Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let's Fox Trot through the Dreaded Blahs of Winter... Together!

We continue to be buried by a good ol' fashioned style of Winter. Yesterday's snow storm left an additional foot in the driveway. That's my measure for snowfall. Blizzard condition's kept me inside... except for splitting the day's wood.  But I spent a pleasurable afternoon and evening working on a work-in-progress derived from an 11x14 inch plein air sketch completed back in 1989. I was able to revisit it at the home of my long time friend... mentor and principal Shirley Hornbeck during a luncheon visit that stretched joyfully for Deb and I into late afternoon. Seeing it amongst the numerous art treasures Shirley has gathered over a lifetime inspired me to revisit the subject and to accept the challenge to elevate it deservedly... from sketch... to painting. I'll let you be the judge later on in this post, as to whether... or not that goal was achieved.

We have been lately "buried " in a sense... and out of necessity in supporting our families through difficult events in their lives. I shall not elaborate here, except to say that these deeply distressing events brought forward the absolute Truth in life... that people... especially family and Friends are our greatest blessings. It is from this Circle of Life that we garner unconditional love... support and encouragement when life tests our mettle and our will to continue on. Each member of our own Circle well realize this fact... and recognize it as our mutual deepest blessing!

Lately... I have felt adrift truthfully from my creative side. I find not being able to work, or even think about my painting for too lengthy a period to be highly disruptive to my sense of well-being. Further to that situation... I feel similarly when "Me... and my Shadow" are apart for too long. That is... when there are lengthy periods without sun light... my moods swing downward and I feel anxiety and gloom in all that I try to undertake.

It has always been my practice and my solace... to simply pack up my painting kit... or not... and just trek out into the outdoors alone. It is here in my vaultless woodland cathedral of open space that my spirit finds Peace and new energy and I can truly re-connect and commune with my Self. All of my current problems and worries dissipate. Time... and the unsettled world about "Me" stands still. "I" can breathe again. This is my reason for plein air treks... NOT that my paintings are superior. Simply put... painting outdoors does something to ignite my creative spirit and my physical sense of well-being. I believe that these states manifest themselves in the work itself... either on that occasion... or later on in my studio work. The method is a sure fire tool in my creative tool box to retain balance.... objectivity and optimism.

On Tuesday, I found a bright, sunny and uncluttered space beyond my daily schedule nearing lunch time... so I prepared (too quickly) to get out the door to my planned destination and painting sanctuary at nearby Ivy Lea Provincial Park. I even had a particular site that I had long wanted to paint in mind. It was a perfect plein air day., Sunny blue skies... milder temperatures and no wind. By 12:30 pm, I was headed gear -in-hand (and on back) along the mile and a half trek I needed to make to access this particular site. The first two hundred yards had been plowed by the Parks maintenance  people. Ahead of me lie the rest of the long trek... all of it covered by calf deep snow with about a half inch crust of brittle ice. It would be heavy slogging to get that distance and would certainly deplete painting energy and time. So I looked into the pine groves and realized immediately that the snow was merely inches deep there and that, in most cases was surface frozen. Following that course would possibly make the going much easier. And it did!

In one part of this tract I came upon cross-country ski tracks and was able to follow those right up to my intended painting site. How relieved I felt in arriving in good spirits... and with lots of energy. I looked over the setting before me and made an immediate decision to jump in. I set up my portable aluminum easel and the toned 16x20 inch canvas. Almost ready to get at it. Now for my paint box set up on the easel and I'm in business... or so I thought!

What's wrong with  this picture?

Let's see. There's my carry in kit with extra paints, turps, brush cleaner and can,toweling, beverage extra gloves. There's my easel and toned canvas. There's "Me"... and my shadow. Where the hell is my paint box? Yep... it's where I left it... in the studio... in the flurry of [unbridled] anticipation! This event has occurred on at least a half dozen occasions during my thirty odd years of plein air trekking. Previously... the woods would have been ringing with self-deprecating and bleeped expletives. That would be followed by an instant and angry retreat that "dark cloud overhead" would accompany me back home. But that was then... and NOT to be in the Now that I currently reside in!

I decided to use this beautiful day and setting as I had first intended... though not with a painting in the game bag. Sort of like  hunting waterfowl or grouse. Some days... it's just in the act of being..."out there." "He leadeth me beside still waters... it restoreth my soul." And it did! Here briefly... and in pictures are some of the reasons why I feel restored... and at Peace again.

The St Lawrence... open dark waters and the winged music of spooked... and rapidly departing American Golden Eyes And American Mergansers. No other sounds... save the drone of an odd truck or car crossing the International Bridge just to the east.

Empty summer trails... now gloriously empty... save the ski tracks left days ago... and shafts of sun light penetrating the soft shadow lands of the pine wood world on either side. Mine alone today!

Here is my site of choice ...The head of Virgin Island. See her shrine enclosure on the cliff. No watercraft services today. Come back in July... this cove will be full, as will the resident cottage! Painting it will have to wait for another day - when I think to include my paint box in my gear! HA HA!!

Looking westward upstream on the St Lawrence lies another boat house scene... coming your way soon. Stay tuned...

This took my mind back in time to the memorable lunch at Shirley's. That sketch could easily have been inspired and painted right within this very part of Ivy Lea Park. This white pine landscape scene typifies the structure of the vast Canadian Shield rock formation which extends across a vast part of Canada's interior. The granite and metamorphic rocks found throughout this formation are said to be the oldest on earth. The Thousand Island archipelago is formed by the combined effects of the glacier and the erosive forces of the river over milleniums.

This outing triggered my immediate desire and actions to make something of what might have resulted in a lost day. I immediately took that returned and  empty toned canvas and opened the errant paint box and set to work briefly using the image from my monitor to act as a guide in setting up the basic composition. Only occasionally did I refer to the original image for prompting. Though the basic structure remains obvious... that is after all, the strength of this painting... the trigger which I believe makes it universally pleasing and perhaps even common to any one who might view it.

Follow the process in pictures... as it proceeds.

Original plein 11x14 inch plein air sketch

Initial lay in... very light... but structure is in place and space is pushed back some what. Foreground very sketchy in treatment... mostly verticals and horizontals.

Beginning to build detail in trees and lighting effects to the left side

Now... to focus on lighting and heightening contrasts... "push n' pull of colour values

"Fox Trotting Through Winter" - oil on toned canvas 16x20 inches... a few tweaks still to be added after a rest from the scene

Defining Fox Trotting

I choose to close out today's blog with a quote from a source which came to me from out of pain and sadness well outside of my own daily life. Because it added inspiration to my own journey... at a crucial time in my own daily life when I felt overwhelmed by the sadness that I was witnessing in the lives of my own loved ones... I offer it to you, my Friends. Perhaps you might see... and appreciate more fully the blessings of your own journey and circumstances.

This quote formed the basis of a eulogy given by a young man at the recent funeral of his beloved brother "Tim"... taken far too soon as a result of "one more senseless highway fatality from his family and community Here, he was not just loved ... but revered for his generous and giving actions and spirit. Life certainly isn't "fair"... that's just a human word we allow ourselves to use to express our inability to fathom the purpose of such a motiveless and unfathomable loss. I know that Tim and his family would heartily approve of this sharing... because you see... if anyone reads this post and finds solace.... purpose or direction in  their own actions after loss... then "He"... continues to live on!

The challenges Tim left for us:
  • take advantage of life's positive opportunities, doing our best to enjoy each and every moment
  • find a passion or hobby to enjoy, an activity that expands the mind and creates a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment
  • be stewards of the earth and work towards smart sustainability so many generations may enjoy the natural world as we do today
  • maintain healthy bodies and minds so we can be the best for ourselves and those we love and depend upon us
  • look out for those less fortunate and ensure that they receive the same opportunities as those of us who have not suffered want
  • open our hearts and minds through open discussion of our love, hopes and fears
  • connect with family and friends on a regular basis and through actions and words make sure they know that they are loved
If each of us was to initiate all of these challenges... or even some of them starting today... the world would produce more "Tims"... and think what a beautiful world we would all enjoy... together!

I dedicate this to Tim Stevenson... and all of the "other Tims"... who left us far too soon! We are better for the "life better lived" that you left to encourage us. "You" will always be with us in spirit! I share belief in and try to practise the tenets of this quote. I feel deeply blessed... and at Peace.

"What goes around... comes around."

Respectfully offered...

Good (Winter) Painting to all!


  1. So sad to hear of the loss of a family friend, Bruce. Sometimes it is hard to find solace, as we all know. It is hard to keep focus on Him above, at least for me in times of sorrow. I'm thankful you've shared your inspiration. As always, the painting is beautiful and just another proof of the glory of God.

  2. HI there Sherry!... The eulogy was not for a friend of mine... but rather for a local man who was senselessly killed in a car accicident. Regardless of that fact... I do feel the senseless nature of their loss... such is my nature!

    Faith... and prayer are indeed a great comforts during adversity. Sharing inspiration is something that can arise from sadness, just as surely... as from joy. We must take what learning we can from all events in life... and use it to create solace and peace for ourselves... and others.

    Thanks for your visit and encouragement.

    Keep the Faith... and Keep painting Sherry!
    Warmest regards,

  3. I am so glad you could stay in the moment and not let forgetting something important ruin your day out. You accomplished what you set out to do and, perhaps even rested in the moment longer than you would if you were thinking about painting. Love the photos and felt like I'd taken a lovely hike with you - without the cold :) We have plenty of that here and about 3 inches of hard, brittle, scary ice over everything that hasn't been plowed or shoveled out so far (which includes my car in the driveway).
    A moment of time - now - and then gone. We get closer to that inevitable time every day. Let's make the most of it!

  4. Hi there Rhonda!... Thanks for your visit and supportive comments!

    Seems that Father Winter has thrown his cold ermine robe over much of North America. It has been a real ol' fashioned winter - that's the rondo I've heard repeated evrywhere that I travel!

    The return of early morning light... and the longer lasting light of each successive dusk gives hope. I love those special times of the day to be "out there"... painting or not!

    Good Painting,
    Warm regards,

  5. Hi Bruce, I'm sorry to hear that you have had a difficult time lately, and the weather must have made it even worse. Your painting has a sunny, optimistic quality, which relects your uplifted mood. As usual, I like the sketch as much as the painting; it appeals to my minimalist nature. Both pieces are equally as good though, just different.

    I expect most plein air painters have had the experience of forgetting a vital piece of equipment; I certainly have on several occasions. I wonder whether you could have used something to put in a drawing on your panel. Maybe a soft stone, in the manner of silverpoint. I suppose that would have been difficult to find under the snow though!

    Keep cheerful, all the best,

  6. Good morning Keith!... Perhaps this is a good time to put forward a point about love... and loving... since Valentine's Day approaches... quickly!

    To offer love... is to make one's self vulnerable to the hurts and worries that arise out of truly caring. But can one even consider the alternative? Not me... and I have always tried to offer my love unconditionally to those I love and care about. That can place one in double jeopardy... if the "other" does not respect that fact. Risk... is essential!

    The same rule of thumb applies to plein air painting for me. I risk and am vulnerable when I go out to untravelled places and face inclement conditions. On occasions like this one... my regimen of precautions and preparations fails me... and I face a degree of disappointment.

    However, my experience over the years has helped to mellow my response to such oversights and temporary disappointments... and as was the case here... I enjoyed the day and the experience for what it revealed to me. And I have been greatly blessed!

    The painting which was spawned by that earlier sketch lives on its own merits and differences. I too... have no preference for one over the other. LIke my children... I love both within the parameters of their own unique qualities... and for their obvious differences.

    "Optimism" is a well chosen word Keith. The fact that you pick that quality up in this painting humbles me really. That is why I choose to paint outdoors. "Out there".... Optimism ... Hope... Tranquility... and Simplicity prevail. I will continue to trek out there... until I no longer can and then... my cornicopia of memories will sustain my need to paint for as long as I breathe. "I" ... am deeply blessed!

    Thanks for dropping by and for leaving such uplifting and supportiver words Keith!

    Good Painting.... and Trekking!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Lovely painting Bruce, really! All those elements that make such a seasonal painting a treasure. Keep your head up pal and keep swinging, life is short.


  8. Stars will blossom in the darkness, Violets bloom beneath the snow.
    Julia C. Dorr

    I thought this appropriate in more ways than one. Take care, Bruce.

  9. Hi there Jeffrey!... Thank you for stopping by and for leaving your positive and encouraging comments!

    I much enjoy every day Jeffrey... and try to fill each with new experiences and joy! This painting came out of one such day!

    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,

  10. Hi there Wendy!... Thank you for sharing your own uplifting take on my message today! Very appropriate indeed!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  11. I so enjoy reading your blog posts and the sharing of happenings in your life, so much food for thought for the reader too.
    I really like the painting you did from the plein aire sketch, the sunlit snow shines out so that I feel that I am standing there in the woods observing the scene myself. It is magical.

  12. Hi there Diana!... Thank you for your visit... and for your encouraging comments! It pleases me that you feel a part of the scene because of its attributes. Coming from you... that is a high compliment indeed... Thank you!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,