Up until 2014 much of my artistic practice revolved around still life, urban scenes, floral and interiors. However at that point, my focus took a radical turn. I’ve turned into a devoted landscape painter because I learned to paint ‘en plein air’. For newbies, ‘plein air’ basically means painting outside from life. I began painting plein air by taking a workshop in Jasper from artist Liz Wiltzen. After that I was hooked.
I’d tried painting landscape from photos for years. But I never was able to achieve what I was hoping. My colours were always off and nothing I created felt ‘real’. I wrote the genre off, thinking I just wasn’t a landscape painter. Was I wrong. Once I began painting outside, away from photos, I could actually see the real colours I was trying to capture. And even better, I was part of that image – it was all around me. I could see, hear, taste, smell and feel everything. What a difference. Now I can’t imagine working exclusively from a photo because it’s far too limiting. Below are a few of my most recent plein air works – I hope you enjoy.
PS – If you’re an artist and would like to take a plein air workshop from me, visit my Workshops page. I have a class lined up for the end of July in Calgary. I hope you can join me.
I’m excited to share my newest project, ‘Road Trip 2015’, with you today. This year, I’m visiting and painting on location at 9 communities throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan and BC. The purpose? To explore the concept of creating meaning.
Meaning-making has a fluid, interconnected nature that fascinates me. A quote I found on my sister’s website – leewardclips.wordpress.com – speaks to this: “When you change the way you look at something; what you look at changes.” Deepak Chopra. And I’d add to that: when what you look at changes, it can further change the way you look at it… and so on. It’s never-ending and ever-changing. Love that.
I began this journey last month with visits to Vulcan, AB and Eastend, SK. The biggest insight I came away from these two trips was: Finding and sharing what has meaning to you, helps create meaning for others.
Vulcan, Alberta In Vulcan, I was invited to teach a workshop on Streetscapes to the ‘Nine in a Line’ Creative Art Society. Their studio (the Vulcan Art Studio) is located in the gorgeous Healy Heritage Art Center. The center is also home to Caelo, a haven of mouth-watering baking and home cooking owned and run by Kellie & Terry Hartle. (My painting above, ‘Best Seats in the House’ are of a cozy spot in Caelo.) Kellie has made Caelo a special gathering place. Her interior design skill has touched every corner; there are even ‘reader’ glasses of various strengths artfully placed for patrons to enjoy, so they can read while enjoying their meal. And at the end of my visit, Kellie packed up a date bar and banana loaf for my travels. I tried to make them last. But they were so heavenly, I gobbled both down in record time. After that luscious first bite, they didn’t stand a chance. Thank you Kellie! I can’t wait to visit again.
In Eastend, I was joined by fellow artist and Gallerist, Arlene Westen Evans. Arlene owns Evanescence Gallery in High River. We laughed, talked and painted for an entire week at the historic ‘Eaton’s House’. Eaton’s homes, were mail-ordered through the Eaton’s catalogue – piece by piece! Then they were built on the owner’s site. This particular one, is one of the last remaining in Alberta, and is now a guesthouse. Located at the Riverside Motel, it is run by Ed and Wendy Sanford. Ed and fellow Eastend resident, Steve Garamzeghy renovated it into a stunning character home. It was an artists’ dream to paint and stay at. On rainy days, I painted many interiors of the space. Below are two of my paintings from this trip:
I’ll be painting lots more from all my trips throughout the coming year. I’ve also submitted the project for consideration as an exhibition to one gallery, and possibly more as I continue.
For the upcoming month, I’m planning two more trips. I’m off to Jasper, then to Blairmore. I’ll be posting what I learn and paint during those trips, in a month or so. Hope to see you back again. Take care, Cheryl.
Evening Calls was a great learning opportunity for me. It taught me how repetition can enable us to learn about more about our capacity for creativity. And it taught me not to judge my ‘failures’ too harshly, because they’re usually what provide me the opportunity for my successes.
I began this piece long before I actually started painting on this particular canvas. It began with my usual value sketch. Just a small 2″x3″ pencil sketch in my artist’s journal. And then, again as I usually do, I painted a small 2″x3″ color sketch of it. I decided to work this piece in a small format – just 7″x9″ on another canvas. After I finished it though, I just wasn’t that pleased with the result. It was a lovely enough painting I guess. But it just didn’t glow like I remembered the scene looked that evening.
Now, my typical working style is that I only paint one version of most of my references. In the 15+ years I’ve been painting I’ve found that a second attempt is rarely as successful as the first. I know a lot of artists regularly paint a study, often on location (ie ‘plein air’) and then a second piece in their studio.
I always found though that trying to create a studio version of a study was terribly unsettling. I could never recreate the feeling I had of discovering all the wonderful moments in the painting the second time, as I’d experienced painting the first canvas. The feeling of creating a second piece was never as spontaneous or fresh as the first. Also, perhaps worse, my perfectionistic and critical dialogue would spin in my head, pointing out all the places that didn’t look ‘the same’ as the study. I typically found it to be a frustrating and self-defeating exercise, and would rarely come out with a better piece anyways. And so I decided that this must just not be ‘my style of working’ and gave up on the idea of being able to create two, enjoyable painting experiences and as a result two uniquely lovely paintings, from the same reference.
However, this time was a little different. I’d put the original away for a few weeks; didn’t really think much of it afterwards short of feeling a little disappointed in it. However this time I’d scheduled to do a painting demonstration at Galleria in Inglewood shortly afterwards. I’d had a reference in mind that I wanted to paint, but for some reason that morning, I woke up not feeling like working on it that day. As I was preparing my supplies to leave I quickly changed my mind deciding to give my Glenbow study a second attempt. The result of my demonstration that day is the 11″x14″ canvas above named ‘Evening Calls’.
What a thrill! I actually was able to create a second painting that was (in my humble opinion), even better than the first! And the process was just as enjoyable – perhaps even more. I’d finally overcome my own roadblock. It enabled me to see that no matter how used to a working process we may get, we can always step out of it and end up with a great result. Sometimes it just takes time. Maybe sometimes it’s that the right time for us to learn something new hasn’t happened yet. I don’t really know how it all works I guess. And maybe sometimes it’s ok to not know. Sometimes it’s just about accepting yourself and the way you work each moment. And knowing that when it’s time to find a new way it will call to you itself, and show you the way.
This is another reason why I paint. Thanks so much for reading and for allowing me to share my thoughts and feelings with you about creativity and art. Happy day. Cheryl.
The River and the Trees
9″x12″ Framed Oil on Canvas
at Fish Creek Park, Calgary Alberta
Sometimes I find that music can inspire the direction for my paintings. This lyrics from the song ‘Your Friend Shall be the Tall Wind’ (Fannie Stearns Davis & Sherri Porterfield) inspired the direction for this painting. I completed both a value and color study, however I decided to add a bit more light into the final studio piece, as the studies reflected how cloudy it was that afternoon.
Your friend shall be the tall wind,
The river and the tree;
The sun that laughs and marches,
The swallows and the sea.’
I painted ‘On the Rocks’ primarily plein air, while on a painting workshop instructed by Karen Swearengen. We were located in Fish Creek Park, in Calgary, near the southwest edge of the park. The day started off very cloudy and chilly, with soft, diffused lighting. This is one of the perils of plein air painting – you sometimes have to take the bad with the good! But on this day, we were in for a treat. Within an hour or two, that chilly wind began to chase the clouds away and we ended up in full sun! Although this bit of luck warmed our fingers, it radically changed the lighting and shadow patterns in the scenery we were painting. This is a common problem when plein air painting.
Quickly changing weather and lighting effects is one of the reason why it is so important to work on smaller canvasses, and to make decisions quickly. One would think then, that the best strategy is to get paint on canvas as fast as you can, but a step or two beforehand can not only help you work faster once you are ready to paint, but will also help you achieve greater results.
There are two steps that I’ve found to be most helpful, and both of these steps have been taught to me by Karen. First, prepare a ‘value sketch’. When I began creating art, I would agonize over these sketches. I’d painstakingly render every little detail and it would take me hours. A better approach is to allow yourself anywhere from 5-10 minutes to compose a couple of small sketches – nothing bigger than 2″x3″ – and limit yourself to between 3 and 5 different values. Remember the point here is just to establish value; if you can start recognizing ‘objects’ in your sketch – stop! You’ve gone to far. Keep creating different sketches until you’re happy with your composition.
Next comes a color study. Yes I’m guilty of skipping this step, but I find that my results suffer when I do. This again, is small! Maybe 2″x3″ – that’s it! Don’t think you have to paint a whole piece before you can begin painting the actual canvas you’d intended to work on in the first place! You’re just establishing the color composition of your piece here, to begin rendering those light and shadow patterns in color.
With your value sketch and color study complete, begin your canvas. Don’t forget about your value sketch and color study! In them, you’ve made all the tough decisions already. Put them to work in your final canvas! Work briskly, but try not to rush; the more thick paint you lay down quickly, the more difficult it can be to go in and rework if necessary. Work assertively; don’t be afraid of your canvas – more paintings are ruined by timidness, than by confidence. And finally, work with a clear mind; don’t overthink it, just let your intuition lead the way and enjoy yourself. Thanks for reading. CP