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.

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A Different Kind of Landscape Painting

6 06 2012

“All gardening is landscape painting.”

Alexander Pope

My mother grew a huge vegetable garden in which we four children had to put in a certain number of hours of planting, weeding and picking.  My favourite memories of the garden concerned peas.  I loved planting the peas.  They looked like soft green buttons  sewn on the umber-coloured shirt of a sleeping giant,  and I was the seamstress as I dropped each pea- button, one to two inches apart, into the trough.   When they grew into plump pods, I’d eat them raw, cramming whole fistfuls into my mouth.  No snack can compare to those freshly shelled garden peas.   Even the pods were delicious, once you peeled off the inner membrane.

It took me many years to have a vegetable garden of my own.  But now I have one and it is a miracle.   Two years ago, my husband and I purchased the  land on which my husband’s business sits (Portico Timber Frames).   The soil itself is mostly sand and rock – fill that had been dumped into a swamp.   But  the site has sunshine and it is flat, both rare features in Muskoka and the Haliburton Highlands and I began to dream of the possiblility of growing a garden there.    Since the soil grew scruffy weeds, I wondered if it might just grow vegetables, too.  I could just see that desert bloom.

After reading Patricia Lanza’s Lasagna Gardening,  I went to work trying out her no dig, no till, no weeding system of gardening.   After mowing down the weeds and grass, my husband and I built long rectangular boxes with wood from Portico’s scrap pile.  I lined the bottom with 4 sheets of wet, overlapping newspapers to kill the growth.  On top, I dumped layers of manure, coffee grounds from Tim Horton’s, peat moss, chopped leaves,  straw, top soil, compost, anything I could think off that might make a good soil.  Then, I sowed my seeds, flowers and veggies all mixed in together.

Today, it is a verdant, bountiful garden that feeds my family all summer long and provides a quiet and refreshing place where people can stroll and rest in.  Much more has grown up in this garden.  My daughter opened a wood-fired pizzeria in my garden (mypizzaonearth.com).  My new studio opens out onto the garden.  My husband and nephew built an English-style brick pathway and patio in the garden.  My little garden developed further to include a burgeoning Dorset community garden where members meet to garden, trade plants and gardening tips and to socialize.   Birds love to visit the garden, too.  Miracles do happen. Deserts really can bloom.

As I dropped the peas into the soil this afternoon and was transported back to my mother’s garden,  I looked up at my own beautiful garden with is tall spires of garlic, its deep blue irises, its bright yellow-green lettuce, and fragrant herbs. I realized that, while I paint for a living, I now live in a painting.  My surroundings are also my canvas.  Gardening is just another form of landscape painting.   No wonder I am totally absorbed by it.





Perilous Paralysis

18 04 2012

I don’t know if I would call today a good day or not.  It was one of those days when all I can think about is a cup of coffee and a little nap under my feather duvet.  

Now, I’m supposed to be an artist.  You know, an original thinker, a fount of imagination and of all things unusual   But not today.  The creativity switch just won’t turn on.  Instead, I go to click the on button of my $15.00 Sally Ann stereo with a spastic volume dial that can unexpectedly jump up to full volume (over 50) if jiggled. 

It happened once to poor Harry.  At the time, I was in the bathroom at the opposite end of the building, a whole timber frame shop away.  Suddenly, above the scream of the planers and tablesaws,  I heard CBC radio host, Julie Nazralla, belt out, in her usual enthusiastic and gushy way, “Welcome to your symphonic hour of power.”  

I raced through the shop, back to my studio, where the other members of my book club stood, frozen in the overwhelming volume, and Harry was frantically spinning the useless volume dial while Beethoven’s symphony ripped.  Julie wasn’t kidding when t\she said this was our hour of power.   

 I chuckle at the memory, then decide that I will have silence today.  I pull up a chair to the window and look to Tower Hill for help. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help“,  I chant encouragingly.   Today, no help cometh.  

Coffee time.  Better take some to the guys in the shop, too.  Back in my chair, coffee mug in hand,  I watch sharp little spears of snow punish the garden that I just planted on Saturday and involuntarily pull the portable heater closer to me. 

About an hour into this non-creative crisis,  I am definitely feeling the need of a nap.  But the bed is a long, snowy, bike ride away..  So, I sit, practicing my yoga breath, and meditating.   And that, cyber friends, is how I spent my whole morning in the studio.  It sure doesn’t feel like I accomplished anything today. 

I did, however, notice how exquisite, how nourishing, the silence was. 

 

 

  





The Real Thing

7 03 2012

My home is filled with beautiful and strange works of art that I have collected over my fifty years of life.  Nothing very big.  Each one is precious to me and carries a story with it: the little hand-painted tiles I found in an ancient bazaar in Iran, the oil painting that I purchased on an island in the Dnieper River in Ukraine, the painted, basswood toucans that my husband and daughters made for me one Christmas when cash was low, my Schwartz-Buenemann paintings, one of which my husband obtained as payment for carpentry work.  ( I now paint with her oil paints.) These are just a few.

As the years go by, I like them more and more, not just because of the happy memories they evoke, but because they are beautiful and real. They are not perfect, thank goodness.  The burn marks and the firefighters’ water stains on my icons from Sidney, Nova Scotia, tell a tale of these paintings being snatched out of a burning church.  The flaws make them more beautiful.   The artists’ hands held the works of art (maybe even dropped them), carved, chiseled, sewed or painted them.  In most cases, I have visited with the artist, held those toiling hands in mine, and  become friends with them.  They’ve helped me to be real and genuine, accepting of my scars, and not just a copy of someone else.

So, when a friend suggested that most people would prefer to buy a reproduction at Walmart for $6.99, than pay hundreds or thousands to get an original work of art, something in me protested very strongly.  It’s like asking someone if they prefer receiving a form letter or a personal handwritten letter.  Better yet, it’s like asking if you would choose to watch a documentary on Tuscany ahead of going to Tuscany.   There are ways of getting to Tuscany on the cheap (I’ve done it.), and there are also ways to collect original art, without spending a lot of money.  In this blog, I wish to dispel the notion that original art is reserved  for the rich.

Original art can be affordable if you buy small items and if you buy from unknown or undiscovered artists.  Buy art that you like.  Don’t buy the name.

In many cases, artists are open to you paying for their art in installments.

Some artists are happy to barter their art for other goods and services.  In the past, I have traded my paintings for a holiday at a fancy B&B, dental work, bushels of fruit and vegetables, a private quintet concert in my home, and other works of art.

If you can’t afford the art you like, just start saving.  If you really want something, you can usually find a way.   I wanted to buy my husband a soapstone bear for his 50th birthday.  I had to save and wait for several years, but the sacrifice made it even more special the day I brought Frobisher home and gave it to him.

Hand-pulled prints, such as lino-block, or wood-block prints are generally cheaper than paintings or sculptures and are wonderful works of art to collect. All of my early art purchases were lino-block prints.  Some came from thrift stores.

Art collecting takes you on countless adventures as you track down treasures in little galleries and studios or second hand shops in out-of-the-way places. You get to know your area.  You meet inspiring people. You find out a lot about art.  You support your local economy and build community. You feel alive.

Go to local arts councils and studio tours and find out where the artists are and what they are creating.  You will find that there’s a great deal to explore right in your own back yard.  You might not need to go on that cruise after all and you can save yourself a ton of money.

The $6.99 will get you nothing more than a fading poster and a cheap frame from Walmart.  Original art will open doors for you and give you much pleasure and a lasting legacy.   Choose the real and the genuine.   You’ll catch the spirit.  Happy Collecting.





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!”