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Painting In The Moment

November 9, 2018

Our Pal Al, oil on canvas, 24X24"

It’s a beautiful day on the Eastern Shore, more like an early spring day rather than a late fall one. I’m sitting in the Clipper Gallery surrounded by art, and looking out the window at the sparkling water and blue sky. The sounds of 1940s jazz, an electric clipper and chat are coming from my partner’s barber shop just through the gallery’s French doors. It is comfortable, cozy, reassuring and lovely to be here.

Work at the studio in the Musquodoboit Harbour Railway Museum has started up again after a bit of a hiatus. I am working on a commissioned portrait of an older couple. Wayne (my partner and the aforementioned barber) knows the woman in the portrait, who is standing with her husband in a park, with colourful fall leaves in the background.

I started this portrait about a year ago, with the intention of having it ready for Wayne’s friend last Christmas. However, as with many creative enterprises, work did not proceed as I would have wished. I was able to capture her husband’s likeness quite well in the early days of work, but found that I could not make similar progress on her. So I have been avoiding this piece, wishing it would go away, and wondering how or if I could break the news to her that I was admitting defeat. I have, however, determined to finish this piece, come hell or high water, and to my satisfaction, by the end of November, and will present it to the owner at her annual Christmas party in mid-December.

It is difficult as a creative person to find that one’s conception of a piece does not match the end result. Perception and reality are often not the same thing, and I believe whole fields of science and philosophy are centered on this question. How much of what we experience is simply perception? Does anything really exist outside our perception of it?

So I have come to the conclusion that for me the end result is less important than the process. I try to let the work flow in its own direction, to take joy in the sensual quality of paint, the heft of the brush in my hand, and the potent smell of linseed oil. Learning to live in the moment is the work of a lifetime, and so often we are forced to confront our mortality before we truly learn to live. Painting is a good teacher.

The other lessons are about patience and diligence and determination, of not giving up and abandoning the canvas. For the canvas (or the clay or the wood or the stone or the staff) is a place of birth, and it deserves a commitment and a home.

So my portrait commission will be completed to my satisfaction. I’ll keep you posted.

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