September 30, 2012

Watercolour Sketching

I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend Cynthia last week to the quarterly opening at the Kelowna Art Gallery. The featured artist was John Hartman, an Ontario painter who took a week to drive through the Columbia River basin, making fast watercolour sketches of the landscape as he went, like this one of Nelson, BC.

He made 30 paintings, all the same size, about 9 x 12". Cynthia and I loved them, watching a video of Hartman at work, and joking that "we could do that!"

It's harder than it looks. I was inspired to try my hand, while at the same time fulfilling an item on my bucket list, which was to go up to Kettle Valley one sunny afternoon and paint. There are two benches there with little tables in front of them - just perfect. It was a glorious afternoon and I had so much fun and gained new respect for John Hartman. But hey, it was just my first try. I bet I could get better at this.

Hartman didn't do any colour mixing at all. Because he worked quickly outdoors, he just dabbed away directly from his watercolour box, getting some colour variation by overpainting once in a while, but mostly the pictures all have the same 8 - 12 colours and they look great together.

I decided to pay little attention to colour - hence the purple mountains. This watercolour sketching method, working fast with no preliminary drawing, takes the pressure off trying to be perfect. Even though my scene looks a bit like palm trees by the Nile river rather than the park at Kettle Valley, I'm pretty excited about doing more of this, and taking a break from the watercolour portraits I've been working on lately.

You can see Hartman's paintings at the Kelowna Art Gallery for the next three months.

Update: I tried another one (left) looking out over the valley from Thornhaven the other day. Too much fun.

Kurelek's Vision of Canada

This is a picture book of a selection of William Kurelek's art, with much descriptive material written by Kurelek himself for a show at  an Oshawa art gallery. But the book also includes an excellent essay by the curator Joan Murray, which held some very interesting insights for me into who this man really was.

I always thought of Kurelek as primarily a pastoral painter who recorded scenes of farm life on the prairies, and he was that, but his main goal as a painter was to engage his audiences in deep thinking about spiritual principles. Kurelek converted to Catholicism in his 20s and became passionate about his belief that the world was going to hell in a handbasket, as the saying goes, and that the only hope for salvation is God. Besides farm scenes, the book includes many dark and disturbing images - funerals, a barn burned down, a metaphorical crucifixion in a field because of anger.

Joan Murray takes an unflinching view of Kurelek's art. She says there is "Much to hate" and that Kurelek had an "unformed sense of picture making" and a terrible sense of colour, with a few later exceptions. His characters are simplistic, often with hackneyed expressions and looking "as though they have no bones."  Kurelek was largely self-taught and admitted that what rules and techniques he did learn, he liked to flout. For instance, he had no trouble with dividing a canvas exactly in half.

I love Kurelek's folksy style and would love to do what he did, driving around the countryside and recording everyday scenes with a paintbrush.

Cover Letter Queen by Carol Caron

I'm particularly proud of my sister for writing and publishing her first book, Cover Letter Queen. Several hundred copies have already been sold, and the book has been on McNally Robinson's bestseller list.

I helped a little bit, early on, with the editing, and found myself so intrigued that I'm sure at times I forgot my editing duties entirely while I chuckled my way through a section. I thought Carol did a particularly good job of the parts that included "Johnny." The book is fictionalized, but I know quite well the man on whom this character is based and I thought she just nailed it with him.

The timing is great - the book moves along briskly, taking a wry look at the sixty-some jobs the main character has held in her lifetime. In spite of taking a hilarious look at why she applied for each job, how she got it, what she did and why she quit, Cover Letter Queen never falls into anything even close to a monotonous rhythm. You will laugh, you will squirm at times, and most of all you'll keep reading to try to figure out what makes the protagonist tick and what she'll be up to next. Whatever she does, I hope she keeps writing. I'm looking forward to the next book already.

You can get more info or buy at