By Darren Lum
Down a country road close to Carnarvon, the Boathouse Studio offers a glimpse of the world as seen through artist Harvey Walker’s eyes, one painted canvas at a time.
“It’s always a good day to paint,” the oil painter with 30 years of experience says.
Walker is looking forward to being able to showcase his work for the first time in The Studio Tour – Haliburton Highlands, which is Oct. 3 to 4 and 10 to 11. He called it a “mark of recognition” to be chosen by his peers for the juried, storied tour.
“To be approved to be on it by peers, other artists is a good feeling. It’s nice level of achievement,” he said.
He joins 14 other artists who will be at 12 participating studio locations.
Walker said just like any musician or artist, it’s important to have the opportunity to share one’s work.
“Whatever you do you don’t do it usually in privacy. You want to be able to share it with other people and get their feedback and see how they react to it. That’s the biggest thing. It’s being able to do things so that other people can enjoy it,” he said. “It’s always nice when people enjoy it enough that they want to take it home and that’s a big boost to your motivation, but I don’t paint necessarily just what I know will sell. I paint what I want to paint and what message I want to achieve at the time.”
His tour participation will include dozens of paintings, which will be showcased in his studio and a sheltered area outside. Subject matter will include depictions of fauna and portraits of people, but mainly landscapes of local scenes in the Highlands and places he has visited such as Manitoulin Island. His work has also been on display during the Tour de Forest.
Walker, who leads art lessons at his studio and has held other classes around the county, is passionate about plein air painting.
He tells his art students it’s the “extreme sport of painting.”
“It’s where you’re battling the weather and you’re battling the time and the light causes shadows here and an hour later they’re somewhere else, or the clouds roll in,” he said.
There is an obvious unpredictable nature to painting outside.
Walker remembers painting this past May just west of Carnarvon close to East Lake. What started as a beautiful sunny day suddenly changed.
“Fifteen minutes later it got cloudy and 25 minutes later it was hailing. And this was the first week of May,” he said. “So you pack up and go home. That’s part of the joy it.”
Although he paints in his studio sometimes, the value of plein air is in how the process of the painting can resonate with the viewer. There is a feeling that is conveyed about the place and the time the artist has captured in a scene in oil, he said.
“All your emotions and senses are involved outside. Last winter, I painted a few times at Sir Sam’s and, hopefully, you can feel the cold of my fingers through the painting. Your senses: that’s how you look at things and see how to record them and consequently I think it ends up on the canvas,” he said.
Walker only works in oil; he appreciates the practical and creative flexibility it affords him.
With oil, he can employ different techniques using a brush or with his finger wrapped in a rag. Oil can communicate depth and texture unrivalled by acrylic or watercolour paint. It can also be altered to look like watercolour paint.
“With oils you have a complete tool kit. Depending on what the subject is, depending on what my mood is, I can basically adapt to that with a multitude of textures and brush strokes and representational images on the canvas,” he said. “The whole challenge of painting is to take a three-dimensional image that you’re seeing and transfer that to a two-dimensional canvas and convince people they are looking at a three-dimensional image again.”
The ever-changing quality of working outdoors keeps him working in oils, which is far more stable and adaptable in fluctuating temperatures. Compared to water colour or acrylics, oil is stable. It doesn’t fully freeze in extreme cold and doesn’t dry out like watercolour and acrylic.
His fingers will go numb long before the consistency of his oil paints become too challenging to work with.
Walker’s message for people attending this tour or taking a lesson with him is to understand the arts is more than just about making money. It’s about joy and the connection with the natural surroundings.
“You don’t have to paint for a selling market. You can paint just because you enjoy it as a hobby. The same as somebody who is mature and will still go play hockey and never have any thoughts of making it to the NHL,” he said.
“Painting somehow [makes] people draw that conclusion that I was never good at it or not good enough to sell therefore I won’t participate in it. And that is something I think I always stress at shows and all the time at classes that you can do it for your own enjoyment because it will add to how you see the world … you can widen your perception of the beauty of nature just by going through the motions of trying to capture it on canvas. It will open your eyes up to a whole new world and a new set of visual capacities.”
Harvey Walker is studio K on The Studio Tour, held Oct. 3 and 4, 10 and 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Boathouse Studio is at 1162 Peterson Road in Minden Hills. Go to harveywalkerart.ca for more.