Saturday 15 September 2018

Slippery as silk

Those familiar with the art I make know I work in two quite diverse media: I make detailed drawings in coloured pencil and also lively paintings on silk. My subject matter is consistently animals and birds, but what I produce in coloured pencil is stylistically different from my silk paintings. New viewers sometimes think two different artists are involved. 

Coloured pencil has been a favourite of mine since those long-ago days when they were a staple in every public school classroom in Canada. If you are of my vintage, you will remember the Laurentian brand of pencil crayon that was on our supply lists every fall. I never outgrew them, I just discovered better brands, learned new techniques, and kept going. They've been a staple of my art-making practice my entire life.

For that reason silk painting still feels like the new kid on the block in my studio. However, when chatting about my art the other day I came to the shocking realization that as of 2018 I've been working with silk for 30 years! Time, like silk, is a slippery thing. Not only am I older than I care to think about, I'm a veritable veteran when it comes to silk painting!

I became interested in silk painting while I was working in a small art gallery doing custom picture framing, soon after graduating from art school. Several silk pieces came across my table and I was fascinated - captivated by the vivid colours, the luminous nature of the fabric, and the freshness of the designs. I found a one-day workshop on the topic and immediately enrolled so I could find out first-hand what it was all about.

The workshop introduced me to the serti method of silk painting - one that involves drawing outlines with "resist" (a liquid, wax-based product) to define shapes, and then the colour comes from water-based dyes that are applied by brush. It appealed to me on several levels: 1) it involved drawing, and drawing is my "thing"; 2) the colours were luscious and vivid beyond anything I'd experienced with other media; and 3) the dyes flowed gorgeously and somewhat unpredictably through the silk, forcing me to loosen up and providing an excellent contrast to my detailed coloured pencil drawings. After spending just one day learning about silk painting, I was hooked!

It's not the simplest medium to master. There are a number of steps and significant technical challenges. Since this was back in the days before Google, I read books, experimented, and made mistakes. I've heard it takes 10,000 hours to master a new skill. I'd add that it takes an equally great number of mistakes. I certainly made my share but eventually I figured it out.

Since then I've made countless paintings and from the get-go they were well received. This painting called I've Never Seen a Purple Horse was one of my first back in 1988.

The original hangs on my wall and I continue to sell prints of this popular image. It was even featured in US Equestrian magazine profiling artists with unique approaches to depicting the equine form.

I've created some ionic pieces that many will recognize....

Walking the Dog - October

Waiting for Walk Time

I've had the good fortune of having created paintings that won awards, including these two...
The Transients: Snow Geese
Envison Masters Award, Oil & Water 2014, South Delta Artist's Guild

First Prize (water media), Arts 2011, Surrey Art Gallery

Some of them have travelled the world to buyers in far-away places...

Quiet Reflection: Sandhill Crane
resides in in Malta
Treasure of Nariva
(Blue & Gold Macaws)

resides in Trinidad
I've taught workshops to eager learners wanting to give silk painting a try, and have had students join me from across Canada and as far away as Brazil!

I illustrated a children's book with silk-painted images...

And I've created some very personal works, such as these...

Three Red RaincoatsMy dogs Riley and Ginger Snap, both gone now,
with their buddy Roxy who remains alive and well.

Couch PotatoMy cat Jasper, now deceased.

The Talisman
(Read its story by clicking here.)

It's been a thirty-year labour of love - a journey that's involved countless hours of creative exploration and generated emotions ranging from elation to crushing disappointment, as is the way with any artistic endeavour.

These days I find myself focussing mainly on my coloured pencils. However, I know the lure of shimmering silk and vibrant, flowing colour will, at some point, cause me to break out my supplies and turn my studio over to silk painting once again. I will lose track of the minutes and hours while exploring its colourful, slippery universe. 

Perhaps I'll even lose track of another decade or two!

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