Late yesterday afternoon and then again all last night a terrific storm passed through this island. Helpless boats tramped at their moorings and became swamped. The Alexander Mackenzie bashed heavily against the skimpy dock. Fortunately I was able to beach her and get her pulled above the highest tide.
The barometer had dropped hard. There was a black cloud swelling out from the north. Emily the Airedale had been acting strangely. The morning’s painting had been peaceful pools and tranquil reflections. Then the storm took center stage. It’s what happens to things that makes them interesting: Trees writhing like dervishes. White crested waves surrendering their tops. A tug and her barges gamboling by at twice her speed — barely able to keep ahead of her rope.
The search for effective art is often merely the search for the adjectives that we can put to our nouns: blown seascape, driven rain, fallen giants, frowning clouds, rolling grass, trembling leaves, escaping crows. We all claim our own. Some of these combinations are commonplace; some are unique and specific. On other days there may be playful children, wizened characters, dedicated hunters, speeding skiers, delicate dancers. In the roulette-wheel of world and mind there can also be tortured memories, shocking dreams, troublesome fears or personal angst. In the art business there are no restrictions and we are but the conveyors of the more valuable emotions. In life and art a passing storm helps to spin the wheel.
Back in the woodland cabin my wet clothes are drying around a spanking hearth. In the distance I can hear a neighbor bucking and clearing the alders that fell across our roadway during the night. A few people are moving around the island, picking up the pieces. Sweet sunshine.
PS: “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reasons for staying ashore.” (Vincent van Gogh)
Esoterica: At times like this it’s good to trust the skies. John Constable said there was a lifetime in them. While they are plastic and moldable, they can be loaded with anticipation, fear and anxiety. And everything below a horizon line is infected with their moods.
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
by Brent Schudder, Germany
The old habit of always referring to a horizon has given way to the use of an obscured one or one that is above or below the border of the picture. Abstract and other modern forms need only to imply one is there, if at all, and there is definitely no need to be hamstrung by this convention.
by Jan Faught, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
The quote about the fishermen from Vincent Van Gogh was wonderful. While talking to my father last night, he told me in so many words how foolish I am to still be going to school pursuing the art degree he discouraged me from getting when I was younger. He is panicked about growing feeble and old, being confronted by the old age and death of friends and family. He is eighty. His advice is to make money, and why would anyone choose art in that case. He pays for all of his grandchildren’s college so he values education — but for the purpose of making money. He is very creative and even though retired, creates a beautiful environment at his home. My family was doing OK until my husband was injured in an accident. Due to the accident, I was able to pursue my art, which gave us a nice place to live until he recuperated. Now, in my senior year at the U, I believe I can be an artist.
by Kathy Arnason, Willow Island, Manitoba, Canada
There are places where they say: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” It’s a virtual gallery; landscape, horizon, interspersed with personality, emotion, and the senses of people, habitat and vegetation. Oh the remembering of storms. The story of storms. The anticipation of a prairie storm coming across the lake or field. The waiting and watching, and then the storm. I have always wondered about the rainbows in children’s paintings.
by Graeme Shaw, Nanaimo, B.C., Canada
You mentioned that you were taking pictures as well as painting on that island. I have gone the route of going digital and using a clear high-resolution screen to present the images I paint. I hate the mess of slides and for the life of me I have never been able to really find an effective way to store them and then access them quickly. Now the folders in my Mac hold the stuff and I can flip through hundreds of images quickly. I also can alter things colour-wise just to see what might be a cool way to go with things. I am not underpainting these days. I wail whatever at the canvas, and paint without any drawing — just blast away at will.
by Beryl Bainbridge, Alberta, Canada
When driving up our road yesterday a wonderful surprise appeared fluttering ahead with unmistakable flashes of brilliant blue plumage. It was the uncommon sight of a mountain bluebird and seemed to be an omen of happiness…that’s how I interpreted it anyway. This bird might have been blown further to the East than usual by the winds of that violent storm which you described passing through your area. That turbulence certainly reached here. Your descriptions of the shoreline and salt air were tantalizing since it is only a couple of weeks since we were there to try to revive ourselves from this never-ending winter.
by Kendra Smith, Fernie, B.C., Canada
I have just been asked to paint 12 paintings for a calendar at a ski resort. The media company who asked me to do this will take care of the layout, computer design, and pay for the printing of the calendar and they will sell them. How much is a reasonable amount to charge for the use of 12 paintings in a calendar? Usually I charge $80 to $115 for an unframed 8×10 watercolour. Would I charge more or less for the right to reproduce the same painting? (I get to keep the originals which I will frame and be able to sell)
(RG note) A fair and acceptable amount to charge for the reproduction rights in this case would be 50% of the normal retail price of the work. If the image is going national or international (say to be used for a Pepsi campaign) the amount would be much higher. In all cases the artist ought to be open — there are no set percentages — based on how large the run, how prestigious the exposure and how much she wants to do it. It might sound nuts to some artists, but I like to err on the side of being a nice guy. There are times to give away your reproduction rights.
Wants to switch
by Evelyn Mason
I want to switch to acrylic but don’t know the first thing about using them. Just starting to paint again (known locally for sky-scapes) after being ill and the house smells awful and they take for ever to dry. Live in a rural area and no place to get information on how to (would settle for a Walter T Foster Book). Can you suggest a “how to” book and where it could be bought. Will buy some yogurt and start mixing and see what happens.
(RG note) Try The Acrylic Painter’s Book of Styles and Techniques by Rachel Wolf. Seven acrylic artists show their methods and the versatility of the medium. It’s one of North Light’s excellent publications.
Wants it to stay wet longer
by M Herbst, Kracow, Poland
I paint in oil and prefer working wet into wet. As I also have a job it is often several days before I can get back to the painting in progress and it is often too dry to continue in the spirit I had at the beginning. What do you recommend adding to the paint to lengthen the time I can still do wet into wet?
(RG note) You need a retarder. Within the brand you are using there may be a recommended product. Read the directions or get information as to percentages that the company recommends. Two popular oils that slow down drying are poppy seed oil and oil of cloves. If you are working with linseed, copal, or other media such as stand oil, do not exceed 20% by volume of either of these retarding oils. At the same time avoid siccatives such as Cobalt driers or Japan driers. I find that about 10% oil of cloves to 90% linseed oil ensures that the painting is wet and workable under normal circumstances for about four days. A friend of mine used to remove paint from the tubes and remix with retarding oils and put the concoction back into the tubes. (Open the tubes from the back if you try this.)
Storing oil paintings
by Angela Holmes
My question is regarding storage. My studio is dry, open and fairly dust free. Our group participated in this year’s Culture Crawl. I just recently had the chance to take down my show and was told a good way to preserve your paintings is to wrap them with wax paper. What do you think of that? Wouldn’t they “sweat?” Can you tell me how to keep and protect my finished product?
(RG note) Not such a good idea to wrap them in wax paper, Angela. Condensation and mold tend to collect in enclosed places. This is particularly unpleasant when it attacks the back (unprimed canvas) of the paintings. The ups and downs of humidity can cause oils to crack and do other damage. I suggest storing them vertically off the floor in airy racks and carefully spaced if you have the time and inclination. A sheet of corrugated cardboard is an adequate separator. Museum quality storage is difficult and expensive to attain. Suffice to keep your stored paintings away from radiators and forced-air registers. Vacuum the area regularly. Also, keep in mind that linseed oil — which is in most oil paints — darkens when left in dark places. The best place for canvasses is on someone else’s wall, I’ve found.
The following are a few more of the 400 or so entries that have come in since the contest was announced. They are not necessarily finalists in the “Free Painting Workshop in Brittany” contest. The contest is open until June 15, 2002.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 99 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.