The clock on the stove says it is 4:27 am. There isn’t even a hint of dawn this late in August. I turn the light on in the pantry so that it will reflect across the kitchen without blinding my sleepy eyes. Water is added to a pot and the element place on high. The stainless steel coffee press and thermos are then filled with hot water from the tape. Coffee beans spill over the edges as I pour them into the grinder. My fingers flutter across the counter to gather them up again. Crickets sing a soft song just outside our many open windows. My partner’s long sleeping breaths are only slightly louder. These are the savoured hours of morning solitude. This is a time that is beholding to no one - not even to myself. I finish making the coffee and carry the thermos and a mug upstairs to the loft studio and place them on the table beside the daybed that is always draped in a cozy down quilt. In this singular pre-dawn perch of unshared space, surely my savouring of solitude, my satisfaction, can be seen as less indulgent, less selfish?
I am uncertain if my need is more for my craft as a painter or for my resilience as a human. What I do know is that, for my whole life, I have held this tension between my responsibilities towards others and my need for a quiet hour or two alone - to do nothing, not even to think. This soul-searching time usually comes early in a day - though, thankfully, not always this early.... I stretch, pour the last of the coffee from the thermos. It is now 6:21 am and I turn my thoughts to the large 36 x 48 inch canvas on the easel in the great room. There is still plenty of paint on my palette from two days ago and I know, if I don’t get it onto the canvas, these costly globs will be of no use. Paint wrapped up in the disposable paper liner of a palette does not become a painting!
A large canvas in progress
The furniture in great room is shifted slightly and the large easel is rolled in from the front deck where it is stored between paintings. I start getting the underpainting in place, gradually shifting the composition and trees into the landscape.
There is more that will be adjusted and changed slightly yet. But it is a start. A good solid beginning.
Where do paintings come from?
I am suspicious that paintings mostly arrive from solitude. Paintings need access to that unencumbered part of myself so that they can sift through and leave behind the best gems of references that I have been gathering during the process of an ordinary day. For example, there is a folder of images in my photographs that is titled “Saint John’s Point”. The first image is from January 14, 2018. I have been hiking this area, gathering references and even completing a small painting. But there was a problem I needed to resolve before I could truly begin this next project in earnest. I wanted to be able to get my painting gear down to the point to be able to do painting sketches. Photographs are great and have there place. But plein air painting sketches are like gold to a jeweller! I needed to have time out there with my brushes to do my best work. So one morning, very early, while thinking about nothing, a thought about a backpack for my plein air painting gear came to me. Later in the day I searched and found nothing suitable. Months passed and I thought maybe I would take my painting gear into Mountain Equipment Co-op in Victoria and see what might work. Then, as if in answer to my problem, one of my online painting suppliers added a new product - a plein air backpack! I ordered it immediately! And it is perfect!
Plein air reference
I was ready for that plein air adventure - requiring a hike of over 4 km and the equivalent of climbing more than 10 flights of stairs while carrying a backpack with my painting gear - and it is worth every step!
Saint John’s Point on Mayne Island is magical and also fragile with its large grove of stressed arbutus trees right out at the tip of the point. Here are a few photo references in case you want to retrace the morning with me.
I get the ground on a larger than usual 11 x 14 inch gessobord. As is often the case with my painting sketches, it will be done in acrylic because of the paint’s fast drying properties. It is 8:49 am now and I am nervous about how long the warm morning light is going to hold.
An old stump serves as my work table.
I paint with quick deliberation, getting the elements of my composition into place.
Gradually, the paint is built up until the work is completely blocked in. I am taking longer than I would like. It is now 10:19 am. The light is still holding. But for how long?
I know at this point, with lights and shadows finding their way into the composition, - this will be a big one! I just must do it! Every part of my body is tingling with anticipation and the brushes fly across the canvas - finishing. We need a strong finish!
Brushes down and it is just about 11:00 am. Two hours! Much longer than I have any right to expect the light to work with me. But it does and we have our reference. I pack up and hike out thinking about the large canvas and what is next. After lunch the canvas is set up and the painting sketch, with its lively brushstrokes, looks small and vibrant leaning against the blank canvas.
What will I change? Will it work? Well, let’s see! The painting is not quite done but is resting on the canvas after my last painting session yesterday’s morning. There is still a ways to go yet but it is close!
The Draws have closed as of August 20th
In our next issue, September 6, 2019, I will announce the winners of the painting sketch and those that will receive the 30% savings on an original painting purchased before November 30, 2019. Stay tuned! It won’t be long before we know now.
What I am reading
The book is THE PAINTER FROM SHANGHAI: A NOVEL by Jennifer Cody Epstein, published in 2008. Though it is a work of historical fiction, the painter is based on a real artist - Pan Yuliang, who had trained in Shanghai and Paris. Yuliang was the first Chinese painter to paint in a modernist western style. After heavy criticism of her work in China in the 1930’s, she moved to Paris in 1937 where she lived and worked for the next 40 years. After her death much of her work was returned to China. In the fictional story (which seems to follow closely to the painter’s biographical events) Pan Yuliang is sold into prostitution at the age of 14 years old by her opium addicted uncle who she lived with after her parents had both died. I caution that Epstein’s writing is vivid, uncompromising and not much about the harsh reality of a young girl entering a Chinese brothel is left to our imagination during this period of her life. Yet, I can hardly stop myself from reading one page after another and eventually she escapes into what will soon become her life as an artist. The book is written as if painted, laying the words in such a way that impressions dance lively In our imaginations and sometimes the quick and quavering breath of the characters have us crouching within the pages - avoiding the whip of Godmother or the drunken breath of a merchant client.
Again, in this story, I am drawn to our desire for solitude...
Yuliang has just arrived at her new home, an ancient house in old Shanghai, where she has thrown open the bedroom rice paper window. It is 1916.
”Breathing deeply, Yuliang thinks: I am alone. It’s surprisingly liberating. Not that she doesn’t love her new husband but after three days in close quarters, she is looking forward to having her own thoughts again...”
I do recommend this novel but be warned - it is likely a read that will leave you in a different place than the one where you were before you read the first paragraph!
What Has Sold...
Sometimes, this life as a gallery owner and painter can only be described as magical - mostly because of those moments we connect with others in play. Recently, I had gallery visitors who sent a text to schedule a viewing time beyond my regular weekend hours. They were leaving you see, before I would open again. What fun we had looking at small painting sketches and large works of local places that they had discovered during their time on the island. An hour later, they left with this small painting sketch under their arm, followed up by a photo with the painter. (They have no idea how rare a photograph of the painter is - but we shall not tell them will we!? 😉) Holiday memories!
A morning spent in the shadows of trees on Isabella Point, Mayne Island, plein air painting a small sketch. There was time to experiment and build up the lay...
This one too has sold. These collectors kayak around and between these islands, seeing views only those on the water get to see. Yet, this land perspective captured their hearts and off it went!
The fast moving morning light dances with a receding tide while my brushes keep time with the moment in plein air fashion. Campbell Point Mayne Island B....
Comments in the Guest Book
If you ever want to get beyond the “I Love it!” ability of a five year to comment about a painting, consider taking note of this 12 year old’s recent remarks. She definitely has nailed the fine art of being specific.
The girls were writing in the gallery guest book while I was talking to the adult members of the family. Earlier, Sarah had gone slowly from one painting to the next and asked questions as she went along. I didn’t get a chance to read their comments until later in the day. What a delightful surprise!
Well, that is about it for another issue!
Savour your solitude wherever and whenever you can find it!
Canadian Contemporary Artist Terrill Welch Landscapes and more by impressionist painter Terrill Welch
Canadian landscape painter, Terrill Welch, exposes the mystery in an ordinary day, reminding us that there is only one moment – this one.
If you enjoyed this issue of the newsletter, please consider sharing it with someone else who might also enjoy the read and browse. Thank you and all the best as always! Terrill 😊