Before today, the last time I had any instruction in oil painting, I was an international student in Germany. That was 40 years ago in East Berlin.
Since then, I’ve been to lots of watercolour , mono-printing and acrylic painting workshops, but never oil painting. I often think of oil painters as fairly traditional realists who use muted colours, whereas I prefer strong colours and an expressionistic approach to my subject matter.
Last weekend at the Annapolis Region Community Arts Council (ARCAC) Annual General Meeting, I ran into Nova Scotia’s celebrated painter Wayne Boucher who breaks all of my stereotypes about oil painters. His work is bold, abstract and etherial. He loves colour and has a background in printmaking, which I think informs his choice of method and materials.
Wayne is a founding member of ARCAC and decided to offer a fundraising workshop in his studio, which just happens to overlook the Bay of Fundy.
I signed up at once because I have been curious for a long time to find out how Wayne creates that luminosity in his wall-sized paintings.
So this morning I packed up my supplies and drove up the Parker Mountain Road, through the forest and the fog to the Bay of Fundy.
My luck would continue to multiply upon hearing that the other workshop participants had all cancelled. This is how I came to be tutored for a day in Wayne Boucher’s studio while he worked on a piece for an upcoming show he’s having at Ingrid Mueller’s Art and Concepts gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
It’s always interesting to find out how other artists operate; what their thought processes are, their approach to their work, their strategies and their inspirations. Wayne starts his workshops with an explanation of this.
He writes a lot before starting a new series. His bound sketchbook is filled with words, graphs, diagrams and sketches about the paintings. He calls it his “Ideas Bank” and it is his recommended process before starting any new painting.
“Let the process of application inform the work.” – Wayne Boucher
The biggest surprise for me was seeing the materials that Wayne uses. He rarely uses a brush, preferring to blend colours with his hands (and latex gloves), with rags and to mix colour directly on the canvas. He uses Q-tips, pencil erasers, squeegees and anything that will create the texture, line or blend that he needs.
Watch Wayne drag a ribbed sock across my practice piece to illustrate what can be done and to help free up my representational mind set!
“Develop a response dialog between you and your painting.” – Wayne Boucher
His approach is very tactile. He uses B & F oil sticks almost exclusively. He starts by covering the surface of the canvas with a blending stick, which is a clear painting medium. This allows the coloured oil sticks to be blended together and to glide on the surface. It also means that the paint can easily be scratched, wiped away, masked and manipulated to reveal the ‘light’ of the canvas.
It was difficult for me to refrain from turning each little painting into something representational. I kept ‘seeing’ landscapes and flowers in my work. In fact it was impossible for me to entirely avoid creating organic shapes. Which is fine, because I love to work with organic shapes and to paint my surroundings, and now I can do so while trying out the tools and approaches that I was introduced to today.
It was totally inspiring to stand in Wayne’s studio, surrounded by his colourful works with the Bay of Fundy out the window.
At lunch we talked about Germany. Wayne gave me a beautiful, glossy gallery catalogue from a show that he and other Atlantic Canadian artists were in. The show was in Germany which I found to be very serendipitous considering that my last instruction in oil painting occurred in Germany in the 70’s.
It seems that life repeats itself like the tides going in and going out.