Channeling Emily Carr

Having finished with my week’s obsessive plein air painting of trees in Mt. Tabor Park, I decided I needed to find out what Emily Carr might have done with the scenes.

But first, here’s one of my last-mid-week’s exasperation paintings — the kind of thing one does when all else fails. It’s a substitute for throwing the palette against the wall — although come to think of it, there might be similarities of result:

ECNotWNot an Emily Carr Forest, Oil on scabby board, about 10 x 12″, 2009

The choice of supports was dictated by the discarded and ragged-edged board I tripped over.  I’ve trimmed the edges in Photoshop; in reality, they are a mess. But it felt good to do this and seemed somehow important to add to my collection of efforts.

So tonight, I copied an Emily Carr painting found here and elsewhere on the web:

carrPainting1Emily Carr, post- 1930: (I can’t find a title nor date to this painting, but I’m sure it postdates 1930)

Here’s my copy, done freehand, not with a grid.


Attempted Copy of Emily Carr’s painting, about 20 x 20, oil on really scabby board, 2009

My point in “copying” the Carr was to try to get a sense of what she was doing with her forms. The colors weren’t important to me — I wasn’t using a reproduction that could be counted on to have decent color (and I’m not sure of the color of the web image presented here either). But the way she handles her shapes and values — that I could trust and that was what I was after. It was odd to be copying because as I did so, I didn’t know what I was picturing. It was like drawing the fellow in the chair upside down, as one does in Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the right side of the brain. After a while, I got a better sense of the scene that she must have been dealing with, but the abstracting quality of the exercise felt right to me.

Then I turned both the reproduction and my painting to the wall and painted the scene again, trying not to peek to see what she had done differently. I stepped away from the painting toward the end and gave over Carr and tried to make sense of it as a painting in itself.

ECJunesWJune’s version of the Emily Carr Scene. Oil on canvas, 16 x 16, 2009

This is such a tame version of Carr’s original that it’s almost embarrassing. Her’s has more mystery because of its darker hues and the odd viewpoint, almost looking down and through the forest. The shape of the opening in her painting is wonderful and in mine, well, it’s a bit boring. And hers has a greater sense of movement.

I think tomorrow I’ll go back and redo this painting with the Carr reproduction in front of me. That might teach me yet more about how she achieves her ends. And I’ll be fresher and have had the experience of writing and analyzing here on southeastmain.

So these next few weeks will be devoted to trying to grab hold of what Carr does in order that I can more fully understand what June wants to do. How’s that for ambition? –June

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3 Responses to Channeling Emily Carr

  1. Sheila says:

    Oh, June, I still cringe when you talk of obliterating paintings. I can understand why, especially in this case, but still…in my drawing class we were to sign & date everything, even our copies (and indicate what the original was). The rationale was to have something to look back on to prove to ourselves how much improvement we had made over time. I suppose at some point I will toss most of it, but for now I have a strange attachment to it all. And now that I am choosing the subject matter for my drawings I am much happier and even more invested in their outcome.

    Indeed, working closely off an original, you DO start seeing so many nuances that otherwise just go unnoticed. A great learning tool. And yes, in the back of my mind I’ve been wondering which of these current experiments of yours might end up as expression of my challenge piece, or end up coming my way as my next challenge. vbg After my company comes and goes this weekend, I’ll have to focus on Bishop’s Close – the brain seems to have gone on vacation, but something will come to me, I just know it!


  2. June says:

    Hi Sheila,

    The “Not EC” painting was done in frustration. But I rather liked the effect, although I don’t think I can repeat it.

    But tonight (Tuesday) I found myself redoing the last one with the Carr image in front of me, trying to mimic what she did (of course, the proportions of the canvases are very different and I was working off a low res. photo of the original). But the last version wasn’t bad and I feel I learned a lot. The use of forms that are complex within but still shapes without, the movement into the painting with the small trees that carry your eye in subtle ways, the color which is quite complex while not looking it, the simple brush strokes within which lie complex color and shape — all of these came easier to me the second time.

    And then I wiped that canvas clean, so I wouldn’t ever mistake it for one of my own, but cleaned up a bunch of bad paintings from the last few weeks, channeling what I had learned. Or attempting to. Certainly the paintings, when I left them, seemed better (but they were bad, so they didn’t have far to go to get bette). So this evening was better feeling. We’ll see what my assessment is tomorrow.

    Tomorrow I’m going to copy another of Carr’s paintings, do a simulcrum without looking, and compare the two. I may then repaint the Carr copy as I did today, just to see what else I can learn.

    Of course, I fear that what I did this evening is sort of Carr-ish, only not so good, but then it’s only day 2 of this experiment. The real test will come when I tackle Mt. Tabor trees again, but I haven’t go that on the schedule yet. And I’m thinking of how one might do Carr-ish in quilted textiles. As well as how I might use Barnes colors in Carr-ish fashion –snort..


  3. Sheila says:

    The “Not an Emily” painting has the look of release of frustration. Lots of energy in there. Did you find the next paintings went better?


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