The Downward Curve of our Mouths

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Edgar Allan Poe

For years I took the bus past this church. I worked at a daycare center and I had to transfer buses to get to work. People don’t believe me when I tell them I really liked taking the bus. I used to sketch people’s faces while I sat on my bumpy ride home. I had to be sneaky so they didn’t know I was drawing the graceful curve of their jaw, their tired expressions, eyes that drooped after a long day. Every one’s face is beautiful in its own way. We wear our worries on our faces between our furrowed brows, under the love starved hollows of our cheeks, on the downward curve of the corners of our mouths. Every day I would see some of the same faces and some new. All unique. All lovely.

When I transferred buses I waited for the number 12 right in front of this beautiful church in West Edmonton. I saw the building every day and grew quite fond of it. I’ve always given buildings human qualities in the same way people anthropomorphize teddy bears. I actually feel like they can love me back. Every day I sat across the street from this lovely church. Finally, I took the time to sketch it, missing one of my buses in the process. 

And the church is still there, of course, but the neighborhood has changed somewhat. Condos have gone up around it, towering over it. But the church still opens its doors and parishioners show up in ever dwindling numbers.

The church contacted me a few years ago about using my painting as a fundraiser and of course I agreed. I could have charged them copyright fees but I didn’t. I’m not a religious person but I have warm feelings about churches whose purpose is usually community and companionship and solace. The last time I was inside a church was for a garage sale. My son was with me and he said he felt like lightning was going to hit him because he’s gay. How can I support a church when it makes my sweet, little boy feel so condemned? I don’t go to church at all but even if I don’t attend church, I still love the buildings and I have a feeling of fondness when I see them.

I never felt the need to attend church. As a child, I had a recurring nightmare that Satan was coming to my house to take me to hell. This was in reaction to the teachings I heard on Sunday morning. I had the terrifying dream over and over, waking up in a cold sweat curled up in a ball on my bed. As I grew older I had no use for the church which could cause a child to feel such fear. I have more reasons to stay away than to belong. 

But as an adult, I have cared for patients who are faced with their own death. I see their despair and fear. I listen to their weeping. And I have come to understand the value of a deity. People cower in the face of death. We hide in the coat tails of a God who may or may not exist. But often, our beliefs give us some comfort when looking up at the emotionless face of our own mortality. In the darkest times in our lives, we need a warm voice to tell us “It’s going to be OK.” And when they feel that fear, we call the pastor to talk to them, to pray with them. Religion is able to give comfort that medicine can’t offer. I have learned that we don’t have to be believers to see the transformation that can be brought to a person’s fear by God. That’s what I see in the churches I sketch. I see people coming together to remind one another how wonderful it is to be alive.

This video shows the time lapse creation of the drawing

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Wanting to Belong

“Art is anything you can get away with.” Andy Warhol

Oh to be Van Gogh.

A Starry Night is my own personal aspiration so much so that I named my second son Theo, after Van Gogh’s little brother. And floating somewhere in the universe is the energy that used to be Van Gogh. And I like to think I’ve channeled a little of that energy into my artwork.

When my husband and I were young and in love, we used to go on drives out of the city. We’d get food and park somewhere, eating and talking. Every artist has a little bit of a voyeur inside them. You can bet if you invite a writer to your house for dinner, they go through your medicine cabinet when they use the bathroom. Not that I’ve ever done that of course. Any artist has this open minded, loving curiosity about others. And I used to look at other people’s homes the same way, seeing the warmth of their souls inside maybe because that warmth is what my own life lacked.

This sketch was drawn in such a way, sitting in the car, eating burgers with my husband while I sketched on a fast food napkin. The house was a magical little mushroom of a house that glowed like a lantern in a place with no other lights just on the edge of the city. A home that would make a hobbit proud.

And I could tell things about the people inside just by looking at the exterior. They looked happy. They had kids, I could see the toys. They sat on the front lawn sometimes, I could see the lawn chairs. They had an RV parked in the driveway and I imagined they went on trips together. I’ve looked at other families this way my whole life. I’ve wanted to belong to such a family as long as I can remember. Maybe they weren’t as happy as they looked. Maybe the husband was having an affair, maybe the mother was addicted to pain killers. Maybe they had the same emptiness as I did from a love starved childhood. And maybe we all have some type of darkness in our past that makes us look to others for fulfillment.

And there they sat, in their warm little home under a blanket of cool night air, lulling them to sleep, while I sat outside drawing their idyllic scene.

This is a time lapse video of the drawing

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The Companionship of Wind

“Art is harmony parallel with nature.” Paul Cezanne

“Why do you draw farms?” I’ve been asked many times and I don’t have a pat answer. I could explain that I love all the different shaped buildings that sit nestled into the landscape, surrounded by trees as a windbreak, the peacefulness, the sounds of animals, the companionship of the wind, the air of industry, honesty, hard work, love. But most people don’t understand. If I give them my whole answer, I see their eyes glaze over, I see them lose interest after couple of sentences. So I end up saying something like, “I think farms are pretty.” And they smile and nod and say “Cool,” but have no real understanding of my motivation. And sometimes emotion defies logic. We love what we love, we feel what we feel. Trying to explain art is like trying to explain why we cuddle with babies. It’s a feeling that’s both complex and simple at the same time. It fills us up inside. It feeds us in a way that nothing else does. It allows us to touch a part of people that is otherwise inaccessible. It allows us to be a colorful part of the human experience.

I drew the sketch for this painting south of Edmonton on a warm summer day. I was a couple of months pregnant, not enough to be uncomfortable, just enough to be frightened of what might happen in the future. My young husband was outside of the car doing tai chi in the ditch alongside the country road. We went on many trips like this, driving in the country with no real idea where we were going, only stopping when I saw the perfect composition. And I do love this composition. The way the lines of the plowed field worms over the uneven landscape, the earthy road, the fence posts at different heights, the small windmill, the red barn. This sketch became one of my favorite paintings ever. And in the painting, every color that vibrates against another is love, And every line that gracefully curve around a shape is love. And that’s what I want to create. I want people to feel the love I have inside, the naked, raw, embarrassing truth of who I am deep down, my own gratefulness for this gift of life. 

The video below shows the time lapse drawing of this artwork

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Why is it a Sound?

dit-dot-low-res-watermark

“The aim of art is to represent, not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.” Aristotle

For about five years I lived in North Carolina with my husband and our two sons. The landscape there has it’s own particular beauty as all places do, but I found myself less inspired to my artwork than I was in Alberta, probably due to the fact that I was working nights, going to nursing school days, and still breast feeding the baby. But every now and then, I packed the boys in the car and we drove to the coast which was only about half a mile away. We often went to the water’s edge and walked along it, listening to the waves roll in and tasting the salt.

One Christmas, we took the boys to the beach. It was so warm I wore shorts and my older son splashed in the water. I sat in the sand with my infant son feeling the cool water wash over our legs. People walked by us and I noticed they had parkas on which I found strange because the weather was so warm. But they were giving me dirty looks and I realized they thought I was a bad mother for letting my children into the water and I wanted to shout “I’m not a bad mother, I’m just Canadian.”

This sketch was drawn on such a warm day from a wharf in Beaufort, North Carolina. It was my first attempt at painting water and I loved the curved horizon line. The boats bobbed in the cool water, air blew in from the ocean, outer bank islands were visible in the distance where, on a good day, you can still see the wild horses.

Of course, this was the Sound, not the ocean but I still have trouble understanding the difference between the “sound” and open water because it seems to me that it’s all ocean. My older son was likewise confused. He put it very succinctly when he said with his lisp, “Why ith it a thound? I don’t hear it.”

We saw the little, purple boat that had the words “Dit Dot” painted across the back. Dit Dot, it was explained to me, was the name the locals gave to the non locals, the tourists with their cameras and strange accents. I was a Dit Dot, apparently. And this painting, is a commemoration of that time in my life when I was the boat, drifting on waves, and wondering what wind would push me towards shore.

Watch this video to see the time lapse drawing of the dit dot painting.

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A Sea of Mustard

golden church low res watermark

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” Pablo Picasso

I love churches.

A strange admission from someone who’s not religious at all. I have hundreds of drawings of churches. Every time I see a steeple on the horizon, I find myself heading towards it and pulling out a piece of scrap paper to capture the image. Churches seem to have a freedom of architecture that other buildings don’t have.  Churches don’t have encumbrances for living such as number of bedrooms and walk in closets. The main function of a church is for community and I think that can be seen in their shape. And they make such a lovely silhouette against the sky. The negative space is often more interesting than other shapes in the world.

This church was sitting on the edge of a small valley, overlooking plowed wheat fields that traced their lines over every mound, every hill, golden canola waiting for harvest, a sea of mustard yellow that smelled like vinegar.

And the leaves, the beautiful leaves dropping to the earth and scrambling around on the road like lemmings, every color imaginable. I sat in my car looking at this scene and knew I had to draw it. Some people sketch in sketch books but I never did. I sketched on napkins. So I pulled a napkin from the glove box and drew this picture.

When I draw, I want to capture the beauty of a moment in time, specifically the moments that fill me with peace; make me grateful to be alive. And now I will forever have a record of that day, of something grand that I can point to and say “This is what I love.”

This painting and the sketch it originated from are available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

This video shows the creation of the drawing

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A Place of Moose and Muskeg

northern-lights-low-res-watermark

“Art is not what you see but what you make others see” Edgar Degas

Northern Alberta, the land of rolling hills covered with the stubble of aspen and spruce. Spiky branches pressed up against the blue sky. Landscape thick with wild rose and saskatoon shrubs. Standing water crowded near the edge with thousands of pale, green blades. Miles of disheveled terrain laced with dirt roads. A place where, if you get stranded by an unreliable vehicle, you might have the minor inconvenience of hitch hiking back to town or the major inconvenience of fighting off a bear. A place of moose and muskeg, of bald eagles and wolf calls. A place where the trees remind us what it’s like to be wild.

I lived in Northern Alberta for a short time just after the birth of my first son. My husband took a remote teaching job and we moved, towing all our meager belongings in a poorly maintained red Capri to a place where I knew no one. And what is a lonely woman to do but draw pictures of her surroundings?

This painting was originally drawn when we lived on John D’or Prairie Indian Reserve. Even though it was a June night, the air was crisp enough to send my breath upwards in frosty plumes of vapor. And I could still see the sparkle of frost on every surface.

That’s when I saw the northern lights streaming across the sky.

I tucked my infant son into a baby carrier, wrapped a warm jacket around us both, and headed into the chilly night.

The lights were so unbelievably beautiful. Some things in life are beyond the confines of language. I sat in awe beneath them, so grateful to be its witness. My son wrinkled his forehead as he peered upwards. Not yet able to smile, he leaned his head back to study the crackling lights, looking, for all the world, like he was analyzing them.

We sat there in the cold, watching the lights as our breath disappeared into the air as silently and heart breakingly as the days pass away, as the years and even our lives pass. All of them drifting upwards and melting into nothing. I held my son and knew that nothing could replace that time with him and that those moments are the glue and mortar that make up our lives. All we can do is appreciate those moments, to own them. As I looked down on my son’s beautiful face, I felt that ownership. And that’s why I paint, so that I can own those times that I love. He has such a lovely face and he will endure hardship because we all do. But at that moment, we owned the time together under the northern lights.

Time is our most precious resource, nothing can replace it or bring it back or buy us more. We can only sit and enjoy the majesty of the world and be grateful for the gift of sight. That is our reward.

That’s where I drew this picture. Sitting on a mound of dried grass, holding my son with one hand while I drew with the other.  Only my baby and I, in the darkness, sitting silently and breathing air just cold enough to make us feel alive.

The video below shows the creation of this drawing.

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