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.

A Special Season – Christmas in Bath

View of Westgate St, Bath

View of Westgate St, Bath, December 2014

In my youth, I took Westgate Street for granted. Located in my home town of Bath (UK), it was part of my psyche when growing up.

Decades later, I received a calendar of Bath scenes, both new and old, including a B&W photo of this particular street, circa 1930. This image then found it’s way into my course materials as a reference for exercises on perspective. It may appear familiar to some of you as it has been included in many of my lessons on this intriguing subject!

The main thrust of my approach by the way, is that perspective needn’t be perfect, just plausible. So put away your rulers and try it freehand.

This new photo was taken in Bath just a few days ago, showing everyone scurrying about, getting ready for Christmas. Amidst multifarious preparations, this idyllic area of England was still too warm for a sleigh ride, nevertheless beautifully compensated by this nostalgic horse and carriage as well as the spirit of the season.

France and I send our very best wishes for a Joyful Christmas Season.

One of my demonstration paintings, loosely based on Westgate St., 16x20 in, Oil on canvas

One of my demonstration perspectives, loosely based on Westgate St., 16×20 in, Oil on canvas

Monet and Moore

Claude Monet: The Cliffs at Etretat, Henry Moore: Reclining Figures

Claude Monet: The Cliffs at Etretat, Henry Moore: Reclining Figures

I’ve always been intrigued by the juxtaposition of visions and styles in the same visual space. Hanging disparate artworks together is a great example of this and I wrote about it in a blog post last year entitled “the odd couple”.

I’ve recently been digesting a great little book titled “The Art Book” (Phaidon). I have the 1997 edition measuring just 5 x 6 1/2 in. It’s not just the content which fascinates me,  although excellent, it’s that it is organized by one artist per page, arranged alphabetically. I love the randomness of the inadvertent pairings, page after page, putting together artists of different ages, schools and visions, linked by the hazard of their surnames.

We’re invited to consider together Michelangelo with the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais; portraits by Renoir and Joshua Reynolds; the French landscape artist Theodore Rousseau alongside the monumental Rubens; Hans Holbein with Winslow Homer; Turner with the abstract work of Ty Twombly and of course, Claude Monet with Henry Moore.

In each case, the forced comparison seems to bring out the best in both works and artists.

There is now a new edition – larger (11 3/8 x 9 7/8 in) and much revised. I’ve not read this one as yet, but do know that with additions and subtractions the pagination changes resulting in a whole new set of pairings.

In this new version, Monet is paired with Piet Mondrian!

Vermeer’s Room

The Music Lesson or A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman, c. 1662–65; Vermeer

The Music Lesson, c. 1662–65; Vermeer

There’s a recent film called “Tim’s Vermeer” about an inventor (Tim Jenison) on a mission to recreate a Vermeer painting, using the set-up and optical aids that Vermeer may well have used. It’s by all accounts a fascinating and entertaining documentary. I’ve not seen it…yet!

Artists invariably use the tools available and will innovate strongly to get a result. I sometimes quip that if Michelangelo had had access to a projector, he would surely have shone his drawings at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The general opinion today is that the masters sought to keep their methods secret …to protect the magic…their value… but I suspect the secrets were more “open source” than we might assume.

Vermeer set many of his paintings in the same room… perhaps to facilitate use of his optical set-up. Through this, he was then free (with or without forethought) to focus on the human stories in his subjects …..with an innovative clarity in composition and design …perhaps more than anyone before …or for a long time afterwards.

His images seem strangely modern. This sparse, unassuming master created timeless human stories, with ringing silence and poignancy. He affects us profoundly with the quiet power of his paintings.

At Saturday’s workshop, 15 November, we explore Vermeer as our influence – details are on the courses page of my website.

They painted before their time

In their mirrors: self portraits from Turner, Vermeer, Van Gogh and Kahlo

In their mirrors: self portraits from Turner, Vermeer, Van Gogh and Kahlo

This Saturday marks the start of a new series of four one-day workshops, each themed on incredible painters who worked “Before their time”.

From the strangely realist compositions of Johannes Vermeer, J M W Turner unknowingly paving the impressionist way, Vincent Van Gogh’s emerging expressionism, to the surreal sensitivities of Frida Kahlo – four eras, four styles, four personalities, four great masters to inspire us!

There is still some space in each of the workshops. Check out the schedule and details on the courses page of my website.

Join us for some memorable painting days!