David Kearn, Mosaic one, 30"x30", Acrylic on canvas
Painters are always interested in how the eye sees things, how images resolve up close and at distance.
In this painting, I am creating “two images in one”: a pleasing abstract and at a distance, a self-portrait. Up close, I wanted it to look painted. Like a mosaic, the surface predominates, effectively overriding resolution of image. At a distance, it’s easy to see the image (try squinting to see what I mean) and once seen, as with most illusions, it then becomes more difficult to “not see”.
The work is actually a “portrait of a portrait” and is based on a pastel of mine from a few years ago. “Painting from paintings” is becoming a theme of mine. But more of that later.
David Kearn, self portrait (detail), pastel on blue Canson paper
David Kearn, detail from "Lanie", Oil on canvas
Colour changes everything. It takes paintings to giddy heights or sends them to the depths. With little in between.
A woodsman, after spending a few days with Tom Thomson, said that he would never see colour the same way again. And what portrait artist has ever regretted taking a risk with some underlying greens, blues and purples in skin tones?
Up close, colour invariably predominates and this also holds true at a distance. Pretend you’re looking at a Monet, up close – very close: you can see his brush-strokes (and brush-hairs too), lumps of paint, certainly, and perhaps also some forms and values (tho’ a little less evident), but it’s undeniably colour which asserts – you can’t miss it: a brilliant combination of subtlety, juxtaposition and vibrancy. Now, imagine walking to the back of that gallery, then right through the walls and beyond. It’s still his colour that you see: and as the image fades into a spec in the distance, it’s the last thing that you see. Monet’s colour.
Something clicked when I really started using colour: my paintings became those colours, whether bold, primary and solid, or just a hint to convey a feeling or alter an emphasis. Colour changes everything.
David Kearn, "Lanie", Oil on canvas
P.S.: I’m getting out my colour palette for a one-day workshop: Saturday, 4 May: The Mixing Palette and the Magic of Colour.
France and I have just finished our first series of “Break-a-Brush!” workshops.
Each one-day workshop took on something special of the character of our featured painter and in turn fed our combined creative energies. In the first workshop, we explored the legacy of Tom Thomson. Our second session, on Expressive Portraits, contrasted styles and characters of Fred Varley and Edwin Holgate, inspiring us all. Our last two sessions featured David Milne and Emily Carr respectively. They were both, at times, reclusive in their lives and their art. Each stayed true to their inspiration and at times, moved us deeply, as when France recited the Emily Carr poem:
Dear Mother Earth!
by: Emily Carr
I think I have always
specially belonged to you.
I have loved from babyhood
to roll upon you,
to lie with my face pressed
right down onto you,
in my sorrows.
I love the look of you
and the smell of you.
when I die, I should like
to be in you unconfined,
the petals of flowers
against my flesh and
you covering me up.
We’ve now created a picture gallery for each of the workshops, where you can take a look at some of the superb artwork, and artists! Check them out.
P.S. You can now find information on the next series of Break-a-Brush! workshops, which start on the 4th May, on my website: http://www.davidkearn.com/courses_e.htm
Have you tried using your “wrong” hand to draw and paint? I’ve been carefully weaning myself off of the habit of calling it “wrong”. There’s nothing wrong about it. For me it’s now the “other” hand.
Many find drawing with the other hand an invaluable exercise. When starting out, folks are often quite resistant to the idea. It feels strange and uncomfortable. Herein lies it’s value and the results are usually great. I won’t go into all that right-brain, left-brain theory (which keeps changing anyway) but one thing is clear to me: using the other hand breaks the learned routines between eye, brain and hand and forces a slower, more observed approach. That’s why it works: drawing is fundamentally about observation.
I can think of many drawing students where this approach has had little short of spectacular results. An interesting example comes from one of my portrait painting classes, when Astrid broke her collar bone. (Well, she did not actually break it during the class you understand, as “Expressive Portraits” is not really up there on the list of extreme sports.) She was naturally quite disappointed, so I suggested she might come to class and use her other hand. After the go-ahead from her doctor, back she came and created a wonderful pièce de résistance.
Astrid and her other-handed masterpiece
I use the technique on occasion: when something might not be working out. I’ll pick up a brush and daub away with my other hand. I invariably get something good out of it. So next time someone says “on the other hand”, take them up on it!
Timeless, acrylic, 20'' x 16" with the original life study
Like many artists, from time to time I re-work images into more “finished” works. My process normally starts with a watercolour. I often find there is more to be said and a different medium, scale and motif inspire me to proceed. Sometimes the idea will sit around for years until I feel the urge. The funny thing is, my original work then seems the better for it too. More vibrant and poignant having become the base for the later work.
My most ambitious effort is certainly last year’s “18 pieces of me”, where I re-worked a 14″ x 11″ watercolour self portrait into a 6′ x 3′, 18-panel acrylic. Here it is, plus a few of my other favorite reworks.
"18 pieces of me" acrylic, 6' x 3' on 18 panels and the reference watercolour study
Disquiet, acrylic, 30" x 40" and the original life study
Formation, acrylic, 36" x 24" and the original life study
March Moonlight, oil, 24" x 30" and the original watercolour
Should you like to know how any one of my paintings started, just let me know and I’ll include them in a future blog!
Tom Thomson: Pine Island, Georgian Bay. Oil on canvas. 60 x 50 in. National Gallery of Canada
Tom Thomson, probably Canada’s most famous painter. Tom was quite an interesting character it seems: part painter, part woodsman, not exactly an outcast, but not mainstream either. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. TT was an inspiration in the movement that later became the Group of Seven.
Tom died under mysterious circumstances, before the Group of Seven was formed, and this only adds to his mystique. In newly-formed Algonquin Park on 10 July 1917, his empty canoe was found, maybe upturned, maybe not. His body surfaced from the lake a few days later, fishing line wrapped around his ankle and a blow to the head. A real whodunnit mystery, and the conjecture continues.
One thing is clear: for a ridiculously short time, only 5 years really, this mainly self-trained artist, prolifically sketched from nature (in oils, on wood boards) and brought these modest works “my boards” back to his winter studio in Toronto and so, unwittingly, painted iconic masterworks that helped define Canada.
I’m keenly interested in his process and the challenges of using painted sketches as the reference for larger works. There’s a different feel about painting from paintings and this is something I plan to explore on this blog and at my up-coming Break-a-Brush! Workshop: Saturday 23 February, Other Jack Pines: Impressions of Tom Thomson.
Tom Thomson: Sketch for The Jack Pine, 8.25 x 10.5 in - The Jack Pine, 50 × 55 in.
Ottawa River to Rideau Locks, Ottawa, 12 September 2012
I kicked off this blog (wow, a year ago now) with a short review of my new-found keenness on keeping a sketch book. A sketch book, all in one place, as opposed to keeping plein-air sketches and paintings here and there – which I could never find again.
I’m pleased to say that I’m still sold on “small and portable”. I like the feel of having the art in a small, consistent format along with the challenge of working on the spot – juggling that sketchbook, palette, water cup and brush!
For some artists this turns into a visual journal, woven into their lives. For me, it’s a bit more spasmodic, but I still wonder at how these little sketches take on so much meaning. I keep going back to them, time and time again, transforming small corners of time that would have otherwise been forgotten.
So on a snowy winter’s day, I thought I’d share a few images from my current sketch book:
One White Tree, Poltimore, Val des Monts, QC, 14 July 2012
Barefoot Landing, SC, 1 Jan 2013
A Clean Beach, Myrtle Beach, SC, 16 Jan 2013
Étang, Petrie Island, ON, 23 June 2012
Paintings by my spouse France (after Tom Thomson) and myself
Welcome to 2013! I’m looking forward to all that this year may bring. My best wishes for all your art and life endeavours.
For a while now, I’ve been thinking about running some one-day painting workshops: each one taking a great Canadian painter as both influence and focus for exploring technique and style. I’ve decided that 2013 is the year!
There’s always room for influence and voices from history. In my art, I’m intrigued by how past work still resonates today and how great painters balanced colour and a degree of abstraction, transcending the years between them and us. My spouse France is also deeply moved by some of our iconic Canadian images, which I wrote about a few months ago in The Jack Pine Effect.
In this series of workshops, I plan to explore some of the lessons I’ve learned in my painting practice and share my passion for some of our great Canadian painters:
Saturday, 23 February: Other Jack Pines: Impressions of Tom Thomson.
Saturday, 9 March: Two of Eight: Expressive Portraits and the Group of Seven.
Saturday, 23 March: Stark and Beautiful: Reflections of David Milne.
Saturday, 6 April: Spirit of the Pacific: Emily Carr.
The sessions will take place at Rothwell United Church, 42 Sumac Street, Ottawa. Cost: $95.00 per session or $300.00 for the series. Information & Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 613 620 6737.
Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions – I would be delighted to hear from you!
I started this blog at the beginning of the year, well actually it was February before I posted anything. This was probably the most diverse year for me in my evolving art practice: a major exhibition, commissions, children’s summer camps, a business creativity workshop plus my regular teaching commitments at the OSA, both downtown and Orléans – oh, and a plein air painting course. I did manage some painting for myself too.
I’ve never been super organized ahead of the holiday season, and admire those who get their greeting cards off well in advance, especially those who design and produce their own. There was one year, way back, when I was studying engineering and a keen motorcyclist, where I hand drew some Christmas cards. I scoured my old files in vain to find an example, and so recently recreated this Christmas memory.
My very best wishes to you for the season and the year ahead.
This little plein air watercolour is almost abstract and that's what I like. Maybe it will be the basis for a 2013 painting!
Perhaps it’s just a phase, but I’ve been working mostly on paper recently. During term time, teaching keeps me hopping and it’s easier to spend an hour on a study than winding up to work on larger projects.
With studies, I’m never too sure whether the work is finished or not: I keep going back to them, and, as often as not, end up pleased with the results. In itself, that’s a measure of completeness. Unless there is an imperative, things are best left alone or they lose their fresh, on the spot feel, that “sur le vif” quality.
With this life study I started with a loose wash, drawing and painting into the still damp paper.
This image has "devolved" from a more formal painting I did a couple of years ago. It's acrylic on paper and I've been enjoying working with this medium recently.
This is a demonstration watercolour that I thought about continuing on with, but I like just it the way it is!