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'Some paintings take months': artist

Artist Douglas Charles takes much of his inspiration from nature so it's appropriate to visit him at his Coquitlam home studio when the weather is warm and the poppies are in bloom.

Artist Douglas Charles takes much of his inspiration from nature so it's appropriate to visit him at his Coquitlam home studio when the weather is warm and the poppies are in bloom.

His garden, carefully tended by his wife, Elizabeth Thunstrom, is awash in purples, yellows and oranges and, of course, a deep, rich green - just like the his colourful paintings.

Step closer and look into Charles' vision of the world and you see layer upon layer of colour.

The images are there, of course, but they are more like etchings that have been scratched out as if Charles found them in the paper and merely had to reveal them the way a carver uncovers a face in a knotted piece of cedar.

In fact, his technique is to build up the image with layers of paint, first masking out areas he wants to protect and then overlaying the paper canvas with a liberal splash of water and pigment, called a wash.

To create different effects, Charles will dab the water/paint mixture with tissue, sprinkle it with salt or blow it around with a hair dryer.

"It's an amazing technique," Charles said of the method he uses to create dream-like images of flowers and landscapes as well as more realistic paintings of boats in a harbour, derelict machinery, trains or old cars.

He starts out with a pencil drawing and marks out the areas that he will mask.

"The more information you put down on the paper [the more detailed the work]," he says, and indeed his unfinished paintings look like paint-by-number prints before colour has been applied.

Then it's all about controlling the saturation and this is where Charles leaves room for experimentation.

"It's a lot like research," he says, because he's not always sure how the colours will blend and what effect he has created until the paint is dry.

Then it's either time to make adjustments, leave the painting for a while or keep going. "Some [paintings] take months before I figure out what I'm doing."

In his basement, several unfinished paintings await his attention; Charles vows to get back to each one of them.

Each is unlike the other and they show an artist who is willing to push new boundaries in his art.

"I take most of my inspiration from flowers," said Charles, who will exhibit six of his paintings at the Coquitlam Art Club's spring show this weekend, June 24 to 26 at the Centennial Pavilion.

But the subjects he is willing to tackle are exceptionally varied and he's not afraid to try new things.

After painting with watercolours for more than a decade, Charles decided to try acrylics at the suggestion of a friend.

The technique is quite different, he admits, and while he has demonstrated both determination and patience with the new medium, Charles says he's not organized enough to excel at painting with acrylics, a quickly drying paint that can be less forgiving. But he hasn't given up.

Much of this patience and attention to detail was honed on the job as Charles worked as an interior designer for many years, coming up with ideas and then drawing plans to scale - work that used to be done by hand and is now plotted on a computer.

"I got out [of the business] when it went to computer," Charles jokes, and it's hard to tell whether his renderings of pubs, restaurants and hotel lobbies were done by AutoCAD or with a drafting pencil as they are that exact.

He loved his work but left his business behind in 1999. Still, retirement has been fulfilling, too.

Charles has exhibited at Dogwood Art Club shows, the Port Moody Public Library, in the Summerland Art Gallery and most recently in the Leighton Gallery in Vancouver.

Tall and bearded, Charles looks more like a lanky woodsman than a skilled artist.

But his sharply detailed paintings show a man deeply moved about the world around him who is more than willing to spend some time thinking about it.

Coquitlam Art Club spring art show is on Friday, June 24 (opening reception) 7 to 9 p.m, on Saturday, June 25, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday, June 26, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Centennial Pavilion, 620 Poirier St., Coquitlam.