[This is the first online exhibit of 2014] “How to become an abstract painter”

Welcome and congratulations on wanting to improve yourself.

All you need to start is a pre-existing figurative oil painting (can be substituted for acrylic – consult your Doctor) with an impasto flare to it. It should have at least one area that wants to leave the confines of the canvas.


I used a still life painting of fruit that I did in 1994. At the time I was living in Montreal and going through chemotherapy. There were over 15,000 empty apartments in Montreal, so I was able to live in a loft in the old port even though I was a student. I lived beside a hydro facility with lots of wires and conductors. I took so long to do the painting that the fruit dried up and a wasp flew in through the open window and worried me.

Step 1: Preparing your Palette 

Try to use a painting with at least as interesting a backstory to it and follow the video tutorial below before proceeding to Step 2.

Step 2: The Basics

Are you done? Great!

Now it’s your turn to create a pile of the paint flakes on a neutral surface. Like this:

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Now zoom in close with your camera phone, pretending it is a wooden frame. You should end up with something that looks a bit like this:

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Don’t be afraid to take photos from different angles or mix up the paint chips a bit:

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Great! Now that you’ve got the basics of abstract painting down, we’ll move on to more advanced techniques.

Step 3: Advanced Techniques

Let’s pull that “wooden frame” out a bit to make use of negative space. Don’t be intimidated – the post-it note was invented from negative space. Steve Jobs was famous for creating negative space in the office, and so can you.

Again, express yourself by randomly mixing the paint flakes around a bit. Yes. Good. Like this:

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Look at you!

Now, let’s create some “dynamic energy” and spread our paint flakes even further, with an even larger lens. Don’t be concerned about reaching deep inside, but do keep children and small animals away from the designated creative area:

So beautiful. Don’t forgot to pin it with a link back to this tutorial.

Step 4: Master class

You are truly ready to unleash your inner artist. For this final segment, we’ll be using negative space combined with a circle shape. You may recognize a circle from your yoga class or from that power point presentation, but it has actually been used in many civilizations throughout history – and now it’s our turn!

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Give yourselves a pat on the back – now you are ready for a rich and rewarding hobby.

And don’t forget about the painting we started with! It’s now a new work too and should be mounted with glee:

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Here’s what we call a “detail”:

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Step 6: Art as an object

And that’s not the only new work you have – don’t forget about the paint chips themselves. They make a nice ornament if you put them in a glass container. I’ve used a round jar so it will go well with the circles from our master class:


Questions or comments? Please let us know below – and we would love to see how your home abstract paintings turn out, so please feel free to share in the comments as well.

Love #2, 2012: Painting, interrupted.

I am seeing an orthopedic surgeon later this month about my wonky shoulders. Renovations to our old, crappy house are going very slowly, so as usual my studio is packed with storage. We are living in one room in the main floor. I am also in the thick of an intense but enjoyable graduate program focused on communications, new media and teeming with philosophers both alive and dead. Everyone is smarter and quicker than me. Art is my only hope of surviving this. I always feel like Ethan Hawke in Gattica.

With that being said, my “classical” studio practice is on hold. In the meantime, here is a painting from a unpublished text series in progress. Art Toronto is right around the corner and I am always seeing my art on display by someone else (so to speak) so I figured I better start staking my originality claims while I can.

Love #2

The Artist’s Shoulders #2: Art Stores hate creativity

This is the second in my series about my shoulder problems and how it ties into problems with our health system and perceptions that promote poverty in Canada and thus ultimately the economy … seriously, they are all related and this post outlines a second example of this. 

I’ve just experienced some bad customer service at Curry’s Art Supplies in Hamilton, Ontario. A little while before that, and for largely the same reason, I experienced some bad customer service at Aboveground Art Supplies in Toronto. How does this relate to my shoulder, poverty and health care?

Because some artists work best at small, or medium. As an artist, I’m at my best when I work large.  My drawings and paintings that are large work well, and with my recent digital work this is also true I think – conceptually, when I compose on the computer I am imagining the work as a large scale print.

Unfortunately, with my shoulders, I am not supposed to raise my arms above my shoulders. My left is half-frozen with atrophied muscles and my right *hurts* when I raise it for even a dozen seconds. It really sucks. I’ve literally been fighting off depression because I can’t work the way I want to (more about that in a later post) and I want to work large – I need to work large for what I what to accomplish in my professional practice.

So how to overcome this obstacle? There is a slew of self-help jargon out there that basically states for every closed door there is an open window, and I think this is true – the solution should dove tail with an creative idea and I think I solved it.

I would paint on small squares, a grid, and join them together. Like this test run from an older series a couple of years ago:

oops. mirror image.

oops. mirror image.

In this way, I can create very large works by sitting on a couch and keeping my arms low. I can paint and draw on each square with a well-worked chart and affix them together at the end. I’m really excited about this and have wanted to get started for months. But…

The above little square canvases are actually pretty expensive. About three dollars each and when you multiply that by the seventy panels it comes to $210. If you bought a single canvas of the same size, you are probably looking at about $80. But I can’t do that, because I have bad shoulders.

Ok, so I just need to buy a cheaper square of something to paint on right? No problem, I jump onto the interwebs and look at the options available to me at Aboveground Art Supplies in Toronto. I like this art store – good prices and friendly service – they are usually worth the trip into Toronto.

Hmmm…. they have nice cradled painting panels in a the small square size I need but they are $3.50 each.  Ok, looks like they have a bamboo wood “mount” which are much cheaper and not exactly meant for painting, but they will do nicely. They are about $1.55 each – I can work with that! – but the sizes are rectangular, not square like I need. The closest square ones I can see are still pretty large at 6″ x 6″. I need smaller, so I figure I’ll email and ask if they can order some in.

I get a friendly reply and over the course of some emails back and forth, then a long period of time where I had to prompt the inventory manager as to the status of the request, I get a quote for the 4″x4″ size… at about $3.50 each. Sigh…. when I pointed out I was interested in the bamboo panels they were selling, not the more expensive line that are handmade by a local craftsperson (which is great, but out of my budget for the large amount I want) I got this reply “Those are shipped to us by freighter from Taiwan once a year.” and I have not heard back from this store since. I’m not sure why this was a deal breaker for them. Why can’t I pre-pay for a few hundred of them? What does it matter where they are from or how they get here?

Because this was outside of a routine request for this middle manager. It was easier for him to stop trying to accommodate me than to make an exception for my creative needs. At an art store. Again – sigh. I haven’t heard back from them for a few months now.

So I’m walking by Currey’s in Hamilton today and decide to pop in and see what kind of panels they had. Currey’s can be helpful, and always friendly. Their prices are not that great. The biggest reason I don’t like going in there is the awkwardness of always being confronted immediately with laser focused eye contact and a greeting of “Hi how are you!”. I know this is a corporate script and helps discourage shoplifters – it’s their job to do this but is it my job to respond? It’s so … American. Actually no – it’s too insincere to be American because we Canadian don’t tend to like this kind of loud gregarious behavior when first entering an establishment and this comes through in the employees tone. I just want to look at some supplies.

Anyways, not the employees fault, I look at some of the panels and don’t see the size or material I want so decide to inquire at the front desk about custom ordering. The same employee sort of interrupts me half way through explaining what I need with “No. What you see is what we have. We can’t order anything else in.” Case closed. Ok, she (which is say the store through its policies and training) did not even ask what amount I needed (hundreds in the short term, thousands(?) in the long term) and what she said was very illogical. If one thinks about her response for a second, it make no sense as how do they know what to order and how much to order if requests by customers like me are immediately dismissed? Is there no way to measure supply and demand? Is it a secret way?

Sadly, just like Aboveground Art Supplies my request is slightly different so becomes problematic. That’s why the subtitle of this post is that art stores hate creativity. Remember that public school teacher who conducts art lessons for the kids – but only in special area that is easy to clean up, and only colouring in the lines, and you must cover the entire surface with paint, and you can’t use to much, and it should be happy… any creative worth their salt knows that is actually a way to stifle true creativity and these art stores are no different.

The solution, as many real professional artists know, is to skip these kind of art stores altogether and go straight for the hardware store. I know I should buy a sheet of the kind of light wood I want (because of the way I assemble it, it can’t be heavy) and cut it myself and ground it myself.

But I can’t, because I have bad shoulders.

So I don’t have a pile of small, light wood panels, so I am not producing art. I have not spent any money on this, and cannot sell what I have not made. So I don’t have enough money to buy the pre-made squares or to put an ad on Craigslist or Kajiji offering $3.50 for someone to go buy, cut, ground and deliver these squares for me.

These panels exist, but they might as well be in Taiwan for all that it matters.

It’s a bit frustrating.

*update* Aside from connecting with someone who won’t mind helping me prepare the panels when I am able to get back to studio work, I have considered simply using paper. This may be the best option, but assembling it will be tricky. I need to adjoin each square to the next to support it, and thus the whole grid supports itself. I like the visual wear and sagging this produces, but not sure how this will work with rag paper. I guess it will have to be wire and glue. Maybe something else will occur to me.

Three Text Paintings from 2005ish

I’ve been doing text in paintings for several years now. It’s changed a lot over that time but I’ve always like the freedom of working in this area between representational and abstract, as many do. It was a chance to slip into formalism and automatic painting without losing the conscious context, the connection of the subject matter. For me, the act and object of the painting is inseperable from the meaning and narrative of the text itself. They are but more personal than Truisms, more stories about me and the painting process. Kinda like tweets as paintings before Twitter existed! Haha.

This series was not exactly well received by all, but maybe those people failed to read between the lines. Those who liked these tended to like them a lot. and when I realized these paintings kept people’s attention at least as long as it took to read them. Hmmm… so I started to make very large, dense text narratives (will post when I find an image) and that challenged some and quickly discouraged others. Ah, I’ve always loved audience analytics…

I’ve got a new series of text paintings (on hold like all my other studio work) that I am really excited about. In the meantime, here’a few of my early favourites of these series. Sorry about the quality of the images, but often for artists poor documentation is all we are left with.

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Three paintings that helped me beat Cancer

I called this 1995 oil on canvas series “The Flowering God Machine”.

During my last two years of art school, I had Hodgkin’s Disease. During my last year, I was finally diagnosed and underwent Chemotherapy.

It was rough, I won’t lie. I was scared at first, then gradually more and more annoyed at the inconvenience of sickness and death just when I was about to become an art star ;). I was also a single parent of a toddler.  I had a job as a manager at an artist-run cafe. I was almost stage 4 (out of 5, very bad) and given a 70% chance of survival.

Really bad timing. (Honestly, it’s always bad timing but maybe getting cancer when you’re 98 years old is slightly better timing)

What was I supposed to do? It seemed obvious to most around me I should pack up, leave Montreal and move back to my parent’s house in Ottawa.  Ugh. I just felt this was the wrong way to go – I would lose meaningful contact with my social network (reminder: this is pre-social media. BBS was an emerging technology). I would be in possibly one of the worst cities in the world for arts in 1995. I would be isolated, without my hard-earned, mostly lucked upon studio loft in Old Montreal. I had a hot contemporary dancer girlfriend. Worst of all, I would lose access to my young son.

It sort of struck me then that the best thing to do was not to suddenly stop my life, but to re-double my efforts at what was I wanted to do. I made more plans, I set more goals and stayed where I was. I drank more. I smoked more pot. I had more sex and very deliberately and methodically I made more art.

I used driving a car as a metaphor. Deriving life-saving inspiration from driving a car is kinda pathetic in retrospect, but for my age and situation driving a car was still very new and cool and the way to connect with people and places (Did I mention social media didn’t exist at the time?). Anyways, the metaphor is to keep your eyes on the horizon while driving and not on the road directly ahead of you. I figured by focusing on a distant goal i.e. graduating with my BFA, then I would effectively “trick” my body into getting through this ordeal without giving up.

This was a good start, conceptually. But as artists who work with their hands all know, the physical process of making art is where the real magic exists. So for my final art critique I worked on the below series of paintings. I used “Old Master” oil painting techniques of glazing, which involved lots of paint thinners, Damar varnish and rabbit skin glue. It took a long time and a lot of patience. It was perfect. My body had no choice to but to keep up with the project at hand. Perhaps it was pride but that kept me alive, but fuck it – ego works if applied properly!

Yeah, so I basically “Hemmingwayed” through this difficult period. I partied, I womanized and selfishly worked on my art in any way I damned well please. What were my professors going to say? They all let me hand in my work whenever I wanted. They gave me A’s. Some smoked pot with me. Ah, art school.

Don’t think that this was a giant pity party. I really suffered and in turn caused suffering to my friends and loved ones. Ever seen a toddler gravely worried about your mortality? It’s not pretty. Ever had an infection in one of your testicles? Also not fun. Ever been on an experimental drug that increases white blood cells but works too well and you end up with too much pressure from the inside of your bones out? That was almost indescribable. Ever spent a decade afterwards in a mental haze and physical listlessness because of the chemo and steroid cocktail you received? It’s been quite a trip.

Right. Back to the paintings below.

I called this series “The Flowering God Machine” because cancer seemed like a garden of sorts to me. It grows in you like you’re a garden, almost like it’s a separate life form. And it’s a fundamental part of our physical state of being – so it must be of “God’s Plan” right? (I wanted to give this some heavy associations so I used God in the title) Finally, the whole genre of cancer and treatments is very industrial revolution. If it’s chemicals that cause this, then we are fighting fire with fire because it’s chemicals we are using to try to defeat it, and is a huge industry – thus, it’s a machine. All in all, a pretty bad ass name for paintings about cancer, right?

The first one below is 4′ x 4′. The second one is really big: 6′ x 4′ and the last one is only about 17″ x 10″.

My art after this changed forever. I always felt lucky, and often like I shouldn’t have lived at all – perhaps I would of more easily achieved the reputation I wanted by “cashing out” at that point. That’s selfish. If you are an artist, or anyone with cancer or dealing with someone in your life with cancer here is my advice: make plans, make plans, make plans. The quality of life is the most important thing. Doing what you love and doing meaningful things helps greatly – making sure I got these three paintings done helped saved my life. I am sure of it.

Paintings about Cancer: Flowering God Machine #1 Paintings about Cancer: Flowering God Machine #2 Paintings about Cancer: Flowering God Machine #3

[Video + Podcast #8] Christopher Healey interviewed about exhibit Mexico ii, by Hamilton Artists Inc.

You listen to the Audio Only Podcast or watch the video below:

Raw audio + finished video  from a 20 minute interview on June 29th, 2013 of Christopher Healey. Conducted by Hamilton Artists Inc’s Curatorial Assistant Caitlin Sutherland, and Gallery Assistant Samantha Roketta, about my exhibit Mexico ii featuring paintings by my mother Beverly Healey and digital collages by me.

I’m the first artist for this video interview series for the Inc, and was glad to help out this way. I really appreciated being able to articulate more of about the show and the process, and yet still feel like I forgot to mention a couple of key points – of course. That is, essentially, my work is about death and the “thinness” of our existence – which is one of the reasons I used the sunlight and the materials I did, such as the skull and white plastic. My Mom’s oil painting portrait work is about life, and the richness of an individual’s character and immortalizing it.

More information at my original post about the show here: https://chrishealey.me/2013/05/26/mexico-ii-an-exhibit-of-paintings-digital-collages/

One of great things I enjoy about the culture of the Inc is involvement with some young graffiti artists – one in particular has been very involved. He got very excited telling me about the impression my Mom’s work made on him during the member’s exhibit “Oh my god it was so good – no offence, but it was the best work in the gallery… it’s like a 17th century painting by on old master… no one else came close to it – no offence to your work or anything – it was totally sick. If she gave me her one of her paintings, I would walk out of the gallery and never do graffiti art again.. I’m serious!..”

This was awesome feedback for my Mom 🙂 Especially since we live in an age where street artists usually end up as the new art stars.

I’ll update this post when the video is available. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of the exhibit below:


Christopher Healey & Beverly Healey – photo by Joanna St. Jacques

Mountain Path

Mountain Path

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Pop-Up gallery exhibit one for the books

Open Book Group Exhibit at 21 Rebecca Street.

Hamilton purportedly has a DIY culture and attitude and that reputation has attracted many arty types like myself to this quirky rust belt city. Sometimes, the perception is not really the reality and many of us have been yearning for empty buildings downtown to be bought and turned into impromptu exhibit spaces – and only three years later, have I finally seen this happen the way many of us have been daydreaming it should happen.

Welcome to the neighbourhood, Book Club Gallery.

Located on Rebecca, just off of James Street North and in the shadow of the Jackson Square monstrosity, the Book Club Gallery was never a Book Store. It was a wool broker office, and a print shop, and a hair salon – it is currently a pleasant austere space with art by some of Hamilton’s best artists. At least for the next few weeks – who knows what the owner, Cameron, will do with the space next but having a pop-up exhibit is such a great way to fill the space in the meantime. There are a lot of empty storefronts in Hamilton, and their owners could learn a thing or two about fostering community from people like Cameron.

(Unfortunately, Hamilton has many empty storefronts because of their owners are slumlords who don’t want the “expense” of the space being used for anything. They just want to flip the property at some point in the future after people like us creative class types put in all the hard work to improve the community and thus the real estate value. The City councilors here are, in turn, kinda meta-slum lords because the home crowd in this small city all know each other and look out for their “buddies”. But things are changing because there are so many new people arriving , and we’ve see that things are better elsewhere and so things will change here. This is a kind of hostile cultural takeover. But enough of this issue at the moment..)

Back to the show – the participating artists in this exhibit, one of the best so far of 2013, are Donna Akrey, Sarah Beattie, Andrea Carvalho, Margaret Flood and Svava Thordis Juliusson.

There was a small amount of people who attended the opening, but it’s slightly off the Art Crawl beaten path. A couple of sandwich boards would address this problem nicely. Such a good show – Cameron, please consider keeping it open for the next art crawl!


Donna Akrey’s work is sprawling and subtle. Go ahead and try to find this bear. You’ll be glad you did.


Donna Akrey


Andrea Carvalho – this work really takes advantage of the space, I think. These sculptural installations look like “Office Ghosts” to me. Love this.


Margaret Flood is making some multiples of the HOV lane on the highway – the car pool lane. She’s communing to work in Toronto and making art about it. Like I did when I was commuting. This is a very real part of the landscape. Maybe there should be a group exhibit of commute art…


Donna Akrey’s secret storage space…


Donna Akrey


Donna Akrey


Donna Akrey


Svava Thordis Juliusson – Toronto’s loss, Hamilton’s gain.


Svava Thordis Juliusson


Donna Akrey


Andrea Carvalho, Margaret Flood and Svava Thordis Juliusson


Svava Thordis Juliusson


Svava Thordis Juliusson


Donna Akrey


Andrea Carvalho, Margaret Flood

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