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.

A Curious Coincidence…

 

 

Victoria Falls

I have finally begun to work on some paintings from my last trip to Mount Assiniboine and Lake O’Hara.

This is an underpainting of Victoria Falls from a photo that I took while up at the falls. It is my new way of working which involves a very gradual loose application of thinned paint which creates some really nice texture and as I lay on slighter thicker paint with each pass making sure to keep it loose only applying color as a general indication of where the color lies and what general value it has. It’s the scaffolding for whats to come and I’ve found that when it looks pretty good at this phase it has a good chance of succeeding as long I don’t get too tight.

When I was looking at the reference photo I could see hints of water trickling through the foreground rocks and I thought to myself that during runoff those rivulets were probably torrents adding a whole new dimension to the falls. We were up there at the end of September so the runoff was nonexistent.

So I went looking on the internet for images of Victoria Falls hoping that someone had stood and taken a photo in nearly the same spot so I could use it as reference. After typing in the query into Google it spit back a number of images of the falls.

I started to sift my way down through the results seeing the usual imagery and then one image in particular caught my eye. I stared at it, blinked, leaned in closer, blinked again,and then clicked it. It looked eerily similar to the painting I had on the easel. The composition was almost identical, the colors and values were really really close. I sat and thought that this was pretty cool that someone out there saw this in the same way I was seeing it. I looked for a name and possible a website that I could visit to see if the other stuff they had was echoing my own particular style. Well,a website was out of the question as the artists had long passed. It was a painting by one of my painting hero’s J.E.H MacDonald of the Group of Seven fame.

I smiled and thought to myself how amazing it is that nearly a hundred years ago MacDonald slogged up there with his kit and stood near the falls in nearly the identical spot and made a sketch that I would discover while working on my own interpretation. I was planning on taking mine a lot farther but after looking at what MacDonald made I’m wondering how far will be too far.

JEH MacDonald - Victoria Falls

A Painting Mount For My iPad Pro…

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Recently I broke down and picked up an iPad Pro 10.5″ with that nifty pencil. compared to the older versions we have in the house, this one performs unbelievably well. It’s snappy and there’s no putting it down and making a cup of tea while it loads a web page. I finally bought it because it runs a mobile version of Lightroom and also runs an amazing Photoshop style app called Affinity Photo. This means I can take it on location instead of my laptop (which died hence the iPad) and ingest the days shoot, make selections and perform some basic edits. Enough about the photography…

PAINTING

I also used my trusty laptop to display reference images while I was at the easel. It sat on an old tray clamped to a C-Stand. It wasn’t the most elegant solution but it worked for a time. So when I bought the iPad, I was trying to figure out a way to use it for the same purpose. It wouldn’t sit on the tray and I didn’t want to sit it on my painting table for obvious reasons.

I went looking for a mount that would secure the iPad to the easel solidly and in a position that would I could  see both the work and the tablet easily. I thought about music stores because I know musicians use tablets to display sheet music. Nothing was really suitable. I know photographers use mounts but again I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Then I remembered the iPhone mount for my motorcycle made by RAM. It was there that I found all sorts of ways to securely mount my iPad to my easel. The best part about it, was there are two places here in Calgary that carry them: GPS City, and GPS Central.

So far around $100 (I know, it’s a bit expensive) I have a very well built mount that I can easily attach the iPad for my painting sessions and remove it when I’m done to write this blog post.

Winston Churchill as Artist…

churchill_1365468cA long time friend of mine Mike Brown, tired of the onslaught of very depressing news decided that ART was a better way to fill the newsfeed on Facebook. Mike would assign anyone who liked his post an artist to research and post back to FB what we found. I was given Winston Churchill.

Most of us know Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945. A cantankerous and brilliant man who’s career spanned over sixty years. Most of us probably don’t know that he was also an accomplished artists. It wasn’t until he was forty that he took up the brush and over the next 48 years produced over 500 works. This seems to be a theme as both Mike and I breathed energy back into a long dormant interest in creating art.

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Winter Sunshine,Chartwell

His painting was mostly personal as a way to unwind from the stresses of his busy life but on a couple of occasions he tested the waters of his abilities in a public forum. He entered an amateur competition with “Winter Sunshine,Chartwell” and to his delight,won first prize! Encouraged by his success he sent five pieces to be exhibited in Paris and four of them sold for £30 each. Interestingly,he submitted them under an assumed name – Charles Morin. And just to be clear, money was not the motivation for his art.

He used a pseudonym once again (Mr. Winter) when he delivered five paintings to The Royal Academy for consideration in 1947. Apparently,he didn’t want his notoriety to have any influence on those making the decision. Two of his paintings were accepted and were shown in the Summer Exhibition.

For the most part, Churchill painted mostly while at his home at Chartwell and during his travels around the world. Here are a few of his works. I even managed to find the spot where he painted in Pompeii with Sams help who recognized the spot from his visit there last year.

Churchill’s work now fetches several hundred thousand pounds at auction. This painting “The Goldfish Pond at Chartwell” set a record at 1.8 million Pounds. Maybe someday, after I’m dead and gone,my paintings will sell for that much. Ah, one can dream.

Thanks Mike for making me have a look at a man who I thought I knew something about and discovering a lot more than I had imagined.

The Sun…

The Long Winter

I’m feeling the cold. When I go outside I feel it gnawing at my bones and the sinew that hold those bones together. It’s not a pleasant feeling but one that comes with living in a part of that world that tilts annoyingly away from the sun for a good portion of the year. The one benefit of where we live is that that very sun sits in a brilliant blue sky free of cloud overtop a dull gray landscape. It penetrates the darkest room bouncing it’s way into every nook and every cranny and you can feel the heat, where it’s allowed to gather free of the cold north wind.

I am reminded of when we lived in Vancouver and winters were considerably different. It rained or more accurately, drizzled or even more accurately misted a good portion of the time. Oh yes, it was green and mild, but also came with its own gray dank dullness that blocked that beautiful sun. It’s as if the landscape was flipped over. The gray on top and the color below. An umbrella was almost pointless as the whole idea of an umbrella is that it provides protection from “falling” rain – a concept that is lost on mist. And cold? Oh yes, it was sometimes very cold. I don’t care what anyone says, damp cold is real. It slithers like a snake down through any opening and finds the warmest spots to curl up in.

In Vancouver, in the rain, I was glad to be inside. In Calgary in -25?  I’m glad to be inside as well.

The difference? – I don’t have all the lights on.

I think I’ll go paint.

Plein Air to Studio…

20-30 MINUTES OF FOCUSED PLAY ON A PAINTING THAT DIDN’T REALLY WORK

ohara-blog-210After getting back to Calgary and setting out the paintings I managed to produce on my recent trips to Mount Assiniboine and Lake O’Hara, I decided to rework some of them. I know this is a common practice in the Plein Air world but there are some purists who believe that once you pack up and get back in the car, then the painting is considered done. Let me state for the record that I am not a purist… If a painting needs more work (sucks) then it will get more work and may suck less.

These two painting were the first to go back on the easel. The interesting aspect of doing this is I had the choice to pull photos of each but I let the picture in my memory act as reference. I made value and color decisions based on what I thought was needed and where. I massaged pretty much every area adding a little in some areas and a little more in others. I tried to improve each area in isolation but as I progressed, these areas began to talk to their neighbours and a different harmony developed.

These were paintings which didn’t succeed in the original battle and needed more to carry them over the finish line. Whether I succeeded in making the paintings better or not doesn’t really matter; I think it was a great exercise in decision making. Something I can do to many small studies in my studio at the moment. Take a painting that didn’t really work and see if I can spend twenty minutes with it and make it better. What does it need? Play with color, brushwork, or push the hell out of the values. If it doesn’t really work, oh well, it didn’t really work in the first place.

Have fun and play with those dud paintings.

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Original Plein Air

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Additional Studio Work

 

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Original Plein Air

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Addition Studio Work

Plein Air to Lake O’Hara

“I got to the beautiful Lake O’Hara lying in a rainbow sleep, under the steeps of Mount Lefroy and the waterfalls of Oesa. And there I realized some of the blessedness of mortals.”
– J.E.H. MacDonald in A Glimpse of the West, 1924

Well again, I was lucky enough to have secured a spot in another trip organized by Patti Dyment. This time we were to paint at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. Steph drove me up early so we could be at the parking lot for the bus ride by 10am. When I arrived, there were many cars in the lot and several excited adventurers. But what excited me the most was when I saw the familiar faces of Alice Satiel-Marshall and her husband Bill, Sharon Van Essen, and Sharon Lynn Williams and her husband Dave. Alice gave me a big hug and with smiles on our faces we climbed aboard for the 20 minute bus ride up to the Lake.

Well if I compare the way we got to Assiniboine and the way we got to O’Hara – a helicopter versus a big yellow school bus respectively – the helicopter wins out. There’s leg room on the helicopter (I’m not eight anymore) and your kidneys don’t end up where your liver should be. Oh, and I think I lost a tooth. You get a grand view from the chopper and a view of nothing but trees from the bus. Not even a hint of what we were to expect.

ohara-blog-1ohara-blog-4We pulled up to the coffee shelter called Le Relais, gathered our stuff and decided to head to the lake which was just to the left of where we stopped. What the bus and bumpy ride up had hid, revealed itself within 50ft from where we stopped. The very place where John Singer Sergeant painted his masterpiece in 1916. It was beautiful. Mountains that rose up, reflected in a lake of clear emerald glass. Patti and Jan Chalupnicek were there painting as they had arrived two hours earlier. Their work was wonderful and inspiring and made me want to get going.

We took our gear up to the Elizabeth Parker Hut, found or sleeping spaces (mine didn’t work out – more on that later) donned our paint gear and decided to head up to the Opabin Plateau.

When I say we, I mean Patti, Sharon Lynn Williams, Sharon Van Essen, Jan Chalupnicek, Gwen Davis and myself. Dave, Bill and Meg Nicks head off for a different adventure. The one Hour hike and 250m elevation gain from the Lake O’Hara Lodge was well – steep. It didn’t help that I had my studio on my back. Jan decided to stop half way up and paint the creek that the trail follows up to the plateau.

ohara-blog-13We arrived at some small ponds which are beside Moor Lakes and the group decided to set up there. By the time I got going (late as usual) I could see a veil of either rain or snow in the distance. I very slowly, squeezed out my paints, starting with White and then onto Ultramarine. I paused, eyeing the veil suspiciously trying to determine if it was going to pay us a visit. By the time I got to Yellow Ochre it made a final rush moving swiftly up and over the ridge. Snow was sticking to the back of my neck and the temperature felt like it dropped by 15 degrees. I was reminded how unpredictable and potentially dangerous mountain weather is if your unprepared.

We made our way back down to the lake and back up to the the Elizabeth Parker Hut. On and off showers but no snow or wind. I still had the need to get something down and ventured out of the hut to scout out something worthy of setting up. I found a small grouping of rocks about 2 mins from the hut and set up there, took some reference pics and began to paint. I was rained out after 30 mins but managed to get this on the board.

Grant Waddell

 

Within tradition, we ate a great meal and talked and sang well into the evening. Many of the group had done this before and again, I felt very lucky to be with such wonderful people. And what is also a tradition for me, I waited till all was quite, poured myself a night cap and sat out under the mountain sky and thought of the day and what tomorrow would bring.

DAY 2

I spent a very uncomfortable night on a bench in the dining area after I was crowded out on my bunk. What I thought was a comfy cushion turned out to be carpet on wood. I woke up several times during the night and when I saw the first hints of twilight I knew my suffering was over! I was glad to see the very early risers getting ready for their day of hiking. I got up and dressed quickly, made a cup of coffee and was happy to see Alice sitting at the table. We chatted and talked of where to paint but were somewhat dismayed that the weather was still not cooperating. Low clouds clung to the mountains and intermittent rain hung dismally over our creative verve. We had a second cup and some a third.

The damp seemed to stall for a bit and Gwen and Alice and I headed down to the Lake (Lake O’Hara as “The Lake” will now be known) to see what we could find for inspiration. Gwen set up fairly quickly painting the cabins on the lake and I headed off looking for – you guessed it – the promised land. During my venture I ran into Bill who said “Alice is here somewhere” and then we could see her purple coat at the far end of a small lake on the outlet side of O’Hara. I headed in her direction thinking she had found something worthy. Sadly, she hadn’t and I met her as she was making her way back.

ohara-blog-21To make a long story short, we painted very close to where Gwen had set up which was, where Patti and Jan had set up the day before and where Sergeant had set up 100 years ago.

I spent around 4+ hours trying to paint this scene with intermittent rain. ohara-blog-22I had my umbrella but it was too dark and I had to keep pulling it up and away to see where my values were. (I need to get a translucent white as an alternate) Overall, it’s not bad but was very much like “The Queen” at Assiniboine. LOTS of stuff to decipher and get down. I wasn’t massing and simplifying like I should have been. Ultimately, I finished, without being finished. My values were off and my colors muted. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t successful in my opinion for the amount of time I spent on it. I could blame the weather and the light… and you know what, I will!

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Another night of food, drink and song is always a welcome end to a day of art and exploration. I again sat up with a light rain and this time sat under the eve of the Wiwaxy Hut which is a smaller hut beside Elizabeth Parker and in the stillness of the night, I could hear Patti sing a lullaby (probably a show tune) to the group in her cabin. ohara-blog-20

It was magical and I rested my head against the outside of the cabin and thought to myself that it’s moments like these that are like simple strokes of paint. Bits of recorded memory. We start with a blank canvas and with each stroke, each memory, some good and some not, we create a masterpiece of who we are and who we have been. From the underpainting, the adjustment of values and edges with some hard and some soft, and maybe even wiping some, if not a good portion of it off.- we are never finished until the end.

DAY 3 – The Hike

We awoke to a dismal day of gray and wet and the shuffling and quite clatter of hikers eager to get the day underway. The painters sat and looked out the windows at the gray dismal day and drank coffee and tea. Sharon Lynn Williams and I looked at a book on the Paintings of O’Hara and were very happily surprised to see a piece by Alice in the book! Gwen Day mentioned to me later that we were amongst some amazing talent in the group and I would have to agree.

After some discussion, the idea of painting was out as the weather did not appear to be improving and I needed to get to Victoria falls to take some reference pics as I had seen them in paintings many times before. That was my goal for the day and I had no intentions of going much past that. Many of the painters were in and I, as well as Patti, Gwen Day, Sharon Lynn Williams, her husband Dave and Sharon Van Essen headed up with common intent. Dave and Patti decided to split off and hike a different route which would intersect the trail farther up. It apparently is a beautiful hike but bypassed the falls.

ohara-blog-25Well, once I reached the falls I was struck at how much smaller they were from what I had imagined – but I could see why so many artists had tried to capture this beautiful whisper of what lay just beyond. ohara-blog-27After some pics I had to move on as I could see a ridge or plateau just ahead. Where there is more road, more trail, or running water has always said there’s something more and you better not miss it. This has been something I have come to expect from my wandering spirit. What is over that hill? Or around that bend? It has always driven me farther… the “what if” of driving up a logging road or hiking up a mountain trail. What if I turned around right now and went back…

If I had turned back having reached my goal of getting to the falls I never would have seen what was just over the ridge that was calling me onward. SharonLW was behind me and as I came up over the edge a mix of awe and elation pulsed through me, Victoria Lake opened it arms and wrapped me up and held me for far too brief a moment, dropping me to my knees. It was so beautiful and I was so wonder struck, I instantly turned to Sharon with a beaming smile and gave her a huge hug which she gladly returned having seen this before and knowing the experience I was having. Victoria Lake without a doubt, is one of the most beautiful places I had seen in my life. A smallish lake surrounded by pine and Larch trees in their beautiful fall yellow outfits. Another set of falls lay enticingly at the far end of the lake whispering that there was more to come. “Keep going” they said. “Keep going”

(I think a cabin would be nice. A bit of a trek in but soooooo worth it.)

We waited for a bit thinking Dave and Patti were going to meet us there but after consulting a map we realized the trail they were on intersected farther up. We headed up that way and after a short while the two hi level adventurers met us at the intersection and we were off for the very short romp to the shores of what had been calling to me – the magnificent Lake Oesa.

I – at this point am not surprised at how much beauty resides in such a relatively small area – Lake Oesa is no acceptation. An amazing geography of high mountains and cliffs, scree, talus, and snow all displayed two-fold in the reflection of an emerald mirror. We wandered around, took some photos, and had a wee bite, and decided to head over the Yukness Ledges which terminate at the Opabin Plateau. Needless to say, the traverse over this face was incredible. High above the plateau we could see Alice and Bill and some of the others where we were two days earlier. When we arrived at the intersection we marched on to the the majesty of Opabin Lake. I think I’m running out of adjectives to describe the sheer natural beauty of this place. It has re-invigorated my love for high alpine hiking. Through the barrier of the trees to open meadows filled with wild flowers, this vast open beauty will remain unseen by most city dwellers sadly and I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to hike and rest in a place that plants the seeds for future exploration.

In the words of Robert Genn from his trip to the the O’Hara region…

“What a privilege to be with creative and observant companions past and present. To see and share an environment where sheer power and the delicate flower beg to be studied and honored. To be surprised and delighted at every turn of a path. To flirt with the gods of the larch forest and the granite mountains. To be in a place where human understanding is submissive to impression. What a high it is to be an artist. What a responsibility. How natural. How tragic it might have been to pass this one up. My complaint is that I almost did.”

And to think – I almost did.

 

Our hike out circled around some wonderful painting spots. Lots of reference was shot and there were moments where I wish I could have had all my painting gear and a moment to hunker down and dig in. We eventually ended up on the same trail we were on two days before but with much much better weather!

Again, the evening air filled with song and the scent of fine mountain cuisine. We even broke into poetry in which we agreed, next year, we all had to learn an epic poem. I started with Jabberwocky and Dave recited The Cremation of Sam McGee.  We had table #2 (another group we were getting to know) singing with us at one point and Alice yelled over “Hey Table #2 – if you have wine we’ll pay top dollar!!!” I can’t remember his name but one of the other hikers came over with a flask filled with Fireball. It was so bloody fun! This night I had my last night cap sitting in the darkness of the hut save the glow of the fire, on the bench I had slept on two nights earlier and listened to my book – The Island of the Lost – by Joan Druett.

Day 4

Next morning was a mixed bag of rain, sun, more rain, some blue sky and even more rain. The day was open but many of the party decided it was time. The weather had won and it was time to call it quits.

We thought it would be a good idea to take a trip down to the Lodge to see the artwork hanging on the walls which included one of my favourite artists Robert Genn. There where also photographs of J.E.H McDonald and Lawren Harris Painting in the area .

A few caught early busses out and a few of us stayed a little longer in an optimistic haze. Sharon set up on the dock and painted a view along the shoreline in her very characteristic very colourfully wonderful style. I was convinced (read hounded – ok maybe not hounded) to start something and decided on a 4×5” panel. I was only 20 minutes into it when time ran out and we packed up to get the bus. (I knew it!) 🙂

I had brought several of these small canvases down and after getting home, I thought it may be a good idea to start almost every painting with a very small gestural study. One that sets the values and colors in a format which does not allow for detail. I remember watching Jove Wang at the 2016 Plein Air Convention in Tucson and he did exactly this. Two separate pieces – A small colour  study and a black and white value study to set the tone for the larger painting to come. He referenced these often as he worked on the larger piece.

Again, like Assiniboine, this trip was filled with friendship, great food, song, poetry, and best of all we had an opportunity to paint in an area rich in artistic history. What a wonderful feeling knowing you have painted where legends have painted before. The common factor being, no matter who, we all felt the same awe and incredible inspiration of a landscape born from nature, and we have tried to capture it………….

What a great group – What a great time.

Till next year!

Cheers all!

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The Gang!