Finishing Touches…

It's always good to start with value!

It’s always good to start with value!

For most of the last term, I carried around a quick demonstration study. I originally did this to show the start of a portrait and I’d use it periodically to remind students that it’s always good to begin with value.

This study started with a mid-tone wash in burnt sienna, dulled with a bit of ultramarine blue. I followed this with a darker mix using the same two colours – but more potent and perhaps a touch bluer.

And there it sat for months, until I recently decided to finish it.

The foundation of the original blocking is still very evident through the screens of some warm tones (alizarin crimson and Hansa yellow) and cool accents (cobalt blue), applied judiciously.

Studies can be a good opportunity to go expressive with hair and experiment a bit…..well, it’s a study and should be spontaneous!

The finished study, 15"x15", watercolour and charcoal

The finished study, 15″x15″, watercolour and charcoal

The Best Colour…

The best colour!

The best colour!

I think I heard this piece of advice some time ago and was reminded of it recently in a weekly art bulletin that I receive…thanks Colin!

You can’t say any fairer than that. Painting is all about getting paint onto something and unless expressing, responding…. perhaps being surprised…. I can’t make real progress. I’ve always found it important to create forms, values and contexts, rather than overly worrying about the exactness of colour. Although I’m a bit of a colourist, don’t concern myself about the precise paint I’m using…. balance arrives toward the end of the journey. Colour is, after all, only relative!

Perhaps there’s something unconscious going on as well …. you have to respect it, give it a bit of free rein! I’m not suggesting that you go hog wild, but a certain arbitrariness can be a good thing – the disparate ideas, forms and colours melding together into something greater.

Once there’s paint on the brush ….PAINT!

Alex Colville…and a little mystery!

Alex Colville as a young war artist

Alex Colville as a young war artist

A major exhibition of Alex Colville’s work concluded at the AGO in January and now moves on to the National Gallery in April.

Inspired, we’re offering a workshop on March 14th, themed on this Canadian contemporary master. Perhaps more than Colville’s realist style, it’s his composition and narrative which intrigue. What I like about his art is that it is at once both simple and obscure, always eliciting a reaction.

Alex Colville evokes strong reactions in most people I talk to and very few are ambivalent.There’s the precision and organization of course, and perhaps being led into his world, his vision – with little room for interpretation.  Some are, however, delighted by these same factors: the post-modern realism, the composition, the sometimes indirect, dark messaging and the irresistible, surreal edge.

The same sort of mystery is present in past masters’ works – Vermeer certainly, and many American realists, particularly Edward Hopper. A little mystery can be the making of many a fine painting. I recall a painting created last year by friend and workshop participant, Gabriel Lepkey.

Gabriel Lepkey, "Man & Dog", Oil on canvas, 2014

Gabriel Lepkey, “Man & Dog”, Oil on canvas

With most representational work, there’s an element of narrative that engages. In this case, the juxtaposition between man and dog – where are they going, coming from, who appears the happier, and why? All set in a natural, resonant composition – it works as a painting and potential narrative.

Without over-thinking things, I aim for a sense of interpretation in some of my own work, particularly figure paintings. In my painting “Downstream” a figure floats – downstream of what, why, real or dream?

David Kearn, "Downstream", 30x40", Acrylic on canvas

David Kearn, “Downstream”, 30×40″, Acrylic on canvas


Whatever your style, join us on March 14th for a day inspired by Colville’s legacy: adding a little mystery to your paintings. You can check out this and other upcoming sessions in our workshop series on the courses page of my website.

Tom Thomson and Emily Carr in the U.K.!

The Royal High School in Bath, England

The Royal High School, Bath, England

Last December, David gave a talk at the Royal High School in Bath, England. It was entitled: “Tom Thomson, Emily Carr…and the birth of Canadian painting.”

The timing for this talk was appropriate, given that the exhibition “From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia” is currently running in London at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (world’s first purpose-built public art gallery!). A couple of years ago, “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the group of Seven” also showed at the Dulwich. These exhibitions have attracted substantial attention to Tom, Emily and the other great masters of the Canadian landscape.

but for 3000 miles they could have been contemporaries

Young Tom and Emily!

David’s exposé emphasized the pictorial, complemented by a more personal look at the artists and their impact. Tom Thomson was a Canadian first: home grown, a woodsman and a bit atypical. Pan-Canadian art sensitivities were later cemented when Emily Carr’s powerful vision of the west connected with the Ontario-centric Group of Seven. Photos of Tom fishing, his paintbox, a smattering of anecdotes about each and a reading of one of Emily’s poems rounded out a memorable morning.

a difficult choice: which of Tom and Emily's paintings to include?

Difficult choices: which of Tom and Emily’s paintings to include!

The audience, a senior art class, comprised intelligent, talented and enthusiastic students. We had hoped that this image-rich presentation would garner a healthy level of interest in Canadian art. We needn’t have worried. This bright group of accomplished students, by way of a fascinating volley of relevant questions, enriched their art knowledge, with expert coaching from their teacher.

One of the greatest joys in sharing knowledge is witnessing inspiration, which so often leads to empowerment. Another vital aspect resides in the opportunity to explore the non-technical and often invisible magic of the creators of this beauty, without which these treasures might never have been born. On that note, a poem, by Emily:

Dear Mother Earth!
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.


On 21 February, join us for a day inspired by Emily’s legacy: you can check out this and the five other sessions in our winter workshop series on the courses page of David’s website.

The Great “A.Y.”

A.Y. Jackson at work in Studio Building in Toronto

A.Y. Jackson at work in Studio Building in Toronto

Happy New Year Break-a-Brusher’s!

Our third winter workshop season is kicking off soon! The Break-a-Brush “Canadian Winter” is becoming somewhat of a tradition for us and we’re once again profiling some Canadian greats: on February 7th, our focus will be on the Group of Seven with A.Y. Jackson.

When I first encountered the works of the Group of Seven, not long after my arrival in Canada, I remember being most attracted to Alexander Young Jackson’s work. He seemed to be the quintessential group of seven-er. A landscape painter through and through, he never ceased to be connected to the Canadian scene: whether out in the country, back in the studio, or encouraging others, A.Y. (as he liked to be called) supported a strong vision of Canadian landscape painting.

It’s the lack of pretension which impresses – there’s a directness and honesty in his work. I can’t really think of a statement piece as for some of the other members, rather it’s the quality of the body of work. Season after season, he painted to paint. A wonderful colourist and master (post) impressionist, his vibrant style remained relatively unaffected by changes around him. He sought out remote regions, nearby streams and villages, the never ending changing seasons, and throughout his long career remained true to his vision:

“The obedient in art are always the forgotten… The country is glorious but its beauties are unknown, and but waiting for a real live artist to splash them onto canvas.”  A.Y. Jackson, 1913.

He sketched, painted, encouraged and wrote. A.Y. Jackson was a real painter’s painter. Across the intervening years, I feel as though he welcomed me as a Canadian.


On 7 February, join us for a day inspired by A.Y.’s legacy: you can check out this and the five other sessions in our winter workshop series on the courses page of my website.