A painting Christmas

Heather had suggested that I get a table top easel in anticipation of traveling back to Kamsack for Christmas.  She has lots of the best ideas in our family.  I did exactly as she suggested and even took the easel on a test drive at The Reason Christmas concert; it had arrived a few weeks before our trip.  While it was a different experience than painting on my large easel, it provides enough flexibility in terms of the canvas sizes it will hold and folds down into a handy little package, roughly the same size as a small briefcase.  As space is always an issue when the four of us travel, something that takes as little real estate as possible was essential.

My first project after we got settled at my parent's home (and the home of my youth) was a Christmas present for Dylan.  He had asked me a long time ago: "If you ever want to paint me something can you make it Shigeru Miyamoto?" He is the creator of some of the best-selling and most influential games of our time.

Feeling the need to try something a little different, I went with a mono-chromatic approach, diving into the purples.

"You picked Dylan's favourite colour," said Heather.

"I did? It was the only colour that called to me."

Next was my mémère and pépère, a special Christmas project for my mom. She had sent me the photo of the two of them from 1930 many years ago. Beat up and wrinkled, I spent hours digitally repairing the striking image taken at Coal Valley, Alberta before they were married. I knew immediately that I didn't want to use the actual background of the photo and instead picked a rolling prairie with a fence bleeding off into the distant horizon. In my mind, they were at the beginning of a great journey that connects to today. The fence and the prairie seemed to fit that idea.

I mostly finished the painting on Christmas Eve, with Mom watching my progress throughout the day. My quiet intention with bringing my paints with me on this trip was to give Mom the opportunity to watch my process. She seized it, and watched for hours. I took the painting to 90-percent completion on Christmas Eve and finished it up on Boxing Day, just before we left for Fort McMurray. Once again, Mom pulled up a chair and watched me make my final adjustments and paint the sides of the canvas.

On Christmas morning I wanted to do something fun and to try something a little different. I spent a few minutes looking at the stunning work of my young friend Dominic down in Florida which inspired a looser approach to the portrait of the influential film director. Rather than starting with my lighter colours, I dived into bolder choices. While the end result resembles my style, the road to get there was very different.

My final Kamsack project was my contribution to the Thomas/Perepelkin Christmas dinner - a portrait of my paternal grandmother, Mildred Thomas.  She had a connection to 95-percent of the 50 people gathered together in the Kamsack Seniors Centre.

As I painted, lots of family members drifted by to watch for a few minutes, before moving on to play pool or visit.  But a number of unlikely suspects, including my aunty Lynda and her son Steven, watched for much of the time, including when I asked my niece Annie to put the final dab of white on the nose to finish off the project.

The winner of the draw was my cousin Gord.  He had seen how intently Aunty Lynda had watched the painting process and decided to gift it to her.  It was one of the most beautiful moments of the entire Christmas visit. For me, that moment of empathy and love is what Christmas is all about.

I would be absolutely remiss if I didn't backtrack a little and share that I had a lovely visit with Mrs. Brenda Kondratoff, my social studies teacher from elementary school and an incredible artist.  She gave me a tour of her work and the various processes that she used to create stunning pieces featured in an exhibition at the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery called "Plaster and Birch". Brenda had been given a cancer diagnosis and decided to create as her way of working through her health challenges.  Her eyes lit up when she started talked about her use of plaster, inks and various other techniques.

We are now halfway home, nestled at the Super 8 in Meadow Lake, getting ready to complete the final leg of our journey to Fort McMurray.  It has been a great Christmas and the painting proved to be a great way to connect with family and friends in a very different way.


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