Steel, my canvas. Hammer, my paintbrush.

Algoma Forest
Algoma Forest, J.E.H. MacDonald, 1920

A few years ago I was looking through my cherished book of Group of Seven paintings titled, The McMichael Canadian Collection. This book contains works that were collected by the McMichael family during the 1930s and 40s.  I began studying the composition of the paintings. I was fascinated by the way the artists moved the paint around and intentionally left the lines from their brushes in the paint to enhance the effect that they were going for. There was one painting by J.E.H. MacDonald titled, Algoma Forest, that I found most intriguing. He had painted a tree using one single continuous line of paint. By subtly and expertly moving his paintbrush he had created the impression of a rugged jack pine tree.

What I loved about this tree was its simplicity. Mr. MacDonald could have created a pine tree in which he drew every single pine needle on every single branch with every single pinecone exactly as it was. He had the skill to do so. But in the spirit of Impressionism he chose to create a pine tree with the fewest brush strokes possible. And in this case, that was one single brushstroke. The end result is an image that connects more vividly with your memory of a tree. When you think back to your favourite hiking trip and the amazing trees that you saw, you don’t remember that tree – that amazing, incredible tree in exact detail. One does not remember every pine needle, every branch and every pinecone. What you remember is your impression of that tree. You remember the awe-inspiring strength. You remember it’s towering presence. You remember its beauty and majesty. These are the impressions that you have of that tree and they are connected more to your emotional responses than to the exact reality of what made up that tree. What is so phenomenal about J.E.H. MacDonald’s tree is that he managed to capture what I just described in one single line of paint. That’s pretty cool.

Sitka Warrior 2014_36x21_Hampton Gallery
Sitka Warrior, Paul Reimer, 2014

Then I wondered if anyone had ever tried to capture in sculpture what the Group of Seven had created with paint. I thought, “What if I viewed my steel as a canvas and my hammer as a paintbrush? What if I applied to my steel, the same philosophy they applied to their paint?” I was immediately inspired. I threw some steel in the forge and began to hammer out a tree on the anvil using this philosophy. Create something that captures one’s emotional impression of a tree rather than creating a tree. Leave the marks from the hammer in the steel the way the painters left their brushstrokes in the paint. These two principles guide me as I create and I’ve been very blessed that these sculptures resonate with my clients as much as they do with me.

Sitka Warrior 2014_36x21_Hampton Gallery Version 2

2 thoughts on “Steel, my canvas. Hammer, my paintbrush.

  1. Hi Paul,
    When I was looking at your trees at the open house at 1710, I was thinking about my visit a couple of years ago to the National Gallery in Ottawa, and the McMichael in Kleinburg. I was actually thinking about one of my favourite Varley pieces: Stormy Weather, which is at the National. Anyways, glad I ran across your blog.


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