My Joy

In days of yore I had a passing fancy for art. I have memories of rainy days while camping at Madge Lake and drawing for hours at a time at the table in our iconic camper bus (I say "iconic" because it still stills in the back of my parent's yard and is a local landmark of sorts).  I primarily created in black and blue in those years, with pencils and pens.  As I grew up and out of Kamsack, I created detailed sketches, spending as much time then on a small piece of paper that I am spending now on large canvases.

My art came and went through my life.  Times of personal stress, change or loss would bring on short spurts of productivity, most recently after my dad was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and after I lost the municipal election in 2013.

I distinctly remember being surprised to discover that I had quite a collection of drawings and paintings scattered throughout the house, hung on forgotten patches of wall and buried in memory boxes.  Inside, it felt like I had "forgotten" that I was an artist.  Its rediscovery was like finding an old friend.

Something changed last year.  I don't remember the exact moment, but I had a significant shift in how I saw myself and the role that art was playing in my life, and the role it needed to play going forward.  I was able to say, for the first time, "I am an artist" and believe it.  I also began selling pieces, the first being a portrait of Oscar Peterson painted on a record jacket which went to a former colleague from my radio broadcasting years now living in Michigan.

I also began accepting commissions, paid requests to paint people.  I went through a short period, after my divorce in the early 90s, when I accepted a few of these, but they seemed to cause enormous stress and I steered away from them up until recently.  There is still stress when doing commissions, but it is different now, a good kind of stress.

I've discovered that certain kinds of subjects are out of my comfort zone, and much more challenging and time consuming.  I often joke that painting beautiful young ladies is tough (eg. Katie Perry, Katrina Flores, and Jeannine Popoff): "Capturing beauty is a helluva lot of work; ugly is easy."

The truth is that I love all faces, and am learning to see the uniqueness and beauty in all of them.  I look at people differently now, half my brain assessing how I would paint them while the other half carries on a conversation.

I gravitate to subjects with lines in their faces, distinctive features, shadows and contrast.  The photo I took of Michael Green, the late co-founder of One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre in Calgary, had the perfect combination of all the things I love in a subject:  great light, strong shadows, unforgettable lines, and composition.

When I brought Michael's portrait into the house last weekend, Heather's reaction confirmed my own feeling that it had turned out well.  "I can't stop looking at his face," she said.  "I try to look away, but keep getting drawn back."

In a terrible twist of fate, the photo I took - with the intention of painting Michael and giving it to him  - and the painting it inspired have become synonymous with the remembrance of his life.  The painting was featured today in his eloquent obituary in The Globe and Mail.  

I spent all day in the studio yesterday, mostly completing my largest canvas project to date, a 4' x 5' commission.  I cleaned up the shop in the morning and sketched out the subject, then painted until my body and mind started to tire out after dinner.  I thought I was done - I had put on my pyjamas and everything - but I couldn't stop thinking about the painting.  Eventually, I acquiesced to the urge and put my paint stiffened jeans back on and went back out to work for a few more hours.  I called it a day at about 10:30 pm.

Spending time in the studio is the best thing in the world for my wellness journey, both mentally and physically.  I feel happier; I feel lighter.  I LOVE this creative journey, even the projects that prove tougher and are out of my comfort zone, as they teach me so much.  I LOVE days like yesterday, when I get so caught up in the process that I lose all track of time.  It is euphoric.

At times, I feel like I'm addicted to painting.  In fact, I was going to title this post "My Addiction".  But taking a lesson from Jay Barnard who talked about changing "Graduating" from treatment to "Transitioning" from treatment as a means of ensuring success during his TEDxFortMcMurray presentation on Saturday, I did the same.  "My Addiction" is actually "My Joy" - so similar, yet two completely different ways of looking at the same thing.


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