Welcome to Pastel Explorations

Painting in pastel is an ever evolving process that involves a great deal of learning. For me the process starts with one emotion, amazement. The french word for this emotion is émerveillement. It represents that first emotional response to a situation. Being a child of the northern forests of Ontario, in Kapuskasing that sense of amazement is most often triggered by nature. I am transported by landscapes of all types.

Nature in all of it`s aspects allows me to remember, how we represent such a tiny part of the whole of creation. Insignificant really. Nothing is as awe inspiring as the vastness of the Rocky`s mountain peaks, or the raging waters of the ocean swelling against the chore. It is against the backdrop of these wonders that I can lose my own self-centeredness and reclaim a sense of being connected to a wider circle of life.

You will find some of my explorations in painting the landscape in pastel.
Claude J. Millette

Winter Landscape Northern Ontario

Winter Landscape Northern Ontario
oil on linen on board 9X 12

Rushing Water - a work in progress and a shift from previous styles...

Rushing Water     - a work in progress and a shift from previous styles...
leave a comment... if you like the new approach

Rushing Water - a work in progress and a shift in styles

Well I am back and it has been a long time since I have posted.
A busy Christmas season paired with connectivity problems with my internet connection has slowed me down.

Rushing water is based on a picture that I took on a trip to Quebec city with my brother in 2010. I wanted to capture the forcefullness of the river with a slightly more impressionistic view than I am used too.

I still have to work out a few of the details. Would appreciate commments and suggestions.

Rock Resting in the Stream

Rock Resting in the Stream
pastel on Sennelier paper

Rock Resting in the Stream

This pastel painting was painted during the week after one of my best friends sudden death of a heart attack. During the week of the funeral preparation, I would retire away from people at the end of the evening to collect my thoughts in preparation for the eulogy. Painting this provided a moment of reflection and a respite from the shared grief that pervaded the group I was living with at the time.

Birch Basking in the Sun

Birch Basking in the Sun
Pastel on Sennelier La Carte sanded paper November 2010

Birch Basking in the Sun

This painting is one of my favorites. At 24 X 18 inches on Ampersand pastel board, it gives the feeling of being there peering into the underbrush when you stand 6 feet away from it.

Snowy Sunshine in the Bush

Snowy Sunshine in the Bush
Snowshoeing at Christmas at 40 degrees celsius below zero

Snowy Sunshine in the Bush

Painted from a photograph taken on a showshoeing trip with my sister in Kapuskasing over Christmas. Under the evening light, the glowing snow just pops right out.

Sunlit Trail

Sunlit Trail
Bruce Trail in Ontario Pastel on Sennelier La Carte sanded paper

Sunlit Trail

Peaceful, meditative path on the Bruce Trail

Sunlit Forest Pastel on Sennelier Paper

Sunlit Forest     Pastel on Sennelier Paper
Bruce Trail near Hilton Falls

Sunlit Forest

My all time favorite...gives meaning to the idea that the sun paints the forest with rays of sunlight. Darkness is pushed aside by the color of the planet.

Calm Amidst the Storm

Calm Amidst the Storm
Contrasts in nature involve contrasts in light and dark, and colors contrasts but sometimes it includes subtle contrasts such as the gentle pool of water framed by the raging stream

Sunny Day in Dingle Park - Oakville

Sunny Day in Dingle Park - Oakville
Pastel on Ampersand Board 16 X 20

Cedar Fence 2

Cedar Fence 2
On the Road to Brooks Hollow... Pastel on Sennelier La Carte sanded paper

Walk Through Dingle Park

Walk Through Dingle Park
What a Sunny Day

Dusk by the Dock

Dusk by the Dock
Norhern Ontario offers wonderful views just before night fall.

Cedar Springs near Lowville

Cedar Springs near Lowville
Pre fall river around the time the fish come up river to die... Some of the trees have lost their leaves but the background has not really changed colors yet.

Cloudy Sunshine Day by the Lake

Cloudy Sunshine Day by the Lake
Love that water

The Lantern

The Lantern
Oakville is distinctive by the many homes with older style home and gates that still exist.

Northern Treeline

Northern Treeline
Love that sky ... Northern Ontario near Kapuskasing in December sometimes goes down to 40 below with a windchill of minus 20

Ferns Basking in the Sun 2

Ferns Basking in the Sun 2
Wonderful shimmering sunshine on the floor of the forest. Bruce Trail extending from Crawford Lake to Rattlesnake Point

Midday on the Pond

Midday on the Pond
not quite finished but almost there

Ferns Basking in the Sun

Ferns Basking in the Sun
On the trail at Rattlesnake Point - Pastel on Sennelier

Autumn Fence Pastel on Sennelier La Carte paper

Autumn Fence  Pastel on Sennelier La Carte paper
On the road to Ottawa

Big Puddle of Water

Big Puddle of Water
A river near Quebec city

Puddle of Water

Puddle of Water
Capturing the flow of water is an interesting challenge. Some people think of water as blue. Water is clear and it takes on the color of whatever surrounds it. Now it is blue, now it is green or brown or yellow. Water takes on the color of whatever is behind it or whatever is in front of it.

Lawn Birch

Lawn Birch

Yukon Stream

Yukon Stream
Many people comment that this painting has a Groups of Seven feel to it. I can't say that I understand that statement but as long as people seem to enjoy it.

Autumn Colors Pastel on Sennelier La Carte

Autumn Colors     Pastel on Sennelier La Carte

Fiery Bush

Fiery Bush
sometimes called Two Birch standing...

Open Gate 1

Open Gate 1
One of those idyllic Oakville scenes that will disappear with the new monstrosities being built

Open Gate 2

Open Gate 2
The same gate - a different perspective - a different season

Yukon Wonders

Yukon Wonders

Fishing Pond

Fishing Pond
Plein air Pastel on Sennelier La Carte paper

Big Icicles Create Rivers

Big Icicles Create Rivers
Northern river

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Walnut Studio Xmas Show and Sale: reflection

It was twelve hours of standing and chatting with people from every area of Toronto. Friends and family came out to check out the latest productions. It was also a great time to get to know some of the other people that hang out at Walnut... Given everyone is involved differently in the studio, we are all on different time schedules which means many of us never meet. Moreover, it was a great way to see the range of work that people do here... As people produce their work, it often disappears from their easel as fast as it appeared. Most people move their paintings; either to their home, to galleries anxiously awaiting their work or to the dungeon of the storage spac. This is where many works of art hang out together commiserating about the artists that produced them only to hide them in the dark in the basement of the studio.

It was wonderful to see the range of work produced in the last 6 months displayed and to get a better appreciation of their struggles, their interests and their progression.

It is always good to hear the feedback and the interest of people who enjoy your work.

All in all a good time was had by all.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Walnut Studio Holiday Art Show and Sale

"The Walnut Cracker: A Holiday Art Show & Sale"
When: Saturday, November 26th
Where: Reception - 7pm to 11pm – DJ, food, refreshments
Open House - 12pm to 6pm – coffee and cookies
How: Purchase Art-by cash or cheque
... Location: 83 Walnut Ave. 3 Blocks West of Bathurst. 1 Block South of King at Wellington and Walnut.

Directions: TTC –King West Car to Niagara/or Ossington Bus to Strachan ave.

Walnut Studios presents a holiday group show of over 40 Toronto Artists in an open house event, located in King West Village.

Local community and art enthusiasts are invited to attend the Seventh Semi-Annual Art Show & Sale, exhibiting original art works by a dynamic group of independent artists.

A variety of distinctive styles are presented in a contemporary collection of paintings, drawings, screen prints, sculpture, glass, photography, film, jewellery, fashion and mixed media, with the opportunity to meet and support local artists, and find that special, unique holiday gift!

This event offers a rare occasion to purchase original works of art directly from the artist in an open concept, inspirational environment.

Transformed from a turn of the century canning factory, Walnut Studios has evolved into a unique studio setting that is raw with emotion, informal and free-spirited.

Tour the studio and emerge yourself in the vibrant Toronto art scene; choose your favourite piece and take advantage of the opportunity to own an original work of art by local emerging artists.

For further info, visit:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Discover Stacie Seuberling

I was reading The Artist's Magazine today and found myself entranced by the amazing work of a fellow pastellist. Stacie Seuberling... She paints pastels of landscapes on paper using a tonal exploration of her subject that is then complemented with color. She produces atmospheric landscapes that are evocative and produce strong emotional responses. Mood paintings reaching deep into your soul to elicit a recognition of a time and place. I hope you will visit her website and read the article about her work and discover how the subtlety of her touch is so powerful.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To Landscape Or Not No Landscape

I am always amazed as I peruse through the work of fellow artists how diverse the interest areas tend to be. Abstact painters tend to paint abstract pieces and they often have preferences for certain forms and certain color patterns... Some people's work is saturatted with red or blue while others prefer charcoal as the main protagonist in their work.
I am focussed on the colours and forms present in the forest and streams. I am particularly interested in the way sunlight creates highlights certain forms and underlines others with shadows.
Where does the motivation to paint a stream or a brightly lit path through a forest come from? I am not sure. However, I spent three hours wandering with my camera and my sketch pad yesterday in the middle of a gorgeous sunny fall day just soaking in images. The main question on my mind was how I would paint that patch of red leaves framed by the dark blue of the lake in the background.
Yesterday, I set out to try and capture the great egret that I spotted earlier in the week. I planned to get closer and try and get close up shots given it is not camera shy like the great blue heron. In fact as birds go, I would suggest it actually enjoys showing off for the camera. I did spot it but from a distance and in a location that I could not approach. I gave up on the egret and I found myself entranced by the beautiful fall colours mirrored on the pond. Three hours later, I woke up and realized I had been wandering from one spot to the next... sketching a crook in a tree, birds basking in the sun on a log, and taking multiple pictures of one thing and another.

I have always been captured by nature... I have always talked to the trees... I have always sketched mushrooms and rocks and trees and mountains... It is this strong connection to nature that comes out in my painting. It is the desire to capture these moments of visual pleasure and share them that interests me. I am further attracted to water in all of it's forms... calm and reflecting the world around it or churning rapids ripping through everything in it's path. I struggle to decipher the dancing of sunlight through the various layers of water. Water offers a variety of views simultaneously. A lake presents a mirror like reflection of the trees in the distance while simultaneously allowing a transparent view of the rocks soaking on the shore at your feet.
I paint to express this feeling of amazement about the wonders of the world around me. I don't expect it to change the world. I hope that my paintings allow people to experience some of the feeling of amazement present when I first encountered certain places. Maybe some can enjoy the pictures for a moment and forget about the hardships of everyday life.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The trials and tribulations of Plein Air

I went out today... a beautiful sunshiny day to paint near one of my favorite locations, Dundas, Ontario. Falls, streams and mountains all collaborate to make it an exciting place to hike and explore.
I found a fishing hole that I wanted to paint... with the sun in the background... the shadow of two large willow trees strewn across the stream in a long reflection shattered by the quivering of ripples... Beautiful indeed!!!

I sat with my coffee to take it all in and then set up having mentally captured what I wanted to paint... I set up my easel, my paper on a board and my boxes of pastels...

An hour into it, having blocked in the main elements and the large color masses, I stood back 5 feet to get a better look. Out of nowhere, one of those small twisters came flying off the lake and threw all of it up in the air. It was not really high... Just enough to upset the whole thing... I was able to catch the easel in mid-flight with one hand and steady the attached box of pastels with the other, thereby minimizing the damage and preventing the whole thing from being spread all over the landscape.

The painting was not affected in any way but half of my pastels were littered in the sand. Needless to say, that the next 30 minutes was spent on my knees picking up the precious pieces of pastel, cleaning them up and fitting them back in the box. After this, I did manage to spend another 45 minutes working and felt satisfied that I had produced a reasonable start to a painting that I could work from in the studio.

The pleasure of plein air are accentuated by the unpredictable. The elements, whether it is the sun, the wind or the rain often contribute to make moments memorable. Today's adventure will certainly remain a souvenir for a long time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A New Adventure

Well, I have moved from Oakville to Toronto and am well set up both in my new place and in the studio. I have enjoyed heading out to Walnut Studio in the am and working for a few hours in the solitude of the studio. I love the sound of silence in a large space... I just finished a portrait of my best friends recently departed wife... and am struggling with the question whether to give it to him or not... It is not always clear in these instances what is best...Letting the thought sit for awhile and the decision will eventually let itself known...

After working for a few hours, I get to do my power walk to the office 30 minutes away... see my clients and families... at the end of the day around 8 or 9 pm... I walk back and end the day painting...

I like the pattern of short spurts of painting... it lets me ponder what my next move will be... I tend to choose subjects that I respond to emotionally but that also present a technical challenge at the same time. Therefore the painting is a learning experience... There are times I have to walk away and let it sit while I work on another piece to let the problem percolate and to allow myself to have fresh eyes... Whenever the work becomes to laboured or strained, it is a sign that should sit down in my rattan chair and literally look at it for awhile...

I try to practice mindfulness looking and just see what is there without any thoughts about my previous plans for the painting. This new pattern of twice a day visits will allow me to carry this out...The other benefit for me is the end of the day painting allows me to let go of the day of doing family therapy and provides a transition to rest and eventually into sleep...

It should be interesting to see how this new work pattern schedule pans out over the winter months as the walking is made more difficult by the snow and slush...

The third benefit of this schedule is to increase the time devoted to walking to control my diabetes... Walking calms me and allows me to let go of the day at the office and prepares me to focus in on what I am painting.

Looking forward to this new adventure of painting from a studio instead of out of my own space.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Reflections on the role of the artist: THE ARTIST AS VISUAL POET

As I have started to look for venues to present my paintings to people, I have encountered different sets of demands. These demands led me to reflect on the role of the artist in our culture in order to better understand how I want to position myself in the larger social context.

The way an artist thinks of his role in the larger social context determines the intent and the content of his work.

In reviewing the landscape of practicing artists, a number of roles come to mind. The artist as visual poet, the artist as rebel as agent of social change, the artist as social commentator.

The visual poet experiences amazement triggered by something. A wave,a sunset, a landscape, a seascape or a cityscape. All of us respond emotionally to certain images or colours. I am moved by nature in all of it's forms, mountains, oceans, streams and trees affect me and it is this emotional response that I tranpose in my work. I am particularly influenced by the interplay between light and dark, sunlight and shadows. I am equally attracted to the intricacies of light dancing on water.

Different artists are moved by different things and this shapes what they present to the world.
Abstract artists are transported by colour and form. With only those two elements to play with, abstract art is the Haiku of visual poetry.

Some artists are moved by people living in cities and their work displays cityscapes showing how people in every angle. People in coffee shops or walking down a dark rainy street, homeless people or crowds waiting for the subway; all are subjects allowing an exploration of the wonderment about people.

Realist painters who are shunned by many as mere technicians are really visual poets attempting to share with others the object of their fascination in the hope of eliciting an emotional response to their subject. Maybe it the majesty of a lion, or the shimmering of light dancing on the waters of a stream. The goal is to share the emotion and communicate it by attempting, to elicit it in the viewer.

The aim of visual poetry is to provide a counterpoint to the harshness of life. In a world where violence, death and injustice abounds being able to balance with these tidbits of amazement allows the pain and suffering of every day life to be bearable. This simple act is not a mere distraction the hardships but the reaffirmation that life is amazing and worth the trip. The visual poet aims to go beyond just expressing an emotion and seeks to communicate it with others. But communication is a reciprocal process that involves two actions; expressing something then listening for the response.

Just as poetry requires an audience the visual poetry of art requires a viewer. This viewing is not a passive process but an active one that allows the painter to hear and feel how his art elicits emotions in his viewers. For many artists this experience is more valuable than anything else.

At the present it is in this light that I see my role as an artist.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Evolution through 2011

A year ago at this time... I had never shown any of my paintings to anyone. I was exploring the possibility of doing so in 2011 as an experiment, just to get a sense of how people would respond.

Well the experiment is over before the year is over. I first took the plunge and had a solo show at Neilson Park Creative Centre and exhibited 30 paintings under the title: The Colour of My Darkness. Sales were good the response was amazing... People loved my paintings. The curator of Gallery in the Gardens saw my work and offered 5 weeks of exhibition at Sherway Gardens with a sculptor from Taiwan, Shuhui Lee. Around the same time, I was also attending the One of A Kind Show...and found the feedback overwhelming. People felt touched by my work.

Finally, this summer I took a painting to a new framer to be reframed. When I picked up my painting, I jokingly said she should feel free to call me when she was ready to show my paintings. Synchronicity is everything. The artist scheduled to exhibit his work cancelled that very day. She suggested August was open providing the curator liked my work.

We had a show in August at Galleria 814 under the title: Contrast in Nature: explorations in pastel. I discovered that August is not the best month of the year to have an exhibition. However the support and the feedback was again very positive.

I draw and paint for pleasure and I always have. Now I also have the pleasure of touching other people with my art, of connecting with them through my paintings... what a privilege

Claude J. Millette

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Moving in at Walnut Street Studio

I have moved into the Walnut Street Studio but have only been able to spend a few hours painting in the last few weeks... Packing and trying to get everything else done.  I have however uncovered a pile of my latest pastels that I will photograph and show online here in the next week.
I have started tweeting and despite my original trepidation found it to be really useful in finding people with similar interests in terms of painting.

I am working on a few pieces based on the Elora Gorge and hope to be able to finish some of it next week.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Big Move

Well I am getting ready for the big move.  I am moving from Oakville to Toronto near Parklawn.  I have downsized my apartment and opted to move the art stuff to a studio near Bathurst and King Street.

Why the change... to simplify my life... spend less time driving to work... and more time actually doing some of the things I enjoy... drawing, painting and walking.

My diabetes demands that I walk a hefty amount every week.  So my apartment is 4.5 miles from the Family Therapy Centre office.  Two thirds of the way there on a straight line is Walnut Studio.

The plan is to walk to Walnut Studio usually in the AM... spend a few hours doodling with pastel sticks... go to work... then walk to the office... Lift a few weights at Goodlife... shower.... and off to work...

At the end of the day... a return walk to Walnut Studio... wind down by flexing those pastel sticks again and finish the day with a 40 minute walk home....  If I am able to do this 3 days a week, I should have value for my money...

My glucose levels will be happy... I will be fit and actually end up saving about 90 minutes a day. My current schedule involves 2 hours on the road driving... and then I do my power walk at the end of the day...

I am hoping that this pattern allows me to paint more consistently instead of going in waves of activity followed by lulls... and thereby allow me to improve at a faster pace.

As I prepare for the move, I am decluttering and divesting myself of anything that has not been touched in 3 years... books, clothes, trinkets all of it is being reviewed.  The only exceptions will be family mementos that I am saving to give to the kids when they are a few years older and actually settled down.

The reason for this need to reduce the time and energy that I spend on useless things stems from the loss of a number of friends in the last six months and the renewed realization that I have limited time left and therefore should make the best of every minute.

I have also shifted in my personal identity in the last year from being a therapist to that of a therapist by day and an artist (with a little a) by night.   Okay it is the reverse, given I see families mainly in the evening... it is therapist by night and artist by day...

The move represents a symbolic shift from painting as a hobby to painting as a major part of the way I express who I am to the world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beyond Grief

Those of you who know me are aware that I started in art at the University of Ottawa when I was 17.  Realizing that so many had talents way beyond my own abilities, I opted to pursue psychology.  In time, I became a family therapist and most of my adult life has been spent involved in the therapy field in some capacity either as a therapist or as a trainer. 

However, I kept drawing during all of those years.  Whether on the subway watching other travellers or trying to capture the majesty of the mountains in Banff, I was always with pencil in hand sketching and doodling. After my common law wife`s death in 2006, I accidentally started doodling with a small box of pastels that we had laying around the house.  She painted in watercolor. Unknowingly, as I watched her, I learned the process of transforming a drawing into a painting.  I enjoyed watching her struggle with variations of a painting till she was satisfied she could choose the version that she felt comfortable with.

My first attempts a painting in pastel were atrocious. But over time as I reproduced my wife`s approach, I discovered that my results were not only getting better but I was learning how to paint. With this process, I learned to teach myself to paint.  As I read various artists describe how they approach the task of painting, I discovered that many share this type of a process. It is what allows them to think their way through a painting and learn from it.  More than finishing a painting, this ongoing learning through experimention is what I find most satisfying about painting.