BCD #25

Blind Contour Drawing #25 –
“Dishcloth on Line #3 ”
– Mary Pratt 1997

Mary Pratt grew up on one of the most well-regarded streets in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She was one of two daughters to a Harvard-educated provincial cabinet minister.

She was heavily influenced by her maternal grandmother, Edna McMurray, who was the co-founder of the first Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) chapter in New Brunswick. Pratt, like her grandmother, served her community on several boards and communities during her lifetime, especially with matters of the arts and education.

As a young woman, Pratt attended Mount Allison University, studying Fine Arts under Alex Colville, Ted Pulford, and Lawren P. Harris. It was Colville who influenced the development of her style and her subsequent move toward realism. Harris was less enthusiastic; when Pratt married the artist Christopher Pratt in her second year of university, Harris was quick to inform her that a marriage could only hold one artist — and she was not it.

Despite his forewarning, Pratt kept up with her practice even after they moved to Scotland so that her husband could attend the Glasgow School of Art. Over the next several years — in Scotland and after their return to Canada — the couple had four children.  Despite the limited time available, Pratt continued to paint. Frustrated by the busy obligations and limited terrain of motherhood, she eventually took inspiration from the domestic sphere, focussing on the ordinary things around her home in rural Newfoundland.  She began to experiment with the use of light, noticing the charged quality of ordinary objects when they were regarded from new perspectives.  Finding she couldn’t sketch quickly enough before the light changed, she started taking photographs of objects that caught her eye.  When the slides were returned months later, she would choose only those objects that seemed to carry what she called an “erotic charge.” Then, she would paint, using the photos that retained that special quality that she loved.

Although Pratt started to show her work in 1967, it was these portrayals of the mundane objects populating women’s domestic lives that brought her national recognition in the 1970s.

In 1996, Pratt was named Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1997, she was awarded the Molson Prize for visual artists from the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2013, she was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She was also awarded nine honorary degrees from various universities throughout Canada. Pratt was also the first Atlantic woman to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.

Pratt suffered severe near-sightedness, which is reflected in the focal depth of her paintings. She also found difficulty walking and using her hand by middle age because of Rheumatoid arthritis. She continued to paint until her late 70’s.

Her subject matter elevated the mundane scenes of domesticity. Pratt’s art was powerful and political. It was derived from what she called an erotic charge for the moment she captured and then painted.

Born: March 15, 1935, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Died: August 14, 2018, St. John’s, Newfoundland

When it’s a big muddy mess . . .

This is a recap of a talk I was invited to give at a gathering, hosted by Leah Goard for her Define Design Align Academy.

In a room filled with intelligent and inspiring female entrepreneurs, I got up and started speaking about mud!

I was accompanied by Marleen Vermeulen, my lovely friend and co-host of our Open Your Art Retreats. We brought a painting each for show and tell, so that I could speak about our painting process. I wanted to explain how we move forward when our paintings literally feel like mud.

I shared 3 ideas that work for both of us:

1. Scrap it or paint over parts of it. This is hard to do and takes courage because it feels like a failure.

I’ve seen Marleen take one of her big palette knives and scrap off layers of thick oil paint because she was fighting a part of her painting too much. I’ve painted over parts of mine with a solid colour for the same reason. When there is too much resistance and too much struggle, the work is simply not aligned.

I’ve done this with other projects as well. I once had a registered business name and website built. Before I launched, I realized with Leah’s help that the whole thing was just a huge distraction. It was taking me farther away from what I really wanted and was scared of pursuing. I hit delete.

This is really hard to do because we see this as a failure. We are conditioned to believe that failure is really bad when it is actually part of the process. Failure is necessary in every pursuit. This is easy to remember when you think of a scientist or inventor for them every failure is a step closer to an epiphany! If you are developing a new product or service, try out prototypes with people that you know will give you honest feedback. Be willing to fail early in the game before you’ve invested too much (like a website)!

The fine line here is recognizing the difference between moving through a rough spot and being completely off course. It’s not easy to distinguish at times, usually it’s your gut feeling that can tell you to keep on going or to scrap it.

At the talk, a discussion ensued about being able to tune into our intuition. I have my yoga practice and my meditation to help me listen for inner guidance. In addition, painting actually forces me to tap into my intuition constantly. Tuning in is a skill that helps me navigate other decisions in my life. Regardless of your day job, a creative practice is an effective tool for listening to your intuition because it is what guides you to choose a colour, pick up a certain sized brush, make a new mark and ultimately tells you when your work is done.

A playful practice in life is invaluable because it normalizes failing. It is a reminder that it’s ok if things don’t work out and takes the weight off of the decision to start over.

2. Trust in the process.

Both Marleen and I agree that when we are staring at mud on the canvas, we usually surrender to the process to help us find clarity. We look for the area on the painting that’s bothering us the most and ask ourselves what step we could take to move into a new direction. Then we step back and look at the whole canvas again. Sometimes that one mark or new colour is just what the entire painting needed to bring it all together. Usually, we observe how that step resonated with the entire piece and we look for another section on the canvas and ask the same question,

“What can I do here to move this part forward?”

We repeat over and over until step by step the painting starts to come together. This is what trust in the process really means to me. Take one step, see how that feels, check in with the whole project then take the next small step.

3. Ask for help. This is very vulnerable but it is also so valuable to get a different set of eyes on your project.

Reach out to someone that you trust. Someone that you know who will be able to give you honest and respectful feedback.

I have a personal story to share about this:

A few years ago I was preparing a painting for a group show that Marleen was also involved with. I was honoured to be invited and was inspired by many of the artists in the show. I was also nervous about my piece and was “in the mud.” I reached out to Marleen for help. I didn’t know her very well but I knew that she was kind and I respected her work. She was amazing and within minutes she helped me resolve my painting. It turns out the painting just needed a bit more blue! I couldn’t see it, I was too stuck and overwhelmed. That afternoon over tea, she started to tell me about this magical place called Juseu in Spain. She had thought about hosting a group of painters there for a retreat and wanted to know if I was interested in exploring that idea with her. Of course I did!

While I was preparing for this talk, I asked her if she had the Spain retreat idea in her mind before coming over to visit me that afternoon. “No,” she said, “it just came up while we were relaxing over tea.”

I’m so glad I got out of my way and asked for her help that day. I’m so glad that I was able to be vulnerable and invite critique about my work. It is hard to do but I’m living proof of the rewards. We are just about to embark on our 3rd Open Your Art Retreat in Spain. By the way, the painting also found a new home and I’m still in touch with its lovely new owners, another ripple in my metaphor.


Lastly, I want to leave you with this one thought; you will always find yourself in ‘the mud’ at times. This experience is part of the creative curve. Relish it because it means that you are pushing new ideas forward. That you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and are in a growth spurt. It is painful at times but necessary.

You are intelligent, curious and creative so go get yourself a good pair of boots and enjoy the journey!





Photo: Thank you Tanis Frame for the photo!

Doodling, colouring & drawing

Creativity is the ultimate problem solver. The next time you have an issue at the office, a dilemma at home or are simply feeling like you are in a bit of a slump, try tapping into your creative side.  Science proves that giving your analytical mind a break and allowing your mind to relax is one of the best ways to shift from confusion to clarity.

However, it can be difficult to relax if you have a deadline looming or an issue that continues to resurface over and over again.

My top 3 relaxation practices include meditation, moving my body (on my yoga mat or in the forest) and doodling, colouring or drawing. The latter are the cornerstone of an artist’s practice, no matter their medium.  Just like an entrepreneur, a CEO or a parent, artists problem solve all day long.  Sketching, doodling and drawing is a fast, inexpensive way to tap into a creative flow.

If you are intimidated by the thought of picking up a pencil or have scathing memories of previous attempts at drawing, I have some ideas for you.

Doodling is highly under rated. It is one of the most effective ways to slow your busy mind down to actually listen and concentrate.  The word means to “scribble absentmindedly,” and synonyms include tinker, fiddle and trifle.  No wonder it gets such a bad rap.

Here are some alternative thoughts and evidence from Sunni Brown’s website – sunnibrown.com/doodlerevolution/

  • That doodling is as native to human beings as are walking and talking;
  • That human beings have been doodling in the sand, in the snow and on cave walls for over 30,000 years;
  • That we are neurologically wired with an overwhelmingly visual sensory ability;
  • That doodling ignites four learning modalities—auditory, linguistic, kinesthetic, and visual—and dramatically enhances the experience of learning;
  • That doodling promotes concentration and increases information retention by up to 29%;
  • That doodling supports deep, creative problem solving and innovation;
  • That doodling has been an ever-present tool, a pre-cursor and a catalyst for the emergence of intellectual breakthroughs in science, technology, medicine, architecture, literature and art;
  • That doodling is and has been deployed by some of the best and brightest minds in history;
  • And that doodling lives outside of the elitist realms of high art and design and is a form of expression free and accessible to all.

If you are still not convinced or want to learn more, watch her 2011 Ted Talk –www.ted.com/talks/sunni_brown

I always doodle during a webinar or at a boardroom table.  It helps me focus on what’s being said and keeps me from being distracted by my electronics!



Blind contour drawing
BCD – Skull by Georgia O’Keefe

Blind contouring drawing is another way to let go and learn how to go with the flow.  The idea is simple.  You focus on an object or a scene in front of you, place your pencil on the paper and slowly draw the outside lines of the shapes you see. You try not to lift your pencil off the page and the blind part means, you don’t look at your paper while you are drawing.  I love to do this exercise in my workshops with people because whatever happens on the paper is just going to be interesting and can’t possibly look like the object or scene because we are “blind” during the process.  I love the mark making of this style of drawing and the freedom it creates.  I’ve been working on a series of blind contour drawings of famous women artist’s work (see my blog posts).  It helps me slow down and really see all the bits and pieces.  I appreciate the art even more after studying it this way.  This is a great exercise to do to slow down and really see your surroundings.  The results are surprising and fun!

A great reference for drawing in general is a book called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” by Betty Edwards.  It is a classic.  If you are interested in the science behind drawing and want to improve your drawing skills, I highly recommend it.  It is full of exercises like blind contour drawing.




Outside Your Lines, a colouring bookColouring for adults has hit the mainstream in a big way over the past few years and I’m glad about it.  I believe that most of us forget how to play and we forget that it is actually beneficial to create things that have no purpose, except for perhaps to just have fun.  It is sad that we collectively feel that play time for adults is a waste of time. I’m so glad to see this colouring revolution, we need creative play not only to relax but to grow just as much as kids do.

There are so many amazing colouring books out there, I was so inspired that I created one too! It is called “Outside Your Lines.”  I made a book for all of you free spirits who don’t necessarily want to colour in the lines or maybe the rebel in you is intrigued by the idea of creating something outside the box!  I also made sure that there are not too many small bits so that you don’t need reading glasses to enjoy it.  And lastly none of the designs are scenes or are symmetrical so you won’t feel restricted in colour choice. The book is also an introduction to the chakras (because yoga and creativity go hand in hand in my world), it is printed on 100% recycled paper and I’m pretty proud of the project!  Reach out if you’d like to purchase a copy or follow this link.


If you want to see what inspires me, I’ve been sharing my blind contour drawings and some of my watercolour and ink doodles on instagram .You can even “win” a card from me, I mail one out each week!

Lastly,  if you really think you can’t draw, Graham Shaw is out to prove you wrong. Grab some paper, a pen and give him 20 minutes of your time.  Enjoy!



Female artists to be inspired by …

This list is a result of one simple question asked in the Thrive Network –

Who is a female artist you are inspired by?


This list is amazing and it keeps growing.  I thought I knew my art history but apparently not.  This list is full of contemporary artists who are working right now and producing work too!  Where possible, I’ve linked to their site and otherwise to a wiki entry so that you can start your own research.

Who is missing?  Let me know who inspires you and I’ll keep this list growing!

p.s. The Thrive Network is based out of  Vancouver, Canada but rapidly expanding – take a look, I’ve been involved since January and can’t recommend it enough!


Our mission is to unite female visual artists!  THRIVE is built on a foundation of community, a passion for learning and a commitment to support rather than compete.


Female artists to be inspired by……


Vikky Alexander
Jennifer Angus
Gillian Ayres
Susanna Bauer
Marta Becket
Christi Belcourt
Tina Berning

Inese Birstins

Su Blackwell
Louise Bourgeois
Cecily Brown
Lee Bul
Bobbie Burgers
Emily Carr
Julie Chen
Galen Cheney
Judy Chicago
Eileen Cooper
Cori Creed
Niki de Ste Phalle
Marlene Dumas
Tracey Emin
Angela Fox
Helen Frankenthaler
Margaret Glew
Torrie Groening
Guerilla Girls
Ann Hamilton
Erin Hanson
Grace Hartigan

Barbara Hepworth

Jessica Hess

Eva Hesse

Sheila Hicks
Carmel Jenkins
Sophie Jodoin
Chantal Joffe
Frida Kahlo
Ann Kipling
Lisa Kokin
Kathe Kollwitz
Katie Lewis
Clara Lieu
Michelle Loughrey
Sally Mann
Agnes Martin
Shantal Martin

Margaret Mcdonald Mackintosh

Miss Me (the artful vandal)
Annette Messager
Joan Mitchell
Wangechi Mutu
Joanne Nam
Sheila Norgate
Rebecca Norris Webb
Georgia O’Keeffe
Zoë Pawlak
Rajni Perera
Susan Point
Fiona Rae
Paula Rego
Bridget Riley

Mariette Rousseau-Vermette

Doris Salcedo
Meera Sethi
Laurie Simmons
Taryn Simon
Lorna Simpson
Kirsten Sims
Kiki Smith
Anne J Steves
Kara Walker
Rachel Whiteread
Joyce Wieland
Selena Wong
Beatrice Wood
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye