Making a Canadian Christmas Painting That Sums Up 2020

Every December I set aside some time to create my interpretation of a Canadian Christmas Painting. While the world is shopping, organizing and hanging Christmas lights; I am enjoying the warmth and mood of my studio. Passionately painting, preparing mail outs, and reviewing the year that is; I am fully immersed in the work and the sounds of the Sonos speaker pumping out colourful tunes. Where this Christmas painting began and where it ended, I think may be interesting to you. It may be one of the most wild ride’s my mind has been on, before landing on the canvas. In late October I made my monthly run to Opus, a place in Victoria where I buy some of my supplies, and always my canvas. All year I have had circles on my mind, maybe brought on by the social bubbles Dr. Bonnie Henry has been speaking of since the pandemic took hold of our news, online and broadcast. With this in mind I walked into my art supplier with one mission, come home with a round canvas, of wooden panel. This beauty was waiting for me, and I swiftly scooped her up, and headed home.  It has been a while since I painted on wood panel, I think the last piece was this self-portrait with Lawren Harris Mountain Forms from 2017. The beautiful thing about painting on a smooth and mostly uniform surface of wood, details can be pin sharp or muted soft, depending on how much gesso (primer) you lay down, and how many times you sand each layer, or not at all. I don’t like too much gesso, I like the muted softness created by a surface that absorbs and is pretty flat.

Having just finished a self-portrait about Remembrance Day 2020, I felt it was important to continue with this theme of self. Carrying the weight of the times and processing my role as a leading Canadian Artist, who has carved my own path, independently.

Staring at this round canvas, and thinking of my Canadian upbringing I began with thinking about round things in Canada. When asking the question of others, ‘What is round and Canadian’ the answer time and time again was, ‘hockey puck’. I actually thought long and hard about making an epic realistic painting in various tones of black to grey, literally making the canvas into a giant dimensional black puck. An epic black hole, kind of fitting in this pandemic year. But I wasn’t willing to give this beautiful new wood canvas to the absence of colour.

My brain kept going and then I received email from Alanis Morissette, well her fan club, telling me about the anniversary of Jagged Little Pill and her new album, “such pretty forks in the road”


Then music, the medium in general and the message, and how vinyl has made a huge re-appearance. Yes, that’s it a giant turntable with Jagged Little Pill playing on it, I will paint that, it’s perfect.


The brain kept going, for weeks I kept staring at this beautiful round canvas of wood, with my painting of Remembrance, and thought where do I want to go from here…what makes sense in this body of work and this year, what am I trying to convey through the work. I grabbed a Hudson’s Bay point blanket throw I had sitting on my studio couch. I threw the wood tondo (round) onto the floor and I wrapped the blanket round the edge and started taking photos. I began to see a wreath, a Christmas wreath.

bay blanket wrapped around tondo

Ok, so the outside of this wreath painting will be an HBC point blanket, what will the inside be, what’s the story? What am I trying to convey? What if I were in the center of the wreath, but you couldn’t see my face, like I am looking at you through the wreath, and my nose and mouth are covered, like they are masked? What if I was wearing a really pointy red toque, like the toque Alanis is wearing in the ‘Ironic’ video?


Now we are talking, here we go….and the rest happened on the canvas, without premeditations.

Beginning with a sketch on the wood tondo I picked up from my local art supply, OPUS.

sketch on canvas

Then some neon gouache colour blocking.

colour blocking gouache

Then some more colour blocking and underpainting. The blueprint of this painting is well underway.

making a Canadian Christmas painting

painting in progress

Over the course of two weeks and daily painting, this painting is realized and the tondo becomes more than a round panel of primed wood. What once was a panel of wood, is now a work of art. Marking history, telling a story, and asking the viewer to SEE. To look at the world through another set of eyes, the eyes of the artist, who makes their full-time business watching and seeing. The things you have not time for, the artist sees and puts into their work. That is my job, for lack of a better word. I know it is my duty, my solace, and my purpose. It has been as long as I can remember.

Brandy Saturley with her art in her studio

Please enjoy this ‘Canadian Christmas 2020’ painting. This is ‘Wreath of Irony‘. Isn’t it a wee bit Ironic?

Canadian Christmas Painting

Sincerely Yours,

Brandy Saturley (#ironiccanuck)

The Work Behind A Work of Art – Making A Painting

There is a famous quote that speaks to the work that goes into a work of art, it references the artist process, and vaguely refers to the creative process. The quote made famous by James Whistler is; “An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision.”

What did Whistler mean by, “paid for his, or her, vision”, was he speaking of paying an artist for their ability to see things others cannot? Perhaps, it is definitely about perspective and how artists make us see things in a different light, but I believe Whistler was also speaking of the time it takes to develop the vision for a new creation, the plan or blueprint to future work. As a painter, the painting is the result of the vision, developed through days, weeks, months and even years. An idea I have for an artwork today, may wait for a year before I have enough knowledge to understand how I will execute the painting. Artists are gatherers of visual, aural and emotional stimuli. We collect experiences, from a hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains, to a symphony. From the way a coffee spills on the ground, to the colours of a sunset. From the words of a writer to the moving pictures and soundtrack of a film. All this stimuli being collected literally and figuratively. A photo I take today may end up providing information for a painting I will create a year from now.

We take all this stimuli and boil it down to a message, a simplified thought or perspective on the world – then the physical work begins. It may be through writing, or sketching or editing images together in Photoshop, whatever the process for filtering the stimuli and finding the focus – a clear focal point, the central message. After solidifying the idea, I sketch the focal point of the future painting onto canvas and then I begin to paint. Over the course of the painting I develop the background and additional elements that will help support the story of the central image, I work from intuition with a a focus on color, form and composition. My goal is to create overall balance to the piece. With my paintings, which are generally 3×4 feet, I spend approximately 70 hours from initial sketch to finished painting. Then comes painting the edges of the piece, application of a finishing varnish and coated hanging wire fastened to the back. If I were to add in the time it took to develop my idea to the point of fruition, I am not sure where I would begin, thus an artist is paid for their vision, as it is impossible to track how many hours it takes to create a work of art.

Below is a peek into my process – the reference photos taken on two different art trips – the ‘selfie’ taken while in Winnipeg at the famously haunted Fort Garry Hotel, an old railway hotel in Canada designated a National Historic Site. The ‘stacked rocks’ photo at sunset was taken on a retreat to a cabin on the west coast at the Point No Point Resort. This past year I was also in Yellowknife, NWT famous for it’s aurora borealis. So many stimuli, collected over the course of a year, that ended up coming together in a painting, a year later.

Rock Stacking on a west coast beach

At The Fort Garry Hotel, Winnipeg MB

Painting Process: initial sketch on canvas


Painting Process: step 2 colour blocking

Painting Process: step 3 layering colours, creating depth and dimension


I See Colour – developing my signature style as an artist, through intuition

I love colour and colour has become part of my signature style as an artist. I love vivid, bright and uninhibited splashes of colour. I love blending colours on my palette and right on the canvas. I like building layers of colour painted in thin glazes to achieve depth and harness light. Vivid colour, particularly Naphthol Red and Ultramarine blue,

Day 1: laying down the blueprint, sketching in raw umber on canvas

have become signatures of my work over the past couple decades. Colour alters the emotion of a piece and sets the mood, but I didn’t always love colour.

From the time I was a teenager to the time I entered college my comfort zone and frame of mind were black and white. All I did was draw portraits and still life in pencil, in sketchbooks of white Canson paper and lined notebooks. I loved playing with light and shadow, shading and depth, I was creating blueprints and gaining experience that would later serve me well in Art School.

Day 2: laying down the underpainting

For me the transition came in Art School and specifically in two classes; painting and graphic design. Graphic design taught me about the colour wheel and colour theory, a practical guide about colour mixing and the visual effects of specific colour combinations. Once my hands grasped those tubes of paint, squeezing pure vivid colour out onto a multitude of surfaces, I never wanted to go back, colour had me and I had colour.

So, when asked why I paint with such a vivid and saturated palette my response is, why not? It feels good, it feels happy, it fills me with joy and allows me to splash my emotions onto the canvas. For the past five years I painted with a very restricted palette of mostly my Naphthol Red and Ultramarine blue with the odd dash of Indian yellow for contrast. With this new body of work, and my more intuitive relationship with the influences of my Canadian travels, I am finding myself returning to the full spectrum of vivid colours that I began using in Art College. My technique is honed , I am in the groove and creating a distinct language that is becoming less representational and more symbolic. My work is becoming less about narrative and more about feeling. I am creating a new language that is all my own and I am letting my intuition lead. My artist instincts have become honed to a point that I feel confident in letting them lead. This is not to say I have no plan, and I do begin with a blueprint for any painting, like I learned to when I was a teenager in high school art class. I do study a subject deeply and formulate numerous possibilities, but what controls my final decisions before I apply paint to canvas, is my ‘gut instinct’ or intuition.

Day 3: Colour blocking and laying down glazes, layers of colour

Both Eastern and Western philosophers have studied the concept of intuition in detail. Recently, Gerd Gigerenzer, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, spoke with Forbes about intuition, suggesting it is the highest form of intelligence. A recent documentary film on Netflix explored the topic of intuition. “The ancient Icelandic word for intuition is “innsæi,” but in Iceland it has multiple meanings. It can mean “the sea within” which is the borderless nature of our inner world, a constantly moving world of vision, feelings and imagination beyond words. It can mean “to see within” which means to know yourself…”

I like this, ‘the sea within’ and to ‘see within’. As my exploration continues and the new works are created I am excited at where this is heading. I seem to be experiencing that ‘full circle’ feeling as I return to my full spectrum vivid colour palette. These photos are a ‘sneak peek of a piece I have been working on for 3 days now, to view the other four paintings in this intuitive series of symbolic landscapes, see my new work here.

Day 4: laying down more colour glazes, blending, and defining edges

Behind The Painting: from inception to creation, the process of making original fine art

 Originally published May 15, 2017

Goalie’s Mask: red, white and Dryden, acrylic on canvas, 2011 on art shipping crates in the studio. Brandy Saturley, Canadian Painter

This is a big year for Canada and a big year for my art career. With one solo exhibition behind me and another on the horizon, I am preparing to share my stories of Canada on canvas hanging in the art galleries and in person. What inspires the art? What am I trying to convey with my paintings? Here I will share the intent behind a few of my most celebrated pieces, and how I feel about the job of the artist and that of the viewer.

Behind the Painting: Is Canada the Goalie of The World? During the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games the city was punctuated by Canadian stereotype and the air thick with smells of maple syrup pride. I came home from the experience with visions of red, maple leaves and hockey. All these experiences zipping across my temporal lobe. I have always loved the works of American painter, Georgia O’ Keeffe. She was known for painting animal skulls on the landscape and in 1931 created a painting featuring a cows skull on a blanket of red, white and blue. The piece represented the enduring American spirit. I began to think about this painting and it began to inspire my own comment on my country, referencing the enduring Canadian spirit. I came to rest on the image of a hockey goalie mask on the iconic Canadian flag. To me, the goalie mask speaks of us standing guard, it is a symbol of resilience and protection. In most cases a masked human, taking the shots and not shooting back, the goalie plays the role of protector and watcher, much like a mother grizzly over her cubs. This painting was the beginning of this body of work, my ‘Canadianisms’, and set me on a journey of realizing the Canadian spirit on canvas.

Saint Kanata, acrylic on canvas, 2011 – Brandy Saturley, Canadian Painter

Behind the Painting: An #ICONICCANUCK

#ICONICCANUCK was the title of my first exhibition of these paintings, as my ‘Canadianisms’ referenced so many icons of Canada, including the landscape and wildlife of the country. The first human icon I painted was, Shania Twain, a celebrated Canadian singer and songwriter and best-selling female country music artist of all time. ‘Saint Kanata’ references the strong and resilient Canadian spirit and the composition for the piece was inspired by the work of famous polish Art Deco painter, Tamara De Lempicka. Lempicka was the first woman artist to be a ‘glamour’ star.

Behind The Painting: With Our Hearts On Our Sleeves

Hearts On Our Sleeves, acrylic on canvas, 2016 – Brandy Saturley, Canadian Painter

‘Hearts On Our Sleeves’ has many influences, but I will begin with the initial intent. When I began thinking about creating this new self-portrait I had an image in my mind, that of ‘Rosie The Riveter’. An iconic war-time poster image, the image did not really hit it’s full stride until it inspired a social movement that increased the number of women in the workforce, and became a symbol of feminism. I wanted to paint a self-portrait for all, but also for Canadian women from all walks and in all professions. As I began painting I came to focus on the eyes and began to see the Mona Lisa on my subliminal horizon, a horizon influenced by the landscapes of Lawren Harris with muted tones and almost abstract forms. The heart on the sleeve quite literal in it’s placement and meaning. As with all art, ultimately what you see is based on your experience, so even though I began with an intent, it becomes your place now to bring your story to the finished piece.

During this half-decade I have found inspiration across the country and through the eyes and minds of the people I have connected with on my travels. We have talked about Canada, about what we love and the future of our great country, of reconciliation, of acceptance, of equality and of protecting the environment. We have talked about what we create and why we create. We have talked about ideas for future collaborations. On each journey I write daily, record video, and photos. Coming home each time to Vancouver Island filled with new ideas about Canada. From the most rural to the grandest; I am cultivating a visual language that is distinctly Canadian.