After giants…part 1

Acrylic on canvas paper, after Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

The time-honoured practice of copying or painting after masters gets a bad rap in some quarters. I don’t think they spend much time on this in many art schools and well, try submitting a derivative work into a local art competition. I’m not a natural copyist but have taken time to warm up to the practice. Issac Newton famously said “If I have seen further than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Before photography, reproduction had an intrinsic value….transporting images between far-flung countries, audiences and studios. It was also employed to teach artists their craft and the two went hand in hand. Even then, there were “copies” that took an image in a very different direction. In our own National Gallery, Rubens “The Entombment“ parts company from the Caravaggio original in scale, tone, composition and message. Caravaggio, all dramatics and tragedy and Rubens, more intimate and sensitive.

Caravaggio’s “The Entombment”  was interpreted by Rubens, right.

Working from a masterwork can be a creative imperative too. Take Francis Bacon’s fascination with Velázquez’s magnificent Pope Innocent X. Bacon, by the way, never saw the original – copying the original was not his intent!

Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent X was, centuries later, an inspiration to Francis Bacon

Perhaps the best way to see another work is through some form of copying, really getting close to the design, the values, colours and brushwork – perhaps even transporting you to the artist and their times, their life, their travails and resulting intent.

France and her tribute to Théodore Rousseau’s “The Old Park at Saint-Cloud”

5 years of Break-a-Brush – Top 10 posts!

art is where you take it…and where it takes you!

It’s now a full 5 years since I started this blog and it’s been a consistently wonderful experience. I’m delighted that so many people read and follow it and feel the urge to comment! I write about the art and artists that interest me, muse about connections and corners of art that delight, post some of my work that might otherwise not find an audience and share some methods and ideas that I hope are broadly applicable. Staying topical and relishing the process with kindred art spirits…what’s wrong with that picture!

Thank you all – blogging’s now firmly in my blood

I recently took a look at the blog posts and compiled a list of the most popular, plus a few fond memories:

Sargent and that profile: Madame X

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

In praise of underpaintings…

A decade of self portraits…

Emily Coonan and Montreal’s Beaver Hall Group

All abuzz at the Shenkman

Celebrating Canada’s 150th – Framed by History

“Home on the Range”

The Grey Bucket!

People in galleries…

The more the merrier of course – feel free to forward this email to anyone you might think might enjoy the blog – to follow the blog, just go to enter your email address to subscribe and you’ll receive notifications of new posts by email.

A decade of self portraits…

A close encounter…

Across the ages, artists have documented their likenesses and moods in self portraits. Rembrandt and Van Gogh jump out, among many others. Perhaps these are collectively an investigation of self: a little about aging, vanity, or perhaps another form of communication. It’s been said that it’s difficult to see yourself as others see you – however when I perceive something more than the mirror reflects, I’m always surprised. As an always-available model, I wonder if that might be part of it too. Here are my last 10 years of self portraits:

The Space Between…

Space Camp graduating class of 2017!

Children have largely not yet developed our grownup habit of doubt. They have big vision, big optimism and big resilience. Children grow into a system that, with the best of intentions, encourages caution – very often with excellent reason.

But, perhaps we grownups should take another look at the space between a child’s vision and boundless optimism and the caution, skepticism and doubt of adulthood.

Perhaps there exists a creative opportunity in that space where magic can ignite, a space where vision combines with ability, helped along by the skills adults have acquired.

Might be there something we’ve been missing?

During our Space Camp, we adults had the opportunity to view the cosmos through the lens of a child’s mind…..a precious lens of unbound creativity, bordering on magic.

Wonder. Full.

To Mars and beyond!

Countdown: six days to blast off!

Classwork from one of our art camps

Countdown has begun to the Ottawa School of Art (Shenkman Centre) Space Camp: “To Mars and beyond” for ages 9 to 12! David will be leading the art program and I have a number of cool space projects up my sleeve.

Each “astronaut trainee” will have a Space Suit (painter’s overalls with individual red band I.D. striping so they know which suit belongs to them, name tag and mission patch). At the end of the day, space suits are returned to their hangers in the Space Lab! Our main projects for the week are: “building” the Canadarm and understanding what it does, building a solar array with gold film on panels of foam core (so that they understand where the energy for power on the International Space Station comes from) and learning what life is like in space: what do astronauts eat? Where does the water come from? What happens if they get sick?

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) very generously sent me a box full of posters (Chris Hadfield, Julie Payette, Robert Thirsk…), mission stickers and instructor’s manuals for helping children understand some of the experiments, like how to grow food, etc.
The format for the week is space-related art in the morning and in the afternoon they also get to work in the Space Lab!

My hope is to help accelerate the formation of Canadian seedlings for the space effort. I’m all in – we need to expand our understanding of our universe. The time frame involved can be difficult to wrap our heads around, but I’m convinced that a healthy portion of human effort wishes and is designed just for this. I spent some time working at the CSA – I miss it all and the amazing people there!

Here’s my new generation space shuttle “OSA-1 (note the gold cockpit canopy!), still a work in progress (fuel and rocket-booster exhaust cowlings still to be painted black).

For details of the Ottawa School of Art’s March Break Program visit