Tag Archives: Painting

Illness, Art and an Interview

Autumn is here…..and with it, some cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, not entirely in my favour, as I sit here with ears floating underwater, and a small fire spitting flames in my throat. I guess my immune system got a little bored with all the good health.IMGP8275

Though it’s hard not to laugh-cough, when you catch yourself answering the “How are you?” question, with a cracking and squeaky “Good! You?”. Fun times.

So I apologize in advance if my words don’t make complete sense – my mind is a little distracted with, you know, not being able to hear, swallow, cough, breathe, move.

IMGP5760 But since all I’m doing is binge-watching Australian comedies resting the past few days, it’s a good time to catch up on the past month and a half:

…I finally got back into painting, after a bit of a hiatus. Lately, I’ve been leaning a lot towards landscapes, though I did squeeze in one portrait (note: not all of these are complete)

Painting | Saltwater Birch Studio Painting | Saltwater Birch Studio

Painting | Saltwater Birch Studio

Painting | Saltwater Birch Studio…I’ve been working on some new sketches, preparing for a small craft show next week.



Painting | Saltwater Birch Studio

…and I set up and took down an exhibit of landscape paintings in Market Square in Saint John (no pictures of this process, sorry. Horrible memory + easily distracted is not a great combination).

While there, I did get a chance to check out the market, where I discovered this amazing potter (almost looks like watercolor painted onto those wares), and checked out the Sculpture Saint John event, which involved sculptors from across the world.


Lastly, I had an interview which was featured in a local magazine – it turned out quite well! It’s been strange but encouraging to have random people come up to me and compliment the artwork they saw in that feature. It’s rewarding, and somehow reaffirming that maybe, just maybe, I’m doing something right.

Next time, I’ll share a few of the reference photos I’ve been collecting over the past few weeks.


5 Ways To Beat Your Painter’s Block

Whether you write, paint, draw etc. – eventually you will encounter the dreaded Artist’s Block. It may last for a few days, or much, much longer if you’re particularly unlucky (my record was about 3 months). It is not easy – it mooches your energy, creativity, and, sometimes, your sanity.

So how do you get past it? Saltwater Birch Studio

Here are five techniques that I regularly rely on..some were collected through trial and error, and others from sage former instructors: (these are more painting focused, but they could be applied to other mediums)

1. Look at other artwork. Your nearest local gallery, BOOOOOOOM Online, American Art Review magazine, ‘Inside The Studio’ posts at Saatchi Online, Pinterest or websites of galleries in your province, are good places to start. Just looking at other works can be enough inspiration to get the itch to paint. When I lived in Ottawa, I used to take regular purpose-less strolls through the National Gallery, for hours at a time (or until the pain in my feet became too excruciating…I had this insane habit of not wanting to miss out on a potentially life-altering artwork that would help make sense of the world, so I tried to see it all at once, every single time).

Living in a rural setting makes it a little more challenging to get that art gallery fix, which is where the internet comes in handy – while it’s not the same as seeing artwork in person, it does have its own benefits – like viewing art while sipping hot beverages, in your smock and woollen socks.Gallery Wall | Saltwater Birch Studio

2. If you’re struggling to find a subject, or having difficulties choosing and mixing the right colors, paint a self-portrait. Set up a mirror beside your easel, and paint what you see. Painting from life is a great practice in observation: you have to pay attention to subtle changes in hue and light, while dealing with a moving (though patient) subject. Try to get the colors as accurate as you can – the shapes, while crucial in making the portrait look like you, are not as important in this exercise (so don’t worry if the end result doesn’t look exactly like you). By focusing on just the color, instead of the “big picture”, it narrows your attention, allowing you to focus more time on getting as close as possible to the exact color that you see, which usually means trying out new color combinations. And these new combinations can be applied to other paintings, helping you get out of color ruts.

This is not a self-portrait..to be honest, I think I painted over most of mine, so I included a recent painting instead.

This is not a self-portrait..to be honest, I painted over most of mine, so here’s a recent painting instead, entitled “Summer’s Beckoning”.

3. Begin your next project by declaring “I’m going to make a terrible painting”, and say it with a smile. It may seem ridiculous, but allowing yourself to make one giant mistake of a painting, frees you from the constraints of having to get it right every time. A lot of creative blocks stem from fear, especially of failure. So let yourself fail on purpose – to play, to innovate, to take a riskNo one has to see this painting, it’s intended for the back closet, and the paint-over pile (though you may be pleasantly surprised what you come up with!).

Both paintings that began from using this technique…(R) one of the more successful outcomes I’ve had, while (L) was among the worst (and was eventually painted over). 

4.  Try a new medium – if you usually paint in oils, try acrylic or charcoal, or something completely different like writing a poem, taking photographs, or making a sculpture out of driftwood. I’m not saying you have to master a whole new skill set, but making time for other (creative) hobbies helps keep you curious and excited. Personally, I switch back and forth between all of them (except acrylic paint…we just don’t get along).

5 Ways of Overcoming Creative Blocks | Saltwater Birch Studio

5. If you’re stuck for inspiration, or want to improve your skills but not sure how, try copying a painting from an old master (like a Rembrandt, Degas or Delacroix). Many great painters learned to paint by imitation – it really enhances your ability to observe and mix colors, and you may even discover new techniques of applying paint. This is actually how I learned to mix skin color, by attempting Eugene Delacroix’s Orphan Girl At the Cemetery (see below). To say my version comes anywhere close to the original is an exaggeration, though maybe if you squint your eyes you can see the resemblance.

(on the left is my version) It took me 10-12 hours just to get the skin color to stop looking orangey-red, by which time, the proportions were all wrong. But I didn't want to risk ruining the skin color again, so I just left it. Not great advice, I admit. Though, later on, as my skill improved, I learned that you can always get a painting back to the way it was, so don't fear messing it up.. which is far better advice.

(on the left is my version) It took me 10-12 hours just to get the skin color to stop looking orangey-red, by which time, the proportions were all wrong. But I didn’t want to risk ruining the skin color again, so I just left it. Not great advice, I admit. Though, later on, as my skill improved, I learned that you can always get a painting back to the way it was, so don’t fear messing it up…which is far better advice.

The Crickets Have Left

The only sounds are distant engines and lapping waves. The chickadees will reappear soon. It gets eerily quiet in the wilderness in winter, and autumn, its epilogue. You can hear individual leaves falling, and cars 4km away. Though some find its stillness disconcerting (reminiscent of life’s somber finale), I find it calming and strangely exciting – with no chirps and chatter, the world is gasping like an excited child, waiting for the big reveal. And I gasp with it – smiling at the imagery.

Vanessa Pesch

The Look, oil on 12″x16″ canvas

On that note, here a few paintings that have been hanging around my easels this month.

The Hike by Saltwater Birch StudioThe Hike, oil on 12″x24″ canvas

Silvester by Saltwater Birch Studio

Silvester, oil on 12″x16″ canvas

“How far did you get with your painting?

“Well, it’s almost done. There’s paint everywhere.”

“The mark of a good painting.”

Why Am I Here by Saltwater Birch Studio

Why Am I Here, oil on 24″x36″ canvas