Painting with family

Four family members from Saskatchewan are in Fort McMurray for the holidays.  They, along with several family members who live here in town, came for a family painting workshop yesterday.  Birdsong Studio was full as they dived into their respective projects.

My painting workshops are self-exploration than anything else.  I provide the road map, so to speak, but they decide where they want to go.  The results are always exciting and unexpected.

I believe that human being are inherently creative beings.  This comes out during these workshops, from the way they sketch out the subject, to their use of the brush and their choices of colour.  No two people have the same instincts or way of putting colour to canvas.


STEP ONE was drawing a grid on the source image.  The trick here is to have a source image that is a number, on the short side, that is easily divisible by two.  Most of my family members, save two, were working on a source image that was 5" x 10".  I get them to put 8 squares along the short side; in this case, those squares were 5/8" x 5/8".  (I found it quite amusing that the younger folks felt inclined to move into metric; as a former carpenter, I have spent my life dealing in inches)

STEP TWO was drawing a grid, consisting of the same number of squares, on the canvas.  From a 5" x 10" source image, they were moving up to a 10" x 20" canvas.  The squares ended up being 1.25".

STEP THREE consisted of drawing the subject on the canvas, using the grid as reference for where each detail needed to be.  The thing with drawing is to only to capture the lines.  There should be no shading, as we're inclined to do when working on paper.

STEP FOUR is painting.  The source image in my workshops is always black and white.  Why?  Because I don't want people to emulate the actual colour of things, I want them to pick their own.

"I don't want you to paint what you think the animal should be," I said.  "I want you to paint what you want the animal to be.  Trust your gut and have fun."

In essence, that was the end of my limited instruction.  Three hours later, some pretty cool paintings emerged.  A few of us went out after dinner to do some finishing touches, but essentially, the process from start to finish took three hours.


My nephew HENRY tackled the moose and instinctually ended up with a painting that was somewhat fauvistic. (Fauvism is the style of les Fauves [French for "the wild beasts"], a loose group of early twentieth-century modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism.)


My nephew MATTHEW also brought the moose to life.  His choice of colours was fresh and interesting.  His black outline toward the end was a brilliant choice.


Henry's mom JANA blew my mind.  Her painting of the ostrich - after not having painted in years and years - is perfectly amazing.  "You need to paint," I told her.  "You have a gift."


My niece MAGGIE went through a great journey with her owl.  The nuanced touches she applied along the way, experiencing an equal mix of joy and frustration, was fascinating to watch.  Her colour choices and brush strokes produced a beautiful painting.


It is a rare opportunity to create together as a family; yesterday was a real treat for me.  I will remember the experience for a very long time.



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