From the archives: studio visit with visual artist Ed Coleman
I can't not paint. Painting gives me life. It's the only way to describe it. - Ed Coleman
Ed is a man who lives by colours. Bright ones. He is a visual artist residing in Saint John, New Brunswick, and his signature style using vivid colours and broad brushstrokes has become recognizable by many. Ed paints scenes of nature and water as well as cityscapes using lots of paint, mostly oil but some acrylic. He thrives on creating while outdoors, down the coast on a sailboat if possible. There is a freshness to his work, almost as if he was able to capture the breeze and sunlight he felt while painting. That elusive vitality is what draws people, so much so that he easily sells his work right on the wharf where it was painted.
I visited Ed in his walk-up studio on picturesque Germain Street on a sunny day in July. The cool sea air wafted in through the open window as we chatted and the bell at Trinity church sung its punctual song. His studio space would be fairly ordinary except for the fact that it is located in one of those heritage buildings with crown moldings and slanted floors that make old-style Saint John architecture so unique. There is also a carved church pew, a.k.a. multipurpose bench/countertop which lends an extra je-ne-sais-quoi to the place. Paintings hang on all the walls and are stacked in the corners just waiting for homes to grace with their living colours. It is a space dedicated to creating. Even his paint pallet can be taken as art and framed - which has in fact happened!
I have known Ed for years, both as a friend of the family and co-workers at our church (he was the associate priest and I was the youth worker). Ed is a deeply spiritual man and serious when the situation calls for it, but there is also a joie-de-vivre that bubbles up and brightens a room with just a joke and a laugh. I have seen the man play the fiddle and dance a jig at Maritime kitchen parties. Who knew Ed could dance a mean jig? I've always known that he painted, and have seen his work in the homes of friends but have never seen him in his natural habitat, so to speak. The same vim and vigour that powers his jigs comes through in his living, vibrant paintings. It was a joy to finally visit his creative space to see where the magic happens. We chatted easily and comfortably as he told me all about Ed, the artist. Owning one of Ed's paintings is on my bucket list, so when he showed me the stacks of paintings waiting for a home, I was tempted. The bright colours would look great in a kids' room... File away for a Christmas gift idea.
When did you first start painting?
I've always been interested in art, always went to galleries. The only experience I had was when Ruth (my wife) and I took a drawing class at the YMCA in St. John's, Newfoundland, when I was in college. Then we moved here to Renforth 25 years ago, and I met an older lady named Gladys who was an artist. I told her I'd always wanted to paint, and she said to me, "Well name your day, I'll teach you!". It scared me, because I'd never done a painting before. Every Friday morning for three years I went to Gladys' house and came home with a finished painting in the backseat. I was shocked that I could produce a painting! She read everything about art and would give me articles and books to take home, like homework. She not only taught me how to paint, she also taught me about art history, the Impressionists, the Expressionists and other movements. I kept painting, started giving away paintings, and then they started to sell. About three years later is when it really took off. Jorgen Klausen had asked me to do a show in his gallery, and then I moved into Handworks, and the SeaCoast Gallery in St. Andrew's, Gallery 78 in Fredericton, and on it goes. I've always had confidence as an artist, which I attribute to Gladys.
What inspires the content of your work?
It changes, there are hinge periods you go through, when the colour or the mood or the subject of your work will change. Certainly living in Saint John inspires me, the architecture and cityscapes, church steeples. My roots are in Newfoundland, and every time I go back I am struck by the scale of everything. Everything is large and the colours are so rich. It's a part of my childhood, I go back once a year.
The thing I learned to love the most, which is also the hardest, is painting outdoors. The "plein air". That's what I really love to do in the summertime, if you can get the weather for it. I use loads of paint, I don't worry about the cost of paint, try not to feel limited by these kinds of fears.
What catapulted me in painting was reading Winston Churchill's "Painting as Pastime". (Read an excerpt here.) In it he tells the story of how he was liberated to paint. It's a beautiful little book.
What is your process, from blank canvas to finished piece?
It depends. If I'm painting outdoors, it has to be fast and furious. And yet, you have to hold back. Kind of like riding a horse (laugh). You have to get the essence of what you're seeing in front of you. I'll draw the outlines with paint, then block in the colours and shapes that I see and then is the intensification stage, the details. The hardest part is knowing when you're done. When you paint inside, it's pretty much the same but you have more flexibility. With oils it goes much slower because you have to wait for the layers to dry. And I use a lot of paint.
What does a typical day look like?
Well I work as a minister at All Saints Anglican church, but I come into the studio and paint on Mondays. I come in early in the morning and paint all day. I also paint in the evenings and on holidays. And in the summer I try to take an extended period of time to paint outdoors. I used to do 6-week painting workshops on Friday mornings. Those were a lot of fun.
Does your work as a minister intersect with your art at all?
Always. I found especially when I was a chaplain at the hospital and am dealing with death daily, it was very intense and art was a real outlet. That's when I started doing some grief workshops and teaching with caregivers. We would get fresh flowers, paint supplies, and get them together to paint and talk about what they're dealing with.
What does your studio space mean to you?
I used to work out of my home, but I love having an outside studio because I can just leave it. When I know I'm going to do a big production, I will spend three hours cleaning. Then I'll be ready to paint, and when I paint, I produce a lot of work. It all explodes, and gets messy again. But I can just leave it, and go home, come back to it later. Also when I know something is wrong with a painting, I can leave it out, look at it once in awhile, and wait for the solution to come to me. It might take a month. In the meantime I work on other things.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the joy people get out of living with my paintings. When they tell me that the painting makes them smile.