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Advice from Gordon MacKenzie: Keep painting! (6 photos)

The Sault artist will be signing copies of his new book – 'The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook - Keep Painting!' – at his home on Saturday, January 20

After his first two art instruction books sold thousands of copies, well-known Sault artist Gordon MacKenzie has released his third book, entitled The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook - Keep Painting!

His first book, The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook, was an instruction book for beginners, the second, The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook - Landscapes, focused on elements of landscape painting.

The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook - Keep Painting! is intended to get people who haven’t painted in a while to pick up their brushes again, or to kickstart painters who feel they’ve gotten into an artistic rut to take a fresh approach to their work.

The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook - Keep Painting!, published by North Light Books, was released in December and is currently available through Amazon and larger bookstores, such as Chapters in Sudbury.

MacKenzie will be signing copies of his new book at his home, located at 75 Primrose Dr., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20.

“It’s probably true in any creative endeavour. You try a certain thing for a while and you perfect it, but then you realize ‘what do I do next?’” MacKenzie said, speaking to SooToday. 

“You need something to get you up to the next level, and that’s what this book is focused on.”

MacKenzie said he too has experienced times of being in an artistic rut.

“I understand completely.”

“There was a time when I used a lot of masking gum, like liquid latex. When the paint is dry you lift off the gum and you have a nice shape there that you’ve saved, you do different multiple layers, then you take the whole thing off and you have multiple layers of colour going off into the distance.”

After getting tired of masking gum, MacKenzie experimented with what he described as more “atmospheric” painting.

“You have to use your grey matter and play around until you get what you want.”

MacKenzie’s first book sold over 100,000 copies, his second approximately 33,000 copies.

The artist receives emails from all over the world from painters seeking professional advice.

MacKenzie’s work can be viewed and the artist contacted through his website 

“I got an email from a woman in Singapore about my first book. She wrote ‘we bought this book for our father and it has made him happy, which has made all of us very happy,’” MacKenzie recalled with a laugh.

“That makes me feel pretty good. I touched somebody on the other side of the world.”

“When you’re writing a book late at night, working for hours and hours, you just never know who it’s going to touch and affect. We all want to leave something behind (as a legacy) and these books are what I’m leaving behind,” MacKenzie said.

“My new book applies not only to watercolours but to all media (including acrylic and oil painting)…and one of the book’s sections is how to work with photographs creatively, about how you can make a painting of a photograph to make it more exciting.”

“What I’m saying is, you can take a picture of a barn for example, but you might want to paint the barn while changing the colour of the barn, change the colour of the sky, change the season, little changes to give it a little more drama.”

Another unique aspect of the book, MacKenzie said, is a section devoted on how to teach art to others.

“The short answer to ‘why is art important to me’ is it makes me feel good.”

“The longer answer is art gets me to a different level of consciousness.”

“When you’re working alone, you’re in a different place in your head. You’re focusing on that picture and solving problems in that ‘right side of the brain’ creative environment. Time means nothing, it just flashes by, you put some music on and you’re living in that dimension. There’s nothing more exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.”

MacKenzie, now 78, was born in New Liskeard and taught art in other northern Ontario communities before moving to Sault Ste. Marie.

He was an art teacher for the former Sault Ste. Marie Board of Education (now the Algoma District School Board) and eventually became Lead Consultant to the board, developing art programs for all different grade levels.

He retired in 1996.

MacKenzie has had many one-man shows in Sault Ste. Marie, throughout Ontario, western Canada and the U.S. and, since retiring from the school board, has travelled widely to many locations, holding workshops for students.

The artist said he has taught, in his workshops, over 4,500 students in more than 60 locations in five countries.

In spite of his long career and pleasant-to-behold paintings, MacKenzie said he doesn’t have a shelf full of awards from the arts and cultural sector.

Still, he takes it all in stride and with humour.

“Way back there were some awards, but they don’t award teachers. They only award people who put paintings in shows and win prizes. But, they don’t award the teacher who taught them how to paint the picture that wins the prize,” MacKenzie chuckled.