A graphic novel project....

This is my first hand drawn and digitally painted illustration for a graphic novel called Titans of Brah. The writing is unfolding along with the image designs. There will be 81 images in total. The figure is a re-imagining of the Yama who holds the Wheel of Becoming. This has been combined with an Asura or Jealous god, who is subject to pride and paranoia, ......and showing the people along the river who is the god.
A Titan (Asura) has left his sanctuary and come down the river, The villagers have fled across the bridge, believing he will not cross the gorge.

Dreaming of an Eclipse

Eclipse, oil on canvas, 8ft x 4ft  
This  painting is an attempt to recreate the strange light of a dream.   I do not seem to dream much these days.  When dreams do occur they easily become lucid. Then it is possible to explore the stuff they are made of.

Waking from a nap in the park

Sherwood Park  oil on canvas, 30" x 30" 2015

Just Sitting

For twenty five years I have practiced meditation (sometimes intensely, sometimes half-heartedly), within both the Zen and Theravadin traditions of Buddhism. It was only after a long struggle that the discipline of  "just sitting" (shikantaza) yielded to truly just sitting......    bowing yielded to just bowing.......    walking yielded to just walking. Bodhidharma, the grand old master of Zen, is said to have been asked by a Chinese Emperor.... "What is the heart of the matter?"  His response was.... "Nothing Holy, Great space."

"Nothing Holy, Great Space" means being on the spot, wide awake, without spinning anything. Both questions and answers are resolved at their root. It is the simplest and most difficult thing to "do". From the perspective of  just sitting the story of "my life" is a self-enclosed dream of compulsion, always holding this against that, and endless reaching. Of course there will be this and because it is the stuff of  life, but it is not an absolute.

 I would not still be sane if all I ever knew was endless reaching, and I am grateful to those who teach the simple sanity of "just sitting".

Timelapse Study - Midtown Toronto

This is a  timelapse study shot with an ipod.  My studio is above the old Capitol Theatre on Yonge street.  The building has been sold, and is slated to be torn down to make way for a new development.

 This is an appreciation of the building, and the neighborhood.

Imaginary Worlds

This painting (flowers bloom 36x60) was painted for a show at a Toronto gallery in October 07. There was concern on my part, and no doubt on the gallery's part, about the subject matter, because it is a departure from my main focus of landscape. There are many stylistic, cultural (and commercial) pitfalls to something like this. My main concern was that "spiritual" art has fallen on hard times in the post-modern era, being relegated to a fringe of new-age kitch. The reasons for this are probably many, but the fact that post-modernism has been the prevailing force in the arts over the last thirty years is important. This stream of thinking tends to reduce transcendent realities to constructs of language, and this can have a kind of flattening effect on perception. Many painters seem to be embarrassed with spirituality unless it is addressed indirectly or with irony. Instead of avoiding this I decided to wade through the centre of it. The show drew inspiration from many sources ranging from pre-raphaelite figure work, to local landscape, and even the graphics of my favourite computer program. It also involved some delicate 2 dimensional pattern work. The painting below (titled "finding Brueghel") was based on the composition of Brueghel's incredible "tower of babel" here it has re-imagined as a natural landform.

It turns out these fears were not well founded. It may have alienate some people (one guy really hated it) but generally the response was very good, especially from casual gallery goers. It was also satisfying to see these paintings being taken home, proving that this kind of work can find a place in the current market. For the time being I am just focusing on further developing the "straight" landscape, but at some point I will turn again to this kind of figurative work. A sketch book is already filling up.

Small Paintings

    Once a year there is a show of "smalls" at  Art Interiors, Toronto, and every year I participate. There are a few reasons for painting smalls and joining in. One is that Art interiors is an old friend, and it is fun to participate in anything they have going. Another is that painting on that scale is a pleasure, with plenty of play and gesture. The main reason is out of gratitude for the support and appreciation that keep a painting life going.  If someone enjoys the work but has other priorities in the household budget, this yearly show offers something that can be taken home and enjoyed without breaking it.  
That is a happy thought.

This Corner

                                             My favorite corner of my favorite room

"Curve Ahead"
48" x 48"
cold wax medium on canvas

Long Summer's End

It is mid September and still feeling like August outside today.  But in the evening the last few nights there has been a scent of the North.  It is like a clean, earthy, wind that has been strained through forests and over the cold forest floors.  It changes the mind, the outlook, and I welcome it this year.  The Long hot summer has been lovely in a way, but it has also been creatively murky.  Sometimes standing in front of the canvas has felt like standing on the ocean floor, knee deep in sediment.  Today, after catching that cool evening scent, and sleeping beside the open window,  there was a sparkle of excitement and possibility in the studio.

Rain in the night

Last night our dog, instead of sleeping at the foot of the bed, decided to take the middle..  pushing my partner and I to either side, until I fell off the edge.  Gathering a blanket and pillow, I retreated downstairs to sleep on the couch. It was a warm night, so I opened the screen door... and drifted off.    A spring rain began, and continued till morning.

There is nothing more sweet, than being asleep, with hearing still open...  and rain in the back garden.

A white field...

Right now at the studio there is a 6ft x4ft canvas painted a soft chalky grey-white.     Most of the surface will be covered in a simple field of cobalt blue wash.  A few crisp divisions....a couple of bright lines...a moment of bright edge..  a long rectangle... somewhere.

The simpler the canvas, the more patience involved in each decision.. and the more care in each thing placed.

This is a different kind of painting than landscape..   Not the same kind of technical challenge..... more a compositional one...   Not a workout..... more reflective care.

I like this simple thing....

February blahs ?... O.K.

  There was a storm forecast for Toronto....15 centimeters of snow.... not much really,  but considering the absence of a real winter this year..something special.   No snow has come though, just slush, and grey.    The sun still rides low in the sky at this time.....

I stood today in front of a blank canvas (a landscape due in March), listening to the cars wash through the slushy road below my window,.....     and had one of those moments.... when the bright beautiful picture in the mind's eye is one thing, and the inert, passive, canvas is another.  It just happens now and then, and it can't be pushed.  There was someone banging on the heating pipes somewhere, and the smell of rusty water in the air.........

Time to go home....  pick up some popcorn on the way.... watch a movie with my family...  have a fire.   Tomorrow is a new day.

Free Play

Free Play #1 2012.

  Starting with a warm chalky white base, the canvas was divided into rectangles and a small coloured square was painted. Then once that was set in motion another square was painted, with colour adjusted "just so" in relation to the first. On it went ....point and counter point.   A painting like this is without any "meaning", and is really just paint as paint.  Colour, pattern, and energy.

Snow Squall in the Beaver Valley, Ontario.

oil on canvas 60inches by 40inches.  2012.      Loft Gallery, Clarksberg Ontario

Small Studio Ballet

Sometimes it is great to paint a big canvas, and I would like to go very big sometime, perhaps 8ftx8ft. Unfortunately my studio is very small. Yesterday after turning around and knocking a can of turps onto a newly finished painting (spent the day re-painting), I thought about moving, but then realized how attached I am to this place.

 It is in an old office space above a major thoroughfare, with oak trim, and a transom that opens with a brass pole . The landlord puts nameplates on all the doors... "Richard Herman Studio" .  It might as well say "Sam Spade, Private Investigator"...  very quaint. The landlord has also been very good to this longtime tenant, and has allowed the sacrifice of the old threadbare carpeting to layers of paint.  When the single large window is opened, Yonge street roars directly below. Also below is the old Capitol theater, now an events venue, and in the evenings Bar Mitzvahs or Wedding parties can can be heard in the halls. Work in this small space has to be choreographed. Large canvases are carefully moved, and the tools and supplies of the craft have to be efficiently organized. It gets messy quickly.  Once I had a big warehouse space downtown, but those old building have all been turned into condos, and this studio is close to home and family. The walk home takes 15 minutes. I enjoy working in the evening when the other offices are empty, while listening to history books on cd. Currently listening is "America in the time of Lincoln", fascinating.  This little studio is too small, but it is just fine.

A Leap of Faith in 2012

#1 2012 60inx60in
Creatively 2011 has been a strong year. It has also been an turning point in my attitude toward the craft element of art making. In a series of large landscapes the detailed working of the canvas was taken to its full extent as far as visual veracity goes, and something artistic has been settled for me. Now it's time to step back from that intense involvement in technique, and get a fresh perspective. So I am jumping into something completely different. The point here is not to abandon the landscape, but to develop an alternative studio experience that uses a different part of the mind....

Right now I'm working on non-representational paintings. It would not be accurate to describe them as "abstract" because they are not abstractions of things represented. They are large canvases that are an exercise in colour relationship, division of space, line, and simplicity. The painting itself is the thing, not just a means of evoking something else.  The physical presences of  canvas, its scale, colour, and form, are the only point. It is very "pure" in that I am being mindful of any affectation or decorative tendency, and keeping only those elements that are essential to the integrity of the painting.  Pull one element away and the composition collapses, add one too much and the composition also collapses.  I am enjoying this very much and will post the work when complete. By doing something completely different it has shaken up my landscape work, and a series of winter landscapes just started feels and looks fresher because of it.  

Ten Little Trees

Once a year I paint miniature panels (no bigger than 8in x10in) for Art Interiors in Toronto

The magic hour.

This week the rhythm of inspiration throughout a workday has really been distinct.   Starting in the morning a canvas will not suggest much, and applying paint is awkward.. With some pushing the marks made will start to suggest something more, and there will be a spark.  Once the canvas comes alive I  need to step back and rest.  Through the afternoon momentum builds. Yet, for some reason that big spark with energy and vision for the whole painting does not kick in until 10pm.   From 10pm until 1am it can be pure magic, the kind of magic that makes it all worthwhile. I'm not sure why this is so. It might have something to do with the quieting of the street outside, or the basic silence of the night. This is not a convenient rhythm, but it is what I find myself working with.

Sculpting Clouds

"Big cloud filled sky"  76 in x 48 in

   Different paintings can take me to different places while in  process. This is a sunny painting that naturally determined its own resolution from the beginning.  It lead to a very fresh, open, and joyful state of mind.

A long view in Southern Alberta

This canvas has been on and off the easel for a while. It was finished two weeks ago, but sat there unhappy. So it has been reworked one last time. At 60in x 60in inches it is hard to photograph and is one of those paintings that is diminished in reproduction.

Need a break. Time to get the canoe out and leave the city.

Jumping into a Cold Lake

  This morning is one of those times when the easel is intimidating. There is a big, 60in x60in canvas that is almost finished, and it has amazing potential. It could be finished by tonight, but it will require a leap and some luck to make that last spark of magic happen.  In a way painting a picture is like "throwing a pot" on a potter's wheel. There is no guarantee of success, and a stable level of energy has to be sustained throughout the session, so as not to drop the thread of inspiration.. It is possible to paint myself into a corner and be left with a canvas that can't be resolved.

The interesting thing is, there is a moment of crisis like this toward the end of any painting that works really well. Because it means giving up certainty.  It is that "standing on one leg then the other" moment before jumping in a cold lake. It can be so hard to just jump, but once in the water it is bright and alive.  This canvas is at that point....     So I'm intimidated as I sit in the nearby coffee shop eating an egg sandwich and drinking an ice coffee. Half thinking of ways to avoid it.  ""Maybe it is time to get a hair cut?"...    "I should book that van for Saturday"..     "It would be nice to write in the studio journal".....     "The dog needs her nails clipped"....  " It's such a beautiful day... such a beautiful summer day".  Ok then    ...Jump