During his 35 years of service with Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, Bruce’s interest in art developed, while working with professionals in creating communication materials to aid in the introduction of laws. While working in Toronto he took drawing instruction at the Ontario College of Art & Design University.
Upon retirement as Senior Manager in Thunder Bay, he enrolled in the Fine Arts Honour program at Lakehead University. In the seventeen years since his graduation, he has been self-employed as a sculptor and painter.
Bruce has produced several large sculptures for private and public installations, e.g. university, hospital and gallery.
For the past twelve years, Bruce has directed his energy exclusively to creating paintings. His paintings, like his sculptures, are found in many collections.
As a volunteer, Bruce has served on many municipal boards and committees. Currently, he serves as Vice-Chair of Peterborough’s Arts, Culture, Heritage Advisory Committee, and Chair of their Public Art Committee.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Think Bruce. When did you first realize your love of the arts?
Firstly, thank you Carrie for the introduction, and expression of interest in my creative endeavours.
My interest in art reaches back to 1940’s to my early childhood. Much to the dismay of my school teachers trying to deliver unpopular subjects, e.g. grammar, I would be looking out the class windows at the trees and houses and sketching images on paper hidden under the desk on my knee. It became crystal clear that after graduating, I dearly wanted to study art at a university. Nevertheless, my parents recognizing the economic difficulties artists were facing at that time steered me towards a career that showed much more promise in terms of steady income and benefits.
Eventually, I had the good fortune to carve out a fulfilling and meaningful 35 year career with Ontario’s public service. This entailed living and working in many communities through the province. Many of my assignments, e.e., delivery of public policy and management were challenging and did require exercising one’s creative talents. Upon retirement and with the active encouragement of my wife Carol and our children, I enrolled in the visual arts program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Coincidentally, my youngest son Brian attended the same university in the civil engineering program. Five years later, I graduated with an Honours Fine Arts degree, and commenced practicing my love for art, after working under a shadow for 35 years.
Carrie: How would you describe your art to Artist Think readers?
Carrie since graduating, I have strived to chronicle the many differing regions of Canada. My canvases are based on touch and affection for the natural and physical world. Rich brushwork is evident to define the features of nature, architecture and cityscapes in a lavish rendering of oil, or acrylic, colour, light and shadow.
I’m mainly a studio painter, and work from my residence in Peterborough, Ontario with occasional travel to other locations in Canada. Working from drawings, notes, memory and feelings about my sightings, I transform the images of woodlands, waterways and structures on the canvas with a passionate intensity and energy of brushwork. While my colleagues speak of my highly textured surfaces created by swift confident brush strokes, my patrons applaud the clarity and vibrancy of the work.
Carrie: Can you describe the evolution of your artistic style? (Have you always made art with this unique vision or what was your turning point into recognizing this style was your authentic “you”?)
University provided a strong and solid foundation to launch my art practice. Well motivated and highly confident, I started a journey of risk taking, discovery and experimentation. Reluctant to “stay the course” and work producing 2-dimensional art forms, I decided to work with 3-D. This was a wise choice. Influenced by the masters Piccaso, Van Gogh, Pollack and Canada’s Group of Seven, I applied some of their techniques. Working with concrete and steel, I was successful in creating large scale sculptures that met my high expectations – big, bold and beautiful.
Painting was a different matter when it comes to 3-D. However, I employed ‘Impasto” technique (Italian meaning ‘thick’ pigment) to build up paint and colour so the brush marks are highly visible, and therefore, create a surface with depth, expression and energy. To elevate the depth even more, I added “layering” to the formula. Three layers as a matter of fact, starting with either a warm, or cool underpainting, progressing to a layer of imagery using diluted oil paint and finally a layer of fat, juicy paint. Initially, I questioned the investment of additional time to perform the layering. Over time I sharpened the tempered the process, and the paintings took on a new life that is eye-catching, engaging with high impact.
For instance, textured and coloured shadows of trees fall across the snow covered canvas and interact with forest light’s filtered; broken, irregular to bestow a kind of radiant surreality upon objects.
As much as I would like to take credit for the techniques mentioned, it is the historical account of art and contributions of the masters from my studies that I am deeply indebted to.
Carrie: What are important strategies or choices you make that help support your creative process?
Most important is learning more about my subject matter. In my case it’s the Canadian landscape. “To earn more, learn more”! I make a regular and periodic practice of discovering more about the history, geography, culture and uniqueness of Canada. For instance, the four seasons present endless opportunities for the painter’s brush and palette to be active. Autumn colours peak in Central Ontario in late September and it’s ideal for hiking. Walking under a canopy of rich, warm and vibrant coloured mpales is a feast for the eyes, and the experience the envy of many. Then follows my favourite season, the Canadian winter.
Nothing can match snowshoeing in February on a bright sunny day, after a fresh covering of snow. I consider it the “painter’s delight” and can guarantee it gets the creative juices flowing rapidly. The inspiration is overpowering as I commence visualizing a new canvas on the easel mirror my sighting: ribbon-like shadows weave over large rolling plains of snow, with subtle hints of orange and yellow, through trees, over frozen waterways, illuminating the white and winter environment with variations of warm and cool colours.
Annually, Carol and I travel to a distant location for pleasure, and equally important a big dose of inspiration. Two sets of eyes out perform one as it applies to identifying spectacular scenery and creative potential. This year it entailed chasing icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Thanks to a well-designed ship, and competent crew, we had a front row seat to observe several ice covered towering cathedrals. Believed to be over 1500 years of age, each and every one has been sculptured by the winds of time creating unusual form and complexion of varying colour. Upon return to my studio a series of paintings are created capturing the essence, colour, energy and beauty of my sightings.
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
Carrie, I hope you like this studio as I certainly do. The space is designated for the sole purpose of creativity. It’s about 160 square feet and located in the upper level of our residence. Designed by an architect the turret type form with a 180 degree windowed area perfectly frames, views of nature.
My wife Carol is a Feng Shui Practitioner who prescribed the placement of equipment and special elements to maximize energy flow, thus complement the creative work area. The studio is located closeby the Otonabee River with a well-treed landscape, which I have a passion to paint.
In addition, at the lower level, I have a 1200 square foot private, well-appointed presentation gallery (visitors by appointment). The area also serves to frame paintings and create large abstract paintings.
Carrie: What do you hope viewers take from your artwork?
Like many artists, I’m in constant pursuit for excellence. More specifically, I certainly hope my paintings manage to brighten the viewer’s eyes, provoke their mind, stir their memory and nourish their heart. As well, it’s critical that the art maintains a fresh and long lasting appearance for years to follow. I always try to put something in the composition that reminds the viewer of a feeling, a memory or an experience.
Commissions often enable me to accommodate this. For instance, I was commissioned to create a large snow scene for a women who loves winter and particularly cross-country skiing. She had seen my previously created work that she concluded was impressive, and basically gave me a free hand to develop something that would excite her. Upon receipt of the finished painting she ‘raved” and again “raved” about the depth of the images such as the trees which are the consequence of using “impasto” technique. She explained the painting stirred her memories, and developed positive feelings of skiing between and behind the trees. Impressions like this are most welcome and much appreciated.
Carrie: What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
In some instances, I put the issue aside and tackle it the following morning. I’m much more energetic, alert, open-minded and ready to distill a solution early in the day. In the case of resolving colour issues, a walk in the outdoors is undeniably great medicine. The sights, sounds and even smells of nature generate just the right chemistry to get the brush moving on the canvas. When stuck on choice of colours, mixing of colour, I look at nature for the answer. And lastly, my library of printed publications proves invaluable as a resource, for resolving issues, e.g. colour mixing bibles, guides for composition, and drawing, art history, etc.
Carrie: What is one piece of advice you have for struggling creatives?
Struggle seems a natural part of the process of creativity and, the more the struggle, the more glorious the triumph. Having said that, I believe we all struggle in audience and patron development. It’s the notion of advancing your creative practice to a higher level, e.g., where you receive a reasonable return on your investment of resources, sales elevate, and exhibition participation increases. Unfortunately, no magic wand will make this happen. On the other hand, I have found the “Art of Gratitude” can provide a helping hand.
Historically, everything that has contributed to my advancement is recognized in a written form of gratitude. Whether it is the purchase of a painting, receipt of a government grant, or acceptance of an exhibition proposal, a letter is sent. The letter with a coloured letterhead, or photograph of a painting, along with a passage of gratitude is much more personal and appealing as opposed to email. No doubt, artists ask themselves why should I take the time to do this, as I’m too busy creating art!
Experience has taught me that when I am grateful for what I receive, I draw more opportunities and, orders for work to be grateful for. Each year I send out a greeting card to all patrons. The card is created to be attractive, and has a photograph of a recent painting printed on it. One panel remains white space to handwrite a small passage appropriate for the occasion. In some cases, shortly after sending the cards out and unexpectedly, I receive inquiries, orders and even commissions. By keeping in touch with my patrons, I’m sending a message that I remain grateful for their business and at the same time it draws more opportunities to be more grateful for.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
Without hesitation, my twin mast easel equipped with a hand operated winch is essential to my practice. It enables me to elevate large and heavy canvases safely and with little effort to working height. If I did not have this luxury, I would be back to creating small paintings on the kitchen table.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
Sources of inspiration are all around us. I recall, when at university, one student created a painting of her shoes at the bottom of the dorm closet. She had limited access to travel off campus, but in looking within her small room, became inspired by the creative potential of her shoes and laces. By maneuvering and arranging the shoes, she eventually created a painting that was engaging, the envy of other students and earned her an “A plus”.
In my case, nature has, and continues to inspire and fill me. A walk into the woodlands is an enriching experience; a haze free blue sky, punctuated with tall evergreens competing for light; rugged and rolling terrain divided by deep ravines and canyons, where water leads into streams, broadening into lakes. Such experiences have a profound and lasting effect and cause to whet my appetite to get the brush moving on a canvas.
Many people have and continue to influence me: my late aunt who just after World War II obtained her artist degree through mail correspondence and later went on to design the interiors of prestige residences and theatres; Pablo Picasso (Spain) for his not so well known concrete sculptures; Robert Bateman (Canada) for elevating awareness of nature conservation worldwide; Helen McNicoll (Canada) one of the most profound and technically sound impressionist painters and Neil Welliver (U.S.A.) best known for his large scale landscapes inspired by the woods and streams of Maine, U.S.A.
And lastly, having access to the internet and creatives like “Artist Strong” is most rewarding. Hearing about the life and times of other creatives is always welcomed and inspirational.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
In my view, it’s “the art and science of bringing new life and energy into traditional art, while facilitating the development of one’s skills and know-how in the process”.
Paintings have been created for centuries, and masterpieces continue to draw the masses to exhibitions, and values appreciate sky-high. One might think the opportunity to get new work into the marketplace is narrowing, but not so! Wherever you look, exhibits are growing in presenting new and innovative art. Meanwhile, the historical practice of applying pigment to canvas continues and has not changed. What has changed is the creative approach artists are taking; causing rich pigment to flow, building up tactile surfaces, adding new twists and turns, and the list goes on.
Carrie, as this interview consisting of well-thought questions concludes, I want to express my gratitude for this, and publishing on the ‘Artist Strong’ blog. In addition, many thanks for making available your professional services, all designed to elevate the posture of creativity worldwide. Your strong commitment and extraordinary effort, do not go unnoticed and are much appreciated.
Be Creatively Courageous: How can you express gratitude to your patrons and the people in your life who support your art? Describe one thing you could do to express your gratitude in the comments below.
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