Saturday, 21 December 2013

Slow down, Stand back

I'll be continuing to work on this the next few days hopefully. It's time to stop, slow down, and sit in a chair, far back from the easel. Getting back, and really thinking over my decisions is critical. My problem is seeing beauty everywhere. I put these three colours together, beautiful! Those three colours, beautiful! So, thinking about WHAT I want to say, and HOW I want to say it, is most important to my decisions about colour choices. I think I may have to stop using this yellow/gold colour for my underpainting  as I find it mesmerizing, and don't want it to get covered up. But, it wouldn't serve my sense of curiousity to leave it either. The moment we become precious about any one area, we've just lost it. Also, as artists, it's our responsibility to search for and find processes that we love to use. I do love this approach, every step of the way. I'm talking about10 starting with a solid drawing, and 2) the gradual way colour is added or subtracted or subdued. Mesmerized.
 Wish me luck, I will keep posting.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Magic Moments

         Last night, I went cross country skiiing with some friends. Living in Ottawa, especially this time of year, and especially this year, we've had some challenges (lots and lots and lots of snow, and cold!) in weather. Skiing is my anti-dote to winter weather. It compells you to stop cursing, and pay attention to how beautiful the snow is, whilst getting fresh air and exercise.
         It just allows more life in, generally. I had two experiences last night that I want to share with you. The first one, is being outside at night, but in enough light that you can see your way around easily. It would have been better a couple of nights ago, under the auspices of the full moon. Were you out there? Ah,..!! It was amazing. The light was awesome, and the reflection on the snow, it was so beautiful and full of moonlight. All this being outside at night got me thinking of one of my favorite paintings, In the Pine Shadows, Moonlight by JEH MacDonald. I posted about this painting on Nov. 8th, as part of my review of the excellent show on now at the National Gallery of Canada, Artists, Architects and Artisans (on til Feb. 2/2014). I digress.
       As I was skiing last night in the woods, I felt like I was walking into that painting. It was with me a good part of the way. The light was so similar, and the surroundings created exactly the same atmosphere. I'm going to take this opportunity to explain my favorite part of the painting. Have you ever stood in front of a painting for some time, only to find some unobvious aspect, that is really important? If you check out this painting, you are standing in front of it for some time, marvelling at the unusual quality of light the artist has captured, when you notice, there is a couple, walking arm in arm, in the shadows. This adds such a deeper aspect to the painting. It's not just about the light. It adds a sense of mystery, and romance. I love it! There is nothing more compelling than that!
       One other thing I'd like to mention here, was that as we were skiing over a small bridge, with a beaver dam to the left, on the far side of the bridge, my skiiing companion told me to stop, and look right. We stood in silence, as a fairly large beaver waddled down the side of the bank, and splashed his way into the water and home. Incredible! Beavers don't like to be seen. Robin suggested he probably didn't see us, as people skiing at night isn't that common. The poor beavers probably think they have the place to themselves at night. We knew it was an active Beaver dam, because we saw some recently chewed up branches, etc., only a week before, in the same spot. Anyways, it's just a little miracle. I love seeing animals in their natural habitat, just doing there own thing, and not being affected by humans. Light footprints make for great viewing of nature.
        I'm trying to remember that miracles are everywhere, if you just pay attention.

It's so similar to the painting! Check it out, like distant cousins on cbc 2.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Next step: Underpainting done

As I had suspected, the charcoal drawing did not budge. How interesting! On pastel paper, fixed, the charcoal would move easily. But not on canvas! The underpainting is pretty close to what I was thinking. I like the subtle colour change. Having a coloured surface to paint on is something I am very used to from my years of pastel work. Now the painting is outside, and yes, it's tropical here today! -9 c, or +14 f. So it's out in the garage, and I hope it'll be dry enough to work on by Friday. I have painted wet on wet, and like the effect. But I'll try that after I get a bit more oil painting experience under my belt. Also, that technique is great for landscape, or where there's not a lot of detail. If the underpainting is sticky, move not slippy, that's OK to work with. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Moving forward

Portrait of Emily

Last week, at a studio session with this model, I finished my piece early, and took another canvas, this one 16 " X 20". I had about 20 minutes or so, and this charcoal drawing is what I got down in that time. I am able to draw this efficiently, because of years of practice. It could have been made better, if I had  been able to go to more life drawing lately. I am greatly affected in my execution, by whether I have been able to life draw, and keep things nice and loose. 
The interesting thing about this portrait, is that I brought it home, and fixed it with workable fixative. I hardly ever use fixative in my pastel work, but have used this method, where you fix your drawing, then underpaint. So I thought I'd try it on canvas, and see where it takes me. When I use this technique in pastel, there is always the possibility of pastel coming off on your fingers if you touch it. When I did the finger test on this piece, I was surprised to find that absolutely none of the charcoal came off. None. We're talking vine charcoal here people. So this is new learning for me. Trial and error. 
Later this week, I'll have another chance with this model in this pose, so I will take her back underpainted, and expect the drawing to remain completely intact. This gives the painter so much to work with. I will have the drawing, and charcoal application as at least one value, the underpainting will be assigned another value. Right now, my inclination is to underpaint a warm medium value, and then work darker and lighter than the underpainting. I don't like skin tones that exude really warm tones, and will be as sensitive or more sensitive to temperature, than I am to value. When I get to paint this. 
However, for now,... to all of you out there reading this, if you live somewhere warm, be thankful. We've been in a cold snap here in the Ottawa Valley, Canada. I don't paint in my house, ( I am affected by the oil paints fumes) yet I want the underpainting to be dry before Friday, when I will be with this model. Luckily tomorrow, the temperature outside here is suppose to go up to -9 degress celcius. That's about 4 degrees fehrenheit, for my readers to the south. For the last week, the temperature has been between -4 degrees fahreinheit, to -20, 25. Every day.     
So wish me luck. If the weather co=operates, I'll be able to underpaint, and have it dry, drawing intact. If I don't put up another post of this piece as a painting, you know that some step along the way screwed up. Always learning though. 
For those of you living in the Toronto area, I'll be teaching life drawing the week of Feb. 4-8th. Contact me for more information at 
and Stay warm!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Christmas 2013 Newsletter

FERRARO ART WORKSHOPS                   Christmas 2013 NEWSLETTER                                             December 13nth, 2013

Part of the regular crew at my Christmas pot luck!

Seasons Greetings everyone! Woaw! My first season as an empty nester went by so quickly! Mind you, I was gone a fair bit. My Group of 7 workshop in Toronto in September couldn’t have gone better-except that I forgot  the pot to make Roman Meal (Lawren Harris’s favorite breakfast when painting in the bush). We had exceptional weather in France in October, and I managed to get 22 paintings done! That’s a record for me. November had me in Toronto again, but mostly I have been here, trying to get some work done. If you are interested in my journey back into my own artwork, after years of teaching, please become my blog follower.  Go to   I am posting on there often now, and hope to keep a record of some kind of metamorphosis. What I am changing into is not clear, but change is coming, that’s for sure.
If anyone is interested in non-instructed life drawing sessions, I am considering putting this on, an all day affair, once a month. Please contact me if you are interested,
Here are my workshop offerings for the next little while. Peruse, and let me know if I can be of service to you.
Intro to Pastel 2      Saturday Jan. 4 and Sunday Jan. 5th   2014    10-4 pm.            FULL W. WAITLIST, with a repeat Jan. 25/26 in studio, open
                   This workshop is a continuation of Intro to Pastel. I give a little more application theory, some really interesting  project ideas, we touch on underpainting, and you have a little more time for independent work. The cost of this workshop is $169.50 (includes taxes)   
Mountain and beach art retreat in Costa Rica    January 10-19nth 2014           You can still sign up!
Martine and I are at it again! Can’t get enough of Costa Rica, and getting out of Canada in the winter.
Learn how to paint in pastel while travelling around this exciting country. We’ll send 4 days in the Mountains, very near Chirripo National Park, and 4 days on the beach, on the OSA peninsula. For more information just click on this link:
Introduction to Life Drawing – Intensive  Monday Feb. 24-Friday Feb. 28th    9 am- 3pm. daily     in studio, Ottawa
Margarets’ life drawing workshops are intimate, small groups where every individual will receive group instruction and much one on one guidance as well.
This workshop begins with a thorough understanding of gesture, and the benefit of understanding it’s role in life drawing.  Then we study the basic shapes of the figure, understanding proportions, angles, and simplification.  Through many exercises and practise, you will learn how to break down something as seemingly complex as the human figure, into something simple, and manageable. Learn to bring consistent quality to every drawing you make. By the end of this workshop, you will have acquired the skill to manage the psychological and judgement aspect of making art, and a very clear method for drawing the figure in any position.
The cost of this workshop is $350.00+hst+model fee.
Introduction to Pastel    Saturday March 1, Sunday March 2
We begin this workshop by studying application techniques and playing with colour. In studying the work of other pastellists we learn how each method of application can be used effectively and creatively. We do a little colour theory, studying value, and temperature, and how this relates to landscape, still life, and other subjects/modes of expression. Individual projects are also possible. The students will acquire a basic understanding of pastel application techniques, and an appreciation for the wonderful spontaneous and forgiving medium of pastel. Cost of this class is $150.00 + hst
JEH MacDonald, Unsung Hero    Monday April 7-Friday April 11         Thoreau MacDonald House, 121 Centre St., Thornhill, (TORONTO area)
         I never understood why more hasn’t been made out of the life and times of JEH MacDonald, one of the foremost painters of the group of seven. This workshop will be a culmination of my passionate admiration for the work and life of Jim MacDonald. Thoreau Macdonald House in Thornhill will again be our central meeting place, with our painting time there. Meet JEH up close and personal, find out what kind of a man he was, how he treated his friends and family, appreciate his other artistic pursuits such as poetry, his contribution to the Arts and letters club, and much more. Most importantly let’s take a look at JEH the leader, and his influences on a group of artists who would make history along side him. This workshop includes a visit to the AGO, permanent collection and a special visit to the Prints and Drawings room, lunch and lecture on JEH at the Arts and Letters club. 
We’ll look closely at why his sense of composition is completely dynamic. In my own lectures about composing, I often reflect on starting with quality ideas, concepts for paintings. We’ll be looking at that, in JEH , and allowing this to be a pivotal strategic moment in your own work.
We’ll also be visiting the AGO’s permanent collection of group of 7, ( in particular, MacDonalds’). We’ll be making another special visit to the prints and drawings library to view original drawings not on display. The arts and letters club has also agreed to host us again, and we’ll be there to talk about MacDonalds great contribution to this establishment, with more time to peruse the library, studio, and rest of the club.  Price to be announced, as I have other exciting events I am trying to line up. I wanted  everyone to know this is in the plans, dates set. Please let me know if you would like to reserve a spot, or get the announcement when it’s all set.
RSVP to Margaret,
If you would like to sign up for any of these workshops, or get further information, please contact me, I’d be happy to help. Thanks, and Merry Christmas everyone! Margaret

My field, Autumn
Ferraro Art Workshops       613 839-5241

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Lost and Found -- Development, in building the mystery

This is a large drawing I am working on, of my Mom (30" X 44"). To hear about the title, look back on another post -- (see post Thurs. Dec. 5th).  I did a portrait study first, to challenge myself to do as good a job as possible, where the most detail is. It helps me become clear about exactly what I'm saying, and what will be left out. I've been really attracted to doing portraits lately, and have been doing lots of them. Yesterday, I did the face, and some figure detail, although the idea here is to not have a lot of detail on the figure itself. My work yesterday lead me to know that todays' work was about -- bringing some presence to the space around the figure. I like the soft look, but wasn't getting the oomph I wanted at the bottom of the piece. It needs to be dark, as I wanted rich value gradation here, getting lighter as it goes upwards. I think it adds mystery. Isn't that what we are supposed to be doing as artists?  Suggesting mystery, as it should be. 
I am pleased with the effect. What I did was add charcoal, to get the dark, dark enough. Soft, yet dark and rich. Just what I want. It's not finished yet, but I am happy with the light, and the mystery. 

Final Tweaking-End stages of a painting.

     There's a saying out there that in art, a painting has no beginning and no ending, it just stops in interesting places.
     So often, I get asked How do you know you are finished a painting. Recently I have been giving a hand out in my non beginner-ish workshops, that leads one to know when youa re nearing completion, and what to do about it.
     Over the last few years, I have SO many pieces that were done in class, as demos, or pieces that I just couldn't finish while teaching. These are all pastel.  I have all those pieces, and as part of my daily work, I have chosen one piece each day. It sits on an extra easel, where I can see it, while I work on whatever I am working on. I casually note to myself what needs to be done to it. To enhance, without overdoing it. Taking the time to think about this, while busy with other things, allows me to think and not act. Which can be good for making critical decisions. Patience!
     This was a piece I featured earlier, (see post- Monday Nov. 4rth). The paper was a strong turquoise,and I intuitively chose 6 pastels for a limited pallette, then assigned value areas they could go. What ended up happening was bright, and very pure. So today when I took it out, I wanted to add some neutrals, not to tone down, but to make a more sophisticated arrangement of colours. It's just the mood I was in today.I wanted reds to play more in the piece. Neutral reds.
     There are other things I don't like about this piece, but I'll save that information, and pay it forward to new work, new compositions. These cups are handmade porcelain, 8 sided, and a fun challenge to draw them and observe how the value changed with the directional light.
I have so many pastels pieces! Some done en plein air, others done in studio. I can't afford to frame them. Any ideas what I can do with them? I am listening.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

another prepatory drawing on its way--LOST and FOUND

Often, I have the title of a painting before I start. That's because there's usually a story attached, or a concept I want to express in a visual manner. Yesterday I posted about DEFIANT, the story of my grandmother. Going hand in hand is this next piece, called Lost and Found. This is the story of my Mothers' life. It was very obvious, both titles. I work them together, because my Mom and grandmother although very different personalities, were very close, and I want to express their stories together. It makes very logical sense to me.

                                        Portrait study in preparation for the painting--Lost and Found

My mom was brought up in the depression, under less than ideal circumstances. This was the era of women suffering in silence. That's all I'll say. This portrait was done from a photo, that I will guess was taken around 1950. It's bl. & wh., and the edges are all soft. I love old photos. She's standing on a ladder outside her parents home in cabbagetown. One of those tall old rowhouses. In that time, this wasn't the neighbourhood to be from. Now, cabbagetown (downtown Toronto) is a very classy affair. In fact this rowhouse is all fixed up and it's probably worth a fortune. (My daughters and I visited the street on a recent visit.) My Mom would never talk to me about her sufferings, but the damage was always obvious to me. I hope to express a little about her sufferings in this piece, but also her sweetness, and innocence. It's never simple, when describing someones personality, their complex story of a life lived.
Ironically, My Mom has Altzheimers now, her personal freedoms have been taken away from her, replaced with safety. I can honestly say, she is peaceful and content, and lives in the moment in a way that was impossible while I was growing up. Poignant.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Stepping Up

In September, my youngest daughter went off to University. I am making a difficult transition into creating artwork, after what feels like so long away. I made a decision a long time ago, that I couldn't do it all. Be a parent, an artist who exhibits and sells artwork, an effective teacher, as well as responsible for running a house, and a business. My decision was partly based on the unique talents of my daughter Solange, a born artist in her own rights, needing and deserving my support. Building a healthy foundation, for another artist. So parenting, and teaching took priority,...until now.
         It's time for Margaret to be an artist again. Yes, I have been painting. A bit. Demonstrating in my classes. Drawing, as much as I can.
        Original, personal statements based on my own ideas, is the goal. Ideas that lift life up out of the ordinary. I kind of think I might know how to sort of go about making this happen,...maybe. It's all about being motivated.
         I found a photo of my grandmother a while ago, and couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before. Maybe I missed it, but how could I? She's got most of her weight on one side, a "real" expression on her face, and the whole body speaks. This is called gesture, and gesture expresses. It's just one of those moments that speaks volumes to me. (and reminds me completely of Solange-big connections). My grandmother, Seepe Walters,  had opinions about everything. She was wise, and intelligent. They don't always go hand in hand. And aware. Alive. I always thought of my grandmother as a person with big ideas, who was pressured to "be" as many women of her era, "acceptable". I'll give you a few examples.
           On my grandmothers first day of school, as she was sitting at her desk, and realized she didn't like this confinement. So she stood up, walked out of the classroom, and went home. This was High Park, Toronto, around 1918.
            When my grandmother was 33, she had an epiphany, that one was supposed to "do" something with ones' life. Ever passionate about politics, she joined her local liberal riding association. She soon learned, that women were welcome to help, they were good at making coffee. Their opinions were not appreciated. Big women, small world.
            The expression on my grandmothers face, expresses everything she endured living in this world, when life could have held so much more. This is my grandmother, standing in front of her Harley. Yes, my grandmother drove a Harley Davidson. A women before her times. The motorcycle symbolizes transport, and I'd like to think it was a conscious choice, to alleviate the pressures of living in a box, and allowing herself, some level of freedom, personal truth.
            To end, I'd also like to say that  my grandmother worked this out. If supported, she could have done more in her life-more for the world. As it was, she did come to terms with her life, lived a true life, that benefited so many. It may look small on the outside, but she gave incredibly, lovingly, meaningfully. She became a pillar in her community, did a lot of volunteering, that still has significant benefit to her community, though she has been gone from us for 18 years.  She figured out, how to live a big life, in small ways.
I call her, DEFIANT.