Marianne Vander Dussen
North Bay Fine Artist
What’s New on the Blog
Painting Like Crazy for Christmas
November 12, 2017
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! For artists and makers, it may actually be the busiest time of the year. For the past two weeks, I’ve been focused on painting two small works for the Petit Noel show at the Alex Dufresne Gallery in Callander. There are tons of small works to choose from, and they’ll all be priced at the entry level. This year, I decided to submit two pieces, both inspired by Northern Ontario. the Nuthatch Everyone who knows me knows that I am a self-described Bird Lady. Even as I type this, I’m positioned by a window so that I can watch the birdies goof around by their feeders. During the Christmas of 2013, we had a big ice storm go through most of Southern Ontario, which left the trees covered in thick layers of ice. I was staying with my parents at the time, who have the largest collection of bird feeders you’ve ever seen, and I was able to take a few nice photos of the white-breasted nuthatches. I’ve called the painted result Nuthatch, 12″x12″, oil on canvas (2017). I know, it’s the world’s most original title. Something I’ve been planning on experimenting with for a little while is the concept of aperture in paintings. In photographs, you can adjust the aperture of the lens to blur the background and sharpen the foreground. Photography has influenced painting enormously in the past century, and I wanted to try mimicking that same blurry effect. I’ll be doing it again next month on a large-scale painting of peonies. lake nosbonsing, fire and ice I had put out a call for wintry reference photos to paint for Petit Noel. I wanted something snowy, but also something with a fair amount of colour saturation to play with. One photo in particular that was submitted to me was just dazzling. I’d like to introduce you to Lake Nosbonsing: Fire and Ice, 12″x16″, oil on canvas (2017). This was a very challenging piece to create. The most difficult part, hands down, was layering all of the frozen branches. There’s about five or six different layers of colour that have been laid into that nest of branches, and each layer required overnight dry time. The trees in the original photograph were almost exclusively black, which when painted just looked dark and chunky. I had to do a little inventing with colour, but I’m happy with how they turned out. the new painting – wave study I have one more painting that I’m going to be working on over the next few days, and it’s probably the tightest time crunch I’ve faced (self-imposed, of course…I thought I’d have more time, but that was before I got bogged down in branch details). The WKP Kennedy Gallery is running their Annual Christmas Fundraiser, this time with the theme “Spirit of the North.” Confession: I totally forgot about the theme when I started planning my piece. By the time I remembered I’d already purchased the canvas size that I wanted and had prepped it, sooo…it is what it is! I’ll be submitting a 10″ x 20″ painting of a wave, based on a reference photo that I took last month in the Hague, the Netherlands. My husband and I were visiting the northern coast, and with it being early October, the skies and seas were incredibly intense. I’m considering turning one of the paintings I took into a much larger piece, and this painting is part of a study I want to do better work with and understand water. Water is by far my most favourite subject to paint. support local You’ll be able to view this piece during the Downtown Christmas Walk on November 24th. 50% of the proceeds from the sale of the painting will go directly to the WKP Kennedy Gallery. Be sure to check it out! Additionally, there are a bunch of other markets going on, including: Another art sale during the downtown Christmas Walk at the Sons of Jacob Synagogue (with funds going to an exterior renovation), Makers Market at the new North Star Diner on December 17th from 11am-4pm (coming soon to the old DeMarco’s storefront on Algonquin Ave). Of course, if there’s any others that I’m missing, let me know and I’ll put the word out on my Facebook page! There are so many awesome opportunities to support local artisans and artists, because North Bay is chock full of wonderfully talented people. Be sure to check out all the makers’ markets coming up, and definitely make a point of attending the upcoming Christmas Walk. And as always, I’ll have my classes running in case you want to go the homemade route and create a painting for your nearest and dearest. Check out my classes page to stay up to speed on all upcoming events and subscribe to my newsletter to hear about December dates in advance. Of course, you can always find me on Instagram or Twitter, in addition to Facebook. Feel free to follow, I’d love to connect!...
On the Eve of 30
November 4, 2017
Before I delve in, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you. If you’re reading this blog, than you’ve probably helped support me in some way, shape or form. Perhaps you like my Facebook page, or you’ve been to one of my classes. Perhaps you’ve even purchased one of my paintings. Regardless of what form your support has taken…thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Hello, is this thing on?! I bet you forgot I even HAD a blog, considering the radio silence on this thing since March. For awhile, I really wasn’t sure what to do with my blog; what could I really offer my readers that was of value?! After all, you’re spending precious moments of time reading this thing, so it had better be worth your while. While I was in Europe, I had a eureka moment about writing, and why I should take it up again: I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do. It’s what I wrote my Master of Education thesis on. Painting, art, making spaces beautiful – all of that will be umbrellaed under the theme of “my life,” because that’s practically all I do anyways. There’s been a topic that’s been marinating in my mind for the past few months. I’m turning 30 in November this year, which for many is (supposedly) a time of crisis. It’s a time when you realize that you’re actually aging; it’s strange, but until the past year, I too was convinced I was going to be young forever. The tipping point was a fateful trip to the dentist shortly after my wedding that resulted in a root canal and a crown. Turns out that three decades of biting, clenching and grinding has taken a toll on my teeth, and they’re exhibiting major signs of wear and tear. Even if I thought that I was immune to the sands of time, it turns out that my teeth aren’t. But once I’d dealt with the Great Tooth Crisis of 2017, I was able to reflect, take stock on who I am now, and how I got here. And friends, I am authentically grateful for my life, and I can tell you now that I am THRILLED to be turning 30. I’ve never been healthier, happier, or more deeply satisfied. But to understand why, I decided to roll back the clock and show you a glimpse into how I got from there to here. The Last Ten Years This is a photo of me ten years ago, acting in a minor role in the Queen’s University Drama Department production of Unity: 1918. I majored in Drama at Queen’s, and was highly involved in the department. I thought I was in love with theatre, and that if I hustled when I left Kingston to go to Toronto, that eventually I’d be able to work my way into either the Shaw or Stratford Festival, two of the most prestigious repertory theatre companies in Canada. LOL. It turns out that when I wasn’t immersed in the insulated university theatre world, and finally lived out my dream to move to the Big Smoke, my desire to act in and direct shows just vanished. It was replaced by a more pressing need: the need to eat. The need to have a place to live. So I could either take the actor’s route – become a server at a restaurant, audition, maybe land a show but probably not, repeat – or I could try and find a “real” job and hopefully find happiness elsewhere. I took option B, and worked in real estate administration for the next four years. Of course, having a Real Person Job didn’t guarantee financial stability. During my brief career as a real estate administrator, I worked as the sole assistant to top producers in Rosedale and the Bridle Path. They made millions; I struggled to pay for both my used car and my tiny apartment. Eventually, I was able to get a pay increase that allowed me to sleep at night, but barely. Many people use their twenties in the big city to go out, party, and have a good time. I didn’t have the money to do that, and wasn’t willing to go into debt just to live a lifestyle I couldn’t afford. So instead, I had my friends over for fancy dinner parties. Here I am, hosting a group of (also broke) young twenty-somethings, eating on the floor of my basement bachelor apartment. The wine in our glasses was a SPLURGE. Sure, I was young, optimistic, hardworking, ambitious, and “living my dream” by becoming a Torontonian. I loved Toronto (at the time). I loved the vibe of the city, the subways, the constant carousel of new festivals and activities. But I always felt like I had my nose pressed up against the glass; I could see the excitement and joy of living in the big city, but was severely impeded by my income. Real estate, even back in 2011, was skyrocketing out of control. Just buying a one bedroom condo would set me back at least $300,000. Instead of feeling grateful for my tiny 300 sqft apartment, I started to feel embarrassed by it. I had always been an excellent academic student, which I assumed would be equated with success in the real world. But there I was, 23 years old, struggling, and finally understanding that the odds were stacked against me in Toronto. Sure, there was more “opportunity” in Toronto, in the sense that there were more jobs readily available. But there wasn’t authentic opportunity, the chance to discover who I was and what I wanted, because I was too busy trying to survive. The North Bay Chapter In 2013, I moved to North Bay to attend the Schulich School of Education. I never left. All too often, I hear that young people aren’t coming to North Bay, that we’re all leaving for the big city in droves. Perhaps it’s my hopeless optimism, or perhaps it’s the fact that I’m friends with a group of big city expats, but I have not found this to be the case. Real estate is affordable. Nature is abundant. Relationships are meaningful. And opportunity is EVERYWHERE, if you just have the courage to look for it (and many are). In the past four years, I’ve completed two degrees (B.Ed and M.Ed), bought a house, bought a car, got married, and started my own business. I’ve been teaching art since July 2016, and in that short time I have taught several thousand people how to paint. This year, I have sold every single painting I’ve made, except for one. Just like with any small business, there have been ups and downs; the nature of my work means a lot of evenings and weekends, and when you’re by yourself painting for hours and hours every day, there’s a lot of loneliness and boredom. But the highs are amazing. Being present during the reception for my first ever exhibition with Arlie Hoffman was incredible. For the first time, I got to listen to how people reacted to my work. Sometimes they knew I was there, sometimes they didn’t, but some of the comments I heard made me want to float all the way home. This is 30 Whenever I visit friends in Southern Ontario, I’m struck by the big city obsession with remaining youthful and slim. I’ve lost track of the number of conversations I’ve listened to that revolve around dieting. Several years ago I was even told that “you shouldn’t tell people you’re 27, I never would have believed that you’re that old!” That old. At 27. Ugh. There are wrinkles on my face (subtle, but deepening), and grey in my hair (hidden by highlights). But there is confidence in my voice. There is strength in my body. Most importantly, there is peace in my mind. I embrace my age and the gifts of experience that have accompanied it. It takes effort to cultivate peace; I spend a lot of my time in the studio listening to podcasts that teach me to be a braver entrepreneur and a more loving person. It’s work, but it’s worthwhile. I love North Bay. I love to make art and teach painting. I love my house and my incredible husband. And I love that I’m entering my 30s. I know some people may read this and scoff, “30?! You’re just a baby, of course you love your thirties, you’re not even old.” But the point I’m trying to make is that as I age, I am choosing to see the beauty of the gifts I’ve been given, rather than focusing on how I’m no longer 22. Looking backwards, I don’t have any regrets. I’ve chosen to follow my bliss and have wound up here – healthy, happy, doing what I love – and am so fortunate to be able to work with people to help them discover their inner artist. So thanks for sticking with me through this as I stumble along the path to becoming a full-time, professional artist. Thank you for painting with me, laughing with me, and giving me a chance. It’s a privilege to live and work in this amazing community, and I’m so excited for what the next decade holds. Here’s to you, North Bay…thank you for being my home. ...
Opalescent Lake – Step by step
March 25, 2017
Happy spring, everyone! I am so excited to share this step by step breakdown of my most recent painting, “Opalescent Lake” (2017, 16″ x 20″, oil on masonite). The painting sold to a buyer from Temiscaming QC, who has a special connection to Algonquin Park and wanted a reminder of the many happy memories that were created there. As always, I posted update photos to both my Instagram and Facebook feeds, since I love to pull back the curtain and reveal how my art is created. Creating new works usually take me at least 30 hours for the smaller pieces, and upwards of 100 for my current major project (a 30″ x 60″). I’m including this painting in the show taking place in the Alex Dufresne Gallery in Callander, Ontario, which is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. To me, there is nothing more Canadian than heading into the woods with a canoe, and portaging deeper and deeper into the wild. One of the reasons this painting speaks to me is because the mists are shrouding everything past the edges of the lake; it’s almost as if the rest of the world ceases to exist. This profound sense of stillness, coupled with the distinct presence of Algonquin flora staples including white pine and granite, situate the painting deep within a local context that makes me feel a deep sense of belonging and home. In my step by step breakdown, I am using detailed descriptions of artist-grade materials, which can be a little overwhelming if you’ve only worked with primaries or student-grade products! When I first switched from using student grade Wallack’s paint to Golden Acrylics, it was rough. I didn’t understand colour bias and none of my colour mixes turned out well. With patience and perseverance, you eventually learn the personalities of each colour in the spectrum, and can put them to work. Before I plunked in these details, I took the masonite panel (bought specially from Curry’s) and primed it with gesso before sanding it down with a 300 grit paper, and priming again. I repeated this 3 times, adding a bit of Burnt Sienna acrylic to warm up the gesso and to provide a coloured ground. I never, ever paint on a white background, I always tone my painting surface with a colour. After the surface was nice and smooth, I mixed a colour that was close to the background using Payne’s Grey and Titanium White. Then, using watered down acrylics, I put in the details of the painting, making sure I took time to get the drawing right. As you can see, I’m mostly concerned with shapes, not details. The painting might not look that different at this point, but this was extremely important to get right. I’ve added in the sky and water colour using artist-grade oils. I was looking at the existing blue background, and knew it was slightly off, so I added just a touch of dioxazine violet to correct the colour, which matched my reference photo almost exactly. I mixed two colours here, the darker and the ever so slightly lighter, and put each one in with a different brush before blending them together to create a gradient. It’s difficult to see with the glare, but there is a transition from darker to lighter as you move towards the horizon. The effect is subtle, and necessary to complete the photorealism. Playing with light is my greatest asset for tricking eyes into thinking it’s looking at a photo. I had to work quickly on this piece while the background and water were still wet to get that watery look. I worked in both the tree line and the reflection simultaneously, scratching in shapes above the waterline and blending softly underneath, to keep the colours consistent and matching with each other. The misty look was created by blending a mixture of the tree colour with the sky colour, then applying it lightly and loosely. I know at this stage I’ll need to revisit the reflection, as it’s looking a little chunky, but I have to hurry to keep working the rest of the painting before the sky and water dries (I have about three or four days as a window for oils when I don’t add Winsor & Newton’s Liquin, my preferred drying agent). At this point, the sky and the water were dry, which made blending the water a little difficult. To cheat, I mixed a colour that was as close as I could get to the water, and worked it in sideways to soften the lines of the tree reflections. There are no harsh edges in reflections, and when you work wet on dry the lines can often be very sharp. One of my favourite parts of the painting to work on was the rock in the bottom left corner. It was just so much fun! This rock is a mixture of rich purples, pinks, mossy greens, icy teal, and rusty reds. Of course, when you step back, you just see granite, but that’s what make these rocks so visually interesting to me, and is one of the perks of living in the north. The Canadian Shield asserts itself almost everywhere, including a chunk right in my backyard, and it’s so full of depth and colour. When I’m painting, I often throw on a movie in the background, one I’ve seen before that will just provide a running narrative to keep my mind occupied while I dab, dab, dab. It took me the duration of X-Men: First Class and Jane Eyre (the 2011 version) to paint the rock, so about 4.5 hours. Of all the steps in the painting, putting in submerged rocks frightened me the most. My water surface had long dried out, so I didn’t have the advantage of wet-on-wet. What I did use was Photoshop’s eyedrop tool on my reference to help me determine which colours to use. Basically, when I get really stuck, I can use the eyedropper to help isolate the exact colour that I need, so I can match it. This in and of itself is an art, because matching paint colours can be very difficult. I really took my time with it, and spent nearly as long choosing the paint colours as I did actually painting. What you see above is not the final product; after I put in all of those rocks, I took a clean brush and buffed the edges to make them look softer, most misty. I wanted the effect to be subtle, and above, the rocks look way too in your face. This photo is a little grainy, but I was finding that when I turned the lights on in my studio, the glare on the painting was making it too difficult to photograph. The lily pads were crucial in finishing up the photorealistic effect of this painting. They broke up the reflection and sat on top of the underwater rocks, helping your brain understand that it’s looking at water. I stayed very true to my reference at this point, trying to mimic the clusters that I saw in the original photograph. Finally, the last thing I did was to go back into the rock, and sharpen up some of the details, I lightened it a little, texturized it more by layering more small specks on top of the foundation I’d already laid, and scribbled in some scraggly grass in the bottom left corner. Ta daaaaa!!! The finished product. I signed my name into the rock on the left instead of on my usual spot to the right because I didn’t want to break up the water. This painting was so much fun to do; I could embrace the fluidity of water, relax, and let the wet paint do the work for me. Any other questions you have about how this painting came into being? Let me know in the comments or by shooting me a message, I’m happy to keep my practice transparent and would love to help you in your painting journey. ...
In the Footsteps of Robert Bateman
February 19, 2017
“I’d like you to close your eyes, and think about a place that really means something to you, deep in your heart. I fear if I ask young people that question, they don’t have a place. It just isn’t there. And, if people have no contact with nature, not only nature but mankind is in for a very gloomy future.” – Robert Bateman The chickadees are back this morning. They’re elegant little birds, bobbing and weaving in the sky effortlessly as they float from the tree to the feeder, feeder to the tree. Watching birds is one of my greatest joys. I love everything about them; their feathers, their song, their flight patterns, the brightness of their eyes. Chickadees are a particular delight because they are such playful souls, and one of their favourite games to play is to slide down snowy branches before launching into the sky. This morning as I hit publish on this post, it’s sunny, with an expected high of 4 celsius. Needless to say, given that this is the second day above zero, and that it’s mid-February and we should be in the frozen double digits, I am alarmed and uncomfortable. While naturally occurring outliers of temperature highs and lows can be expected without cause for too much panic, these warm winter days are becoming altogether too frequent. As an artist devoted almost exclusively to landscapes, it’s disheartening/sickening/depressing to know that the colourful, biodiverse world that I immerse myself in, is threatened. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I find myself turning more and more to the artistic work of Robert Bateman, whose advocacy is painted directly into his body of work. When Bateman talks about connecting with a sense of place, this deeply resonates with my practice. I have been a nomad my entire life, flitting from city to city the way the chickadees move from backyard to backyard. But there is only one place that has managed to keep my heart for longer than my standard honeymoon period of 3 years. That place, of course, is North Bay, Ontario. Perhaps it’s the fact that so much of this city has been designed to let nature breathe. When I was in Toronto, nature exerted itself in patches and carefully bordered reserves, like unwanted weeds through sidewalk cracks. But here in North Bay, we have deer who wander down the streets. Granite outcrops assert their dominance along the highways. Osprey eagles hunt for fish in Lake Nipissing. Signs alert hikers to bears. Beavers continue to manipulate the waterways to suit their building needs. But I often wonder how long it will remain this way. Our town is designed for cars, and not pedestrians or cyclists. Public transit is difficult to access for many (the route that goes by my house comes once every hour). Lake Nipissing’s walleye population is in a serious decline. Buying organic and local is an exercise in economic privilege. My perfect little northern town is all too susceptible to the creeping strain that unsustainable living puts on the natural world. As Bateman mentions in the above video, when we feel connected to place, and when we create pieces that show the beauty of our world, we may feel more incentivized to protect it. I feel most alive when I am fully experiencing a place, particularly in times of dramatic lighting where I feel privileged to be alive in that moment to experience it. This is why I paint, why I continue to be drawn towards landscapes. I want to capture the soul of a place, so that when you see the piece, you feel drawn to it and what it represents. Feeling Connected to Place – Upcoming Work I am currently working on three pieces for the upcoming 150th anniversary celebration of Canada’s confederation. The first, a painting of a Northland train arriving at Cobalt station, has been a work in progress for months. It’s my largest ever piece at 30″ x 60″, and I felt drawn to paint it because of the clouds and the harshness of the late-winter surroundings. Everything is brown and lifeless, with the nearby lake still crusted in ice floats. But the train, and the town, are pops of colour against an ominous sky. Despite this piece being somewhat of a celebration of the train, I love the fact that there is not a soul to be seen. There is clear evidence of human settlement, but no humans. The next piece is based off of a photo I took in Algonquin Park, at Opalescent Lake near the Barron Canyon. The night before, it had rained relentlessly, and I was miserable because all I wanted was a cozy warm fire. Instead, my fiance and I huddled together under a tarp, bored out of our minds. But in the morning, the coolness of the rain ran up against an incoming warm front, resulting in a low mist covering the nearby trees. It was eerie, the air was chilled, but I felt energized to my very core. Here was nature at her most mysterious, and it just beckoned me to come and explore what lay beyond the fog. The last piece will be based upon a photograph that I took in the summer of 2016. My fiance and I were living close to the downtown, and every night we’d take our bikes out and cycle along the waterfront. That night, the colours were so intense and vibrant that the beach actually had three or four photographers out with SLR cameras. What I love about this photograph is the water, and the reflection of sky in the damp sand. I’m also drawn towards the feeling of motion, like the sky and the waves refuse to be pinned down. Reconnecting to Place When you close your eyes, and think of your place, where is it? Is it Algonquin Park? Is it your childhood home? The shores of Lake Nipissing at sunset? A fountain in a city square? Perhaps you have multiple places; in my case, I feel love and peace simply in my backyard, watching the chickadees, but there are a few others in my psyche that when I imagine myself back in those places, I feel a sense of total stillness. Over the course of my art career, I hope to honour those places and turn them into paintings. What is your special place? ...
Let there be light: How to light your studio space
February 5, 2017
Whether you’re an amateur artist or are trying to provide the ideal working space for your child who is just learning to paint or draw, lighting the workspace correctly is absolutely critical. For younger ones, it will help them learn to read their colours while avoiding eye strain, and for artists who are in the beginning stages of their development, having correct lighting will help you work more confidently at all hours of the day. In the article below, I outline my own personal experience with lighting trial and error, and provide some solutions for how to quickly and easily remedy your own lighting situation. Moving from my spacious 800sqft studio at Tweedsmuir into my 90sqft home workspace has not been without its challenges. For one thing, I absolutely despite clutter, and for the first month after moving in, I was sorting through boxes and boxes of art supplies. Personally, I find it much easier to start clean with zero objects and add what I need, than to sit down and sort through piles of stuff where I save way too many things on the excuse of “just in case.” For that first month, the studio wasn’t so much a workspace as a clutter magnet, as I learned to compromise with a smaller space and prioritize which supplies got to remain in the room and which would be banished to my crawlspace. But there was one studio element that I was not willing to compromise on, and that was lighting. When I moved in, the space had a three-bulb circular halogen track, which not only didn’t provide enough light for the work that I do, but was probably in the 2700K temperature range. What’s the kelvin temperature range, you ask? In terms of lighting a studio space, it is the single most important element to be considered. It’s not enough that a space be bright, it has to have the right temperature of lighting, or else it will completely wreck your ability to read colour. Take the picture below: the painting is lit by an easel lamp on the right, which is the correct temperature of 5000K, and the halogen track to the left. The line down the middle is where they meet. See the difference lighting can make? I knew I had to remedy the situation ASAP, or risk only being able to paint during daylight hours. I headed over to Home Depot, and got a brighter LED track light (~$90, including an $8 energystar rebate), and set about installing it. Except it too was too warm on the Kelvin scale, which I only realized upon installing the darn thing. See the photos below: the nice thing about having white walls is that when there is any colour tinting happening, it’s immediately visible. While the lighting was certainly an improvement, it was still far too yellow. “It seems fine,” said my partner, who was trying to assuage the situation. “Why not leave it for a few days, see how you like it?” “No, because it’s wrong. It has to go.” Artists: it doesn’t matter if you’re just starting and are a complete and total novice, do NOT compromise on your lighting! You have to be able to see your colours accurately. So, back I went to Home Depot. I returned the track lighting, and bought a cheap flush mount ($20) that can hold three bulbs. Then, I bought three Philips daylight bulbs ($18) that are at the perfect 5000K. Overall, my solution cost about $40. Compare below: Two simple Solutions for your setup Get an LED daylight bulb, plug it into an existing lamp or overhead fixture, and you’re off to the races. This is perfect for children who need a worklamp for their hobby. Purchase a higher end light, like an Ottlite or Daylight (this is what I have on my easel). Both will run you ~$100+. A final note Don’t be afraid to have a high standard when it comes to your lighting. Being able to see your work properly is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s better to take the extra time to get it right than to compromise with poor lighting. Try a few things, see what works, and don’t be afraid to say, “back to the drawing board.”...