Artfully Walls

I am pleased to announce museum quality reproductions of select images are now available through Artfully Walls in the USA and UK, with shipping to Canada, Australia, Ireland. Unlike other print outlets, the artists are handpicked by Artfully Walls, and the artwork is highly curated. Works purchased are fully guaranteed.

Some pieces are available on canvas, while others are available on paper, with or without framing.

Framed print of “Sing”

Cindy Revell

Yesterday, after several years I finally got to meet, face to face, with an under-appreciated Alberta artist whose work I have adored for years. Cindy Revell is from Sherwood Park east of Edmonton, and is best known for her whimsical paintings featuring fantastical creatures and richly patterned tapestries. Cheerful, bold colours, exquisite brushwork, and a bit of humour makes her work playful, fun, and quirky enough to stand out.

In a world of decreasing options and generic sameness, the uniqueness of her work is enough to make Cindy’s work attract attention, but the paintings are expertly executed as well. These paintings are for the dreamers, the poets, the adults who refuse to let go of their inner child, and the bold who embrace difference.

During our conversation, we talked about the struggles of not being mainstream…..of being uncommon. Our society has become so trained to sameness and lack of choice, that it isn’t always an easy road when you choose to go against the norm. The artist’s life is a struggle at the best of times, but then adding in quirky often makes the climb even steeper. But Cindy has climbed over the roadblocks to have a successful career as an artist, teacher, and mentor.

Speaking of mentoring, Levelling Up Mastermind groups will be starting a small group mentoring session with Cindy in the near future. I can tell you, if you are on the artists path, this is one session that will provide valuable guidance you won’t soon forget. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain the experience and knowledge of one of Canada’s most under appreciated artists. (No I am not being paid to say this!)

Best of all, from our all too short of visit, is that we now are the proud owners of Night Whispers by Cindy Revell. The painting featuring a red deer and blue bird in conversation on a rich tapestry against a backdrop of leaves, is so absolutely perfect for our new home. The stories and connections this painting invokes are many.

From the memories of deer sleeping outside our windows on the farm, to the bluebird houses hung around the property, to my love of textiles and past work in the fibre arts, to our move to Red Deer, and to how the first night in our new home I marvelled at the sound of the leaves whispering outside the bedroom window that night (and many subsequent nights). We were even talking about our days raising sheep and the 2 am visits to the lambing pen to check ewes, and how I missed those night sounds. The Night Whispers, that only those who sit in the quietness of the night know.

Cindy, we are overjoyed with this painting!

European Wall Art

I am pleased to announce a collaboration with Posterlounge. Although my art has made it to Europe in the past, this is the first time reproductions have been widely available to the European Wall Art market.

Posterlounge is a family owned German decor company that offers in-house production of high quality art reproductions. The company now services the European wall decor market with websites in English, French, Spanish, Italy, and of course, German with a curated collection of contemporary and historic artworks, photographs, and illustration.

Their motto is “Art For Every Wall”, and I am happy to be represented by them. You can choose between posters, canvas, acrylic, aluminum, wood, and foam board prints, wall stickers, gallery prints, and framed art prints. Truly something for every wall.

Roberta Murray at Posterlounge

About Storykins And Staffage

In painting Staffage is the human and animal figures added to a landscape scene used for decoration rather than the main subject. Their importance lies in the life they add to an otherwise static scene. Storykins derives from the Dutch storykens meaning Little Stories. These elements can animate the scenery and bring the viewer into the narrative of the scene. They can help provide scale, enhance the composition of a painting giving direction to the eye, or provide an anchor. Often, though they are small and painted without detail, they become the focal point. 

During the 19th century books of staffage were published for artists with hundreds of examples to use for their painting. Often, these same symbols can be identified in multi paintings of a given time period – both by different artists, and the same figurative symbol used over and over again by the same artist. 

Most Old Master landscapes featured staffage in the form of people going about their daily activities, livestock in the fields, or wildlife as a part of the natural environment. A marsh is a busy place teeming with life. To paint it devoid of even an insect, frog, or bird, would be to depict a falsehood that can’t portray the cacophony of sounds and actions present on a summer day.  

Claude Monet – Lane In Normandy (altered)

Does Claude Monet’s Lane In Normandy tell the same story, or have the same interest without the two little boys walking in the lane? (Digitally altered to remove figures above. Original below.)

Claude Monet – Lane In Normandy (original)

What about John Singer Sargent’s Olive Trees, Corfu? Can the painting be considered as successful without the figures as with them? 

John Singer Sargent – Olive Trees Corfu

In my own work, I have found adding human or animals symbols to my landscapes has greatly improved the storytelling quality of the works, and is providing a vehicle for buyers to be able to form more emotional attachments to the works. The challenge is being able to come up with the symbolism necessary for telling the story. In the absence of staffage sample books, it is necessary to create your own inventory of samples that can be added to the painting when necessary. 

I can often be found in the evenings watching a tv show while creating my little sample cards filled with small figure sketches. I try to add only enough information in these sketches to tell the story, and to be able to interpret that figure onto the canvas. Much like a chef has their recipes of sauces, or a musician has their keys and chords, these little drawings are a base that can be used to mix and match to suit the mood and theme of a painting. 

Pen and ink figure thumbnails for staffage.

Whether your decorative elements are human or animal, there is a great benefit to having a ready made supply of samples to reach for at a moments notice when your fancy strikes, or the need arises. 

When Brian Was A Boy – 16×20” – Oil on canvas

When Brian Was A Boy above, is an example of the use of staffage in one of my paintings. Here the figure provides the anchor point of the painting, but also helps tell the story. Where is the person going, or where have they been? What is on their mind? The title suggests maybe they are thinking of away times. Perhaps remembering life on the prairies when he was a boy. The stories that can be played out go so much further, than if the landscape had been painted without life in it. 

Without the figure it becomes a nice landscape painting. The story becomes about the weather and season, and not much else. The viewer can pass by it quickly without much thought. With a figure added to the landscape there is something for the viewer to stop and consider, to linger a little longer over, and hopefully, fall in love with the story of their own invention. 

Pre Planning The Perfect Painting

Once I finally settle down on an idea for a painting, I get impatient and want to see the end result before I’ve even started. In my attempt to slow down and be more deliberate about my paintings, I am attempting to preplan them, by manipulating the reference photo to strengthen the design, and test colours.

One of the problems with trying to get mountain reference photos for paintings is that our Canadian forest is heavy. Unless one can get a special vantage point higher up or further away, which is usually not easily achieved (especially the further away one if you are right in the mountains), finding an interesting composition is difficult.

Take the following photo as an example. I wanted to paint the lakeshore and canoes. In the original you couldn’t see the distant slope and mountains. It was just a solid block of trees. I suppose one could make an interesting painting from that if you made the subject about the trees themselves, and found some sort of rhythm to them.

Altered reference photo

I’m not so keen on evergreens and think the overall photo would be quite boring as a painting. Previously I probably wouldn’t have attempted it and ended up with a dud to throw away. Now, I’m trying to work out the potential problems before I even get to the canvas.

I want to reduce the number of canoes, open up the forest and create a path to guide the eye through the painting, and give some colour to the sky. So I attempted to illustrate these ideas digitally on top of the reference photo, playing with both the design and colours. It’s just a rough roadmap to help me visualize what I want.

Digitally altered reference to plan painting

Now to see if this pre-planning results in a successful painting. What changes would you have made if you were painting this?

Baby Wolf

Baby Wolf – 6×6″ – Oil on panel

This was a commission from my grandson. We were visiting a local wildlife park when he casually asked “Grandma how much do you sell your paintings for?”. So I told him it depended on the size and asked why he wanted to know. He wanted to know if he could afford to pay me to paint him the baby wolf we had seen.

He was 7 at the time. I told him if he did all his school work, didn’t fight with his mom, and generally behaved himself for the next month (this was during Covid home schooling), I would do it for a dollar. Pretty soon he’s digging through his pockets counting his money.

And just like that I got hoodwinked into creating 4 commissioned paintings for $5. Painting isn’t about the money, but the joy and love. Both mine and the recipients.

Expressing My Love Of Nature

The sea, sky, and all living creatures are transient. It is only the land that endures. It is the land that sustains us.  I am creating nature based images to provide an escape from the everyday and foster a connection with the importance of the land to mans well-being.

When Brian Was A Boy – 16×20” – Oil on canvas

Rather than provide a mirror to what is easily seen, I am trying to represent ordinary scenes in an expressive way to capture a fleeting mood or impression. Not to explicitly say what I feel, but to allow the viewers imagination to interpret the work, and form a connection to a fleeting thought or emotion they may have felt once before. I want them to sense the importance of the land, and how man needs nature to survive; not just physically but emotionally as well.

“I don’t paint the landscape. I paint the spirit disguised as a landscape.”

I am trying to represent the poetry within a place which the viewer can connect with through the human spirit, more so than the intellect.  It is a form of visual storytelling to communicate with them where words fail. You can speak the words to someone and have them understand, but through a poem or painting you can speak in a language people can feel in the depths of their soul. Because I want to speak on a more emotional, intimate level, my paintings are in a smaller format to foster a closer, quieter conversation. I don’t have a loud personality, so why should my paintings be any different? 

In Defence Of Slowing Down

In October I, once again, started out doing the daily drawing challenge that I have done for many years. But part way through, I lost interest. I continued anyway, but felt a growing sense of frustration. I am not a fast worker. I seem to take twice as long as anyone else to do a sketch, drawing, or painting. I realized that a few years ago when trying to join friends plein air painting. They seemed to delight in getting a painting down in ½ an hour, while I would leave so frustrated with nothing worthwhile on the canvas. But when I got back to the studio and could take my time with a painting, I was so much happier and the resulting painting was more meaningful. It’s like that extra time allowed me to feel the spirit of the place, rather than rushing through like a tourist snapping a few photos and rushing to the next destination.   

In trying to do the daily sketches, I was longing to make more elaborate drawings that would take me a several more hours than I had available to work. The same thing is true for my paintings. I prefer to start a painting and then slowly work through it. I am not interested in fast art. I am not interested in producing art like I was an assembly line worker in some factory. The world does not need anymore 20 minute or daily paintings. Judging by my inventory, and conversations with other artists, our storage bins are overflowing with artwork that never gets seen. 

Shoebill Stork

If any activity is done because of the love and joy you have for doing it, why should it be rushed through? I want to produce slow, considered art.

The other thing I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about is art marketing. I am rejecting all the push to sell artwork through various means. I am one person with a very exhaustible amount of energy. The older I get, and the longer I battle a chronic autoimmune disease, the less energy I have. I want to spend it painting, drawing, and living. I do not want to be tied to a computer trying to sell myself and my artwork. So I will not. 

Some of it will go out to galleries and shows. Some of it will be listed online, and hopefully that will be enough. If it isn’t then I guess my work will become meaningless other than as an activity to bring me joy. I am rejecting the push to produce and market, in favour of a slower, more considered life. 

Burrington, Monet, And Me

Arthur Alfred Burrington was an esteemed English painter. Although most known for his watercolours which formed the bulk of his work, he was equally adept at oils. Alfred received his training in London at both the South Kensington School of Art and later at Slade School. He went to Rome and Italy to study the great masters. In France he studied at the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts, under the tutelage of Leon Bonnat. He also studied under Gustave Boulanger and Fernand Cormon. The later taught such famed artists as Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, Emile Bernard, Vincent van Gogh, and several other highly celebrated artists. 

Burrington spent time at the artist colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany, before finally settling in the French Riviera at Menton. It isn’t known whether Burrington and Monet became acquainted in Brittany or Paris, but it is known that they painted together at Menton. Alfred is the subject of Monet’s ‘Portrait Of An English Painter, Bordighera‘ in 1884. 

Portrait Of An English Painter at Bordighera by Monet

The painting below is believed to be a painting of his father, Edwin Henry Burrington. The Burrington family was well established and highly respected in Bridgwater, Somerset. In 1848 at the age of 27, Edwin published a book of poetry entitled Revelations Of The Beautiful. Edwin was quietly involved in the literary circles, often writing articles in leading London papers, and was on the permanent staff with the London Press as the critic. His book of poems was well reviewed by the press.

A Visit From Grandfather – A Somersetshire Cottage by A Burrington

Edwin Henry Burrington was my husbands great x3 grandfather. Arthur his great x2 uncle. 

I have always likened painting to poetry. The melodic rhythm of the written word and abstract interpretations seem to echo with my thoughts of painting. I equate high realism in art as journalistic reporting. The facts as observed by one person. While impressionist and abstract representational art is more like poetry in its emotive suggestion which allows the reader/viewer to interpret the meaning. 

Many of my landscape and figurative paintings were drawn from inspiration of Burrington’s poetry. A nod to my husbands family history which is so rich in art and poetry.  

Nature Is Revealing – 8×10” – Oil on canvas panel

“The prosers of the busy world are they
Who never kindle mutual faith and feeling,
For such have hearts which waste themselves away,
Yet never know that Nature is revealing
Both love and loveliness by night and day.
The poets of the busy world are lovers,
The truest and the best.

Edwin Burrington

Don’t Worry About Rejection

I had originally written a smaller version of this on my old blog, but thought it would be a timely entry for today. I had a hard rejection this week. It was something I had expected I would be rejected for, but had still placed a lot of hope in. I had built up a story in my head of the benefits of being accepted, and as soon as I do that, the rejection stings all the more. 

“Don’t worry about the rejections. Everybody that’s good has gone through it. Don’t let it matter if your works are not “accepted” at once. The better or more personal you are the less likely they are of acceptance. Just remember that the object of painting pictures is not simply to get them in exhibitions. It is all very fine to have your pictures hung, but you are painting for yourself, not the jury. I had many years of rejections.
– Robert Henri

That line starts a couple of paragraphs in Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit about painting for yourself. If you are an artist and haven’t read this book, I urge you to do so. If I could only have one book on my bookshelf, this would be it, and I would read it over and over again like the Bible. Because it really is the artists’s bible for the knowledge and insight it contains. While it won’t tell you how to mix this colour with that to get the perfect green, or how to hold the paint brush, it will tell you how to paint through authenticity and braveness. 

He goes on to talk about not trying to paint good landscapes, but of trying to show people what makes the landscape interesting to you. To show people your heart and your inner thoughts. Your paintings should be like hunting – a search for that special thing with meaning to you alone. There will be hits, where you capture that special thing, and misses. But each attempt records your progress in trying to define and understand that thing. The paintings act as stepping stones for others to use in trying to see and understand the specialness that first captured your imagination. 

It is easy to get sidetracked and forget Henri’s advice, especially after receiving hard rejections. The temptation is always there to adjust your work to follow the masses. Looking at who is being successful, what the gallery you want to be in is showing, or what your peers are painting can mess up your art and make you lose sight of your inner voice. That thing that made you want to be a painter in the first place. That thing that will, with time, set your work apart from the masses.

This week started with a hard rejection, but that rejection came just two days after an exciting acceptance. So why, as artists, do we tend to wallow in the rejection more than we celebrate the successes?  In a previous blog post, I’ve questioned whether the reason goes back to our basic learned fears from childhood. Being picked last for the school team, playing second fiddle to another child at home or elsewhere, or of not getting an A on that math test you studied weeks for. It is the fear, despite our best efforts, we are not good enough. 

When Brian Was A Boy – 16×20” – Oil on canvas

When we have success it’s easy to brush it off as luck, a fluke, or something similar. We can have our little celebration and feel great for a day or two, until the next rejection comes in. The highs are never quite equal to, or as long lived,  as the lows. But those rejections really don’t mean anything, or shouldn’t mean anything. They can’t, without your permission, diminish the work you are doing and how far you’ve come in your career. To have no rejection means you have also not taken steps to grow and advance as an artist. 

“Take the history of art in France. Practically every artist who today stands a glory to French art was rejected and repudiated by the committees and juries.”
– Robert Henri

You must have confidence in yourself and the work you are doing. Use rejection as an opportunity to try and take an unbiased look at what you are doing. Can it be made better? What might be lacking? Am I being authentic to myself; my voice? Receiving 20 rejection letters means you have tried 20 times, which is far more than the person who only tried once and quit. And if you are going to try to have a career as an artist, you are going to have to face rejection, because the fact is the shear number of people trying to be an artist, is far greater than the number of opportunities to present or sell art.

Last year media outlets showed images of students taking the entrance exam for a Chinese art school. There were 7,000 hopeful students taking the exam that day, which consisted of painting and drawing exercises. The article also reported that 900,000 people take the national college entrance exam for art in China every year. 900,000! That is 900,000 people in one country alone that would like to make a living as an artist. 

Thousands of Chinese students vying to get into art school.

You have already proven you have the fortitude and stubbornness to hang in there and keep going just by believing in yourself and having the courage to make those submissions. Keep going, keep putting your art out there, and keep improving until your work is so good it can’t be ignored.