Canuck Iconography

"Blackcomb Mountain" 18 X 24" Oil on canvas.
SOLD to DHW for $500, before the paint was even dry.

I think I may end up famous for my ability to capture early evening light. This one is not too bad. Maybe a little too paint-by-numbers, but time will tell. I may have lost sight of my overall intention, but it is a good piece, for sure. A very challenging piece, but painted with a certain amount of bravado.

"Beached Logs, Harrison Lake" 18 X 24" Oil on Canvas.
This one was crazy hard, but I did pull it off. Have had some good comments on it already. I know people will think of Emily Carr, but it was me who found this one, and I have a photo to prove it! It is a matter of what is emblematic around here, so there will be some overlap by default. Harrison Lake is, of course, not the Coast, but there is something about it that suggests the coast. the fact that the lake has seals reinforces that impression.

I had to beat the sky into submission, but I think I am almost happy with it now.

Finishing these two was all the painting I did this weekend, but I am glad to have them done.

New Studio Furniture

Not willing to spend $100+ on an over-engineered easel at Opus, I decided to make one.

Most commercial easels need two hands to raise and lower the sliders, which means that I have to put my brushes and palette down, which is a pain. Even the ones that you can use one hand on do not work that well. Mose are not very solid and all have limitations. I also wanted an easel to lean against the wall, and everything I have ever seen is free-standing. I don't want a freestanding easel, because it takes up too much room in my flat, and is a pain to transport when I move.

So, being a DIY kinda guy.....

I was walking to the Hardware store though Fernwood yesterday, and got talking to a chap who was doing some renos. The weathered cedar came from him--free! So my studio has some good neighbourhood cred now. Thanks Dave.

I had some other bits lying around. The bicycle seatpost quick-releases as the tighteners on the sliders are a stoke of genius! Thanks to North Park Bike shop for those. I have tested it already, and this system works better than ANYTHING out there! There is a tiny bit of bounce in the thing when I am really going at it. I will reinforce the 1 x4 uprights when I get the chance. But the main problem of 1-hand adjustability has been solved.

Also, when I am pounding on some paint on the far edges of a 20 X24" canvas, I don't end up with the whole deal in my lap.

All good things for $35.


Sunsets and Coffee Cups

Well, here are two pictures painted with low autumn evening light. One took me 5 sessions and about 15 hours, the other only 2 sessions and about 6 hours. Can you guess which is which?

"Sunset, Willows Beach" 14 X 18" Really Fresh Oil on Canvas.
I started this last night, and finished it today, so no overpainting. I am happy that I am becoming more comfortable with my 3-colour system and finding myself more and more able to handle grays and rich dark areas. 10 years ago I would have never taken this on. I like this little peice. Sometimes, instead of getting all uptight over a larger, carefully planned canvas, I get the best results by just getting in there and slapping it on! I may not retouch this one, even if it needs it.

"Mt. Doug from Hillside". 16 X 20" Oil on Canvas, natch.
I like the intensity in this baby. Like a long blues riff in colour. I did listen to a lot of blues painting this one. I got the light down, and it has a feeling of air. The structure is great, and kinda Cezannesque. I resist atmospheric perspective, but do create a bit of depth through overlapping planes and intersecting horizontal and verticle lines, as in Cezanne. I love the painterlyness of this one and the sometimes illogical bits, like the tree in the forground. Particularily like the bits on the far left. Colour nuances, dry overpainting, vibrations. The horizontal line is a powerline, not a shoreline, as it may look. I did add that little green tree to offset this impression a bit.

Most of all, I like the abstract quality of this peice, and the sheer joy of painting this one (although the final touches were nerve-wracking). It is painted over an underdrawing of a still-life that I bailed on. You can see some of the lines still in the yellow poplar trees. If you have a good monitor, you will be able to see the true intensity of these colours. Or, better yet, come over some time.

"Small Single Americano" Pencil on Paper.
It was cold by the time I got around to drinking it :)

Be kind to other people.


Recent Drawings

A bit discouraged with the painting at the moment. No biggy, just a lack of creative energy. Things are going good in that department, but not as fast as I'd like. Got a big one of Harry Lake, and almost finished a bright 16 X 20 of Mt. Doug from my window, replete with fall colours and all.

But for now, here are some of my most recent drawings. Yes, Caroline, this post is for you :)

"Portrait of J.S.S." Oil on Canvas. 11 X 14" Unfortunately now covered by paint. Spot on the way it was. Why did I not just leave it like that!? Aaargh.

"Self-Portrait" Pencil on bleached tree fibre stuff. 8.5 X 11" My eyes are too large and close together, but this is a pretty good attempt at a self portrait. I just sat down and drew it. It would have been better if I had drawn from life rather than a photo. Life is always better, if the image is static. But the distortion, glasses and tie makes me look like some kind of severe modernist dude. Which I'm not, but I don't mind the emotion of this drawing. And I am proud of the fact that I do know how to tie a Half Windsor (Half Nelson?)

"Rooflines, Hillside" 8.5 X 11" Westall St., on my secret back route to the Mall. Sitting on the curb across the street, looking down somebody's driveway. the chimneys are to scale and in proportion. I have been looking at this one for awhile out of the corner of my eye. I hope I will be doing more like this, and paintings, too. I have been in Victoria for 4 1/2 years now, and am only just starting to see it.

"Coffee Shop Dog" 8.5 X 11" This critter and his twin where hanging out with their owner and entertaining some ladies outside Bean Around the World on Fisgard St. one Sunday. Size of small ponies. I managed to get the shaggy, goofy essence of this one down in about 30 seconds.

"Chess Pieces" 8.5 X 11" Craig, if you are reading this, you gotta know I was thinking of you the whole time!

I think you'll agree that the knight looks rather more an alpaca than a horse.....

Some exciting news today: I am entering a painting in a group show in Fernwood next month. I guy I spoke to in August called me up out of the blue. Has me pencilled in for a full-blown solo show in July. Good times.



Painting with Intention

"Rising Cloud, Harrison Lake" 18 X 24" Oil on Canvas

Chromatically, this newest piece demonstrates the versatility of my 3 colour system. Yup, the same 3 colours as before!

But there is lots going on in this one with composition, and I finally was able to scratch an itch on a tight and structured layout without getting too uptight about it. I shot the photo from a kayak, on the backside of a little island out in Harrison Lake. I saw the painting before I hit the shutter.

I wanted to convey the exhilaration, joy and awe I felt in the face of this. The gate of heaven is everywhere, as Thomas Merton said, and at times like this, I think it swings ajar a bit. I have always considered the act of painting to be an act of worship. This time, it felt like High Mass.

So obviously, I needed to summon just about every tool at my disposal to project this to the viewer. Here is some of what I did intentionally, using some very strong hints from Nature.

So I basically started of with the time-tested grid of thirds, and the center stabilising pyramid. Guys have been using this since at least the Renaissance. So nothing new there. I wanted to lay a strong foundation.

You all know that Cezanne rocks my cage, and that I have been wanting to get at his knack for structure a little more closely, so this was the perfect excuse to establish a strong grid of repeating diagonals, creating rhythm, unity and a lively internal dynamic. painting and music have a lot in common, and I am not the first one to think so! I really did not have to manipulate the image very much to do achieve this.

Movement is really important here, too, because the cloud is rising off the mountain. But I wanted the painting to ascend in every aspect. The verticality of the trees emphasizes that of course, but they are static. Again, nothing new here, but I do not always get to apply all I know. Notably, this technique was used by van Gogh in his later stuff, and from him, Emily Carr, but I wanted to use more subtly, rather than it being the dominating thing.

Kinda like boiling water, this internal movement.

In fact, I tried to instinctively create some upward compression with curved lines in this piece too. The top and bottom of the "boiler", as it were.

I have also been interested in the way, in photos at least, the sky-colour seems to bleed into edges of things--especially shadow areas in tree tops. For this painting, I drew the trees in as usual, but then painted the sky-colour in further than I normally would, past where I wanted the masses of the trees. Then I used pure Manganese blue, straight out of the tube to paint over the dried sky-colour on the shadow sides. This blue is translucent in its unmixed form, so I effectively created a glaze in the shadow areas of the trees where they meet the sky. It worked well, I think. Although I wouldn't mind not being so freakin' versatile and clever in deference to developing an homogeneous style, it is good to impress myself one in a while with these little innovations :) I am very interested to continue these explorations in perception. I really feel like I am getting some work done then. Visual research, yeah.

But the biggest buzz of this piece for me was that I was totally in the zone for almost the entire thing. I really, really enjoyed seeing this one come off the brush. Yes, sometimes I forgot to eat--and sleep!

All I Can't Leave Behind

Sometimes I have to make a hard professional call. I figure about 1 in 5 paintings end up in the tip because of some inability to realize my original emotion, or my dissatisfaction with the composition, paint surface or something else. The photo above is probably the worse piture I have painted in a while, and I was incredibly frustrated with it. It will certainly be the worst painting I post on this blog, and I'm only doing so to illustrate a point. I totally stuffed up the island on the left, and after much fiddling with the sky and background, I decided to call it.

But it wasn't all bad. On the right side I think I actually managed to paint the squally rain-and-sun effects of September on Harrison Lake. My first attempt at painting actual weather, anyway. So I got out the ol' utility knife.....

"Squally Weather, Harrison Lake" 11 X 14" Oil on Canvas
I cut it out, slapped a panel on the back, trimmed it, touched up the sky and added my signature, and Tom's my uncle.

The difference between an amateur artist and a professional is that a professional know just how brutally honest he needs to be with himself. Like the Welsh Poet, RS Thomas said about poerty, it is "an essay in applied criticism". The stricter a critic you are of your own work, the better you will paint. 'Nuf said.


CanLit at the Uni

I went with a beautiful woman tonight to the second of the Massey Lectures, hosted by Paul Kennedy of CBC Radio 1's Ideas, my second favorite radio show next to Randy's Vinyl Tap and The Debaters. Well, some days it really is my #1 favourite show.

What was especially cool is that we wanted to see an exhibit honouring Robin and Sylvia Skelton "The Hold of Our Hands" at the Maltwood Gallery at UVic.

Well, well. There was a supposedly Private Function on, but we went in anyway. And we got to meet Paul Kennedy, the host of Ideas, himself. S. introduced me to Lorna Crozier. Parick Lane was there, too, but I didn't say hi.

The lecture, by Alberto Manguel, was great, and it was a really memorable evening all around :)

Pretty cool.


The Deaf Canvas Listens

"...one day something happens, the touches seem to 'take', the deaf canvas listens, your words flow and you have done something."--Walter Sickert.

"I wish we could open our eyes to see in all directions at the same time.
Oh what a beautiful view, if you were never aware of what was around you.
And it is true what you said: that I live like a hermit in my own head,
But when the sun shines again, I'll pull the curtains and blinds to let the light in."
--Death Cab for Cutie (Ben Gibbard), Marching Bands of Manhattan

"[Monet] has painted the gleaming iris of the earth. He has painted water.... But now we must give a firmness, a framework, to the evanescence of all things, and to these pictures by Monet."
--Paul Cezanne


Globalisation and the Commodification of Spirituality

There. Had to start the newest post with a pompous title :) I have been getting some painting in the cracks between trying to work, travelling for work, and taking some holidays.

"Christchurch Cathedral" 18 X 24" Oil on Canvas.
Well, I keep trying to stretch myself--and succeeding. I think I have got the light down.... Lots to like about this piece, I think. And I have finally overcome my fear of greys. Still only 3 colours, baby!

I leaned the thing a little to the left to give the solid, monumental edifice a touch of the precarious. Yup--maybe a social commentary (I'll leave it to you to unpack. Hint: the dumpster also has something to do with it as well.) But the lean to the left also makes for a bit of drama.

Seems as though I can't paint a bad sky, although painting a luminous overcast sky is not as easy as it looks! So I resorted to pointillism. I have also been trying to capture an effect of the light of the sky and how it wraps and bleeds around the edges that meet it. Very happy with the sky-edges in the trees on both sides.

There is actually a strong sunbeam coming from the right of the picture--this is in the photo as well. A chink in the bottom of the cloud, I guess. I took this photo about this time last year.

The focal-point is the street-light on "yield", but it is held in diagonal tension by the yellow tree areas on either side.

I'm really starting to hit a stride with various paint-handling techniques. I may post details of several areas of this piece. You might not be able to see the thick-thin treatments, and the various rubbing/ grinding/ touching/ wiping/ slashing/ feathering of the paint that went on here. This is pointing away from an homogeneous style, in the manner of Monet or Cezanne. But maybe that is my style--a flexible emotion shorthand. We'll see.

And no, I was not inspired by Monet's Rouen Cathedral paintings--which are brilliant, but still look to me as if they are assembled out of multi-colour granola. I like granola.

The underpainting helps to see the subtle interplay of diagonals. I spent about 4 hours on the drawing, and laid it out with a straight-edge. I need to do some more work in front of the live model. Even the Old Masters knew (especially the Old Masters), that drawing naked people helps you paint churches--and everything else in the world.

And now for globalization.....

"Freighter" 14 X 18" Oil on the Usual Stuff.
A fresh little piece, wiped on in an hour. 3 colours again, if you needed to know! This piece always gives me a jolt of delight when it catches the corner of my eye. The tones are spot-on. Shot the pic from the ferry. Simple, dramatic, solid composition. Kinda de Stael, kinda Group of 7.

That creamy orange in the sky and water is actually the ground. Mixed up a big barrel of it--it brings out my famous blues :)

OK, up next--a lily-pond. (automatic associations with Monet again--I can't escape!) And maybe a painting of Harrison Lake. I'll let you all know.

Be Blessed All,


New Drawings

Here are some of my newest drawings, scanned straight outa the ol' Moleskine.

I draw like I paint, in my own quirky style, but rooted in reality. All these are drawn directly from life.

"Mt. Doug seen from Summit Park" 7.25 X 9.75"Pencil on Paper.

"Jaye Knitting" 7.25 X 9.75" Pencil on Paper.

"Reclining Nude 2" 7.25 X 9.75" Pencil on Paper.

"Limes and Salt" 7.25 X 9.75" Pencil on Paper.

End of Summer--Almost

Great time with my little sister , Peanut, who came out for a couple of days from AB. It was good to get out with her on bicycles, and share some of the sites around this town.

I did this accidental self-portrait that is kind of arty. Here are a few more good pix from the week, and our official mascot, Burdock.


Best of the Old Stuff

For those of you who have not seen my older work, here is the best of it. I'll be getting a professional photographer to do these up right soon. I have to colour down now, but the focus needs work.

This period is still the high watermark in my work. Although I did not paint a lot, I made every picture count. I had no money--the canvas is primed thinly with household latex, on whatever scraps of canvas I had. Crazy dimensions, paint put on with absolute love, delicacy and precision.

I'm moving on to bigger work, more diversity, and experimentation. But this period taught me how to see the world with eyes truly my own. The one of the boats started the whole thing. It is still an inspiration, and has a place of honour in my studio.


"Small Boats--Conway Harbour" 1996. 18.125 X 12.75" Oil on canvas.

Still the huge little canvas when I painted it. How did I do this?? Somebody please tell me! If anyone wants this, well, I need the downpayment on an apartment.....

"Corner of a Sunset" 1996. 7.25 X 16" Oil on Canvas.

-15C. The hill across the highway from my trailer. No money, on welfare, walking home from town. I saw this, then went inside and painted it.

"Cattle Country--Wolf Ranch" 1997, 12.5" X 11.125. Oil on canvas.

This one and the next two were painted from photos I took on a bike blast up to Kamloops and back.

"South Thompson Country" 1997 14.5 X 11.25" Oil on Canvas.

If you squint at the sky in this one, the clouds start to move.... I stopped before finishing the weeds in the foreground. Perfect. This gave me the idea of leaving the foreground out of focus, which I have been using a lot in my most recent stuff.

"Hay and Sky" 1997. 15.5 X 17.5" Oil on canvas.

"Corner Field--Winter 2000" 2000. 8.375 X 15.5"

Oil on canvas. The same field as below, but in winter. Sat outside in the wind and melting snow by the corner of the garden to paint this one.

"Oats and Cloud" 2001. 12.125 X 14.5" Oil on canvas.

Dad had the field reaped the next day or two--I just got it in time. I think I painted this form a photo, but I can't remember.....

"First Cut" 2001. 10 X 13.5"

Sat in the driveway that summer morning with the smell of fresh-cut hay all around me. Lots of pink in this one from the glare, but it is a deliberate device, too. the old Massey bale-wagon on the left. I got the silvery, silky-ness of the knocked-down grass dialled.

I am unofficially changing my name to Nicholas Williams. My "nom de painture". Hopefully this will save all future explanations about the discrepancies between my given name and my signature. Since it is actually the same name, and I need to "brand" myself ;) I'm taking this step. I'll have business cards printed shortly. Lots of my poet friends call themselves what they want (Radar, Strong Cottonwoods, etc., so fair is fair. If you want the full explanation, go here.

OK, now I am going to go paint some more. Next up--some of my best drawings.



I Could Have Told You That.

Honestly, does this look like a van Gogh?! The treatment of the eyes and nose is very uncharacteristic, I think.

This painting looks like a crazed Gordie Lightfoot or something. It's good, and muddy and kinda van Gogh-esque, but, it's just not him.

I had the opportunity to see 3 van Gogh's in Vancouver this last weekend, as part of the "Monet to Dali" show. It was really good--there were two pieces there I had not seen before. Same goes for the 3 Cezannes. I looked at "The Brook" for a good 1/2 hour.

Got into a life drawing class night before last, and have been doing a lot of drawing generally.

Stay tuned,


Some New Stuff

"Christchurch Cathedral from Vancouver Street" 14 X 18" Oil on Canvas.

L-l-love this little piece. 3 colours, baby, and all the mixes are spot-on. Love those coppery greeny-oranges, dark turquoises and strange purply pinks. Yeow! OK, I think the paint-quality could be a little bit tighter. But I did this one in a single shot, with a little bit of retouching, but not much. tho only thing I should not have done is put that white in the foreground. Oh well. I do like to leave some bare canvas in the foreground.

Focus is a conscious consideration for me. I deliberately leave the corners and the foreground of some pieces unfocused/ unfinished. I am not a realist in the strictest sense, but I do this because I want the eye to not get hung up on those bits, but to be drawn into the picture, and stay there--hopefully for more than .003 nanoseconds ;)

I like the contrast of sharp and shallow diagonals, and the repetitions they create, and how the whites step into and then condense into the center.

The details of the tower are a bit sketchy, but it is not the focal point of the thing. Almost by accident, the two shadows on the background "rhyme". Nice. Art happens.

"Ruthie" 14 x 18" Oil on Canvas.

It even looks like her! I am happy with this one in that regard. My friend Ruth is visually impaired, so her face is is grayish, and there is a riot of colour around her as a matter of subtle symbolism. The composition is decent, and there is lots of overpainting that seems to work OK.

I'm not 100% happy with it, though. Ruth's likeness was a bit more accurate in the underpainting. As usual, I can muck it up a bit by putting paint on it. I painted the underdrawing and the face in two sessions. Ruth had a hard time sitting still the second time, though.... the corner of my desk and filing cabinet are not too worked up, and I have left Ruth's sleeve and hands deliberately unfinished. Like Hemingway said, the stuff you leave out is as important as what you keep in. Same applies to painting as to writing.

Ruthie looks a bit sad here, but she has a bright, sunny personality, in spite of ill health and personal tragedy. She's my hero, and this is meant to be a tribute to her.

08/20/07: The more I look at this piece the more I like it. Well done Nicholas (great cheers and hurrahs).