Archive for the ‘Artist Interviews’ Category

Peter B. Mills’ Metamorphosis

Sunday, July 10th, 2016
We love it when art and science intertwine! One of our artists, Peter B. Mills, is both a fantastic painter and an accomplished naturalist, and he’s just published a book called Metamorphosis. It traces the double life of amphibians, depicting the amazing natural changes that occur throughout their life-cycles.
With our theme of Metamorphosis this season, we’re excited to see one of our partners engaging with a natural process like this. Featuring writing and original illustrations from Peter, this book is a great resource for the citizen scientist who loves getting out and going deep on understanding their environment.
You can see that understanding in Peter’s artistic work as well. The life and habits of his subjects animate his paintings in unique ways. Here’s a look into his thinking about one piece on display at the Algonquin Art Centre…
“Lord of the River” is the phrase that came to mind as I watched this ancient male Wood Turtle plod across a shallow riffle and out into a small brook here in Algonquin Park.  Rather than enter the brook with the flow of the water, he cut a path at a slant to the water sliding over the stony bottom.  This seemed like an act of defiance against his surroundings.  This and the stern golden ring in his eye left me to interpret this animal as one who was a master of his domain.
Algonquin Park is one of the last places in Southern Ontario where Wood Turtles remain as lords of their riverine haunts.  These turtles are crushed by vehicles and agricultural equipment, displaced by development projects, and collected by uninformed people to be kept as pets, all of which lead to population crashes.
“Wood Turtle” is done with translucent paint on an aluminium surface.  As a result, a lively light gleams through the work under natural light.  This seemed like an appropriate way to render an animal that spends so much of its life in shallow, sun-sparkled brooks and rivers.
 “Wood Turtle”
You can get all the information on Peter’s book over on his website. You definitely don’t want to miss out on seeing his pieces in person, so be sure to drop in with us at the Art Centre. You can get a preview of his work right here.
Stop in with us and explore the concept of Metamorphosis through art, while surrounded by Algonquin park’s dynamic environment!
Peter and Joel in the gallery

Off-Season Artists: Andrea Ross

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

With the off-season drawing to a close, we’re at the VERY LAST Off-Season Artists post! If you haven’t been reading along, that’s when Alex, the man who considers refreshing his web page as refreshing as the spring breeze after a long winter, interviews our artists and unpacks their process.
In this installment, we speak with impressionist landscape painter Andrea Ross!

Andrea Ross and her piece “Shake It Down to Earth

So first off, where are you from? What was your experience of the Canadian landscape growing up?
I was born in Oakville and growing up my family cottaged on Skeleton Lake. I did many canoe trips in the Georgian Bay, Port Severn, and Algonquin areas, so rocks, water, and trees are fully engrained in my enjoyment of the outdoors.

“Benjamin Shoreline”

I notice that in your work you tend toward auburn and muted pinks and golds, with a quality of light that seems a lot like the evening just a little before sunset. There’s a very peaceful quality to your paintings! What attracts you to that aesthetic?
I love the evening time just before the sun goes down when the air is still, the light’s low and at a right angle to the landscape, and the shadows are long. Colours become deeper and much less bleached out by the light. It’s a time when I like to venture out in my canoe or Kayak.

How about your influences? What artists would you say inspire you most?
I very much admire the work of Ottawa artist Philip Craig. Earlier I studied work by Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt as well as the Group of Seven—specifically MacDonald, Thompson, and Jackson).
My mentor, my aunt Eila Ross had a career as a medical artist and I completed a degree in Fine Art at the University of Guelph, concentrating on drawing with the thought that I would go into medical Art. After graduating Guelph, I decided that was enough school for me, so I took a different route and created art for pleasure.


I understand that you’ve done a lot of work in pastels. That seems like a very different medium. How has that influenced the way you paint?
My first love was drawing and with the pastel medium—you can draw with pure colour. I have learned much about colour through my pastel paintings. My goal when switching to oils was to make them look like pastels yet do away with the framing that a pastel requires. I also wanted to work larger, and that’s difficult when you have to frame under glass.

“Sailor’s Rest”

There’s a really neat contrast between your land and trees and your water. There are these bold, broad strokes on the land and a real luminosity in the water. I’d love to hear about how you developed that style!
Generally, I work from drawing with paint to working up the shapes in the design, then creating the form in each major shape and finally working out the details in the focus area. Building the colour from dark to light and intensifying any areas I want the viewer to focus on. There is definitely a process with each painting which I try to follow. Sometimes this process is amazingly fast and in other paintings I slowly work through problem areas.
Sometimes to develop certain feelings I use a specific stroke and change the size and shape of brush.

“Good Footings”

In terms of your subjects, we see a lot of familiar views in your paintings from around Algonquin and the Muskokas. What would you say is your favourite spot in the outdoors?
Without a doubt, my favourite spot is right where I live on Skeleton Lake, but I do love Algonquin Park and am extremely happy to be able to get to the park within an hour and enjoy this fantastic, natural, unspoiled area.

And last but not least, what’s something we might not know about you?
I am a very keen 470 sailor and love to listen to classical music, especially when I paint.

“Hut Hike”

And that’s that for our Off-Season Artists series this year! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as we’ve enjoyed writing.
Now we’re hard at work getting everything ready for the new season, starting June 1st. Stay posted for updates and info about our artists and the activities we’ll be putting on this year. We can’t wait to see you!

Off-Season Artists: Jan Wheeler

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Just in time for the springy weather, we’ve got another Off-Season Artist! In this series Alex, who spends his time pacing the vaulted halls of the internet, head reverently bowed as his footsteps echo into digital eternity, interviews one of our artists to learn about their process and personality.
This week, it’s landscape painter Jan Wheeler! 

So let’s get right into it. Your style is very difficult to pin down. Your landscapes are both very naturalistic but also otherworldly. There’s a monumentally static quality to your rocks and hills, but they all flow together in swirls and motion. How do you reconcile these seemingly competing elements so effectively?
Each piece sets out to share the rhythms and forces I’ve observed. There’s always an underlying rhythm, perhaps the strong winds of a storm, or a gently rippling breeze.
It’s that underlying rhythm that shapes the piece. Whether sky, water, rocks or hills, the wind flows over and sculpts all. Light and shadows from the skies flow over rocks and hills with the same force and rhythm. I work with all the elements together to create the choreography of the composition. The fluid lines and curving form draw the viewer’s eye smoothly through the piece so they too can feel the wind at play.

“Montreal River Harbour”

Who would you say were your influences in developing this style? It’s quite unlike a lot of other landscape painting out there.
A major influence for me was a contrary one: Cezanne. By that, I mean that while he explored planes of light and form in a landscape, I was aware of a curving form. I knew I had to diverge from his work to find a way to interpret what I was “seeing”.  The artist I consider the key influence would be Henry Moore, whose tumbling, flowing forms enabled me to see how I could develop the flowing movement I was trying to capture.

Paul Cezanne, “La Mont Sainte-Victoire” and Henry Moore, “Reclining Figure”

Wow. Now that you mention it, I can really see that. I understand you also have a great deal of different regional influences. You’ve travelled quite a bit throughout the world—Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Italy—and clearly you’ve used your diverse experiences to hone your style. What overseas experience would you say was the most valuable for making your art what it is today?
I would have to say that my time in London, UK was most valuable. I was able to study the works of many great artists and explore my own interpretation of landscape against that inspirational backdrop.
I played with the curving light and form of London’s plain trees and the rolling hills of the South Downs. During this time of development I worked in an office across from the Tate Gallery, with a Henry Moore sculpture in its front courtyard. His fluid, smooth forms draw the eye through and around the three-dimensional forms almost without awareness.  Seeing his work in situ sent my mind racing through the possibilities of my own developing style by further exploring the fluid movement and rhythms of a landscape.

“Wind Sculpted Skies”

In spite of all that travel, more than any other subject the interaction between big Canadian waters and their skies seems to captivate your attention. I’m thinking of “Wind Sculpted Skies” in particular, one of your most ominous paintings and one of my favourites. What draws you to those subjects?
I’m drawn to the movement in landscape and want to capture a scene, not in its stillness, but in its living. Water and skies are rich with rhythm and simply captivating when observing. They’re a challenge for me with complex dramatic shifts that require complex choreography within the composition.
“Wind Sculpted Skies” is a scene from the shores of Lake Superior. The painting describes a long, age-worn rocky peninsula weathering once again the force of an expansive storm front. Strong winds drive and sculpt the sky, providing a rich choreography for me to work with.

There’s no place quite like Lake Superior, is there? On that note, you’ve done quite a bit of backpacking and canoeing. What’s your favourite natural space to get into in Canada, and why?
The north shore of Lake Superior never fails to inspire and challenge me. I’m captivated by the geologic forces in constant battle there, and on a scale that can be very hard to bring down to even a large canvas. Its geologic age gives it an underlying weight that resonates in the rhythms I observe.
For an artist who loves to work with stormy skies and turbulent water, the great lake provides me with a rich range of awe-inspiring moments.

“Break in the Storm”

Speaking of getting out and working on pieces in the open air, one of the notable things about your paintings is their sheer size and ambition. When you’re in the presence of one, boy does it take over! What’s the process of going from mobile sketch to huge canvas like for you?
It’s great to hear that the paintings are connecting with you.
While on location I sketch, take photos and if I have colour with me, I’ll do a colour study for later reference. The scale and complexity of the scene usually dictates the scale of the final piece. The larger the scale of the scene and the more complex the underlying rhythms, the larger the final painting needs to be.
A final drawing precedes the painting, where I work out the rhythm in the landscape in a finished composition. This is important in order to have a consistent flow for the eye to follow; to draw the viewer into the underlying dance of the scene.
On canvas, I can develop the flowing scene more as the brush moves and blends the colour throughout the piece. The largest piece I’ve completed is a 48”x60”, which, if you know me, is as big as I am and that brings its own challenges.  The extra work is worth it though as a larger canvas lets me develop and express more dramatic and complex scenes.

And last but not least, just for fun: what’s something we might not know about you?
Well, over the years I’ve had encounters with a lot of wildlife: a bobcat, fisher, weasels, elk, bears and many more. But probably the most memorable was when I was kissed by a camel in the Saudi desert.
I was with my husband and a group of friends, heading across flat sands to the Red Sea for some snorkelling when we came across a female camel and her two youngsters.
We stopped some distance away and watched quietly, taking pictures. The curious young camels playfully approached, soon followed by the mother. Everyone in my group backed up out of range, worried about an attack by the mother.  I could see the mother wasn’t stressed and felt it best if I just stood quietly, making no moves.
The kids stopped before they reached me and looked on with curiosity but kept their distance. It was the mother who stepped up to me. She slowly, gently sniffed my face, my hair and then gently rubbed a cheek. She looked at me carefully one more time and then her incredibly long tongue washed my face in a big kiss. Astonished, yet careful not to move, I spoke to her quietly, thanking her, and watched as she and her kids went on their way.

“Shimmering Lumsden Lake”

That’s it for Jan Wheeler! She’s a delight and we can’t get enough of her art…
Check in soon for our next Off-Season Artists post!

Off-Season Artists: Rich Baker

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

It’s here! Another post in our Off-Season Artists series, in which Alex, the guy who draws a fiery crucible full of molten data out of the web-furnace with his bare hands, interviews our favourite artists for your winter reading pleasure!
This time around, he speaks to one of
 our most fun and eclectic artists, sculptor Rich Baker

First off, it’s nice to speak with a southwestern Ontario boy with a love of the outdoors, not unlike myself! Can you tell me a little bit about growing up, and the process of finding your place in the artistic world?
I was born in Grimsby Ontario and enjoyed most of my teenage years living at the base of the escarpment in Winona. I spent a good deal of my childhood exploring that Escarpment. School, much to my parents’ dismay, was never a priority for me. My mind would always be wandering, to past and planned adventures of the outdoors: hiking, cycling, walking the orchards that surrounded my home with my trusted BB gun, anything but paying attention to the task at hand… school. This is where my addiction to the outdoors and wildlife was founded. Growing up, music was always around our family. My parents met while my dad was a musician in a band. I think my mom was a groupie… she would never have admitted to that, though! The professional music phase of my life didn’t start until I was in my late twenties. I like “left turns” in life, so I packed up everything and went on the road, playing for well over 13 years. Shortly after meeting my wife Jenn, I decided it was time to put the road behind me and get serious with music and try my hand at writing songs. As far as the music industry in Canada was back then, I was one of the fortunate ones. Landing some number ones, top fives and top twenties on the country music charts. It fuelled my artistic cravings for some time. But nothing remains the same… thankfully.

I have to say, you’re certainly one of the most eclectic artists we’ve had at the Art Centre. Artist, musician, sculptor… that’s quite a roster! The only common denominator seems to be creativity. It seems that you’ve settled pretty comfortably into metalwork these days.What made you decide to focus the bulk of your attention in that direction?
I’ll be perfectly honest: metal sculpture is a bit of an anomaly. I’ve had training in welding, but this art medium… it’s a complete fluke. I believe some of the best things in life come to us that way. For me, I believe that each piece I do is a story, something I’ve seen or witnessed, experienced first hand, or heard of in the news. To me, it’s quite similar to songwriting. Rather than putting pen to paper on what I have in my mind, I hammer it out in steel… country music gone Heavy Metal, so to speak!

“Clear Cut View”

Within metalworking, you have a huge focus on animals and birds. What attracts you to wildlife?
As I mentioned in the beginning, the outdoors has always drawn me in. If I’m not in my shop working, then I’m outdoors, hiking, exploring, and trying my best not to fall into the swampy areas that surround our home. If I’m not outside, as my wife Jenn will attest, I’m staring out the window or pacing the floor dreaming about getting out there. Out here, we reside in an area that is at the base of a wonderful lake and conservation area. I’m extremely fortunate to view an amazing amount of wildlife right from my yard. Deer, wild turkey, fox, coyotes, incredible majestic wolves, and, of course, numerous birds of prey. The birds of prey have always drawn me in, probably because of my love for flying. They soar over my house and call out to one another as I watch from below until my neck gets sore. Bald Eagles, Osprey, Red Tail Hawks and Falcons, they are all truly incredible to witness on a daily basis. Each time I see the different wildlife, it’s an inspiration in it’s truest form, right in front of me. I know I’m spoiled.

Now, you’re speaking to someone who spends most of his time dealing with paintings. Sculpture is a bit of a mystery to me! I’d love it if you’d take us through your process a bit. How does a piece go from inspiration to idea to structure to sculpture? What are the challenges along the way?
I am a very visual person. Each time I see something that captures my attention, the first thing that’s going through my mind is,”how can I make that.” Usually, I’ll toss the idea around in my head for a while. Then I’ll tack up as many pictures as I can of the subject in my shop, surrounding myself with the creature, living with it for a bit. Pictures work best in lieu of bringing the actual animal into my shop… I don’t believe they’d sit still long enough. I’ve discovered that I have the ability to look at a subject and figure out the anatomy. Where this ability comes from, is part of the magic of what I do. I don’t mean to sound evasive or vague about the process, but I just start cutting metal. As I’ve often explained, it’s as if my eyes are just watching (front row seat if you will) what my hands are doing, and it comes together. For each piece of the subject, I hand cut, hammer into the shape and then weld in place. I usually start with the nose (or beak) of the creature to get the proper sizing. This alone could be up to 10 individual pieces, carefully placed together. I then work my way back from there. I see and look for the finite details in everything I do; I am not an abstract artist by any means. This is always a challenge to me, to make metal look, well, not like metal. My goal is always to create the illusion, that the closer you get to one of my pieces, the more details you will see, as if you’re right up close and personal to the animal. That is what I strive for.

“Phase Blaster”

Apart from your wildlife pieces, I notice that in the industrial pieces you have a tendency toward the use of found objects. That must be a very different process from your scratch built wildlife sculptures. Can you talk a little bit about what goes into making one of these fantastical objects?
These works, at times “Steampunkish,” allow me to use a different side of my brain. It’s like a puzzle to me. My wife and I enjoy spending time at auctions and junk yards, and it’s there that we find those unique and interesting components that inspire and become, well, anything. It usually starts with one certain piece. From that I’ll add to it, sometimes taking weeks, even months, to complete a vision. Usually, the hardest part is to know when it’s done, since the subject matter that I’m putting together is quite often fictitious. Making these type of works gives my mind and my hands a bit of a break. They aren’t very labour intensive on my hands; no cutting or pounding is usually required. I love ‘em.

“Screech Owl”

You also seem like a guy who likes to have a good laugh and some fun with his art. How does that sense of play enter into it?
I do like creating things that make people smile. I don’t consider myself a “serious subject matter” artist. I’m not trying to shock someone into seeing a point of view on anything. If someone laughs at, or with, something I’ve made, then I’ve gotten their attention, and as an artist in today’s “quick” world, I believe that’s a good thing.Today’s society is filled with a lot of painful, trying circumstances. I for one would not like to contribute to that. Art should make one smile; humour to me goes hand in hand with that.

And last but not least, what’s something fun we might not know about you?
I am a fishing fanatic, plain and simple. I was even fortunate enough to spend almost two years as a fishing guide along the Trent River system. I didn’t even mind if no one was booked for the day. That would just mean more fishing time for me!

“River Bank Bounty”

So that’s that for our friend Rich Baker! It was an absolute pleasure speaking with him…
Check back in soon for our next Off-Season Artists!

Off-Season Artists: Joseph Koensgen

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

It’s that time again! Here’s our next edition of Off-Season Artists! That’s where Alex, who takes flight on majestic wings of Wifi, spends a little time talking to our favourite creators.
In this instalment,  he interviews painter, photographer, hiker, and conservationist, Joseph Koensgen.

So Joseph, I’d love to hear a little bit about what life was like growing up. Did you live in the Winnipeg area all your life? When did your fascination with the outdoors begin?
Yes, I have lived in the Winnipeg area my whole life. I grew up just outside of Winnipeg where there were many forests and fields close by. I was always an outdoors kid, wanting to explore, and I was just generally interested in being in nature. I always had a love of animals and any chance I could get to try and see some I would, with most of my observations coming from backyard birds at the birdfeeder. I also had the great fortune of many family trips to Riding Mountain National Park, a place I still frequent. This gem in Manitoba played a huge part in my love of nature as its untouched landscape inspired me then, and still does today.

I believe it! Part of that affinity for the outdoors seem to stem from a tremendous love for hiking. I’m guessing that came about when you were younger as well. Your Instagram is full of images of big-sky Manitoba from a natural, isolated vantage point. Where are your favourite places to hike? And aside from providing visual subjects for your painting, how does being out in nature contribute to your art?
I absolutely love to hike. Getting out into nature with a good trail and a camera is one of my favourite things to do, and my Instagram feed would give a pretty good glimpse of what I like to do and where I like to go. My favourite places to hike in Manitoba are Riding Mountain National Park and Whiteshell Provincial Park. A little closer to home would be Bird’s Hill Provincial Park, a smaller but equally enjoyable place to hike. Each season in these places offers something different with the pinnacle of colour and inspiration being the fall. Being in these places and getting inspired by a scene is what goes into my art. Seeing it and feeling it means I am able to put those things, as best I can, into my art. I’ve noticed that my best work comes from something directly inspired by an experience rather than something I’ve pieced together from multiple locations. Not to say that I can’t be inspired by many things, but a rewarding feeling is being patient enough to capture a scene as it happens, and translate that into a piece of art. There is always a range of emotions I experience when this happens and it’s a delight to see it come out in my art.

This set of passions also must tie into your work as a naturalist and conservationist. Can you tell me a bit about your background there? What led you down that path? What kind of work do you do in those fields?
It was a fairly recent addition to my passion as a nature artist. As I had grown in my interest and skill as a nature artist, I began to read and learn more about the concerns and conservation issues all around me. I then joined an organization called Artists for Conservation in 2013, which was doing something that I wanted to do myselfuse art as an avenue to raise awareness and money for the conservation of the natural world. And since then I have been involved in their annual shows and have used my art and sales for just that. I have also submitted art for the Ducks Unlimited Canada National Art Portfolio, which sells prints to raise money for wetland conservation. I have had the honour of being selected in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016. This has been a wonderful experience, and I will continue to submit work, as well as work with other conservation organizations.


Moving on to your art, I notice a real visual unity in each painting. It’s something about the way you bring together your tones and compositions to make the wildlife one with their surrounding landscape. It really does remind me of encountering wildlife on a hike. It’s always an amazing moment, but without the accentuation or fanfare that some painters might add to their wildlife subjects. How did you arrive at that style?
When I was young, I wasand still amvery inspired by one of the great wildlife painters, Robert Bateman. I studied his work when I was young and well into high school. After taking a long break, I found myself wanting to do art again. I bought a camera and started up again, working from my pictures. I usually try and depict the animal the way I’ve seen it, in its natural setting without getting too lost into how I think it would act or behave. And the experience of seeing these animals is something I’m striving to recreate at the easel. Of course, I’m also interested in a pleasing composition, but I’ve hopefully steered clear of anthropomorphizing my subject too much. But there is a certain look to my art that I am going for. I like colour harmony and pleasing shapes and motions in my paintings. I like to keep the realism to a point to where you could say, “I’ve seen something like that!” I love hearing that, because if my art brings someone back to somewhere or something they’ve experienced, then I know I’ve captured it well.


In terms of wildlife, birds seem to be your most enduring subject. What makes them such a favourite of yours?
It started from a young age. I had always been interested in animals, and birds were very accessible because I could sit at the window and watch them come to the backyard bird feeder. It was a fantastic venture for a kid interested in nature. I would love to see what types of birds would show up and at what time of year. As well as researching what types of things would get uncommon species out in front of my camera. As I got older my affinity for birds remained, and I have been able to see more and more types of birds as my travels have expanded and the digital age of cameras has made it easy to capture. 

I notice that in your paintings—even when they’re a sweeping mountain image like “Across the Valley,” which I love!—you often seem to be working from a high angle or zoomed in close. It’s often a creature framed by the ground or foliage around them, without extending the composition upwards into the sky. Is that the focused photographer in you? The naturalist’s scrutiny?

“Across the Valley”

By the way, while we’re speaking of “Across the Valley,” where did that painting originate? It looks like parts of the Yukon to me.
I would say that is more the focused photographer in me. I do want to accurately portray the settings I choose, so the naturalist in me pays attention to that, but my art is heavily influenced by my eye as a photographer. Although, recently I have been inspired to expand my paintings into some more large and sweeping compositions that include skies and mountains. Mostly because of a recent trip to the Yukon, as you accurately noticed about one of the first paintings I did from that trip, “Across the Valley”. The Yukon was one of the most amazing natural wilderness areas I’ve been to. Huge mountains, large sweeping valleys, and thousands of kilometers of untouched forest. Truly the nature lover’s playground. Even though I have yet to really get many pieces out from that trip thus far, I’ve got a great number of ideas that include these huge skies. I hope to expand my work in that way for a few pieces as I think it’s good to continually change things up and be inspired by different landscapes. It’s also a good thing to keep oneself challenged by new and engaging ideas that at first glance, seem tough to recreate with paint, but would be very rewarding as a finished painting. 

I couldn’t agree more about the Yukon. If the word “epic” were a location, that’d be it! But just to finish up: just for fun, what’s something we might not know about you?
I have been playing the guitar for about 15 years. I started when I was a teenager and just kept it going from there. What I like to play is blues guitar. I’ve always enjoyed blues music and the great expression that can be done when playing a blues guitar solo. I don’t play as often as I used to, but I still enjoy it just as much.


 So that’s Joseph Koensgen! It was a pleasure to get to know him…
We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with another interview, so stay posted, art lovers!

Off-Season Artists: David Grieve

Friday, February 5th, 2016

It’s our next Off-Season Artists post! In this series Alex, the guy who feels right at home among both keystrokes and brush-strokes, helps you ride out the long winter season by talking to some of our favourite artists.
This time, he’s speaking with David Grieve, a southwestern Ontario artist with a talent for creating landscapes out of his unique oil painting technique.

So first off, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, originally? I understand that your mother was also an artist. I imagine a lot of your early artistic exposure comes from your experiences with her. What kind of art did she make, and how did the beginning of your artistic interest take shape?
I was born and raised in Brantford, Ontario.  When I was young, my mother encouraged me to draw and paint.  My sister and I were able to accompany her to her studio in the summer.  While there we had the chance to work with oils on canvas alongside the adult artists.  I took it for granted at the time but realize now that not many 8-year-olds have the opportunity to paint with oils.  As a result, I found myself at ease with the medium years later when I was studying fine art at the University of Guelph.
Looking back on my experience at school, I was always interested in art.  I recall being scolded in grade one for skipping my desk work to spend more time at the easel.  I’ve always been drawn to the artistic elements across subject areas in school.  Even something like drawing the cells in biology class was an artistic experience for me.

“After Harvest 2″

One thing that stands out in your work is the fact that it deals with Southwestern Ontario. That’s a very different environment from a lot of the Canadian landscape art we’re used to seeing—northern forests, the Rockies, big rainforest pines out west…
What attracts you most to the landscape of Southwestern Ontario?
It is appealing, to me, looking for beauty where you live.  The natural environment in Southwestern Ontario is a part of my daily life. Where I live, I am surrounded by beautiful rolling hills of corn and beans as well as trees that have lived here for many years.
The change in environment has an impact on me. It’s easier to breathe.  I am saddened however by the high rate of urban sprawl that is taking place in Southwestern Ontario.  Where I used to see fields and open spaces while driving along Hwy 403, it’s now being replaced by shopping centres and parking lots.  I feel that it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the importance of the beauty in nature.


I’ve definitely noticed that as well. Once it seemed like a Toronto problem, but you can see it across the board, even reaching up toward the Muskokas! Slowing that down is going to be crucial over time.
Speaking of the trees you mentioned, some of my personal favourites among your work are when you capture them standing alone against the sky. That’s such a characteristically rural image, with strong associations of home and melancholy for a lot of people. And I feel like your heavy, distinctive swathes of paint are the perfect method for it! How did you develop that unique method of painting? Were there any influences that pointed you in that direction?
I have always been interested in thick paint.  Whenever I visit a gallery, I inevitably end up spending the most time in front of paintings that are ‘thick.’  When I was in university, I was lucky enough to go to New York with some of my friends.  There was a large exhibit of Lucian Freud works. I loved how thick and expressive they were.  I am also influenced by how loose and expressive works like Monet’s lily pads are.  It was a special opportunity to be able to stand in front of them during my visit to New York.
I feel that there is a parallel between myself and the lone trees that I paint.  I am similar to the solitary trees when I am alone painting in my studio.  I enjoy this solitude and find it peaceful.

“Cold Front”

Another aspect of your painting and one that’s made especially interesting by your technique is the way your big skies aren’t just a backdrop to your pieces, but performers in their own right. They’ve got rich textures and an uncharacteristic sense of depth. I’d love to hear about how you imagine the dynamic between foreground and background in your work, and if it’s a challenge to bring out so much liveliness in the sky, something that so many artists relegate to a place of secondary importance.
When a storm rolls in, and you get to witness it while out in the countryside, it stirs something inside of you.  Excitement, danger, beauty and drama.  I love trying to convey that energy and excitement in my skies.

I gather that you tend to work from photographs when you’re painting scenes from southwestern Ontario, but I also know you’ve got a cabin in the Kawarthas where you and the family like to spend some time. That must be a great platform for getting closer to the natural landscape, and for a change of tone. How does your artistic practice differ when you’re up at the cabin? What’s that experience like as a change of pace?
Spending time in the Kawarthas has changed me and my work. Having a place to go has been fantastic.  Since I work from home, sometimes it feels like I am always at work, so it’s simply nice to get away.  The drive north offers me the opportunity to observe nature and the changes that take place in the fields and trees across all four seasons.
Spending more time on the water has been wonderful.  I think about the lake a lot and the beauty around it.  There are times when the sun shines just so on the lake and surrounding islands that it feels awe-inspiring.  The open skies around that lake also offer dramatic views.  Whether it’s a summer sunset or storm clouds rolling in, the image is often breathtaking.
I do work from photos, and I’m now taking many at the lake. It took me a little while before I started to paint images from the KawarthasI was getting to know it.  The landscape there now feels like it’s a part of me and my life, which allows me to recreate it on canvas.

“Sister Sunset”

Speaking of being up at the cabin, what’s your favourite thing to do when you’re out in nature? What kind of environment do you find most fulfilling or inspiring?
It would be difficult for me to find anything better in life than paddling a canoe on a warm, calm day with my family.  The peacefulness of being on the water and the soothing sound of the paddles propelling us forward gives me great joy.

And last but not least, what’s something interesting that we might not know about you?
I love fishing. Whether it’s fishing from the boat during the summer or drilling a hole in the ice during the winter, I enjoy being outdoors.  The added thrill of catching a beautiful bass or a giant muskie makes it that much more enjoyable.

So that’s David Grieve! We love gazing into his large-scale canvasses and getting lost in those bands of colour.
Check back soon for our next Off-Season Artists! 


Off-Season Artists: Michael Dumas

Monday, January 25th, 2016

It’s that time again! Here’s Off-Season Artists, where Alex, intrepid interlocutor of the internet, interrogates some of Canada’s most interesting artists. This edition features Michael Dumas, a realist painter who imbues his canvasses with a sense of elevation and nostalgia that reach beyond simple representation.

 “Watchful,” depicting a red-tailed hawk alongside its creator, Michael Dumas

It’s a pleasure speaking with you, Michael! You’ve had a long career in the arts and naturalism, starting with where you grew up, right outside of Algonquin Park in Whitney. You even spent time as a ranger! I’d love to hear a little bit about your experiences in the bush and how that contributed to who you are.
I guess everyone is influenced by where they grew up, and Algonquin is part of my very earliest memories. We would often take Sunday drives in the park when I was very young, and that was when there was a lot of deer in the park. I remember feeding the deer by hand, just like in those early postcards from the late 1950s and early ’60s. When I was a bit older, I had the opportunity of exploring a few of the hiking trails, and I spent a lot of time in the bush on the outskirts of the park. Being a ranger was an extension of all that, and something that I took to quite naturally.
Among the things that have stayed with me from all this is a vivid sense of nature as something dynamic, changing from moment to moment. When you’re in the bush day and night, every day for weeks at a time, you become intensely aware of weather, the wind and the rain, the passing of the sun, wildlife, whether you can find dry firewood, and so on. You become sensitized and very observant of the world around you, and it is a mix of both pleasure and hardship. Even a simple thing like having really cold water to drink is something very rare in the bush, and if you come across a spring on a hot, humid, summer day, it’s like striking gold. This combination of hardship, awareness, and moments of comfort and natural beauty, really does have a lasting influence. If you’re an artist, it’s bound to influence your work.

Michael in 1970, his ranger days

I notice that your education is a blend of art and ornithology. Which would you say was your first love, being a naturalist or being an artist? How do the two occupations come together in your art?
Experiencing nature has been instrumental to my art, but my art is first and foremost an expression of self, and that comes first. I do more work involving birds than any other single subject, and maybe it has something to do with childhood experiences. We always had winter bird feeders, and I also have some very early memories of being shown nests with eggs and baby birds in them. My mother used to put out short pieces of yarn and twine on a cedar in the front yard for the cedar waxwings to put in their nests. Swallows would nest high up under the eaves of the stable and my grandfather’s workshop. Seeing birds was an everyday event, and I never tired of watching them.
When I was maybe seven or eight years old, a bird had flown into the kitchen window right behind where I was sitting. By the time I ran out to see what it was the bird was already dead. It was a sparrow, and I remember picking it up and being fascinated by the colours and markings of its feathers. Of course, I’d seen sparrows before, but not up close, literally right in my hands. I hated the idea of just tossing such a beautiful thing away, and that was probably my first attempt at holding on to something by drawing it. This all just came about without any planning on my part, just me following a natural inclination of the moment. And, I suppose that’s pretty much at the heart of both what I do, draw, and paint, and what my subjects are: things that draw my attention. And if the interest is strong enough it winds up being expressed in either a drawing or painting, often both.

“Recumbent Grace”

Speaking of your favourite natural subjects, starting in the late 70s you really launched into conservation efforts. Now you’re known as a force in Canadian conservation. What prompted that initiative that’s had such a profound effect on your life and your art?
I think my involvement in conservation efforts is a very natural one. People care and protect the things they love. I am aware of the many objective reasons for conservation and preservation, and they are all good, solid, and sound. In the end though, it’s the emotional aspect of it all that really has the final say, and it’s the underlying reason so much of my time over the years has been devoted to it.

Now in terms of your artistic style, what guided you towards realism?
I draw and paint in response to either a direct experience or a concept that comes to mind, and my thoughts relating to both are always in the form of realistic images. I think the reason for this is simply because there is not a moment of our waking lives that is not directly connected to imagery of real things. When we read or listen to a story, when we think of family and friends, places we’ve been, and any memory we might have, it is realistic images that form in our minds. Even our subconscious, such as when we dream, is in the form of realistic images regardless of the emotional content of those dreams.
So in this sense, realism is the fundamental experience of life, and because of this, it is also a universal means of communication. I certainly want my work to be relatable, to communicate with the viewer. But real life experience is always subject to a high degree of interpretation because of our individual preferences, biases, and so on. This is what makes realism in art quite different than, say, the realism found in a photograph. The artist working by hand has a very differentandI would argue a much widerrange of purely subjective choices at every turn of the process. The end results are also influenced by the unconscious individual ‘touch,’ much like one’s signature.

“Hardwood Down” and “Stable Mates”

I have to admit I just love the paintings that focus on chopped wood or rustic tools, with small wildlife perched and hanging out around them. There’s something so charming, and the textures are perfect for your style. Where did the inspiration for that series come from?
Well, all these things I’ve been saying can be applied to subjects dealing with man-made objects. I’m painting what I know, things imbued with meaning to me personally. All of these objects I’ve included in a painting are familiar because I’ve actually used them, or has been directly observed being used. I know what it feels like to heft an axe, walk into the coolness of a stone mill on a hot day, or feel the silvery patina on the handle of a well-used implement. The wildlife that finds its way into my paintings is just exactly those species that you see in that environment. The sparrows that appear so frequently in these paintings are not generic representations of the species, but individual birds I have come to know over time. It’s all very personal.

“Down Time”

Within the realm of realism, I notice a preference for muted tones: russets, muted golds, pale light… something almost like soft stage-lighting. What attracts you to that aesthetic?
It comes from being selective in the use of the various things that make up a painting. This applies to colour, but also to manipulating edges or adjusting tonal ranges, or detail emphasized in key areas but subdued or eliminated in others. Being selective is part of the process at every stage, even to precisely locating the various elements within the painting’s borders, adjusting the proportions of the painting itself, and so on.
But getting back to colour and how it directs the variety and range of colours used. It has a lot to do with light, and the purpose light serves in a work. Light can be considered like the French Impressionists did, where all the colours in the prism are contained in white light. And if you work from that premise it is a natural path to emphasizing the colour spectrum and making it a primary feature. On the other hand, you can view light first as a means of illumination. In this case, the effect is to reveal three-dimensional structure and how the patterns of light and dark contribute to revealing shape, depth, and surface texture. Selectively manipulating all of this in just the right way can lead to a heightened dimensional effect. So it’s a matter of emphasis. The first premise emphasizes colour first, and the second premise emphasizes form. That’s not to say the emphasis on one eliminates the other, but it does tend to sort out which is primary and foundational, and which plays a supportive role.
Your question clearly indicates which approach I am inclined to work within, but maybe I haven’t really addressed why I am attracted to that aesthetic. I think there are a couple of reasons, the first being that all of my work is based on drawing, and drawing is essentially the description of form and as such it doesn’t require colour. I don’t separate my drawings from my paintings, so paintings become extensions of the drawing process rather than something entirely different. In the vast majority of my work, colour is a means to support and enhance the drawing element, not the other way around. Couple this with my preference in subject matter and exercising restraint by being selective and you get the general approach of my work.
Oh, but one more thing about colour and subject matter. If I choose a very colourful subject, the colour is there in the painting too, but not at the expense of reducing form. Something very colourful, such as a peacock, will still be treated with a version of light as illumination. In fact, I have done that in a painting called “Indigo and Umber,” and even though colour is a primary feature it does not reduce the importance of form. It is also a good example of how my work can be said to be realistic, but it is a realism greatly filtered through very personal preferences and emotional responses.

“December Twilight”

What an amazing chat with Michael! I just loved hearing him speak about his ideas concerning the use of colour and light…
I can’t wait to interview our next artist, so stay tuned and we’ll be back soon with David Grieve!

Off-Season Artists: Lori Dunn

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

It’s the new year, and we’ve got a new edition of Off-Season Artists! This is the series where Alex, the guy we send hurtling into 2016 at the speed of a broadband connection, interviews our artists for some off-season inspiration.
This time, it’s Lori Dunn, scratchboard artist, zoologist, and wonderful fusion of creator-naturalist.

So for those of our readers who don’t know you, the path to where you are now has been pretty remarkable. You grew up an artistic kid, but then went into sciences, eventually becoming a zookeeper. Then it was back into art, and a very challenging artistic practice at that! I’d love to hear about what took you into the sciences in the first place, and then to take the plunge back into art.
As a child I constantly immersed myself in nature, especially small creatures that I could easily observe. I read nature books, watched  nature programs, and felt more of a connection to wildlife than people. Growing up in a military family, we were always moving, and so keeping friendships was difficult. I think this just made my interest in animals stronger as there was always a field or some woods to explore no matter where we lived. I had artistic talent at a young age, and of course my parents and teachers wanted to see me go down the artistic path. I was too absorbed in the biodiversity around me though… I wanted to learn everything I could about animals. When it came time to consider post-secondary education, there was no question in my mind to continue this path of learning. After obtaining an honors degree in zoology, I then proceeded to work with captive exotics in the zookeeping profession. During all of this time I was always sketching animals. I took a few drawing courses, but mostly it was a hobby. I drew animals that interested me and worked mainly in pen and ink and colored pencil. After 15 years as a zookeeper there was not enough learning going on and the job was getting stagnant and political. My passion was waning… and I knew I didn’t want that to happen. I left the zoo and decided to allow my knowledge and experience to guide me into the world of wildlife art.

I have to say, your two parallel areas of expertise seem to merge perfectly in your work. What does your work as a scientist bring to your artistic practice? And on the other hand, how has your artistry increased your engagement with wildlife?
Studying wildlife academically, in the field and in a captive setting, has allowed me a better understanding of species’ anatomy and behaviour. This is naturally going to translate into a more accurate representation of an animal. I can look at many photos of animals and know if something is “off,”  for instance if it is dehydrated, over or under weight, going through seasonal changes in appearance, or is simply not in peak physical condition. This allows me to zero in on the best image to use as my reference photo and depict the animal as it should be, or at least how I want it to be. My study as a zoologist has also given me a greater appreciation for the tiniest of details that define an animal’s appearance—the way the scales on a snake change shape and appearance along the body, or how the tiny facial hairs and wrinkles on a gorilla define the individual. As a wildlife artist, knowledge of your subject is crucial to allowing the viewer feel intimately connected with that animal through your thoughtful representation. In contrast, as an artist interested in wildlife, I find myself not just engaged in observation and learning with regards to anatomy, habitat and behaviour, but also looking at the light, the setting, the position of the animal… anything that would make for a unique capture of that species and moment in an artwork. Because I work in a monochromatic medium, lighting of my subjects is critically important to give depth to the piece. Ironically, I often find myself out in the field seeing everything in terms of light and shadow rather than colour. And while most photographers want a cloudy day to increase color saturation of their subject, I am the opposite—give me the harsh light and shadow! This is what makes a better black and white artwork!

“Muskoka Morning”

Speaking of your art… tell me a bit about scratchboard! It seems like an excruciatingly difficult medium, but your results are just incredible. What took you down that road? Are you, in fact, a glutton for punishment?
(Just kidding.)
But seriously, what appeals to you about the medium? Did you discover it when you were young or was it a bit of a revelation once you decided to plunge back into the artist’s life?

Scratchboard is a process of direct engraving on a board coated with white kaolin clay, then black ink is applied over top of the clay. A sharp instrument is used to etch into the surface to reveal the white of the clay, thus producing a black and white engraving. Tones in between black and white are achieved through the pressure used in etching (ie. how deep you go into the clay layer ), as well as how much black ink is removed. Given that I was a pencil artist for many years with a penchant for super-detail, it wasn’t surprising that when I discovered some scratchboard work online I wanted to try it out. Something about using such a sharp instrument like an X-ACTO blade was intriguing, plus I have always loved black and white art. Discovering just how much detail you can get in this medium was indeed a revelation to me. I was hooked, threw the pencils aside, and delved in. I am self-taught—just practised  over and over until I was happy with the results. It seemed to come naturally to me but this is not the norm. Most people find it an exceptionally challenging and difficult medium to master. It’s ironic that you ask if I am a glutton for punishment! This is one of the most asked questions I get at my art shows. People will ask “am I insane?” or “how do I have the patience for this?” My answer is that I don’t think of it in negative terms… yes it is a very time consuming and difficult medium, but I love doing it. Patience and/or insanity don’t really factor in. As someone who is an over-thinker, being able to zone out, shut off my brain and spend hours on end stippling or cross-hatching a 2-inch square piece of the board is a good thing. The music goes on, and I check out for a while—it clears my head and allows me to focus on something other than day to day stuff!

I love your commitment to education, since arts-communication is such a big part of our overall cultural language. Similar to the way your zoological career informs your art and vice-versa, do you find that communicating for education has been an asset in your artistic thinking? And how about the opposite? What does the artistic impulse contribute to your ability to communicate for education?

After leaving the zoo and delving into art, I suddenly realized the potential there was to educate others about the species that were portrayed in my works. Art reaches people on a visual and emotional level. Combining my artistic talent and passion for nature and wildlife allowed me the opportunity to really say what I wanted. I was not restricted in any way… and in this sense I really started to think about my subjects and the message behind the artwork. I didn’t want someone buying a piece of mine without learning something about that animal. I decided to include a thoughtful writeup on my website along with many of my works, bringing conservation issues to light. Not every piece has this, as I didn’t want to appear overly intense, but it is something that is especially important to me as I continue in this field. At my art shows, if I find people really connecting to a particular animal, I will often engage them in conversation about their own observations of wildlife. I still have a huge drive to learn and have learned quite a lot from talking to other artists and patrons. The desire to learn and the desire to educate go hand in hand.

Here’s a bit of a softball question for you, since it’s not every day I get to chat with a real live zoologist… What’s your absolute favourite animal, and why?
That is a really difficult question to ask a zoologist!
I am someone who finds even the most microscopic of organisms incredible! Throughout my zoological career, however, my favorite group of animals has been reptiles, specifically snakes. I spend countless hours in the wild searching for them. Snakes are notoriously difficult to find. They leave no tracks, have no scent, spend most of the time remaining hidden in tight enclosed spaces… you can’t bait them and you can’t sit on a boardwalk and watch them fly overhead. Finding snakes in the wild requires lots of hiking and bushwhacking, a bit of knowledge of good habitat and a whole lot of luck. It’s a neverending quest, but the reward is an adrenaline rush and an absolutely overwhelming sense of satisfaction at finding one of the most misunderstood and maligned creatures on the planet. So my favorite animal? The very next snake I find!


And last but not least, what’s something interesting we might not know about you?
Well… artistically speaking, you and your readers will be the first to know that I would like to delve into doing some “macro” wildlife art. My interest in tiny creatures knows no bounds! I’d love to start doing some really close up artworks of smaller wildlife forms. Picture for example, the compound eyes of a dragonfly blown up to appear almost alien-like, or a close up view of a jumping spider, showing every tiny hair… yes, I have big (or small!) plans…

“Night Stalker”

On that beautiful—and kind of alarming!—note, we leave Lori Dunn. It’s been a pleasure speaking with her, and we’ll be back with another edition of Off-Season Artists soon!

Off-Season Artists: Josh Tiessen

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Here’s the next instalment in our ongoing series, Off-Season Artists. In these interviews Alex, the guy we send off on a portage through the winding watercourses of the interwebs, spends a little time getting to know our artists.
This time, he’s speaking with Josh Tiessen, an amazing high-realist artist from the Hamilton area…

You have a very singular background: born in Russia to Canadian missionary parents, living in places all over the world, well traveled at a young age…
I’m curious about what you learned most from those experiences and how they’ve shaped not only your artistic persona but your personality as a whole.
Growing up as a young child in Russia, my parents took me to circuses, ballets and symphonies, which were always done with the utmost of excellence. We also visited world-class art galleries wherever we travelled. I have since returned to my Russian roots, reading Russian novelists such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. My childhood was grounded in an appreciation of the arts even though my parents were not artists, but professors and humanitarians. They were also field directors of a large group of 40 expat families who were working in churches, drug and alcohol rehab centres, youth and children’s camps, etc.  Beginning my life in a developing nation opened my eyes to the majority of the world, who live in relative poverty. I am glad that I am now in a financial position through my art to be able to give to many charitable causes locally and around the world through my Arts for a Change Foundation.

Studying under Robert Bateman at Hollyhock must have been a fantastic time. He’s got such a prominent place in the pantheon of Canadian artists, and that’s a truly gorgeous part of the world. I’ve done a little hiking in those islands, and it blew me away. So I can only imagine the impact it would have on an artist! What would you say you took away most from your time in that beautiful place, studying under a remarkable artist like Robert?
I happily fell down the rabbit-hole into the art world through the style of naturalistic wildlife. In many ways, this was a gentle landing, as I met many kind and down-to-earth wildlife artists, the most acclaimed of them being Robert Bateman. It was an amazing time being mentored under Bateman, who is old enough to be my grandpa! He told stories from his long and illustrious career and showed his techniques of how he works on a painting from start to finish. My favourite memory was when he critiqued a piece of my art. It was kind of nerve-racking since he decided to do the critiques anonymously, meaning that my painting would be critiqued alongside the work of a select group of professional artists who were double or triple my age. But he gave my “Nesting Trumpeter Swan” a very good critique, and I breathed a big sigh of relief. While on Cortez Island, I was able to take many photo references, as I usually work from up to 20 photos for each piece. My painting of a Great Blue Heron, “Glimmer of Hope,” which exhibited at AAC last year, was inspired by my time on Cortez Island.

I love that painting! It’s so ominous, while the figure of the bird is full of a tangible dignity. But the piece doesn’t lose its naturalistic underpinnings. Speaking of which, the mode you work in, high realism, obviously takes a great degree of technical skill to master. You’ve clearly got that covered. Other than the challenge, what attracts you to that aesthetic?
Yes, I do love the challenge of painting in the style of high realism. When I was younger, I tried cubism and expressionism, but always returned to realism as it better reflected my personality, with my attention to detail and experiences in the natural world, where so much complexity and diversity abound. There is also a great sense of fulfilment when I have worked on a painting for 300-500 hours, and it is something I am really proud of. The misnomer of realism is that it is just the copying of photos, or as Aristotle understood art as being “mimetic” of human life. I think Tolstoy was right when he said that art is the transmission of feelings and thoughts. Art can also be narrative and full of allegory and symbolism, and I feel realism is a well-suited way to express these elements of human experience and history

Lately, we’ve seen your art blend realistic depictions of wildlife and architecture into otherworldly, almost fantasy environments. Where does that impulse come from?
These paintings are part of a new series entitled Streams in the Wasteland, inspired by the Jewish prophetic literature found in the Old Testament of the Bible. I have been interested in the content of the Israelite exile foretold in Isaiah’s prophecies, but specifically struck by his prophecies about wild animals taking up habitation in the destruction of Babylon after its fall to Cyrus of Persia. My particular investigation lies in the significance of these symbolic animals bringing honour to their Creator because of His provision of water in the desert. This became an indictment of the Israelite community as it contrasted their continual unfaithfulness to their God, yet at the same time it was a hopeful foreshadowing of the Living Water that would come. So far I have just begun exploring the modern parallels of exile through my juxtaposed paintings of wild animals in abandoned ancient ruins. Each piece is telling a nuanced aspect within the grand metanarrative. I still have many more paintings planned in this series, and I hope to gather them up from the collectors they have sold to and exhibit them cohesively in a solo exhibition.

You’re in a unique position. Not only have you had a great deal of artistic success while still fairly young, but you’ve also learned to deal with the business-side of artistry. What’s that been like? Do you find that artistic creativity informs your business-sense and vice-versa?
To be honest, business has never come naturally; it has all been learned. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a grant program funded by the Ontario government for young people starting businesses called Summer Company. I also benefitted from free seminars held at the Art Gallery of Burlington. I really had no manual to go by for making a career out of my art, so I have been kind of making it up as I go, with advice from established artists like my mentor Robert Bateman and fellow International Guild of Realism members regarding pricing, promotion, galleries, pitfalls to avoid, etc. My computer skills in graphic design (through college courses) and my creative eye also help me in my business, especially when I am designing exhibition promotions, my website, or planning walls for exhibitions. As a person who is methodical about his artistic process, since all of the money I put into my business is my own, I make sure I’m both methodical and innovative about how to use it best through channels like advertising, social media, the Arts for a Change Foundation, etc.

What’s next for you? Where do you see your career, artistic subjects, and aesthetics as you go forward?
I plan to continue creating non-quadrilateral paintings, developing a unique and recognizable style. In the last few years, I have often painted birds in various environments, but I am now returning to painting mammals like the humpback whale in my recent painting “Whale Hymn,” and the arctic wolf in my current work in progress.

I love taking risks in subject matter, so I may be incorporating figures in my work in the near future, but still within a natural environment

Last of all, what’s something we might not know about you?
When I was younger, I played basketball competitively at a rep-level, and I still enjoy shooting hoops in my backyard. Also, in my free time I enjoy walks at the Eramosa Karst Conservation Area (for which I am on the board), the Bruce Trail, and the Waterfront Trail of Lake Ontario, both of which are just down the street from my studio gallery.

That’s it for our interview with Josh!  We’re just as excited to see his new work as he is to create it.
After we give everyone a little breather for the holiday season, we’ll be taking to Lori Dunn about studying wildlife, the strenuous process of scratchboard art, and everything in between!

Golden Encore Residency: The Follow-up

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

You’ll remember that in October, we partnered with Algonquin Provincial Park in hosting Daniel St-Amant for the Golden Encore Artist’s Residency. Since then he’s been working hard on the projects he began there.
We asked Daniel to talk about the experience and update us on his progress. Here’s a look at the amazing work he came up with and his thoughts on his time in the park…

When I was growing up I was raised in the country. I spent as much time as I could in the woods, wandering, exploring, playing, and imagining what it would be like to live in another time, one where survival depended on the way of the land. So naturally when I was approached by Algonquin and the Art Centre with the idea of doing an artistic residency in the park, I jumped at the opportunity.

My plan was to bring as much paint and canvas as possible so that I could maximize my week, to use this precious time allotted to me to catch up on commissions and projects I haven’t been able to work on… basically just become a painting factory. I thought this because my day to day reality is pretty hectic. I live in the city and have a career as a VFX and digital painter. Usually, I can only spend weekends and evenings in my painting studio. On top of all that, I am also a husband and father of 2 beautiful children. As you can imagine, my life is busy, but busy in a fantastic way. So getting a week alone in the woods with no work or any distractions meant I could paint like a hurricane until I unpacked and sat at the little picnic table that was outside my cabin overlooking the lake.

I had this whole thing planned out. It was going to be extremely productive, except the moment I arrived I forgot about all my plans, I forgot about my schedule, I forgot about my timelines and deadlines. I honestly was so at peace with my surroundings. And that’s when my sense of exploration took over, something I hadn’t felt since my childhood. I began by walking in the woods every day, first thing after my cup of coffee. I would walk and collect specimens like a mad scientist, anything that peaked my interest in terms of colour or texture. At that time of year, you can just imagine how alive the woods are with colours, as if you’re walking through a Tom Thomson painting. This, to me, was heaven. I probably collected ten buckets full of leaves and branches and moss, basically anything that I felt I had to have. I gathered my thoughts and came up with a plan of making collage paintings using dirt and objects that I picked up on the way. I sectioned off the cabin. One room was designated for drying out my samples, which I spread out on the floor and flattened under books, and another room was for painting and drawing. I even had a room that I used for my wood shop to make stretchers. It was fantastic. I began experimenting with different media that I could use in addition to my current practice.

a canvas prepared with local materials

My typical work uses dirt and grime collected from the busy city streets. As my canvass are spread over the roadways cars run over them leaving their markings. This is a metaphor that represents humanity’s technologies that are causing harm to the environment.  Typically I create backdrops made out of these markings, which I use to house the animal portraits I paint.  This work is a direct response to city living. I see squirrels and raccoons running around, trying to avoid humans, all the while trying to survive in an urban setting. Being in the woods, I was away from it. Nature seemed more comfortable. Birds chirped with enthusiasm. Little woodland creatures scampered around happy. I felt that my work would change dramatically if I spent a prolonged time at the lake. My vision of my animal portraits changed into more of an evolutionary standpoint, I pictured animals growing out of my samples of sticks, leaves and bark. Instead of creating a portrait of an animal living within the confines of my tire tracks or “a human presence,” I wanted them to bloom out of the bottom of the canvas like a flower or a tree. It was a real eye opener, how one environment could change my visual reactions and my concision.

The 6 days flew by in retrospect, but while I was there, time was much slower. I spent a few days at the Visitor Centre doing a demonstration and one day at the beautiful gallery at Km 20. Some of my most memorable experiences were the people that I encountered and who helped organize the experience. I would like to especially thank Andrea Coulter and the owners of the Art Gallery, Joel Irwin and Matt Coles. Everyone was so accommodating and friendly I will never forget that short week I spent in my little cabin by the lake.

So now that I sit in my studio a few months after my time in Algonquin, my work has taken a bit of a right turn. No longer am I concerned with a negative outlook on the environment, hoping to spark a reaction out of the viewer. Now I am more interested in creating work that is a celebratory vision of nature. I now want the viewer to experience a positive reaction to my work. I want the viewer to look at my compositions and think about how beautiful nature is, how resilient it is. As an artist, you are always growing and moving in new directions.
I am extremely excited to see what’s to come.

another of Daniel’s residency-pieces in progress

We’re so grateful that we can be part of giving artists the opportunity to pursue their craft and communicate their love of creation with Algonquin visitors. We’re committed to continuing these residencies. In fact, our spring residency, Perennial Threshold, has an application open to everyone, so if you want the chance to create… apply!
For now, we want to express our thanks to Algonquin Provincial Park and to Daniel himself for making this an amazing experience for everyone involved.

Algonquin Art Centre - Gallery in the Heart of Algonquin Park

open June 1 - October 19

10 am to 5:30 pm daily


located at km 20 on Hwy #60

in the Heart of Algonquin Park


(705) 633-5555 / 1-800-863-0066

Algonquin Art Gallery
by donation - thank you for your support
Ontario ParksThe Friends of Algonquin ParkWildlife Habitat Canada