Monday, October 25, 2010

Adventure... and Misadventure In Algonquin Park

I just returned from a second trip back to Algonquin Park. I was looking forward to a couple more days of fall plein air painting with my painting pal David Kay. I was delivering a load of wholesale frames to David that he had ordered from Deb and we were going to sketch for two days.

As I approached the West Gate entrance at Dwight, the weather took a quick turn for the worst. It began pouring rain and looked like it would continue for the remainder of the day. Since David and his wife Diane were not to arrive back in Whitney from a shopping trip to Bancroft... it had been my plan to paint my way to their place and to arrive late in the day for supper.

It seemed a waste of money to purchase the necessary day permit to try and paint in such a down pour... so I decided to gather photo reference along the way in lieu of trying to paint. Thus began my Algonquin Misadventure!I stopped at a high bluff overlooking a beautifully panoramic view of Source lake and jumped out excitedly to take several useful photo references. Upon returning to my van... I discovered that I had locked the driver's side door upon jumping out. I was now standing clad only in a light shirt... looking at a completely locked out situation five miles in either direction from help in the cold rain.

My first response was of course panic... followed by several minutes of copious self-deprecating name-calling. Finally, I decided to try and hail a passing vehicle to try and hitch a ride to the nearest Park Authority. After three badly failed attempts... I returned to the van to seek another plausible solution. I tried my cell phone... but found it out of signal range in this corridor. I thought that perhaps I should find a large, heavy rock and gain entry by smashing the passenger window- a costly choice that I wisely decided to leave until there were no further possible choices.

I considered trying to walk for help but my woods and canoeing experience told me two things. When lost... sit down in the woods rather than wander aimlessly. Think... and make a plan. The canoeing rule is the same. Stay with the canoe. Never try to swim to safety... the boat floats and buys you time! Reason prevailed and I returned roadside to try and hail a passing vehicle. As my luck would have it... the next vehicle... a white half ton truck driven by a young installation technician stopped and offered to help me find a solution.

Corey Dolan of Arnprior was on his way to a job in Burke's Falls. He carried with him a full tool kit and a tire iron. Within an hour, we managed to wedge open the door frame (without causing damage) and insert a braided piece of stove pipe wire to lift the inside door latch. MY misadventure drew to a satisfactory conclusion... thanks to a stranger's generosity and good will. We shook hands... I said many thank yous and I asked for his business card. His good deed was not going to go unrewarded!

The rain unfortunately continued into the next day... but David and I headed out to Opeongo Road, knowing that there were good subjects to work at. I arrived earlier than David and had completed a small 8x10 inch canvas along the highway and was well into my second attempt on a 14x18 inch tamarack theme on Lake Opeongo Road. We spent the rest of the afternoon painting together and "talking art"... just sucking in the muted beauty and quiet of a setting that a week before had been hectic and overrun by "autumn leafers"... as the locals refer to them.

David and I said our goodbyes and I headed westward on Highway 60 toward the West Gate... content with my day's work and enjoying the wistful rain-darkened beauty of the remaining oak, birch and evergreen stands of colour in the distant hills and the many swamps on both sides of the highway. It was a bitter-sweet feeling to be leaving... bitter because I feel so at peace here in The Park... but sweet... that I was heading home to Deb and the Gallery.

As I approached Source Lake.... the location of the earlier Misadventure... my eye caught some movement on the lake side of the highway. There... less than thirty feet away were THREE bull moose blissfully grazing up to their knees in a bog. I quickly pulled over.... camera in hand... and headed slowly back across the highway to their location. Two of the bulls were immature with only nubs instead of a rack... but between the two stood a very sizable and obviously in-charge, dominant bull with a huge rack. They all continued to graze... paying little or no attention to me as I advanced cautiously towards them.

At one point the large bull raised his head while continuing to chew... then resumed his feeding. I moved towards an opening in the tag alders that were between he and I... being VERY careful to watch and be ready to beat a hasty retreat if his body language changed. Bull moose are VERY dangerous and unpredictable during their rut season. They view any intrusion into their space and territory as confrontational... and are more than prepared to drive out the "competition"- even human!

I was able to come within ten feet and kept shooting continuously (without flash). I had never in my nearly thirty years of coming to The Park been this close to this majestic animal. It was intoxicating... and an unexpected and unusual gift to share this time and space. Suddenly... his patience with my presence reached an end. He looked up and turned his head (and rack) to face me directly. By the changed and more focused look in his eyes... I knew that it was time to leave them alone. I backed away... still facing him ... VERY slowly and crossed back to the van... with its driver door open.

Sometimes... "The Universe" provides unexpected blessings.... gifts of a life time. I will always remember this "fifteen minutes" and cherish them always. Studio painting never offers this firsthand gift.

"I" ... am again...deeply blessed!

Good Painting to All!

PS I sent of a 10x12 sketch I did at The Oxtongue Rapids Road... not far from Source Lake... to my Roadside Assistant/ Good Samaritan.... Corey Dolan of Arnprior. Thank "You" Corey!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When Life Takes You Away........

It is no secret that every one's life is governed by outside influences and demands. Each of us has activities we passionately pursue without requiring outside motivation or direction. I would venture to say that each of us struggles to find a balance in our lives of "obligations"... and "preferences".

In short... life often has a habit of "getting in the way" in our individual pursuit of our art making and that situation in my own case is akin to feeling a need to go to the bathroom badly... but with no place readily in sight to do so. Painting for "Me" is a form of release... and not unlike going to the bathroom... leaves me relieved and less anxious about life.

Being unable to complete the demo begun at the Willowdale Artist Group evening was excruciating. It beckoned to me from the easel at every coming and going from the studio. But a trip eastward to properly celebrate Allison's 31st birthday and to meet with my dentist in Brockville for a wisdom tooth extraction took precedent over any whim or desire to paint.

We joyously, and fittingly celebrated Allison's special day with a fine evening of catch up and fine food at Chez Piggy's in Kingston... very appropriate because Allison's alter ego from childhood is MS Pig. And yes... I did show up at the tusk removal party at Peter Culp's Boardwalk Dentistry... and came away shy one molar. The Tooth Faery didn't even bother showing up to reward my bravery. I did get to pick an "adult" gift from Peter's "Tickle Trunk" for well-behaved adult clients! I chose an oven mitt that says:" Barbecue sauce covers a lot of mistakes". That will go to my son Andrew, Allison's "Bro" for his 29Th Birthday Bundle from Dad and Deb.

The "hole" has given me quite a bit of discomfort since Tuesday... so painting was not on my mind. But finally... I stepped up the easel yesterday and pushed forward... slowly at first.. but finally found "The Flow"... and the rest is history. Mission accomplished! I did indeed find the necessary bushes and cover to relieve my Self... artistically!

My apologies to the Willowdale members for the delay in delivering "the package. But I will confess that the hiatus did allow time that eventually worked to my benefit in completing the piece. I (bravely decided... with Deb's suggestion) to use my palette knife to "texturize" the bridge elements in the foreground... creating weight and strong visual contrast to the more even brushwork in the middle and background. I used the knife also to "edge" the vertical dead spruce with strong light. I think that these additional effects do enhance the overall effect of the painting. Just a reminder. The structure that I mentioned early was the basis for being able to go back to the piece after a long delay. It was easier to get back on board because the structure was there. Enough said!

Today's three jpegs record the process from the final studio 30x24 inch version at the top, followed by the 10x8 inch plein air sketch ... the demo lay in third... to a poorly photographed finished 30x24 inch studio canvas at the bottom. (I had trouble deleting this one)

Hope that the finished painting gives everyone insight into what I had striven to lay in originally. One can readily see the additional new directions that came out of the initial start . Nothing is in stone using oils. Change can occur with a few new brave strokes... or a swipe of the knife. "Painting With Courage and Conviction" was the theme for my presentation. I feel that this canvas fills the bill adequately!

Good All!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Presenting... Using A Demo Approach

I was asked during the summer to make a fall presentation to members of a painting group located in the North York Region of Toronto. I enjoy the opportunity to share ideas and my process from time to time. It is beneficial to the learning growth of others... but at the same time, forces me to re-think and work outside my usual framework... stretching my own learning and growth as an artist as well.
I have always felt that the term "teacher" itself is in fact... a misnomer. I feel that that the word infers superior knowledge and a power base and somehow... and unrealistically, sets up a false expectation that learning... when directed by the "teacher" is guaranteed to occur. Having been placed in both the "learner" and "teacher" roles many times over the course of my life, I have personally felt the disappointment of that expectation's failure to take place in both roles.

Readiness is an important ingredient and factor in most learning situations that we encounter in our lives. Human growth and development clearly demonstrate this truth on every level. Walking... talking... reading... writing all appear on their own... at differing rates for each individual. Each of the activities of growth mentioned above is governed ...I believe by an underlying Creative Spirit. If that spirit is piqued... encouraged and appears to be valued... it continues to thrive and develop. Conversely... if it is devalued... it withers... and disappears... and is replaced by either indifference... or fear.

I have always felt my role as "teacher" could be more accurately described as facilitator or resource person. Combined with an enthusiastic... non-judgemental and inviting approach... learning seems to progress... at whatever individual rate is possible towards achievable individual goals. When "students" observe that even the "teacher" is simultaneously open to assuming an equal role of "learner" ... learning seems to accelerate and there is less inhibition for all learners to risk becoming actively involved in the learning process.

This approach is also valid for the "adult" art classroom. If one is aware and sensitive to the fact that in a workshop situation there exists a diverse space between individuals in terms of experience... motivation... confidence and willingness to risk publicly. Despite this diversity... each individual has decided to participate... hoping to move ahead and to become more capable.

I consider this fact very seriously when I am preparing my presentation. I try to employ the K.I.S.S approach to delivery. Simply put... that means..."Keep it simple stupid!" In other words... find a median level to work from... move slowly... use your ears and eyes as much as your mouth. Allow for question and answer opportunities... even at the expense of a finished demo piece. The initial start and lay in are the backbone of success for any painting... at any level. All the rest is a small part of a piece's underlying success.


The single most important emphasis to establish a starting point is to select a subject that presents strong elements of structure in the subject. One can choose to set down structure using line... or to look for shapes or blocks of colour to form structural building blocks. The sum total of these "found" elements will result in a successful lay in state for the painting.

To simplify the process, I created a simple vine charcoal line drawing... using only the strongest basic lines in the subject... noting that the variety of different types of line.... horizontal... vertical... diagonal and curving lines provide different visual effects. A good drawing and subject will usually contain examples of all types to create a dynamic visual expression. This entire process required only a few minutes of drawing and erasure to arrive at a simplified guide to begin the painting process.

In the second stage, I began by thinly blocking in the darkest dark areas... followed by the lightest, being sure to apply the pigment thinly. I emphasized working over the entire surface of the canvas... as opposed to concentrating effort on one particular area. The goal of this method was to cover the entire canvas with colours and values that would require further consideration and treatment as the painting progresses.

My reference for the demonstration was a finished field sketch from my last visit to Algonquin Park. I chose it because it had a very strong vertical strength... good colour and very defined structural elements. I was able to reach the conclusion of the lay in stage within a half hour... even with having to field many queries along the way. Before breaking for refreshments, we had a short question and answer period... that actually carried on right through and beyond the actual reserved time for the break.

Most of the questions centered around my methods to paint indoors safely using oils... given the smell and use of harmful solvents in a closed environment. In this case, I was not using any solvents to avoid this potentially dangerous situation. I substituted Winsor and Newton Wingel Medium to help the flow and malleability of the pigments. I used only good quality shop towels to clean my brushes. I offered suggestions that brushes could also be cleaned using baby oil or vegetable oil. Brushes could then be washed at the conclusion of a painting session with dish washing detergent and warm water. Some artists use latex gloves... but I do not like the feel of those. I prefer to keep my hands clean and brushes out of my mouth and away from my food.
Time ran a bit short because of the numerous questions surrounding my use of alkyd titanium white and Wingel medium... both quick driers and how that could replace the need for solvents entirely. I promised that the finished canvas would appear on my blog... but life has gotten in the way for a week... so it's still staring back at me from the easel. Actually... it was timely because I have an idea to "push the envelope" on my usual method on this one- might translate into something new. Who knows?

Stay tuned!

Good Painting to all!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Autumn- A Time of Bounty... and Thanksgiving!

Autumn is such a brief moment in our seasonal cycle, but despite it's brevity... it reigns with an intensity and radiance which totally captures the eyes and hearts of all of its subjects. There is a liveliness and lilting spirit in her court... that is unmatched (in my mind) in any of the other seasons. There is fanfare... majesty... opulence and unparalleled abundance in all parts of her kingdom.

There is music... dance... fairs and festivals of the Arts to honour her magnanimity and benevolence... performed and celebrated in every corner of her dominion. We kneel solemnly in gratitude to momentarily... yet traditionally acknowledge His... or Her countless blessings in this Kingdom rightfully called... Eden.

It is our traditional weekend of Thanksgiving. Families across the breadth of Canada will join hands around a table of plenty and offer thanks for blessings... small and large. It is my favourite holiday really. It symbolizes the real essence of giving thanks. It emphasizes the importance of families... shifts away from any need for gift-giving and focuses on the reality that our Creator's greatest gift to "Us"... is this Eden.

So on this special weekend for "Me"... I choose to remember Thanksgivings passed... and those family and friends who linked hands and are no longer physically with us. I choose to give thanks to those young men and their families... who made the final and ultimate sacrifice of their own hopes and dreams... to insure freedom and shared plenty for all of us who remain to enjoy it. I choose as well to remember those less fortunate and to offer some of my own bounty.

To all of my Family... Friends and Followers... I wish each of "You" and "Yours" a Happy Thanksgivings and further health and blessings! Today's posted image is a portrait of my maternal Grandfather's wheelbarrow painted... totally en plein air on Wednesday afternoon. I gave it to friends Grace and Rolly Hallyburton to be permanently placed in their beautiful... and lovingly created Eden on Orr Lake. Deb and I were married at the center of the bridge spanning their lily pond. This painting... like an onion... reveals its love of art... whether painted... gardened or just viewed in subtle layers. I hope that you can "read" those layers.... created over generations... and now combined and revealed, I hope... by my brush.

Happy Fall....good painting and Thanksgiving to All!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Beauty... Even in the Gloom

Autumn is a time of ever-changing weather in Algonquin Park. Each day is different presenting new changes and challenges for the plein air painter. One must be prepared to go with the flow and have a willingness to stand "toe-to-toe" with inclement conditions. That means shifting gears and expectations to facilitate success... even if it means setting your goal-setting lower.
I like to work with a variety of canvas sizes ranging from 8x10 inch panels right on up to at least one 30x36 inch major canvas and can usually complete at least two smaller panels and one mid to larges canvas each day. My stay is usually four or five days, insuring a good number of works and some good weather painting days to work in.
This year, our first stay was limited to three days... and as luck would have it... was heavy on the rain side of things. The middle day was a washout... with the rain completely winning out... but we managed to travel about seeing new things and I was able to gather lots of photo reference that will certainly yield some good larger work in the studio. I did manage to make four 8x10 sketches that I am pleased with. One or two could result in major canvases at a later date. So despite the less than prime weather one would hope for... the trip was well worth while. Sketch when the weather is "sketchy". Work large... when weather... Soul and the landscape converge to inspire! Those are the "rules" for the likelihood of achieving plein air success!

I will be returning for another foray in about a week to paint with my pal David Kay from Whitney. We always inspire each other to get down to some good work... and David is an expert in his knowledge of the Park... and a very fine painter to boot. So we'll see what the next adventure yields!
Each of the bottom three 8x10 inch sketches may be purchased for $100 CAN + shipping by contacting or later from the gallery Short Strokes soon to appear on our web site.

Good Fall All!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rainy Day Feelings... and Steerings! - Part 2

Tuesday... our second day day out was certainly a day for "rainy day feelings". It was an entire day of off and on again drizzle and cold - certainly not a banner day for plein air painting. I choose not to use an umbrella... just a personal thingy and Deb really hates being cold... soooooooo... enter Plan B!
I have been painting in the Park every fall for over thirty years and few sorties at this time of the year have been entirely rain free. Rain... cold... mist and greyed colour are a part of the Park's wilderness mystique for "Me"... and I love these times as much as the "blue bird days" preferred by most. It is simply a part of Autmn's glory!

I had never in all of those years taken the time away from my painting to visit any of the exhibits scattered throughout the Park... especially one that I had always wanted to visit at the East Gate entrance... The Logging Museum. I have often painted logging pictures... especially those that included horses over the years and have read lots about early logging both inside the Park and in Ontario in general.

Before the Park became destination for fishing, hunting, camping, canoeing, hiking and leisure at the turn of the century, it was a wild, untamed, untraveled and untouched part of Canada. The exception was the early presence of First Nations people, namely the Algonkians and Ojibwa, who fished and hunted for their existence, using the myriad of interlocking lakes, rivers and streams to move about by canoe. Their millenia old routes would become the first highways for European penetration, settlement and development and remain today, the routes and portages used for interior canoeing, fishing and back packing.

Ontario... or Upper Canada, as it was called prior to Confederation in 1867 was entirely forested southward right down to the shores of the Great lakes and St Lawrence River with gigantic white pine. Along with the beaver and fur industry, logging and timber export to Europe were to become the driving forces for the rapid settlement and economic development of our province.

Newly laid railroads and rivers formed routes for timber to be delivered to overseas markets. Algonquin Park and the areas abutting it became logging and lumbering hubs in this new industry. Lumber barons acquired... or rather stole vast stands of timber through government favour and wasted neither time nor capital to clear cut these resources almost to extinction. Very few of the first massive forest stands of white pine or oak remain in the Province... and they are once again under threat of the chainsaw in Temagami and Algonquin Park.

We decided to spend the day "noodlin' about"... rather than wasting it with unsuccessful and frustrating attempts to paint... visiting these exhibits instead. I must honestly admit... it was a worthwhile and unexpected successful adventure. The Logging Museum... free to the visitor, except for the price of the usual Park day usage pass ($13.00) was an exceptionally interesting and comprehensive outdoor visual tour. It was a 2 kilometer woodland loop of sites that carried one through the life of a bush logger and included every step a tree took in its harvesting... from its felling... preparation...through to its loading on Europe-bound sailing vessels at Quebec City.

One really came away with a fuller appreciation of the life of hardships, the skills and hardiness of these overworked and underpaid immigrants from the British Isles, Poland and Scandanavia. Their early presence is clearly etched in the fabric of today's Park landscape. Tell tale names of family and place "speak" of their influence: Poland, Wilno, Galaeiry Lake, Bancroft, Pembroke, Rockingham, Interlaken -the list is endless.

We also revisited the Park Visitor's Center, where I had exhibited in the annual fall group show "Mystery in the Park" last season. This Centre has high quality dioramas depicting life from First People times to the present and very natural wildlife, flora and fauna of the Park exhibits. It also has an art gallery, restaurant and gift shop that caters to the souvenir needs of the thousands of Park visitors year round. A "must visit" for any Algonquin visitor!

At this point, I will leave further explanation to my digital images to offer a guided tour for this one rainy day intrusion into our otherwise dry Fall Algonquin painting adventure. Rainy day feelings ... for sure. What painter wants to be "rained on"? Plan B insures one needn't be..."rained out"!
Part three... and more sketches...tomorrow! Stay tuned .