THE FAMILY DOG or: PAINT WHAT YOU LOVE

When I was about eleven years old, my Dad asked me to paint a simple image in poster paint of our family dog, Tia, as a prototype for a printmaking class he was preparing (he was an elementary school teacher). I had pretty much learned how to draw by making copies of images from cartoons, especially Walt Disney, and the Saturday morning comics that came as a supplement to the newspaper.

Lady and the Tramp (Disney): how to paint highlights on a nose

Those comics were delivered by a local paperboy, who would race down the driveway on his bike, shout “Here’s yer paper!” and dash off again. Our two dogs Jinx and Cocoa waited all day with evil anticipation for this very moment. With Olympian speed, they would race around the corner of the house to the front door. Jinx would seize the paper in her jaws and shake the paper into smithereens, after which Cocoa would pee…er…urinate… on the shreds. It was a race against time for us to interrupt these two partners in crime before they executed the dreadful deed.

But I digress.

This summer I had the opportunity to paint a different dog image, while teaching private classes to a 12-year old student.

I had met her parents when I was looking for a new home on Vancouver Island. Although I ended up not renting their suite, synchronicity was at play because they had meanwhile checked out my website and were excited to learn I teach art classes! Their eldest daughter has always loved to paint, and has been getting great results through her lessons with 4Cats. But her parents felt she was at the stage of needing some more detailed guidance, and they were eager to have her train with me.

I encouraged them to sign her up for introductory oil painting lessons, as she already had a nice facility with paint-handling using acrylics. The family would be traveling on their summer holidays, so I recommended a quick-drying oil-painting medium: Gamblin Galkyd Lite.

VALUE SCALE

Over seven lessons, we covered the concept of value (the range of light to dark), how to pre-mix some of the main colours before diving into the painting part of a session, and how the best way to work with oil paint is to block in the dark values and mid-tones (on the value scale above, the mid-tone would be the “3”). It’s a good idea to hold back on painting the lightest passages to near the completion stage, to avoid muddy colours.

I remember, when I first learned to paint, that watching the instructor at work was probably the most exciting and important part of understanding how to use the materials. I still get a bit of a thrill watching other artists do their thing on Youtube! So with beginners I usually paint along with the student.

One of my heroes: Bob Ross

She chose several subjects, including a flower, a couple of landscapes, and her final project, a portrait of the family dog. Here is my version:

And here is the student’s version, which I think has a special sparkle.

Beautiful things happen when you paint what you love!

If you know of anyone who would really enjoy learning how to paint, or has some knowledge already and wants to go deeper, check out my Class Menu for several options I will be teaching this Fall. I also offer mentorships, critiques and demos.

You can tune in to a live demonstration, “Space and Light: Painting the Domestic Interior” I will be giving online with Opus Art Supplies on Saturday, October 9, 11am – 12:30. The announcement is not yet up on their website, but I will send a newsletter soon with the details. Meanwhile check out some of the other inspiring demos on offer with Opus in the next several weeks.

Talk soon!

Just Paint Already

I’ve been working on a 24 x 30″ canvas of Sans Souci Palace. Sans Souci means “without a care”.

I’m pretty stoked, because I got up at the crack of dawn yesterday and was at the easel by 8am, which was totally awesome.

What made yesterday’s session work? And how can I repeat that?

Hmmmmm, well maybe it’s helpful to look at what does not work? It seems that on days that I check my email before painting, it kind of scrambles the brain and gets me thinking about all the niggling things I feel obliged to do.

The golden rule: Paint first, admin later!

Maybe you painters out there have your “go-to” rituals that get the good stuff going in your studio, like lighting a candle, or a playing a certain song of music.

Here’s what works for me:

Up early after a solid sleep, a quiet breakfast of clean food with an excellent coffee avec oat milk, and while clear-headed, calm, relaxed, remaining playful and curious–

Bingo

That sweet-spot mode of non-attachment to outcome, focussed like a laser on colour-mixing nuances and paying attention to USING THE RIGHT BRUSH for the job at hand.

ergo: no teeny tiny brushes in the background!

it flattens the space!

and makes things too busy!

and no “trying”!

Kind of a zen thing–“try/not try”.

At the start of a painting session it takes a bit of time to switch into “painting mode”. First I take a few minutes to assess where this piece is at and get a glimmer of understanding of what I need to develop. You have to set some kind of intention, even if it ends up changing. No flailing desperately. Okay, sometimes flinging paint on randomly CAN jumpstart you, just make sure you are relaxed about it!

And through the doing, the brain becomes wordless and judgement-less and something magical starts to happen after I have put on enough wet paint with which to have a conversation. Now we’re in business.

There’s a method that is pretty effective called “Tomato” (it seems to have come out of someone using their kitchen cooking timer which was in the actual shape of a tomato).

I love when I remember to use this handy trick to get some sh*t done on my canvas. Set your timer for 30 minutes, and just go for it. Do not stop and check email. Do not go and eat chocolate. Do not sort your laundry or make phone calls or cut your toenails.

Just paint, already. Only for 30 minutes. You can do that, right?

Final Day: STUDIO MOVING SALE!

Hey folks,

Saturday May 22 is my last day at Parker.

Lots of things have been happily moving out to people’s homes, but there is some artwork left if you want to come in and grab some little treasures before I leave town. Discounts are to be had. 😉

This little painting I made onsite at Pere LaChaise cemetary in Paris. Was $1100, now $900.

I carried it in one of these nifty plein air carrying cases by Raymar. They are great for carrying slim 9 x 12″ wet painting panels. New these were $30 USD. Going for $15. I have 3 of them to sell.

$300

I also have this cute little paint box made by Opus. $10.

More stuff, you have to come and look!

Text me to let me know when you are coming: 778-865-2650

I look forward to seeing you there!

xVal

Three Days Remaining: STUDIO MOVING SALE!

Yesterday was such a treat! I loved visiting with fellow artists, collectors, and even friendly neighbours from my beloved co-op. We had a wonderful time. Thanks everyone for buying some art and taking it home where you can enjoy it everyday. It allows me to keep going on this fab adventure of being an artist. Lucky me! 

The sale continues through Saturday, so book now to make your appointment.  Text 778-865-2650 🙂

Studio hours: 11am-6pm

Location: 1000 Parker Street, east entrance on George Street (glass door at the top of loading bay ramp). Parking is free, but be prepared to walk a block or two because of construction of the new office strata building on George.

For people’s comfort I am booking 30-minute appointment slots. At your time I will come and open the door for you at the east entrance of 1000 Parker Street (glass door at top of loading bay ramp).

Remember to ask for your Optimistic Pursuits magic pencil!

SEE YOU THERE!

warmly,

Booking Appointments: STUDIO MOVING SALE

Hi everyone, following up on my announcement for next weeks’ STUDIO MOVING SALE May 19-22, 11am-6pm., I’ve had some questions around procedure.

For people’s comfort I am booking 30-minute appointment slots. At your time I will come and open the door for you at the east entrance of 1000 Parker Street (glass door at top of loading bay ramp).

By the way, you can for sure stay longer if no-one has alerted me that they are waiting outside! And if you want to just wing it, text me when you are on your way and let me know when you have arrived at the entrance. I can let you know if the studio is free. When I’m finished with my current guests, I will come down and escort you to my studio.

Please be patient if you have to wait. I want to make sure everyone is accommodated. 🙂

Also please note that some people (including myself) may not be wearing a mask because they have a medical mask exemption. Please respect this disability which is recognized by the BC Human Rights Commission. We can all just social distance and have a lovely time!

Also I am allowing only 4 guests at any one time in my space. Thanks for your understanding, and. I look forward to seeing you!

To book an appointment, please text me at 778-865-2650.

xVal

STUDIO MOVING SALE May 19 – 21, 2021

Hey folks, I’m moving to Vancouver Island!

And I need to consolidate things before I go.

What does this mean? It’s the big studio purge!

I will be selling some paintings and studies, works on paper, catalogs and a few posters. This will be a very rare occasion where you can discover some discounted prices and there will even be some random works for which you can MAKE ME AN OFFER.

Cash preferred, cheques welcome. I do have Square for credit card transactions, however quite frankly they ding me a percentage so let’s consider that a last resort. 🙂

Date and time: Wednesday May 19 – Saturday May 21, 11am-6pm

Location: 1000 Parker, 3rd floor #322b

Please note that the glass entry door on the east side (NOT the train track side) of the building at the top of the ramp will be locked, so you will need to text or call me to let you in: 778-865-2650

If you prefer, private views may be arranged: val@valnelson.ca

See you there!

Manet and In the Studio

This is something I’m working on right now. It’s the interior of a bistro I fell in love with on Rue Oberkampf in Paris. I really enjoyed the zing of colour of the fruit, and the play of morning light bouncing around on various surfaces. And of course the fuschia pink bar stool are très française. At right are gleaming bottles and glassware which will be really fun to paint when I dive back in to finish this.

Initially I made a smaller version of this painting, but realized the subject warranted a bigger scale for a more immersive experience.

The new canvas is 24 x 32 inches. This is not a custom size you can find off the rack at the art supply store, so my darling man cut down a 24 x 36 canvas for me.

I like to use a grey palette at this stage, so I can see how highlights stand out against that midtone. The final hits on the painting are usually the lightest lights, and the darkest darks. I am nuts about the in-between colour mixtures that you can’t quite name, the “greyed down” colours which help the brighter colours sing out.

As usual this is a process through which the painting will eventually tell me what it wants to be, and the meaning comes through the making.

When I see this kind of setting, I can’t help but think of Manet’s brilliant painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère which he painted in 1882. I dare not compare my work to his, but I am certainly inspired by his lush use of thick paint, and his ability to strategically choose what to emphasize in the composition. This is exceptionally sophisticated art-making.

https://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/collection/impressionism-post-impressionism/edouard-manet-a-bar-at-the-folies-bergere

I was fortunate to be able to view this painting first-hand at the Courtauld Institute in London. This is from the institution’s website:

This painting was Manet’s last major work. It represents the bustling interior of one of the most prominent music halls and cabarets of Paris, the Folies-Bergère. The venue opened in 1869 and its atmosphere was described as “unmixed joy”. In contrast, the barmaid in Manet’s representation is detached and marooned behind the bar.

The Folies-Bergère was also notorious as a place to pick up prostitutes. The writer Guy de Maupassant described the barmaids as “vendors of drink and of love”.

Manet knew the place well. He made a number of preparatory sketches there but the final work was painted in his studio. He set up a bar and asked one of the barmaids, Suzon, to serve as his model.

The painting was first exhibited in 1882, at the annual fine arts exhibition in Paris, the Salon. Visitors and critics found the composition unsettling. The inaccuracy of the barmaid’s reflection, shifted too far to the right, has continued to spark much debate.

To my mind, good painting that stands the test of time needs to be aesthetically captivating to keep the viewer’s attention (it is visual art after all), but also open to a number of interpretations that cannot be locked down.

However as humans we are captivated by story; we are compelled to know more.

It is possible that he was directly pointing to the barmaid being just another seductive object for consuming with one’s gaze–notice the two round white electric globes flanking her, echoing the lens of binoculars held by a woman in the crowd.

Manet was also known to be an admirer of the work of Spanish court painter, Diego Velàsquez. A similar contradictory space and perplexing riddle are present in Velàsquez’ Las Meninas.

https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/las-meninas/9fdc7800-9ade-48b0-ab8b-edee94ea877f

The painter is looking out at the scene he is creating. Like in Manet’s Bar scene, in the spotlight here is also a beautiful female wearing a corsage on her breast. She looks out at us, while her courtiers attend her. At back is a also a mirror, this time reflecting the images of the king and queen who in this space would seem to be in the studio but only apparent through their reflection. Their physical presence is only implied, and is outside the frame. In the 17th century, when this was painted, the young princess was being groomed to be the wife and queen in a politically arranged marriage to further the power of the Spanish monarchy. So she too is merely an object for trade. Everyone here has their role to play, and know their place.

But although it would appear that all is luxury and ease, the Spanish monarchy was in fact crumbling and its King, Philip II who was Velasquez’ patron, was a weak ruler. One could say that Velàsquez was a skilled propaganda artist. The fact that he painted himself into this image may suggest he is saying directly to future viewers of his masterpiece, “I painted this, and I knew what was actually going on.”

Velàsquez, an avid reader of philosophy, knew that creation is alchemy. We artists conjure our own realities through the power of our imaginations, with the skills of our hearts, minds, and hands.

C’est cool, non?

A bientôt, Val

SPRING: BEGINNER PAINTING ONLINE with Val Nelson

MARCH 14-APRIL 25, 2021

Hey Painter Wannabes! I’m stoked to announce that my popular Painting for Beginners class is now ready to go online via Zoom!

I so love teaching this class because I get to watch my students light up and get cracking at the easel with a little technical know-how.

Do I need to have painted before?” Many of my students are taking up their paint brush for the first time. We all knew how to make art when we were children. We were born creative! It’s just that some of us kind of forgot somewhere along the way! Be assured, it does come back with a little coaching.

“I don’t really know how to draw.” Don’t worry! Learning to paint is largely allowing yourself to open up your perception. I take you step-by-step through a process that helps you train your brain to learn how to really see. It’s super cool. In fact, you might even notice that as you expand your abilities in painting, you see the world around you differently too.

What will I learn?” In six information-packed three-hour sessions, you will learn important steps to building an acrylic painting using a loose, impressionistic approach. As you paint a simple still life, I give demonstrations to help you understand the block-in, develop your work with more detail, and learn about how value, basic colour theory, edge control, and brushwork can be used to create a dynamic painting with strong structure. 

Yikes, that sounds complicated!” Nope. The class begins with limited colour and gradually expands to full-colour projects. And the class size is small, so you get plenty of one-on-one instruction.

“I have a crazy schedule. What if I have to miss a class?” If you must miss a class, you needn’t worry, the Zoom classes will be recorded, so you can catch up at your own speed.

Great! When does it start, and how much does it cost?” Classes are on Sundays, beginning March 14. See below for more details!

beginner-colour

PAINTING FOR BEGINNERS

Six Sunday mornings 10am-1pm: March 14, 21, 28 (Easter Break) April 11, 18, 25

Class Fee: $420 (includes GST)

BONUS Discount Fee: Sign up two people at once, and you receive a $50 discount!

SUPER BONUS FEE: Sign up three people or more and receive a $50 discount plus a free one-hour follow-up painting lesson with Val. (value $115.50)

Registration Deadline: March 6, 2021

How to pay: E-transfer to val@valnelson.ca

Cancellation policy: If you need to cancel, I am happy to offer you a credit toward a future class. Please give me one week’s notice if you need to cancel. This gives me some time to fill your spot.

Supply List: Provided upon registration

To register: val@valnelson.ca 778-865-2650

The Gift of Art Lessons

Do you know someone who loves painting or drawing, who might enjoy some private instruction? Christmas is just around the corner, and if you haven’t quite finished your gift shopping I’m offering one-on-one lessons and tutorials for two online!

Many people I talk to say they loved making art a while back, but they are “too busy” now, or really got discouraged because they didn’t know how to finish things and gave up. C’est dommage! (That’s French for “bummer!”)

No, no, no ma cher, it’s never too late to get back into it!

It’s so rewarding and exciting to break through those unhelpful perceptions and technical blocks with a little know-how. Learning with a professional artist who is a few steps ahead of you (aka moi) can help you understand more deeply that this artmaking thang is actually important and worthwhile. Which of course it is!

Now more than ever we need positive energy beaming out into the world, n’est-ce pas? So help the planet by giving your loved one a boost, treat yourself, or double the blast of optimisic art-party energy by learning with a friend!

Here are some possibilities to mastermind your art-Santa strategy:

*Introductory mini lesson for first-time student with Val: $85

*Private Classes: $110/hr OR save by booking a 4-session package $400

*Private Classes for Two: $160/hr

For more information, or to arrange your art lesson gift, contact me and let’s get the creative juices flying ASAP!

val@valnelson.ca 778-865-2650

*all classes subject to GST

Start 2021 with the Gift of Art!

warmly,

Val

To Touch Something is to Love It

I’ve finally completed the painting above “Paris in Springtime”, which I have been working on for at least a couple of years now, off and on.

Engaging myself in the studio this summer helps me remember fondly my times spent in the city of many greys.

Right now I’m thinking back to Paris, where I was in May of 2017…

Because I would soon be teaching a painting workshop in Tuscany, and I hadn’t painted very much at all since the car crash, I wanted to get back into the groove by painting from life. I had brought with me a great plein air setup which involves a Strada paintbox recommended by fellow Vancouver painter Marie Josenhans. You can attach it to a standard camera tripod.

I laid out some oil colours in the paintbox, and with excitement set out early one morning to the beautiful Père Lachaise Cemetary. As I was unfolding my tripod, an official came by and insisted I take it down. It was the “regles” or rules: no tripods in the cemetary. I pondered what might be the reason for this–perhaps because I might kill some ghosts? Ha ha ha!

At any rate, I was not going to not paint this fantastic place, so I put the tripod away, and placed my paint box on a tombstone, working quickly before the light changed too much. Similar to when I draw, I felt like my paint brush was actually touching what I was looking at––the surfaces of the stones, the textures of the leaves and grasses as they shimmered in the early morning breeze.

Which brings to mind a quote from a book I love, All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This stunningly beautiful story is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

In the early chapters of the story, little Marie-Laure accompanies her father to his place of work, the Museum of Natural History in Paris. She loves to explore the fascinating collections of nature specimens there.

“To really touch something, she is learning—the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Etymology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr. Geffard’s workshop—is to love it.”

As the German troops force her and her father to flee the city into the countryside, she experiences many difficult realizations about the evils that humankind can inflict on others:

“This, she realizes, is the basis of all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.”

Werner, an innocent young German boy with a natural talent for fixing electronics, has a dream to be a scientist, falls guilelessly into serving Hitler’s military as a wireless radio operator.

The painterly prose generates great empathy for both protagonists by helping us understand how two people can be caught in the middle of a conflict that neither have asked for. I think I can honestly say it’s one of the top ten novels I’ve read in my life.

Another painting project I really wanted to do was a portrait study in oil of Stella Libert, a talented cinematographer I had met through my Canadian-Parisian friend Dana Wyse. Stella agreed to sit for me in her lovely petite apartment not too far from the Père Lachaise.

I’m really glad I took a photo of the study, because when we reconvened a few days later for another sitting, I couldn’t make it better, and in fact it actually lost something in the process. So I eventually painted over it.

Merde!

Oh, excusez-moi.

Sometimes a study is just meant to be what it is: a recording of the process of looking. It doesn’t have to be “finished”. So you painters out there, be okay not to censor yourself! Your initial impulse may contain some of the best of what is unique to you. Keep those studies hanging around, they may remind you of what you are capable of.

By the way, below you can see a beautiful short film made by Stella called “Paris Je T’Aime”, which artfully follows two parkour artists over the rooftops of Paris as they break the “regles” through exerting their freedom to defy gravity.

And here is a bonus little segment that shows Stella at work directing and filming it. Très cool:

Until next time, à bientôt.