West of Cochrane…

A Quiet Stream

I was on a job for a local pipeline company where they were exposing a section of pipe for testing. They had used a “Smart Pig” (a hard rubber ball filled with sensors) and pushed it under high pressure down the line to map out anything that needed attention. They apparently had discovered a possible thinning in a joint and decided to have a closer look.

I went around and shot the crews as they were doing their thing and couln’t help but notice during a break, this wonderful little creek just down the hill from where we were all working. I walked down and took a few shots as reference for later and stopped, silenced myself and took it all in. It was wonderful – the sound of the water as it moved past me, was very calming. A gentle breeze tickled the tops of the grass and the leaves in the trees shimmered with delight. I sighed and turned around to head back up to finish the day.

You may think I sighed because I had to go back and shoot an open excavation not 300 feet away. But I have to say I was struck by the beauty of this little valley and more amazingly how this crew and company were taking care to make sure nothing happened to it. I thought what people must think about companies like this, forming opinions based on some crap they hear in the news. I have to say the number of times I’ve seen them at work and especially when I work with the evironmental branch, just how much they care about minimizing the impact they have on the environment. I’ve seen them tape off huge areas of land close to a right-of-way because of a Lichen that they were protecting or stop work completely when Cariboo were walking across that same right-of-way. When I first witnessed this, I was actually in awe, and it challenged my notions of what I had believed. After all, it’s in the news – pipeline companies are bad. They don’t care about anything least of all the environment. I was very wrong.

This piplene has been around for some time and it will be here for decades to come. It made me happy to be shooting for a company that gives a damn and makes a huge effort to ensure that this and other little ecosystem remain intact for all the inhabitants that call it home.

I just came to here document the process and paint the outcome.

The Green House…


The Green House

While driving south west of Calgary I came across this wonderful little scene and snapped a quick pic before moving on. I looked at the image several times and was a little intimidated by the seeming complexity. Something I recently wrote about and painted during an afternoon of plein air painting (Trembling Aspens) made me realize I just needed to make it my own. So I did…

The Green House Reference


When to Stop…

Trembling Aspens...

Trembling Aspens – 9×12 – Oil on Canvas Board

As part of Alberta Cultural Days, the Leighton Centre held two days of activities including an invitation to plein air painters to come and enjoy the beautiful scenery that makes the Leighton such a treasure. A.C and Barbara Leighton’s house sits on a hill west of highway 22 on Range Road 23. The vista looking west is breathtaking and I have witnessed several people who, after parking and walking around the north side of the house are left speechless, motioning to their significant other to come quick as if what they are seeing isn’t real and will vanish from sight before the other has a chance to see it.

Normally, when I have arrived and have seen what others are painting, the view is paramount. How can you resist sitting on the hill and not be seduced into staying right where you are and painting the colourful foothills and mountains. After all they’re right there in front of you.

But, I try to make things as difficult as I can. I walk around looking for something more intimate with colors and texture and light. Oddly, I realize that I shy away from the “Grand Vista” because it is so complex. Too big, too broad and open. I can’t have a conversation with it. Yet I am drawn to the complex colors and textures of a stand of trees nestled in a bed of prairie grass.


This painting was done in two hours and is probably the most abstract subject matter I have painted to date. Simple color and value, yet unbelievably complex. Squinting didn’t quite do it. I put my reading glasses on and used them to see my canvas up close, and happily blur the natural subject matter. Simplify and mass as the rule states.

Stephanie Doll, the curator of the Leighton thinks this is one of the best piece she’s seen so far. I instantly bite my lip and become doubtful as usual – the rules of painting flooding into my brain. It seems complex and yet crude at the same time. I understand it’s abstract but I’m not sure I hit the mark. It’s a sketch but I instantly want to make changes. The main tree trunks are not defined enough. the sense of depth in the foliage isn’t where I think it should be. Do I stop or keep going? I find it interesting that I am becoming much more aware of what I feel the problems are in a painting, whereas before, I would stare at it and not be able to put into words what was needing attention on the canvas.

What I begin to understand is, a work of art, any work, whether it’s painting, sculpture, or dynamic video, will find an equilibrium. A place where the artist and the subject meet. if your shy of the mark, you are too tentative. If you overshoot the mark, you didn’t stop when you should have. It’s a feeling. It comes with discipline, challenges and years of practice. A sensibility as many have called it. I guess as every artist through the ages has discovered, each shot at the target is a crap shoot. One shot is right on, while the next three are way off. Practice brings the cluster closer to the center and a silent understanding that every attempt after will never be perfect. There will always be something that can get in the way of of your success on a given day and something equally as powerful which will move you forward to a better understanding.

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


So here is my 15th painting of 30. It was from a shot taken while heading through Southern Alberta. For those of you who have driven highway 3 or more commonly known as the Crowsnest Trail, past the rocky tomb of The Frank Slide (yes, there was a town under all that rock) and then through Coleman on your way to Crowsnest lake and the B.C. border, you will have seen one of the most majestic mountains in the, oddly named, Crowsnest Pass. You’ll never guess what it’s called… Crowsnest Mountain. Standing 2785m, it is the highest of the peaks which form the panorama – Seven Sisters mountain can be seen just behind it to the north. It attracted a rather famous British mountaineer named Edward Whymper, who was the first to climb the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Whymper was unable to successfully put this feather in his cap and the first ascent went to Tom Wilson in 1904 (Wilson was the first white man to set eyes on Lake Louise).

The painting took me about three hours to complete and again, delves into some experimental brushwork that looks half OCD and half too much Gin. But I have to say, I am really enjoying the strange feeling of expressing the way something makes me feel and interpreting what I’m seeing rather than mimicking it.

Grant Waddell Oil on Canvas

Crowsnest Mountain
Oil on Canvas

Day 3/30

This was a bit a bit of a departure for me. I decided to take on a particular rock in the Frank Slide that had a certain amount of appeal. I loved the simplicity of it. But as it turned out, this particular bit of rock was more than I bargained for. A bit of a struggle for sure. I was going to post it last night but the time-lapse was causing me issues. This one I not so happy with. Not sure about it.

Rolling Stone 8.5x11 Oil on canvas

Rolling Stone
Oil on canvas



Day 2/30

Here’s my painting for Day 2. It took me about an hour and forty minutes to complete. I decided that I would do a time-lapse of the process and if I can, I’ll do the same with each of these paintings. I used a nifty little piece of software for the iPhone called Lapse-It and whats nice about using the iPhone over the Contour action cam is that you can frame the shot! Yes, you can actually see what your shooting. Sometime over the month I’ll take a pic of my set-up.

Let me know what you think.

Looking South on 69th 8.5x11 Oil on Canvas

Looking South on 69th
8.5×11 Oil on Canvas