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Creative Ink Painting: Finding Your Own Voice with Natalie Griller - April 14th, 2012

Though we usually think of painting as observing an image and then interpreting it with a brush, painting can go the other way. In Natalie Griller's workshop, the focus was on exploring our inner ideas and developing them on the paper.

Natalie spends some of her time in the far north - Kugluktuk, Nunavut - and her paintings provided a way into the workshop.

The workshop also helped its participants learn about plants and animals in the north. Many plants are very small, for example.

Despite the harsh region with most of the year in snow and very cold temperatures, seemingly fragile flowers survive and appear year after year. Natalie is both a scientist, who studies plant and animal life in the north analytically, and an artist, as is evident from her interpretations with brush and ink.

Natalie Griller began her workshop by reminding us that there is a meditative quality in grinding the inkstone and preparing for painting.

The paintings Natalie brought were a starting point for her set of exercises. Natalie wanted workshop participants to start by practicing common brush strokes without thinking too much about the image.

Nevertheless the paintings were of interest to those who were curious about the north. The sparse vegetation creates dramatic landscapes.

A wintry environment also leads to stark and simplified natural settings.

Handouts let workshop participants practice their brush strokes in a variety of images.

Natalie's exercises were designed to explore our own tendencies in art and the things we like to think about though which we may have never painted.

For example, some participants were interested in emotions, both positive and negative, and Natalie told us to think about things that represented those emotions and why we might be interested in these particular symbols.

The workshop encouraged people to explore their inner world and make a connection to it with art.

To just get us started at one point, Natalie told the workshop participants to do some bamboo stalks.

The point, as Natalie reminded us, was to start somewhere and then link it to emotions or ideas, even abstractions like love or friendship or fear. Whatever happened to start to bubble up in our minds.

We each began exploring and painting that rich tapestry in our own minds. A set of vivid, unexpected, and sometimes intense paintings was the result.

Natalie Griller had a second demonstration where she showed participants how to develop the ideas sparked in the first session. In other words, once you start to find a subject or style that seems to suit you internally, how do you go beyond the first brush strokes.

What began as a single caribou became a more dramatic presentation when swirls and gold flakes were added.

Note the contrast in the two paintings of caribou by simply exploring some other possibilities.

Looking at the series of caribou paintings Natalie described the progression. It was this progression that also occurred in the workshop as participants developed paintings from their first impressions.

Another set of paintings changed the presentation of the caribou but used a similar technique of augmenting the painting though with a different style.

Another twist: add a second caribou.

This series of pine paintings followed the exercise in the workshop of trying out a variety of brush strokes with a wet and dry brush.

The snow plays an important part of northern life. It creates white edges in the landscape and leads to some surprising silhouettes.

Natalie Griller showed a few more paintings from the north and, more importantly, how she experiments with different approaches to get the effect that she wants.

Although Natalie's work can be impressionistic, this arctic hare has a life-like realism to it. Interestingly, some animals in the far north can come quite close to people.

The mix of internal exploration, experiments to express workshop participants' most valued thoughts and some pure Canadiana from the north created a fascinating workshop.

Natalie Griller teaches sumi-e painting at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.