Life drawing notes…

DSC00973 corrected crop scaleTwo very nice things happened today:

I finally ran out of excuses not to go to a life drawing session…one that I’ve been meaning to attend for, seemingly forever. Whilst there, a Break-a-Brusher reminded me that I had not blogged for a while. I was quite surprised and pleased that my absence had been noticed!

When tackling life drawing I try to practice a few styles…often in the same drawing. I look to get a feel for the pose, find a center to focus my interest and also perhaps create a bit of unexpected texture…typically with a bit of watercolour wash.

Today there were 2 models posing together. This leads to some interesting possibilities, however time is always tight and it’s easy for me to bite off more than I can chew – I’m not particularly fast. I focused on one model, remembering that less can be more – not forgetting to have a bit of fun!

Juxtaposing line with more fluid handling of blocks of colour, the abstract forms played with more traditional line work. I was pretty happy with the results. More importantly I felt good having been out and about. As in most things, the best form of practice, is the practice that you do.

DSC00975 correct square scale


Painting big and small…

Still Life, 16"x20" (detail)

one of my  “unfinished” paintings, Still Life, Oil, 16″x20″ (detail)

Having recently completed  “The Descendants” exhibition, I’m now easing back into some delayed and new work.

My exhibition included one new large (for me), 5 ft. square painting and others that I consider mid-sized (30 x 40 in).

Large paintings in particular are a bit intimidating to work on: the stars must align before and during. Today, I’ll start something smaller, just to move the paint around a bit and have some fun.  I’ve started a good few  paintings this way, whilst I’m thinking about working on larger projects.

For me this is key: every time you pick-up a pencil or brush and any scrap of paper, you’re making headway, and perhaps toward something more substantial!

With smaller paintings, when one doesn’t work out well, there are others to work with. It’s the habit of work which is the important thing. Whether professional or leisure, “the work” should be accessible and stimulating.

Working keeps me in the flow.

Study of Georgia O'Keefe, Acrylic charcoal and pastel on paper, 16"x12"

Today’s study, of Georgia O’Keeffe: acrylic, charcoal and pastel on paper, 16″x12″

Hurrah for the Plein Air Season!

Winslow Homer, Artists Sketching in the White Mountains, 1868

Winslow Homer, Artists Sketching in the White Mountains, 1868

Hurrah! Hurrah! We’re now in May, Plein Air Painting is on it’s way!

Spring is finally here. Hard to believe with these last few weeks of “weather”. Yesterday, I finally felt the urge for plein air and tackled a small watercolour sketch. Beginning Friday, May 30, I’ll be hosting four Plein Air drawing and painting sessions: These Friday morning sessions will be at scenic locations close to town.

I often get questions on how to handle the logistics of all that painting paraphernalia and what about water supply and oily clean up? I can truly see why it can all seem a bit overwhelming: more of a chore than a challenge. In getting started, I think it’s a good idea to keep things  simple: small studies or sketches, without too much need for equipment. Enjoy the outdoors! The painting and painting kit will naturally follow! Why not just start with dry media?

Each of my upcoming sessions will include personal coaching and a short demonstration on how I approach Plein Air work. I’ll also be reviewing practical information on composition and technique.

You can check out all the specifics on the courses page of my website.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Lac Lemay, Gatineau, 12 May 2014

Lac Leamy, Gatineau, 12 May 2014


About Magenta (and Turquoise)


A magenta-ized photo-shopping of my painting “Downstream”

Since school days onward, we’ve been mixing colour from three primaries. In many ways, it’s amazing how well this works, given that it’s not really governed by fundamental science. It’s all part of how we see, which is of course pretty complicated.  I mused in my recent blog “Making Mud from Red and Blue…”, that not all secondaries are created equal and specifically, that a reliable purple is harder to get than a pleasant green.

Printing technology uses a different set of colours: the CYMK model. That is Cyan (a greenish blue), Yellow, Magenta (purple-red) plus the “Key” (which is actually black). Black is needed because in printing, colours are transparent. This is an important distinction as this technology is never quite the same as mixing opaque colours. Notwithstanding, if you look on the web there are all sorts of arguments out there as to why Cyan, Yellow and Magenta work better than the traditional primaries.

Monet et al knew nothing of all of this, but happily painted in the light of traditional colour theory. I would say they got pretty good results and there’s probably not as much controversy as some might make out.

That said, I recently picked up my spouse’s set of water mixable oils. She has a nice turquoise and a magenta, colours I do not use on my palette. I was struck by the alignment with a CYMK-based palette. I’ve had a lot of fun creating some nice works with these colours. If you want to try it, here’s a comparison of my basic palette (which I am by no means ready to throw out) and my recent investigations:

My Palette: Alternative Palette:
Hansa Yellow
Azo Yellow Light
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Red
Naphthol Red Medium
Alizarin Crimson
Ultramarine Blue Ultramarine Blue
Cerulean Blue

Join us for this Saturday’s Workshop: The Magic of Colour!

Portraits and Watercolours with John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, Artist in the Simplon, watercolor, c. 1909.

John Singer Sargent, Artist in the Simplon, watercolour, c. 1909.

Last fall I talked about one of the most famous or infamous profile portraits in art history: John Singer Sargent’s Madame X.

I’ve been interested in Sargent’s work for a while now. In some ways conventional, but a little hard to pin down: portraitist to the gentry, an expatriate American at home in France and England, he was a friend and painter with the Impressionists, as well as a war artist. These are all part of Sargent’s allure perhaps, but it’s not just his formal work, it’s his watercolours.  During his travels, Sargent painted for himself constantly, with a fine eye for simplicity of wash and superb brushwork – his images invariably look fresh and underworked. Sargent was one of the truly great watercolourists of his day.

Next Saturday, April 14th, is all about Sargent and his influence. Whatever your media, join us for the start of the Spring Break-a-Brush! Workshop Season.

John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood, Oil,1885

John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood, Oil, 1885


All abuzz at the Shenkman

David Kearn Vernissage-1The Opening Reception for my exhibition “The Descendants” was a great event. France very effectively curated the exhibition and the visual impact and flow she achieved is stunning. A wonderful job that ignites interest in the exhibition space.

Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate with us and also, to all of you who I know have or will see the show.  You have offered so much encouragement.

The Shenkman Arts Centre was abuzz on Sunday, with 4 galleries having their opening receptions, sponsored by Beau’s Beer to boot as a “Beau’s Art” event.

Interesting coincidences connect each of the galleries. “The Descendants”, is also the title of a couple of works by Sarah Anderson in the adjoining gallery. My exhibition’s tag line “What do you see?” is the title of an exhibition in the AOE Gallery by Nath. As a final coincidence, at the Ottawa School of Art gallery, the Montreal artist, Peter Krausz’s “(No) Man’s Land” fills the entire space with just 2 massive panel paintings – so big by the way, that it was a close call as to whether each panel would fit in the center’s elevator!

All of this art-action plus some photo nostalgia from the rock photographer Ethan Russell,  “Best Seat in the House” (lots of Beatles and Stones, finishing soon, 2 April) and the ever-interesting Promenade Arteast exhibit adds up to a not-to-be-missed extravaganza of art at the Shenkman Arts Centre.

David Kearn Vernissage-14 David Kearn Vernissage-2 David Kearn Vernissage-8 David Kearn Vernissage-12David Kearn Vernissage-11



I am delighted to say that my new exhibition, The Descendants, opened as planned today at the Shenkman Arts Centre. Many thanks for all the help I’ve received from the City of Ottawa’s Mike Taylor, AOE’s Cristiane Doherty, my spouse France and many others.

The exhibition is arranged so that the viewer can engage with both the new abstracted paintings “The Descendants” and the earlier portrait works “The Ancestors”. This encourages the viewer to associate the images and feelings between past and present approaches. By exploring the gallery and observing from a range of vantage points, a complete perspective emerges.

Tomorrow (Friday 21 March) I’ll be interviewed by CTV TV (at 9:25am), which is sure to be great exposure. Click here to view.

Look forward to seeing many of you this Sunday at the Opening Reception, (1-3 pm, Trinity Gallery A).

I’ve also arranged to give an Artist’s Talk on Wednesday, 26 March at 3:30 pm in the gallery.

See you soon!



Coming shortly:

Kearn - The Descendants - Post Card - Final frontThe last while has been a particularly busy time and it’s hard to believe it’s almost a month since I last wrote.

We have run 5 workshops so far this year and I’ve been teaching at the Ottawa School of Art, both downtown and in Orleans. What’s made it an especially exciting time though, I’m pleased to announce… my upcoming exhibition, “The Descendants”, debuting later this month at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans. The opportunity came up faster than expected, so I’ve been busy painting in preparation. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.

The Descendants is a series of second-generation paintings, flowing directly from previous portrait works of family. I challenged myself to explore different approaches to these images. I saw new paths to be traveled: less a history of time, place and form, and more a resonance of personality.

Does personality reside in form? With altered focus and resolution as well as new scale and medium, these fresh paintings are abstracted, some to a limit of determination. Up close and at distance, I see the people I know and love. What will you see?

Please join me for the vernissage, Sunday March the 23rd, 1:00 to 3:00pm.

Hope to see you there!

Kearn - The Descendants - Post Card - Final back


Making Mud from Red and Blue…

TonesIn my art classes this past week, the focus was on colour and colour mixing. There’s always some great discussion and the endless possibilities of colour amaze. I was reminded of a question my friend John had asked not long ago. He’d just finished reading the book “Yellow & Blue don’t make Green” by Michael Wilcox, and wrote me:

“Here is a puzzle for you: Yellow paint is yellow when illuminated by white light. Why? Because it absorbs all other constituent colours in the white light, and reflects only the yellow frequencies back to your eye. Likewise, blue is blue because it absorbs all colours but blue. Black is black because it absorbs all. So if you mix blue and yellow paint, you should get black and not green. It should be black because the reflected yellows from the yellow pigment should be all absorbed by the blue pigment, and the reflected blues in the blue pigment should all be absorbed by the yellow. So why does it make green? The book explains this, but can you?”                          

A fine real-world versus theory question.

A yellow surface looks yellow because the reflected spectrum is centered on the yellow…the spectrum being reflected is modified from white because less (not all) in the red and blue range are reflected. In the real world a relatively broad spectrum of wavelengths is always reflected: if you could concoct a “pure yellow” (single-wavelength) reflector (not an ounce of red nor blue) and combine this with a “pure blue” reflector (not one whit of yellow nor red), this would, indeed, in theory, look black!

I got the Wilcox book from the library and it explains this well, noting that colours do not “mix” to form a third. It’s just that the resultant reflected spectrum is centered on the wavelength of “mixed” colour. That is, the yellow and the blue still exist in the green, but  they don’t somehow morph into green.

Now if this all sounds like mud, let’s try making purple. Why is it that almost any yellow and blue will “make” a usable green, but usable purples are far more elusive. Use the “wrong” red (an orangy-red) and you’ll be stuck with a muddy mess.

To answer this, I may need to wade into the dreaded debate over red-yellow-blue primaries versus the cyan-magenta-yellow (CMYK) model.

Sparks could fly…more to follow!

Artists, Architects and Artisans…

NGC DSC00224

Many of you have, I’m sure, had the opportunity to visit the relatively low-key but extensive “Artists, Architects and Artisans: Canadian Art 1890–1918” exhibition at the National Gallery. If not, there’s still time – the exhibition is on until 17 February.

No blockbuster exhibits here and that’s partly why I like it. The breadth of work is great and all set in a particular historical context, an important time in Canada’s development.  I particularly like the paintings by the Quebec painter Ozias Leduc (1864 – 1955). Leduc was never really part of any school of painting and he made much of his living on church commissions, living a quiet life in St Hillaire, Quebec. He left us some wonderful unassuming paintings that are not to be missed. One of those is “L’enfant au pain”, featured on banner on the right above. As may often be the case with great works, it’s small but blows up superbly to banner size. (On the left, by the way, is a painting by George Reid. In the exhibition you can check out his furniture too!)

Ozias Leduc, L’enfant au pain (1892–99), oil on canvas, 50.7 x 55.7 cm. NGC

Ozias Leduc, L’enfant au pain (1892–99), oil on canvas, 50.7 x 55.7 cm. NGC