Sunday, October 31, 2010

Inspired By Emily Carr (oil on canvas 10 x 12 in.) collection of R & J Tanner

28 October finds me in Ottawa viewing "Winds of Heaven", a film by Michael Ostroff about the life and art of Emily Carr and the diminishing of the forests and the native peoples of the west coast of British Columbia.

The film resonated with the Emily Carr I'm familiar with, and the reader of her journals and letters expressed all of her strength of character, humour,  and frustration with those who wouldn't understand. The wealth of archival photos and old motion picture clips brought to life the time and place, especially the felling of the giants of the forest and native villages bristling with totem poles. 

The voice that played Emily Carr read my very favorite passage from her journals - the process of sitting and waiting quietly and patiently in the forest for all the details to come together into shapes and movements - for the forest to speak to the painter.

Here is an image from my archives... On a sunny day in late September 2007 I sat on the forest floor in "Mediola Woods" to paint this old growth forest of Red Maple and Hemlock which is one of Ottawa's best kept secrets - overlooked by all but those who live nearby. Being an urban forest, it is unique in species composition - both for the plants that it has, and those which are noticeably absent. In the spring we visited the vernal pools and I had wanted to paint Mediola in bloom, but missed the moment. So I returned in the autumn, finding this tall spire of a stump forming a dark fulcrum, for the other movements of colour and texture.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Still Life With Chickadee (watercolour 5 x 7 in.) Sold

26 October finds a road-killed Chickadee, discovered by me as I stopped the van at dusk to catch a migrating Leopard Frog on County Road 18 northeast of Bishops Mills. Fred was already out with the net, so I leapt out, following the frog into the roadside grass and catching her by hand, a big female destined for a breeding experiment at Carleton University.

As I turn back to the van, something glimmeres white in the fast-falling dark and I reach down to pick up a small lump of softness - a Chickadee, only a little bedraggled by tumbling to the wet road after being recently hit by a passing car.

In this porcelain bowl with two Crabapples it begs to be painted - two "mistakes" - the Chickadee's mistake was to fly into the path of an automobile, and the Crabapples... misidentified as Wild Pears for a while.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Among the Tamaracks (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

25 October finds me among the Tamaracks at the tracks on Bedell Road south of Kemptville Ontario.

Standing among the Tamaracks their yellow is like a lamplit room after the gloomy grey roadside. Chickadees call "dee - dee- dee" in little raspy voices and flit about among the branches hiding food for winter. Their memories have been cleared of last winter's larder catalogue as happens each year and they're starting afresh, using their powerful tiny brains to keep track of thousands of hiding places. A Robin flies across the road calling "churp, churp, chuck". A small swarm of Chironomid midges seem to me to be holding a Ceilidh dance, weaving and bobbing above my head, their whiny music too tiny for me to hear.

The Poplars are leafless except for large round leaves at the very tops against the grey sky. Roadside wildflowers, except for a few stout littel plants of purple asters, have gone to seed - all brown and golden, variously prickly and lumpy with burrs and capsules.

Scarborough Bluff Dawn (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

22 October finds us looking up at the Scarborough Bluff freshly illuminated by the sunrise, from the east end of the parking lot of Bluffer's Park in Scarborough, east of Toronto.  My back is to the lake and the breeze is brisk and cold. The cloudy sky protected us from frost last night but now the cloud is clearing and the rising sun picks out the pale clay bluffs and burnishes the autumn red trees and bushes.

At the base of the bluff is a veritable sea of Phragmites, in shadow now except for the fluffy plumed seed heads. An invasive reed introduced from Europe, Phragmites, is also climbing the bluffs in places and Fred is keeping track of its progress, and measures three of the tall stems to be 392 cm, 452 cm, and 451 cm - the tallest is four and a half metres! The Phragmites rhizomes as well as the roots of the constantly spreading Coltsfoot, also an European introduction, will stabilize the clay which is constantly eroding so that woods, yards and gardens at the crest of the bluffs are being undercut.

A little to the west of the view I have chosen, a strange wasp-nest-like structure with a gaping hole in it poises, exposed, at the top edge of the pale clay wall, high above the rows of autumn-empty Bank Swallow holes. Binoculars reveal it to be a brick lined well. Through the big hole in its side we can see the wooden planks of its cover. A hump of long-grassed sod covers the well.

Last night we saw a Fox at the foot of the bluffs, and heard wild howling and yapping of nearby Coyotes.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Burlington Beach Cormorant (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

19 October finds us visiting the Lake Ontario shore in Burlington Ontario, after Fred's first day of meetings on the conservation and recovery of rare fresh water mussels.

It is sunny, but windy and cool. Autumn mating chironomid midges hover in dancing clouds and single individuals brush against my hair as I walk down to the water's edge to watch a big Great Lakes ship pass imperceptibly, lit by the late afternoon sun across the pale blue lake.  I am composing a painting of the grapevines draped over willow bushes and a low dune bracketed by drifts of fallen leaves, with the pearly blue lake behind with pinkly glowing skyscrapers of Hamilton along a high horizon.

The beach edge thickets are alive with little birds, hopping and peeping softly among the grape vines and scuffling the fallen leaves for insects - sparrows and warblers of many kinds. Ducking inside the nearest thicket, I brush aside a few vines and notice something black lying like a small cast off jacket. Stepping  closer it changes fantasy-like into a dwarfed waif draped in a dark blanket, sleeping - or dead. And so it is, a Cormorant who crept in here to die, blanketed by its dark wing iridescent in purple and green.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bolete Under Pines (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) SOLD!

11 October finds us looking for Wood Frogs in Limerick Forest, east of Bishops Mills Ontario. We have walked back into the Red Pine plantation behind the "Chalet" building - pines that were planted in the 1940s to stabilize blowing sand after farming failed in the area. At this time of year the Wood Frogs are leaving the sunny open spots in the woods where they have been hunting for insects all summer, and heading for low, moist spots where they will hide in the leaf litter, raising their blood sugars in order to survive freezing solid for the winter.

A Spring Peeper practices for spring, emitting a volley of lusty peeps from somewhere unseen while Fred and Philip sneak around among the dry ferns and leafless Viburnum and invasive Shining Buckthorn, looking for movements of brown, gold and copper Wood Frogs among the brown, gold and copper fallen leaves, I am finding mushrooms, creeping about on my hands and knees to photograph them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Knothole Triplets (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) SOLD!

9 October finds me home again in Bishops Mills, viewing three perfect Elm Knothole Mushrooms growing at head height from a knothole in a tree behind our barn.  

These are Hypsizygus ulmarius, the Oyster Mushroom that Fred and I call "Manitoba Maple Knothole Mushroom," though the formal name is "Elm Oyster." Each October we're constantly scanning distant Manitoba Maples for the telltale white spots, often quite high on trunks and branches. 

Right now the dehydrator is whirring away in the back porch, drying this year's crop. We slice them and dry them until crisp, then store them in jars in the pantry.  Cooked when freshly picked these mushrooms, though very flavourful, are tough and rubbery, but the dried ones cook up nice and tender, and they're a nice snack when eaten dry.

Friday, October 1, 2010

View from Beausejour (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

For sale at Burlington Art Centre $425 framed


30 September finds us at the historic site of Fort Beausejour south east of  Sackville, New Brunswick, looking out from the rolling grass knolls of the fort, over the Tantamar Marshes to the misty reach of the Cumberland Basin.

Saltmarsh ponds glint in the sun along the shoreline and beyond its sharp edge the seawater is pink with red mud - I think it becomes even pinker with the receding tide.

A red-rutted track runs between the sloped grassy lawn of the fort and a field of lush long grass, crouched in by large round bales of hay, and beyond that field the land drops away again to flat scrubby variegated fields that may have been farmed at one time, dyked and drained, now threaded through by dark lines and dashes of brushy ditches and gullies. In the distance a small herd of scattered cattle are mere dark dots, but the breeze brings me a faint bovine bellow. It is very quiet up here at the top of the world, until a train clatters along the tracks that were barely visible beyond the edge of the field.

Sea Horses (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) SOLD!

29 September finds us driving the winding, hilly Nova Scotia highway #215 east along the north coast as evening falls. Each tiny community has its own old white frame community hall and every road to the right winds up into forested hills. The trees are compact in shape, not fluffy and rangy as they are farther inland, and the crowns of big trees are smoothly rounded.

We drive slowly. I am looking for a high seaside view for today's painting. The crest of each hill shows us the gleaming sea beyond sloping fields of small farms.  Some hayfields all frosted with blueish asters and others uniform green.

Then I see them and we stop. Two stout, creamy-coloured horses, one following the other up to the barn from their seaside pasture. The leader has a black stripe up the centre of its stiff upright mane. Perhaps this is the Fjord Horse, an ancient breed from Norway.