My artist wife spent 10 years without cleaning her art studio in our suburban, prairie bungalow. Her studio, the size of a living room, fills a quarter of our basement.
Paint-covered floors, canvasses stacked everywhere, and piles of paint supplies in the middle of the room were common behind the perpetually closed door. As sure as the sun rises, that studio would be a mess.
Yet, it took her the time of one my strength-training workouts to clean the place.
I chatted with Miles Constable recently. It was a great conversation filled with a lot of laughs. He is a retired Environment Toxicologist who always had artistic tendencies but didn’t fully lean into them until after he retired. Now, he’s been successful at making a go of being a professional artist; although, he would tell you he’s not quite there yet.
Our conversation, which you can read below, took many interesting turns but what really comes out — aside from his love of the great Miles Davis — is his passion to explore mixed mediums and how they interact and react to each other.
[Featured Artwork: “Summerfallow” by Miles Constable. Acrylic and copper on reversed birch panel.]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
I mix it up. Like they say in the army, max flex. You gotta keep it moving.
02. What is the main medium you use in your art pieces?
It varies. Ultimately, I like working in acrylics, currently on reversed birch panels in a reverse birch panel, abstract, mixed medium approach.
03. The featured piece at the top of this post is Summerfallow. What inspired it?
Summerfallow is a follow-on from a painting I did eight years ago with the same sort of feel to it. It is a a fairly abstract field with a very thin line of trees and a nightfall in the background. I grew up on the Prairies and you see a lot of that — tree lines in the distance. I wanted to recreate that using new materials.
I’ve been working with copper and used birch panels recently and you get a lot of interesting reflections depending on whether you use glossy or matte paint. And, you get variations in the copper depending on how much you heat it with a butane torch. You can get everything from a reddish orange to a deep matte purple. I used that copper as the distant tree line.
In fact, the painting will be part of a show at VASA (Visual Arts Studio Association of St. Albert) I have with artists Janet Sutanto and Cathy Bible in June.
04. What inspires your art?
A lot of my art comes from inside my head; like the Summerfallow scene. I’ve seen a lot of that sort of scenery in Saskatchewan and Alberta. It takes a long time to, sort of, percolate through my brain and come out. A lot of times it occurs to me while I’m painting that I can put some rough yellow stuff in here that looks like canola and a dark green over there to make it look like a tree line. It starts to evolve in a sort of unconscious way.
05. What is your go-to band or artist?
Miles Davis. I have most of his discography. He’s just wildly inventive. You listen to a lot of the work he did in the ’50s and ’60s and you go, “Ho hum, that’s just straight-ahead jazz.” But it wasn’t in the 50s and 60s, he was inventing it.
06. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
Typically, morning into afternoon. All of my art is done in my studio, which is located at VASA. I had this series of fast developing paintings, called Miles on Miles, where I put on Miles Davis’ CDs, had too much coffee, and was bouncing around the studio and squirting paint onto the canvas. I couldn’t have drank that much coffee at night.
07. What movie title best describes your life?
“Family Man.” (Miles has two grown daughters and, in fact, we had our chat while he was visiting them in Ontario.)
08. Is art your career or a hobby?
It started out very much as a hobby. After 4-5 years of renting a studio, I decided I might as well get a business license and try to do it as a business. If, for no other reason, than you get tax benefits. I recommend every professional artist take an income-tax course for artists. It will teach you how the government treats artists and how to maximize your business.
09. Where did your passion for art start?
As a kid. My brother and I were forever coloring on the wide pieces of printer paper. My father worked for IBM so he brought home lots of it. But growing up in the ’60s & ’70s, every classroom had artwork from the Group of 7. It was kind of like being surrounded, at that time, by the best of Canadian art.
In 2004, I took lessons in a very realistic style. After that, I wasn’t really excited about the realistic part of painting so I started experimenting with how little you can put on a canvas and still have it look like a landscape. It came down to: If you put a line across it, it can still look like a landscape. There’s always a horizon line. You can put almost anything on the painting if there’s a horizontal line.
10. What is the best single day on the calendar?
I’m retired so every day is Saturday but I don’t get any holidays.
11. If money wasn’t an issue and you didn’t have art, what hobby would you get into?
I don’t know because money is always an issue. I would probably buy something more than a $40 guitar.
12. What do you hope people get out of your art?
Enjoyment. Something that tickles their imagination.
The six most feared words in my world are: “I’m going to the paint store.”
If my artist wife and I have been together for two decades, the paint store has been a fixture in our relationship for just as long. And it stubbornly sat there between us for 15 years.
Every so often, she would take her one-hour round trip and come home with a car full of supplies. When she got home, I would ask the question I didn’t really want to know the answer to: “How much did you spend?”
Inevitably, my response to the dollar amount was, shall we put it mildly, incredulous.
I had a lovely conversation with Karen Bishop recently, which you can read below. She is a well-known artist in Alberta, based in Edmonton.
More importantly, she is a generous and truly happy person. So happy, in fact, that for the rest of the afternoon following our conversation I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I didn’t want to try.
During our conversation, we covered many topics. Most memorably, for me: We dove into her newfound nickname, The Socialist Limey.
[Featured Artwork: “Nature’s Bridge” by Karen Bishop. Watercolour on yupo mounted on a wood panel.]
“You should write a story about me, daddy,” our confident and creative daughter told me shortly after I launched this series.
She’s a regular reader of Saturday Morning Stories and gets a kick out of reading about her parents. Her favourite story so far is The Kandinsky Curriculum. I’ll let you guess why.
She’s eight years old and enjoying the glory that comes with being in Grade 2 — still young enough that she’s not jaded about having to go to school every day but old enough to give her parents enough daily sass and eye rolls to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
I chatted recently with an artist who I’d only ever met in passing at art markets that my wife was at in the Edmonton, Alberta area. I’m pretty certain we didn’t even remember meeting each other since it’s been so long.
Janet Sutanto is a Christian, married mother of three adorable, young children. I’m grateful to her husband for being kind enough to wake up and watch the kids during Janet’s and my chat. (I know what it’s like being married to an artist. ;))
We had a great conversation, which you can read below.
[Featured Artwork: “Things Unseen” by Janet Sutanto. Acrylic.]