Friday, February 28, 2020

Sugar Moon = Spring Tonic

                                                        Sugaring Off

                             "Sugar Moon" - oil on canvas 22 x 18 inches

We are entering that magical and long-awaited time of year - Spring. Daylight arrives earlier each day... and lasts longer before giving way to darkness. Bird and squirrel behavior suddenly takes on overtones of chase and mating. Dormant trees show flashes of pinkness in their canopies and budding at the tips of each branch.

The waiting game imposed by winter's cold loses strength... thawed by the increased warmth of longer days and more direct sunshine. Spring has announced her short, but grand entrance bringing new hope and promise to all living creatures - even to humankind.

The moonscape, "Sugar Moon" shown above truly captures the magic of this season of change. It captures ever so eloquently the annual rite of spring which we celebrate here in Canada. A rite which has faithfully played itself out since the indigenous beginnings of settlement.

Later arriving European settlers learned the techniques from First Nation gatherers and have carried forward the ritual right through to the present day, introducing production and quality to higher levels.

As a plein air painter, I have been privileged over many springs to join in to this spring activity in many maple bushes around rural Ontario and Quebec.  It signals a sense of renewal for me as well... and confirmation that Hope lives on in my own heart for the planet  and for the survival of such natural wonders of "maple magic."

Plein Air Painting

In so many ways, plein air painting mimics the process of gathering maple syrup. Both activities are carried on in the outdoors in winter... both "tapping" the energy and resources found only in the natural world.

Sap is gathered from the spiles driven into the maple trees in the bush. It is gathered into buckets... or relayed by a series of plastic hoses back to a central gathering shed called a shanty. Here it it is fed on to pans, or into boilers for several hours. This reduction of water content, or boiling down creates a thicker refined sugary form we call maple syrup syrup... aka "Canadian liquid gold."

As plein air artists, we follow a similar pathway outdoors to gather information that we find "sweet" to the eye and imagination. We reconstitute the forms, contours, planes and colors which lay before us into a rough, sketchy outline which we usually carry back to the studio. Here we can adjust reality... to suit our tastes... "warming it by adding our own flavor/style. Sometimes... we even use this sketch to create a much larger and more powerful statement or record.

On Thursday, my long time plein air painting pal, David Kay arrived with his lovely wife Diane for a visit... and painting trip to my neck of the woods. We packed our gear into my van and headed to a favorite location of mine... "Smuggler's Cove" located at Ivy Lea Provincial Park. The site is a fair way off road, so we had to pack our gear in and out over a distance on snow covered trails.

                                                  David at the easel

AWB... in full winter armor... oblivious to all else save what lays silently before me.

I will leave the language path here at this point and will leave you to enjoy the pictures and paintings we made to record our activity. You can be the judge of our success. I will end by simply adding, "Though Mother Nature did her very best to challenge our enjoyment and mettle... both David and I reveled in the warmth and pleasure of each other's company... and the deep silence in "Manitouanna" - God's Garden of Eden."

"He leadeth me beside  still waters... it restoreth my soul."

And it truly did! A veritable "Spring Tonic" which my generation applied at winter's end to regain new energy and vitality.

Stay tuned for the adjusted final edition...

Here's my subject source...raw to the eye... accompanied below by my interpreted field version.

               "Spring...Carving Into Winter" - oil on canvas 11 x 14 inches

Plein airing in winter can be as pleasurable as in all of the other seasons. The trick is to be dressed or the weather that presents itself... and to be in the company of that special friend with whom you can share it. In this case... I had chosen well.


  1. Hi Bruce,

    It's good to see you out enjoying a painting adventure with your friend. I'm glad you were well wrapped-up for it. I went out sketching today, but I was fooled by the sunshine into not wearing enough clothes: I got absolutely frozen!

    Incidentally, I envy your marked seasons. We've had barely any snow this winter, and that seems to be the way things are going with our climate.

    All the best,

  2. Good morning Keith!

    Good to hear from you and to see your latest gem as well! Three ingredients contribute significantly to the success of a plein air outing for me. A place with solitude... proper dress... and a partner who shares your passion and joy for getting out into special places.

    The combination of all three in one outing is truly rare. But in this particular case the stars were indeed aligned. David is a very special long time friend... whose enthusiasm and zest for outdoor painting is constant in a too inconsistently unkind and changing world.

    It was a truly inspirational outing for us both - and we both carried home great paintings memories of another great adventure together.

    We both treasure the "marked"seasons Keith... there is a unique beauty in each that is not present in the others. A natural seasonal buffet!

    Day two was less joyful for me, as you will bear witness in my next post. I was TOTALLY unprepared for the day... embarrassingly so. But David, in his usual fashion surged forward with aplomb. He helped me to at least get my feet under me... and to head out again to give it another try!

    Stay tuned...

    Good luck with future your work "out there."
    Warmest regards,