Evolution of a Painting

Painting in the studio.
Starting a painting.

I like to paint from life, which means painting on location or with the thing that’s being painted actually present.  Painting from photos just isn’t nearly as satisfying for me because I can’t get as close to my subject as I would like to. You see, not only do I like what happens when paint goes on a surface – the explosion of color and movement of the brush over the canvas or paper and the mixing of colors, I very much enjoy looking at my subject and really, meditating on it.

This Peony is stunning and so is the shadow. The scent is also out-of-this-world!
This Peony is stunning and so is the shadow. The scent is also out-of-this-world!

If I’m outside I can listen to the sounds around me of birds singing or the sound of the wind rustling leaves or grasses blowing in the wind.  I enjoy the smell of the air and the fragrances of the earth and plants.

These 12 tall hollyhocks were so inspiring and called out to be painted.
These 12′ tall hollyhocks were so inspiring and called out to be painted.

I like to watch shadows flit across a field when clouds move across the sun. I enjoy the many shades of green in the landscape. Painting becomes a truly sensual experience.

The painting is 3 feet high and was started on location and finished in the studio.
The painting is 3 feet high and was started on location and finished in the studio.

If I can’t go outside because of cold weather or rain, I can still set up a still life and paint indoors. In that case I am often examining flowers close-up and checking out the petals and the shapes of the blooms. When I lived in the city it was possible to buy fresh flowers, even in the winter, for a very low price.  Unfortunately, that is no longer the case for me here in Bear River.  Fresh flowers are very expensive and the choices are quite limited.

Last summer I had a flower subscription with Cheryl Stone of Bear River Blooms.  Every week Cheryl would deliver a fabulous bouquet to the studio complete with vase. Cheryl grows the flowers herself and will cut for you a totally custom-made bouquet.

Flowers by Bear River Blooms
Flowers by Bear River Blooms

Cheryl would call me in advance to find out what my colour choices were and ask what type of flower I preferred. Talk about being pampered! I wasn’t able to paint all the beautiful bouquets she delivered but I did take photos and now I am printing some of them out to use as inspiration for my new paintings.  It’s certainly not like working from the original bouquet but because I staged the photos in the first place with a painterly composition in mind, it’s the next best thing.

This photo of mine has inspired me to paint.
This was one of my favorite bouquets last summer.

 I love peonies, in part, because they remind me of my dear mother and my grandmother – two wonderful, clever and witty women who passed on their love of flowers and of gardening to me. What I also like about this photo are the colours. The contrast of the lime green in the lupines with the dark pink of the peony are very appealing. Red and green are complementary colors which I like to use in my paintings.  I decided to use that pale lime green as the ground or the background for the canvas.

Here is a video of my first approach to painting this bouquet. It morphed quite a bit until I felt OK with the results.

When I work on a new painting, I do so as long as it gives me pleasure.  If I start feeling like I don’t know where to go next or I feel a sense of frustration, I stop.  It is possible to look at the same piece of work on different days and feel different levels of satisfaction with it.  Sometimes the only way to know the next step with a painting is to put it away and to work on something else.

This week I returned to the painting and was so excited about working on it, that I thought of different ways to express “peony” and started 2 more paintings!

I’m very happy with the painting. I like the textures and the colours and the feel of it. However, the real thrill was in the making of it and now that it’s over, I can’t wait to move on to the next.

Last Summer. 30 x 36, acrylic.
Last Summer”. 30″ x 36″, acrylic (sold)

This painting, inspired by Cheryl’s flowers has inspired more paintings from me. And inspired is a wonderful state to be in.

Painting detail.
Painting detail.

Inspiration. Where does it come from?

Creative inspiration.

Where does it come from and where does it go to? Like all eternal questions the answers vary from person to person and the reasons are complex.

There are several ‘givens’ for me. My feelings have to kick in. I have to feel an inkling of an inner joy or excitement about looking at the object that I want to paint. I like to be well-rested so that I can focus on the task at hand. I feel especially inspired by nature, by colour, by visual things around me. Sometimes I am amazed by the sight of a flower grouping or a landscape or a cloud formation or even a colour and I want to stop everything and pull out the paints. I like to play music that accompanies my mood and my approach to the canvas.
Cloud in Bear River East
Sometimes a life event will trigger the painting. My painting Exuberance that sold recently at the Flight of Fancy in Bear River may look like a flower painting, but it was really a celebration of a breakthrough in my painting style.


After painting exclusively with watercolours for years, I had discovered fluid acrylics and found them to be a logical extension of wet-in-wet watercolours. Fluid acrylics have both the translucency and brilliance of watercolours with the advantage of the flexibility of acrylic. I was so excited about this and I think that energy came through in the painting.

Recently I’ve been getting my inspiration from beautiful Bear River Blooms on Sissaboo Road. This flower growing farm is worked by the caring hands of Cheryl Stone. Her bouquets are loaded with blooms, they are fresh, cheerful, colourful and the ones I’ve been getting from her have a country-cottage feel to them. How could I not be inspired

I drew inspiration from a bouquet to develop my current painting.

For me, the painting process starts out as an exercise in getting to know the subject matter. I focus on the object so intensely that I don’t want to talk to anyone or to be interrupted. (My wonderful studio-mate and life-mate Larry is very respectful of this).

Next, I choose the colours that I will use. My objective is to narrow it down to 3 to 6 colours. It’s a tough discipline, but it means there will be more harmony in the painting.

I changed the colours of the blooms as I was in an “orange” mood. 

The flowers emerge out of darkness and for me, this painting is about the joy I feel in finally being set up in a fabulous studio and having the chance to play with colour.
Into the Light  (sold)

It is interesting to me how much more I get out of the flowers knowing they were lovingly grown by someone I know. If you get a chance to go to the Annapolis Farmer’s Market, stop by Cheryl’s booth and buy some old-fashioned blooms that last forever.

Some of the music I listened to was Jane Ira Blooms’ Chasing Pollack. It’s quite jazzy and loose. You can sample it here.

I also listened to the Peat Bog Fairies and you can hear them in the background of this little video of me painting. They live on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, an extremely inspiring place if there ever was one!

The pasty looking gunk on the canvas is matt medium. It allows me to move the paint by scratching it and scraping it. It also dries clear. You can also see which colours I used for this piece.