Telling Stories

I am often frustrated trying to reach this goal I have in my head for the way I want my paintings and drawings to be. I am searching for a certain something which is hard to pinpoint. I am looking for more story, more expression in the work. 

Last night we attended a house concert with Kev Corbett, who is a folk singer and storyteller. There was a line in one of his songs which made reference to “a bunch of Group Of Seven trees on the shore”. I instantly knew the image his song was trying to paint and how that tied into his story. The expressiveness of Corbett’s songs and stories have a certain quality I want in my paintings. Some of his songs were able to reach down inside me to grab hold of my soul and give it a good shake….wake it up. At one point, I had a well of tears building in my eyes. If a story can do that to me in a living room full of strangers, you know it has real depth….serious expression. 

Frederick Varley Stormy Weather

That’s the quality I want to achieve with my paintings. And while most of my work is considered good, and loved, it’s not meeting that level for me on a consistent basis. I don’t want to just paint a pretty scene of the landscape before me. I want to create a story within in. I want the painting to have something important to say….to be able to reach out and shake the viewers soul. 

Working with the Revelations Of The Beautiful project – creating paintings to go with the poetry of Edwin Henry Burrington – I have challenged myself into thinking more of how to tell a story in paint. As that project winds down (I’m currently waiting for my proof copy of the book), I am left with how to create stories out of the landscape I live in. How can I be a visual story teller, rather than a just a good painter?

Creatures Mingler – 16×20” – Oil on birch panel Sold

“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. Emotion is the starting point, the beginning and the end. Craftsmanship and technique are in the middle.
– Paul Cezanne

How do I create a story when I go to the pond to paint en plein air on a winter afternoon?  How do I improve the expression of the paint, values, colour, and design of a piece of canvas that same way a singer or poet creates a story to stir up your emotions? While it would be easy to look at the easily identifiable works of the Group Of Seven and try to emulate their style, that gets me nowhere on my quest of imparting my own story to the work. I can study it instead for the qualities that make it expressive. I can study all art and try to distill what it is that makes me drawn to it. What is the story and how has it been told? 

If I take my example of popping out to the pond to do a quick plein air sketch, I need to ask myself, why I am here. What makes this place worth wasting paint and canvas on? What is my emotional connection to this scene? But is that enough to give the work a story and expression? Or is it okay that some works are just pretty pictures in practice for the story, kind of like the writer jotting down a phrase or sentence that leads him to his song? 

My search for these answers, and to give my work this elusive something continues….. 

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