Category Archives: On The Easel

Works In Progress – Emergence of Spirit

Work In Progress - "Jicarillo Girl" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil, gold and silver leaf on linen. 40"x60"

Work In Progress – “Jicarillo Girl” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil, gold and silver leaf on linen. 40″x60″

Process is everything. Arriving at the destination is always so much less than the journey when it comes to creating – for me, anyhow.

The thrill is in seeing how things emerge, the spirit that comes through…or in some cases, drops back from the original concept in a piece. There is so much learning and this is what excites me about painting. It is different every day.

It’s an exciting time in the studio for me right now. Well past midnight, I surveyed the work that has been done in the studio over the past week in preparation for an upcoming show, “Ordinary Alchemy”. There are no less than fifteen large works in my small studio at various levels of completion. It’s overwhelming but I’m beginning to see some progression in the light of day.

This is a long journey, filled with great undiscovered roadstops and long stretches of boring road…ones that I feel I’ll never get through.

Checking in and posting the progressions is a good “check-in”, so thank you for indulging me while I post my process. It’s a selfish type of self-preservation and pulse-taking to ensure I’m still alive and well!

Work In Progress - "Notalq - Apache Man" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and silver leaf on linen. 24"x30"

Work In Progress – “Notalq – Apache Man” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and silver leaf on linen. 24″x30″

“Ordinary Alchemy” on Friday the 13th!

"Apache" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 24"x30" Work in Progress

Work In Progress – “Apache” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 24″x30″

Well, after shaking it up a bit, I think I’ve successfully been able to get a little looser on my figurative works.

After a week of feeling quite unsuccessful in the studio, these two under paintings came VERY quickly on the evening of Friday, July 13th during the onset of a massive thunderstorm in Canmore. It was one of those crazy maelstrom’s that carry spirits – good and bad in the electricity of the air like I’ve never seen.

There were actual moments this week when I thought trading my painting smock for a ball cap and uniform to sling fries at Mickie-D’s was looking attractive. Thank goodness I stuck with it and let the magic happen.

I am a huge Stephen King fan, and have recently been listening to his audiobook Duma Key – the story of a supernatural occurrence that turns a victim of a horrific car accident into the Rembrandt of the Florida art world almost overnight. King’s stories always inspire with their rich character development, turns of phrase and fantastic otherworlds. Perhaps that bit o’ magic was the final stirring of the pot, but I’m very, very happy with what brewed up in my studio last night during the storm of the century.

Since coming back from Gwaii Haanas, where the supernatural is run of the mill, I’ve been feeling twisted, chewed-up and generally mucked up, avoiding crowds…wishing for the company of trees and salt-water tide once again. I’m fairly sure a healthy dose of the super naturals came home in the Avalanche with me, because I just don’t know where else this work came from last night other than the edges of the “other” world between this one and that of the spirits.

In honour of the bard of the supernatural, I’m readying works for my solo show at BlueRock Gallery and entitling the exhibition, “Ordinary Alchemy”. There will be a mix of many old and new pieces – some from my “private stock”.

"Jicarillo" - ©2012 Janice Tanton. Work in Progress. 35" x 48". Oil on linen underpainting.

“Jicarillo” – ©2012 Janice Tanton. Work in Progress. 35″ x 48″. Oil on linen underpainting.


Triumphant Wins and Epic Losses – This Week In The Studio

Tom Cranebear - Sketch : ©2012 Janice Tanton. Graphite on paper.

“Tom Cranebear – Sketch” : ©2012 Janice Tanton. Graphite on paper.

Not every day in the studio leaves me feeling elated. Some days, things don’t work out the way I wish they would – colours refuse to mix to my satisfaction…I can’t seem to draw worth a heck….the phone keeps ringing and somehow, I just can’t get that “rush” that I love so much. When those days go back to back, it can be downright debilitating and eventually leads to a painter’s “block” for me.

Epic Fail(s)

Earlier, I was thrilled when my friend Rose came to visit from California and we had made a “painting date”.  Her visit was short and we had one day to get out painting together. (Woot woot!) On the heels of all the plein air inspiration and good work done in Haida Gwaii, I was eager to get out and paint locally and with some top notch painterly company and conversation. Well…the gremlins stepped in and nothing seemed to click for me as we sat in front of Rundle Mountain, Sulphur Mountain and Vermillion Lakes in Banff. The light was quite flat, so a challenge to find something interesting. In the end, I came out with a nice little painting of Rundle – recognizable but without that “zing” or that thrill that I usually get when working outdoors. Epic fail, as my kids would say. They actually quite love days when I come home with “Epic Fails”. Once, I even let them paint over top of an “Epic Fail”….I think they actually made it look better. I’d post a photo of it…but I’ve honestly lost it somewhere in the studio. (I think it might have been on purpose.) If I find it…I’ll post it. (ick)

A few more Epic Fails occurred this week. I’ve been working away on this piece but have been unhappy about a few compositional aspects, so dove in with the paintbrush. I think I might have messed it up more than I had in the first place, so that sure has got me down.  Two setbacks like that were enough to move me off working on other pieces that I’ve started and I literally had to go back to the drawing board to get some confidence in my work again. I started with the sketchpad and worked on this preliminary study for a client’s commission piece:

Chantal - Working Sketch ©2012 Janice Tanton. Graphite on paper. 14"x18"

Chantal – Working Sketch ©2012 Janice Tanton. Graphite on paper. 14″x18″

That….at least made me feel a little better, and led me to work on a second sketch the next night – that one is at the top of this post.

Triumphant Win(s)

"Work in Progress - Tom Cranebear" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 14"x18"

“Work in Progress – Tom Cranebear” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 14″x18″

Sometimes you hit it on the nail. This one, I’m very happy with…so far. I received some new brushes from Rosemary & Co. in England, and I do love them. I’m not saying it’s the brushes that helped, but sometimes having a new “toy” to play with is enough to shift you out of the doldrums of failed paintings and keep you moving forward.

I still have a fair amount of work to do on the edges and blending, but I’m pleased with it. Next week could find me in the spiralling, repeating pattern of Triumphant Wins and Epic Losses.

I’d bet on it….and I’d never trade it for the world.


Work In Progress – “The Yellow Raincoat”

I am happy to be spending a bit more time on this piece that I started prior to leaving for my residency in Haida Gwaii. Working with gold leaf and oil is like nothing I’ve ever done previously, and I’m learning and exploring as I work on this. The very interesting thing is that no matter where you are in relationship to the painting, it changes according to the reflection of the light source. That can never be reproduced with a photograph, unfortunately.

I’ll post more as the image progresses.

Work in Progress - The Yellow Raincoat

Work in Progress – “The Yellow Raincoat” – ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and 22k gold leaf on linen. 24″x48″

All That Glitters…IS Gold!

Linen, 24k Gold Leaf and a Soul…

Work In Progress - "The Yellow Raincoat" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and 24k gold on linen. 24"x 48"

Work In Progress - "The Yellow Raincoat" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and 24k gold on linen. 24"x 48"

Work In Progress - "The Yellow Raincoat" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and 24k gold on linen. 24"x 48"

Work In Progress - "The Yellow Raincoat" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and 24k gold on linen. 24"x 48"

There are many things one thinks about in a painting. Often, it’s how to handle your chosen medium and how to best reveal the light in a three dimensional form on a two dimensional surface. Recently, I read The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant in preparation for my residency in Gwaii Haanas National Park. It caused me to think more deeply about my materials and the link between materials and the work being created and I have a painting in mind that I want to create when I’m back in the studio at the end of June.

Living in my head isn’t fun sometimes. A kajillion thoughts are there at any one time, and the only place I find peace is at the easel. The thought of this idea for a painting has been tugging at me for a month, and in the midst of all the crazy CRA stuff, and getting ready for the monumental trip….still, I couldn’t sleep for wanting to try something out: 24 karat gold leaf on a linen oil painting. In doing some research, I found a few contemporary artists who are working with this on panel…only one I could see so far that was working with it on linen. For thousands of years, classical artists have been using gold leaf to create works, religious icons, embellished architecture.

I spoke with folks from Saskatoon (to source out natural shellac), to New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto and finally….in Calgary. Everyone was generous with their ideas, techniques and information on materials. Here in Calgary, I found Jennifer at Mona Lisa Art Supply.  Jen knew quite a bit about gold leafing and when I explained to her what I was thinking as far as the conceptual thought for the paintings, she got excited and was very helpful in showing me a few ideas about how to go about it and the technical qualities of what I was proposing to work with.

Last night, I took the plunge in this painting…and am VERY excited with how this is all going!

The Yellow Raincoat ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and 24k gold on linen. 24"x 48"

Work In Progress - "The Yellow Raincoat" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil and 24k gold on linen. 24"x 48"

Third Session – The Artist’s Daughter

Work In Progress - The Artist's Daughter :: ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 18"x14"

Work In Progress - The Artist's Daughter :: ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 18"x14"

It’s been a few days…okay…weeks….. since I was able to work on this piece. Here’s where I’m at for the third session of this piece. I go hot and cold on it. There are parts right now that I just love, and parts that I really hate. Not having the best camera is also playing a bit of havoc with the reproduction quality here.

I’m looking forward to spending another day with it, working through some of the colour temperature on the shadows and highlights. Here, it looks a wee bit too orange and more saturated all over than the actual work is at this point. All in all, I’m not completely thrilled…but not discouraged either!

For those of you that missed the first two sessions, here’s the time-lapse video on the work in progress:

For information on the process, here are some earlier links on the blog:

The Artist’s Daughter – Day One

The Artist’s Daughter – Day Two

Holding Your Breath – Knowing When To Stop

The Toughest Art Critic


Some Days Are Just For Giving Thanks.

Words fail me at times like this, but my heart does not.

I’ve had such a productive couple of weeks in the studio, that I can’t do anything but be thankful and grateful that the Creator has seen fit to make me an artist.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Exshaw School to work with Grade 3 and 4 students from Exshaw School and Elizabeth Rummel School on the first of three performance art workshops. I cannot wait to see what they teach me. I am blessed, and I am thankful for this time.


Work In Progress - Janice Tanton. 30"x30" Oil on belgian linen.

Work In Progress - Janice Tanton. 30"x30" Oil on belgian linen.


Obsessed I am, with My Model…

The Skin, The Bones, The Colour, The Spirit, The Substance and The Soul of A Red Canoe

Work In Progress - Red Canoe 2012 Janice Tanton. 40"x72"

Work In Progress ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 40"x72"


"The Bones" ©2010 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 20"x16"

"The Bones" ©2010 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 20"x16"

There is something so sensual, human and humanistic about a red canoe. The design cannot be improved upon – it fits it’s designed function perfectly.

In mid-2011, I retired from painting them to honour the passing of William Commanda who encouraged me to paint them with soul and love, and to rest my painting arm and shoulder, as they take a very repetitive motion to complete. They now call me to return and I understand them more, having taken a time to rest and reflect on my obsession.

“How a canoe is traditionally constructed reflects the human form so perfectly.”

There is a boney structure to it – a rigid yet flexible structure that underpins the function and provides form. The skin – a canvas in many cases for the older canoes or actual skins of trees or animals with earlier indigenous canoes, the vessel itself becomes this representative metaphor of a humanistic art form for me. That the soul of it carries us through calm waters and turbid rapids and the colour red marks it as an object that is important and to be noted….that the spirit of all that we are can be contained literally and figuratively in this vessel….has me obsessed, infatuated and in love with it. The wood moves, breathes and has a life to it. It must be cared for in order to continue serving. It, in turn – serves.

The canoes I create honour my ties to both of my communities – indigenous and to my own personal heritage as I grew up canoeing the lakes of Algonquin Park and Lake Kashagawigamog.

This is one thing….that makes me human, and a student and servant of humanity.

Related Posts:

Undercurrents – The Red Canoe Series

The Red Canoes – Sacred and Modern


Holding My Breath…Learning When To Stop Working On A Painting

I have times when I feel like I should abandon a work because I can’t quite figure out what it needs next, or how to approach it….or if it’s even worth it. Sometimes I keep going and end up totally messing things up when really what I should be doing is getting some distance and perspective on the piece.

Over the weekend, I was pretty sick. That forced “rest” meant no visiting the studio to see how “bad” things were in my mind with this work…and no chance to make a mistake out of impatience or indecision.

Not only did my body benefit from the rest, so did my mental attitude towards the work and I felt a bit more confidence in my approach to the painting this morning.

After a day’s good rest in bed, I hobbled upstairs to find “The Artist’s Daughter” not quite as poorly as I thought it at the last pass. In a couple of short hours of painting, I was able to bring it to a point today where I’m pleased and can clearly see the next few steps to get to the vision in my head for this piece.

Here’s where I’m at today and now I’m taking another rest, having learned my lesson.

"The Artist's Daughter" Work in Progress. Day 3. ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 18"x14"

"The Artist's Daughter" Work in Progress. Day 3. ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 18"x14"

To have a look at the progressions to this point, visit these related posts:

The Toughest Critic

The Artist’s Daughter – Day 1 (Video)

The Artist’s Daughter – Day 2 (Video)