Summer Update and Spring Scentsation

It never fails to amaze me how incredibly fast summer comes and goes.  And how little painting I  actually accomplish from the first of August to the middle of September.  When the sun is out I am out.  Revelling!  This year we have had an amazing amount of family visiting - and we took the time to cherish each moment knowing how fast it goes. 

Fast, except maybe for the work on this painting "Spring Scentsation".  Yes, I finally came up with a name that is sticking. And I think it is finally about the halfway mark.

white lilac painting Spring Scentsation by Helen Shideler

Often I start projects without really knowing what I am doing. I do have a plan but am unsure if it the right one. But I go with it!  And I promise, I am learning.  I tinted the canvas all over because I do not like those little white holes (misses) that may appear as I apply the first few layers of paint.  Adding to the changes to my approach, I painted a foundation layer to the background first.  At about the halfway mark, i got brave enough to figure out how to approach and modify the background.  That work in now done - however, I will be going back in to deepen and glaze the area around the bloom.

With my next painting I will be changing my approach once again. 

Rational thinking?

This is a large painting - 30 x 48" and I think it may be a new favourite size.  Honestly, I do not think smaller works take less time - just that your "mistakes" may be less obvious as they are smaller?   Is that rational thinking?

Summertime at our house

Always includes as much family as possible, good food and friends whenever possible. This year was no exception. Our house was coming apart at the seams. Joyful sounds. Good meals. And grandchildren that fill the house!

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On the Fence

crow painting On the Fence by Helen Shideler

I did manage to get another crow painting in. This little 10 x 8” oil is a study for a much larger painting in the future - I got caught up a bit too much in the details for a painting of this size. Must remember to simplify going forward.

Next post will be from beautiful BC

until next time may your days be colourful

Country Garden Favourite

Country Garden Favourite is a traditionally painted watercolour of hollyhocks

Hollyhocks and mallow were a couple of my mothers favourite flowers. And I guess, seeing them through her eyes as a child helped me to gain an appreciation for them as well. I always associate them with an old fashioned country garden.  I truly love these blooms for their beauty and the nostalgia.  No wonder I love to paint them.

Country Garden Favourite hollyhock painting by Helen Shideler

They bring me back to Cape Breton

Good memories.  Salty air. Sunshine.  Wonderful memories of a place that was truly wonderful to be a child in. There is another flower that takes me back there  as well - wild blue flax.  This past summer, I saw it growing in PEI.  I was so happy to see them.  The colour is amazing.

 Speaking of blue

I knew when I started this painting that I wanted to paint the background as sky blue, rather than the background in my reference photos.  The background in the photos was rather dull and I wanted this painting to be crisp and to feel like a warm summer's day.  For fun I googled "Blue Sky” colour.  This really cool page came up in Wikipedia.  So many shades of blue.  So many shades of sky.  

Originally my plan was to do this painting as a poured watercolour.  I changed my mind for a few reasons.  One I was running out of masking compound and two, I wanted to keep the petals delicate and soft.  Pouring can give you hard edges.  There is a way around that, but it requires applying the mask on damp paper.  And maybe three, I often like to draw as I go.  When you pour it is much easier to have your drawing mapped out.  It is really easy to get lost without a careful rendering.

Hope you enjoy this painting as much as I enjoyed working on it.

Social Climber poured watercolour

Poured watercolour of a clematis.  I just had to call this painting Social Climber as there are so many blossoms growing over top of one another.  So many rich shades of blues, pinks and purples.

Social Climber poured watercolour by Helen Shideler

When to say when

There are times when I am unsure to call a painting complete or not.  I find this challenges me more with poured watercolours than traditional painting styles. The paint stains the paper quite heavily when you pour, often creating sharper edges than you can tell during the process.  It is harder to edit the painting while balancing the tone and maintaining transparency of colour. 

When I remove the masking compound, I think the underpainting looks washed out as the mask holds pigment on top.  When you take off the mask this layer of pigment is also removed.  Was never intended to stay, but it is usually quite bold. You sure miss it when it has been removed.

I use my reserved paint from the pouring process to go back in and enhance the underpainting.  This one is a bit different in that I did not pour green just applied a bit with my brush.

Step away from the painting

FIrst is knowing when to say when.  Put the brushes down.  Step away from the painting.   And, really poured watercolours need to be viewed from across the room.  You see the illusion better and not each individual mask or paint application.  All kidding aside,  the further back you are the more dimensional the work appears to be! Pretty cool actually.

A few steps of my painting process in slideshow below

Click to scroll through

This clematis grows in my sister-in-law Teri's magical garden in PEI.  

Spring Scentsation

Spring Scentsation

Large acrylic painting of lilacs is finally signed and off the easel.  

Spring Scentsation by Helen Shideler

I think I heard a heavenly choir of angels 

Hallelujah!  Really I mean it. I have spent so much quality time with this painting.  First scoping all the lilac shrubs in Quispamsis, Rothesay and beyond.  Then taking photos. I scouted, I hunted and even had friends on the lookout for me.  Interesting enough these particular blooms grow in my own backyard.  

Worth crying over

Then I remembered what I forgot.  The wonderful scent of heavily perfumed lilacs are an allergy trigger for me. I managed to take photos through my watery eyes.  This was pretty funny. I was taking photos of the lilacs and my eyes started running. Not just teary, but full on running like a tap. Then my sinuses filled up and I was leaking everywhere.  I was literally catching rivers of tears off my chin! Not a cute image I know, but it shows just how stubborn I can be.  I stayed out there taking photos until I literally no longer could see through my tears and had absolutely no idea what I was getting. Confirming my suspicion that I am allergic to lilacs. And I did this repeatedly evening after evening until the blooms were too far past their prime.

Allergies will not stop me from loving and painting them!   Interesting enough, they were so imprinted on my mind that I could actually smell them as I was painting.  Then when I went to bed I continued to paint them in my dreams.  Really, really imprinted!

Size matters

Gary holding "Spring Scentsation"

The painting process was interesting.  At first I tried, honestly tried to paint loose and flowing. Determined to use some nice new #12 brushes. Oh the satisfaction from loose and flowing strokes!  Only I couldn't.  I gave up on the big brushes very early in the process and reverted back to my #2s and #4s.  Then I went back in and fixed the florets that I first started with.  Ah, my comfort zone - complexity and detail.  

I have another canvas or two this size.  What should I paint next?

Spring Scentsation on the easel

On the easel for awhile

This fall has had me going madly off in all directions.  Literally.  I have twice travelled across the country clearing four time zones in each direction.  Had two nasty sinus infections that literally had me down and out.  Add in a kitchen reno and phew a trip to Newfoundland!  No wonder these paintings are taking awhile to finish.

Spring Scentsation by Helen Shideler

It seems that every night after I have worked on this

and then lie in bed trying to go to sleep, my mind is so active continuing to paint the little lilac florets.  Sometimes I can even feel my hands moving. I enjoy every sleepless moment of it!  You see it is not every painting that imprints on my brain like this.  I think that is reserved for the special ones.  The ones that literally excite you to the point that they keep you awake at nights.  I so love the goopy bits of paint that help to define and sculpt the blossoms. And delight on the many colour variances in those little petals. From the various shades of lilac to the pinks to blues and how the colours are affected by the light and shade.




Painting of a Dragonfly on the Fence


We have a backyard pond complete with a waterfall and lily pads.  And dragonflies are frequent  visitors.  Frequent but they do not rest for long. Almost never long enough for me to run and get may camera and get back down the stairs.  And my camera is by the door when I am home!  Another missed opportunity.

On the Fence 

On the Fence 

But I have gotten lucky a few times

One summer a dragonfly landed on my friend Jackie’s belly. And  I had my camera right there.  I just had to convince her not to swoosh him away until I got the photos.   The photos were really over exposed as her top was white but, as an artist, I am pretty good at improvising.  That painting is shown at the bottom of this post.

At a visit to M Mills to see the flocks of migratory sea birds I was so surprised by number of dragonflies. So many varieties. So many really big ones. So big.  And hovering doing the helicopter flight thing.  I spent the entire day there trying to get a great photo of one and you know?  They are super  fast.  Just as soon as I would have the camera on the ready they were gone.  Every single time.

On a recent trip to Arizona as I was strolling down a path in the 100 degree sunshine (melting) when I spied a dragonfly resting on a fence right beside me.  Actually resting.  My camera was actually around my neck.  So,  I got some pretty cool photos.  The result is show below in “On the Fence”.  This is a 9”x12” acrylic on Ampersand Claybord.

I know you have heard me talk about Claybord previously  

I have a love hate relationship with it.  Almost always the acrylic paint does not behave as I expect it to making for some stressful moments and multiple do overs.  What I love about it is that when you mess it up you are able to scrub off most of the paint and start over.  What I hate about it is (and all acrylic paint for that matter) is that the layers of paint have to be completely dry between the layers or the bottom paint will lift off.  Uncool.  This is particularly bad on Claybord.

The background of this painting is a really good bad example of this  

Blending is particularly challenging especially on the base coats.  Once you have your base coat down it does get easier to work with.  The smooth surface allows for highly detailed paint application.  Love this.  Then I had to draw the dragonfly on the painted layer.  This is nerve wracking as you really do not want to erase on paint or have to correct your drawing with paint (although this works really well trust me).

This painting is scheduled to hung in the upcoming shaw at the Saint John Arts Centre "Stained Glass Revisited" in September

Jackie's Dragon by Helen Shideler




On the Easel

I believe I am a habitual project starter.  

Actually I know I am. I cannot sketch out one project,  no I have to jump in the deep end.  Always.  Be highly ambitious.  Starry eyes wide open looking at possibilities.   I have sooo much work to do.  Happy sigh!  Then I disappear for a few days wondering where to start.

Roses, soft pretty roses in full bloom in watercolour.

Occasionally I wonder what the heck I am thinking.  

Where in the world would I even start?  One of my new  pieces has that quality.  I am pretty sure most of my friends out there know I have been stalking birds for reference photos in the past few months.  Well I am still at it.

As the sun was rising

Most recently, as the sun was rising, I caught a glimpse of a mourning dove perched deeply and peacefully in one of our fir trees.   The sun was catching the dove on the front of its face and breast.  The lighting was perfect.  Armed with my camera and in slippers I rushed outside in the cold to capture the  moment.  Many photos and a good chill later, I happily made may way back into the house.  Only to take even more photos from the vantage point of my warm kitchen window.

This is a highly detailed, almost monochromatic piece.  Wondering if I should just jump in with thick oils and have at it.  Or…. should I maintain my meticulous approach?

All this and a commission

I have a commission in the works on a fairly large canvas – will share more on that later. I am loving the way this is shaping up.

And yet another

And a lovely white with raspberry/ blackberry coloured rhodendron that I absolutely cannot wait to get into.

Check back ofter to see how I am progressing



Yesterdays Blooms Finally Finished

Yesterday's Blooms by Helen Shideler The name Yesterday's Blooms came from a few different ideas I had white working on this watercolour of white roses. They grow in the back corner of my yard.  Early in the season the blooms are so white, almost a transparent white. As the season progresses, the blooms take on a hint of pink.  Only to become quite pinkish and coral nearer to the fall.  Also, each bloom opens white and then taken on a  pinkish tinge as the bloom matures.

I stepped back from this painting for a period (far too long) once I deepened the background.  I had to get my head around how deep the values really are on the “white” roses.   I have a value strip that has been so helpful.  Normally my instincts with tone and value are pretty good but I needed help with this one.  I think painting in the background prior to completing the roses may have thrown me a bit. With this painting, I thought in a few places I nailed the intensity, pulled out my value strip and nope, had to go back in.

Having a number of paintings to complete before Christmas , this one seemed to loom over me as I was rather easily distracted by the workload in my studio.  This past weekend I was determined to finish it! So happy I finally did!

I cannot help but marvel at the beauty of a rose.  And it is no less beautiful once it is past it’s prime – yesterdays’ blooms.  The colours in some areas are deeper, grow paler in others and more delicate somehow.  Even the bees seem to prefer the newer fresher blooms.  A metaphor of life.  Opoooo now i am getting philosophical!

Red Hollyhocks

Red Hollyhocks I love red flowers.  I love painting red flowers.  Red flowers are very complex to paint – if you are not careful they can be flat and so present a bit of a challenge.    And yours truly is motivated by complexity. I dove in with a limited palette and an unfamiliar medium to kick of a project I have in mind.

I thought I would challenge myself to start a small oil painting each week.  Because I paint in thin layers, I would always have a painting ready to work on and eventually I would be completing 4 small oils each month.  I thought this would be a brilliant idea.  Only I didn’t have enough paint.  So what would any artist do in this situation?  Take to the internet of course.  Now I am looking for a very specific brand of oil paint so my options are limited.  Anyway, I found what I was looking for and with glee hit the “submit your order” button.

That was 2 ½ weeks ago.  I heard nothing.  No order confirmation and even worse…no paint!  Now we have had some interesting weather here (snow, snow and still more snow) and I felt I had to add additional patience to this endeavor but 2 ½ weeks with no acknowledgement.?  Jeepers!  So I called.  I asked if there was a problem.   She said someone was supposed to call me. So I will not bore you with the details but Curry’s Art Supplies has lousy customer service.  We now have it straightened away (fingers crossed) and I asked if they could get the stuff to be before the weekend (never happened) – have a commission to do – and this really delays it.  She was not sure and then asked me if I still wanted the order! OMIGOODNESS!

Month one.  Only one oil painting started.  No more in the hopper…yet.  And the first one is only nearing completion.  My plan is not going quite as hoped!  But the ever optimistic me  sure hopes  the rest of the year rolls according to plan!

WHen I add the copyright to the image, I noticed that it seems to wash the colours out - the colours are brighter and the background bluer.