Monday, February 24, 2014

The Real "Canadian Gold".... How sweet it is!

It is evident for a host of reasons that winter is in its final throes. The longer period of light during the day... increasing by three minutes each day, best measures the ebbing of winter's icy grip. The pristine blanket of deep winter snow has been pocked and eroded by the combination of sunlight, wind and the rain of the past week. The magical and exalting morning trill of our male cardinal...  who wintered at our feeder winter summons spring to return and his mating ritual to begin. All birds and creatures suddenly become more active in their search for food. Spring is definitely in the air!

As I watched the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games in Sochi, I couldn't help feel my heart swell as I watched the combined athletes of the world and amongst them our Canadian athletes enter for the final gathering of the athletes. The pride that I felt was not a vain pride... the kind that the feeling of nationalism usually translates, but more the kind of pride that a parent has for their child when they have performed their best... and have behaved with humility in the face of winning. It was equally touching to bear witness to the accord and harmony of the athletes together in a space other than their individual fields of competition. It was in those rare and moving moments that we come face to face with the reality... that we can indeed come together as brothers and sisters... and in Peace and Harmony.

In watching these games, I began to understand more fully that in truth that Canadians as a culture are defined by winter. We are forced by geography and climate to endure at least six months of winter... and for the most part do so simply as a matter of fact. But the term endure connotes to bear patiently... but along with this imposed acceptance is a "joie de vivre"- a passionate and proud embracing of the task of facing winter. Over two hundred plus years as an emergent nation... we have learned to do more than survive winter. We go out to it... we work and we play in it and as a result we are defined by it. We are... winter!

Lest this continue beyond my observation that Canadian winter shapes each of its citizens' lives profoundly... I will draw the post's content back into the world of work... play and painting. Beyond the pursuit of Olympic Gold... many communities and families across Ontario and Quebec and Ontario are well underway in their pursuit of another Canadian Gold...Maple Syrup.No Canadian Spring could ever arrive without this rite of spring. It signals for rural communities and farms... the return to activity after an imposed winter recess of sorts.

 The conditions of cold below zero nights and warm, sunny days has launched the sugar maples into their annual production of sugary sap. In woodland maple bushes across these areas activities have swung into the short and eagerly awaited late February and early March weeks of syrup boiling and production. There will be no down time... no sleep... except for  the "sweet dreams" and smells of a sugar shack under full steam. It quite simply... for they and myself is pure... March Magic!

Here is the first result of my own spring production. Titled "The Vigil"... it aptly records the Williams sugar house ... located on the Rockport-Escott Road not far from here. I am not at this time really sure whether or not that the shed remains in production... but I couldn't resist recording this quiet pre-run moment.

"How sweet it is..."

"The Vigil" - oil on toned panel 8x10 inches

Despite the opening "watch your glycemic level"... I will be heading out in search of some Grade #1`... fresh from the bush maple syrup for my pancakes and sausages for Sunday breakfast... and for my daily oat meal intake!

Stay tuned!... and  Sweet Dreams!... 

Good Painting to ALL!!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

REALLY FRESH !... From the Field

Today's painting was begun on location in the quaint river hamlet of Ivy Lea. Like Rockport, it clings to the rocky shoreline of the St Lawrence and is little more than a cluster of homes and tourist-related businesses which today give it the feel and the look of an unmade bed. By that, I mean that many of the upscale modern permanent homes seem set awkwardly amongst the earlier cottage style architecture. They simply don't relate in style, or in scale to what was there before. This incongruity deprives the entire village of any real sense of identity or relationship to its historical past. However, these observations quite simply... and perhaps unfairly only reflect just one guy's opinion and tastes.

On the way into the village, I came across today's view which seemed unobstructed by the influences described above and it caused me to reflect upon how life might have run back in the Victorian era on the river. It must have fairly bustled with summer activity, due to the fact that it is strategically located amidst a very large cluster of nearby islands... most remain "peopled" every summer. At one point, the general store located mid village provided gasoline and supplies to all... and in my memory... it was nigh unto impossible to dock there on a weekend ... the traffic was so constant. Now... that store is a private residence... and not at all the centre of village life. It sits looking rather rejected and uncared for - all of the vitality long disappeared.

My painting subject is a fine example of the type of early cottage architecture which can be found anywhere along the banks of the river... and on either side as well. All were wooden frame construction... many painted white... and many richly embellished by distinct Victorian fret work, or "gingerbread" eaves and porch details. They celebrate the rich and much preferred High Victorian stylism which swept across Canadian cities, towns and villages at the turn of the 20th Century. The warm, rich glow of this  forest green clad two-and-one-half storey cottage sitting quietly ... bathed in the failing afternoon sun and juxtaposed against the cooler back drop of the icy river offered the only inspiration necessary to cause me to immediately set up my easel.

Below is a full frontal view of the cottage grouping... with my intended subject sandwiched comfortably in the middle of the three in the foreground. Another view... for another day... when the river opens up. Lovely reflections... but note the squat and unsettling appearance of the cottage in the right of my subject. When I paint the subject... I will eliminate and make a "ghost" of that distraction... to suit my own artistic tastes.

Here below is the view that I stumbled upon from the roadside.  I took a few moments to consider what aspects merited inclusion... and what others would be left out. I began by "blocking in", or massing in appropriate broad pieces/shapes of uniform colour... without concern for colour accuracy. I merely wanted to quickly lay in a kind of compositional foundation upon which be laid more accurate colour and detail later on. My primary interest was the contrast created by conflicting horizontal and vertical elements of the composition... all compressed into a very narrow, but expressive vertical format.

The first hour of working was quite comfortable... with the sun on my back. But this all changed in a heart beat when the sun dropped quickly and a much stronger and colder north west wind nullified that earlier heat source. Within minutes, I began to feel the deeper cold, but more alarmingly... I soon found that all of my pigments had tightened to such a state that I could no longer mix them. I use kerosene as my brush cleaner in sub zero conditions. Usually, it acts like an extender... permitting a longer period of easy mixing in the deeper cold... especially for the titanium white. It was failing me on this trip. Here is my trunk set up at curtain time for the day. All of the original warm and light in the scene has disappeared.

I have not... for several years found myself in this predicament. But I soon realized that I was not going to be able to remain on site and finish in the half hour I needed to close. I packed up my gear quickly and headed home. I cannot relate to you how wonderful and restorative that tub full to the brim with HOT water felt... along with the ice cold .05 non-alcoholic beer in hand. Fifteen minutes in that "spa location" completely restored my nearly depleted body core temperature. This has always been my reward ritual upon returning home from a winter plein air outing. I look forward to it as much... almost... as being "out there."

Here is the "raw" plein air effort... as it was photographed later that same evening in the studio. Note the obvious effects of the cold: piled up pigment... unrefined details... areas requiring a steady hand (not possible out there at the close)... values that need further tweaking - a real "unfinished symphony" for certain! Has
promise I think.... but better give it a rest overnight... and further thought and planning.

Just before I left the scene... I noticed how the lower light had cast an interesting shadow on the previously blank and sunlit wall of the cottage. I decided to take one last picture. Interesting!.....HMMMMMMMM!

I wonder!.....

Here is the finished version with added detail and second considerations. The tug in the middle ground had appeared too cut off and I wanted the tug to actually physically overlap and interact with the cottage. It struck me when I had first looked at this subject that the composition actually "spoke" of the literal grasp that winter and Nature have upon human activity on the St Lawrence. We are quite simply..."winter-locked" for six long months... at the complete whim of the cold... waiting until winter relinquishes his reign. I added the shadow of the nearby spruce.I felt that it further added further interest to an otherwise blank flat wall... a mood of quiet... and the presence of impending darkness and night closing in.

I have titled this sketch " Ivy Lea" - oil on toned panel 10x12 inches. It is the product of an initial plein air outing and was drawn to a successful conclusion with another half hour of studio finishing. I think it would be hard to readily discern which of these two sketches in these last two posts was completely painted within the studio. One learns a great deal about the actual process of painting and how to approach either situation using the information gained through outside experiences. Photos alone often reveal only half truths!

In comparing the two paintings... take into account my intentional limited use of the camera as a tool. The first painting employed its use in the actual on location gathering of subjects. Matt Smith described his use of photos in a recent demo which my painting friend Marian Fortunati had attended... as a "conversation" between himself and the subject in the digital image. It provides information which is then translated into his own painting process and stylism. I like to think of the photo as a "marinade" which captures... soaks up and preserves the raw essence of the image for further use and actual "cooking"... back in my studio-kitchen. I dispose totally of the "marinade" when the cooking begins... its function is complete. It has infused its flavour to suit my "taste and palette."

The second use for the camera that I use... is to capture a specific moment or lighting situation that is dramatic... but transient. In the case of the second plein painting foray... it was the dramatic shadow at the conclusion of the  session... as the light simply dropped away that caught my eye and my interest. Recording it allowed me the opportunity to consider its use perhaps.... back in the studio where I no longer was rushed by the cold and fading light conditions. Both instances make use of the camera... but neither directs the final outcome in place of my own inner feelings and artistic choices. There is a delicate balance which encourages one to create... rather than merely copy. That is essential for me.

Painting en plein air teaches you to "see"... to feel and to interpret what is in front of you broadly and with a certain bravura. It teaches you to paint quickly and confidently... making decisions quickly and to extrapolate beyond what is physically present. Winter isolates elements in the landscape for you to use... that are lost in all other seasons. Snow and combined contrasting light and shadow interplay together become strong sculptural elements and present new and exciting opportunities. These are my reasons at least... for taking my kit out into winter for extra lessons... and all in a quiet interruption-proof classroom!

Can "school learnin"... get any better?....
I wonder!...

Good Painting ALL!!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winter... Wavering... but unwilling to exit as yet

We have again reached that juncture in in our our very long and cold Canadian winter... when most folks seem sick to death with its constant cold and the reality of being "winter-locked". Cabin fever is at best staved off by the presence of the constant hum of the Sochi Olympic Games coverage... providing a legitimate reason to stay indoors and simply enjoy a spectator participation in this global view of winter. It surely does focus on those of us who revel in winter weather and willingly...  "come out to play". I too... have caught my own fair share of broadcasts of this exciting once-in-four-year winter pageant. I thoroughly enjoy and am inspired by the presence of so many nations from around the world... competing and sharing the world stage ... in sport... peace and common brotherhood.

Somewhere in between my sitting down to take in the spectacle, the sun and blue sky of a few beautiful winter afternoons lured me outdoors locally on a couple of days to "compete"... with Me... My Self and I in our favourite winter past time - plein air painting. While I must admit that the cold was there... I was, for the most part comfortable and very easily able to enjoy every moment of the two sorties. Both were indeed plein air outings, but each was carried out differently from the other.

In this first outing... because of the lateness of the day, the goal was to trek ... camera only in hand, or concealed from the vicious cold within the folds of my red mackinaw until a subject appeared. My intent was simply to enjoy the late part of the day when shadows are bluest, competing in an ever-changing woodland dance with the failing light. I had my refuge, once again to myself . Glorious! I was indeed fortunate to find more than enough material for a post plein air studio painting session. That session occurred later that very evening... while every detail was still fresh. The photo would only serve as the first motivation to create. it provided only an initial map function, or structure for what would follow.The second part of this process was to transcend my actual experience by "imagineering" an impression and decisions shaped by my imagination... my own colour palette and free brushwork.

Reality vs Imagineering

Here is the reference photo directly to the left... once again, a nugget "mined" at the mother lode... Ivy Lea Provincial Par ... but on this occasion "refined"... at the studio smelter. I will leave it to you to decide whether I struck Gold! HA HA!!

Here is  my version as I cared to remember and record it. I have seen it many times previously... pretty much in just this light. Does it matter? I think not. What matters, is that I fully enjoyed painting it. It supports my continued belief.... that winter need not be looked upon as treacherously cold... and unsaleable... if that's what motivates one's reasons for painting. It is not my view... or my motivation however!

"Shadow Land" - oil on toned panel 8x10 inches

I'll close for now... and save the post recording the second and actual plein air result for posting later on in the week. Until then... if this quick post at all inspires you to get "out there"... even if only for a short jaunt... camera in hand to your own nearby "mother lode"..... I wish

Good Painting to ALL!

Stay tuned.... in to those Olympic moments... no matter your country. These Games promote the deeper,  more important and  lasting values... beyond one's place standing on the podium. It's about competing with your Self... as much as with, and against others to elevate one's knowledge of one's own accomplishments! That should become the spirit as well... that drives each of us to create in our individual anner.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Imagine... if you can!

Today is a day we set aside to reach out in love to those who make our lives full. Each of us has our own unique way I'm show to their commitment and gratitude to these special people. Imagine... if we made that same special effort... every day of the year... if only in a small, but meaningful fashion... or through a simple act of recognition or kindness. Can you imagine the breadth of love that we could each create... and can you imagine the feelings of love and belonging that we each would feel being returned to us? Where in this world... would there be room for hatred to dwell?

There are so many different forms of love... ways to show love and to describe what love is. Love can be found in unexpected places and come to you ... when you least expect it. Sometimes we search for that special "Heart of Gold" in all of the wrong places and at times... and often for the wrong reasons. We even at times mislead others... or are ourselves misled by others in our own pursuit of love.

My dictionary offers numerous definitions for the word "love". But the one that perhaps suits me best is the phrase that defines love as "a warm-hearted, passionate...wholehearted feeling for something or someone". Wholehearted... broadly encompasses the sense of depth and commitment which seems to me mutually fulfilling and healthy for both parties.

When you leave those that you love most... do you always leave them with the precious words...I love you? My Gramp Birrell one said to me, "Bruce, never leave anyone you love and care about without giving them a hug... ands a kiss leaving them with those precious I love you words. It may well be the very last time you might have to say that to them." I have never forgotten those words.... and have taught all of my family and children this wee lesson. It is a gift to carry it with you... to console and to reaffirm that you love... and are loved... unconditionally.

It is strange... and continues to mystify me that one can actually discover the "possibility" of love in so many unexpected and unusual places. If the Heart... be the true symbol of the presence of love... then consider these discoveries that I came upon... without even looking. None of these were constructed - they were truly "happenstance".... or were they????

I wonder!....

This love letter emerged in a swooooosh!..... from my can of Foamy shaving lotion. I hurried downstairs to my computer to record it.

This whole grain... "good for your heart"... heart tumbled on to the kitchen table. Deb couldn't believe her eyes! What a way to start your day!

This hearty "dude" is certainly gnarly... but it sure "lifted my heart"... on one of my plein air painting forays!

This icy heart on the road surely  has a "negative" outlook... but it made me smile on a grey day hike.

This icy fellow... illuminated by early morning light right beneath our kitchen window  shows his "positive" out look on the winter cold. How can you not smile... and love his style?

Here's a shady type "negative" asphalt heart... showing both his yin and yang sides!

Add caption
Here's is more prominent and perfect and pure cousin... a standout amongst his other asphalt family members! There's one in every family... EH???

This misty ... worn sea glass heart has tumbled around the beach for heavens knows how long? will he ever find true love.... perhaps settle down???

He's not traditional red  love heart... but I treasure this captured heart from my beach combing adventures at St Andrew's, Scotland. Reminds me of a "Special" day with my Sweet Heart daughter Allison!

This is a special minstrel ... we met him at the entrance to the Rogers Stadium.... home for the Toronto Blue Jays. I was taking Deb to a game (she had no idea where we were... or where we were going). As we approached this "straight from the sixties" troubadour began belting out Neil Young's anthem.... "Heart of Gold." How could he have known that Deb was with "Me"??? Strange... it made my day!  HMMMMM!.....A painting one day!

This acrylic painting was made for my Mom for Mother's Day. It is entitled simply..."Love Is". It depicts my seat... and the feeling of warmth... safety and sense of belonging that I felt in the classroom of my Grade Four teacher Miss Evelyn Mott. Remember my Apple Picking painting from the last post?.. The painting has a story to tell... but that's another story... for another day! this post is getting too long already.

Two ol' (f)Hearts... here in Paradise! No more lookin' for my Heart of Gold!... But yes... I' m gettin old... Peacefully! We are deeply blessed....

Rich blessings of love to my children Lisa, Allison, Andrew, Liam and Bryn and my grand kids Ryan, Mica and Braden. Might as well throw in  "Wee Mac".... he's on the way as we speak! Thank you Spence, Jody and our Sweet Hearts Ava and Ella. Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

And to my blogging Friends... if a Heart be the symbol of love between friends... then"I"send along all of these heart gifts to each of you! Happy Valentine's wishes to all! I have been blessed to find love in may places. But to be truthful... I try to carry it with with me in my own heart which is the purse that holds all of my love. Open your purse strings. Share your Love... your Light and your Art... every day of the year.

Thank you for your continued love and precious presence in our lives!

Good Painting... and Much love... to ALL!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Full Circle...

"A Dream is a wish  your heart makes."

A song from Disney film Cinderella
written and composed by David, Hoffman and Livingstone

Today is my seventieth birthday!. I feel blessed to be able to share this milestone with my family... and Friends like each of you. Our earthly human existence is indeed... as the hit song title from "The Lion King" Disney blockbuster animated film suggests... "The Circle of Life."

My painting journey has offered me further evidence of this fact of existence. Everywhere I have looked and in observing the passage of the seasons, I see life in the full transition of change. Unlike many... I feel comfortable with my own place within this remarkable passage or journey. Life offers new adventures and further learning with every second on my clock. I waste very little of that precious time contemplating its eventual ending. I choose rather to optimize each moment as I am able... to its fullest sense... sharing time with those who seek to elevate and foster a positive and Hope-filled attitude.

I thought that I might share some of the highlights of my journey in this post in pictorial terms... selecting drawings and paintings that I have made in each of the seven decades that I have been blessed to enjoy. In so doing... perhaps you might be able to retrace the journey with me ... and see it for what it represents to "Me" - continual change. Becoming an artist is a journey... a process with no particular destination in mind... but rather a continual personal evolution and development... dependent totally upon curiosity... interest and a willingness to seek out and embrace change.

In this picture show... change is obvious. Art is a legitimate form of personal expression, a language like every other with vocabulary... structure... and a hierarchy of levels of achievement which can be improved with sufficient time and effort. I maintain that Art, like language... is an age-based developmental process. Art is indeed the first language of all children. We first desire to express our thoughts.... ideas and feelings in picture form... long before we can write either letters or words. Somewhere around middle school... all but the obsessive-compulsive child abandons the practice, usually for the remainder of their life time. Peer pressure and other more interesting opportunities... perhaps even the new and over-riding presence of the ability to write extinguish the desire to continue further.

Here is one boy's journey... in pictures.


I  am three to four years of age in this earliest  back yard picture-making session. I am drawing... vertically focused...while my brother Don... eleven months my junior... is colouring (between the lines) in a colouring book.

Late 1940's

Here is a crayon rendering/painting... My version of the Last Supper completed during opne of my Mom's Sunday school classes. Unlike Michelangelo's version... Christ is at the head of the table... just as in our home. Dad occupied this place... as head of our household. Hey... they had art on the wall back then too... just like our house did! Note the "beardless one" with the red lipstick.... Mary Magdalen?.Or the waitress? HA HA!!! A child's eye view... reality-based in the present!


"Picking Apples In Miss Mott's Apple Orchard" - crayon and Manila paper

This crayon rendering was selected by my Grade four teacher, the kindly Miss Evelyn Mott to be sent to a Hobby Show. It was awarded a 1st Place and would become the catalyst for a life time of effort on my part to fulfill a "prophesy"... gently whispered into my ear by this loving soul:
"Bruce... If you continued to work at this over your life time... you could make a living doing so."

That mouthful of kindness resulted in my following her into the teaching profession. Like her... I had art every day in my classroom and attempted to encourage all children to express their ideas without fear of comparison or rejection. As well, I pursued my own career in visual arts to university and beyond into the world of exhibition and representation by galleries. I have quite successfully operated my own galleries over twenty-five years... a life long dream. I now paint what I like.


This 8x10 inch oil painting on art board depicts a view of The Thousand Islands Near Rockport from memory. It was completed on our kitchen table in early December... just after the birth of my first child Lisa. Being a new married couple with a new child... and teaching for $3150 per year... I had no $$$ to buy Christmas presents to give my family. I put this small painting into a used frame and presented it as our 1967 Christmas gift to my folks. It hung at the cottage until the cottage was sold. I retain it in my own personal ( unwalled) early collection. Art... from the Heart!


This was the decade when leisure time and job prosperity permitted me more time and interest in returning to my art. Though I worked steadily with oils... I discovered watercolours and Andrew Wyeth. For the next two decades I became totally committed to honing my drawing skills in pencil and sketching outdoors on weekends. I commenced an interest in pen and ink drawing... captivated by the sharp contrasty effects on the stark white paper. That interest eventually spilled over into the watercolours and I began creating quick light pencil drawings on a litho paper... added quick ink rendering and then added splashes of water colour to add interest and punch. My entry into the world of sales began... when I sat at the local farmer's market and began selling these wee paintings hand matted and wrapped in Seran Wrap at $12 a pop!

When I went home with over $700 in my pocket... I realized that I had something worthy to offer and stepped up production. I continued to sell these for a number of years and gradually raising prices and added professional matting and framing to the mix. That exposure attracted the attention of a notable local gallery owner and it was then that I entered the real fray... when she asked that I intersperse a number of larger format paintings. The solo show called "In and Around Kingston" completely sold out. I was launched... and motivated!

Pretty "ordinary" by comparison to my successful new Rockport Souvenir card series... but still the same 5x7 water colours and ink on a 5x7 inch format! A full circle! HA HA!!!

Here's an example of the stipple tone technique ink study... focus sing on drawing accuracy and composition.


The eighties found me living in Camden East Village (north and west of Kingston). Here, we owned and operated The Gingerbread Gallery in our century old Ontario rural village home. I continued to combine daily teaching with weekend painting sorties. Success followed me to village and I customarily invited one artist friend to share shows three times per year. They were well received and sales were at a peak for me. I even did free lance work on the side for Harrowsmith Magazine which was published in the village. These were magnificent and uplifting times in the arts! It was at this time as well... that I met a hugely important peer/mentor, a Danish artist/ Friend, Pol Thrane. It was he who introduced me to Algonquin Park. Those two friendships... and influences continue to direct my current and future painting directions.

This is an example of the quarter sheet plein air watercolours that I produced on these initial Algonquin treks. This one... completed in the late afternoon of a crisp autumn day features one of the lakes close to the West Gate entrance, Brewer's Lake. We did trips to Algonquin in autumn, spring and winter. I experimented with various "tricks" like wiper fluid and alcohol allow water colour painting in all of these seasons. But I found no success. So, I began the process of returning to oils... this time in the company of political cartoonist Frank A. Edwards.... my adult life long painting pal up to this day. We persevered together with the oils and that led to us sharing The BrushWorks Studio and Gallery in Kingston for three years - another turning point in my development.

"Aubrey Aggatt's '48 International" - This style of water colouring evolved from my interest in Andrew Wyeth and Canadian realist Ken Danby's work. Painting in "High Realism" fashion was a time consuming process and required wash after wash of careful chosen and laid colour. While I greatly enjoyed it and learned much about applying colour... it was tedious and limited my getting outside in every season. So, I left a "safe" route with good client base and stepped back to my oils. I realized immediately how freeing this was for me creatively because the medium matched my spontaneous personality traits and removed the ever present possibility for failure in watercolour on full sheet projects

This diminutive 12x9 inch plein air canvas was to become my launch on a journey that would last through the next three decades to the present. Though I do use water colours intermittently both in the studio and en plein air when weather is suitable... I prefer to carry on with my oils.  This sketch certainly doesn't look at all out of place in the overall chronology of my work. It bears many of what I consider the goals and the hallmarks of my interests... principally my preference for texture and painterly brushwork.


Here is a small selection of plein air pieces from this decade.

 "Bruno's World" - oil on panel 30x24   An exact moment in the daily life of Pol Thrane's Neighbour Bruno Rapscu... as he and his pal cruise into view with the day's wood supply.

"Downhill in Newton-Robinson" - oil on canvas 16x20 only one in a series of paintings that I made on consecutive trips to this rural hamlet. I like to work in a series to tie together an overall picture and concept of the place. Still my method.

This is one painting made on location in a series of visits with my son Andrew to the Kensington Market area of Metro Toronto. A fascinating place with colour... action and unlimited painting opportunities... if you don't mind a huge painting audience!


My painting paradises have shifted around greatly in this decade. I have lived and painted in Nova Scotia... Kingston... Aurora... Hillsdale and now finally back in Rockport. I have also been fortunate to have visited and painted in Quebec, The Rockies, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northern Ontario,Vancouver Island, the Bahamas, the Barbados, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. These opportunities greatly  broadened my horizons and offered me rich adventure... and a healthier respect for my own country.

I am content to be finally back in The Thousand Islands region... back to the place where my life journey began... the cradle of creative spirit and Soul. I hope to enjoy many more hours and years of painting and sharing its magnificent beauty. Here is a final batch of plein air work from this decade.

 Algonquin Park

Charlevoix, Quebec

Nova Scotia

Ontario Towns

Vancouver Island, BC

The Rockies, Alberta


Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands , USA

My intention in posting these pictures is to serve as an encouragement to all of my painting friends to pursue your own vision... under your own terms. Make each day count in your life. Balance your personal, family and painting lives harmoniously. Never let one over rule the other. Each plays a significant and important role in creating Happiness and Peace in your life and the lives of those that you love.

In closing..."Hakuna matata!"... No worries for the rest of your life!

Wish great dreams... and then set to make them come true!

Rich blessings... and Good Painting to ALL!

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!