I’m sitting at my desk looking at the work of artist and teacher Mary Doane, who specializes in realistic, still life watercolours. She has given me cards of her work. I look at “Apple Blossoms III,” at the delicate white petals, some with a pink blush.
It’s snowing outside, but I can almost smell the fresh scent of the blossoms and feel the flowers bursting forth from the depths of the rich green leaves and the apple tree. In another work called “Storyline,” two clothespins, one blonde, the other gray, with a string attached lie on a white hardcover book with a slip of paper bookmarking a page. I can feel the presence of someone who was reading the book--and who also used the clothespins. With a few objects, a storyline unfolds.
Mary started drawing and making things early. “All through my life I’ve experimented with many forms of artistic expression,” Mary told me. “My aunt did watercolours and I was in awe of what she did. I was always drawn to watercolour.” She worked in interior design, where she made watercolours to render perspective drawings. Then for 27 years she taught interior design, teaching the concepts of colour, harmony, and balance.
For many years, Mary created Pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs. The precision, the patience, the limited palette of colours, and planning the creation of detailed patterns were all challenges that Mary met, developing the skills that she now applies in her richly textured, detailed watercolours.
When she found the Easter eggs too limiting, she was determined to make time for watercolours. Her boyfriend Frank told her to “Follow your bliss,” and that’s exactly what she chose to do, returning to her love of watercolours.
Mary’s instructor Paul-Yvan Gagnon was a rigorous teacher, presenting her with challenges. “He would tell me what was wrong, and told me what to do to get it right.” Mary Pratt’s painting was another important influence. “I identify with her domestic scenes. We don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to find beauty. There is beauty in anything. Wonderful discoveries can be made by looking closely at a bird’s feather, the texture of tree bark, or the fascinating patterns created by old paint that peels off to let ancient wood peek through.”
Mary has won numerous awards for her work, most recently the Colours of Nature Award in the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour Open Water Exhibition earlier this year. She has participated in many group expositions, and this past August and September, she had a solo show, “Mosaique,” at the Old School Art Gallery in Musquodoboit Harbour. She is currently on the organization committee for the gallery, and teaches watercolours through HRM Recreation.
In her basement workspace, Mary shows me a work-in-progress called “When We Were Very Young,” with some bookended children’s books, a top, and a red ball of yarn. “Preliminary sketches and colour tests allow me to work out all the problems of composition, contrasts, light and shadow. Once these elements have been thought through, I can concentrate solely on the watercolour itself. I’m always enthralled to see the colours and shapes appear on the paper.”
Mary’s use of the word ‘enthralled’ reminds me that the task of this artist is indeed to follow her bliss. You can find more examples of her work on her website: http://www.marydoane.ca.