When life gives you lemons, draw them, 11 x 14 inches dry pastels, graphite on paper

"When life gives you lemons, draw them". (Nikki)

"...the painting has a life of its own. My mission is to bring forth this life". (Jackson Pollock)

"Trust your intuition, it's just like goin' fishin'; you cast your line 'til you get a bite." (Paul Simon)

history/multicultural theme

« Previous Entries

Toil and Peaceful Life

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

“Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which [humanity has] risen.” 

Leo Tolstoy


Creating art is always a personal endeavour, and every so often I’m drawn to study only for the deeper experience of it; for the kind of education and understanding that can’t come through reading or any other means. Here is a painting I started in May, along with links and information about a unique culture, a group of Russian immigrants who made significant contributions to Canada and the development of the Canadian prairies. Next week I’ll be driving up to Alberta through Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan where some of the Doukhobors, whom I’ve just recently learned are part of my own heritage, settled during the 19th century. Upon returning from this final leg of summer travel there is another painting commission to complete, so I’ll be blogging regularly again and finishing this painting in about two months.


Breaking The Land: Doukhobor Women, 24 x 36 x 2 inches acrylics on canvas

“Toil and Peaceful Life” (quote, Peter V. Verigin), 24 x 36 x 2 inches acrylics on canvas. Study only, NFS, work in progress: There are harsh contrasts and colors at this stage, so am planning to paint over the whole surface with my friend Virginia’s white wash formula (1/2 guesso, 1/4 matte medium and 1/4 water), then will gradually bring out details again by scrubbing areas away with a wet cloth and repainting as well. Further layers of siennas, umbers, pale yellows, unbleached titanium washes etc. will be treated the same way. 


Doukhobor women breaking the land, Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba, Canada, late 19th early 20th centuryWhen the light bulb on my sewing machine burnt out - it won’t work without one - I could have hopped in the car and driven three blocks to go buy another, but instead made due hemming a garment by manually spinning the wheel on the machine. I had already started the above painting referring to an old photo of 16 Doukhobor women pulling and two men directing a plow as they tilled the land in southern Manitoba, Canada’s eastern-most prairie province, during the late 1800′s. This is one of the more powerful images portraying the character of the Doukhobors, who left their homeland in Russia because of religious persecution, never allowed to return, becoming the largest mass immigration in Canadian history.  

I’ve often wondered how it must have been for women in the past, considering all of the chores that raising a family and taking care of the home must have entailed. On top of that, there was little relief from extreme weather conditions as, for example, during the heat of summer all of these responsibilities were done wearing long dresses, petticoats and bonnets. I guess it was with this in mind that I endured impatiently sewing my jeans without electricity.

The small amount of soil I turn over in the garden is planted mostly with flowers. The few veggies that  are novel to watch grow from seed to fruition are not crucual to the survival of my family. While I’m purchasing ready-wound thread on a plastic bobbin, I can select from a number of  food choices and shop during any time of day, 24 hours a day in a 7 day week. Todays’ lifestyles are so far removed from the realities that pioneers in any land must have faced. Living in small communities where all could share the work as well as morally support each other made complete sense. So it was for the Doukhobors, living a philosophy very similar to the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Amish.  


Photos are photos and paintings are paintings, but as traditional artists we can take advantage of the art of photography as inspiration to trigger motivation and memories, recreate impressions, and refer to for details. If photos are used as reference, very soon after painting begins I rely on and respond more to what’s happening on the canvas. For some time before putting brush to canvas, every detail of a subject adds to an internal mental picture, one that gradually envisions the painting finished to a certain degree. In some cases I’ll work from pictures of historic art or artifacts as educational studies, or from a client’s photo if they commission the reproduction of a favorite scene. Always though, the resulting art is an emotional translation.  

The first thing that strikes me in the enlarged re-re-reproduced print I’m working from is how little the quality of the image matters. The shadows on the faces of each individual say it all. Some appear curious about having their photo taken, and most are more concerned about the task at hand. Though the image is crude by modern standards, and maybe even partly due to it, we are able to share the raw truth of a moment in one of an uncountable number of cultures throughout human history who worked so physically this way. For most of our time here on earth, we, like all of nature, knew we depended on the land, and it truly was survival of the fittest.  I can only hope to capture the calibre of this story as well as the photo does.

Sometimes a painting can never be as effective as a photo, particularly when it comes to human portraits. In intances like this, there is so much value in “the journey” of your efforts. Painting such a scene, it really is like being transported. Of course the goal is to make the work successful, and artists all hope and plan for sales, but we also need to make time for creating work that feeds our soul and brings us back to the inner sources that pulled us into this not-always-externally-fulfilling vocation in the first place. When I recommend forgetting the rules and listening to your own, that’s what I mean. Even if you have never tried to paint or draw before, or you think you don’t have enough skill, you are as capable as anyone if you are spurred on by your emotions toward subjects you love, using whatever methods you enjoy. 


Facebook – group intro:

“Toil and Peaceful Life”

Peter V. Verigin

The name Doukhobor  means “spirit wrestler”. Although many of their beliefs descended from Christianity, being a Doukhobor is more of a way of life than a religion. Doukhobors are a group of pacifists that came to Canada from Russia to escape persecution for their beliefs at the end of the 19th century. The most well known leader of the Doukhobors was Peter ‘Lordly’ Verigin. The Doukhobors established communites across Western Canada, many times cultivating land that was not seen as desirable. There are still reminants of Doukhobor villages primarily in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

 “…The settlers found Saskatchewan winters much harsher than those in Transcaucasia, and were particularly disappointed that the climate was not as suitable for growing fruits and vegetables. Many of the men found it necessary to take non-farm jobs, especially in railway construction, while the women stayed behind to till the land…”

Susan Wiley Hardwick, “Russian Refuge: Religion, Migration, and Settlement on the North American Pacific Rim”. University of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN 0-226-31610-6. 1993. Section “The Doukhobors


The Doukhobors: 16th Century Russia to Canada, 2010 
The origin of the Doukhobors is fairly dubious, but some information dates the culture back to 16th and 17th century Russia. Deeply spiritual, the “Doukho-borets”, which literally means “spirit wrestlers”, rejected common orthodox practices of organized religions and society, including the worship of icons and individual land ownership. As pacifists, their motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life”.

After refusing allegiance to Tsar Nicholas and military service, in 1895, they burnt all of their weapons in response to this. (The date, June 28th, has become a day of celebration of their humble roots.) Facing persecution for their beliefs, over 7,000 Doukhobors sought refuge in Canada starting in 1899.

The Doukhobors’ passage across the Atlantic Ocean was largely paid for by Quakers and Tolstoyans, who sympathized with their plight, and by the writer Leo Tolstoy, who arranged for the royalties from his novel Resurrection, his story Father Sergei, and some others, to go to the migration fund. He also raised money from wealthy friends. In the end, his efforts provided half of the immigration fund, about 30,000 rubles.

* Multicultural Canada http://multiculturalcanada.ca/node/48207

With sympathy from the Canadian government, for a $10 fee each adult male was intitially provided with 160 acres of “free land” on the prairies of central Canada; present day Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They were expected to live on and break the land, plant crops, and eventually apply for a patent to own it.

During 1906, a new Parliamentary Minister revised their previous agreement to laws that commanded a pledge of allegiance to the Crown or else lose their homesteads. In 1907, 2,500 homesteads were cancelled, causing communal splits into three distinct groups. The largest group of Doukhobors, incuding  Peter Verigin, the man who had re-documented and defined their Orthodox faith,  moved to British Columbia.  The “Sons of Freedom” also went to B.C., but were radically different than the Community Doukhobors. They actively protested (sometimes nude!) issues arising from Canadian governmental control over their way of life, creating misunderstandings and negativity toward Doukhobors in general that remain to this day. The “Independents” maintained their homesteads in Saskatchewan in compliance with the new  Canadian laws.

1908 to 1912: Peter Veregin’s group purchased land in the West Kootenays, B.C. and developed large communal enterprises. The Doukhobors now call themselves the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), situated in Brilliant, B.C..

Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp5umD3HA8k

Good things come in threes

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

 Cycad Fossil refurbished vintage chair, 29 x 29 x 29 inches mixed mediaSalish NW Pacific culture wooden Whorl replica refurbished vintage chair, 29 x 29 x 29 inches mixed mediaMayan bowl replica refurbished vintage chair, 29 x 29 x 29 inches mixed media

Cycad Fossil Chair, Salish NW Pacific culture wooden whorl replica Chair, and Ancient Mayan bowl replica refurbished vintage chair, 29 x 29 x 29 inches mixed media. Read the feature article.

On exhibit and available for purchase February 11th – 27th at Visual Image Fine Art Puiblishing and Gallery Juried Show, 14320 Midway Road, Suite 300, Dallas, Texas.  Come and meet all the Artists at the Opening Reception this coming Saturday, Feb. 13th, 3 – 9 p.m.


Good Artist Pals also come in threes

Some friendships will last forever, and how fortunate that three of mine also happen to be artists! Listed in no particular order of favoritism, each are miles apart geographically speaking and personality-wise, but they all have one thing in common: they’ll tell it like it is if you ever need a good critique, and on the flip side of the coin: a smile, a boost of energy; encouragement. I’ve posted my favorite works created by each, and highly recommend browsing each of their websites..

 Chris Bolmeier: Happy Pigs, oil on canvas Karen Xarchos: restaurant mural, Ottawa, ON Canada Virginia Wieringa: Prayer, mixed media collage

a) Chris Bolmeier: Happy Pigs, Oil on canvas  I met Chris on the internet three years ago through Robert Genn’s Painter’s Keys newsletters. Formerly an actress and professional singer, she’s not through yet with entertaining you through humour, song and paint. She often posts mini-videos of herself singing, and her artwork is pure, straight from the gut, and some of the funniest, most original material ever. I chose this piece to share as an absolute favorite, portraying fanatically goofy pigs because it makes me laugh…not just smile, but laugh Christerically every time I look at it. In my opinion her best work is of childhood memories, and some of the baffling stuff that originates from who knows where in the infinite canvas of her mind!

b) Karen Xarchos: Restaurant mural in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada  Karen and I were neighbors many years ago. We designed and painted murals together in the Ottawa area for a couple of years. Thank goodness for the internet, we’re able to keep in touch when either of us needs a good eye and some honest advice. Karen’s style and mine are vastly different; our pace, the style, the manner and we continue to learn so much from each other. She reminds me to slow down and smell the paint; her blending techniques are amazing.

Karen accepts commissions for canvas pieces like wall borders painted at home, then cleverly installs them with wallpaper paste so home owners can remove the work and take it with them when they relocate. My favorite work of Karen’s are the murals depicting work of the Masters, which are enjoyed by customers dining in many of the Greek and Italian restaurants in the Ottawa area.

c) Virginia Wieringa: Prayer, mixed media collage  Virginia and I met about four years ago on an Artists’ interactive website, wetcanvas.com, and I think she still participates there under the avatar name ”Veedubya”. I’m positive she’d love to meet you there too. Virginia has well-developed drawing and painting abilities and currently experiments intuitively with mixed media collage. Her work, no matter what the media, reflects her open-mindedness and strong sense of spirituality. Formerly an Art teacher, she’s fun to write to because she puts up with my inner-most silly self and doesn’t hold back her own. My favorite work of Virginia’s are the subtly symbolic collages, and some of the more vivid, energetic paintings that are about two phases pre-Realism.

The Evolution of Communication

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Captionless Cartoon by Saul Steinberg, 1961The title of a work of art can help sell it, and captions can complete our understanding of a picture, but the most successful works of Art manage well without an explanation. Our visual senses – sight and insight – have a language of their own. Upon viewing anything, multitudes of information are presented and understood simultaneously, almost instantly. With or without color, images are powerful, possibly even more than words, because with the development of human communication, pictures came first. It’s now widely accepted that symbols marked the origins of written language across the world.

It takes much less time to perceive than it does to write about it. For a hands-on illustration of this, draw a simple Smiley Face, and note the time that it takes to draw it. Afterward write down everything that comes to mind about that icon; what it means, other general impressions and associations. Although this is a familiar icon with clear connotations, possibly something we see every day now, plus almost all of us have drawn it at some point, within seconds of describing it you will realize how much longer it takes to interpret as quickly into words. Harvey Ball, the original artist of the Smiley Face icon must be flabbergasted that succeeding generations would come to coin the term, “emoticons”, based on an indefinite number of facial expressions that spawned from the first, including animated ones that wink and cry, and more.


Salish Whorl Chair finished

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

 Salish (Pacific Northwest) Wooden Whorl - Vintage 1960s Chair and mixed media, finished 29 x 29 x 29 inches About the chairs: Art on Art on Art – A Tribute to Creativity

Each functional, comfortable 29 x 29 x 29 inch replica of ancient Art or artifact re-utilizes vintage plastic lawn chairs that were considered Art during the 1960’s. The original structures, damaged or unusable were refurbished by a process of weaving canvas strips along with white glue paper-mache style over the entire plastic top and bottom, and multiple layers of drywall compound sanded in between coats. Designs are drawn with graphite, painted with Acrylics and a few coats of varnish for durability, then waxed to finish and enrich the colors. Two more Solaire chairs and other styles of chairs are in various stages of completion yet to be embellished with historic Art themes from other cultures. Other styles of chairs are also in progress.

 Salish (Pacific Northwest) Wooden Whorl - finished detail -1960s Chair and mixed media 29 x 29 x 29

The skeletal structure of these chairs, called Solaire chairs, were manufactured during the 1960s and 1980s. Art in their own day, these particular ones were unusable; in poor condition they were bound for the landfill sight. Originals designed by Fabiano and Panzini, a French Canadian team, the Solaire chairs are now collectors items, some selling for $500 a piece.

The first chair given a facelift produced a large replica of a Mayan bowl. The Mayan culture (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and parts of Honduras, 900 B.C. – 900 A.D. Common Era)  developed a very complex written language using pictographs. Many of these were facial expressions and hand gestures. The bowl displays the birth of the Maize God, and along the top edge the name of the bowl’s owner is written, as well as possibly what it was used for.

Salish Carved Wood Whorl 

Eve Spinning, 1170 A.D. Illuminated manuscript from the Hunterian Psalter (book of Psalms)Whorls are weights that stabilize spindles used for spinning yarn. The yarn in this case would have been wound just above the whorl. Spinning yarn and weaving fabric are some of humankind’s oldest technology. Left: example of a spindle with whorl,  Eve Spinning Illuminated Manuscript c. 1170 A.D.

Historically everywhere wood has been used for tools, utensils and everyday items, Salish Pacific Northwestern Native Wooden for spinning yarnthey were often carved. This spindle whorl was used by a Salish Northwest Pacific coast community living south and east of Vancouver Island. Here a central human figure holds two otters. A Kwakiutl (also living in Vancouver Island territory) prayer to a Cedar tree prayer was very much a part of the inspiration for this chair. It reads: “Look at me friend! I come to ask you for your dress, since there is nothing you cannot be used for. I come to beg you for this, Long-life maker”.

Salish Wooden Whorl Chair - carving some edges of the design in set plaster to inlay paint

December 18th: Finishing details, further definition with Acrylics and two coats of varathane, waxed. Decided against the decoupage of the Kwakiutl (also living in Vancouver Island territory) prayer to a Cedar tree because it does not look as good as hoped. December 16th: Carved the plaster in areas then inlaying purple for contrast rather than black. Purple glazes also make yellows much richer. Salish Wooden Whorl Chair - rubbing off paint to create carved effects. Finished chair is varathaned then waxed. Right: back of chair, rubbed off areas give a carved effect. The undercoat of yellows shines through succeeding layers, and carved wood textures are created with varathane leaving raised brushstrokes..and trying whatever else I can think of! More modeling with plaster and light sanding, then redrawing with graphite, and the design is continually adjusted.

New chair started: Salish Wooden Whorl

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

1960's plastic lawn chair, woven canvas strips, glue, plaster

Graphite rough sketch on plasterThis functional replica of a Salish Carved Wood Whorl  re-utilizes a 1960′s plastic lawn chair, 29 x 29 x 29 inches that was considered Art in its own day. The refurbished chair has woven canvas strips and white glue applied paper-mache style over the entire plastic top and bottom. Multiple layers of wall plaster are sanded in between coats. The design is sketched with graphite then painted with acrylics, and drawing is continually adjusted as layering of materials continues.

First coats of Acrylics paint and texturizing with varnish Layering more plaster then redrawing and adjusting the design

This is the second chair of four in the historic Art-themed series. The other two chairs are in the earlier stages of progress.

Going for the magic every hour

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Magic Hour, top detail of 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on canvas. Phase 7, going for the magic!Great moments in painting - the addictive kind – are when you completely lose yourself in the work and time is non-existent. I’ve had a good week with this one, partly because of struggles overcoming the habit of trying to control the outcome. Things happen in every painting that are not planned, and the endless choices are part of the fun.

At this phase some solid strokes need softening again; finding a balance between the two. The lighting is the biggest challenge so far, plus making a subtle transition in style from top to bottom and foreground to back that will bring our attention back to the top half of the painting. Now, how do I go about doing that I wondered, I only have a hunch. After adding mid-tones a couple of days ago there were second thoughts about Magic Hour, bottom detail of 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on canvas. Phase 7, going for the magic!doing so, because the whole painting became dull and flat, entirely not what I wanted it to be. Briefly discouraged, I thought this painting would join the I-don’t-know-what to-do-next pile. When unsure I look for answers in the very basics, like concentrating on what I do know for sure, rather than what I don’t. 

I do know for sure want the glow of magic, so yesterday took a leap into the darkness with pure colors straight from the tube. There’s a huge sense of freedom trying something out – and ironically the more afraid you are the better it is. It’s the intermittent periods of doubt that spur determination to conquer issues and at the same time entice you to quit!

Magic Hour, top detail of 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on canvas. Phase 7, going for the magic!Painting is considered to be a two dimensional undertaking, but it’s so much more. While lost in the work process we explore all the dimensions of the subject plus the deeper dimensions of ourselves. While painting we discover our convictions and the means to ask how far are we willing to go to stand up for them.  Work every day is about continually reevaluating decisions, taking responsibility for choices made, being honest about mistakes, shortcomings and limitations of media and self, and digging deep to find technical and intuitive solutions. It’s about control of all those elements combined with easing up on trying to control too much. All this and more translates onto a flat surface as we hope to give the illusion of depth…if that isn’t magic I don’t know what is!

Links to the progress of this painting on this blog: Started July 17, 2008,  progress and specific information  about this totem pole in the July 24th post.

Post-dated Note: When choosing this totem pole that is erected in Thunderbird Park at the RBC Museum in Victoria I didn’t realize that it’s the same one that Emily Carr painted in 1928. More magic! Here is a link to more information about this totem, the Gitxsan Pole moved from Gitanyow (formerly Kitwankool) B.C. Also on the July 24th post

The work process

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

                  Magic Hour, top detail, 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on canvas. Phase 6, work in progress

                  Magic Hour, bottom detail, 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on canvas. Phase 6, work in progress

Started July 17th, I’ve tried various ways to have our eyes sweep up to the top half, like creating an abstract of wide brushstrokes of dark and light, plus scrubbing areas away that almost hide the bottom characters. It’s covered up since with more paint, but I may return to that idea when the proportions are corrected.

A camera captures all the details, but when we look at something our eyes focus only on one area at a time. In a photo, with the bottom portion of the totem clear it makes sense, but not in the painting. Most of the detail will be toward the top of the statue, but the bottom deserves as much attention, just of a different kind. The colors are starting to come together in a way that will imply light from the sunset and moon glow coming from opposite directions.

A word here about Artists’ appropriation of First nations or any other cultural/historic works: subjects are painted with due honor and respect, with purpose to study and draw interest to the importance of appreciating our multi-cultural world and the unique characteristics of each and every culture…this is what Artists do. Our differences as cultures are reconnected, as there are many common traits and themes expressed through Art through all of time, everywhere.

Robert Genn and readers of The Painters’ Keys have some very interesting comments all around the board about this topic.

Magic Hour, progress

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

                  Magic Hour, top detail, 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on wrapped canvas. Phase 5, work in progress

Magic Hour detail image, top half of 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on canvas. I decided not to lighten the background after all — am leaving the background as is with loose brushwork in contrast to the totem pole which will be much clearer. To achieve the weathered look I’m using a dishwashing scratch pad to remove some of the paint. Work in progress.

Magic Hour – work in progress

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Magic Hour - 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on wrapped canvas. Phase 4, work in progress.Art history is human history. What we call Art is the expression of individuals finding connection with our humanity; who are we? How do we respond to our surroundings and who are we in relation the things we depend on for survival? Standing in front of the Totems I realized that the answers we sought long, long ago are the same, and the things we love now are the same things people have always loved. As Artists and Art Viewers we’ll never  Museumventure far from subjects that speak to the heart.   

The originals of all the totem poles erected in Thunderbird Park on the grounds of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, Canada are now protected from the effects of weather inside the museum. The totem portrayed in this painting is a replica of the Gitxsan Pole that was moved in 1958 from Kitwankool, BC. This version of the pole is named Skim-sim and Will-a-daugh, belonging to Chief Wiha (Wee-kha, Ernest Smith), the chief of the Wolf Clan: only the top 3/4 of the totem is portrayed. Due to deterioration caused by weather, the originals of all the totems in Thunderbird Park are now erected inside the museum and are replaced with replicas carved by Mungo Martin, chief carver, Henry, Tony and Richard Hunt (this one 1960).

Symbols/crests: The bird at the crown is a giant woodpecker (wee-get-welku). Legend reads that a female ancestor kept a pet woodpecker, feeding it so much it grew to be a giant monster that ate everything made of wood until it was killed. It sits atop 5 human figures who stand on the head of the Mountain Eagle (Skim-sim),  who kidnapped and mated with a woman then devoured their offspring. The eleven small figures are humans fishing through holes in the ice. Under them and not pictured in the painting is Will-a-daugh, also known as “Person With a Large Nose”, holding her child who was conceived from a wood grub.


Magic Hour - one of the Haida totems downtown Victoria, B.C., Canada, 60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on wrapped canvas. Phase 3, work in progress..

July 19th: Magic Hour -  60 x 40 x 3 inches Acrylics on wrapped canvas. Phase 3, work in progress.

Magic Hour

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

                                  Magic Hour , one of the Haida totems downtown Victoria, B.C., Canada, 60 x 40 x 3 Acrylics on wrapped canvas. Phase 2, work in progress.

Magic Hour, the top half of the magnificent Gitxsan Totem pole in Thunderbird Park near the Inner Harbor downtown Victoria, B.C. 60 x 40 x 3 Acrylics on wrapped canvas. Phase 2, work in progress.

The drawing is sketched with Alizarine Crimson and Red Oxide base. We were there a week ago just as the sun set, shining light on the right side of the totems and rising moon light lit the left side. I changed the tree silhouette to a typical B.C. horizon of tall Red Cedar, whereas the trees in that park are Maples.

« Previous Entries