How Portia Po Chapman Made the Mural Warbler Watching for Base 31 Picton
The above images compiled some of my research prior to designing the mural. I like to immerse myself in the space, story or activity that I am painting. These photographs were take in early May 2022 during the Prince Edward County Birding Festival along Long Point Rd. You can see how my visit influenced the subject matter that I chose to include. The photograph immediately below was taken at the Lookout. As soon as I stepped out of the car, the green in the lake was awe inspiring. I knew at that time, I would paint the lake and sky in the background. Prince Edward Point is so beautiful, one cannot help but paint and/or photograph the landscape and waterscape.
As you can see, the above photograph inspired the composition of the mural. The image below is my initial pen and ink drawing on paper. There were many lilac bushes along Traverse Ln too. However, they had not yet bloomed as depicted in the drawing below.
The image, immediately below, is the digitally coloured rendering of the above pen and ink drawing. Since the mural proposals were rigorously assessed by a jury of artists, the proposal image was to depict the final mural as closely as possible. You can see that the actual mural mounted at Base 31 in the Aviators Garden is very similar to the proposed image. When commissioned to create a piece of art, I try to produce what the client had first desired to have in the beginning. In this case, supply chain issues made paint colour duplication a very challenging hurdle over which to leap, but I came close.
The series of images below were take in my Bay of Quinte studio.
Before drawing the image onto the MDO plywood, I primed the board 2 times – front, back and sides – sanding between coats on the front and edges. Then I caulked the edges and levelled them off smooth with a trowel. Again, once dry, I sanded and then sealed. The face of the board, in the first image, is slightly green because I had the bright white primer tinted. This made the process of drawing and painting a much more peaceful and enjoyable experience. Because my style features smooth, flat colour blocking and draping deep lines elegantly pulled by a variety of brushes, the mural ended up having about 5 coats (7 including the primer coats) of exterior translucent paint using a clear base. You can notice how the first coat appears to be streaky but the objective for the first coat is to capture the flow of the desired image while assuring minimal brush stroke ripples. The thinner the first coat, the better. For exterior murals such as this one, I prefer painting multiple thin coats to assure durability.
I find such joy standing beside my artwork after it has been installed on the desired site. This photo was taken at Base 31 in Picton, Ontario, during the Aviator Garden murals’ unveiling event.
For art commission inquiries, please visit my About/Contact page. I would be thrilled to create a piece for you.
Portia Po Chapman Mural “Warbler Watching” – Photos of Unveiling Ceremony in Aviator’s Garden at Base 31 PEC, Picton, Ontario, July 9, 2022
I was overflowing with excitement during the unveiling of my newest mural commission at the Base 31 PEC Community Open House in Picton, Ontario, on Saturday, July 9, 2022. My mural entitled “Warbler Watching” was part of a collection of 6 murals commissioned to hang upon the exterior of the former Officer’s Quarters of the WWII flight training site. An additional mural was mounted on another building as well. The collection of murals entitled, “Nature’s Aviators” celebrates the flying wildlife who call Picton, Ontario home. In my piece, I am sure you can guess which natural aviators I chose to celebrate…you got it right, WARBLERS!
The day was such a wonderful experience for me. I was grateful to be a part of the festivities and the Community Open House for this newly branded historical location. From the moment I stepped on the grounds to the end of the day, I was on the go. The festival atmosphere included musical entertainment, street artists, food and beverage booths, tours and of course, the unveiling.
When I first arrived to Base 31, I had an interview with Base 31’s videographer, Ophelia Spinosa, lined up in the Aviator’s Garden in which the wall of commissioned murals was located. I was overjoyed to share the inspiration and process of creating “Warbler Watching” with Spinosa, a high school friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since my Grade 12 Graduation from Nicholson Catholic College in Belleville, Ontario! Funny how the Creator works, isn’t it?! My interview appropriately took place with my mural situated behind me. After the unveiling ceremony, Spinosa interviewed all of the additional artists who were in attendance.
Just before the ceremony, I was delightfully introduced to some of the other mural artists and we all sat together at what I like to call, “The Artists’ Table.” It was really cool being the youngest artist to attend the unveiling ceremony. Sitting at that table was like finally having moved from the kids’ table to sitting with the adults for Christmas Dinner! OH, BTW, I invite you to watch my performance art video “Turkey.” It features the day in the life of a Roasted Christmas Turkey at my grandmother’s table (music and video by me and fam).
After the unveiling ceremony, during which the Base 31 Manager of Public Art and Placemaking and curator of the mural project, Christophe Doussot, and the Chief Placemaking Officer, Assaf Weisz shared their words about the project, I proudly posed with the other artists.
One of the best parts of the day for me, however, was having the opportunity to talk about my artwork with the many viewers and hear about what they see in or feel from the mural. Thank goodness I had my bright pink, classic Po, business cards ready to give out!
It was also special to talk to one of the head gardeners of the Aviator’s Garden, where the murals are located, who planned the placement of the beautiful indigenous plants that were recently planted in the premises. Many of those plants I had included in my mural such as cedar and lilacs.
It was an absolutely wonderful day and I hope that you too have the chance to see our murals and visit Base 31, Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario.
Portia Po Chapman Painting My Creation Artist Talk Question and Answer Transcript Queen’s University
Q: How has your artistic journey been shaped by your lived experiences?
A: A cute story, on the first day of my BFA we were asked to introduce ourselves. Pretty much everybody came from an urban or suburban background, me, I walked straight out of the woods. I told my story and from that day on, my BFA colleagues referred to me as Snow White. I will explain, very much like a Disney character, I really lived without many friends, playing in the woods, talking to little people, and animals and plants. My artistic development began playing in a creek. Other than crayons, my early art pieces were from rocks, and bark, and feathers. I never thought I needed many friends because whether I was in the lake, the creek, or gathering water from the spring, nature provided me with all the friends I ever needed. You can see from “My Creation” and most of my other artworks, that I have included friends of mine in the imagery. I didn’t have salmon as friends, but I had a lot of other fish. Like sunfish who would nibble on my toes as I swam through the lake. I remember at about 5 years old just sitting in the shallow water and the little fish coming up to say “hi.”
I come from a very artistic family. I was raised in a house that had plywood interior walls built for artworks to be nailed on their surfaces or repainted. You see, my parents allowed my sister and I to draw and paint on our walls whenever we felt like it. And whether it was a scribble or figurative drawing, it was cherished in the house just as if the Mona Lisa was just hung upon the wall. My dad’s a line artist and choral vocalist, my mom’s a seamstress and pianist. They are both graduates of Queen’s University. I started taking art class in Grade 11. There was a prerequisite to take Grade 9 or 10 art before taking Grade 11, but the Art teacher thought I was so talented (as I had won the ALCDSB’s Faith in Action logo contest the year before), so he let me skip ahead. As an artist, I never had restrictions. I was able to create with pretty much anything I put my hands on. I mean, I swear I grew up in a yarn box crocheting in my parent’s yarn shop. When I was about 7, my dad had a sudden urge to paint, but we couldn’t afford a canvas, so I remember fetching a screwdriver and him deciding to remove the kitchen cupboard doors to paint on. He has received the highest offers from art collectors for those paintings, and he will not sell them because they represent a time when money was not going to stop our family from creating beautiful works. As being an indigenous artist, I come from a family who were subject to colonial displacement. My dad’s family celebrated our Indigeneity, but tried to keep it quiet in the public. For generations they chose not to reveal their Indigeneity because of colonial persecution. Just before my grandfather died, he gave permission for us to publicly celebrate our Indigeneity. When I came to Queen’s, it was soon after he gave our family this permission. My mother’s family, they only recently started talking about their Indigeneity openly. So it was at Queen’s, during my BFAH, that I began to share who I was through my artworks. And it is because of that celebration, and Queen’s University’s welcome to self-identify that I began to flourish as an artist.
Q: Your website mentions that art has supported you in reclaiming your Indigenous identity. How do you think art has supported you in this way?
A: Having never lived on a reserve or with an Indigenous community, my experience has been different than people who have. I continue to state that I express my Indigeneity through my connection with Creation. My life has been lived in communion with the life of Creation. Sadly, for many years of my life it felt like I was the only one with that lived experience. You can see this expression of my Indigeneity in my many artworks. So where did my art take an Indigenous direction? I think it was in the early 2000s when on a walk with my parents I went on a scavenger hunt gathering various things from nature, like feathers, bark, acorns, stones, thinks like that. When I got home, I arranged them on a piece of birch bark and hung it on our living room wall. Then, I travelled with my parents to various art shows whereby my dad was a guest to draw. At that time, he was not telling people about his Indigeneity, but his artwork seemed to tell people anyway. There was never a time that we were at a show and someone didn’t ask, if he was Indigenous. Of course he would proudly tell a story, because his Indigenous ancestry is very precious to him. Because of these art shows, our family became close friends with many Indigenous people from and near various reserves. Although we did not hold any band cards, we were welcome into Indigenous families and never made to feel as though we were outsiders. So as a little girl, I experienced first-hand how art could tell our story and how it encouraged us to share with others. When I began preparing for my Queen’s BFA application portfolio, viewers of my artwork began questioning me about my Indigeneity. As you can see from my artwork, I am not a propagandist, I am simply an Indigenous woman happy to share my view and relationship with Creation. Because of my artwork, I am meeting and sharing with other Indigenous people and developing wonderful relationships with families, friends and organizations. In so doing I am reclaiming my Indigeneity.
Q: Given the challenges of Covid-19, how has art supported you as an outlet during this period?
A: When the spread of Covid began, in the winter of 2020, I was at my teaching practicum at a local school in the Indigenous Art class. I remember taking the bus from my downtown residence in Kingston to the school and many people on the bus were coughing. As a germaphobe, it was my total nightmare. Just before the lockdown, I had taken a placement at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. My placement lasted 1 day. The next day the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and the whole province was locked down. So here I was, an artist not able to work in an art gallery and an art teacher not able to teach art! My art equipment was in multiple storage units in and out of Kingston and they had rules about retrieving your things. I’d swear the only thing that kept me going as an artist at that moment was that my apartment was filled with my paintings, sculptures, tool boxes, and most of all my cats. In the summer, I graduated from Con. Ed as a high school art teacher and within 3 weeks, I was teaching Junior Kindergarten online for the ALCDSB remote school. I taught full time for 10 straight months followed by another month of summer literacy school. I must profess, that Junior Kindergarten was the single most beneficial event that kept me going as a visual artist. There’s just something about teaching 3 and 4 year olds that brought me back to teaching arts and crafts every single day. My students became the most advanced students at working a pair of scissors. I had them cutting out snowflakes in no time. We used art to teach every single subject. We mixed up acting, dancing, singing and art. In fact, I think we all had the times of our lives. There was no way that I was going to let this seeming diversion from my art career hold me back as an artist. So I created arts and crafts out of egg shells, recycled materials, extra cereal boxes, and other things that were piling up around the house because we couldn’t get out.
It is said that a person knows of their calling when 3 unrelated people or events happen that confirm that calling. As amazing as this sounds, this actually happened. My emails started exploding with people seemingly out of the blue asking about art commissions. And then the “Truth” image was featured on the Queen’s Landing page during the week of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Now this is how the Great Spirit works, being a self-proclaimed germaphobe, I was terrified to teach this fall, so unlike the previous year, I was unemployed. I literally had nothing to do but stare at myself in the mirror. Then, the “Truth” image went public big time. I was able to entertain commission requests and the requests came to me. And what’s even more amazing about this, I had already created two studio spaces in my family home overlooking the beautiful Bay of Quinte. So other than August and part of September 2021, I have been working on my art almost solidly during the Pandemic. And that is how I got here today.
Q: As mentioned, you are a Queen’s alumnus, how did your time with Queen’s both in and outside of the classroom shape your growth as an artist?
A: It was a difficult decision choosing Queen’s University to pursue my art career. I was accepted on scholarships everywhere I applied. My decision at first was based upon my ability to pursue the Bachelors of Fine Art degree while simultaneously doing Concurrent Education (Con. Ed.). It was the first year the BFA students could be Con. Ed students as well. I think we were kind of an experiment, but it worked out. I couldn’t really grasp why the Queen’s BFA program taught so many skills rather than freedom of creation that some other well known art schools take as their direction. So I found it really frustrating, but then, in the 3rd year, the program takes a drastic turn and we begin to specialize. By the 4th year, we were working on our thesis projects with our own mentors, and creating what we chose to create. Now the amazing thing about this program direction is that it does come with great gain. In other words, by our 4th years, I found that we were very well prepared to create amazing artworks. In my 4th year, I had several interviews with gallery representatives and well-known professional artists. They truly helped me as a young artist appreciate my direction and the struggle that it would take to compete in an art world that can at times seem like there is no possible way to succeed as an emerging artist.
One of the things about being in the art program was that we were able to show our work in galleries even in 1st year. The Union Gallery really provided a boost in confidence and enthusiasm to continue toward a career as a professional artist. I found that Cezanne’s Closet was one of my best experiences. It was really thrilling to see my “Our Worlds” stone lithography triptych hanging on the walls of a well known professor’s studio apartment. I had won a few art awards before this happened, but seeing these prints on this professor’s wall was really a thrilling moment that recognized my success as an emerging artist. Because of the Medal in Visual Art that I received at my 2019 BFAH Graduation, I have gained respect from clients seeking commissioned works.
It was really amazing that I was able to work on the images for the Office of Indigenous Initiatives while I was finishing my Con. Ed. Degree. Had Queen’s not offered me to be part of this experiment (completing BFAH concurrently with BEd), I may have had to leave Queen’s to do my BEd. And if that were the case, a series of art opportunities would have never come my way. As an Indigenous artist, the 4 Directions along with a few other Indigenous professors were very supportive. When I first began mentioning my Indigenous background, or creating artworks that were viewed as being in the style of popular Indigenous artists, I was frequently told by others that I was not in any way Indigenous because I looked too white. These ladies helped me weather the storm that I faced during my early years of self-identification. I have found that my artwork has become more beautiful, expressive, and vibrant because I celebrate who I am and my Indigeneity. It was because of Queen’s that you see this very colourful mural before you today.
Q: If you had one piece of advice for someone looking to begin a career in art, what would it be?
A: My advice is, get yourself a BFA in studio art and possibly follow it up with an MFA. The reason I think this is very important is that when galleries, competitions, and granting organizations ask for proof of being a professional artist, one of the pieces of evidence they may request is a BFA. As a new emerging artist, without much gallery experience on one’s CV, the BFA makes a world of difference. It seems that with a BFA, people seem to take you more seriously as a visual artist. My second piece of advice, is to create artworks that you like creating. And my 3rd piece of advice is to know who you are and without apology celebrate your identity as an expression echoed in your artwork. Even without the BFA, these 2 things go a long way in the art world because collectors, galleries, and commissioning patrons are interested in you as a person and as an artist. I believe that your voice as an artist needs to leap off the canvas no matter what your voice is saying. There will always be an audience.
Exciting things are happening with my commissioned 48″ X 48″ muralesque painting of “My Creation.”
Today, the final steps of the the stretcher creation journey before stretching the canvas were completed, and the canvas will hopefully be stretched with 12oz. cotton canvas by the end of tomorrow. The stretcher is different from most other canvas stretchers as I am using a solid face sign board with a stretcher frame attached made of red oak to create a stretcher with a statement-making depth of 2 1/4″.
I decided to make a stretcher with a solid surface on which to stretch the canvas to provide the following two things:
A layer of protection for hanging and transporting such a large piece
To assure the image is able to have a chic, flat, ‘muralesque’ appearance.
Not many know or even think about the process that goes on with a stretched painting before the paint even hits the canvas. However, as a sculptress, I find what you don’t see behind the painting just as amazing as the completed painting seen on the surface.
Here are some photos to document the stretcher making process:
Keep coming back to my blog to see more updates ahead.
Behind our favourite paintings exist an unseen construction that without, much of the art world would remain rolled up and stuffed under artists’ beds.
Transportable paintings need mounting materials.
How tight to stretch a canvas varries in options almost as the number of artists who use them. I still like to use a dollar store stretched canvas and water stained, a warted canvas board in a pinch. Us artists just have to create. Even an old bed sheet held down on the grass with rocks will satisfy our needs at times.
I grew up in a home adorned by ongoing art projects. As children, our drawings on the walls were never punished. My parents didn’t even pick up a bottle of cleaning spray. My parents would be so proud. You’d think a scribble I did on the foyer wall was their new Mona Lisa.
I was always welcome, no matter how young, to sit in on adult oriented art events and courses. One time, my dad gave the participants each a cup of black paint, a brush and led them to an inner foyer of our home. I walked proudly with my cup and brush. When we all entered the room, he instructed about 8 of us, “Paint.” The class was aghast at the instruction. Confusion as to what and where was accompanied by a laughter and a dash of delirium. What surface should we paint? When everyone just stood there shoulder to shoulder in an oblong egg shaped formation, he took my cup and brush and painting a long swath across the wall. “Here, now paint! Let the spirit of creativity move you.” You see, he had been planning this exercise for months without telling anyone. The walls were stuccoed and sealed with an opaque, non-script grey. I hated those grey walls. After that night of painting, a really special energy adorned that space. It was impossible to enter his studio without walking through it. That night, as a community of creators, we created a creation that greeted hundreds of people. Behind that collective art piece was a prepared framing of what would be a very special welcoming space. After a few years, it hit me, “ahh, now I know why he built that space in the shape it was – smacked in the centre of our artsy home. He wanted everyone to see our art.
I remember when I was about 7 years old when we took off the kitchen cupboard doors. We had very little, if any, money. The cupboards remained without doors for years. Our family has been unwilling to sell them, even though the offers for these impromptu paintings on cupboard doors still have the hinges mounted or hanging off them. One time, we didn’t even have paint. So we rigged up a medium and surface to hold that medium. The painting is a bit of plaster, a dash of purple house paint and all kinds of different spices and sugars for colour and texture. As a family, we did what we had to do. Even when it felt like the world was closing in on us, we found some way to keep creating. I spent hours upon hours searching for the right rock or tree bark to paint or use in a construction. From a young age, I learned that the proper frame, stretcher, surface, or background could be found for any art creation.
After about 2 years off of creating full-time due to education and teaching pursuits, I had to get back at it. I just had to. I considered a few options but I needed to build. I needed to get my hands dusty and covered with filler and paint. As I was going through my artistic idea journal, I was drawn back to drums and exterior wood and paper sign board. As amazing as it sounds, as soon as I found my place in my art-space of mind, commission requests came to greet me and my new drum collection found its voice.
In the following pictures, I have included some snapshots of my frame and stretcher work for these new art pieces. I am having the time my life. So much fun and so fulfilling to prepare the pieces to be painted.
Portia “Po” Chapman Begins Painted Hand Drum Trials
I am excited to announce that painted hand drum trials have commenced. After experimenting with a variety of different mediums and paints, I finally found the paint that is right for me and my new painted hand drum collection. Golden’s new SoFlat matte acrylic paints glide beautifully on the surface of the elk rawhide as if a perfect marriage between the two mediums (Golden, not a sponsor, but I would be glad to accept a sponsorship from them 🙂 ). The paint’s self levelling qualities allow for intense pigment while keeping the natural integrity of the hide’s textures. The paint is also flexible enough that I could almost bend the hide in half without the paint cracking, allowing for the flexibility required of a hand drum. While the paint is amazingly opaque, when the painted hide is held up to the sun, you can still see the light shine through it. My patrons will be very pleased with the quality of their new hand drum.
In order to stretch the raw hide over the white cedar drum frames, the hide must be soaked, I found for at least 12 hours. With an end piece of the elk rawhide, I did a trial run of the soaking process to see how the hide behaved after being soaked. Here you can see the comparison between the flexibility of the soaked raw hide and the dried rawhide. The soaked rawhide is the smaller piece (it did not shrink, it was cut a smaller size). The soaked rawhide is very flexible and almost rubbery in texture (the sensation of feeling it is similar to what I remember when petting a beluga whale as a child), whereas the dried raw hide is stiff and paper like in texture.
I am always excited for the experimental and trial stages of a project. You never know how a material behaves until you try using it yourself, especially a natural Creator-made rawhide that can differ greatly depending on the animal. I am looking forward to stretching the soaked elk rawhide over my freshly sanded and treated white cedar drum frames shortly and beginning the painting process. Once dry, the rawhide will regain much of its translucent nature. I’ll post about these processes too in the near future.
My new painted hand drum collection features 14″ painted hand drums. Each painted hand drum is $500. I am accepting pre-orders to reserve these pieces. I chose to create a new collection of painted hand drums rather than wood block prints/stamps because the artwork and drum can sing in perfect harmony when drummed by their drummer. I like creating art pieces that can be used by the collector. I think this collection is very special. With these painted hand drums, collectors will surely turn heads at their local drum circle gatherings.
Since I wanted the illustrations to be interpretive, I struggled to provide art interpretations. But as I was creating these images, I could hear and see words. For this illustration, I kept seeing and hearing: “Truth.” But the truth that I kept repeatedly experiencing was not the word, but rather the action and essence of Truth. There were times that I could feel the Sprit of Truth guiding me as the spirit whispered in my ear with faint drumming and singing surrounding us.
As a visual storyteller with Indigenous heritage, generations of my ancestors were silenced as their/our culture was wiped from public display. It was only through story and storytelling did I learn my family’s story. It was because of story and storytelling that I grew to cherish my heritage and ancestry. Our truth may have been hidden from the general public, but it remained alive in our family. Now with my aging family, so many have died but their story is alive as ever.
In the illustration, you will notice a circle of people sharing stories of TRUTH. At the top of the gathering circle, there is a pinkish, larger figure. To me, she represents both Spirit and Clan Mother / Grandmother. She exudes story and the embodiment of truth. She is active and alive as she shares the Truth with the generations to follow her. The orangish space in the middle is a ceremonial fire gathering everyone together.
As an integral part of the Truth and Reconciliation process, please hear the stories of Indigenous Peoples from across this land. It is through hearing the stories shared that we may all, in Truth, move forward together.
Portia Po Chapman using the “Truth” Zoom / Teams Background
Papercraft Arts and Crafts Gift Chest by Portia Po Chapman
Have you ever tried to find a gift chest in which to put little things like hostess gifts?
Well, I have. I thought getting a nice little box to put special things I’d buy or pick up through the year would be more special than chucking them under my bed with my shoes and failed art project trials.
Truly, I just could not do it any more. I JUST COULD NOT DO IT!
I had reached my point of desperation. I went to every store locally, including thrift shops – and you know I love thrift shopping for lost treasures and things that I will never use. I looked on local market apps, you name it. As you can imagine, I support local artisans and businesses first. But the closest thing I could find was at a big box store – crafting supplies store. It was waaaaay over priced and far too small.
I was about to give up this idea of getting a chest and just leave the special items tumbled amid the dust bunnies that magically seem to appear in the nether regions of forgotten things. But then it hit me!
All you artists out there know how that lightbulb in your creative cortex suddenly comes on like a spotlight in the night. I could swear that I even heard the idea bell go: “DING!”
What hit me was: I had all kinds of cardboard left over after moving. I knew what I’d do. So I grabbed some medium sized boxes, Exacto-knife, my glue gun, and started to build the chest.
It took me about a week off and on to build and then cover with semi-metallic special paper. It was soooo FUN. Now I have my own special chest that matches my space – and of course it is primarily PINK!
You should try it too. In the photos, you can see the gift box I made. It is about 1’ deep x 2’ wide x 1.5’ high. The curved top was constructed in a similar fashion as a roll top desk. I hope you feel inspired to create your own chest too.
The best thing is, now those little hostess gifts have a nice, clean, dust free special place to be stored.