The Chronicle of Wasted Time

Art, farming....and more!


Going Ovine

I’m not exactly sure what it is about sheep that is so appealing, but I’m happy to know that I’m not the only artist to find myself visually hooked on them. I have recently come across a collection of drawings by British sculptor Henry Moore depicting the sheep he saw outside the window of his studio. He too was fascinated by their beauty, their solid shape, and their behavior. Several of the drawings show the interactions of lambs and ewes, which bring to mind some of Moore’s maternally themed sculptures.

Photo © Alyson Champ

While we are on the subject of sheep and maternity, and with lambing nearly upon us, I can’t help but think back to last year’s experience with lambing. It was the first time we had bred our ewes, and as much as it was exciting, it was also nerve-racking and exhausting. Lambs, much like human babies, prefer to arrive in the middle of the night or the wee small hours of the morning. I spent a number of long nights out in the barn, waiting and watching and acting as midwife. The birth of our first lamb, however, I did not witness as she came as a total surprise. She was a few days early, and the ewe, a first time mother, didn’t really show much sign of going into labour. I got quite a shock when I went out to the barn early one morning to feed the sheep and heard a little voice calling out, “Baaa”. I looked around but could see nothing in the pen, just my sheep standing at the feeder waiting to be fed. I went into the pen with an armful of hay and again, “Baaaa”. There at my feet, in the bottom of the hay rack, was a beautiful little white lamb, still wet, and shivering with cold. Her mother had given birth to her and then, not knowing what to do, abandoned her. The baby had crawled into the hay to keep warm. Ewe and lamb had to be forcibly reunited and the ewe needed to be restrained in order to allow the lamb to nurse. It took the better part of a day before mother and child actually bonded, but they did, and the ewe proved to be an excellent mother, if initially a reluctant one.

Photo © Alyson Champ

What’s on the Easel
My collage exhibition is drawing to a close. The last day is April 4th. I’m delighted that my sheep collages have proved to be popular and I have sold several of them. I guess people just like sheep!

Celeste – 9×12, painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Julius the Magnificent- 12×12 painted paper collage on panel, ©2010 Alyson Champ
Fabulous Fionna- 9×12 painted paper collage on panel, ©2010 Alyson Champ

The Day After the Afternoon Before

My collage exhibition opened at Salle Alfred-Langevin yesterday. In spite of the rather wet and dreary weather, the turn out was good, the crowd was very enthusiastic, and sales were brisk (thank you!). One woman, a fellow artist, liked the collages so much that she went home to get her husband, came back with him and did the tour again!

So, I guess that my fear that people would look at the collages and say, “Well, these are ok, but where are all the horse paintings?” was completely unfounded. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised by just how open minded people were. Yes, I was asked if I had completely given up oil painting- I haven’t, I’m just on oil painting hiatus- but by and large the audience was accepting and encouraging. Several pieces sold, including one of the large Iris collages. All in all, it was a very good day.

These are some of my collages on the walls at Salle Alfred-Langvin. I must mention the real stars of the photo which are the spectacular stained glass windows designed by Detlef Gotzens, a stained glass artist whose atelier is across the river from mine.
Here is a slightly different view. You can see what a large and beautiful space the hall is. Painter Suzanne Olivier, who is a member of the hall’s management committee, did a terrific job of hanging the show. It’s a good thing that that particular task wasn’t left up to me! Merci Suzanne!
And last but by no means least, here is a photo of Luc and me. Luc De Tremmerie is the coordinator of cultural events at Salle Alfred-Langevin, which means that he’s the one who really does all the work. Luc, je ne sais pas comment te remercier…

Bearded Beauties

I like Irises and grow several varieties in my flower beds. They are a graceful, stately flower with elegant and sculptural blooms which make them interesting subjects for my collages. Last summer I made a point of photographing all of my irises when they were at the height of their beauty and these images have kept me going (art-wise) over the winter. So far, I have produced seven iris collages of varying sizes, all of which will be on display at my solo exhibition.

What’s on the Easel
This second purple iris collage is close in colour range to my first Purple Iris collage, but the scale is just a little smaller. It’s a 20X16, instead of a 20X24.

Purple Iris II, 20X16 painted paper collage on canvas ©2010 Alyson Champ

The next two collages are actually mirror images of the same photo, but were conceived with complementary colour palettes. Small Mauve Iris relies on the purples, blues and blue-greens.

Small Mauve Iris 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

High Key Iris is based on yellows, oranges, and yellow-greens. It’s interesting how a shift in colour can totally alter the appearance of what is essentially the same image, isn’t it?

High Key Iris 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

My collage exhibition, Paper, Paint, Scissors, and Glue, is up on the walls at Salle Alfred-Langevin, 10 rue King, Huntingdon, and the labels are going on as I type. The door opens at 1:00 pm on Sunday, March 14th, and the vernissage starts at 2:00 pm. Bring the family!

Cut and Dried

My solo exhibition at Salle Alfred-Langevin opens in ten, yes count ’em, ten days. All the collages are finished, varnished and framed. Somehow I am ahead of schedule! Can I possibly be this organized, or have I forgotten something? I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. While I’m racking my brain, trying to remember whatever it is that I’ve forgotten, here is a preview of a few small pieces which will be included in the show.

Sometimes I like to work small; it forces me to simplify my ideas. I can’t get too caught up in the details on a panel that is four inches wide and six inches long- the small scale just forbids it. Bold colour and strong design are what works best in the small collages. These two goldfish collages are companion pieces.

Goldfish #1, 4X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Goldfish #2, 4×6 painted paper collage on panel © 2010 Alyson Champ

My tree frog obsession shows no signs of abating:

Tree Frog #3, 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

And last, but not least, something a little different:

White Park Steer, 5X7 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Sheep Go to Heaven

Pinceau, aka The Goat

I never fully understood the connection between goats and the devil until I owned a goat, and then it all became clear. It’s not their horns or their weird eyes that make them seem evil. It’s their personalities.
Sheep will test your fences, get into your garden, run when you don’t want them to, or refuse to move when you most need them to, but what sheep seem to lack, and what goats possess in abundance, isn’t so much intelligence as it is a creative imagination: the capacity to posit the big “what if “, as in

“What if I turn the key in the tractor ignition?”

“Suppose I eat this bucket handle?”

“I wonder what would happen if I picked up this handsaw and
ran away with it?”

Sheep just don’t think this way.

The Goat never ceased trying to find new ways to amuse himself- amuse himself and torment us. Ever the nimble escape artist, he broke, jumped, or climbed his way out of every stall, pen, or paddock he was put in. From his point of view, a fence wasn’t so much an enclosure as it was a suggestion: “You probably should stay in here and eat this grass…but then again, you might prefer to be out there eating those currant bushes. Really, it’s entirely up to you.”

He ate through electrical wiring in the barn, pulled insulation out of the walls, broke windows, collapsed feeders, and destroyed the slop sink by standing in it. With lips as quick as the Artful Dodger’s fingers, The Goat could go through your pockets and grab your wallet, a pen, a utility knife, a syringe full of penicillin, a pair of hoof shears, or just about anything else you’d care to mention, and be off with it in a flash . You wouldn’t even know something was missing until you found yourself patting your pockets, saying, “Now where the heck did I put that….”
Too many times my tool belt clad husband would go out to the barn to repair some goat-related damage and come back with half his screw drivers missing. Or his tape-measure. Or his pliers.
And that myth about goats eating anything and everything? Well, that’s not a myth. They really will eat anything. I didn’t believe it either until I witnessed The Goat cheerfully scarfing down a plastic bag with a side order of latex glove.

In the end it wasn’t his appetite for destruction that ended The Goat’s tenure here as much as it was simply his appetite. One day The Goat got out into the yard and ate my husband’s plantation of cherry trees. And that was that.

Now, The Goat lives at my friend Anna-Maria’s place. No, it wasn’t an act of revenge for those horrible (but ultimately tasty) Muscovy ducks that she gave me. As crazy as it sounds, she really wanted The Goat. Honest!

Julius Caesar, Border Leicester Ram

What’s on the Easel

I have almost finished all the collages for my upcoming exhibition, and yes, many of these new collages feature my sweet, beautiful sheep. I promise to have all the photography done for the next post so that those of you who can’t get to the show itself will at least be able to see a virtual version of it. Until then I’m happy to share with you some of the reference photos which serve as the inspiration for my work. And no, there won’t be any goat collages!

Fabulous Fionna, Border Leicester ewe

Culture – It’s Not Just a City Thing

We are fortunate out here in the Chateauguay Valley to have a rich cultural life, and no, I don’t mean that we get HBO on cable. This is a rural community that takes culture seriously, and not just imported “city” culture, but local culture. Besides our sizable population of cows, we also have a large number of professional, high calibre artists of virtually every type: writers, theatre people, all manner of musicians, and visual artists. And the really nice part is that, as a local artist, you can put on a show, or a concert, or an exhibition, and people will actually come out to see or hear your work and support you. I went to a vernissage last weekend for a local painter and the exhibition space was absolutely packed. I’ve seen Montreal galleries with smaller crowds at the opening of a show. So, all you city people, don’t be fooled by our laid-back rural ways. Interesting, stimulating things do go on beyond your crowded streets and highways. There is definitely some culture out here in the heart of agriculture.

Photo courtesy of MRC du Haut-St-Laurent

One of our little jewels is the exhibition space in the old “Chateau” hotel in the town of Huntingdon. Salle Alfred Langevin (above) is an elegant, open and beautifully lit gallery space which is administered by our MRC -a sort of association of rural municipalities. Every year the cultural committee accepts proposals from artists looking to mount exhibitions. This year I am getting the exhibition space from March 14- April 4 and I will be showing my collages. The MRC prints your posters, invitations (and mails them), supplies the food and drink for the vernissage, and sends out all the press releases to the media. OK, so it’s not Berlin or New York, but the space is free and there is no commission on sales. From an artist’s point of view, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Paint, Paper, Scissors and Glue

“To have all your work and to have them along the wall, it’s like walking in with no clothes on. It’s terrible.”-Andrew Wyeth

I’m getting pretty excited about my upcoming collage exhibition. Excited and a little nervous. Although I am looking forward to showing my collages for the first time, I’m also concerned about the public response. Most people who know my artwork know me as an oil painter, primarily as a painter of horses. I have been making collages regularly for the past year or so, and generally the response from the people who have seen these new works has been positive. But a solo exhibition of only collages? Will people love it? Hate it? Or simply be indifferent to it? I just don’t know. I do know this though, I have greatly enjoyed making the collages. I can only hope that some of my pleasure in making them is transferred to the viewer.
Mauve Iris -painted paper collage mounted on canvas, 24X20 ©Alyson Champ

The above image is the last of my large scale floral collages. Yes, I am still very much hooked on the phthalocyanine blue and quinacridone blue/violet. Below is a recently completed collage of the same dimensions and similar palette, but with a slightly different subject. I have been trying to come up with a suitable name for it. For now it is called Tranquil.

Tranquil– painted paper collage mounted on canvas, 24×20 ©Alyson Champ

The invitations to the vernissage will be in the mail soon and I have just seen the lay out for the poster, which looks very nice. I will post more details about the exhibition closer to its March 14th opening date.

Picture Perfect?

Photography is a wonderful and useful creative vehicle. As an art form, it can be emotionally expressive, intellectually provocative, brutal in its realism or as freely abstract as any painting. In its illustrative use in journalism, a good photograph brings a deeper understanding to the story being told. On a personal level, cameras have become a necessity. It’s hard to imagine a time when all of the important (and many of the mundane) events of our lives were not documented by photography.
I have something of a love-hate relationship with my camera. As an oil painter trained to work exclusively from life, I have a hard time with the use of photos as reference material. No, I don’t think it’s cheating to work from a photo- far from it. It is often far more difficult to work from a photo than it is to work directly from life. The reason for this mainly has to do with the “flattened” perspective of photos, distortion from the lens, and from a painters point of view, the lack of a full range of values (light and shadow) and colours.
I didn’t use reference photos until I began painting horses for a living, and then did so out of necessity. You can set up a still life and paint it at your leisure until it collects dust or rots. You can mark the pose of a model with chalk or masking tape so that the pose can be resumed at the next sitting. As for painting a landscape, true the clouds and light do move, but at least the movement of the light is predictable and if the clouds aren’t totally accurate, no one will be the wiser. Horses, indeed all animals, are another matter. I painted one horse portrait from life, early on in my career. Once was enough.
Above is the reference photo for a dog portrait I recently finished. The car, road, disembodied pants, misplaced shadow and slightly washed out colour all have to be dealt with to make a successful painting. Also, going from photo to painting, I have to take extra care to control my edges. By “edges” what I mean is the area of a painting where an object meets another object or where it meets the background. Too much sharp focus and crisp edges will make the dog look superimposed. Not enough crispness and the focal point of the painting won’t look distinct enough. It’s something of a balance.

Portrait of Sam 8×10 oil on panel ©Alyson Champ

I am fortunate to have some friends who are hugely talented photographers. If you want to see some really excellent photos, I encourage you to check out the work of: Phil Norton, Tracy Martin, and Brenda Castonguay .

Tangled Up in Blue

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way -things I had no words for. Georgia O’Keeffe

Photo ©Alyson Champ

I know that music is often spoken of as the language of the emotions, but what of colour? Colour psychology, which is a relatively new discipline with roots in ancient eastern medicine, tells us that colour has a profound effect on mood: the power to calm or to stimulate. Colours in the red/orange family are thought to be active and exciting colours. The blues and greens of the spectrum are soothing and passive. Factual neurological evidence aside, here in the West, we do certainly have strong, long-held associations of colours with particular concepts. For example, the colour red is associated with courage and sacrifice, but also love, passion, and appetite. Red is a favourite colour for restaurant interiors for that very reason. A bright sunny yellow is frequently called the colour of the intellect; green the colour of youth, nature, and life; purple the colour of nobility and wisdom; black the colour of mourning; white symbolizes the pristine and virginal; and when we hear someone singing the blues, we know exactly what that means, don’t we?

I’m writing about the impact and meaning of colour because I find myself at something of a turning point in my artwork. Having been an oil painter for more than twenty years, I am increasingly drawn to collage making as my primary means of artistic expression. Obviously this has necessitated some changes in my materials, most notably my switch from oil to acrylic paint.

As a painter, I never learned to love acrylics because they seemed to lack the richness and luminosity of oils. Acrylic colours always looked “plastic” and gaudy to my eye, like a cheap imitation of the real thing. But collage making has caused me to revise that opinion. Oil paint just doesn’t work for the type of collages that I want to make. I experimented with watercolour but didn’t like that either. Finally, I started fooling around with some tubes of acrylics, and guess what? It was a perfect fit.

Apart from the convenience of water solubility and the fact that you can apply acrylic directly to paper without any primer, I find that the quality of saturated, intense colour, which was the original reason that I hated acrylic paint as a painter, is the virtue I have most come to love in it as a collage artist. And the variety of colours available! It boggles the mind. I have become hooked on phthalocyanine blue and quinacridone violets. What the heck are they? Have a look below.

Purple Iris – 20×24 painted paper collage mounted on canvas
©Alyson Champ

This is the latest in my Iris collage series. For this one I moved away from strong colour contrasts of the previous flower collages, and have opted for a more analogous blue/violet palette, with the exception of the small punctuations of yellow and orange. I wanted the flower to have the appearance of emerging from its background and to make the picture so lush and rich in colour that viewer could just sink into it. Here’s a detail:

Purple Iris detail ©Alyson Champ

So, what’s the verdict? Soothing, calming, peaceful? I think so. I hope you are getting a little bit of what I felt as I watched the blue pigment soak into the white paper which was just, “…oh my….”.

Vive le vent d’hiver!

Alright I confess. I love winter. I suppose this puts me firmly in the minority among my fellow countrymen and women, but there you have it. You might think that in a country where we have winter for at least four and a half months of the year people would get used to the weather and learn to enjoy it. Sadly this is not the case. To confess to loving winter is a bit like saying you love paying taxes: people generally look at you like you’re out of your mind. These are things to be endured, not enjoyed and, whenever possible, to be avoided completely. And yet, strangely enough, when you ask Canadians what makes them Canadian as opposed to American (or something else) the answer is almost always: a) our insanely cold, snowy weather, b) a love of hockey, and c) our social programs. There you have it folks: Winter, a winter sport played on ice, and taxes. Welcome to Canada!

I think it’s a Norwegian saying that goes: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing. I’m in full agreement. If you’re properly dressed, you don’t feel the cold. My sheep don’t seem to mind the cold one bit and will go out in almost any weather. Nature has kindly equipped them with water resistant wool coats to keep them warm and dry. I have been busy knitting their wool into useful woolen hats, socks and mittens for us to use. Bye-bye cold ears, toes, and fingers!
What’s on the Easel

During the holidays I find it almost impossible to get any serious artwork done. Most of my creative energy goes into baking. For the past couple of weeks my mornings, evenings and afternoons have been measured out not in coffee spoons, but in cookie and bread dough. If I’m not producing any artistic masterpieces, at least we are well fed.

Here is a winter landscape from last year. This one is entitled “Bush Road”, 24X20 oil on canvas.

© 2008 Alyson Champ

Happy New Year!