“An artist’s brain is always on,” says painter Kathleen Dawson. “They’re always observing and being inspired. And each creative thought is like a skipping stone causing untold ripples in the water.”
“Exploring each idea is like opening an advent calendar,” she adds. “You never know what you’re going to find or where it will take you.”
Kathleen Dawson, Plein Air Painter, opens at Whyte’s Framing and Gallery in Comox on Sept. 27 and continues through Oct. 12. The artist’s reception is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on the 27th.
Dawson’s artistic journey has taken her from Ontario to Vancouver and from the rugged wilderness of the Chilcotin Plateau to France and many points in between. In 1999 she bought eight acres in Black Creek as a painting retreat and home for herself and her 12 canine companions.
“I have a passion for painting and dogs and make sure I have time for both every day,” she says. In the past, Dawson bred, trained, entered competitions and sold a special breed of German shepherd.
Art and animals have long been a focus. Dawson remembers drawing horses on her school notebooks in grade two and later attended veterinary school. But in the end, art won out and she shifted her studies to the Toronto School of Art and the Ontario College of Art.
A keen interest in plein air (French for in the open air) painting resulted in many horseback camping expeditions to remote areas of the Chilcotin. Dawson’s ridden through bogs, willow stands and swarms of blackflies.
On one trip she had seven separate encounters with grizzlies in five days. And, as well as serving as a wilderness painting retreat, one trip was also a two-week honeymoon.
“The Chilcotin is so different from the coast,” explains Dawson. “It’s more open and there’s lots of pink, beige and yellow and less green. And if you get to a high-enough elevation, snow patterns create a fairyland.”
In addition to local and national awards, one of Dawson’s Chilcotin paintings, The Dream is There, received a Gold Medal for the Canada Biennial for Canadian Artists and a Gold Medal for Le Salon SNBA in Paris, France.
Despite her fondness for plein air painting, Dawson admits it’s not for everyone.
“The challenges include bugs, dogs, heat, wind, people interrupting you and finding a place to take a bathroom break. I’ve tied a bag with a rock in it to my easel to anchor it and painted with one elbow holding the easel down and my thumb holding the painting on it. Once my palette board flew off a cliff into the ocean.”
“But the rewards are enormous,” she continues. “The human eye sees nuances that a camera will miss – the colours in the shadows and the subtle shifting of light.”
Once a year Dawson packs up her painting supplies and heads to France. “The impressionists did a lot of their work outside,” notes Dawson. “Their painting is known for its colour and light. I only paint plein air in France.”
When it comes to choice of medium, Dawson prefers oil. “I love the colour, richness and texture of it. And the way it feels on the brush. Oil is very tactile and gives the painting texture.”
On occasion, Dawson holds painting classes for two or three at her Paint Box Studio nestled among the towering Douglas fir on her property. For larger groups she holds weekend workshops at another venue noting that serious students usually prefer private instruction.
Dawson’s work has been shown in more than 35 galleries worldwide and is held in collections throughout Canada, the U.S., France and Germany.
The Whyte’s exhibit includes a mix of plein air and studio paintings.
To find out more about Dawson’s work or art classes, visit www.kathleendawson.com.
Whyte’s Framing and Gallery is located at 1225 Lazo Rd., a short distance from downtown Comox. Gallery hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information and a map to the gallery (under contact tab), visit www.whytesframing.com.
Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section.