What shape is your block?…

“a memory of walking with your grandmother through the meadow past the red barn to the orchard where you picked ripe apples, while laughing at the golden lab named Milton as he chased that crazy squirrel”

What shape is your block?

It’s calm, the morning dew hangs from long alpine grass while a low cloud lays lazily over the lake, it’s head on the northern shore. A bank of trees slopes in from the left, the sun just kissing their tops. The mountain slopes steeply from behind and scree forms fingers reaching into the cold glacial water. On the right? Well, nothing on the right and there’s a funny looking log hanging off a drab rock like a shipwrecked sailor.

I move on.

This happens several times. I look at different variations of the scene from alternate vantage points. Crop that out. I need to see more of this and less of that. I walk along the shore looking intently for nothing in particular but waiting for what I always wait for – the artistic sense detector to start clicking with more feverish activity. It’s kind of like that old childhood game we used to play – “your getting warmer….waaaarmer….REALLY HOT! Oh, colder, colder…. ice cold.”

Maybe there’s a subconscious art director in my head that directs me to move this way and that while not really telling me what it’s looking for until it finds it. The best scene of the bunch.

But based on what?

Where did this sense come from? What shaped it? Remember the blocks in different shapes and the board that had the corresponding holes activity we had when very young? I watched my children play it. Round hole, round peg! Yay! This is what it’s like I believe. We have developed a particularly complex shaped block based on many different influences. What art our parents, friends and mentors liked. What we read and watched and what art caught our uniquely personal eye. The shaft of light coming through the kitchen window, lighting the coffee cup and bagel on the table. Or simply the flowers in the crystal vase on the sill.

Something shaped our artistic sense. The like of a particular palette or style or subject matter was something shaped from birth and developed over years or decades. Events that had meaning for us whether positive or negative that move us in a particular direction. An art show, or a performance. An accident, a garden, a death, a birth, a sunset, a memory of walking with your grandmother through the meadow past the red barn to the orchard where you picked ripe apples, while laughing at the golden lab named Milton as he chased that crazy squirrel.

These moments over our lifetime. These inputs that our brains gather and fold or toss away. Large shapes, small shapes? Colorful or muted? Dark or bright, still life, landscape, portrait or figure. Formal or informal? Soft or hard, warm or cool. Combinations of each in thousands of possibilities.

There’s a reason we prefer certain things and dislike others. It’s something I’ve been wondering about. Why the landscape? What not flowers? What about abstracts? Portraits?

Well the landscape is obvious to me as my influences were all landscape artists early on mainly my grandfather as he was a landscape painter. I also have a had a deep connection to the landscape, especially the more intimate places where I feel alone, and connected. One reason why the “Grand Vista” has never played a big role in my art; I like a place nestled in the woods where I feel protected. Close to waterfalls or small open spaces with boulders or a small creek. I like swamps or small mountain lakes. I love the texture of nature close up. I need to paint more of this.

Flowers? They hold no particular sway with me. I mean, there nice to look at and may pose a challenge and I really admire those that can paint them well but it’s one subject that I’ll probably not bother with.

Abstracts? Simple…fear.
Portraits? Same thing.

So? What shape is your block?

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

9×12

Oil on Canvas board

img_0035

There weren’t many rocks to sit on let alone have room for an easel. So already I felt hampered. I found a spot after a awhile and managed to wedge my tripod into a shape resembling an octopus after a few shots of tequila. Pretty unstable. Patti set up below which was the best spot because she was a few minutes ahead of me. She also didn’t have to change out of her long underwear which involved heading out into the woods and trying to find a suitable spot where I could take off my boots, pants and sit down without being attacked by a rogue stick.

We didn’t have a lot of time as our ride out was leaving promptly at 4pm. We arrived hot and winded after climbing steps built by Lawrence Grassi shortly after noon and I was set up by one. It only took an hour for me to settle down to work.
The falls themselves were backlit by a very harsh sun and it was difficult to determine the values let alone get them down properly. I was also struggling with the mountain in the back and it took several attempts to get the right shape and proportion. After the big shapes were in place it was then down to adjusting values and colors.

I had most of what I needed by the time we had to start packing up. It was three when we started the hike back down which took a total of 45 minutes.

This is one painting which needed a fair amount of adjusting back in the studio. The mountain needed a lot of work and the values (as I suspected) were not correct. I was about 70% of the way there from the plein air but the entire lower section required a bit more developing. The waterfall itself I worked in stages by painting over what I had roughed in on site. Darks (wet rock) was laid in first and left to dry then I was able to start building over the top of this base with direct strokes and same dry brushing.

I was pleased with the outcome of this one as my original reference photograph was not the best. There was lens flair and I had to use a couple of different images to see all the areas I had included in the composition. There was a good deal of imagination and “artistic license”.

Happy painting all!

Lake McArthur

Lake McArthur

9×12

Oil on Canvas Board

When your in the Elizabeth Parker Hut there is no such thing as privacy or lounging around. You pretty much get up when the group gets up. The group I refer to is the other twenty five some odd soles who start the day off from the two trays of souls that make up the two “beds”.

This was the day we decided to head up to Lake MacArthur which I didn’t do last year and thought it was the best idea considering I had no better ideas in which to indulge in this delicious smorgasbord of nature. I was relying on my more experienced travellers and from what I saw from Odaray the day before I could hardly wait.

It was a 7.5 kilometre round trip with 310 meters of elevation gain through some beautiful scenery. This is really not saying much as it’s all beautiful scenery.

As far as the weather goes? Let’s just say it’s your typical day in the mountains. A bit of everything. Some sun, some rain, and a bit chilly. I set up under a tree to keep as dry as possible. The moss was a nice cushion. I also had a visitor who was trying to find something for lunch.

I probably got in about a half an hour before Patti came by saying she was packing it in and I decided that I would join her. We took a different route out which made it more of a circuit and added something new to look at and take pictures of for possible paintings.

Once back at the hut, the weather was more on the plus side and I thought to myself that I should try to finish the painting under the eaves of Wiwaxy. I used my memory as well as a photo that I took on the phone for reference.

Odaray

Odaray

We awoke to a gloomy morning. No rain but the threat hung, looming. Boiling water and steam, the smell of coffee and tea, eggs from a carton. Maple too. No bacon sadly. Stepping outside into the brisk morning air and seeing the hardy adventurers looking forward to the rewards that await the day.

The sun pushed hard through the thick cloud and lit a sliver of the mountain to the north. A welcoming of sorts. An invitation.

We pretty much all decided to go to where the sun laid God’s finger… Odaray. One of the most amazing hikes but not without its price. A steep wildlife corridor with limited group access only. We were in Grizzly habitat.

Sadly, we didn’t see any wildlife at all but the views were mind blowing.

No painting today but a glimpse from high up on this amazing hike where we would be painting tomorrow; McArthur.

Enjoy the pics.

The Pond at the End of the Lake…

The Pond at the end of the Lake – Lake O’Hara

Painting #2

9×12 Oil on Canvas Board

When I look at the time stamps on the photographs, I’m amazed that I am seeing Patti and Patricia painting at the edge of Lake O’Hara at 4:00pm. Within 18 minutes I’m set up and ready to paint my second painting of the afternoon. I had been drawn to this spot on last years trip but for whatever reason decided not to set up there. This time was different. I had to acknowledge there was something within me that said “here is where you paint” I didn’t have a whole lot to say about it. I set up.

First off, I knew I didn’t have much time. I felt sunset approaching and I knew I had to get things down quickly. An interesting side note; I decided right off the bat that whatever I got down would be better than getting nothing down at all. It was simply an exercise or practice.

I knew I was drawn to the scene although it wasn’t your typical landscape. Slightly off kilter and subtlety obscure. I liked the bush nestled in the trees at the end of the pond. I liked the contrast. I liked the water, the bush, the trees, the mountain, and the subtle nudge it gave me. It would work.

“You need to listen more” myself whispered to…myself.
Pay attention to the direction I give you.

I listened. I tried with whatever I had, to get this down. This was a local contrast problem. There was no extra light. No sprite to help me out. I had to PUSH what I had. What was important? Obviously the bush was what drew me in. I needed to get that down and the mountain in behind was playing a pretty big role. The water was supporting actress while the trees were somewhat below that. There was a lot of information to get in and I had recently learned how to get rocks down. Paint the bulk of the rocks in the shadow tone and then add the mid, followed by the highlight. So I was able to get them in pretty quick. The rest fell into place easily as they were large masses. Everything was in shadow so much and my original values were not where I wanted them to be. Overall, I was on the dark side and I adjusted them in the studio. It’s still a shadowy piece of work. I think the thing I like the most about it is the fairly loose application of paint and the unusual composition and subject matter. It’s not usually what I paint.

I worked until the cold took over and I packed up and headed for the hut where my Jartini awaited. It was a great day filled with great people. Bliss really. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Alice and Bill could have been there with us. All in all, I love the mountains, I love the small scenes that sing so loudly, but most of all, I love the friends I paint with.

Cathedral Painting…

Cathedral Mountain – Lake O’Hara

Painting #1

9×12 Oil on Canvas Board

It was the first of four paintings done over two and a half days at Lake O’Hara in early September. I don’t know why it takes me so long to get these out. It probably has something to do with the fact that Patti is talking again about our next trip to O’Hara. Anyway, after getting up to our humble abode and getting our spaces claimed by laying our sleeping bags in just the right spot we started the process of figuring out where we were going to paint first. So many options and half the day was gone. We decided to take the long and arduous journey, trekking about thirty five feet from EP Hut.

The subject?… Cathedral Mountain.The painters? Patti Dyment, Sharon Lynn Williams, Patricia Allan, and myself.

Everybody but me set up right in the grounds around the hut. The trodden and packed earth of so many explorers while I, of course had to find a different view and of this wonderful mountain. I went this way, and then that, then up there and then over to that other spot. Down to a mostly dried up pond and then back to where everyone else was. Just off the beaten path. By the time I had set up Cathedral had dawned a white shawl and I could no longer see her head, her shoulders hunched amongst the clouds. I had to use my memory and the only photo I had taken which didn’t show much more but it was at least something.

This time I wanted to try something a bit different and painted the general shape of her in black, gestured in the sky with line and dropped my trees in. I was trying to work quickly which has always proven to be elusive. The mid tones kinda came next which is a bit backwards from the way I’m used to working which is lay in the whole thing with darkest darks and lightest lights and then start the mids. This was the darks, up into the mids and then add the highlights.

I was a bit frustrated by the lack of light! There was lots around the hut but nothing up on the mountain. I was waiting… and waiting for SOMETHING to happen up there but nothing. Then, in the mid-ground, a bright spot of light illuminated a natural devision between the left and right portions of the frame. Some nice greens and the snow leading into the foreground. Finally.

I mixed some color and dropped in the effect which proved to be wonderful and a much needed kiss on a pretty bland date. She responded affectionately. But within a couple of minutes the glow was gone, replaced with the dullness of too brief an encounter. I looked at my canvas and was pleased to see that it had actually happened. Albeit, a little tepid in execution. Maybe this little flirtatious sun sprite would be back I thought. I continued working on the mountain. Then decided to get a more defined foreground in. A bit of cold snow mixed with the late fall grass.

It was coming along nicely I thought and just when I was about to call it quits, there she was again, dancing back and forth between grass and forest, she opened up and let her light shine on the tall pines and the meadows edge. I once again, having the color mixed, adjusted the value and and tried to capture this little angel but as I put brush to canvas she seemed to sense she was being watched and slowly, began to fade once again leaving me wanting.

I looked at what I had made and felt some success for this first painting. I really liked the way the sky worked with the mountain and the way I rendered the snow. I liked the way the, by putting the masses in very darkly followed be the mids, that there was that outline around base shape of Cathedral. I was mostly thankful that I had been visited by a sun sprite just when I thought all was lost to gloom and local contrast.

We all packed up and made the thoroughly exhausting journey back to the hut for some tea and a bite. After looking at everyone’s work we all agreed we had a great start to our trip.

Our discussions quickly turned to where to paint after our break. Somewhere down by the lake we thought…

Assiniboine 2017: Three Paintings Over Two Days…

This year I was lucky enough again to be a part of the annual PleinAir trip to mount Assiniboine organized by my artist friend Patti Dyment. Along for the adventure were Pat and Bob Allin, Michele Austen, and I had the added pleasure of bringing my son Sam along (he was going to fish). It was a bit touch and go as to whether or not we were even going to be able to go because of forest fires in the area and the park had been closed twice due to the danger. But when the time came, we were lucky enough to have the main portion of the park reopen. The fire was still raging several kilometres away and the smell of smoke hung in the air.

We were the last helicopter out which meant many of the supplies went with us. Laundry and beer seemed to be the bulk of it. When the pilot lifted off he paused for a moment a few feet off the ground, then slid sideways, went backwards to the edge of the clearing, tipped the nose down as he took a run at the trees to get over them. I looked at the staff member beside me and she simpy said “we’re a little heavy”. The flight felt like we were on an old country road with no suspension. Nevertheless, we made it with all our bits and pieces.

The first order of business was to get up to our cabin and quickly settle in as the group wanted to get painting as soon as possible and Sam wanted to get fishing. We were in the Jonesy Hut which had a covered porch which meant my ritual of staying up by myself, listening to a good book and having a nite cap in the company of my mountain friends could happen no matter the weather.

We decided to head up to Gog Lake to paint for the afternoon. I painted up there last year but looked back in the other direction at the “Lump” as Alice Saltiel described it.

#1 The Towers (day 1)

The Towers 2

I trudged around for a good twenty minutes looking for something to paint as I usually have the habit of doing. While walking I thought that this may be the time that I try a full vista. I normally don’t like full vistas because I find it unusually challenging to get the entire scene onto such a small canvas. Took me three attempts. Patti said that’s normal. Overall it was a great afternoon painting in great company.

Sam went off and fished and caught two.

Naiset Falls (day 2 am)

We were up, fed, and coffeed by 9am an then down the shores of Magog lake to scout out a spot for our morning paint. I decided against “The Grand Vista” and remembered the falls which are on a separate path that branches off to the right from the main path the the lake. The problem is you’re looking down on them. So I had to find a route which led me to the bottom of the falls without climbing down the rocks. I ended up here (you can see my easel set up on the right if you look closely). This was worked on in the studio but after looking at the work done in the field, I think I prefer the direction I had out there. I think I over worked it.

Jonesy Hut (day 2 pm)

The third painting was done close to home. We had lunch and decided to paint close by the cook shelter. I thought a painting of our hut was in order. I just had to find a good vantage point and I found one that fit the bill about a hundred yards towards the rangers station. Within a half an hour of starting I could see a large cloud moving in and as is typical in this area, I expected a good shower so I started to rush getting values down and trying to get the hut accurate before having to pack up quickly and making a run for it.

Then something odd happened… ASH started falling from the sky. It looked like a light snow. It got in the paint and on the painting. I got covered in it. I walked over to Patti who was about 50ft from me and we marveled together at what we were witnessing. This one is untouched and you can still see the ash in the work. As a matter of fact, the wet paintings which had been set up on the front porch of the hut got covered as well.

As far as the success of the painting, I’m not sure. Still, any painting shows you a path to the next one. I did learn a few things which I’ll take away from it.

Sam caught another three I believe. Overall, more fish in two days than he caught in months on the Bow.

After…

Before dinner we went for happy hour at the lodge and I asked the girl who runs the desk if that was a new fire? “I don’t want to talk about it” she said. “Too many fires”. After dinner the staff came by and took a roll call call of those present in case they had to evacuate but “not to worry “.

We had a great last night and got up early as we were hiking out 29km to the Mount Helipad and it was going to take all day. We headed up and over Wonder Pass which was breathtaking which looked over Marvel Lake which is where we’re headed. It was so beautiful.

The descent into Marvel was very steep but at least we were going down. Then a nice hike along the NW side of the valley to the Bryant Creek Ranger Station. From there, down to the very southern end of the Spray Lakes and after that?… kilometres of the most boring road imaginable back to the parking lot at Shark. Our bags got flown out and we had to drive into Canmore to pick them up. When Sam and I arrived at the parking lot our muscles had seized so badly that when we got out of the car we looked like a couple of very old men.

We heard later that they closed the park an issued an evacuation order at 10am. I wish I had known they were going to so I could have told all the hikers heading up they should turn around.

Overall, another grteat trip. Next on the list was Lake O’Hara in September.