The Secret Life of Lines

My recent plein-air watercolour sketch "High and Dry", 10"x7"

My recent plein-air watercolour sketch “High and Dry”, 10″ x 7″

Lines are everywhere, noticed and unnoticed, a beguiling network of relationships, boundaries, connections. Looking at a Monet, we focus on the colours, the light, the painterly paint. We don’t necessarily focus on the horizon, that corner of a building or perhaps a reflection from a bridge. Whatever it may be, most paintings, certainly representational styles, rely heavily on line.

In my recent plein-air sketch (above), lines create atmosphere with tree-forms in the background and set compositional elements that help move the viewer through the picture space. The foreground is separated from the main viewing area by line and the horizontal surface of the shallow water is implied by line. Most of these elements are painted rather than drawn.

The focus of the painting is cemented with stronger and more prescriptive line work: the dead tree-root and its companion, an abandoned dock. What may not be visible in the finished painting is line work that guided the painted values, added later to better define the root structure. All this in a sketch that, although modest, could still have gone astray in so many ways. Whilst mainly atmospheric, it’s the line-work that holds it all together.

Line-work is fundamental, and this is the focus of the first of our Fall Series of workshops: Saturday, 20 November features “The Secret Life of Lines”, and we will spend the day immersed in “Drawing for Painters” as our theme. Join us for a day of integrating some sound drawing practices in your paintings. This will include some elements of layout, contouring and equally, exploring how line-work can add drama and punch to your artwork. Bring along materials for a new painting or a work-in-progress!

Check out details on the courses page of my website or just send me an email at for more information and to book your spot!

Lines Rule, OK!

A Canadian Portrait Master

Arthur Shilling, Self Portrait, oil on canvas, 40x30" (image courtesy Varasmas)

Arthur Shilling, Self Portrait, oil on canvas, 40×30″ (image, courtesy of Varasmus)

Tucked away in the high-tech manufacturing plant of Varasmus corporation lurks a collection of First Nations artist Arthur Shilling. Armed with a newspaper clipping advertising an exhibition of his work, we headed out to find Varasmus in the south of Ottawa.

Those who have taken a portrait course with me will recognize his 1985 self-portrait, his last. I use it as an example of expression and vibrancy, with a darker edginess. You can see how he painted it too – a brown and black under-painting lurks beneath. I am an advocate of under-painting or at least a rough value layout and Shilling’s self portrait is a fine example of this too – it’s more measured than it looks.

Of the 13 Shillings on display, 12 are portraits. Shilling was unusual as an aboriginal artist in pursuing the portrait as a means of expression over more traditional narratives. Although I am not an expert on his work, the exhibition shows him to be a master at capturing something of the personality of those around him.

You can check out the exhibition on-line

The exhibition runs until the end of the month, by appointment 613 247 9373 or