Last August, at West Vancouver’s Harmony Arts Festival, an annual event at John Lawson Park, artist Sheree Jones and a friend were entered in the outdoor painting competition.
“We chose what we thought was a great location for what we wanted to paint,” recalls Sheree, 57, who has been painting seriously for the past six years. “Unfortunately, once we settled ourselves with our gear and began to paint, we quickly realized that it was Kid’s Day – a little like Coney Island on the Fourth of July.”
Her intended subject was a park bench near a tree, with the ocean behind it. “It was really quite a challenge, as whole families of cyclists kept parking their bikes against my tree,” says Sheree. And she’d forgotten her camera. “Let's just say, I now know all the words to the ‘Little Ducky’ song and many more. Ah, the challenges of painting outdoors.”
Despite the challenges, Sheree has persisted and finds painting outdoors – en plein air – her favourite activity. Although she has no formal art education, she attends workshops as often as she can.
At a 12-day session in 2009, near Granada, Spain, Sheree was introduced to the practice of plein air. This, in turn, led to another workshop, with B.C. painters Mike Svob, Andrew McDermott and others, on Gabriola Island and hosted by the Federation of Canadian Artists, of which she is a member.
Of course, on the wet West Coast, sunny days can be rare, even in summer. However, when the weather is good, Sheree grabs her plein-air painting kit, which includes a collapsible easel with detachable cups for mineral spirits and varnish, as well as a carry-all packed with brushes, tubes of paint and other supplies. Her kit is always packed and stored near the garage door for a quick getaway.
One of her favourite destinations is Hornby Island, but Sheree likes to paint on other Gulf Islands, as well as Vancouver Island and the Mainland, particularly the Okanagan.
Art has always been an important part of Sheree’s life, and the vibrant landscapes and still-life oil paintings she is now creating are evidence of her long interest and growing skill. Back in Grade 10, she threatened to quit because her high school in North Vancouver did not have an art program. Fortunately, she found out about a two-year arts program at Carson Graham Secondary and finished Grade 12 there.
After graduating in 1972, she travelled to California to study calligraphy and print design with David Lance Goines. From there, she went to India and Southeast Asia to learn about batik and other fabric-design techniques. Returning to Canada, Sheree settled for a decade on Bowen Island. Inspired by the landscape there, she continued to study fabric arts, drawing and watercolour, while working at a series of jobs, including landscape design.
But watercolour didn’t provide the vibrant colours she wanted, so when she returned to the Lower Mainland, Sheree registered for a night-school course in acrylics. Acrylic paints dry quickly, though, and she began to experiment with oil paint. She now prefers oils, thanks to their slow drying time and “buttery” quality. Although some painters object to the strong smell of turpentine, which is required to thin oil paint and clean brushes, Sheree says that using odourless mineral spirits solves that problem.
About six years ago, Sheree heard about a North Vancouver studio run by artists Kiff Holland and Dene Croft, where she could get lessons as well as mentoring, and now spends as much as possible of her spare time there. Working in a shared studio, with other painters around, has lots of advantages, she says. One is that “you are taking in all sorts of information about techniques,” without even realizing you are learning, when you work with other artists. In addition, Holland and Croft often invite well-known painters to their studio to lecture and show their work.
Sheree also paints at home, in a corner of her living room where the view from her windows looks out past her garden to Vancouver’s harbour and skyline.
Her favourite painters include Canadian Tom Thomson, known for his association with the Group of Seven; Spaniard Joachim Sorolla; American John Singer Sargent, well-known for his portraits; and American Richard Schmid.
Sheree believes she has acquired two important and necessary skills: drawing from a live model (life drawing) and en plein air techniques. Life drawing increases an artist’s powers of observation, and painting outdoors encourages speedy painting without niggling over unimportant details.
Sheree is looking forward to retiring from her part-time job in a linen store and launching a new career as an art teacher. “My dream is to be able to travel and teach,” she says.
SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE MAY 2012