A Good Cure for Restlessness

13 01 2014

It always happens every year, that irksome restlessness that comes after a period of too much stimulation. It seems to take me forever to calm down after all the excitement of Christmas when the house bulged with guests and rocked with music and merriment, and our bellies protruded with too much gourmet food.

The inner turmoil goes something like this.  “I really need to thoroughly clean the house now that everyone has left.  I’ve got to get working on my spring show of 101 small watercolours.  Maybe I should participate in the summer Muskoka Arts and Crafts show with my cards, after all.  That means painting at least six cards a days.  I’d like to start blogging again.  And, oh, Sarah left her cello here.  Should I take cello lessons?”

So, I end up doing nothing.  I am suspended like a hummingbird before a feeder, wildly whirling my wings but going nowhere, then, erratically sipping at this feeder and dashing off to that flower.  No matter how many firm talks I give myself about focus and self-discipline, and no matter how many noble quotes I read about success, I just can’t seem to get very far on any project.

Matters came to a climax this afternoon when I found myself rarely alone for a few hours on a Sunday. It was the perfect time to start blogging again.  A full pot of hot rooibos tea before me, and a blank Microsoft page open, I waited eagerly for the gates to creativity to swing open.   But, they didn’t.   I hadn’t a clue what to write about, just like I haven’t had a clue, since Christmas, what to paint on the enormous stack of blank canvasses in the corner of my studio.  With each passing minute, the anxiety increased.   It was time to take a walk.

My quiet country road weaves through the forest and traces the rugged contours of the Algonquin Highlands.   I couldn’t help noticing that a raccoon, a grouse, a mouse and a fox had, each, gone for a walk not long before me. Why, even a car had made a new tread pattern in the snow part way up the road before the driver lost his nerve and turned around. The top, wispy branches of the naked maples were gently sweeping the clouds to the side so I could enjoy glimpses of the startling blue sky.   A playful breeze pinched my cheeks and rattled the dry beech leaves clustered tenuously on saplings.  Nervous nuthatches fluttered noiselessly in the branches while a hairy woodpecker hammered relentlessly at a tree trunk until it offered up a bug.

I noticed, when I sat down again to my cold tea and computer, that the gates to creativity had mysteriously opened in my absence.  Ideas and words flowed easily and I was able to write.

For me, a brisk walk in nature is the best cure for just about anything.

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Let it Snow!

14 12 2012

The world outside my studio today is a grey, cast-iron caldron of popping popcorn and I am peeking over the rim watching the fluffy stuff jump, swirl and pile up and up.

I wish those white blobs were edible. My lunch date at my friend’s house was cancelled due to this big snowfall and I’m starving. Like her, most of us in Muskoka live isolated at the end of windy, hilly, back roads that are not plowed very often. When it snows like this, we just learn to change plans quickly and sit tight until we can budge.

Thankfully, I don’t have to budge for another hour. Tom Allan is playing Vivaldi and I am reminded just how well Vivaldi and snowy days go together. The two seem to be mimicking each other with their pristine, joyful dances.

It is a great joy just to see the snow finally return to Dorset. It certainly took its time this year and I was beginning to worry that global warming was going to deprive me of one of my favourite painting subjects. I love it when the winter snow dresses the trees like royalty in stately mantles of ermine and lays down a thick spongy carpet over the impassible, debris-strewn forest floor. Snow transforms it into a smooth, white desert that I can stride easily across on racket-shaped snowshoes into the remotest of places.

Winter Garb

Winter Garb  by Elizabeth Johnson  24×20″ acrylic on canvas

As I watch the first big snow come down in Dorset, I think of A. Y. Jackson’s First Snow Algoma, of A. J. Casson’s big blobs in First Snow, Grenadier Pond  and of Kathleen Moir Morris’ snow-laden Montreal scenes. Many Canadian painters have even managed to sneak those beautiful snow shapes into their spring and summer paintings. Whether they were put there subconsciously or intentionally, they are there.  Just have a look at Lauren Harris’ clouds and Arthur Lismer’s blossoms in Georgian Bay, Spring. What about Tom Thompson’s Lily Pads? I bet those painters were longing for the snow to come back soon after the spring melt.

A gallery owner once advised me not to paint winter scenes. “They don’t sell,”  he said.  He might have just as well told me not to be Canadian. Snow is the trademark of so many Canadian painters.

My hour is up. I must go out into the popping, dancing whiteness and find my son for his violin lesson. He will be playing a Vivaldi concerto for his teacher this afternoon.





The Art Room

29 01 2012

 The Art Room is an unexpected space, carved out of a back corner in the Portico timber framing shop.   You can brave the carpenters, the sawdust and the shrill screech of the shop machines to get to it, but I highly recommend you go around and approach it from outside, from the garden.   Pick up the old cobblestone and brick path that runs between the wood-fired pizzeria on your right, and the clay pot men standing guard on your left.   It will lead you right up to a cheerful, bright red shop with white wooden letters that spell out THE ART ROOM.   Please come in.

Welcome to my Dorset (Ontario) studio and art gallery.  It’s an inviting place with a pine floor and warm white walls above pine wainscoting.  A bulging antique wardrobe hides unsuccessfully in one corner, a tall splattered easel and table possessively hog the corner next to the windows, while an old Duncan Fife sags under stacks of books, flowers, cards and a full pot of tea, right smack in the middle of the room.  That’s about it.  Oh, there’s Grandma’s creaky settee, and matching chair, too.  Please, won’t you sit down?  What do you take in your tea?

It is in this simple, 18 x 14 ft rectangle that you will likely find me, these days, behind my easel.  I am a painter: middle-aged, petite with thick glasses and schizophrenic hair.  For me, the light-filled Art Room is the perfect place to work during the winter.  North-facing windows look out onto my garden, now under snow, and beyond to the community garden boxes, and beyond that, to the majestic forest. (Please ignore the ugly storage units and the chain-link fence that are also there.)  Crowning the visual feast looms old Tower Hill with its historic Lookout Tower perched on top like a maraschino cherry.

Every morning, before I paint, I inhale the beautiful scene outside my studio windows.  The French Impressionist painter, Monet, painted the hourly changes of light on the cathedral facade in Rouen.  Even those famous paintings can’t compare to the nuances of light and the staggering changes of mood that sweep across Tower Hill from day to day, hour to hour.

This winter I am devoting my time to painting. The walls of my art room are dancing with the bold, colourful acrylics, oils and monoprints of Muskoka and Haliburton landscapes, Ontario townscapes,  interiors, still-life and a few portraits.  I’m getting ready for your visit this spring or summer.  In the meantime, you can hear about what is going on in The Art Room, through this blog and my website (www.ejohnsonart.com).   I will be posting on my blog once a week on Wednesday mornings.  Tea will be steeping in the pot.  Until then, have a great week, and as my friend Wayne says on his answering machine, “Make it count!”