Category Archives: The Residency Chronicles

Daily thoughts and journal when wearing one’s residency.

Prolific? Perfection? :: What does that mean for artists?

Janice Tanton's studio with works in progress at The Banff Centre.

Studio with works in progress at The Banff Centre.

How Much and How Good?

From September 10th – October 26th, 2012, I was a BAIR (Banff Artist In Residence) at The Banff Centre. During that time, I had access to incredible facilities, perfect studio space and the valuable interaction with other artists from all over the world.

Detail - Sketch - Bag Harbour, Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii.

Detail – Sketch – Bag Harbour, Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii.

I was focussed on starting to work through my research Gwaii Haanas National Park & Haida Heritage Site Artist in Residence. Things don’t always go as smoothly as one would wish. Delayed by a week getting into the residency because of an encounter with a deer earlier in the summer, our vehicles weren’t available. It was frustrating to want to “get at it”.

Just a few days after moving into the studio in Banff, due to extenuating circumstances, the Artists In Gwaii Haanas exhibition was going to be moved to late February. Originally, it was to open November 9th. Needless to say, this also caused a bit of stress and mental panic, as my well-laid plans were to work on Haida Museum exhibition first, and then move along to polish works for the CAMP show at OAG in early January, 2013, also hoping to include some of the work for Haida Gwaii in the CAMP show. Ey yi yi……now, while it looked on the outside as easier with more time, in fact, I had less time and more pieces to create! I also had to cancel plans I was making to attend a Master Class with the incredible Bo Bartlett at the incomparable Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts that would land in the last quarter of the Banff residency. Dang it – well, I’ll catch up with Bo another time. Priorities! Yes, I was disappointed in myself and the circumstances, but there’s only so much that’s physically possible.

“Downed Tree” – Sketch Detail: Bag Harbour, Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii.

Mentally, I think that was the button that put me into high gear, but sideswiped “plans” for works I wanted to create. This has an upside in that with shorter time, I didn’t have as much time to THINK too much and let that get in the way of the painting. After all, what I had really hoped for was some incredible time to experiment and explore as a painter. In the end, that happened anyhow. I did the largest, most expressive piece I’ve ever painted, now powerfully throwing out it’s energy in our living/dining room, waiting the final work on the figure.

Throw in two studio tours in that short period of time, and you have either an experimental recipe for disaster, divorce, high creativity or all the above.

I’ll let you off the hook and say that it was the high creativity that ended up working for me. Thank goodness – Kevin and the kids really were great at supporting the long nights, early mornings, laundry and household chores, although there was a lot of Subway meals going on. The only disaster that happened was the earthquake over the weekend in Haida Gwaii. Yikes.

I was a bit oblivious to what I was doing, I have to admit. Shutting pretty much everyone and everything out, I think I just became a painting, sketching machine. I didn’t realize it until several people that I really respect as artists and critics, on different occasions remarked at how incredibly prolific I was.

I still don’t see it – I admit hoping for more. 

While not everything is fully finished, here is the “count” which doesn’t fully quantify the intrinsic value of the residency for me, but sure does point to some kind of weird prolific production tendencies and desires, given the time and space of only 33 days. I think it’s good to step back and analyze your ability to produce work in some form. Maybe I need to give myself a break! Taking ten days now to totally rest and visit family and friends in Ontario….if I can get in through Hurricane Sandy.



Production Graph for BAIR Residency, Fall, The Banff Centre with Janice Tanton Total Number of Actual Working Days In The Residency: 33

Sketches : 129

Square Feet of 22K Gold Applied : 20

Embellished Giclee Works: 18

Yards of Belgian Linen Used: 17

24×36 Oil Paintings on Canvas : 3

Days Occupied In Studio Tours: 3

40×72 Oil Paintings on Linen : 2

40×60 Oil Paintings on linen: 2

72×96 Oil Paintings on canvas: 1



Time and Space : Priceless!




What does “prolific” mean to you?


Related Posts:

How Do We Measure? – 10 Meaningful Ways and 10 Stupid Ways to Measure our work as artists.

Artist Kate Smith: How do you measure success as an artist?

“Masters of Chicken Scratch” Blog by artist Dwayne Vance – “Measure Your Success”


Thumbnail Sketching – Play Before You Plan!

Getting On The Adelita at Sedgwick Bay - Thumbnail sketch ©2012 Janice Tanton.

Getting On The Adelita at Sedgwick Bay – Thumbnail sketch ©2012 Janice Tanton.

Anything good should have a plan. Sure, there can be some spontaneity in the creativity process. In fact, my own process relies on that. However, when you’re faced with high material costs, time investment and a project deadline for work, like any good business (or government)….you need to have an exploratory phase and prototyping period to work out the kinks, see what is possible and what might need more exploration. From there, you can prioritize after you’ve explored all the options, and head to a second full sketching phase to work out composition, value and flow.

Thumbnail Sketches 3 - Janice Tanton, Gwaii Haanas National ParkAs an artist, I use the thumbnail process to start. When I came back from Gwaii Haanas National Park in June, my head was filled with so many images, experiences and thoughts that I needed some time to sort through them before picking up a paintbrush. I’m still going through that, with over 5000 photographs, a full sketchbook, sound files and video. One of the things I’m starting to do now is to thumbnail sketch out in “storyboard” form, my trip through the park itself which took 5 days. I’m looking at every photograph, recalling the experience and picking a few moments that interest me. One of the greatest tools any artist can use is the thumbnail to do this, and it’s a great tool that I learned way back in my college days as a graphic designer.

Thumbnail Sketches 4 - Janice Tanton, Gwaii Haanas National ParkI’ve also had to pull back on the painting a bit, after aggravating repetitive strain injuries in my painting arm. So….what better way to rest and reflect than to work small, in a sketchbook and kick back with the family over the holiday!

Here are my sketchbook thumbnails for Gwaii Haanas National Park. These reflect the first day and a half, so there are still quite a few yet to come. Working 9 to a page on an 11×14 sketchpad gives me a nice size to comp up the thumbnail, and a large enough section of nine on each page to get the flavour of the work and the place storyboarded. Now, I can look at my thumbnails and get that same feeling of being there that a photograph just can’t give. It also gives you a chance to have a good look from an artist’s point of view, at the value and recall the scene in order to produce a more lifelike rendition of the  experience.

I’d say there is enough here for me to paint for the rest of my lifetime and another.

How do you plan your creativity?

Thumbnail Sketches - 1

Thumbnail Sketches 2 - Janice Tanton, Gwaii Haanas National Park

The Importance of NOT Being In Earnest – The Underpainting

Things are coming along well in my residency at The Banff Centre. With three  large paintings on the go at the moment, I’m well on the way to getting what I’d hoped for. The work you see below represents about four days of painting for me, also allowing drying time. This time period encompasses the original thumbnail sketching and all work to bring it to this point. Friends often remark that I’m very prolific, it doesn’t often seem nearly fast enough for me. There are more paintings in my head than I will ever be able to complete in my lifetime…and that does create a feeling of being in earnest. When I’m creating like this, it’s hard to sleep and maintain a regular family schedule – another source of anxiety!

Underpainting Detail - Stage One.

Underpainting Detail – Stage One. Terre verte allows for a luminous skin tone in the final layers. Setting the stage is crucial for success in this technique.

Getting an idea out of my heart and head is not always easy. Sometimes it comes together, and sometimes it doesn’t. I wanted to try a different approach to my work and underpaintings on this group, which are slated for exhibition from my Gwaii Haanas Artist In Residence experience. The colours on the underpainting are different from how I generally combine the subject and technique. I’ve taken an approach to combine the quick onsite plein-air experience with the more academic figurative approach. So far, it’s coming along, and I anticipate that it will provide the results that I’m looking for.

The underpainting can set the tone (literally) for the work, allow you to plan out in paint what you may have already done in the sketch, alter the scale, define the values and tighten the composition. I’ve never worked this large (40×60 and 40×72) with this particular underpainting approach. I’m very pleased with how it’s coming together.

Underpainting - 40x72 - Janice Tanton. Oil on linen

Stage 1 – Underpainting – 40×72 – Janice Tanton. Oil on linen

Working with terre verte, I’ve blocked in the underpainting for the figure within the landscape. Terre verte, raw umber or burnt umber are my preferred first value underpainting pigments.

Stage 1 - Underpainting - 40x72 - Janice Tanton. Oil on linen

Stage 2 – Underpainting – 40×72 – Janice Tanton. Oil on linen

In the second stage, I’m considering the seascape as quite a different situation than the figure, and have decided to work with a transparent red ochre as the underpainting colour. With regard to the temperature of the painting, I think of this as the “negative” phase in that as I work the painting, areas that are warm will ultimately be cool. That transparent red ochre will provide a beautiful visual foil to the cool greys and blues of the sea water and landscape yet to come. Conversely, the warm tones of the skin, underpainting with the ghostly terre verte always provide a rich and interesting flesh tone for me, when applied in a proven glazing technique.

"Mid Life Crisis" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel.

My onsite reference painting from Gwaii Haanas – “Mid Life Crisis” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel.

Have a look at the four images below. This piece is at the next stage. I am establishing the darks in the landscape. As the trees are very strong compositional elements, I want to have a good idea visually, of how they are going to affect the work. This section of the painting is based upon an plein-air piece that I did onsite in Gwaii Haanas in the area of Murcheson Lagoon.

Second Level Underpainting - Step 1

Second Level Underpainting – Step 1

(If anyone had told me 8 months ago that I’d be painting purple trees, I’d have thought them mad.) However – onsite, that’s exactly the colour that they appeared to be. Quite a magical place.

Second Level Underpainting - Step 2

Second Level Underpainting – Step 2

Here, I’ve started to block in the areas of the mossy ground. I’m looking for “what it’s doing”…how it flows and the motion that I remember seeing. Everything has life to it. Paint that life – paint what it is “doing” and your works will have a vibrance to them.

Second Level Underpainting - Step 3

Second Level Underpainting – Step 3

I want to show the earth as echoing the musculature of my model. It’s important to me in this painting, that we consider our relationship to the landscape so I’m working that feel in in on the middle ground area of the underpainting.

Second Level Underpainting - Step 4

Second Level Underpainting – Step 4

Here, I’ve gone a bit further with the detailing in the motion of the trees. There is a big tug upwards and downwards on many of these branches. When I was there, I recall a synergy of existance between the land, the sea and the earth. I’m looking to emulate that with the composition, and one of the ways to do that is with the web of branches. I’m conscious also that much of this branch work will be covered in dappled light and leaves in a later stage. Knowing what’s “under” it all is part of the planning and pouring of yourself into the work.

Underpaintings are like the bones on which to drape the muscles, organs and flesh of a painting. Considering what underpins the work, both in philosophy and physical structure is an important part of the process and ultimate feeling of the work.

…so much art to create….so little time….

The Blessings :: Today I Exhale

Tom Cranebear in my studio at The Banff Centre

My Blackfoot Dad – Elder Tom Cranebear in my studio

The flutter of moving into my studio for the fall residency at The Banff Centre has mostly settled. I’m still stiff and tired from hauling gear, paints, and a pile of large canvasses up three flights of stairs. I’m thankful to all of my family who carried a load or two. (Kevin mostly! What a trooper.)

I love my studio at home. It’s comfortable – but perhaps it’s been too comfortable for the work I’m about to do, and this is why I’m here – time, space, away from the regular and back to the irregular. Shake it up and also unclutter so I can start fresh.

France Trepanier, Tom Cranebear and Margaret Froh

France Trepanier, Tom Cranebear and Margaret Froh chatting it up and helping me to focus on the tasks ahead.

It has been a weird few days. While moving in, many old friends and colleagues were also on campus to attend a large symposium – one that I’d been involved in helping to set up a few years ago when I served as Program Manager for Aboriginal Leadership at The Banff Centre. Almost two years after retiring, it was wonderful and yet strange to see so many folks that I’d worked with over the years – and here I am, in a totally different mind and body space, back to work as an artist. In many ways, still continuing to do the work that I did here, but from an artist’s perspective – specifically…mine.

What a blessing to see folks that have been participants and co-workers in both arts and administrative capacities, from all corners of the world. It was a flurry of activity, and also quite strange – almost like being transported back into a space that I’d long ago left.


Jake contemplates the work ahead. I’m so happy he came to visit today. My best critic.

Waiting To Exhale

I feel that today is my day to sing “Shoo shoo shoo shoo …be dooo”

Everyone falls
in love sometime
Sometimes it’s wrong
Sometimes it’s right.

For every win
Someone must fail
But there comes a point
When we exhale

Sometimes you’ll laugh
Sometimes you’ll cry
Life never tells us
The when’s or why’s

When you’ve got friends to wish you well
You’ll find a point when
You will exhale

Hearts are often broken
When there are words unspoken
In your soul there’s
Answers to your prayers
If you’re searching for
A place you know
A familiar face
Somewhere to go
You should look inside yourself
You’re halfway there.

The Three Musketeers

My Three Musketeers! – Best cheerleaders a gal could ever ask for.

 I’ve been so blessed to have these friends and family nearby, in my home or my new studio space this week. That is really something special, and I thank you all for wishing me so well in my new work. 

I feel I’m “home” again….whenever you are there with me. I admire you all so much and am so grateful for your special support, love and care of me in the work we all do together – no matter what corner of the world we are in or how many years it is between visits.

May you all find that point in your lives to exhale.

Jacob reviews the route we took in Gwaii Haanas

Jacob reviews the route I took in Gwaii Haanas

Workflow – When The Creative Spirit Strikes, Don’t Be Caught With Your Canvas Down

Blank canvasses in the studio

Preparing Canvas/Linens

My thoughts for the day are very much that of a good Girl Guide or Scout;

“Be Prepared.”

There are cycles to everything. In my studio, the cycle of production of works of art follows a pretty set pattern.

  • Build the stretchers
  • Stretch the linen onto the stretchers
  • Size the linen
  • Gesso, Sand – Repeat x3
  • Edge and Finish

We build and make all of our substrates – from the small plein air panels with linen to large scale works. My wonderful husband/carpenter designed a perfect frame that allows for a quality finished piece that will stand up to the stretch that a good piece of linen will give. I’m very lucky.

Blank Linens Ready to go

Blank linens, stretched and ready to go.

All of those works require four major steps – sizing, and three layers of gesso, all individually sanded and prepared to give a smooth finish that can’t be done in a factory. It takes a long time, but is best done in “batches” of a few at a time in order to maintain an efficient workflow in the studio and the workshop. It’s messy and tedious, repetitive work – so if we are cleaning up for one, I might as well be cleaning up for 10! This means that for a couple of weeks at a time, I’m not painting – just getting my substrates all ready to go so that I can paint. But I am thinking about painting! I’m ITCHING to be painting. It’s actually a great thoughtful and reflective process that allows me to slow down a bit and thinking through some of the concepts for later execution.

I look at those spaces, that blank canvas and imagine what will go on them. Sometimes I have an idea ahead of time and prepare the custom stretcher just for the piece. Sometimes I work up a few certain sizes that are working for me, relative to subject matter and medium. We try to keep those in stock. I also make up a few oddballs so that I can have things ready when the creative spirit hits me. There’s nothing worse than having to wait for a linen to be made. I can take up to a week to prep one of those, if it has to be done on it’s own.

I’m prepping for my current residency at The Banff Centre to create the works for Haida Gwaii, a few more pieces for my CAMP exhibition in January, and now for a following residency in the Leighton Artist’s Colony at The Banff Centre in January 2013.

That’s a lot of painting – the more that I can think ahead for what I’ll need, the more efficient I am in getting everything prepared, the ideas articulated and the works created. Workflow is what it’s all about.


Studio Space At The Banff CEntre

All ready to go – My Studio Space at The Banff Centre

An artist needs to be prepared for just about anything. When the creative spirit strikes, don’t be caught with your canvas down!

Choices : Create / Destroy – They Are Both The Same.

Every moment of your life, you make choices.

Ball Kelp, Haida Gwaii

Ball Kelp, Haida Gwaii

In truth, there are only two choices.

Balance Rock, Haida Gwaii - High Tide

Balance Rock, Haida Gwaii – High Tide


Burnaby Strait, Low Tide - Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii

“Bat Stars, Turban Snails & Countless Lifeforms ” – Burnaby Strait, Low Tide – Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii


Clearcut and Landslide - Moresby Island, Haida Gwaii

More than twenty-five years after an old-growth clearcut on Moresby Island, Haida Gwaii, the mountain is scarred by landslide.

Every choice falls into both categories.

Protest Signs at Old Masset, Haida Gwaii

Protest Signs at Old Masset, Haida Gwaii

Every choice has a consequence.

Corpse of The Golden Spruce

“Corpse of The Golden Spruce” – Yakoun River, Port Clements, Haida Gwaii. The last of it’s species.

In every choice….be….an Artist.

Haida Gwaii - Ferry Crossing from Graham to Moresby Island

Ferry Crossing from Graham to Moresby Island – Haida Gwaii

The Artist’s Window -Creating Onsite vs.The Studio.

"Window - Near Marco Island" - ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 6"x8"

“Window – Near Marco Island” – ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 6″x8″

The Site

There is a big difference in working on site, with all of the sensory input of the moment. Sound, light, colour, smells…they all ADD to the moment of rapture when creating the work, and for me as an artist, there is nothing quite like that pure energy of creating the “feeling” of what you have in that one moment and place.

This painting, a small 6″x8″ work, was done alla prima, plein air on a secluded location near Marco Island in Gwaii Haanas. Nothing that I do to it can ever convey the moment – the smells, the calls of the birds, the feel of the mossy ground upon which I sat or the small black and yellow caterpillar that I remember crawled across the root of the tree where I sat.

For me, this painting will always contain all of those sensory experiences. Even the sense of urgency that I would need in order to get the painting done in a timely manner to join my travel companions – these are all the things contained within this painting.

Sadly, we can’t always be in all those places for the length of time that we desire. This was the case in Gwaii Haanas. There was so much to see, and I could have spent years just in one place on Haida Gwaii creating and painting what I felt, what moved me – the sights, the sounds and the spiritual supernatural that is ever-present.

For completing this work, the studio is the best way to be able to continue to convey the feeling, the spirit and sense of the time spent in that place. As artists, this is our task, and it’s not always an easy one.

"Into The Woods - Bag Harbour" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 11"x14"

“Into The Woods – Bag Harbour” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 11″x14″

The Studio

This piece is a different “window” for me. It is the first piece that I created offsite from Haida Gwaii, and in the controlled space of the studio – a comfy chair, a bathroom, a hot cup of coffee in my hand and all the time in the world.

With decent photographic reference, I’m still not able to get a clear idea of the full colour range afforded by the jungle of Bag Harbour, or the life, the energy or the timeless urgency of the place. Having been there, I’m connected to the time that I had there, but the time it takes to snap a photo vs. sitting on the ground, feeling the energy, observing the colours for an hour or more and creating a work onsite are never the same.

It’s still full of memories for me, and hopefully, I can open this window in my studio and let those feelings all spill into the painting.

I have a question…okay….maybe I have three questions:

As an artist, do you prefer the studio or painting onsite? Why? What are the merits of both?

A Study in Contrasts

Black Bear ©2012 Janice Tanton

Black Bear ©2012 Janice Tanton

Nothing quite so exciting than starting your trip by getting this close to a bear. I had a great day on the road, experiencing every form of weather from snow to sunshine and every terrain from snow-dusted mountain peak to mossy green swamp. In one day, I spotted two black bears, a huge male elk, bighorn sheep, deer, loons, bald eagles.

It’s made me realize once again, how privileged I am to live in this part of the world, and that so much is right in my own backyard.

And after spending the coldest night in the history of mankind, tent camping on the shores of Purden Lake, BC, I’m just enjoying a few moments of Second Cup coffee, a decent bowl of hot oatmeal, access to the internet and a few minutes on the computer….I’m off again, out of this artificial world of malls, concrete and conversation to the stillness of the Yellowhead Highway and a wicked Stephen King audiobook.

-Signing off from Prince George, Second Cup. Life is good, if somewhat filled with contrasts for me today.

Gwaii Haanas Marine – Parks Canada Videos!

Here is where I’m going for the Gwaii Haanas Artist In Residency program.

Gwaii Haanas Marine is Canada’s newest national marine conservation area reserve.

This stunning marine environment is cooperatively managed by Parks Canada and the Haida and is a globally recognized model of shared management.


The CAMP Art Project Site