All posts by Catherine Young Bates

Fun Is Revising

So much of my pleasure in writing poetry (which I do often) comes in the process of revision, getting the words right, the phrases appropriate, and the sounds of the words musical.  It has always amazed me that so much pleasure can come through revising and revising until it finally seems right.  It’s work!  But it’s such pleasure!

When I draw, the quickly sketched lines I begin with often seem better than the slower considered ones, giving the result a freshness that’s hard to keep with longer work.  So where is the pleasure of revision in visual work?  It’s in the adjustments of values and colours and the edges of shapes.  Sometimes the big concept has to get changed, but that’s usually near the beginning, getting the over-all composition approximately right, the balances of large and small feeling good, the felt sense of being on track.  The subsequent revisions are balancing acts, getting it to look really “right” in all the areas, large and small.

The fun is revising so that the freshness stays there!

Going Forward

After Kamouraska 2 oil-prepared paper 22x30Starting to paint after arriving at the studio is a challenge – it takes time to leave all the ordinary life activities at the door and clear my mind.  It demands faith in the positive nature of visual creation, its validity in the face of horrendous world problems.

I have to let the “thinking ideas” that I constantly come up with stay in the background of my mind.  Ideas interrupt because they intrigue me, but once the real concentration of painting activity gets established, then it’s painting, period.  The sectional work that used rows of “writing” lines turned into a landscape when I began to draw.

The mind’s activity is essential in keeping the original vision as clear and constant as possible, impervious to unending distractions.  But it’s the activity of painting itself that leads me to the intuitive decisions that lead to resemblances of joy with my work!

Pierrette Bloch

Inspiration: Pierrette Bloch 2015Why do I admire Pierrette Bloch??

Because she made such a lot out of almost nothing; achingly beautiful work out of incredibly simple marks.
Oh, to let my landscapes just be!
Let them happen!
I like vistas, standing in
The landscape looking
Into the distance.
No need to be pretentious!!
There is a simple joy in distance.

Going On!

After Kamouraska 3 oil-prepared paper 22x30

Times are tough in the art world.  Sales are down, and there seem to be fewer people going to art exhibitions, at least to those in the commercial galleries.  It’s a time of regrouping, meaning lots of artists will quit painting and that will give the rest of us a bit more fresh air!

Intermittent sales feel like small victories in terms of paying for rents and supplies, for that’s an issue that never goes away.  Otherwise it can now be painting as usual, without too many pressures coming from outside. And it’s wonderful to deal with people who are looking at the art rather than trying to fill in their collecting list.  It also keeps my ideas in a calmer state.  Ideas pour into my mind for paintings I might do – academic education paralleling art training has its advantages, but ideas are so persuasive and take up so much time!  It’s really nicer just to get into the studio and paint.  It feels easier now to paint simple straightforward things, what I see, not what I think, and to let the seeing prompt the decision-making on the canvas.  The art world needs to be kept at that important distance.  Then when time is right, off the paintings will go to the galleries, or to studio visitors.


During my days of writing as an art critic it was so easy to spot the many artists who were chasing careers instead of focussing on growing their talents. It was a trap I determined to avoid, and one which I perhaps just couldn’t help but avoid, given my predilections and background of loving art in a wide context.

The artist John Fox once asked me what I got from my early years of art history, and I answered in one word, standards. Fine, but then it’s a slower go to make it in the art world since fashions and standards are not the same. My career has lagged somewhat behind my talent, partly because of my attitude towards standards, and partly because of a severe hearing disability (I now have a cochlear implant, which is an immense help.) It has meant a certain endurance, now paying off in the growing recognition for my work.


As of March 2015 my studio is a 1300 square foot rented room in the same Montreal commercial building that I have been in for several years, on the main floor, so I can now do without using freight elevators. It’s big, but with two exhibitions out at galleries, there’s space on the shelves. I like painting there, have settled in well, and have prepared the most recent exhibit there.

Concurrent with the physical studio changes are thoughts about the changing role of the artist, since much work now has to be spent on the internet, on photography, on transport, etc. The role of artist is shifting. I am now rearranging the studio to be a better organized production centre for me to work in, with more thought about getting help for what happens to the works afterwards. I need to hire a studio assistant more regularly for preparation of canvases, exhibition arrangements, internet work, etc. The studio must remain a place of painting creativity first and foremost, since nothing can happen without a steady production. The studio is basic. I am happy that I have moved mine to a larger and more convenient location. Priorities I hear!


Art galleries are having a tough time these days. My sales are staying infrequent but steady, as they always have in tough times. My work maintains a certain independence from the fashions of the art market. I appreciate sales – I have to pay by myself for my high costs of studio and materials! But are more exhibitions the way to make sales?

Art galleries manage the promotion and sales of work, and take a commission for doing so. Good galleries earn those commissions and I have no qualms about sharing profits with them, because good gallery directors love art as well as money, and are in tandem with their artists who are in the same boat; we all work in a larger context than pure business.

But the art world seems to be getting smaller and smaller, an ironic thing to write, since big art fairs have been growing in number. I guess they’re doing OK. But small local exhibits are questionable in a world of seeming economic contraction. And the internet can get the images across, if not the feel of the actual work. So the question remains, Why Exhibit?


Using words as art has a very long tradition – try the Egyptians for starters and then go back in history! Modern users include Christopher Wool, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Jasper Johns, Greg Curnoe, and many others. It seems to be a bit of a fashion these days. I’m interested in using words because I’ve already liked doing it for years, and I used to write as an art critic, a job I loved except that it ate too much into painting time. I’ve published my poems and drawings in a book called Counterpane. I continue to make lists and memo headings with drawn letters of the alphabet, in my own style with capital letters. I’ve recently been drawing short statements on small pieces of good paper and painting them and their surrounds with gouache. The first one simply said HAVE SOME FUN, and was a release from the serious art world, whose demands have to be constantly avoided. Making it was so much fun that I am continuing this series.

Now I’m collecting short statements about art and also about the state of the world as I see it, and despite the serious content I am having even more fun combining lettering/painting with pithy phrases. They seem to be staying a small size for the moment, though perhaps I might find an interesting reason for doing them larger, other than the silly fact that large paintings are thought to be more important and of course sell for more money. More words per painting might be one reason for working larger, though my writing experience suggests brevity. I’ll just see how it goes!


I paint landscapes to make implied spaces that I can look into for distance, and with surfaces up close that I can feel myself touching. The subject is what provides visual distance, and drawing through the paint shows the close creative process. It’s both distance and proximity. I can see the subject; I can feel the process.

I hold strong to the importance of painting landscapes. I like larger vistas than we can see in our constructed cities, and I love the process of making paintings. Drawing through the paint is a creative activity, but it can also be interpreted as a destructive one as well, by changing the surface violently. And I do see us as destroying our world!

I see distances. I touch paint surfaces. I hear the weather of landscapes – wind, rain, thunder, etc. I feel the heat of the sun, etc. I smell the weather, etc. I taste the fruit on trees or growing in fields. Landscape painting requires using all five senses, in concept and in process. The sixth sense seems like extrasensory perception, the mind putting the other five senses to work.

Why paint at all is another subject!

Plein-air painting


On a recent trip to Maine I painted by the seashore. You see the water behind me! That’s because I faced my van into the sun in order to have the shade of the raised rear van door to paint under. Having to refer to an image behind me is no problem since it’s the painting that’s important. I don’t copy scenery; I make paintings! A selective memory is a great helper for an artist. The paintings are done quickly, with lots of paint, and with speedy revisions to capture the feeling of energy and movement in the painting.


Most of the time I paint in the studio from pen and ink sketches that accumulate quite quickly. I only paint en plein air a few times a year, to keep my feet on the ground both literally and figuratively. It’s a bit redundant to drive long distances searching for idyllic scenes, but having the paint supplies set up in my van makes it possible to do a painting when the scene comes along!