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?

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.

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.

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!

sargents-point

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!

ohara-blog-40

The Gang!

Plein Air Trip To Mount Assiniboine!

My Favourite Alpine Flower

My Favourite Alpine Flower

It was Sunday August 7th. The V-Strom, was loaded up with all the essentials for my painting trip into one of my favourite places in this world. A place I had been, by my recollection, 35 years earlier on a school trip with the Outdoor Class at STS. I kissed Steph goodbye and rolled out for the ride up to Canmore and then onto the Spray Lakes Road for the 36km gravel portion to the Mount Shark Helipad. It was about 12:15 by the time I arrived and it was very warm. I stripped off my gear, stowed it in the panniers and headed up the road to the waiting area. I rounded the corner and saw my group which included Patti Dyment and her daughter Megan, Laura, Anne, Sharon, Alice Satiel and her husband Bill. Oh, and yours truly. Four painters and four hikers. A wonderful group and a beautiful day to hop on a helicopter for the far too brief (8min) flight to Mount Assiniboine.


I was in awe as the chopper dropped in rapidly (I swear these young pilots have watched Apocalypse Now a few too many times) Mount Assiniboine and the surrounding vista called to a distant thread of memory from a time I can barely remember. I can’t describe the combination of feelings I felt that reverberated from my past memories of this place to the stunning reality that enveloped me now. It was nothing like I remembered it. The trees were bigger (naturally) and there were new cabins just below the helipad. These cabins were added maybe in the last 10 years and were made for guests who had my current net worth in their wallets. They were nothing compared to the rustic beauty of where we were all staying – the historic Naiset Cabins.

assiniboine-processed-5

Aster Cabin

They weren’t where I remembered them, but were 500m up the trail from the helipad. Our hut was one of several built by the Alpine Club of Canada in 1925. Ours was called the Aster and sleeps eight in two bunkbeds – and there not very big bunkbeds. Think advertised two man tent – then go look at it. Anyway, after getting settled in I headed down to Lake Magog with Patti Dyment and Sharon to try and get a quick painting in before dinner. The sky was a mix of blue, white and a bit of dark grey. To mountain people, that means anything is possible without warning. We all set up within a couple of hundred meters of each other and got to work – and within thirty minutes we were packing up quickly as the rain began to fall. I got something roughed in but not finished. Patti and Sharon faired about the same. It was back to the cabin and off to the lodge for happy hour where we met up with Bill and Alice for wine, beer and talk of art.

Dinner was fantastic and after, we all sang songs, laughed and enjoyed each others company. Then it was off to bed for the group but I sat up and listened to a story and had a nite cap sitting out on the porch of the cabin under the night sky, in the dark among the trees and the mountains. Simply beautiful.

DAY 2

The morning light sifted through one of the two small windows in the cabin as the slow stirrings of hikers and artists alike broke the stillness. In no time we were in the cook shelter – coffee in hand – discussing what we were going to do – where to paint that day or where to hike. Patti, Sharon and I decided to paint at Gog lake which was only a short 15 minute hike. It was again, beautiful in the shadow of what’s called “The Two Towers”. I could see Patti and Sharon and was pleased to see Alice setting up as well. I wandered around suffering from Moses Syndrome (looking for the promised land) and after about a half hour decided on spot much closer to the lake from where the girls were setting up. On a side note, I could hear a waterfall around a blind corner up at the end of the lake. I wanted to have a look but I thought I had wasted enough time and needed to start something. The falls were for another time.

Your first thought is to paint these iconic mountains and lake but I decided to paint the view 180 degrees to the west. A pretty nondescript mountain (not even sure of the name and I think Alice referred to it as “The Lump”) was in the background but it was beautifully lit and the trees on either side of where the lake began it’s downhill run to Magog were stunning. I loved the colors of the grasses and visual interaction of the reflections in the lake. Thank God I had my umbrella as it began to rain and I wasn’t ready to finish. My painting partners retreated to have a bite of lunch and a spot of tea. I finished up and headed back for the same.

The afternoon looked like it was setting up to be a repeat of the previous day with a full sky of mixed blessings and possible curses and we decided to go back down to where we began the previous day.assiniboine-processed-1-2 Since the light was pretty much the same ,I was able over two afternoons, to get this little 5×7 wrapped up and then it was off to the Lodge for a beer and more art talk.

 

The night again was filled with song, great food and for me, developing friendships. The night swept in and everyone headed for bed. I sat up and listened to my book and watched to the north where a developing thunderstorm lit up the sky, revealing the dark pines for a brief second. It was so peaceful. img_7357

 

Day 3

The next morning we awoke to clear skies and a very excited group who wanted to see what Assiniboine looks like at 6:15am and let me simply say it was stunning. I grabbed my camera and headed off down the path to take some reference shots as I didn’t want to miss the morning glow on such an iconic mountain – The Matterhorn of the Rockies.

 

After  the trek back up to the cabin, a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, Patti and I decided to head down to the flats in front of Magog to paint “The Queen” as Alice likes to call Assiniboine. I set up a couple of hundred meters below Patti and we got to work. I quickly discovered that there is a lot to take in in a scene like this. Not to mention trying to capture the fleeting early morning light. We both did the rough in with the intention of getting the light correct and then developing the details, ignoring the changes as the sun tracked across the sky.

Time passed, adjustments made, paint mixed and applied. Repeat.

Patti came down after she finished up and took a picture of me before she headed up for some lunch and a small break. We discussed heading up on a ridge between the Two Towers and Magog Lake for the afternoon but when I got back to the cabins, I couldn’t figure out where to go  or where Patti had gone.

assiniboine-processed-43I thought that I should investigate the falls I had heard at the far end of Gog lake the day before. The sound of rushing water excites me. It has been a source of a deep spiritual connection. I sometimes find that the lack of sound when in the mountains or sitting under the canopy of the forest almost *too quiet* The talk and banter of the water, and what it discusses with the rocks, stones and pebbles as it moves excitedly past on it’s way to some lake or ocean I find calming.

As I rounded the bluff, I could finally see what had invited me earlier. It was beautiful. Some falls are large and majestic, some small and reflective. These falls were lively – lacey. Going in several directions with a common intent. assiniboine-processed-44How the water fell through the rocks on the way down to Gog lake was well – inspiring.

I set up and gave myself 45 minutes to paint. I thought that the falls were going to be too challenging. More to take in than painting “The Queen”. I decided to rough in my underpainting with Alizarin (normally Ochre). I then wiped out the falls with a rag and thought the best way to go about this piece was to work from the inside out – paint the falls and it’s discussion with the bordering rocks and pebbles and work out towards the edges. If I had to stop, at least I didn’t waste time I thought, on what wasn’t important. This is where I ended up.

I learned more from this little painting I think than any other so far. It was quick and free. The brushstrokes placed without much thought but yet very deliberately. Confident because I didn’t place very much hope in it’s success. I knew I just need to get it down.

I was reminded of something an instructor at ACA said to me.
It has stuck with me since my time there – “Art in not precious”
I took this to mean that you need to keep an openness and freedom and innocence about what you make. Rather than restrict your work to whats saleable or what your friends or family will find acceptable. Let go. Art for art sake – work for your self.

I hope this little painting will continue to speak to me. It has been sitting on my windowsill since our trip and I’m drawn to it. It is closer to the way I want to paint than any other thus far.

Just as I was finishing up, Alice and Bill and Sharon wandered up and I was very happy to see them. Happy hour at the lodge was at hand, I had four plein air paintings in the bag and I knew another great night with new friends and song, warmth and a night under the Assiniboine sky was before me. I felt content and connected in so many ways.

It had been 35 years since I had been to Assiniboine with my crew from school. Some of the best people I have known. This trip, reminded me about how precious our relationships are – with family and friends, our passions and most of all, ourselves. It’s through who are, and what we value, that we can give the most.

Thanks Patti for everything. For creating an opportunity for me to become a part of an amazing community of such wonderful people – and inviting me back into an environment that I have found so inspirational then, now and in future trips.

Painting in Coutts

Yesterday afternoon I headed down to the lovely Coutts Centre for an afternoon of painting. I was fighting the urge to stay home as we had thrown a big party for some family that are moving to Panama. Needless to say, the night was filled with tears, laughter, dance and song, as well as some libations which we all indulged in a little too much.

So after a mental wrestling match, a couple of Tylenol and a BIG bottle of water I headed south for the afternoon. The rain which was forecast managed to hold off and I took a walk around the grounds looking for a place to paint. Several promising sites didn’t cut it because they weren’t in the shade and after about 30 minutes passed, I settled into a nice spot by the marsh looking towards the Poppy Garden and Chicken House (which has been converted into a summer residence). I quickly got set up and roughed in the general tones and values and wiped back where the building was to sit. I started with the centre right area and got my drawing in quickly, then I started to lay in changes to the value structure of the scene. It progressed nicely and I knew I had to start shutting it down as I could hear a little thunder moving my way and I had a ways to get back to the car.

This is where I ended up. I’m going to continue to work on it a little to refine some of the areas but I know not too much with this one. I like how loose it is overall with the sharpest edges and brightest colors where I want you to look.

The Chicken House