But What Should I Paint? – Choosing a Theme for an Art Series

I went back and forth about the overall theme of this painting series I’m working on. For a while I wanted to paint something connected to Ancient Egypt after revisiting the amazing display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. I borrowed books and tapes from the library and listened to podcasts. I still AM listening to an interesting one, Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt. However, I didn’t feel connected enough to the subject to paint it.

After rejecting a few more ideas, I took a good look at 2 of my favorite paintings. Why did I like them and what were they really about?

My personal favorites all have an aspect of ‘coming home’. I mean that in the broadest of terms because ‘home’ for me is really a feeling about a place. It’s where I feel a sense of belonging, freedom, joy and love. There is mystery and there is also a hint of darkness. There is definitely nature. Always.

painting detail, ©Flora Doehler
painting detail, ©Flora Doehler

Every painting I make has personal meaning for me. It may look to the observer like a simple bouquet of flowers, but there is a story running through my head as I paint.

So many flowers remind me of my grandmother, Flora Mary, who I dearly loved. She had a market garden and grew lots of flowers. I loved visiting her garden in the east end of Toronto. She had a tiny little house on 1/4 acre that bordered a ravine. It seemed like my own secret, lush garden with pear trees to climb and cherries to pick. I lived with my parents in upper stories of houses or upper apts in downtown Toronto, so going to Nanny’s was my nature sanctuary. But there was darkness there too. My dear grandmother had never been able to come to terms with the losses of her mother at 8, grandmother at 12 and husband at 27. She was witty, kind and when sober, a storybook grandmother. Unfortunately, she was also a dedicated alcoholic. Her ongoing addiction eventually destroyed all her memories and faculties.

painting by Flora Doehler
Remembering Nanny’s gladioli, 24″ x 30″, oil. ©Flora Doehler, 2010

My gladioli painting expresses the love I felt for Nanny and her joy-giving flowers. I painted this before we had much of a garden here and the flowers came from gardens of women in Bear River who befriended me. More joy.

From a technical standpoint, I like the vibrant clean colours, the shapes and the contrasts in this painting. There is a hint of darkness in the blues at the bottom, but it is definitely ‘under control’ and not the main story.

Two summers ago, I got up way too early, dragged all my gear outside and set up in the middle of the vegetable garden so I could paint the Golden Globe flowers that were falling this way and that. Their heads were so heavy, they pulled themselves downward. To me, they looked to be bowing down – perhaps to Mother Nature? My mother loved Golden Globes and had some of these ridiculously tall and leggy flowers in her tiny postage stamp of a backyard in Toronto in the 70’s.

That day in the garden was especially special for me to hear the morning birds chirping and to watch the breezes move the flowers. It was a totally magical experience to be out there alone.
Technically, I like the movement in this painting.  I appreciate the restricted palette of mostly yellows and greens.  I notice that the ‘darkness’ is at a safe distance.

There are many places that have been ‘home’ for me, but here in Bear River, I can be AT home as much as I want to and beautiful nature surrounds me. There is time and privacy to paint. And there is beauty everywhere. These are priceless luxuries.

So my theme for this series is about the state of mind that feels like Home. I’d better figure out a title soon so I can print invitations to my show April 15 – 23, 2017.

If you’d like to have an invitation mailed to you, please email me your snail address and I’ll send you one! flora@floradoehler.ca

Thanks for reading and for your comments. That brings me joy as well. 🙂

4 thoughts on “But What Should I Paint? – Choosing a Theme for an Art Series

  1. I truly loved your post and of course your paintings but I think lately I have been thinking a lot of why we artists paint. I don’t want to paint because I want to compete or to ‘sell’, I paint because of pure expression. I paint for myself first and foremost. I think that your post is so refreshing because there are stories within your paintings, you express yourself through your painting and share it with those around you. Thank you so much for this confirmation of what has been rumbling around within me.

    1. Thank you Margaret! I’m so glad my writing resonates with you. I’ve always been interested in people and their motivations for being and why they think how they do. And of course, the same goes for artists and their work. What motivates them? What is their back-story?
      I have yet to meet a painter who isn’t driven by some inner force to ‘try again’ and to work out some puzzle on a canvas. I can’t possibly keep or hang all the work I create so when someone decides to buy a painting from me and can’t live without it, I am thrilled and touched. It is a validation and it enables me to paint with abandon and to replenish my supplies and more. 🙂

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