Author Archives: Sean

Yellow Orchid

Yellow Orchid: acrylic and pencil on canvas (16″ x 20″)

This is the fourth and last canvas I painted this summer. Painting on canvas is new for me and I’m really enjoying both the larger size and the textural differences from painting on good paper.

This beautiful yellow orchid joined us for Thanksgiving and lives in a large beaten copper pot set in front of a striking huge blue photographic print by Paul Solberg. The print — six feet long and five feet high — is a dramatically large close up of an orchid flower bathed in black light, given to us by the artist as a wedding gift.

That’s the blue in the background, art giving birth to art.


Hibiscus: Acrylic on canvas (18″ x 24″)

If any evidence of alien visitation on Earth were needed, the Hibiscus provides it. The colours of the flowers are vividly luminescent and unearthly, the structure of its reproductive organs outlandishly elaborate, provocative, and intricate.

There’s one in our living room in a corner by a south-facing window. It is extremely temperamental but nonetheless produces large, vibrant flowers almost continuously.

So much passionately unrequited love endlessly calling out into the universe, like the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock tearing eternally at Gatsby’s heart.


Petunias: Acrylic on Canvas (18″ x 24″)

I try to immerse myself as much as possible in creativity as an antidote to the times we’re living through and to find positive ways to express myself rather than indulge in the kinds of inchoate ranting that might otherwise ensue. This, then, is my second canvas, having before mostly painted on good paper.

This spring a large blue pot of Petunias, an annual we planted in the spring of 2017, regenerated itself into a massive spray of purple. The lettuce we had in small window boxes last summer regrew this spring as well. I don’t know how it’s possible for an annual to become a perennial, but the boxes of lettuce, after providing free salads for us again all this summer as well as last, are still growing, and the Petunias still blooming now as I write this.

There is something to be said for their extraordinary resilience and irrepressible will not just to live, but to thrive. I love their joie de vivre!

Bowen Island

Bowen Island: Acrylic on Canvas (18″ x 24″) 

For the first three years I painted exclusively on paper. But this summer my husband Tom bought me a 3-pack of canvases at Michael’s. This, my first canvas, tries to capture a ridiculously neon sunset seen from our balcony, looking to the northwest towards Bowen Island during one of those perfectly long, hot summer days when the sun sets so far to the north.

Painting on canvas is a very different experience. The warp and weave of the surface becomes part of the painting, creates texture, and the paint and brush drag differently across the surface, the paint not nearly as saturated.

In earlier paintings I would often apply layer after layer of different shades of the same hue in rough, jabbing dashes trying to create texture and depth, hoping to infuse the painting with rich, glowing, saturated colours.

But the physical sensation and nature of painting on canvas completely changed that. I ended up with a much less-saturated palette. So I’m pleased some sense of the neon radiance I was trying to capture in this paler imitation somehow shows through.


Tulips: Acrylic on Paper (12″ x 14″)

I always know when I’m ready to paint something when I start imagining the brush strokes I might use to capture the feeling of that shape, just as a violinist might imagine how they would bow out some melody while looking at a score of music — the long, flowing, continuous sweep of legato, or the sharp, brisk accented attacks of staccato …

in this case, I wanted to try and capture the crazy, swirly, wild bendiness and decadent dissolution of tulips just before they begin to fall apart.

We were staying up at Sakinaw Lake at my sister Paddy’s place. I had taken her a bouquet of bright orange tulips. Several days later they were resting on a wooden table glowing orange in the late afternoon sun.

On the left is a photograph of the painting framed.



Saturna Island

Saturna Island: Acrylic on Paper (12″ x 14″)

During a ten-day stay on Saturna Island at my brother Mike’s home there, we started going on walks through the woods as a way of breaking up the day.

One day we walked through a forest and emerged right onto the southern tip of the island. I was immediately struck by the gorgeous bright yellow colour of the dried out grass contrasting with the deep shadows and lush green on the floor of the forest, framed on top not by a band of blue sky, but the bright blue ocean just beyond the grass-coloured bluff.


Tumbo Island

Tumbo Island: Acrylic on Paper (12″ x 14″)

In the summer of 2017, Tom and I spent an idyllic ten days at my brother Mike’s place at the south end of Saturna Island. Tom read a long book about the life of Julia Child. We played cribbage. Online was painfully slow so we abandoned it. I got a big chunk of writing done.

Right around cocktail hour, a group of deer would emerge silently, magical, looking at us intently, drooling slightly. They instinctively trusted Tom, as any sentient being would, and let him feed them by hand.

From the deck we looked across a sound to Tumbo Island. By the time we had finally slowed down to the speed of nature, I became entranced by the energy in the fast ocean currents racing around the island, with a rip tide clearly visible further to the east.

It was a very happy sojourn, which I hope this captures, at least a little.

English Bay Beach

English Bay Beach: Acrylic on Paper (12″ x 14″)

Painting outdoors is one of the world’s most delicious pleasures. There is something immediately bohemian about it, and for a moment, at least, it is possible to imagine yourself in the company of one of the great artists, who are often pictured painting outside.

Painting outside in the crowded park adjoining English Bay Beach, though, changes the experience from one of joyous isolation dwarfed by the majesty of boundless nature, into something more akin to burlesque. People, being people, want to see what you’re doing and judge the result. They want to see if what you’re painting bears any resemblance at all to what they are seeing, too, with their own eyes.

That sunny afternoon, standing in the shade of a giant tree that is sadly no longer there, I tried to capture the energy in the light reflecting off of the water and glinting sand, and the energy of the gentle but restless surf as the Pacific Ocean made final landfall, tamed and caressing the sandy shore.

That day I spoke at some length with a policeman who took an embarrassing (to me) interest in this, one of my earlier efforts. To my repeated protestations that painting for me was really just therapy, he emphatically encouraged me and took great interest in the way I tried to capture what we both were looking at. He was more than kind.

I quite like the childish and purposeful lack of perspective in this painting. It is very much me.

Sakinaw Lake (II)

Sakinaw Lake (II): Acrylic on Paper (12″ x 14″)

There is a freedom in this painting, showing Watson’s Island on the left. I like the colours; the way the small isthmus across from us forming Bear Bay is shorthanded to appear as trees somehow just floating on the water; and the way the lake water blends up into the sky behind.

Sakinaw Lake (I)

Sakinaw Lake (I): Acryclic on Paper (12″ x 14″)

I’ve been going up to Sakinaw Lake to swim, water-ski, fish, and canoe since I was first able to walk, more than fifty years ago. Our Uncle Joe Kellington, once the purchasing agent for the City of New Westminster, bought two lots up on a slight promenade jutting up above the lake and shared the place generously with his sister, my mom, and her large, boisterous family.

In the early days we had to hike in and there was only a tenting platform, but he eventually built a beautiful glass-fronted A-Frame cabin there with a deck looking right out over the pristine water.

My husband Tom and I have been going up together almost every year since we met in 1986. He almost passed out his first morning after being forced to endure the camp tradition of water-skiing before breakfast to entertain the adults.

My mother, who taught us all to swim up there, always insisted the lake was “warm as toast.” It was both family dogma and long-standing family joke. But to someone not knowing that truth, it could feel downright chilly early in the morning.

Somehow, despite almost fainting from low blood sugar, Tom survived that first exposure, and we continued visiting every summer of the twenty years we lived together in New York City, and have been lucky enough to visit almost every year since we moved back to Vancouver in 2006. Sakinaw was always the perfect antidote to New York. It was my spiritual refuge, if such a thing exists.

The lake is long and winding. The hills across are undulating to the point of seeming alive, and covered in dense evergreen forest. My Uncle Joe, who had more than a little poetry in his soul, imagined a reclining woman in those hills. I wanted to capture the energy of them and of the wind moving across the water.

There is no greater feeling of pleasure or abandon than painting outdoors, ‘en plain’ as Churchill called it. As this was. I had a huge, floppy, big-brimmed hat on and felt wonderfully painterly as I did this. Hopefully some of the pleasure I felt comes through.


Bear Bay

Bear Bay: Acrylic on paper (12″ x 14″)

While it wasn’t a conscious attempt, this painting, which looks East at Bear Bay, certainly is evocative of Mondrian, one of my favourite painters. I just wanted to make a painting using bright, primary colours. I like how bold it is.


Tomato Jam

Tomato Jam: Acrylic on Paper (!2″ x 14″)

Tomatoes, a peach, and a lemon nestled together in a big white porcelain bowl on our wooden dining table. They were bathed in bright, late afternoon sunlight streaming in through a side window, creating stark shadows and highlights. It’s Tom’s favourite painting of mine. It’s not my favourite but as one of my earlier efforts, I really like the energy of the wood grain in the table.