Arts·Art Class

Enter a state of flow where time passes peacefully in this Culture Days still life painting class

Take some time to zone in on something that's not your phone and not the news with artist Laura Dawe.

Take some time to zone in on something that's not your phone and not the news with artist Laura Dawe

Enter a state of flow where time passes peacefully in this Culture Days still life painting class

2 years ago
Duration 17:02
Take some time to zone in on something that's not your phone and not the news with artist Laura Dawe.

Culture Days is a national celebration of arts and culture, where — usually — millions of people attend thousands of events across the country. This year, of course, things had to go a little bit differently with Culture Days presenting online events over the course of a month from Sept 25th, to Oct 25th.

As part of this celebration of participatory arts and culture, CBC Arts turned to artist Laura Dawe (who previously helped us get through the pandemic with her scrapbooking COVID Residency) for a painting class. Watch the video above to learn how to paint a still life — something Dawe sees as a perfect way to pass the time — and read a Q&A between Dawe and filmmaker Jessica Hayes below. Feel free to share your own paintings online with the hashtag #CDMasterclass and find more Culture Days events here.

Laura Dawe is a true artist. She can make a snack plate look like a still life you would hang in your house and takes note of interesting colour combinations everywhere she goes. This summer I painted my nails various shades of brown and she named the palette "putrid neutrals." If you are in a room with her, she will casually adjust the lighting so your hangout feels like a painting. Her parties (back when we used to be able to have them) always have a theme, or a mood, so that the whole room is a canvas that is pleasing to the eye. I was very excited to be asked to make this video with her and talk to her about learning to paint a still life. 

When did you start taking painting seriously? When did you make it part of your art practice?

I feel like I always took painting seriously even though I knew nothing about it. I started out using acrylics, which is what I'm using in this project, but now I mostly work in oil paint. Painting fluidly entered my art practice in early high school and then just slowly painted more and more. 

Artist Laura Dawe teaches us to paint a still life, in this Culture Days painting class. (CBC Arts)

What do you like about painting from real life versus painting from your imagination or from a picture? 

I find it a relief to paint from real life because it requires an amount of observational attention that kind of occupies more of my brain than if I was painting from a photo. When you are painting from a photo where you're translating two dimensions to two dimensions, it's much easier than translating three dimensions to two dimensions. Painting from imagination is enjoyable, but I spend enough time in my mind already. 

What inspires you to paint? What types of things in the world make you think, "Oh, I need to paint that!"?

Colours! That's number one ... uh ... shapes? [laughs] That's kind of the real answer. Flowers are amazing, just as design. They are so crazy, and the fact that each one is its own living thing, the symbolism ... life, death, all that shit. 

Matching colours. (CBC Arts)

What do you do when you are painting and you get discouraged? 

It depends on the kind of discouragement. I try to be gentle on myself and push through, but sometimes you need to rest. I just try to listen to myself. 

Do you have a message for people who might want to try this project?

Yeah! If you are trying to paint and it's scary, the first thing to remember is no one can see you. Just do it alone and it can just be for you. It will be really scary at first while you are trying to find the line, but once you start to find it, it will give you a rush of pleasure that will make you want to keep finding it. It's worth it. It's fun, and it should be fun. 

Artist Laura Dawe teaches how to paint a still life in a Culture Days 2020 class. (CBC Arts)

How do you feel that your art practice helps you in your life? 

I'm one of those people where if I don't make things I'll die. Whether it's making pasta or a party, it can be really grounding to invest in a process. Making art, for me, is both a way to escape and a way to check in. It keeps me company; it communicates feelings that are hard to express with words; it fills my walls, it fulfills gift obligations.... A lot of stuff. 

It's true! OK, my last question is, do you like tutorial videos? What types of skills would you like to learn from a video?

Currently I'm watching videos on how to place linoleum floor. I definitely learned a lot from sewing how to videos. I'm trying to think of something else I've looked up recently.... I like cleaning videos a lot, like how to clean something well. I cleaned around my kitchen sink today by wrapping a cloth around a butter knife — Hot Tips! It feels clean in there. Hot tips are hot.


Jess Hayes is a video producer and a partner at Hex Productions.

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