January 9, 1917
It wasn’t until I moved to the city that I learned that the first Monday after the Epiphany is called “Plough Monday”. On the farm in Leith, aside from the usual religious holidays, we didn’t pay too much attention to the other observances, we made our own holidays. My father was especially adept at finding reasons to take the day off to go fishing, much to the detriment of the crops. As the neighbours said, ‘make hay when the sun shines.’ Well, one day we didn’t – we decided as a family to go fishing and swimming instead for the day. The bad weather moved in and it rained for a solid two weeks and our hay, which should have been brought in on that sunny day, was left to a mouldy ruin in the hay field.
It was here in the city, I learned from the working folks from England that yesterday Monday was “Plough Monday”, the first day of the new agricultural year, but more apt for the circumstances, the day that the factories resumed work after the holidays. This year it wasn’t much of a Plough Monday because the factories worked through the holidays to keep the War Production up. It’s unfortunate to say, but I missed observing the Epiphany, and yesterday’s Plough Monday (I had too much to drink ). So to make for my lack of appropriate observances, I decided to designate and observe today as ‘Canvas Tuesday’.
It’s Canvas Tuesday because I prepared another four canvases for painting. I had stretched them before the holidays but I hadn’t yet gotten to putting on the gesso and whiting chalk. The gesso is from rabbit skin glue. It’s the best to use. I got some sheets from what was left over from Lawren. I took his entire roll of linen, too – before the others got to it. There’s no shame in stealing the supplies of other artists, because they’ll steal it right back. In reality, we shared all of our material, and Lawren told me take whatever I needed. At the art store on King, when I bought supplies, the shopkeeper wouldn’t charge me. When I queried why he said he had instructions to put my purchases on the Harris account.
With gesso, it’s tricky to get the right consistency. It’s one part glue to 10 parts water and it needs to be brought to the right temperature on the stove. I put the container in a water bath so it wouldn’t burn. Once it was at the right consistency, I strained it and added some whiting chalk. I made enough gesso so I could prepare four good-sized canvases. I lined the canvas on the floor like an assembly line. By the time I finished the fourth canvas with the first layer, the first one was dry enough that I could apply another coat. Most people only do two or three thick coats of gesso with light sanding in between, but I liked to do six or seven very fine coats with no sanding. I like the surface to be imperfect – like wooden surface of the boards from my sketches. The imperfection of surface gave the boards a dimension and feeling of a larger painting and I wanted to magnify that same effect on my canvas. During my commercial art days, I learned that the closer you looked at a large printed poster or picture reproduction it seemed to diminish in energy. You needed to stay far away from it to receive its full effect. But with a canvas painting, the imperfections gave it a greater life the closer you looked at it. I could feel this life with the jack pine canvas. Although I’m not completely happy with the composition, I could feel the same power and feeling of the day when I made the sketch. I could have fixed up the composition, but I was afraid I might lose the power that the painting already had.
After several hours, and a sore back, I had four canvases gessoed on the floor. They took up the better part of the floor space and it was awkward to move around. Thank God, I had no visitors today. Once the canvases were fairly dry, I set them up vertically. For the rest of the day I had to keep the Shack warm so they could dry and set properly.
I stayed in for the night. I heated some stew I had made yesterday and had it with a good cup of tea. A good smoke of the pipe and some reading to finish out the evening, there’s nothing better.
That was my “Canvas Tuesday”