Sunday, 31 August 2014

Back at McMichaels-Paint out, Demo and the Ontario Plein Air Society

As I arrived at my destination, The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, I could see many plein air painters from the Ontario plein air society,  scattered around the grounds. The pic above is the Tom Thompson shack that used to be beside the studio building in downtown Toronto. It was a beautiful day, and many fine paintings were made.
While the paintings were dropped off, hung, and judged, I did my demo in the grand hall for everyone. I used a piece of clayboard, which I really like. As soon as I had arrived, I quickly went outside and did a few thumbnails sketches, and sued one of these for my reference, since I was working in the hall. 
Thanks to the nice turn out of plein air painters, interested in pastel, and other gallery goers as well. 
My demonstrations tend to be very simple compositions where I can play with colour, and layering. I love making a strong statement about light. The demo was about 45 minutes. 

Then everyone stood around the grand hall while the awards for the day were handed out. I liked many of the pieces done. Thank you everyone at McMichaels and the Ontario plein air society.

Yet another working weekend, paradise

My latest adventure has taken me across the northern route, from Ottawa to Renfrew, and down through Bancroft, Haliburton, on to Orillia, Barrie, and finally to the McMichael Canadian Collection, in Kleinburg. But before I get there, let me tell you about starting out. I have driven this route many times, but when I started out on Friday morning, there was so much heavy fog, you could hardly see a thing. But it was SOOO beautiful. Very moody, the shifts in value as you viewed through space was really wonderful. I was imagining many paintings as I drove. It took me a lot longer than usual as well, because I kept stopping to take pictures.

Friday morning, about 7 am.
I was kind of sad to see it lift, and the morning to become clear. 
 I bought some gorgeous flowers at the Barrie farmers market, for my student, Jan,...who kindly and generously always puts me up. 
We made it down to the AGO to see the new Colville exhibit. It was opening day of the show, and it's on til January 4th, 2015. I urge everyone to see this exhibit.
It's always so insightful to see a lifes' body of work. 
Colville chose to live small town maritimes, affording much effort into deeply studying his art. With little chance of distraction. 
After viewing painting upon painting, one gets a sense of the environment Colville was putting forth-a lot of grey clouds, greyness, bleekness,... meticulous brush work, more bleekness. Many "set-ups" created great depth, infering a larger view. Underlying bigger ideas. Using small town anywhere imagery to ask bug daunting questions. Don't be fooled by the realism in Colvilles' work. There's something much deeper at work here. 
For those of you in the Ottawa area, this show will be at NGC next summer, but since I am a member of both galleries, makes it easy to see it all. 

I hope he knows how lucky he was, to paint his whole life, and have great purpose and success in his lifetime. The AGO has published a book to commemorate this exhibit, it's a hardcover, and only $35.00. 
Many pieces I have never seen before, were borrowed from private collectors, so this was well worth the visit. 
Now that I know Colville was a talking Heads fan, I wish I'd known him, and will have to get to know him better through his art.

          Women are the see-ers,.....

Monday, 18 August 2014

A working weekend

Neon Sky at The Carp Farmers Market

This past weekend was a working weekend for me. It started on Saturday, at the multi-faceted, multi-cultural Carp Farmers market. Yes, it was raining on and off and a little on the cool side, all day long. But I found some shelter, and managed to position myself beside a young man who played acoustic guitar and sang all afternoon. He played lots of great music and really made for a nice atmosphere to paint to. Neil Young, (I have been obsessed with Neil Young lately-searching for a heart of gold-great song) James Taylor and lots of other stuff. Loved it all.
 I actually started painting around 9:30 am. When I am working on site in Plein air pastel I am so used to teaching, that I usually don't take more than an hour to do a piece. However, this was a much more complex piece than most of my plein air work. I must be so used to finding simple compositions that won't take long. This is actually a really good skill to develop, looking for simplicity and simplifying what you do have. 
 One of the nice things about painting in your community is seeing all kinds of people you haven't seen in ages and catching up. Thank you to everyone for coming over, talking about painting en plein air, and giving me your news. Although it was cold and wet, socializing made for a fun day.
This piece is of the main building, one of many on the grounds of the Carp fair. There are many red building with white trim all over the grounds. So many things I could have painted! The reason I chose this, was because I could get going on the drawing while sitting in the back of my hatchback. (raining) That, and the power of the building, creating a good foundation to the composition. And colour. For me, always about colour!
 I used a large sheet of art spectrum pastel paper, planning on allowing the red brick colour of the paper to unify all areas of the composition (check out the sky and foreground). I purposely made the sky dark and a similar colour to the buildings, .so the contrast to the red would be the white trim and roof , creating the light in the painting. You could say this piece is more about design than anything else.  
In the end, my painting won 1st place in the plein air challenge sponsored by the West Carleton Arts Society. Thank you everyone who created this event.
After a hard day of painting outside in the rain, I treated myslef to a long hot bubble bath!
On Sunday, I met with my marvelous Pura Vida woman, Martine. Yes, big news about Costa Rica is eminent. Stay tuned for more exciting news from Martine and Margaret about that.
If you are grabbed by this painting, or the idea of learning how to paint oudoors, you can still sign up for two classes in the Toronto area in the next month or so. 

Sun., Aug. 24, 2 p.m., McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, ON 
Pastel Demo en Plein Air
Weather permitting, I will choose a spot on the grounds of the conservation area directly behind McMichael’s, and paint
a scene on location, en plein air. The term means to paint out of doors, or on the ground. My demo will last an hour, but
I’ll be around to answer questions afterwards. FREE. Rain location: Pine Cottage

Mon., Aug. 25–Thurs., Aug. 28, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m., at McMichael’s 
Master the Basics
In this advanced workshop, participants will have the opportunity to develop their pastel skills, working on elements of
visual expression, such as colour and composition. I will meet with each student individually, to help plan their creative
Cost: public: $359 • McMichael members: $288 • Reservation required/ Materials not included. Class size: 15 • To register,

Sat., Sept. 20, Toronto Botanical Gardens (by Ontario Plein Art Society / OPAS), 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Plein Air Workshop
Studio 3 (OPAS)
Introduction to Painting en Plein Air
Suitable for studio or new artists seeking a great new way to paint. Learn techniques for composing a live scene. Discuss
some of the practical aspects of plein air painting, learn tricks, and come away with a completed painting. Please bring
your own materials; a list will be provided. To register, visit

If you have any questions at all about these workshops, please contact me at
Thanks for listening, Margaret

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Remembering Cathy

               Last Friday, several hundred people gathered in the beautiful little town in the Upper Ottawa Valley, Eganville to honour and say goodbye to Cathy. The pic above exemplifies the way Cathy lived, full of life, experimenting wildly with many different passions. Among all her passions, her family always came first, completely engaged with her grandchildren, her husband, her son, daughter and many members of a huge extended family. We found that out Friday. Cathys' other passions, were her horse and riding, dog agility training, music (singing, and playing piano and guitar), and of course, how we all knew her, through art.
              One of the ways that I knew Cathys' family was so important to her was in the many paintings she did of them. I was always helping her with pastels of grandchildren and recently, of her daughter Meghan, in her wedding dress. Cathy was just lovely to be around. She had a peaceful persona, yet many ideas to pursue, and active imagination pushing her to try everything.
               Last October, Cathy was part of my entourage in France, and was adventurous, taking advantage of every opportunity to paint in different locales. During this time she really saved me from a trip to the doctors, as I has an absessed tooth, (remember ladies!), and she gave me her anti-biotics which she had brought in case of chronic sinus infection. Thank you SO much for that Cathy, you SOOOO saved me there, as I was the teach, and just could not be out of commission!
              While travelling to France, Cathy and I had a harrowing experience of getting separated at the Frankfurt Airport, and without getting into a long story,...I guessed I saved her too, because once I got to our connecting gate, I purposely had a lengthly debate, shall we say, about the next flight, and the impossibility of how far apart our gates were, with the attendant. I was sent on a bus to drive us to our next plane, sans Cathy,  but at the last minute, just as the bus was pulling away, the attendant that I "debated" with was yelling to stop, and there was Cathy! barreling forward as fast as possible. Well,...she got on that bus, and we were SOOOO relieved, and laughed and laughed. It's one of those experiences that you know will make a good story later, but didn't really enjoy living through.
             During our stay in France we all shared many laughs, and I'm sure Cathy had the time of her life. I'm SO glad she came this year, and was able to have this life experience.
             One of the things I really appreciated about Cathy, was the way she would always post something at the end of a workshop, saying, I just had a great workshop with Margaret Ferraro, always saying something very nice, how much she enjoyed it. So kind, and thoughtful.
              Cathy lost her short battle with Cancer at the age of 57. We hear it often, but still get sent the message to live every day fully, you never know when the end for you will be. I'm sure Cathy was peaceful in the end, as that is what her personality would ask for. Let's let the way she lived, be a lesson to us all, to live and love fully.
This was about 6pm. at night, chasing shadows in a valley, about 2 or 3 km. from hour retreat, in the Lot Valley, southwest France. It was a magical light that evening, and we all came away with something we were pleased with. Cathy later painted this scene in acrylic as well as pastel, en plein air.

Chilling in our hotel room in Toulouse, after a glorious day of warm weather, sun, eating at a great outdoor patio, gallery hopping, culture appreciating,..we packed it in,... and were just beat,...Cathy reviewed her photos as I lay on my bed and painted! 

If anyone else has pics of Cathy on our trip, or of her artwork, please sen them to me. Cheers everyone, stay healthy, and grateful for our lives.
More pics that were sent in from various students, from our last trip to France, with Cathy Sheridan.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Demo at Pastel Artists of Canada National Exhibition, May 2014

Demonstration piece at Pastel Artists of Canadas' 23rd Annual Pastel exhibition, 
"Purely Pastel"

Last May, I was asked by the Pastel Artists of Canada to do a demonstration at the opening of their national show, at Beaux Art Brampton. This is an art venue, with exhibition and workshop space downstairs, and artists' studios upstairs. It's in an old funky building in downtown Brampton, Ontario.

The venue was quite nice, and I demonstrated in the workshop space behind the gallery, segwaying nicely into the opening, which happened when my demo was over. I brought some still life material with me, and took one hour to draw out and execute this piece.
At the end of my hour, I was no where near where I wanted to be with the piece, so I took it home with every intention of finishing it quickly, before my motivation for the piece waned. However, life got in the way, and I only finished it now.

Luckily, I did have some photos too, as it's pretty hard to set up exactly the same scenario with lighting and all objects in exactly the same position.
For those of you who were at the demo, you know I was trying to stick to three values in the beginning, and trying to stick to the primaries, so as to have a nice triad of colour harmony.
Once I got the piece back to my studio, it didn't seem to work, and I had to make new decisions in the moment for the piece to feel alive to me.
The paper I was working on was Art Spectrum, the nice red brick colour. So I worked the primaries onto red, then toned down the shadows with blues and purples, finishing with more reds on the top layer, to bring a small amount of subtle light into the shadows. I played quite a bit in the shadows, trying to build dimension and depth by having some slight contrast in value,within all the darks there.
It probably doesn't show up well in the image, but the light areas are done the same way, with some value contrast, using several highly tinted colours to create dimension in the light areas.
The mediums were basically the flowers, and I used a variety of reds, some warmer, some cooler, and a little variance in terms of value as well.

I have had the experience before, of losing my momentum with a piece, due to distractions, and being away from a piece for too long. Since I know this can happen to us all, here are a few suggestions to minimize the damage when you just can't get to finishing your painting :

1) Keep a journal for your studio. At the end of a painting day, write about exactly where you are in the piece, anything that comes to  mind. The next time you go to work on the piece, you can read this back to yourself, and re-gain your mind set and focus. It's like pressing the save button, on your creative mind.
2) Write your  initial intention with the piece on a post-it note, and stick it to the easel, so you don't forget what you are after. You can use this to guide your decisions, and to ruminate over when you may decide to change direction mid-painting, just do it consciously.
3) It never hurts to take pictures of what you are painting, and of your painting as well for future reference.
4) If the piece fails to stand up to your intial intention, don't be afraid to try something bold and different, even if it takes you away from your first goal. This is a time to experiment and be bold, take risks. After all, the minute we are precious about anything in our work, we've just lost it.

This is not the best piece I have ever done, but the way I describe it to my students is that our minds are like a mountain range. Sometimes we find ourselves at the top of the mountain, the middle or the bottom. The more practice we get, the more this phenomenon evens out, with less highs and lows. But until we are fully trained, (I will always be in training), one is never safe from the mountain range.

Good luck everyone, cheers, Margaret Ferraro