Friday, October 21, 2016

Painting workshop honours the stuff below the surface

"How many people felt more terrified than ever before on May 3rd?" I asked a room full of healthcare professionals.  Most hands, including my own, shot up immediately.

May 3rd to our community was like 9-11 was to New York, a point in time that everyone relates to in a deeply personal way.  We are five and a half months out from the event, but the emotions are still there, bubbling under the surface.

I facilitated an abstract painting workshop yesterday with 24 amazing professionals who reflected on their careers, family, influencers and the events before, during and after the great Fort McMurray fire.  We laughed together, shared memories together, and yes, we cried together, too.

"I had countless calls and messages from people asking if I was safe," said one participant.  "This was the first time someone asked how I was feeling in the moments.  It was important for me to remember and voice some of those things."

Words, shapes, colours and brush strokes became a conduit during this 3-hour workshop, a pipeline to memories, moments and feelings that were not suppressed, per se, rather supplanted, by busy lives, and an insistence to press forward and be resilient.  Without exception, every single person had important things to remember, express on canvas, and share.

In the process of going through this experience, work colleagues were able to support each other and get personal insights about themselves and each other.  Adding colour and form to the stuff below the surface and then giving voice to them had a powerful effect.  I felt honoured to be in the presence of these strong and determined professionals who provide care to others as part of what they do every day.  They were incredibly brave during the disaster, the hard weeks that followed, and even now, as they carry on with their lives and contribute to the rebuilding of our community.

If you're interested in find out more about gifting your work team with a 3-hour painting journey, reach out to me.  Asking them how they are doing is one thing, but inviting them to acknowledge and honour what is happening below the surface is care and concern of a different order.  | 780-881-3752

Monday, October 17, 2016

My struggle

There are few - if any - paintings that don't put me through a period of struggle.  In every project, there is a point when I have to step away from what is safe and composed and dive into what is unpredictable and chaotic.  There have been a dozen or so paintings that this period of visual discombobulation has been rather elongated.

If I was to identify the various phases of a typical painting project, what would they be?  Hmmmm...

The Drawing Phase

Using the grid method, I start working from a black and white image proportional to the canvas that works best with the composition.  Depending on the subject, or number of subjects, the type of clothing or background, the drawing phase can take from as short as 15 minutes to as long as multiple hours.  Strangely, the drawing part of any project is the most physically taxing.

The Base Layer

I typically start applying very light shades of colour to the brightest spots of the subject's face, shades of yellow, green and blue give way to flesh tones.  Highlight lines get applied along with medium tones of orange, red, and green.  When medium magenta and yellow green arrive on the canvas, it means a new phase is about to begin.

Working the Canvas

As I move from the base layer to finding the right palette and tone balance, I begin the struggle.  I never go into a project with a pre-planned colour treatment.  Rather, I work the canvas until I find it.  Sometimes that search can take quite a bit of effort, and paint.

Walking Away

When a project is particularly tough, I try to walk away for awhile.  Leaving the space, or having a nap, gives time for my unconscious mind do its work.  The lingering questions of colour, texture or line will bounce around in my brain while I distract myself with something completely unrelated to painting.  On most occasions, the answer reveals itself and I go back into the studio with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

The Background

Getting the background of portraits right is so important.  Making a wrong choice can take away from the subject and cause dissonance and visual confusion.  When the background is right, it seems to cue the heavenly choir to break into song.

Final Touches

The best thing for me to do when a project is substantially complete is to walk away from it for a bit.  Getting to this point before a meal is particularly useful.  Going through the process of preparing and serving food, visiting with my family, and cleaning up, shakes things up enough to allow me to view the work with fresh eyes.  Small changes near the end can make all the difference.

The Signature

I typically only add my signature at the very end.  Occasionally, I go back and make slight changes after, but it is rare.  The signature becomes part of the composition, shifting positions depending on the piece.

I am learning so much as I go through this creative journey.  The projects that provide the most struggle tend to offer up the most valuable lessons.  The commissions that provide great challenges give the greatest gifts.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Youth inspires

Today was Austan Najmi Beachamp's 11th birthday.  He could have celebrated any number of ways, but he chose instead to mark his special day by unveiling his first solo art exhibition.

"Sufferings at Indian Residential Schools" is powerful exhibition that looks at one of the darkest chapters of Canadian history through the eyes and imagination of a remarkable young citizen of Fort McMurray.  Austan was inspired by three elders who shared their residential school memories with his classroom.  He took their oral history and combined it with online research to create a fictional story, supported by a series of illustrative paintings, to bring the viewer closer to the harsh realities of residential schools.

My heart was in my throat as I went around the Meichos Gallery looking at the paintings and reading the story.  It is unfathomable to understand what the government and churches of the time were thinking when they executed this forced assimilation. This exhibition is a great platform for dialogue and learning. As Canadians, we need to better understand the hows and whys of this cultural policy and the damage it has wrought on generations of Aboriginal families.

Austan was five years old when he first participated in The Amazing Art Race at interPLAY with his entire family.  He has continued to pursue his love of art and was marvellously eloquent in his remarks to a gallery full of friends and fans.  I'm looking forward to having this amazing fellow on my IMPACT radio show on November 1st.  He will be my youngest guest, though I get the sense that he is an old soul.

This is a stunning artistic achievement, an exhibition that required a tremendous effort, remarkable empathy and heart.  Please take a half hour out of your day in the next few weeks to go and view it.  This is a young artist who is intent to be a force for good in the world.  He inspired us all today and he will likely inspire you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My dance with Dylan

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Some people may grimace and turn up their nose when they hear this news; I applaud it.  I have felt for the better part of my adult life that Dylan is a singer/songwriter/poet of the highest order.  His words have been with me for so long that it feels they are part of my bones.

In the way the public sees a particular nominee for President, people either love or hate this minstrel who emerged in the pubs and bars of New York City at the dawn of the 1960s.

"The man can't sing," say some.

"The man is a god," say others.

Heather and I saw him in concert at the Saddledome in Calgary some years back.  I thought it was a marvellous performance.  His voice was in fine form and he twisted and turned familiar classics into song treatments that were totally fresh and fantastic.

I have painted and drawn Bob Dylan several times throughout this creative journey.  I thought it would be appropriate on this day to share a few of these.

I know my journey with Bob Dylan isn't over. I don't think his journey with us is over yet either.  He is now 75 years old, but still writing and touring on a regular basis.  Winning the Nobel Prize is a huge deal, a testament to his legacy on music, and particularly, songwriting. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Winky's Last Ride

"Someone tweeted to me, asking if I was going to paint Winky," I said to Sandy, Winky's owner, when he came by the studio for the surprise presentation of Winky's portrait yesterday.

What's a Winky? I asked, messaging back to @JasonHordichuk, not knowing anything about the Winky Rides phenomenon.

I went looking for the Winky Rides Facebook Page and website after that and then began seeing post after post about this amazing dog who had passed away and his wonderful owner.  My colleague and friend Theresa Wells wrote a beautiful blog tribute called "Winky's Everlasting Ride". Local and provincial media outlets started picking up the story and more questions and requests started coming in asking me to paint Winky's portrait.

I went back and checked.  The first suggestion actually came in on Friday via Twitter. Then the following morning Kelly Melanson reached out.  He wanted to make it happen in the worst way and we hatched a plan to do a surprise presentation in about a month and a half.  Then a second commission request came in, followed by a third, fourth, fifth and sixth.  This was the universe's way of telling me I needed to do the painting immediately.  So, I did.

As those people who follow my process know, I always paint from a black and white image.  This frees me up to imagine all kinds of colours as I start putting down the first few layers of paint: yellow, red, orange, quinacridone green and turquoise.  Bright magenta and yellow green come into the picture along with payne's grey and eventually black.  I work the canvas, allowing the palette and brush strokes to go where they need to go.  I never go into a piece knowing where it is going to take me.  Winky took me on an amazing ride.

The painting was done by Saturday afternoon but Sandy had a house full of company that evening, so Kelly and I planned a rendezvous in Birdsong Studio the following morning.  Sandy had no idea what was happening, though he quickly suspected that a painting of Winky had happened when he stepped in a saw the room full of portraits and colour.

We enjoyed a lovely visit, complete with great Winky stories and a few tears.  Pictures were taken, numbers exchanged and Winky's portrait went home with his dad.

"Winky's Last Ride" (thanks to the generosity of Kelly Melanson for helping to make it happen, and the graciousness of Sandy, who is going to lend it to us) will join my solo exhibition at MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery at the opening reception on December 1st and be shared with the community until the close of that show on January 28th.  It will be an evening not to be missed and everyone is welcome.

Sandy returned to Birdsong Studio a few hours later with a shopping bag full of Winky memorabilia.  He is such a generous soul, a Fort McMurray treasure.

I wanted to grab a selfie with Sandy before he left.  We snapped this one.

Then I told him a good joke.

I think seeing Sandy with a smile meant a lot to his friends and fans.

We are working on a plan to make limited edition prints of "Winky's Last Ride" available with 100-percent of the proceeds going to the SPCA.  Stay tuned.  Winky's amazing story is far from over.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Trump dilemma

After the latest set of revelations about Donald Trump, things he did and said years ago strategically emerging so close to the general election, many people say the game is over and the presidency will surely go to Hillary Clinton.  If you're not sure what I'm talking about, go to any news website and you'll find stories with language and content warnings that will tell and show all.

Donald Trump has tripped up and said things that have been inflammatory, contradictory, offensive and every other negative descriptor you can wrap your tongue around throughout this campaign.  Yet, he is still standing.  I would suggest that he'll still be standing when this latest wave of shocking/repulsive/explosive comments and actions get supplanted by something else.

If you think these political bombshells are news to the Trump organization, you're being naive.  He is attacking this run for the White House in a way that defies any playbook, ignores the rules, and synchs perfectly with a rolling boil of discontentment in America that isn't going to go away with a few errant sexual comments and inappropriate actions caught on tape from a decade ago.  He had to have known these were going to come out, and you can bet he was ready for them.

While I'm not convinced that there is a deep dark strategy at work in the upper echelons of the Trump campaign, the missteps and foibles have done little to disturb his momentum and connection to the disenchanted.  The shoot from the hip and tell-it-like-it-is approach seems to speak to people in a way that inspires forgiveness for a slew of inconsistencies and moral failings.

At a more intellectual level, a large number of people are voting Republican because they think their policies and governance style is what is required in America right now.  They may not like the idiosyncrasies of their leader, but they are very willing to hold their noses and vote for the man many people are describing as a "buffoon".

I'm not saying that Trump is going to win on November 8th, but I would certainly never say he was going to lose.  Too many people said there we no conceivable way that he would win the Republican nomination.  Those same people might be waking up this morning saying there is now no way he is going to win the general.  I fear they may wake up on November 9th wondering what went wrong.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Painting at Ecole McTavish

I'm always emboldened by young people who express themselves through the arts.  Their creative energy and natural talent blows me away.  Last night, I had an invitation from teacher Ashley Brockway to do some live painting at Ecole McTavish with two students, Mariam and Jasmine.  We were set up off to the left of the audience and painted the Frankenstein monster while awards were handed out and performances given.

Mariam and Jasmine reminded me a lot of my son Ben - they are about the same age.  I tried to express the similarities to my wife when I got home, but I had a devil of a time.  They were both so serious about the task at the outset, very quiet and emotionally reserved.  But a marvellous thing happened.

Near the end of the awards, Mariam and Jasmine were almost finished their portraits.  Both were fantastic and completely unique.  The finishing flourishes that they added right at the end were brilliant and perfect.  As the program came to a close, family and friends came over to their tables to see their work.  They lit up, and I lit up inside seeing them shine.

A young lady named Emma Lewis (Scarecrow in the recent Ecole McTavish production of The Wiz) did a stunning version of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Cars".  The jazz band did an awesome version of "Louie Louie".  And the emcees, the Fadden brothers,  were absolutely fantastic (and humorous) in keeping the program rolling.

Certainly one of the highlights for me was the musical reunion of Emma Lewis and Hannah Forward.  I don't know the name of the song they did but it was so good.  There is nothing better than painting to live music, and my brush was in high gear as they two of them sang and played.

I've grown to become very fond of the students, teachers and administration of Ecole McTavish.  They are fantastic people, and as I listened to the introductions of the various awards, it is clear to me that some beautiful life-changing things are happening in this school.  It was an honour to be there.