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Author Archives: Rex Beanland
I just taught a workshop for the Art Society Of Strathcona County (ASSC) in Sherwood Park. It was a fabulous experience and I was treated like royalty. I would like to thank everyone involved for inviting me and also for looking after me during the weekend. I was very excited to teach this workshop because I love teaching but also because I have been greatly inspired since my experience this summer as illustrated in the past 3 posts.
The participants were a very friendly and enthusiastic group and from a teacher’s point of view you can’t ask for more than that. I have been impressed by the way that the ASSC is supported by the local government. The city has given them control of this wonderful facility, the Red Barn, as a permanent art centre. It’s great to see art groups supported in this manner.
Everyone worked really hard over the 2 days as we covered a lot and did a lot of painting.
Here are some photos from the workshop. Many thanks to Faye for taking the photos.
Here are the 2 demos I did. This first painting is another version of my painting St Mary’s which is inspired by a Calgary street scene. In this version I wanted to make the scene even more monumental and I also wanted it to have a bit of a feeling of Gotham. I’m really happy how it worked out.
In terms of critiquing it, I’m very happy with everything. There are a few minor changes I would make if I did it again, mainly in terms of straightening a few building edges and next time I would make the building in the background (which is based on St Mary’s Church) a little narrower so that it would appear to be a bit further back. The big change I did make to it had to do with the 2 large figures on the left. They, along with the other main figure were too short and dumpy. So I enlarged the figures on the left and had them go out of the frame. Much better.
Demo #2 was a version of the porch in the Officers House from the ex military base in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia. I did this painting originally as a demo for the Watercolour Symposium held there about a month ago.
I really like the sense of warm light inside the porch. Your eye is very much attracted to this centre of interest. In terms of changes I would make next time I think I would make the part of the main building that shows at the left edge a little smaller or a little less defined. The main change I did make once I got home has to do with the foreground shadow. During the demo it ended up a little light so I went over it again when I got home and then it was a little too dark. So I had to wash some of it out. I don’t like to correct paintings but in this case it is better with this adjustment. I really like the bright reds in the flowers, the sparkle on the water and the entire tree.
So it was a great weekend in all respects and it was a pleasure to meet everyone.
As mentioned in a recent post, I taught at the Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour Symposium near Digby, Nova Scotia earlier this month. As soon as the symposium was over my wife, Susan, and I rented an RV and took a week to travel from Digby along the coast to Yarmouth and then along the south shore to Halifax.
I have to admit that it took a couple of days to get used to living in an RV. This one was a 2016, 28′ and pretty darn comfortable but still you’re living in very close quarters. After that initial period, however, we just loved it. Great to stop wherever you want and you’ve got your home right with you. I remember the first day when we stopped at Digby Harbour. I felt just like a tourist until I remembered we had lawn chairs and 15 minutes later were sitting in comfy chairs having coffee with a view of the harbour. We stopped at quite a few neat spots and did a lot of painting. I was hoping to do 2 paintings a day but we often didn’t get started until almost noon and then we tried to get a place to stay before supper so I was happy to have the painting opportunities that I had.
This first painting is Digby Harbour. We were parked just beside that truck on the far right.
This second painting was one I did at our campground at Lunenburg but it’s a painting of the fanciest house at the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre where the symposium was. I assume that it was originally the commander’s house. The conference centre is a semi retired military base.
This next one is a favourite of mine. It’s the Superstore in Yarmouth painted from the Walmart parking lot. (Guess where we stayed?)
This painting of Indian Harbour is looking at the back of the Clifty Cove Motel. About 25 years ago my mother and I travelled around the Maritimes and we stayed in that motel. I paid homage to her with the figure in green.
Here are some other photographs from our trip. Nova Scotia is a great place to visit. The people are very friendly, very generous and love to talk. Some of the locations and scenery along the south shore are fabulous. I know it’s a cliche but Peggy’s Cove is so picturesque and captivating that it almost defies belief.
Spending the night just outside Yarmouth with 2 friends from the symposium. Thanks, Dan & Susan.
If you get this far you deserve a medal but here is a final painting that isn’t from Nova Scotia but it’s also a recent favourite of mine. Its from our trip to Boston 3 years ago to see the John Singer Sargent Watercolour Exhibition.
In September I had the unbelievable experience of taking a workshop with my absolute hero in watercolour, Joseph Zbukvic. He is an Australian and for me he is the best watercolourist in the world – an absolute master of the medium. The workshop was held at the Madeline Island School Of The Arts on Madeline Island which is an island in Lake Superior. It’s part of the Apostle Islands which are in the state of Wisconsin.
His workshops around the world always sell out 12 – 18 months in advance and by the time I found out about this workshop it was likewise full. I put my name on the waiting list and 1 year later, long after I’d forgotten about it I got a call that a space opened up and I jumped at it. It was an interesting experience because I didn’t take his workshop to learn his technique. I have all of his DVD’s and I have studied them extensively. In fact I’ve done about half of all the demos on them. I posted about this a few years ago and I still consider studying him and Alvaro Castagnet to be my university of watercolour. I learned so much from copying their demos. Since I wasn’t really looking for his technique I went to be inspired and challenged and to grow as a painter. I received far more than I expected.
One other factor about Joseph is that he is also a master teacher. As a retired school teacher I am a keen observer of the teaching techniques of various workshop instructors. I have discovered that many of the best painters are not necessarily the best teachers. By in large their approach is, watch me paint and get what you can from it. I don’t know if Joseph ever taught school but he is a master of teaching technique. Using humour and repetition and by having developed some wonderfully insightful concepts he made sure that everyone ‘got’ what he was teaching. Everyone left there knowing “Mr Bead” and “Tea, coffee, milk, cream and butter”. I use his ideas all the time in my own workshops and students just love them. I always make a point of saying that they are his ideas much as I wish I had thought of them.
Anyway, what I got from the workshop was a way of thinking about watercolour. Watching him do his sketches and see how he instinctively choose just the key elements of the subject was inspiring. To hear him verbalize his thought process as he approaches a subject gave me all sorts of insights. But most of all I was given the gift of inspiration. I left the workshop with my confidence brimming, ready to tackle anything.
As I said he is my #1 hero so I could go on at length but suffice it to say that this was the experience of a lifetime.
Joseph did 2 demos a day and here are my versions of them.
I also did a couple of plein air paintings the day before the workshop started. The first one is of the Indian Cemetery in La Pointe, the small town on the island. It’s a very old and run down but represents some of the early history of the island.
Even though Madeline Island is just a few miles off the main land it does have it’s own way of life. The people there are independent, friendly and very individualistic. This next painting is of a very popular local landmark, The Burnt Down Cafe. I think this is, in fact, it’s history. The first place burnt down and now it’s a very interesting mix of canvas and plywood.
Finally the location of the workshops, Madeline Island School Of The Arts. It’s a very nice place with all the buildings located right together. They run various workshops from painting to writing and crafts and they bring in a lot of top names. They also do a super job making you feel welcome. Great staff. There is accommodation and meals on the campus though there are also other places to stay and eat on the island. Madeline Island is the largest in a series of 22 islands collectively called the Apostle Islands. There are whole bunch of fascinating geological rock formations, great hiking and what I always find interesting, the rusting remains of early settlement on the islands. Today only Madeline is inhabited.
Here are a few shots of the Madeline Island School Of The Arts.
A memorable experience!
I had the honour of being an instructor at the annual Watercolour Symposium presented by the Canadian Society Of Painters in Watercolour. It was held in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia a tiny town just outside Digby. For me it was a fabulous experience. I taught a different workshop on 4 separate days. The students in the symposium were an enthusiastic group of people who were completely motivated to paint and learn. Also since every one stays right on location and eats together it was a wonderful social event. I found that everyone was so friendly and there was a real sense of common purpose that developed over the week. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is interested in watercolour. There is something special about getting up every day with one purpose – to paint and to do this surrounded by people who are all there for the same reason.
As a teacher I found this experience to be the high point of my teaching career. I love dealing with the students. It is extremely rewarding to see the light bulb turn on as people gain new knowledge or techniques. It’s intense but also intensely rewarding.
I taught 2 workshops: Figures In The Urban Landscape and Figures In Action, each workshop twice. I did a different demo for each of the 4 workshops. Here are the 4 paintings that I demonstrated.
The symposium was held at the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre which is a former military base updated into a conference centre. It was neat to have the accommodation, dining hall and the classrooms all within about 100 m of each other. I’m including some shots of the location to give a feeling for the event and, I hope, to encourage people to consider attending next year.
I would like to thank the Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour for inviting me, to all those who put in the hard work of organizing it, and all those great, enthusiastic people who attended and made it such a special experience.
I will be teaching my Experimental Watercolour workshop next month at Kensington Art Supply & Instruction.
I’m very excited by this workshop because it covers a lot of important watercolour techniques that are often overlooked. Most watercolour workshops teach colour – colour theory, colour mixing, colour choices, characteristics of various colours etc. The aspect that is often left out is the ‘water’ part of watercolour. This workshop is mostly about water. Creative ways to use it and how to allow it to create it’s own spontaneous effects. As they often say watercolour will do the painting for you if you allow it. This workshop helps you discover ways to let water create it’s own special effects.
This short video clip illustrates a few of these techniques.
The workshop is available in 2 formats for your convenience. Oct 24-25 is a 2 full day workshop. Also there is the option of 4 Monday evening classes, Nov 2, 9, 16 & 23.
Contact Nancy Lynn Hughes for details or to register.
Contact me for details about the workshop.
One of the essential skills for successful painting is the ability to look at the complexity of a subject whether it be a landscape or a city scene and to simplify it by seeing it as a collection of shapes. The more we can simplify these shapes and connect little shapes into bigger ones the easier painting becomes. This little video illustrates the process with a subject from downtown Calgary.
This is another painting that I did as part of my preparation for my workshops at the Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour Annual Symposium in Nova Scotia.
I’m really pleased with the sense of light and the figures but what made it much easier was to see it as it’s 3 basic shapes: 1) the background (a loose darker shape), 2) the water with a strong shadow over it and 3) the light foreground.
It’s been a great year for me with plein air ( on location) painting. I’ve done it a lot and I learned something every time I did it.
I believe that some significant proportion of artists don’t do plein air for various reasons and that can be absolutely fine. However, for other artists it’s an essential part of their painting process. They get stale working from photographs too much. I count myself in that group. The speed, and decision-making needed in plein air painting keep me much fresher and they push me beyond my comfort zone and sometimes that’s very good. It’s such a wonderful exercise for me to take the complexity of a scene and try to put it together in a simplified and effective composition, with good values, and with some story to it. I almost always go into a slightly heightened state when I paint on location. I get ‘in the zone’ so to speak.
What Is Plein Air Painting?
I always thought that plein air meant that you did the entire painting on location. I found out this summer at the Plein Air Convention & Expo that the definition of plein air is “a piece started on location and completed without the use of photographic or other aid.” So you could finish the painting later in the studio but only by relying on your memory.
Types Of Plein Air Painting
There are a few reasons to paint on location.
To Complete A Painting
This first group of paintings show one of the reasons to paint on location and that is to complete the painting almost entirely on site and try to capture the mood, or feel of the subject. Robsart is a ghost town in Saskatchewan. We happen on it a few years ago when we took the scenic route from Gull Lake to Maple Creek. This year we purposely went to visit it again. A very interesting place and this painting really captured the feel of the day.
Sunbathing At Griffith Woods was my 4th attempt at this subject in 3 weeks and I was finally happy with the way I captured the feel of all those trees. Just by luck 2 girls were sunbathing. It made the painting have a much more interesting story.
Swimming In The Elbow, also painted at Griffith Woods, was a lot of fun. I saw all these kids swimming and floating down the river and I was very excited to do a grouping of figures as the main subject. It definitely captured the feel of that very hot and sunny day.
To Collect Reference Material
Another reason for plein air painting is to just collect information and reference material. That was the case in this winter painting done in my van. It was an overcast day but the darks at the bottom of the Calgary Tower parking lot added nice value contrast and made this otherwise dull scene interesting. The figures were by and large invented. I wanted to say something about this corner because it contains both The Inn From The Cold and The Mustard Seed, 2 agencies that help homeless and at-risk people. I find that it has a nice looseness and unity.
I used this painting as reference for a larger studio version.
To Have Fun Or To Try Something New
This painting was done at the Tourist Information/Rest Stop at the Manitoba Saskatchewan border. It was done just for the fun of sitting in the sun after a long drive through the night. In this one I learned a way to capture that soft early light on a white truck. The subtle glow on the side of the truck is my favourite part.
This painting was interesting to do because I did it as a demo at the Clothesline Sale at the Leighton Centre. It was all about the challenge of finding an interesting story using the big tents as a background. Just by luck those 2 girls stood talking like this for almost 10 minutes. I drew out it out completely on location and I completed the 2 main figures. All the rest I did at home but without any photographic aid. The challenge was to capture a sense of all the detail in the tents without it being distracting. A lot of learning from this one.
Why This All Matters
What I now realize as a result of all my years of plein air painting is that I have to do this kind of painting if I want to be excited by my painting and if I want to be challenged and grow as an artist. Whether plein air paintings turn into a studio piece or not doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t even matter if it works out. It can be a poor painting but a great experience. The only way to do it wrong is not to do it.
CSPWC Annual Symposium
As a final note I want to say how excited I am to be teaching at the CSPWC Symposium in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia next month. I teaching 2 workshops: Figures In The Urban Landscape, and Figures In Action. Some of the lessons learned in these plein air paintings will be revisited in the symposium.
Over the past 3 weeks I have done plein air painting at Griffith Woods on 4 separate occasions. I did 4 plein air paintings. The first 3 were earnest and good efforts but were in general over done, a little heavy handed. For my 4th attempt I decided that I needed to do something differently. So this time I took half an hour to do some thumbnails and get a plan for the painting. For me this painting is by far the best of the bunch. Once again I’ve learned that using thumbnails improves the painting experience and the consistency of the paintings.
Here are the 4 thumbnails that I did. I tried out a few different ideas, namely how high to put the waterline and a couple of slightly different arrangement of shapes.
The unexpected gift I was given when I did these thumbnails was to have some people sunbathing in this fairly secluded spot. But it gave me a great opportunity to practice sketching the figure in these particular poses. Here are the very small, quick sketches I did. They are extremely basic but it’s very interesting how much information I actually got from them. In total these 2 little things took about 2 minutes.
Just for fun I took these 2 thumbnails and did them a little larger in watercolour. All of a sudden this is getting very interesting. I can see some exciting new ways to develop the ideas contained in them. Larger paintings come to mind.
Finally here is the 4th plein air painting. It’s by far the best and I must admit that I love it. The main struggle was how to represent the background of trees. I tried a bunch of ideas with none of them actually working but somehow altogether it worked out.
What I love about this painting is that it does completely capture the mood of this little gravel pile that was sunlit in a world of shadows on a very hot day. What I need to keep working on is how to capture the background. The background is a mass of trees with some of the bright greens popping through here and there. I was continually unclear what technique would best represent it. I felt that something fast and experimental was the way to go but my mind kept telling me to do detail. Draw and paint every branch, every trunk etc . In this painting I’ve somehow found a technique that’s in the middle . . . and somehow it works.
1 Week Later
I wasn’t planning to go on with this theme but I went to Griffith Woods again today (July 2) with the Thursday plein air group. This time we were right on the Elbow River at the far eastern end of the parking lot. Lots of kids swimming. Here are a few very quick thumbnails that I did. I’m coming to realize that my first reaction to a subject is so literal. I nearly always include everything I can see. But by committing to do these sketches I was able to realize the painting is about the figures so instead of a landscape with little figures I zoomed in on the real story – the figures. If I hadn’t done these I would have painted the first version and regretted it. By doing them I came up with a scene that really expresses my impression of the scene. I’m very happy with it. Thumbnails love ’em and need ’em.
I was fortunate to attend the Plein Air Convention & Expo in Monterey, California as 1 of 3 representatives of The Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour. This clip shows the highlights of the week. It was a fabulous experience, motivating and inspiring.
These are my plein air paintings from Monterey. I found out that in these plein air events the definition of a plein air painting is one started on site and either finished on site or finished later without the use of photographs. By that definition some of these are not true plein air work but by my definition that’s OK.
This year the CSPWC’s Symposium will be held in Cornwallis Nova Scotia. I was extremely pleased to ask to be one of the instructors there. It’s in a fabulous location and promises to be an exciting week devoted to watercolour painting. My wife has already signed up to take part in the symposium. I highly recommend that you consider taking advantage of this opportunity if it is at all possible. The comments from all participants at past symposia has be excellent.
Here is a great deal of information about the symposium. For further details check out the CSPWC website.