most of my teachers are dead

I am a “self-taught” artist. Aside from middle and high school art classes and a few community centre painting-for-beginners courses, I have been mucking my way through on my own. But not alone. I have had my constant dead companions with me. No, I am not insane, just really into the Group of Seven.

Growing up we never were much of an “art family.” There were few books and no art on the walls (save one awesome black and gold velvet picture of a ghost galleon above our sofa – it was the 70’s). When my mom realized I loved books, she started buying me many. How I adored them! I endlessly read and re-read them and copied the illustrations with pencil crayon and marker. Later I would copy my favourite works of art from library art books in pencil and pastels. By the time I made it to high school art class my teacher thought me quite competent and expressive in my work. Practice makes perfect.

Fast forward to early adulthood. During a rainy Saturday trip to the Vancouver Art Gallery, I encountered my first view of paintings by the Group of Seven. It was a joyous punch to the gut. The boldness! The colour! The expansive sweep of sky and hill! The movement of wave and branch! They made me feel very proudly Canadian and that I must go out walking in the woods RIGHT .THIS.VERY.MOMENT! It was love at first sight. I recall my friend was annoyed after an hour of my mooning and threatened to leave without me.

Now fast forward again to approaching middle age. I had not sketched in a long time but I would still bring out my stack of books on Group of Seven, Emily Carr and Tom Thomson for mental stimulation or comfort. Then, about 4 years ago I went out and bought some paints, brushes and a small square canvas and painted a copy of Autumn, Algoma by Lawren Harris.

My copy of Lawren Harris' Autumn, Algoma
My copy of Lawren Harris’ Autumn, Algoma

That started something. Since that time I have made many copies of their work and have since moved on to ones that are all my own. These iconic Canadians are truly my “teachers” and I refer back to them for every painting question I have. I now see the world around me through the lens of how they represented the Canadian hinterlands. When I look at the tame green hills of Switzerland, I still see the wilds of Canada. I hope that as I learn more and become a bit more refined this viewpoint will always be present in my work. Of course, it would be nice if all my paintings did not come off as poor copies of them – but I am confident a voice and style of my own will emerge with time and effort.

Now what about you? I would love to hear how you have taught yourself? Who or what have your “teachers” have been?

My copy of Tom Thomsons' The Jack Pine
My copy of Tom Thomsons’ The Jack Pine



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