Bringing ‘Old Man Winter’ to Life
Farming is a way of life in rural South-West Ontario – one that artist Dawn Anderson Vaughan experienced first-hand as she grew up in Lambton Shores. Dawn’s painting of her father called ‘Old Man Winter’ captured that life – weathered, steady, hard-working and so real.
There was a lot of quiet time on the family farm and Dawn drew and painted there as a child.
In high school there was little encouragement for art, so she stepped sideways into the world of interior design.
One of the first things Dawn bought after she finished design school was a piece of fine art from an artist that she loved. Years later she met with the artist who invited her to do a painting workshop and she was drawn back into art again.
‘As my kids got older I had more time to learn and to paint,’ said Dawn. From design training, she had learned about composition, shade, shadow and light, and did renderings to show how she wanted a room to look.
Dawn’s design work still is a main part of her work-life, but she says that she will take time to stop and take a break to paint. ‘The design has been in me for many years, but the artist is coming out now.’
Dawn could not be more right. Her painting, Old Man Winter, won an Honourable Mention in the new Portrait Category at the 2018 Paint Ontario show – not bad for a part- time artist. Using chalk pastels, she set out to bring her father to life in exquisite detail. ‘He’s got one of those faces,’ she said. So true.
Dawn takes photographs of scenes she loves when she travels and sometimes years later will go back to a picture and translate it into a painting. ‘If we are in a market I like to photograph people doing everyday things and capture the scene that is happening around them.’
‘I love showing the movement of water and light, and the way the light hits a person when you are talking to them. I try to capture the story in their eyes. When I paint a person, I want to really show their character. They start to come alive and you can almost hear them talking to you. I often paint from pictures of my kids when they are just playing’.
Dawn likes to work in a realistic style, and uses chalk pastels, because of the way you can blend the colours and the strong pigments you can find. ‘Some pastels are like butter,’ she said, ‘and when you blend the colours, you can make things ‘pop’. I use harder pastels too, because they are great for adding detail.’ Dawn also travelled to France and saw pastel paintings from the 1600’s – she was amazed how those paintings survived so well.
Dawn is a new artist for Paint Ontario and is amazed by the level of skill at the show. ‘Just being accepted was a huge thrill.’ She is proud that the area she grew up in has been able to build up such a large show with so many talented artists.
Twice as Real – Elaine and Layne Share Their Lives and Love For Art
Are there really that many artists who are couples who find each other through art? Elaine Guitar and Layne Van Loo are a unique and dedicated powerhouse of talent that share their lives and also share a talent for a very detailed, realistic style. It’s even a bit of a challenge to tell their work apart!
Elaine introduces herself as ‘the talkative one’. Her art journey began at 6 years old when she was watching the movie Black Beauty at the family home in Windsor. ‘I became dizzy during the show when I was stricken with scarlet fever. Later, when I was recovering, I had an image of that horse in my mind and I knew I wanted to draw it.’
Elaine said she was frustrated at first when she tried to work on horses from a colouring book. ‘My mother said I should try it on my own so I spent two years drawing horses. I loved horses and animals and had heard horses were one of the hardest things to draw. Every night I would go upstairs and wish upon a star saying I wish I could be an artist.’
At age 8 Elaine said she stood up in class and told everyone she was an artist. They all laughed, but Elaine didn’t give up. ‘The teachers encouraged me and bought me a set of pastels and after high school I became a full time self-taught artist.
Layne Van Loo became interested in art at a young age as well. Layne said that like most kids he played with crayons and colouring books. ‘When I was 6 I had my dad draw me something. He drew some cartoon characters – Yogi Bear and Boo Boo – and I painted them in. Layne was impressed by what his father did as it looked just like what was on tv. ‘I never saw him draw again, but that stuck with me.’
‘As I got older around grade 4 there was a boy in my class drawing antique cars. I started doing that and we drew cars together’, said Layne. He was born in the Toronto area and then moved to Florida with his family who were flower growers.
Layne took art in high school, but one year all the art classes were booked. He ended up in woodshop and told the teacher he didn’t want to be there so the teacher said he would grade Layne on drawings in woodworking class not on the wood pieces he made. ‘The kids would ask me to draw something and I would do it for them.’
Layne followed up with a correspondence course in art and then more art classes in high school after a move back to Canada in his teens. As he said, ‘I jumped in with both feet.’ He tried one year at Sheridan College but the abstract style they were teaching at the time didn’t work for Layne and he found artists like Glen Loates he wanted to follow. ‘I was more interested in realism and detail and liked to work with watercolour.’
So how did these two artists find each other? Elaine was 29 and setting up a display at an art show when her brother asked when she would start dating again. ‘I had put dating on the backburner and wanted to just stick with art. I saw Layne across the room and said if I was ever to start dating that is the man I would date. There was something about Layne that made me think he was the kind of guy I would like to date.’ An hour later, before Elaine and Layne had been introduced, Layne’s ex-wife made a comment to him: ‘That’s the woman you should have been with’.
They were eventually introduced at the show and became connected professionally, but it took two years to start a friendship and then something more. Elaine said, ‘Nothing felt so natural or so right to me as being with Layne.’
Life as two artists can have its challenges – Layne worked 2 to 3 jobs for a while and did his art on the side when he could. Eventually they were able to put an addition on their house in Kingsville and add more studio space upstairs. Elaine gives art lessons every week and also teaches professional artists who want to learn a new technique.
Both Layne and Elaine like to paint ‘en plein air’ – outdoors in nature. ‘Plein air painting is trying to capture a moment in time. We like to go out early to catch the morning light which is always a challenge. You get longer shadows in the morning,’ said Layne. ‘Elaine and I will sometimes stand out in the rain and snow – we want to be surrounded by that atmosphere and really capture a true impression of what the scene is.’
Both Layne and Elaine love to work with details and are happy to see a trend back to realism and the ‘old masters’ styles. Elaine said, ‘The trend over the last few decades has been to get away from the details and be more interpretative. If you are more realistic in your painting, people think you are merely copying a photo. They don’t realize the planning that can be behind a painting.’
‘I might come up with a concept sketch while I am out in the ditch and then piece it together later. I am working on a painting now that I added cattails to that I had back in the studio. I plan the elements I put together to form a specific impression or feeling that I want to create. A realistic painting can also mean there is a lot of creativity involved.’
Elaine explained, ‘I feel like our art is our voice -you do what you feel and love and it comes through in your work. I am always striving to be better and make my paintings alive. It’s a wonderful compliment to see someone come up and try to touch one of my paintings almost to see if it is real. Or to see a tear in someone’s eye.’
‘My goal is always to help people see and appreciate what they overlook. We live a hectic life now and I want to capture the little elements in nature that we miss because we are so busy and moving so quickly. If I can make a black and white painting look three dimensional and then add colour, it’s like the icing on the cake.’
Elaine said that going to the Paint Ontario show was like a dream for them. ‘We have been to a lot of museums and shows, but Paint Ontario was ideal for us because it was the type of art we love. To see so much art of such high quality all together in a large, well hung, very professional show was wonderful. We found a place where we belong. ‘
An Artist to Watch For: The Magic of Kim Mitchell
Magic. That is the only way to describe the story that quietly unfolds in one of Kim Mitchell’s paintings. Not a loud, funny story… but a soft, beautiful, detailed and real story about the natural world on our doorstep.
Kim is a self-taught young artist who enjoyed art in high school and then travelled from London to Rochester, New York to earn her Bachelor of Science by studying courses such as IT, graphic design and math. She returned to London where she found a job in a bank and took up drawing as a hobby, but it wasn’t enough. Kim left the bank to volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation centre and found her real love.
‘When I was seeing the wildlife up close, I was drawn into art again.’ She discovered a special connection with birds and animals while she was learning their habits, helping them get well, and being part of their life every day. A friend gave Kim a set of watercolours that took her from pencil drawing to painting and gradually drew her to a full-time commitment to pursue her art.
Kim worked often with birds at the wildlife centre, and they became one part of her signature as an artist. ‘When I paint a bird I like to have a story. Sometimes I think animals experience and feel more than we realize – I want people to connect with that experience and feel a human emotion when they are looking at my paintings. I work to recreate a moment in time so people can look at a scene and remember that day and place in October.’
On her website at kmitchell.ca, you can often find Kim’s own words to describe that ‘moment in time’… like the story behind her painting titled ‘Fluidity’. ‘Like all sandpipers that forage along the water’s edge, dunlins are seldom stationary. They are constantly running up and down the shoreline, probing for food with their long beaks. The apparent stillness of the bird in my painting is an illusion – this is a moment frozen in time that will be over more quickly than the droplet of water on its beak can fall.’
Kim looks for inspiration all around the London area, and often finds herself in Port Stanley. ‘I love the water and the beach – it’s different every time I go. It’s amazing how many different birds there are and I never know what I will find.’ Kim works from her own photos throughout the year to capture the seasons and the changes they bring.
You can see Kim’s technical skills in the beautiful details and perfect layout of her paintings. ‘I use my math skills to plan and structure a painting. It’s important to me to get it right – the wrong proportions can throw a beautiful painting off.’
Kim has participated in the Paint Ontario art show and sale since 2015 and says she loves the whole experience. ‘I like that it’s representational art, not just photos and abstracts – you can recognize what you are looking at and you don’t see as much realism anymore.’ At the same time, Kim says that she enjoys seeing everyone’s ‘different take’ on things. ‘It could be the same scene, but each artist paints it differently.’
Kim is grateful for the support and inspiration that Paint Ontario offers, especially for new artists. ‘I am always amazed at the skill level of the artists at Paint Ontario. It inspired me to improve my own art. The first two years I didn’t sell, but that told me that I had more work to do.’ Teresa Marie, Executive Director of the Grand Bend Art Centre that hosts the show, was very impressed with how Kim improved through the years. ‘Her work not only got better, she got all three of her paintings in the 2018 show and sold two of them.’