It’s 3 a.m.
A small lamp casts a dull light towards a corner in the dining room where a makeshift art studio resides. Under the glow, Jay Baker hunches over an easel.
A glass of Disaronno liqueur with cranberries is within reach. Atop a nearby cabinet a cat swats at a collection of paint brushes. Soothing classical music fills the quietude.
“I tend to do most of my painting in the middle of the night to help quiet the mind; so the softer music helps with the process,” says Baker. “However, I often have to fight the cat off while I paint.”
The 47-year-old veteran from Pembroke, ON, battles insomnia and says late night painting helps him find peace, especially after a hectic, stressful day.
“I was having issues sleeping and my psychologist suggested I try painting in the evenings as a way to quiet the mind before bed. So I tried it out and never looked back.”
He retired from the military a year ago after a 27-year career in the Army Reserves as an Infantry Officer with the Grey and Simcoe Foresters in Barrie, ON, and then the Regular Force in 2008 as a Land Communication Information Systems Technician.
He has a rare condition that influences his art – monochromatism, complete color-blindness in which all colors appear as shades of one color.
Because of this, he focuses on texture rather than colour. Texture created through brush stokes tells a better story.
“As I paint, I’m mindful of these textures and try to use them to enhance my artwork. It’s one thing to paint a wave blue. It’s another to add texture to that blue to give the wave movement and life.”
Blue is his primary colour because he can move freely between the light and dark shades without changing its base colour, unlike red that can easily turn pink. Subject matter is usually landscapes, developed with acrylic paint over canvas.
“I enjoy the motion of the waves as it crashes on a rock, or the graceful flow of mist, or wind as it pushes around the trees. You can almost hear the sounds of the ocean and smell the salt water.”
It’s the peaceful moments amongst the chaos that inspire his paintings, relating it to his time as a sentry on duty in the early dawn or late night.
“Nothing is moving except the gentle sway of the tree tops. The stars are at their brightest, the moon is large. A mist slowly and silently roles in. The air is crisp. It’s the most peaceful moment anyone will ever experience and it’s only for you to enjoy.”
In moments of creative blocks, Baker looks to his inspiration Bob Ross.
“Love Bob Ross and his happy little trees. His laid-back attitude towards painting allows for a peaceful application of paint to canvas. There is no wrong way of doing it. No formal structure that must be followed. This attitude allows you to put paint where you feel like it. And painting for him is also about releasing stress.”
Most of Baker’s art is sold; he promotes them through his Instagram – “jaybak11”.
When not painting, he can be found renovating his house and volunteering with Quilts of Valour, where he sews quilts for injured veterans. He also enjoys woodworking, which is reflected through the flower boxes on the deck outside his painting corner in the dining room.
He is one of many artists featured in the Steel Spirit Art Gallery, who promote the work on military, veterans and first responders.
“Jay is an excellent artist and has only just begun to delve into his art,” says Barbara Brown, Steel Spirit founder. “He really is inspiring for having the mindset to try something new, as most people start with negative self-talk and avoid new hobbies or interests. Here he is painting with colours he can’t see. There is nothing short of inspiring about that.”
Steel Spirit is always looking for new and emerging artists with and without art experience, from every background and every age. For more information visit: www.thesteelspirit.ca
By: Kateryna Bandura, Lookout Editor