My son encouraged me to do a series of Journal entries focused on each painting, giving some background and my thoughts while painting each. It is a wise recommendation as, with time, the details and memories blur. So I will attempt to prepare the Journal entries in the sequence that the series progressed. Some have been purchased and many are still available in my For Sale page. I welcome questions or remarks along the way.
Totem Duo, 2013 (the 1st painting of the series)
24” x 24” x 1.5” Acrylic on Exhibition Canvas
Sections from a House Frontal Totem Pole which once stood before a
dwelling named 'Plenty of Ilimen-Hides in this House.' It belonged to an
Indian clan named 'Those Born at Qadasgo Creek.' UBC MOA
(Left: Grizzly Bear / Centre: Cormorant / Right: Eagle)
Once having thought through my intent and the possibility of venturing into paintings based on the major totems of the West Coast, the big question was ‘Which one’ and what technique would I use. I had also determined that I wasn’t interested in doing landscapes depicting totems, but rather, zero in on facets of the totems, like facets in a cut gem. I was well acquainted with the wonderful collection at the UBC MOA, and had visited it frequently through the years.
I’ve always had a special fondness for the sections of the House Frontal Totem Pole in the Indoor Collection, so I decided to do a tight focus which included the 2 sections of the Grizzly Bear and the Cormorant, one behind the other. I had also decided that I wanted to develop the series on exhibition canvas, because of its look and I wanted to avoid framing as it detracted from the totems.
Starting with that blank white canvas was daunting, but once I chose the gray base colour for the canvas, given that I was venturing in completely new territory, I placed my faith in the image that I had. I would let it guide me, through the errors and the discoveries. That became the core priority throughout the series – letting each image guide the process. That is why, even though it is a series about totems, each totem painting is totally different for the ones prior or those to follow.
A quick note on the base colour that you chose to begin with – it will determine your colour choices up until you complete the painting. That is why, if I did a copy of the same painting, it would not, could not ever be the same as the first. It will be its own journey and variations of colours.
Very quickly, the first problem was that I didn’t like the brush strokes as it was adding a texture, which wasn’t on the totems themselves. Also, it didn’t adequately depict the subtle shades of the wood’s undertones as it ages.
I experimented with a few methods and found that it was best to abandon the brushes, other then a regular round brush to apply some paint and a fine script brush for lines and cracking in the wood. Everything else was done with my fingers. It permitted applying very thin layers of colour, which would come through successive layers. I was surprised how quickly my new technique developed. I was also taken by how tactile the technique was, with the sense of touch on the canvas being surprisingly similar to feeling the wood of the totem.
In this first painting, the colour highlights were still pretty basic. I allowed myself to complete that journey in this form, knowing that it would inform the next painting. It was teaching me in my newly discovered technique and preparing me to continue my discoveries on the next.
Link to MOA UBC webpage on these Totem sections: