plein air

Plein air, still life, or live model.  We as artists must experience the subject we paint in real life.

Why? If an artist only paints from a printed image they can not experience the elements.The curve of the cheek, the reflected light that bounces off the vase from the flower above, the way the air affects the colour of the green in the landscape.

I remember the first time I was plein air painting. Oh my goodness. How overwhelming! Everything was there. I did not have the edges that my photographs gave me. I had so many decisions to make. Then there was the first time I had a real figure in front of me. Not only had I not experienced how truly beautiful every body is but how complex the angles were and yet how symmetrical each of us are. And yes I drew still life in high school, but not with the knowledge of composition, value, light and balance. Where was to start.

There is the point to start. To make the decisions. To view what is before you and to try to depict the image on your canvas. For all the first timers, that is what you are doing. Learning to depict what you see.  If you come up with your master piece then you are a master.  I can not tell you how many bad paintings I have had from these experiences. But here is the positive. I began to see.  I began to see how light never sits on the edge of a curve, because if an object is round, as it curves it is now heading away from the light. I began to see that even though the trees were the same colour as the ones that were closer to the horizon because of air and atmosphere they changed in value. Oh and the reflected light, our image catchers don’t get it.

I am not saying that you must work from life all the time, what I am saying is that if you experience the elements in real life when you work from your printed images, you see beyond them and paint what you know is real.

Now you are on the road to being an artist that expresses not only what they see but what they know.

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what is cool and what is accepted

Vanessa to heavy for her head

Again another thoughtful day at work.  So where I am going today is what medium should an artist paint in.  I had an interesting day. I got to be part of meeting with an art product representative and had my students asking questions.

First what I think is very important, twice today I was asked about mediums that the galleries will accept. “I was told that people do not like pastels or watercolors”, “What does the consumer want”.

First of all who cares what the gallery wants. Second of all why are we letting the public decide what is art and what is not. Right now in the real world galleries are not accepting watercolours or pastels. Why? because the public does not want them.

Somewhere along the way the people who buy art have been convinced that certain mediums are not accepted. Artists pastels and watercolours have been around since the 1800’s. Chardon, Degas’s, Turners etc. Those artists did not care what anyone thought.

I  have been trying really hard to be sensitive to those that only paint for those who buy. I can’t do it. I need to paint what makes me sing. And I have to tell all of you out there that when some one buys a piece which is who I am or the piece that just evolved from inside of me, my heart sings and I feel validated as an artist, as a creator of something that has touched  the new owner with a thought or feeling of what I was trying to portray.

Another point I have to make. What if all artists were to paint what is required for them to make a sale. Where would Picasso, Klimt, Vermeer, The Impressionist, The Group of Seven be.  Where would the art of the world be?

Creating is the most magical and wonderful feeling that an artist can have. And I’m going to tell  you that peice that makes you so excited and happy is going to touch the heart of a viewer who will see into your heart.

Michelle, colour is magic

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To Draw or to Paint

First studio nude painted in mid nineties

painted in the mid nineties
I’ve discovered a new kind of student. The academic student.  The student that wants to have all the steps set down so that they can walk through them and create their painting.  Can this be done. Most probably but is it the way to learn to paint. I am not sure.

A few weeks ago I had two new students that wanted exactly a step by step dialog of how to learn how to create art. So I set them on the journey of drawing and learning how to see. If we step back into the sixteen hundreds, this is how it would be done. Years and years of drawing before the student ever got to hold a brush in his hand. The future artist had to start at the very beginning.

Problem was that neither of these future artists were happy. They had come to learn to paint. So after deliberating for a week and trying to find a way to both teach and make these two students happy I came up with this answer.

I would give them both. The lessons they needed to learn the elements of art and a paint brush.  Art is visual, and abstract. A person cannot understand what value is until they realize that the colour they are using is not creating the effect that they desire. They can not understand harmony til the colour is not working in their painting. I truly believe art is a learn as you paint subject. 

Years ago I was Plein Aire painting at a workshop and I was trying to paint light that was filtering through the trees. I seen it as a bright light hitting the ground. The instructor tried to explain to me why it wasn`t. I couldn`t get it. During the workshop. he also commented that sometimes it will be months maybe years later that one day you will be painting and a light will shine and that issue you didn`t get will suddenly come clear.  You know what, he was right.

One other point I would like to comment on. Yes you can learn to paint using all the elements and make a perfect painting. I actually sold one of these. I remember how excited I was. I used all the rules and look someone liked it.  I make a comment to the gallery owner where I was showing and his reply was  `Yes it was painted correctly but it was boring. Their was no energy in the painting. `

My suggestion is paint the subjects you love, from that will come the passion. Learn from each of your paintings. Make notes, make charts, use what ever tools you need to keep honing your skills. Never, ever though quit striving to learn more to make your story more articulate and colourful. Lastly enjoy the journey. It`s a  heck of a ride.



                                         new exploration in mixed media
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An interesting week

I think we are all having an extended February blues. Interacting this week with my students has been an extraordinary voyage. Everyone has been self-critical of themselves and to be perfectly honest everyone is struggling. I’ve been getting questions . How should I paint? What should I paint? Why am I painting?

I am going to tell each and every one of you that every artist has these moments. How many times have I quit being a painter. More times than the paintings I’ve painted. Ask any painter and we all go through this.

This epidemic has been nagging me in the back of my mind and here’s what i have surmised.

Sometimes we forget why we are painting. As people we want to be as good as everyone else. But what is as good as everyone else. Art is what is what each one of us wants to create. I had one student that said,”My art doesn’t matter, no one is going to like it forever. My painting will end up in someones basement one day.” Let’s all shake our heads. We are not painting for anyone but ourselves and if someone loves what we do and can understand what we have tried to depict awesome. But how and what each of us paint is who we are.

There is no right style, there is no wrong style of painting. Whether we go from realism to abstraction each are valid for what they are. I think that the real style is that which is in you.

For years I studied and tried to learn how to paint in several different styles. I have painted from very realistic to very impressionistic. I have struggled to learn to paint in a certain style and been very frustrated.  In the last couple of years I have just played with different ideas not caring about the results and not thinking about whether it was acceptable to the art world.  In allowing myself to explore this I also discovered what I think is valuable information.  We should all paint subjects we love. and we should all paint in a style that takes us into the place where creativity takes over and the only thing that matters is you, the paint and the story.

Is every painting you do going to be a masterpiece. Not likely. Some of your ideas may not be as strong as you first imagined. Some of your colour choices may not be quite right. Hey but that’s okay because from one or two bad paintings will come a number of great ones.  The secret is not to beat yourself up and give up when you have a bad painting, but to be honest with yourself, look at all the elements of the painting, and figure out what you would do different in the next painting. Even better analysis your piece and do it over. Remember also, sometimes we just have bad ideas, and move on. ( Hence the 50 some odd paintings I have thrown out over the years.) On the other side of that, each of those bad paintings will have taught you something to take you closer to the masterpiece. 

Did you know that for most accomplished artists, only one in twenty-four is a masterpiece and the rest are acceptable.

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What I did not know

My second pastel done in the early 80's

So Loretta got married. I was going to be the best wife have the best family and my art well I had it all now. I did not need that anymore. So as the years went by I learned to crochet, to knit and to sew. I volunteered to go to the  Leighton Centre and come in and teach the children crafts. What I did not realize is that even though I had given up my art, I still needed to create.

After about two years  of marriage I signed up for a once a week woman’s group that  had several different areas that you could enroll in. I enrolled in Pastels. It was amazing, these sticks of colour could produce what I had been doing in oils. I was so excited, every week I could paint. Well here in lies the problem, once started, I couldn’t stop. Painting at home was becoming an everyday occurrence . There were no chemicals, I could sit at my dining room table and put the art away in minutes.

The first excuse for painting at home was to make my husband a birthday present, and then it was I try to paint these old hands. I could not find a reason to stop.

Needing more colours I set off to the art store. This is the first time I met John Compton. Looking back now I was so naive, asking him questions that really only some one that knows nothing would ask. The man spent an hour with me. I left the store feeling rejuvenated and wanting to paint more. I met him years later to find out that he was one of Calgary’s best portrait artists. That day had been one of my many days that led me to the person I am now.

One of my first Pastel figures, painted in the eighties

also painted in the early 80’s



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The other stuff

A series of watercolours I was working on when I realised I needed to be more creativeWatercolour from the series of Coffe cups and LaceAnother painting from the Coffee Cups and LaceAnother painting from the Coffe Cup and lace series

another painting from the Coffe Cup and Lace series

So far I’ve been tooting my own horn. But what about the frustrations that we go through, the disappointments and the fear.

All of you that paint know what I am talking about. There you are standing in front of that blank canvas. You think you know what you want to portray but that voice in your head is saying “Do you think you can do it”.  That first moment when your brush touches the canvas. All your fears and doubts are in that stroke. Stroke two is the magic, when it doesn’t matter because you have something to say, a story you want to tell your viewers. I could tell you that now all is going to be easy. The problem lies in that sometimes the concept is not clear.

As a painter you struggle every time you approach your canvas. As people we have all these external forces that projects when we paint.  Whether it be the milk was sour when you poured it in your cereal or you had a huge fight with your best friend the night before, or you saw the most beautiful sunset in your life.  All this will show in every brush mark.  Producing a piece of art is not like taking a picture. It’s not just about rendering.  Creating is about you, and what not only you have to say but what you feel.

The other obstacles artists have is that we are always striving to hone our skill so that the portrayal of our art is better and says more. And there you are in the middle of your next masterpiece. The problem arises in that yesterday the value of the blue was fine, in fact you didn’t know what value was. The temperature, the perspective, the composition and the balance are all fighting for equal attention in your creation.

Creation, to create, to be creative. This word and versions mean “to bring into existence something new”. Here is the advise I give to the people who come to me for the information that I have acquired. “If you are painting a painting to learn then please think about all of the elements of design to make your concept work.” BUT if you are creating a painting where you are trying to tell your viewers a story. Let your heart tell it. Not your technical knowledge. 

 Remember when you were first learning your ABC’s, and how painful it was to write each letter. Today when you write a letter (almost a dead art) or post a text you don’t think about how to spell the words, but how to compose the words. It’s the same, all you know about the elements of design will come naturally in your creation. Allow yourself to be the artist you are.

I do have more to say about our struggles. The part that comes after the creating.

 We do paint for ourselves, but we also have a desire to see if other people see our story.

This I will talk about soon. As one of my students always says instead of goodbye, “Happy painting”.

When I started this series, I also wrote the poetry on each piece

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The years to follow


painted after a trip to interior BC

I  am not really sure how I got through the remaining  seven years of school. The margins of my notebooks were always filled with doodles. I spent hours in my room sketching and painting. I was somewhat introverted, so my creations and my books became who I was.

All my projects included drawings and such. To me I could speak better with my pictures than I could with my words.  I drove my teachers crazy. Except for one.

In grade eight this girl who was so naive to everything, made a piece of art in acrylic. Artists who ever worked in acrylic, in the seventys, know how bad they were. The painting was of  flowers. Thinking back probably somewhat muddy and grey, but close to being contemporary for the times. And you know what? It was the first piece of art I sold. Thirteen  years old and my first piece of art sold for the grand total of twenty-five dollars. My science-art teacher bought it from me.  I am going to be perfectly honest, I thought it was crap but hey twenty-five dollars is cash in the pocket

Aliitle spot i found on a painting trip to Nordeg


also from my trip to Nordeg

Nordeg was one of the first painting workshops I attended in my twenties. This particular one was taught by Joe Abrasia




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A Gift of Art

My first art encounter was at the age of ten. It was my birthday and I received a gift from my Mom. This was a rare treat as my mother, being a very unique person, never gave gifts on the day of any celebration. They always showed up randomly throught the year at an unknown time or day. So this was a special gift, indeed. 

When I opened the box there it was. An art box deluxe. Oil paints, brushes, cleaner and canvases.I didn’t even know I liked to paint.

I still remember that first painting to this day.  A bright blue sky with really, really green grass and a red barn emerged on the canvas. Hey for all of you who know about composition, I had it in the bag. But seriously I painted the painting to make my Mom happy and since that day I have never been without paint and brush. They are with me always.

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Where to begin



Painted at the age of eighteen when there was much turmoil going on

So I have wondered where I should start. At the beginning, yes at where I think that becoming an artist started.

It was in the summer of 1992. A friend of mine, Joey, decided that she wanted to learn how to paint. You  have to understand this friend was very supportive of everything I did but I knew that next week it might be rollerblading that was taking her fancy. She was my biggest fan and  I never minded sharing what I did. So off to the art store we went.

It was at Jon Williams in Calgary that I got my first offer as an art instructor.  A mutual friend, Karen Gaetz, an up and coming artist in Calgary came into the store as we were settling up our purchases. She had seen some of  the art work I was doing at the time. She looked at me and asked ” Hey girl how would you like to teach a Pastel Portrait class. I just have so many classes and I have to give this one up.” I replied stuttering ” I don’t think so.”  My girlfriend beside me said “She’ll take the job.”  And an interview was set up.

As I entered  the Sprucecliffe community centre , my heart was in my throat. What did I think I was doing. I had no training, I only painted for myself. This woman Hilda was going to see me for the fraud I was. Why did I let Joey talk me into this. Deep breath. “Good morning, my name is Loretta. I have an appointment with Hilda.”  As I sat there trying to be a professional I was still wondering what I was doing there. As this woman looked at my art I had brought with me I knew in my heart I was not quitting my full time  job to become an instructor, teaching pastel portraits to a class of seniors. I was sure they knew more than me.

Now what all of you do not realize is that I did not have a degree and do not have a degree to this day (another part of my story).

I was so nervous that first day. I had prepared an outline covering what the class was going to study for the next ten weeks.

I entered the classroom, introduced myself and the rest of my life started.  



 Painted in my early twenties when I first moved to Alberta

also painted in my early twenties





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The Life of an Artist

Maybe I have something to say

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