living things, the natural world and how they play within shadow and light.

A message from Facebook in April 2018 from a former work colleague, changed my life forever and I think, made me a better person…. and I am eternally grateful.

Just keep creating,