Richard E. Armstrong, Artist

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 15, Issue 8, August 2020

Such a simple title... Richard E. Armstrong, Artist, but for those of us who wish we could draw, paint or even colour within the lines, I was impressed immediately. When I saw a drawing of Kingston's Pan Chancho Bakery, I wanted to step inside and buy my favorite lemon roll. Then, I discovered that he is an islander.  Howe Island, to be exact.  A few emails and my list of questions later, he sent me his answers and his story.


In the course of my daily adventures, I am awe struck by the magnificent rural and urban structures that helped pioneer, homestead and feed our province.  Some have been beautifully maintained or restored and are still active, but others have been left to ruin, their backs and hearts broken by age and weather. All of these I hope to capture, and in my fashion, preserve on paper.  
Richard E. Armstrong Mission Statement
Pan Chancho Bakery, Kingston, ON. by Richard E. Armstrong ©2020


I have always had an interest in drawing, and later painting ever since I was very young.

Throughout High School at East York Collegiate in Toronto, Art Class was my favourite learning under the direction of Alan Good, a great Canadian artist in his own right, now long passed.

I spent one year at the Ontario College of Art, Foundation Year 1968-69, and although I ‘passed’ I did not return.  I did not have a direction at that point and it was time to get a job.

Whenever I travelled, my sketch book went with me although I must confess sometimes it stayed in the suitcase.  Other times, it was my constant companion especially when in the Caribbean. I found it therapeutic, almost Zen-Like, drawing palm trees and building compositions, and enjoying a cold cocktail or two.

For the last few years, I have enjoyed creating ‘memories’ for clients, portraits of their homes, century or contemporary, cottages on islands, barns standing or leaning, businesses or any other sentimental building.

My career for 30 years was in Beer Sales, working for a couple of the great pioneer Ontario Craft Brewers, first the Upper Canada Brewing Company, and then Steam Whistle Brewing.

It was when I moved to Howe Island and started travelling my rural routes to small towns, over hills and dales so to speak, that I took note of these amazing structures, barns, sheds, buildings, mills or whatever, and I really got the bug.

As mentioned in my Mission Statement, I hoped to capture and in my fashion, to preserve on paper these great structures that serviced and fed our province, not so long ago.

Waterfront home, Howe Island, by Richard E. Armstrong ©

I am particularly keen to draw stone structures, homes or buildings of rubble, stone, or finely cut blocks, or some combinations thereof. I guess it was whatever the builder could find or afford at the time. The Thousand Islands and Kingston the Limestone City offers an endless supply of inspiration.

Although there is no comparison in style or success, I have always admired the work of James Keirstead and his story. The tale is that when he returned from the Korean War to the Sharbot Lake area he joined the OPP. It was while driving his patrol route that he became smitten with barns, mills and historic structures. It was similar to my tale and almost along the same route. Apparently when he started showing his work that he discovered that he could make more money by painting, than by working for the police.  So goes the story! Apologies to James if I got details wrong!

"Three Barns, now fallen on Howe Island," by Richard E. Armstrong ©

In the fall, I was thrilled to participate with a great group of local artists at a Small Works show, at the TETT Centre, with no work bigger than 12 x 12. All of my pictures of pubs and restaurants sold out. I call them my "Cathedrals of Beer."

I have recently been taking a couple of on-line water-colour courses with some famous urban architectural painters from around the world. I have received tips from an American in Paris, a gentleman in Argentina, and three slightly eccentric artists based in Melbourne. They are all  free flowing and seem to know just how to make some bold colours, run and do exactly what they want. I am envious.

I seem to have a good eye and hand with my drawings ,being careful with perspective, proportion and placement. It's when I get to the painting stage that I struggle. My immediate goal is to try and blend my more conservative architectural style with these mentors' freer, looser styles.

Its time for me to let myself GO !

A neighbours house by Richard E. Armstrong ©

Now that Richard is selling his works, I asked how he is marketing his art. His answer is a good one!

My marketing strategy mirrors my beer selling style:
• Word of mouth and referrals are paramount.
• Cold Calls, seeing a great opportunity and stopping the car.
• Leave behind post cards and brochures that I have developed for the cold calls and appointments.
FACEBOOK is also a tool that I am learning to develop.
THOUSAND ISLANDS Life magazine is also a wonderful opportunity.

Yep, that’s me. Older but no wiser! 72 in a few weeks which really means I am entering by 73rd year! Cheers to all R

Posted by Richard E. Armstrong on Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Thanks Richard...  during this time of COVID-19 and a very different summer, your drawings are making me look forward to a drive on Howe Island and out into the country.

By Susan W. Smith, Editor, TI Life

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 8, August 2020, Artists, Architecture



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