Different Strokes: Finale

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The grand finale of any artwork comes with some mundane tasks. Labeling, wiring, varnishing, photographing number among them. All are important. I place as much love and care into these last few details as the rest of the work. Gallery owners appreciate it and so do my clients.

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Finishing touches

A finale requires attention

After I place the metallic circles within the image I place the work in a corner for a while. Stepping back to contemplate the whole, I decide if the piece is finished. If it is, I usually write a poem at this point. Framing is not one of my concerns. So,I finish the edges of the canvas as an extension to the image. Labour intensive, it leaves the viewers with an excellent impression of quality. 

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Scribbling a poem

Fixative then isolation

The poem and the Bible quote embellish the surface of the work, semi-hidden. A quick coat of reworkable varnish stabilizes the ink and the watercolour pencil before I apply the isolation coat. An isolation coat is a wise addition for acrylic or mixed media paintings. It binds with the paint underneath forming a protective surface. When it is dry, one applies two coats of varnish on top. Should the masterpiece need cleaning at some time in the future, one can easily remove the varnish, as it is designed to do, and reapply it without harming the original image.

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Tools for the job
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Plastic coated wire and D-rings


Once the varnish has dried I flip the painting over and install the wire for hanging. Plastic coated wire with D-rings are my weapons of choice. The system easily supports my large canvases and protects the fingers of those handling the piece in shipment and for display.

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On the left


The finale includes labeling the work and writing out the poetry on the back to the left. On the right I inscribe the title, the materials, my name and the inventory number of the work. Inventory numbers are another essential ingredient. They help keep track of the work produced in any given year. 

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Laminated cards

A laminated card

In addition, I place a laminated card next to the display. Each has a small photo of the artwork, the poetry and an insight into the inspiration for the painting. I select the photo from those taken for inventory and advertising purposes. Consequently, I photograph each work of art using several different settings. Email uses lower settings, publishing uses higher. Another important ingredient to success.

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Creative process

Upcoming event

Speaking of success, I am one of five artists collaborating on an installation which explores the creative process from inspiration to completion “Devenir”. Our show is coming soon.


One: Recovery

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Recovery is slow. Last Monday marked my return following an intense six days in the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. I must be getting older. I do not bounce back very quickly after such an event. Perhaps it has something to do with the other three commitments this weekend as well. In any case, I am pooped.

Fires still burning

A heavy haze obliterated any view of the mountains until well past Cockrane. Some fifty kilometers from Camrose we could make out the outlines of distant peaks. The taste of smoke permeated each breath. Being in the mountains without being able to really see them felt oppressive. The fires are still burning. Billboards posted fire bans at every opportunity. Sprinklers soothed the parched grass before the entrance to the hotel.

Establishing my presence

Presented with keys to my room and my studio for the week I proceeded to unload the car and establish my presence. The photo at the top shows the view from my window one morning just before departure. The wind had cleared much of the smoke, enough for a respectable view.

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So much room.

Awesome space

Magnificent space opened before me as I gazed into the studio with northern light and vaulted ceilings. Awesome. The four tables and little side bench would do nicely. Probably would not need the chair and the stool… Little did I know!

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Ready to work.

No time to redo

What followed were three marathon days of creative exploration, ten hours per day, standing on cement and throwing paint around. I definitely used the chair… On the fourth day, my body betrayed me. Muscles seized and I sought out the gym. Although I had been swimming, my problems required a more focused, intentional exercise. The routine re-established function for the day as I tackled my four messterpieces. I had learned a lot about what I did not like. We were installing the exhibition that night. Each piece required adjustment. No time remained to redo.

Sunday celebrations

Sunday, we toured, enjoyed presentations in playwriting, poetry, music and visual art. Time to celebrate before heading home. I took the slow route on Monday through Jasper gathering photos for the next round of paintings.

Recovery is slow

I have noticed a decided lack of production after intense periods of productivity. Recovery is slow. I am tired. The most efficient way to deal with this phenomenon is to be patient, rest and allow the muse a vacation… The energy returns as long as I do not attend too many weddings, birthdays, retreats and trips to Vegas. Perhaps October will see some new activity. Life is good.


One: modus operandi

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My modus operandi has kicked in. I am ready to run away, find that cave far from the world where I can be safe again. Fear motivates me; someone has asked me to move out of my comfort zone.

Modus operandi

We all have one: a default pattern. Learned in childhood, it became the way to survive. The pattern allowed me to escape, divert, aggress a situation so I might hide in plain sight. Flight, fight or freeze. It worked well then, or I thought so. As an adult, it gets in the way.

Holding fear

While fear may be my motivation for flight, I now recognize it for what it is. Personal development programs have helped me discern the patterns and, if I am willing to use them, they provided tools to move beyond the initial instinct to run. I hold the fear and wait for the lessons it is about to teach me.

Called to be vulnerable

In a few weeks, I enter a short residency in Banff. The program comes with a mentor. She is the one who has asked me to move out of my comfort zone. I am blessed to have someone who takes this position seriously. As preparation, I am to clarify my motivation for painting, develop an evaluable plan, discern my soul desire for communicating visually. In other words, be vulnerable.

The question

I shudder at the prospect. It brings me to the question that plagues me: am I wasting my time?

My heart’s desire

My heart’s desire is to make a difference in this world. Darkness is everywhere and many seem lost. I desire to shed some light in the darkness, give people hope. However, being artist, some tell me, is a nice hobby. Hobbies do not move people to change. Hobbies entertain. Am I part of the entertainment industry? Perhaps that is not a bad thing.

Pope support

Pope Francis has dedicated the month of August to artists. He encourages all artists in all genre to be “the custodians of beauty, heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity.” This is what it is all about.

Moving on

So, while I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness with no one to hear, I will continue to paint. In the hope of improving my skill as a communicator, I will clarify my motives, form a plan and state my heart’s desire. And my modus operandi is a welcome guest who no longer has the power to rule me yet sets the stage for a new learning curve. Life is good.



One: True Theology

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“In the early Church, there was a clear understanding that we needed to advance from the self-understanding or self-contemplation that taught us to discipline our greedy instincts and cravings to the “natural contemplation” that perceived and venerated the wisdom of God in the order of the world and allowed us to see created reality for what it truly was in the sight of God—rather than what it was in terms of how we might use it or dominate it. And from there grace would lead us forward into true “theology,” the silent gazing upon God that is the goal of all our discipleship.” Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address to the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” 5,


The Wisdom of God

Venerating the wisdom of God in the order of the world is what “en plein air” painting is all about. In the chaotic jumble of branches and bushes there is order. The artist contemplates the jumble and discovers how it holds together, how it flows and how it dances in natural rhythm. Contemplation is really the key to true theology.

Artists have a head start

Although artists have a head start in this practice, anyone who ventures into a natural setting will discover the sacred if they open themselves to awe. Mother Nature is God’s first bible. Allowing oneself to leave behind preconceived notions and personal agendas opens the door. The opportunity is offered to everyone. Not everyone chooses to partake.

Two perceptions

While gazing at the green kaleidoscope across a lake one sees beauty, peace and the love of God. Another sees an investment opportunity for lumber and condo complexes. Our national parks are essential to maintain the possibility of getting beyond ourselves. City parks and green spaces feed the soul.

Nature no longer respected

However, some deny the idea of soul and God largely because our perception of nature changed during the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. No longer a source of consolation it became the enemy to subdue, the source to exploit. The Industrial Revolution sealed its fate as something to use rather than respect. The Information Age has removed us from the natural world and placed us in the virtual where there is little to respect and much to exploit.

Awe is the door to true theology

As a result, we have lost the art of contemplation. It is time to reintroduce moments of silence in our frenetic world. Take a walk in the wood. Gaze at a flower and behold its intricate beauty. Make a bouquet of dandelions and find dinosaurs or castles in the clouds. Engage with a baby. Be awed. This is the beginning of veneration and the door to true theology. God awaits our response.

Time to paint

Now where did I leave my brushes?


Different Strokes: Layers

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A few weeks ago, molding paste took the centre stage as I discussed the beginnings of my process. The molding paste is now dry. Proceeding into the next step we prepare by playing with colour mixing.

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Fun, fun, fun!

Do it yourself

Colour mixing is endlessly fascinating. Although it takes time to explore, the nuances of making my own combinations pays dividends. In this case, I am interested in combining various complementary colours to form grays. Before choosing my colours, I consult a colour wheel to ensure the complementarity of the colours. Then I bend the rules.

Make a selection

Once I have chosen the hues I brush the two together on a scrap piece of paper, watching for the magic. Some lovely combinations include: dioxazine purple with phthalocyanine green yellow shade(PGY), quinacridone magenta with PGY, and phthalocyanine blue red shade (PBR) with quinacridone burnt orange (QBO). While I have an excellent memory, and can identify colours easily, I find labelling each piece of paper saves time in the long run. Having done a dozen experiments, I identify my favorites and turn to the next task.

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Making a satin mix.
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One with iridescence, one without.

Avoiding a dead gray

Since mixing the colours together to form grays kills the magic, I prefer to keep them pure and separate. Using airtight containers, I add a fifty-fifty mix of regular gel gloss and liquid gel matt with some iridescence and a small amount of pigment for the first thin layers. Thin is good. Each layer allows the other to show through eventually blending into a glowing surface.

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One thinner, one thicker.
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Gloves are essential.

Other layers

In addition to the basic two hues, I throw in a layer of metallic, either gold or silver. A particularly beautiful combination is PB green shade with QBO and gold. Awesome! This later ties in with the circles I use at the end and determines whether I use gold or silver leaf.

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A vibrant gray.
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Texture and glow.

Awesome results

In the end the highly-textured surface catches the colours in various quantities and produces an exciting debut for the forthcoming masterpiece. Yes, well, perhaps. Life is full of surprises.

Summer slow

If you missed my solo show at VASA this June you can still see a selection of my latest in my gallery “Inspirations” attached to my studio at 12936 108 Street Edmonton. Do give me a ring to make sure I am home (780-761-7262). En plein air along the river valley will preoccupy my time this summer.


One: Reason

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The hiding place

Matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. Perhaps this is exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7). Francis and his female companion, Clare, …somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

…Heaven includes earth. …There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments—and it is we alone who desecrate them by our blindness and lack of reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it.” Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, 15 June 2017

Something deeper

The most popular genre of painting is landscape. Everyone can relate to it. This is part of the reason for its popularity. While the beauty portrayed by artists explains our fascination superficially, I suspect something deeper attracts our interest .

The reason

Landscape is a mirror of the divine. With increasing urbanization we are losing our connection with God. As more concrete and asphalt cover the Earth our understanding of fundamental truths grow increasingly fuzzy.

Humility harvest

One such truth is: in order to produce a rich harvest, the seed must die. (Matt). Farmers know this. Today even farmers have trouble relating this truth to human existence. It holds true nonetheless. Those who have managed to get over themselves gift our world with the greatest insights and discoveries. Putting our ego aside is a form of dying based in humility. Humility is essential to connection.

Beauty’s secret

Landscape artists connect with spirit. Anyone who has spent time with nature knows there is something more, something hidden in the beauty and in the dying. The secret to life is there, right before our eyes.


Unless the paint reveals the secret, my fascination wanes. Revealing the secret is my reason for painting. If the artist has lost his or her way in the dehumanizing world of money it is evident in the long words describing process and the justification for the use of materials. It all sounds very important. In the end the words echo in the emptyness.

Check out the events page for what is happening this summer.


Different Strokes: Outside

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En plein air or painting outside, requires simplification of shape, colour and tonalities.  Spontaneous, on the spot drawing and painting improves eye-hand coordination, memory and accuracy of proportion. Sounds simple, and it is. However, simple does not translate as easy.

Rust sets in

Unfortunately life drawing and en plein air have both taken a hiatus in my schedule. I am rusty.

Vitamin D

So, with the intention of getting some practice before tonight I set out in search of a suitable venue. From the heart of Montréal many streets heading north end up in Parc du Mont Royal. Coming out of the hotel, I turned north. The west side of the street felt cool. Sunlight washed the myriad of façade on the east side, inviting. Succumbing to the invitation, I took off my coat and tied it around my waist. The warmth felt good on my skin. Vitamin D.


Avenue du Musée appeared permanently closed as the brightly coloured plastic tabs swirled in entrancing coordination around larger flower pots and objects of interest. I marveled at the precision of pattern. White and blue melded into yellows and reds, lovely in the dance. To the left various sculptures graced the lawn. Bronze, stainless steel, aluminum and paint vied for attention against the backdrop of ancient stone buildings supporting new green foliage. I lingered a while.

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Long Flight of Stairs


Entering a cul-de-sac,  a daunting flight of stairs rose in the distance. Granite steps climbed endlessly up. Nevertheless I moved forward. Standing at the bottom would not get me to the top. Stopping to catch my breath I gazed around, looking for the shapes I most enjoy. Sunlight played patchwork on the stone blocks. Solid black railings cut forms in the green beyond. A few photos later the climb began again.

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Determined trees.
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Constant construction.

My Holy Spirit guide

Not knowing where the entrance to the park lay, I listened to my guide. As a result I turned to the right onto Avenue des Pins. Catching glimpses of perpetual construction in the distance I stopped to admire the iron spiral fire escapes amid the determined life springing up between brick walls. A few more photos and onward, upward toward the larger trees and the ever-growing green space. So I crossed the street.


A lovely stone guard rail hugged the edge of the road. In the middle of the curve a small break in the stonework beckoned to wilder places. I stepped inside. The warmer sun delayed my departure from the dappled cool, too hot now. Again, I turned right descending the pathway into the unknown seeking the spot where I could create my next en plein air.

Soothing sounds

My need for the familiar reminded me of the reason why I found it difficult to see. Since everything was new, different and exciting, I found it unpaintable. The search continued. Finally it ended with the soothing sound of running water.

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A lovely setting.

Settling in outside

Water and I are friends. Hence this was the place. Sitting in the shade at the side of the road I took out my pen and allowed the image to form. The tamed stream flowed from a culvert and disappeared into a grate. The carefully designed bed in between hinted at natural forms. The stream and I could live with the imperfection. Eventually the water would carve its own design. My en plein air sketch took form. Satisfied I headed back for lunch. Being outside had rejuvenated me. Life is so good.

Make Music

Crazy! The Make Music Edmonton Festival asked me to be part of the happening tonight. I will be doing another en plein air, capturing the action outside in the park on the corner of 108 Ave and 124 St Edmonton. It all starts at 5pm. Do drop in!


One: Thin Places

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“The history of almost every religion begins with one massive misperception, making a fatal distinction between the sacred and the profane.” Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, June 1, 2017


Everything is sacred. Sin is sacred.

Art heals by providing thin places

These two sentences open my artist’s statement for my solo show “Sacred” now exhibiting in the VASA Gallery (25 Sir Winston Churchill Ave, St. Albert). Indeed, everything is sacred. This should have been fundamental teaching from all Christian churches. Instead, we have followed the normal route of dividing, naming and excluding. I wish to heal this by creating thin places.

Original blessing

In our propensity for negative thinking we have taken the Jewish scripture along with the words of Jesus and his apostles and twisted them to our own liking. Instead of beginning with Genesis 1 we went to Genesis 3, installing a foundation of “original sin” instead of “original blessing” thus reducing the possibility of discovering thin places.

Heaven is available through thin places

In the beginning, everything “was good”, indeed, “very good”. How did we miss that? Taken to the extreme there are pockets of faith which still exclude any kind of joyous celebration and frown upon those who dance, drink or play cards. Laughter is a no-no. The conclusion is life must be miserable to attain heaven, as if we could earn it, a place far away and only accessible after death. Whereas in reality, thin places make heaven accessible everywhere.

Accepting other truth

What if everything were holy? What if everything belongs? If we could depart from our stance of being right and begin to include other possibilities, we might begin to find a richer life and the chance to build heaven on earth, here and now. By accepting another truth without losing our own we open the door to a third way, a new discovery, a thin place.


So instead of focusing on the cross, we could relook at the incarnation. God became man and again declared the created world along with all it contains as holy. By becoming human God blessed his creation with salvation. This new point of view turns the atonement theory upside down. The cross becomes an example of how to deal with evil: non-violent, non-resistant integrity.

Creating thin places

And how does my work fit into this redemptive love? Each piece is an invitation to pause. My intent is to create “thin places” where the divine meets the mundane. By contemplating the goodness of natural settings filled with the Holy Spirit we can allow ourselves to open and enter the flow. Life is good. All is sacred.


Different Strokes: Molding Paste

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Molding paste is the foundation of all my mixed media work. It forms the first layer on the gessoed canvas. I throw a lot of paint around. This layer begins in the same way.

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One big gob.
mixed media, molding paste, semi-abstract, painting, art, blog
Several big globs.

Throwing gobs of molding paste

Taking a good scoop out of the bucket of molding paste (four litre containers are my size of choice) I throw the gob onto the canvas. Two or three flings later I begin to cover the surface roughly using semi-circular movements to avoid symmetry in the patterns. The thickness of the layer of paste varies from very thin or non-existent to thicker, enough to hold some scrapes and impressions.

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Corners and edges.

Corners are important

Carefully moving across the panel, I include the edges paying particular attention to the corners. The canvas folds disappear under the layer of paste becoming one with the rest of the prepared surface.

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Random swirls with scraper.
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Not perfectly smooth.

Scraper smooth

Once the entire canvas is covered I use the scraper to smooth out the higher lumps and bumps before I move in with the rest of my tools.

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Almost ready for impressions.
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Ready for the onion bags.

Onion bags

Random is the key. Pressing the different patterns from the plastic onion bags into the molding paste I move quickly over the area. Once finished I press them into a container of water so they will not dry while I continue the mark making.

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Done with the mark making.

Fine tooth comb

Beginning again with long swirling strokes of a fine tooth comb I create some movement in between and through the existing patterns. Last, but not least, I use three different tools to create the circle marks, a bottle lid, a tube from an adding machine paper dispenser and a watercolour brush container. The size grows smaller with each. It is important to do the circles last as they tend to get lost in the other random marks otherwise.

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Ready for gesso.

Ready for gesso

No longer shiny, the molding paste has dried with the impressions of each tool evident on the canvas surface. Ready for the next step, we will add the gesso and layering,  the next topic in “Different Strokes”.

A nice selection

Don’t forget to check out my solo show opening on June 1st at 6pm. There are twenty paintings illustrating the end result of this molding paste!


Different Strokes: Commissions

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Commissions come in all shapes and sizes. Not too long ago my blog provided a glimpse into the larger varieties: murals. This one concentrates on a portrait.

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Two different views

Portraits include places

Portraits also come in all shapes and sizes. Most of the time they involve people. Occasionally the portrait concerns a place, a favorite place. My customer provided two photographs of her chalet, filled with memories of long ago, during her childhood and of aging times before she was born.

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Struggling with the images
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Combining images

Combining images is one of my favorite challenges. Taking out my sketch pad I began playing with different possibilities. Once a satisfactory composition manifested I worked a couple of notan studies to identify the large shapes of light and dark.

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Filling in the white.


Printing a copy of the photos, I cut around the required shapes and collaged they together. I found the white spaces around the photos unsettling. I suspect it had to do with the notan study and the interference they were giving to the overall plan. Using a felt pen, I filled in some non-existent trees and balanced the black.

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Gridded and ready to copy.
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Taped and drawn.


Grids help me keep the correct proportions in the images for the purposes of perspective. They are especially useful when making collages. I prepared the watercolour paper with painter’s masking tape, sealing it to the edge of a wooden support.

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Ready for accidents

Complementary colours

As the image had a distinct dominant colour, green, I decided on a poppy red watercolour pencil to form the outline on the paper. This would inspire accidental points of red throughout the painting. I love accidents. The complementary colours sing together in lovely harmony.

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Neat and tidy.
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One colour, one brush.

Juggling the spaces

At the moment, my painting station for watercolour is behind a mural. Although I have light in this location, the distance between the mural and the desktop is insufficient for my amplitude. Relocating to an available table I set out the paint, the containers of each colour I chose to use and the brushes for each.

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Sitting room

A place to sit

As you can see, my studio is a busy place. Among the mixed media in preparation for my solo show in June, I chose a lower table where I might sit. It gave my neck a rest.

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Pale beginnings

More commissions

Always with watercolour, one begins with the lighter washes, preserving any necessary whites as the painting progresses. All in all, I was happy with the results and so was my customer, at least I think so. I have another commission in the wings…