Alan Douglas Ray

Profile At A Glance

Alan is a classically-trained, traditional oil painter based in Toronto Canada with a passion for portraiture, figures, still life, and Canadian landscapes.


  • 2018: April 27 to May 28, “Brush in Hand” Juried Exhibition, Finn Art Centre, Minden, Ontario
  • 2017:  September 23 to October 23: International Guild of Realism’s 12th Annual Juried Exhibition, Carmel, CA
  • 2017: August 8 to September 25, Get Real Artists Exhibition, Dundas Museum, Dundas, Ontario
  • 2017: August 12-13,  19-20, Highlands East Studio Tour, Haliburton, Ontario
  • 2017: August 5 – 6,  Tour de Forest Summer Studio Tour, Haliburton, Ontario
  • 2017: July 12 to August 12: 2017 Square Foot Show, Westland Gallery, London, Ontario
  • 2017: April 7 – 9, Arts on the Credit, Port Credit Ontario
  • 2016: Nov 16 to Nov 27th, Don Valley Art Club Show and Sale, Todmorden Mills Heritage Site
  • 2016: Nov 3 to January 3, 2017, Carrier Gallery, Columbus Centre, North York, The New Masters Group Exhibition
  • 2016: Sept 26th to Oct 7th, Visual Arts Mississauga at Riverwood, Get Real Artists Exhibition
  • 2016: May 14th to June 25th.  Academy of Realist Art, Annual Spring Exhibition.
  • 2015: May 31st to June 27st.  Academy of Realist Art, Annual Spring Exhibition.
  • 2014: December 13th to January 17th/2015, Academy of Realist Art, Annual Christmas Exhibition
  • 2014: Oct 8 to Nov 3, Carrier Gallery, Columbus Centre, Toronto, The New Masters Group Exhibition
  • 2014: June 14 to July 4, Galleria 814 Toronto,  The New Masters Group Exhibition
  • 2014: May 17th-June 21st, Academy of Realist Art, 1st Annual Spring Exhibition and Sale
  • 2011: Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, Summer Exhibition


  • Portrait Society of America
  • Oil Painters of America
  • International Guild of Realism
  • Arts Council Haliburton Highlands
  • Get Real Artists

New Highlights:

  • “Message” voted FAV 15% in the April 2017 Boldbrush Painting Competition
  • “Egg” voted FAV 15% in the May 2017 Boldbrush Painting Competition
  • “The Reader” has been selected for the International Guild of Realism’s 12th Annual Juried Exhibition, Carmel, CA


Canadian artist Alan Douglas Ray is a traditional oil painter with a passion for portraiture, figures, still life, and landscapes. Inspired by the Dutch Old Masters, especially Vermeer and Rembrandt, and the English Pre-Raphaelites, his paintings depict quiet, private places with an air of mystery and intrigue.

Ray was born in 1965 and raised in the university town of Waterloo, Ontario. After years of living abroad, he settled in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, in 1996. His primary studio is in Toronto, but he also divides his time between this city, his remote country studio north of the city (Haliburton), and his winter refuge in Key West, Florida.

Ray feels grateful to have been raised in a household that encouraged arts and crafts. His father was a photographer and watercolourist who once built a 15’ fiberglass speedboat in the basement. His mother, an accomplished pianist and soprano, organized family trips to concert halls and the nearby Shakespeare and Shaw festivals. Landscapes painted by his grandmother hung on the walls. Furniture crafted by his grandfather was scattered throughout the house. All of them were amateurs, however.

He does not recall meeting a professional until he reached high school.  That artist, an established painter who exhibited his watercolours in prominent Canadian galleries, became his art instructor for five years.  Expectations were high. He gave his students a rigorous training in drawing and composition, sculpture, ceramics, mold making, stained glass, print making, colour theory, and art history— everything except the one area he loved most: painting.  So Ray taught himself to paint on his own time, in a very challenging medium: watercolour.

In those formative years, he knew art would always play a part in his life. Art was the only subject that could keep him working late at school and indoors on a sunny weekend. He had a growing portfolio to show for his efforts. When he was 19, he exhibited his watercolours of antique cars and started earning portrait commissions.

Yet, he couldn’t envision making a career of art. For starters, he is partly colour blind. His tastes are “old fashioned”. He didn’t see himself fitting in at any art college where conceptual or abstract art prevailed—and that seemed to be everywhere in those days. Earning a decent living and avoiding debt was a constant pre-occupation for him too.

Ray chose instead to pursue degrees in political science and international relations with a view to becoming a professor and writer. In 1990, a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship took him to London England where he eventually earned a PhD in War Studies on the subject of military intervention and peacekeeping. A stint working for a TV producer and screenwriter in the UK led him to the study of playwriting and screenwriting. By happenstance, he eventually found himself working in the fields of technical writing, animation, new media and software development back in Canada.

In 1998, Ray became a co-founder of a consulting firm that became Prospero Learning Solutions, a Canadian training design and development company specializing in custom e-learning courses. He served as its Chief Technology Officer until the business was acquired by a global training giant in 2013.

Throughout this time, Ray never neglected his creative side, dabbling in watercolours now and then.

One day in 2003, a Toronto friend introduced him to a private art academy that had been founded by John Michael Angel (better known as the founder of the Angel Academy of Art in Florence and student of Italian master Pietro Annigoni). Now called the Academy of Realist Art (ARA), the school offers a 19th century French Academy curriculum with a foundation in Old Master drawing and painting techniques. The lineage of its instructors can be traced back directly to Jacques Louis David and the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Many of its graduates are internationally-known professionals.

With his passion for realism, Ray realized that the ARA was the very place he had been longing for. He enrolled part-time, working under the guidance of artists Fernando Freitas, Juan Martinez, Ryan Gauvin, and, for a short time, David Gluck and Matthew Mancini. Ray completed the curriculum in the spring of 2013 and graduated in September 2013.

In June 2015, he finally realized his dream of being able to paint full-time as a professional.

He is now a member of the Portrait Society of America, the Oil Painters of America, the International Guild of Realism, and several local art associations. Ray exhibits widely in his home province of Ontario. His work can be found in private collections there and in Alberta, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Florida, and London.

Ray has chosen to paint in a style called classical realism, which taps into the classical, realist, and impressionist traditions in art. One of its core principles—that good draftsmanship is the foundation of a good painting—resonates strongly with him. He also strives to depict nature as truthfully as he can by directly observing the subject’s form, gesture and colour and the ways light and shadow alter our perceptions of that subject.

For Ray, careful observation is the key to approaching still life and landscapes. In his words, “Painting a still life forces me to slow down and reflect on the essence of an object — not just what makes a pumpkin a pumpkin instead of an apple or a pine cone, for example, but the way in which the light, the surrounding objects, and the shadows they cast affect my perception of that object. In a short time, I see personalities emerging and relationships unfolding.”

With his portraits and figure paintings, Ray seeks out aspects of character that he can capture, preserve, and later treasure when viewing the finished work. He reflects on this often with respect to family members and friends he’s painted who are no longer with us.  In his words: “I search for character in the eyes, in the shape of the mouth, and in the pose itself. Whenever I can, I employ classical lighting effects, clothing and scenery to further bring out the essence or truth of the character I see.”

Lately, Ray has been drawing more inspiration from the natural world, especially the northern landscapes and wildlife he sees throughout much of the year.

When asked how he see his mission as an artist, Ray replies: “To engage my viewers with a mystery and seduce them by the illusion or atmosphere I’ve created.”

Artist’s Statement

When I’m alone, facing my easel, I imagine I’m an illusionist. Not the kind who saws fine ladies in half or who makes elephants vanish in thin air.  My trick is to create a convincing optical illusion with paint on a flat surface.  I want to engage and entertain. If for a fleeting moment, viewers feel they are in the presence of the model, or could touch the objects in a still life, or smell the air in a landscape, then I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something.

I begin with an idea that I hope will convey mystery or wonder and then I plan how I’m going to create the illusion.  A key element is a strong tonal contrast between light and dark so that I can model my forms in a dramatic, three-dimensional way. Inside my studio, I accomplish this with a single source of lighting, often natural.  I study how the light falls on my forms—whether they be faces and figures, or fruit and vegetables in a still life. Composition is critical. The light and shadow areas need to balance one another. The elements need to be positioned to keep the viewer’s eye from wandering outside of the picture. I think ahead about how I’ll use different thicknesses of paint, soft and hard edges, the direction of brush strokes, and of course colour to guide the viewer through a journey in the painting.

I work from life whenever possible and use reference photos for detail, but never for values or colour.  I often start with a drawing on paper that I transfer to my panel. I’ll produce a first “draft” of the painting in monochromatic shades of grey and when I’m satisfied with the values, I’ll proceed to the finish with thin glazes of colour.

I depart from this traditional approach for my landscapes. Whenever I find a view I like, I paint a small study outdoors, if practical.  Later, back in my studio, I improve the composition on a larger panel by re-arranging and resizing the elements like trees, rocks and water. I’ll adjust the lights and darks or the intensity of the colours to help create the illusion of depth.  I want to capture the mood I felt when I was standing on the same spot. I want my viewers to experience that moment too—without the bugs, of course.