In the Studio

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June 12, 2013

I’m really enjoying the possibilities of rococco and baroque interiors again. The over-the-top opulence of these spaces allows me to not feel too precious about their forms, so I can play freely with mark-making and a combination of drawing/painting that is so directly connected to the way I draw.


Stutter, 36 x 48 inches, oil on panel, 2013


Echo, 30 x 40 inches, oil on canvas, 2013

Actually this is French Empire style–from Napoleon’s country home just outside of Paris.


Skirmish, 36 x 48 inches, oil on canvas, 2013

June 5, 2013

I’m working on a few interim pieces before I take a  summer break–two weeks in LA and San Francisco, to visit friends and look around. I always love to go the the museums and galleries and see what’s going on. Looking at great art really refuels my inspiration.

Last week I did a demo for my painter friends Sylvia and Arlene. They wanted to see how I start a painting.

I start with the general (the big shapes) and try to get the colour-world and values more or less established within the first couple of hours. I love this first step, from nothing to… hopefully something.

IMG_0749startingapainting_web IMG_0758startingapainting

IMG_0764workinprogress_webOn subsequent sessions I move slowly toward the particular, (the details.) But I hold back a while and sneak up on them. Getting too detailed too soon tends to lock in the image and give me nowhere to move to. So I like to leave lots of options available at first.


End of first two hours, blocking in the forms

September 2012

Working from photography is a little dull these days. What I seem to need to do right now is paint what’s in front of me. The underpainting for the piece below was a failed experiment in acrylic from the summer of 2011, which lay dormant in the storage rack all this time. If it’s dry by tomorrow, it will be off to the Toronto International Art Fair. You may see it at the Bau-Xi Gallery booth on the Preview Night, October 25.

The piece below was inspired by 19th century Berlin artist Adolph Menzel’s drawing of a bookcase I sawin  my excellent Michael Fried book on the artist.

The Bookcase, 60 x 48 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2012

August 14, 2012

Hand study

Inspired by the paintings and drawings of hands and feet by Adolph von Menzel I saw recently in Berlin, I decided to do one myself. A fascinating study of those weird appendages we may not really think about much in our day to day busy-ness. The longer you look the more strange and wondrous they appear.

Adolph von Menzel, The Artist’s Foot, 38.5 cm (15.16 in), Width: 33.5 cm (13.19 in), oil on wood, 1876

January 17, 2012

Portrait of my husband, January 17, 2012

Had the best day and am feeling so happy–life drawing in the morning at the wonderful Basic Inquiry studio, then massage and chiropractor (because I’m all twisted up from painting so much), then to the art supply store to see about buying some Winsor and Newton water-mixable oil colors.

I’ve been curious about these paints, and like the idea of not working with solvents. Having materials that are more safe and portable for working with at home and potentially plein air is an attractive option.

When I got home I tried them out by making a quick portrait of my husband. Underneath the painting is the beginning of a drawing I started in Vermont but aborted; I’m glad it has a new life.

This life-drawing/painting thing is thrilling. I’ve missed it.

Mid-January 2012: At the moment I have three bodies of work on the go: studies from life; “Divided Attention” paintings; and more direct paintings from my travels, some of which will be in my upcoming exhibition at Galerie de Bellefeuille, June 30-July 10, 2012.

Working from life again is super exciting. I haven’t done a self-portrait in ten years, and this time the experience was altogether different. I’m interested in getting at a fairly raw, short-hand quality, an economy of means. I may look stern (from extreme concentration), but I’m actually having a blast.

Self-portrait, 2012

Untitled, 2012

Untitled, 2012

August 2011: How to bring the open quality of drawing into my painting practice?

Eclipse, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches, 2011

I’ve been researching the best materials for what I want to do, and recently I’ve been flirting with acrylics. The possibilities of layering quickly with acrylics are more akin to the flexible nature of drawing. The painting above was done in a single session.

After making this painting, however, I realize I still have a love affair with oil paint, so I’m now working out how to bring some of the qualities of the painting above into my ongoing body of work. Back to the studio for more problem-solving. It’s August, the sun is finally here, I may just goof off next week instead of flaying myself!

November 2010

Installation view, My Divided Attention, Bau-Xi Gallery Vancouver 2010

December 2009: Many thanks to all my friends for sending their travel photos, especially to Chris Dorosz, Anya Laskin, and cyberfriend Andre Sergeev, whose pixels became paintings for my current exhibition, Voyage en Zigzag, which took place November 7-19, 2010, at Bau-Xi Gallery in Toronto.

Also thanks to Katherine Surridge and Stefany Hemming at In Progress Video for making a nice little video glimpse of my process.

Click here to view the video.

Please do not disturb

Yikes! the deadline for my upcoming exhibition approaches.





Nelson_Conversation4_Laskin, 48 x 64 inches, oil & acrylic on wood, 2009





Nelson_Song for a tired businessman, 36 x 36 inches, oil and acrylic on wood, 2009

Negotiating Uncertainty

May 21, 2009: Living Room (below) has come a long way in six days. I guess Malcolm Morley was right: “if the inspiration is there, the process follows”. I think it’s well on its way.

The process of making a painting is rarely straight-ahead. Since I don’t work with formulas, each piece is a way of starting again. At the first lay-in (starting layer of paint) of a multi-panel piece, my initial excitement was followed by huge self-doubt. Convinced that I had begun a project impossible to complete, I pronounced the painting a failure, and turned the panels against the wall for about a week. In a brave moment, I showed them to some supportive painter friends, who thought the project worth pursuing.

If I feel a glimmer of excitement about the possibilities, that’s a good sign. These things never work out if I just do something because I think it will be good for me (martyrdom definitely not on the agenda).

Only through time and effort will I know whether I can pull it off. There’s still a possibility that three or four weeks of work will go nowhere, but I’m optimistic it will be worth the effort. Or will it?

This painting is based on a photograph sent  to me by my friend and amazing artist, Chris Dorosz.




Nelson_Conversation1_Dorosz, 72 x 102 inches, oil and acrylic on wood (4 panels), 2009


Some details of paintings


Val Nelson Studio, July 2009

Val Nelson Studio, July 2009


Meeting the public while drawing live at the Drawn Festival Launch party

Meeting the public while drawing live at the Drawn Festival Launch party

Val and Paul Conroy of Marion Scott Gallery at Drawn Festival Launch

Shameless headshot with Paul Conroy of Marion Scott Gallery at Drawn Festival Launch

Val and Kavavaow Monnamee at Marion Scott Gallery

With the talented Kavavaow Monnamee and his wonderful drawing at Marion Scott Gallery

Drawn Festival Exhibition 2009, Bau-xi Gallery, Vancouver

Drawn Festival Exhibition 2009, Bau-xi Gallery, Vancouver

Artist talk on drawing at Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver

Artist talk on drawing at Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver

Hall 2, 2009, graphite and pencil crayon on vellum and stonehenge papers

Hall 2, 2009, graphite and pencil crayon on vellum and stonehenge papers

Hall 1, 15 x 22 inches, 2009, graphite and pencil crayon on vellum and stonehenge papers

Hall 1, 15 x 22 inches, 2009, graphite and pencil crayon on vellum and stonehenge papers


Searching for Constable
The last time I was in London, I visited the old Tate, anticipating what I thought would be a room full of Constable paintings. Looking forward to some illuminating picture-viewing I followed the gallery map to the appropriate room and found instead scaffolding, dropsheets, paint cans, and other materials scattered about. At first a little disappointed, I did however find this an interesting subject that might make a painting, so I took some photographs. It looked a lot to me like a contemporary art installation.

Searching for Constable, oil and acrylic on wood, 24 x 36 ins

Searching for Constable, oil and acrylic on wood, 24 x 36 ins

The Painted Hall Revisited

May 17: Below is one of the newest works completed in my studio. I am currently painting a handful of pieces for the Galerie de Bellefeuille, so my  body of work for the Bau-Xi (forthcoming, November in Toronto) is on hold temporarily to fulfill that obligation.

The Painted Hall Revisited, oil and acrylic on wood, 36 x 48 ins

The Painted Hall Revisited, oil and acrylic on wood, 36 x 48 ins

I have previously made I think two other works of the Painted Hall in Chatsworth. Something about the geometry and light of this room keeps me coming back. No two works are ever alike–I am a slightly different person today than I was yesterday, and quite changed from the person who painted a similar piece two years ago; my way of laying down marks has been shifting.

It’s also admittedly an excuse to spend time in this room again. I don’t think I have delusions of grandeur, but the hall, which was expertly decorated for an overall stunning effect, is great fodder for a painter. This piece, which is 36 x 48 inches, took around five days to complete. I would love to do one more, much larger, so you can physically feel the space.

photo credit: Derek von Essen

Drawn Festival
This July in Vancouver there will be a pilot project launched by curators Lynn Ruscheinsky and Bob Kardosh. A wonderful new initiative, the Drawn Festival will celebrate the drawn form, hosted by galleries across the city. Along with the exhibitions, symposia, and artist talks, a new drawing prize will soon be part of the yearly festival. Modelled after Toronto’s Contact Photography Festival, this will the first festival of its kind in Canada. You can find out more about this event by clicking here.



Detail of Dining Room_Sergeev

10 responses to “In the Studio

  1. I wish I could see it better… it looks intriguing

  2. Val – Salut! Did you finish Living Room – from these photos – it looks amazing – are you looking in from outside at night. Also, have you read The Elegance of the Hedgehog?????? One of the most amazing books I have read for a long time.
    Ciao Ciao

  3. Hi Miyeko, Yes, I’ve finished the painting, it will be in my November show. Your book recommendation sounds interesting, must check it out. thanks V

  4. I enjoyed reading your blog Val, and will come back to it often. Thank you for your synopsis regarding arts funding..I hope someone in parliament is taking note.

    Keep up the good work.!

  5. Hello Lorraine,
    Thanks for reading!

  6. Thank you for sharing this video! Very inspiring. Hope to see you soon.

  7. Hello Andrea, thanks for writing. Yes, I look forward to see you and your latest work, too. Keep me posted.

  8. i Look forward to seeing your November show.

  9. Looking forward to your next exhibition! Pressure Pressure!
    Just kidding. You’re work always seems to amaze me.

  10. Hello Junichiro,
    Thanks so much for writing, and for the kind words. I hope to see you soon! And I hope your work is going well.

    all the best,

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