Sunday, April 23, 2023

White Water Lily


6 August 2021 found me exploring Robinson Lake on the Dumoine River by kayak. Taking it all in from the intimate position of just above water level was enchanting! It was difficult to be still enough to photograph the White Water Lilies Nymphaea odorata as I awkwardly circled a group of them, poising like dancers mirrored in the dark water. I was amazed at how, when my clumsy paddle brushed them, they closed to keep the water out of their delicate yellow inner parts, popping up dry and open on the other side of the kayak. 

In the middle of the channel, I spotted a Painted Turtle on a deadhead, and bumped into it, approaching to take photos. One can’t simultaneously take photos and manoeuvre one’s craft.

As the sky lowered and the wind roused the water into a chop I photographed some "Swamp Candles", Lysimachia terrestris, with twisted yellow petals, blooming along the shore, and then turned the tip of the island and into the wind. There were small waves in addition to the chop, and the clouds were lowering. I paddled hard to catch up with Marisa, and as we reached the landing spot at camp, it began to rain and then pour. What a contrast to the serenity of the Water Lily bay!

I look forward to returning in August, to join fellow DRAW (Dumoine River Artists for Wilderness) artists in a week-long camp in support of river conservation hosted by Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society - Ottawa Valley  CPAWS-OV.

This 4 x 4 inch watercolour is one of a series of wildflowers I'm painting for the next edition of NatureMatch, my card-matching game. Contact me for information about purchasing the originals.

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Cedars Snow Dance

The Cedars Snow Dance (8 x 10 oil on canvas)

26 December 2022 finds me plodding through the deep new snow among the Cedars behind our house in Bishops Mills, Ontario. It being my birthday, the order of the day was painting en plein air. A lovely sunny day of -4C with deep new snow - I invited Fred out in my search for a scene “out back”. 

I took photos of several - the most inspiring being a clump of Cedars with curving blue-shadowed snow-mantled branches, with the warm bright open space glowing through from behind. Knowing the light would be better in the late afternoon, I did some errands in Kemptville, and was back out to the site with a sled load of gear by 4:00. 

Insulated by a cushion in the seat of my folding chair, I had my booted feet in a cardboard box stuffed with a down vest, my lap wrapped with a small duvet, my hands in fingerless gloves, and a hat beneath my hood, I painted in a race with the sunset, not taking time to open my thermos for a sip of hot tea. by 5:00 the evening blush had departed from the opening beyond the Cedars, and I could hardly see to pack my painting up to finish in the studio. 

After several days of errands and interruptions, I finally had it finished it on 31 December. This was a challenging scene - but I love the way it dances. 

For $425 it can be yours!

E-mail me: karstad (at) if you are interested.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Dumoine Moose Marsh

"Dumoine Moose Marsh" (6 x 6 inch oil on birch panel)

7 August 2021 finds me carrying my painting supplies along a twisted well-trampled path through a stand of Firs, to a small marshy lake or large pond.

A recently built viewing platform stands back a few feet from the waterline, well shaded by the forest edge. There's plenty of room for three standing easels, but I decide to paint a lower view of the left end of the lake, and sit on the floor to look between the railings with my legs dangling out the front. Catherine Orfald and Ruth Tait are painting with me on this fifth day of the week-long DRAW artists retreat - Dumoine River Artists for Conservation, hosted by CPAWS-OV, the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

A few Pickerel Weed are blooming here, and one candy-pink spike of Spirea tomentosa (Steeplebush). Small floating Water Lily leaves pattern the surface through an opening in the rushes and bushes, and dapple the open water.

A persistently “chipp”ing Song Sparrow forages among the bases of Scirpus in shallow water, hopping from one clump to another. Occasionally a little brownish Warbler-shaped bird moves quietly about in the Alder bushes. Four Black Ducks swim and dive, close by at first and then along the far shores. All is quiet for a while and then a Loon calls from the sky - and we all stop painting to watch a family of four, flying high above the far shore, with one calling - perhaps a parent cheering the young ones on.

A chilly breeze comes from across the lake and after a while Ruth lends her wool shirt to Catherine - but eventually she too became chilled too and they both pack up and leave. They had painted for three hours and I stayed for six - still not quite finished my 6 x 6 panel. The scene is complicated - or I’m just slow.

Dear patrons and supporters,

This 6x6 inch original oil painting is for sale for $350. If you would like to purchase it, please contact me   

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Dumoine Evening


"Dumoine Evening" (6 x 6 in. oil on birch panel) 

4 August, 2021
finds me standing on the path just in front of my "meditation log", with my toes in the black, loamy saturated soil at the edge of the water, looking down the Dumoine River toward towering pink clouds of a humid-hazy early evening. 

I love my private stretch of the Dumoine and all its lovely scenes, up-river to the east, especially in the mornings - down-river to the west in the evenings, and any time of day across to the bright grassy islands and the forested far shore. 

There are three other tents pitched under the trees here along the river, but we all come and go as quietly as deer and I never see the others this side of the road to the cabin. 

My tent is pitched in the shade of tall pines and spruces, and although it is cooler here than in the sunny yard of the cabin where most of the artists of the DRAW art camp have pitched their tents, the weather has been so humid that the damp cuffs of the pants that I hung inside my tent, have not dried in two days, so I may as well hang them outside and risk getting them rained on.

This is our fourth "Dumoine River Artists for Conservation" retreat. We are far from the internet and cell phone connectivity of the busy world that we left behind for these seven days of communion with the wilderness and one another. We have only each other to depend on - and in case of emergency, a device that connects to satellites for sending texts from John's phone. He's the organizer and facilitator of this year's DRAW camp for fifteen artists who will each donate one piece for CPAWS-OV's fundraising. 

Lyndon is our excellent volunteer cook. They drive out together in John's truck to a nearby spring to fill the several large water containers that are lined up on the cabin porch, and will make at least two trips down the long road to civilization to replenish fresh food and ice for the coolers. So in spite of our isolation us artists are well provided for, and have little to worry about except how to make the most of this great opportunity for inspiration, camaraderie, creativity... and to support CPAWS Ottawa Valley's campaign for conservation of wild rivers.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Dumoine Serenity

"Dumoine Serenity" (8 x 8 in. oil on canvas)

5 August 2021 started out foggy just as yesterday. I stepped carefully barefoot down my little trail to the river edge just before 08:00 to see if I could see a misty morning scene to paint. Everything was blurry except foreground Sweet Gale and Alder bushes, and the bright flecks of foam floating lazily down from the mouth of a creek, or the churning canyon of La Grande Chute. I took a few photos and went up to breakfast, during which the sun burned through, heralding another hot day.

Now at 09:30 all the mist is gone, leaving a blue haze on the forested hills and a white haze in the sky, with a faintest tint of blue overhead and a brassy glare to the east… and that’s my morning scene, to the east. My focal point will be the glossy black river where it snakes past the far end of a narrow island, between a leaning White Pine and a golden-tipped stand of grasses, backed by the blue forest and it’s downswept skyline against the bright brassy sky.

As I sit on my log to write this, a sturdy black Dragonfly darts and hovers, turns to dart again and hover, above its perfect reflection and. water Striders dart about erratically, hunting the surface for erratically, leaving a brief wake with each thrust. For 20 minutes I watched one, then another - three individuals - a darting white mote on dark hill reflection and darting black mote on sky reflection, and saw them pounce on small flying insects that came to the surface. But what eats Water Striders? In all the time I watched, many sudden concentric rings appeared - fish snatching some tiny unfortunate from the surface, but none of the Water Striders I followed were captured from below.

As I write a “splurp” makes me glance up quickly - to see nothing but the ripples left by something going down. Perhaps I was being watched by a Muskrat or an Otter. Whatever it was stayed underwater or travelled out of sight. A Pike wouldn’t be interested in Water Striders, would it? In the distance Blue Jays carry on a raucous family conversation. A no-See-Um drills into my wrist, a painful winged speck, easily crushed into nothing.

10:40 and the sun has become very hot, and combined with rainforest-like humidity, painting here at the river-edge is impossible - so I’m retreating several metres into the cool piney shade by my tent to paint this morning scene from photos. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Helleborine Orchid


25 July 2021 finds me finishing my watercolour of Helleborine Orchid. It has been a patient and robust subject, as it came up in a handful of grass as Fred weeded the garden on 17 July and I've had it in water, waiting to be painted, then being painted - in increments... Fred labelled and pressed it today. It had finished opening all of its flowers.  

The first time I saw Helleborine was in a campground south of Tobermory on Ontario's Bruce Peninsula. I was amazed at all it's tiny fierce Lion-faces! I painted it - a very pale greenish individual, which was growing in the shade - and published it as the August page in my Wild Seasons Daybook. 

Here is some information we've found about this interesting plant:

Epipactis helleborine, the broad-leaved helleborine, is a terrestrial species of orchid with a broad distribution. It is a long lived herb which varies morphologically with ability to self-pollinate. ...widespread across much of Europe and Asia, from Portugal to China, as well as northern Africa. In North America, it is an introduced species and widely naturalized mostly in the Northeastern United States, eastern Canada and the Great Lakes Region, but also in scattered locations in other parts of the continent, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and the San Francisco Bay Area. In the US it is sometimes referred to as the "weed orchid" or "weedy orchid."

Found in woods and hedge-banks and often not far from paths near human activity. It is one of the most likely European orchids to be found within a city, with many sites for example in Glasgow, London and Moscow. Sometimes spotted beside car parks. ... known for its successful colonization of human-made or anthropogenic habitats such as parks, gardens or roadsides. These roadside orchids exhibit special features such as large plant size and greater ability to produce flowers - -

There is also information about how difficult it is to eradicate - but we wonder why one would want to...

Jean Gregson wrote in Field Botanists of Ontario: 

"My experience is that it pops up in odd places all around our yard (west island Montreal) although not in great numbers. The individual plants last only one or two seasons so there's never more than three or four around in any one season. I'm inclined to agree the 'invasive' label refers to the fact that it is non-native, rather than an aggressive spreader."

This original 5 x 6 inch watercolour is available to purchase. 
For more information, or to purchase a print, please contact Aleta 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Ponera Ants on Cladonia

Ponera Ants on Cladonia (8 x 8 in. watercolour)

10 August 2017 found me in Spednic Lake Protected Natural Area, near McAdam, New Brunswick, following Aaron Fairweather around as he collected ants. Traveling light that year, I had decided that all my paintings for the New Brunswick Museum's BiotaNB survey would be in watercolour - a couple of scenes, and several wildflowers... and this painting of a few of the ants we collected, shown exploring a tuft of the Gray Reindeer Lichen, Cladonia rangiferina that was growing near their nest.

Ponera pennsylvanica live in small colonies of no more than 60 workers, under stones and in rotting wood, foraging out singly for mites, springtails, and small insects. They are very tiny ants, only about 2.5 mm in length, so I was able to use one of the museum's microscopes to begin the painting in the BiotaNB lab set up in the Lion's Hall in downtown McAdam. For lifelike poses I referred to YouTube videos of this species in captive colonies. 

I spent hours watching videos of Ponera colonies, and capturing frames as reference photos. They have short legs which they hold close to their bodies, looking almost worm-like in their movements. What flexible bodies they have, able to bend in half to turn around in one of their tunnels! 

When I set my microscope up at home, to resume the painting, I found that its large objective lens was corroded, and that replacing it would cost as much as a new 'scope. After a couple of years of indecision, I decided to borrow one from my good friend Greg Hutton, and have finally finished the painting, working with specimens I had brought from New Brunswick. I added a fourth ant to improve the composition. Alternately peering through the scope and focusing on my painting, I realized that when it comes to painting detailed subjects, I'm a glutton for punishment!

I asked Aaron for more information about this species, and this is what he wrote: "Ponera is a genus of ants that shares more ancestral characteristics than any other ant group, making it a good reference for what early ants looked and behaved like. Their back facing, curled stinger is indicative of a highly predatory species of ant. The major characteristic we use to identify Ponera is a constriction of the first segment of the gaster. This constriction is likely what turned into the post-petiole in all other myrmicinae, which is a really cool evolutionary trait! Ponera are typically also nomadic, they don't maintain one permanent nest, rather move locations frequently. The Ponera pennsylvanica I found in spednic weren't new records for the province but they were for that area and PNA". 

Ants are just starting to get attention in the maritimes thanks to the work of Aaron Fairweather and several other early-career entomologists. Ants in the martimes are fairly unknown, and Aaron's work is the first ever assessment of ants in New Brunswick. So far he and his colleagues have found 88 species of ants to call New Brunswick their homes, and new species each year - a rich diversity of species that traverses dozens of habitat types, from dulotic (slave-making) ants, to social parasites, to bog specialists and nomads like the Ponera

Here is a portrait that I painted for the New Brunswick Museum, of Aaron in August, 2016, when BiotaNB was in the with a small vial of ants that he had just picked off the stick that he is holding. We were in Nepisiguit Protected Natural Area near  Mount Carleton, in northwestern New Brunswick that year.
"Aaron and the Ants" (oil on canvas, 8 x 8 in.)

My paintings "Ponera Ants on Cladonia" and " Aaron and the Ants" are in the permanent collection of the New Brunswick Museum.

Aleta Karstad

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Resident Chipmunk

"Resident Chipmunk" (oil on birch panel 6 x 6 in.)
On 14 March 2020 our resident Chipmunk was out - sitting pertly on the mossy hump of carpet that marks our dry well just outside the kitchen window. He didn't stay long, but scampered up past the Red Currant bushes and popped into a small round hole just below our Asparagus patch. This was probably its home burrow for the winter, and had me wondering whether Chipmunks eat the roots of Asparagus!

19 March finds me painting the scene, sitting against the house wall, all wrapped up and settled on cushions, my first plein air of the year.

As soon as I have the underpainting done, a rough sketch scratched into it with the tail end of my brush, and the mossy green hump of carpet laid in with its halo of red sporophytes, I refer to the photo of the Chipmunk on my phone, and paint in the Chipmunk.

A flock of 40 Canada Geese just flew over the village, clamouring - their V much longer on the west side than the east. As I  finished counting them, a loud scuffle of claws on shingle burst out on my left, and a Red Squirrel exploded into a squeaky, hiccoughing tirade, berating me for camping too close to its entrance. It moved to the Grand Fir to continue scolding, but stayed hidden. 

The snow patches have disappeared except for the one where snow and ice have slid off the roof, just to my left. Ice is showing, a grey border all around its edges and the snow's dimpled surface is dotted with black specks and sprinkled with fir seeds shaped like tiny soaring Red-tailed Hawks. 

The Starlings are practicing the calls of other birds in the Manitoba Maples. They haven’t begun nesting yet, just talking about it. Mourning Doves call, repeating their gentle notes, three the same. 

6:30 Suddenly I hear a rustling in the grass and leaves at the base of one of the Currant bushes, and then appear two small gray beasties in some kind of altercation. They are about the size of large Meadow Mice - but slate gray, not brown. At first I thought they might be moles - they are so large, but not black enough. I didn’t hear any squeaking. One of them scampers toward the drain pipe from the eaves troughs, which is right beside me, and disappears. The world is full of drama, little and big!

Daylight is waning, turning that subtle shade of cloudy day lilac, and Robins call peevishly, not the familiar vesper song, but an irritable, scolding stataco. The ground is beginning to soften - I wonder if they’ve been able to find any worms yet. 

As I lose the daylight, I paint faster, trying to get as much of the underpainting covered as possible before having to stop and pack up. 


Thursday, January 30, 2020


"Musselscape" (oil on birch panel 12 x 24 in.)

29 January 2020 finds me finally putting my signature on this oil painting of a scattering of native mussel shells on the shore of the St Lawrence River near Montreal. This commission has been dragging on through various events and illnesses since I painted most of it in October at my parents' place in Westbank, British Columbia.

My client tells me that he has always been impressed with how brightly coloured the mussels are at this location. Fred and I have often found the same kinds of variants expressed (in shape, thickness, or colour) within the mussel community at a site. The extreme expressed in this community is the intensity of colour in the 'nacre', or pearly inner shell.

It was useful to be able to refer to the shells that he sent to me, but the scene was painted mainly from his photos. The water was still in the photo, but the more I worked on it, the more it moved under my brush - so here you the scene after a wavelet has sloshed up and is trickling back through the rocks and shells. The leaves are stranded, their fall finished. But the shells, though trapped motionless among the rocks, I see as if they are stopped in one rhythmic movement of a waltz, in which they'd been flaunting glowing silks and satins, flaring tartans and glossy leather. I never know when a dance is going to break out in one of my paintings.

Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

For more information about available original paintings, commissioning originals, or ordering prints, please contact Aleta 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Winter Birches by the Rideau River

"Winter Birches by the Rideau River" (oil on birch panel 5x7 in.)
On the morning of 26 December 2019, the old snow covering the softening ice on the Rideau twinkles brightly between the young Maples along the river edge, while the older Paper Birches show all their different tones and colours of white, and I'm fascinated by this contrast. Our earlier explorations of these woods along the river revealed a diversity of the 'spring ephemeral' wildflower species which are so missing in so many of eastern Ontario's plantation or second-growth woods.

I was inspired to paint something foresty for my birthday, by our friend Bev Wigney, who, as part of the struggle to preserve mature forests in Nova Scotia from clear cutting, had called Boxing Day 'Take Back the Forest Day.' - encouraging everyone to document some aspect of a local forest. Bev's group had gone out to the little peninsula between Corbett and Dalhousie lakes, about 10 kilometres south of Bridgetown, which they had saved from clear-cutting by pointing out to the province that nesting Birds were protected from disturbance by the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

As I lay down tree trunks over my violet-grey underpainting I listen for sounds through the open car window. My mind's ear, waiting for bird sound, picks up the squeak of a tree but it's not the "peep" of a foraging Chickadee. The woods are as silent as the ice-bound river beyond. 

The older forest behind me had originally been a provincial tree nursery, but when the Harris government decided to get out of trees in 1997, the newly amalgamated municipality of North Grenville took over the forest station as a not-for-profit. The web page of the Ferguson Tree Nursery says about itself: "The nursery grows native and proven non-invasive naturalized trees and woody shrubs hardy for the south-central and eastern Ontario climate as well as the south western Quebec climate."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Little Fall at High Falls

"Little Fall at High Falls" (oil on Birch panel 8 x 8 inches)

22 September 2019 finds me at High Falls on the South Nation River near Casselman, Ontario, with Fred and painting companion Charlotte King. Charlotte and I don't know what to expect at a place named "High Falls", here in the apparently flat landscape of far-eastern Ontario. Certainly as we arrive, there is no high waterfall to be seen! But as Fred explains, the South Nation River flows over a series of sills on its way to the Ottawa River, and this is a long, gradual one.

The water is low since our summer drought, pooling above the hydro dam by the Conservation Area parking lot, and trickling over a spillway into a quiet shallow catchment, thence into a network of cracks and channels in the flat bedrock of the dry riverbed. Each crack is lined with tall grass that screens naturally stone-paved "rooms" from each other. The rock then subsides into a wide water mirror, reflecting every detail of the forested far shore. We thread our way along the bank under overhanging trees, to the ruins of the old bridge.

There Charlotte and I disport ourselves in photography. The long curved branches of a tree caught by the eroded footings fascinate me. Even a mat of floating algae is gorgeous, pushed together like carded wool in a tapestry, each strand a different colour of yellow or green.

We eventually follow Fred, who is some way ahead, having become a tiny part of a broad vista of flat, sloping limestone - and then we discover the hidden wonders of High Falls - deep narrow fissures in the solid bedrock that channel the flow of the South Nation River - invisible from a distance, but surprising and enchanting to come upon. I take a video of a rotating pan of foam being spun by the current at the intersection of two of these channels. Charlotte and I delight in miniature waterfalls, some wide, and some narrow, spilling over the edges of tipped-up slabs of limestone. After we wander from wonder to wonder, we try to decide which to paint, taking photos of everything, including the sky's high mackerel clouds, as colours soften toward evening. Finally I settle down to paint one of these little falls.

September dusks fall early. We lost the light after barely a couple of hours. Charlotte had painted the  riverbed with three trickles coming over a shelf, the ledge along the shore, and autumn-coloured riverine forest against the sky,

...but my complicated little waterfall scene was barely recognizable and would need a lot more work! Finished now, it lacks the simplicity of a painting done entirely "en plein air". As with so many of my close-up landscapes, I find myself surprised by the amount of detail required for the painting  to explain itself - for all the brush strokes it takes to express the difference between rock and water, and between rock and dried algae. I must admit, my favourite bit is the tiny pink-flowered knotweed in the foreground!

As Fred appeared with bags full of drift and shells, and sat beside me in his wet pants & socks, Charlotte and I packed up. We'd spent a wonderful day in a splendid place, and promised each other to paint again at High Falls.

Fred's notes are as follows:

"In its course through the clay deposits of the prehistoric Champlain Sea, the South Nation River flows down across a number of limestone bedrock steps or sills - Spencerville, Ventnor, Chesterville, Crysler, Plantagenet, and Jessups Falls - but the highest of these is High Falls in Casselman. The arrival of Zebra Mussels in 2000 drastically changed the biota of the river, and collections made there since 1997 document that change.
"... a Turkey Vulture & a Great Blue Heron, the rattling of Kingfishers, an Osprey with prey, and flocks of Killdeer and of Lesser & Greater Yellowlegs fattening themselves for migration by picking the abundant Physa snails off the surface of the pale green algal blankets. 

"Plants growing in the cracks of the limestone were Purple Loosestrife, with a used-up, nearly-leafless look & reddish coloration from the herbivory of Galerucella biocontrol Beetles, scattered Giant Ragweed, and Knotweed & Wild Mint tangled in the lower levels of 2 m tall Reed Canary GrassFlowering-rush along shore was mostly in pod with a few blooms, and at the foot of the falls, Sandbar Willow dominated the places where soil had accumulated (species in bold italic are, despite their loveliness, loathsome invasive aliens). Duckweeds (mostly Lemna minor, with some Spirodela polyrhiza) were interesting in occurring in vividly green patches & piles on algal flats 
where one plant had apparently stranded when the water went down in the spring and produced a heap of offspring on top of the wet algal mats. 

"The water flows in cracks or seeps across the surface, providing habitat for the pale green algal blankets. These were about 10 cm thick, and stinkingly anoxic just 2-4 cm below the surface. They are dotted with little Physa Tadpole Snails, safe here from predation by fish, although vulnerable to the migratory shorebirds.

"We found a few shells of Unionids, didn't see any Mystery Snails (I had found our first record of Banded Mysteries here in 2016, and Chinese Mysteries are in Hess Creek upstream, and expected to soon be in the river), and didn't see any living Zebras, though their shells, presumably from the river upstream of the falls, were strewn everywhere across the bedrock. 

"The west bank of the falls is slabby grey limestone, with a big zone of spring-drifted twigs & branches, one corner of which provided a sample of land snails. Where Manitoba Maple trees reach over crowded Buckthorn and Honeysuckle on the edge of the open riverbed, the slabs are green with Sedum, including Sedum spurium (Two-row Stonecrop), which, as in 2016, was rich in land snail shells, including many of the Succineidae which recent study has rendered almost unidentifiable. 

"The general homogeneity of the scene was broken by a pool near the foot of the falls, surrounded by Zizania palustris (Northern Wild-rice) more than 2 metres tall, with a few residual seeds in their heads, and big Helisoma campanulatum (Bell-mouth Ramshorn) snails all over the muddy bottom of the open water - both species not seen elsewhere around the falls. The only Amphibian seen was one Leopard Frog on bedrock near an algal flow, though a few jump-in squeaks of Green Frogs were heard. We finished up at dusk, as overcast moved in, locking in the heat of the day at 27°C, and at 24-25°C for the drive home."

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Making it Across

"Making it Across, Spednic Snapping Turtle" (oil on canvas 10 x 10 in.)

It's a hard life, being a turtle! I painted this portrait of a Snapping Turtle, from a photo taken by Don McAlpine of the New Brunswick Museum, in June last year at the BiotaNB survey of Spednic Protected Natural Area, near McAdam, NB. It was crossing the road at the bridge over Diggity Stream.

I've shown a thin strip of riverbank beneath the truck, and a reflection of part of the bridge in the chrome bumper, but most of the painting is devoted to the task at hand - Making it Across. The truck, in the original photo, was parked on the far side of the road, but in planning the painting, I took a reference photo of a truck wheel from a more ominous perspective - that of a crossing turtle. I wanted it to look as if the driver has rolled up close to watch it cross and to hurry it along. Or maybe the truck is threatening the plodding reptile - defending the road as Truck Territory.

Snappers raise their bodies up on surprisingly long legs as they walk, giving a sort of Dinosaur impression as they cross roads - which you can see from a distance, before the turtle crouches at your approach. You've really got to be driving distractedly, to not notice an adult Snapping Turtle, but sometimes they're hit deliberately - by truck, or gun, or even with whatever weapon is at hand, as there's still a persistent folk-myth about Snappers feasting on ducklings.

As Wolves with Deer, swampy lurkers prey on the outliers and the weakest - but the parents of Ducklings are quite capable of keeping enough of their little ones safe, and raise a nestful of progeny  each year during their several-year lifespan. The nests of turtles, on the other hand, are persistently wiped out most years, especially when they use traditional nesting sites well-known to Racoons,  Skunks, and Coyotes. These efficient predator/scavengers leave not one egg behind when they dig up a nest. When you see a large Snapping Turtle patiently dropping eggs into a hole that she's dug in a gravelly road shoulder, remember that this is an individual who may be older than your grandmother. The largest mamas may be centenarians! Through the many decades of her life, how many nests have escaped predation, and of those, how many hatchlings have survived to dig their own nests?

Everything that isn't vegetarian will eat baby Snapping Turtles whenever they find them - Herons, Water Snakes, Mink, Otter, some fish, and especially Bull Frogs. Even adult Snappers are vulnerable to natural predators while hibernating. Coyotes and Otters eat whatever parts they can reach of a cold and helpless turtle who perhaps did not bury itself well enough for the winter, or was exposed when water levels dropped. That's what happened to the Snapper I've painted - it's front foot and at least one hind toe on the right are missing. The longest-studied population of Snapping Turtles in Canada, at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Centre, suffered 50% mortality by River Otter predation in the winters of 1986–1989, when Otters were eating the eggs out of hibernating females. In the quarter century since those fateful years, the population has failed to recover, despite careful observation and protection of many nests from predators.  (information from Keevil, M. G., R. J. Brooks, and J. D. Litzgus. 2018. Post-catastrophe patterns of abundance and survival reveal no evidence of population recovery in a long-lived animal. Ecosphere 9(9):21 pp.)

Baby Snappers emerge in the fall from gravel road shoulders near creeks and wetlands. Since they are so small, it's hard to count those that get squashed by vehicles unless you're walking and looking for them - so the percentage of hatchlings that are killed on roads would be hard to know.

Snapping Turtles are listed as a Species At Risk, despite their wide occurrence, just because it isn't known how their populations work, and what their potential is for surviving as a species in the face of road mortality.

This little one was picked up by Fred from the road at the Fly Creek bridge, near New Dublin, Ontario, shortly after it emerged on 2 September. After taking its picture, we  released it in the creek.

Congratulations on having made it across again this year, big mama Snapper - here's wishing you many successful nests and lucky nestlings!

My painting "Making it Across, Spednic Snapping Turtle" is in the permanent collection of the New Brunswick Museum.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Fish Images Emerging, #2

White Perch Emerging (watercolour, 8 x 5 in.)
Here are three more "progress images" from the freshwater fish I painted this spring for the New Brunswick Museum, to be published by the Department of Fisheries & Oceans in their identification cards series. The finished paintings are "biological illustrations", but the stage in which each painting emerges from the paper, is Art.
Golden Shiner Emerging (watercolour, 8 x 5 in.)
I have no "formula" for painting fish scales across different species. Some have regular rows of scales, with well-defined scale margins, but even then, the rows curve, and increase and decrease like rows of knitting - behind the head, toward the tail, and sometimes in the middle. Then there are those species in which scale row irregularities vary between individuals, and those whose scales, although arranged in rows, are so thin and transparent that the edges are not visible - just the impressions the rows make in the skin. Some fish are more iridescent than others, and many show very little iridescence while underwater, so I had to make the decision to paint all of the iridescent species as seen out of the water - the situation in which most humans view fish anyway. The Blacknose Dace has such fine, thin scales, that their edges are invisible, and the scales in different parts of the body are pigmented differently
Blacknose Dace Emerging (watercolour 5 x 8 in.)
Each of my reference photos showed an individual fish differently, in position and condition, as well as in angle and colour of light, so I constantly flipped through all of the photos I could find, to paint each fish as representative as possible of its species. I read about their life histories and got an almost tangible sense of their mass and shape, muscularity and texture, the stiffness or softness of their fins, the breadth of their heads, the shapes of their mouths, the details of their eyes - and gradually felt more and more a part of each species as I painted it. It was no longer "other", but as familiar to me as a family member - as Fred wrote in his song when I was painting snakes in the 1980's - "...bind another species' spirit to your own".

These three fish are the second part of my series of larger-than-life "Fish Emerging" prints on watercolour paper or stretched canvas. Contact Aleta

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Fish Images Emerging

Smallmouth Bass Emerging (watercolour, 8x4 in.)

In June 2019 I finished the last of 20 fish watercolours to be published as identification cards by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I remember feeling daunted by the task when the New Brunswick Museum asked me if I would do it, especially since I would be responsible for finding my own photographic reference for all of them.

I began in January, and with each painting, I learned more about googling up a useful selection of reference photos, what it feels like to be a fish of each species, and with each painting, further developed techniques for counting and painting scales, drawing and painting fins, and showing different kinds of iridescence.

Largemouth Bass Emerging (watercolour, 8 x 4 in.)

I like to keep track of my progress on a painting, by photographing each stage. First I make a complete drawing in pencil, and then I start to paint at the head, working toward the tail. There is usually a stage in the process, where the fish seems to be physically emerging from the paper. Sometimes I became so absorbed that I didn't stop in time - but there were about half a dozen images in the 20 fish paintings where I managed to capture that moment of emergence. Here are the first three of my series of six. These images can teach you how to paint fish!

Yellow Perch Emerging (watercolour 5 x 4 in.)
Although my completed paintings have been deposited in the New Brunswick Museum and their images, with clear white backgrounds, have been sent to DFO for publication, the emergent images, with their pencil lines and paper backgrounds are my own to present as fine art. I am making them available for purchase as 18 x 24 inch prints, considerably enlarged from the miniature watercolours 

Watch for another set of three "emergent fish" to complete the series of 6. 
To order: "Fish Emerging" prints on watercolour paper or stretched canvas. Contact Aleta

Monday, August 12, 2019

Artist on the Dumoine

"Artist on the Dumoine" (oil on birch panel 6 x 12 in)

3 August 2019 finds me on the river bank a few minutes' walk from this year's DRAW (Dumoine River Artists for Wilderness) camp. Bonnie McQuillan is sitting near a magnificent Red Pine, painting the a downstream scene on a small canvas. On her easel is a larger painting, which she'd been working on in the morning - and I am painting her.

The water is clear but rich with tannins from being fed through leaf litter and peat over a vast forested watershed of 1,776 square kilometres drained by tributaries into the Dumoine. Its channel is so deep here that it soon descends from bright golden over cobbles to black. A bright sand bar and another of cobbles make brilliant streaks along the far bank, where an eddy makes the river flow back against itself. Mark and Phil are playing in the current, letting the strong flow in the centre convey them quickly past us to the right, about 200 metres down till their heads are just dots, and then they strike out toward the far shore and catch a slower current back.

There are several small cabins here on a high bank under pines and maples, and in the shade, the breeze feels cool, though it's several degrees warmer in the sunny clearing of our camp in the woods. This year's toadlet hops away from my feet as I shift my position on the pine-needled ground.

4 August: Returning to the spot to continue in the same afternoon light, first I wander up to the main cabin to see where our swimming artists descend by a stairway to the water's edge. Scott Haig, our camp photographer is there, and we both experiment with taking photos from a low angle, to capture the whole of the golden shallows, the sky reflecting on deep water, and the forested hills upriver.

Then I noticed an exquisite River Jewelwing damselfly landing on one of the stones... subject for a future painting.

This year 17 artists were invited to participate in the 6-day DRAW art camp in support of CPAWS Ottawa Valley's campaign for conservation of the Dumoine River wilderness. Watch for more paintings from the Dumoine. Our exhibitions and art auction is planned for the spring of 2020.

Friday, July 19, 2019

New Brunswick Pseudoscorpion

"New Brunswick Pseudoscorpion" (oil on birch panel 12 x 16 in.)

On 28 June 2019, two days into this year’s BiotaNB survey as “Resident Artist” in the Kennedy Lakes Protected Natural Area, I found myself sliding down through the ocular tubes of a microscope, into the worlds of Rotifers and Water Bears. 

As the botanists, returning to the lab trailer from their field excursions, identified their collections of fungi, mosses, and Liverworts, one of them called my attention to a Pseudoscorpion he’d found wandering among tiny mosses as if they were trees and bushes. 

Pseudoscorpions are tiny predators, catching and eating anything smaller than themselves - mites, nematodes, and tiny larvae of this and that. The Pseudoscorpion we see most often is a little larger than the one I’ve painted here - the indoors species, Chelifer cancroides, is a welcome symbiont in pantry and closets.
This one is as yet unidentified - the shape and proportions of claws to cephalothorax, the numbers of leg segments, and the placement of the sensory bristles on the claws may give a clue, IF it is a known species... but when you find microscopic life in as remote a place as the middle of New Brunswick, over 50 km from the nearest town, it just might be something new. 

My painting shows the Pseudoscorpion in its natural setting - on part of the moss sample in which it was found - but painting it there was not as easy as it looks. If released to photograph there, I would have lost sight of it right away among the microscopic acres of mosses and liverworts. 

Attempting to place the delicate killed specimen there, I would have broken it with the blunt spike of the finest insect pin. So instead, I positioned it digitally - cutting and pasting my photo of the living beastie onto one of my photos of the moss sample. I used this composite to rough out the painting, and then captured details of the animal (now in alcohol, and no longer scuttling about) and finishing the moss, both through the ‘scope. Needless to say, it took me the first half of the two-week BiotaNB camp to accomplish this. 

New Brunswick Pseudoscorpion has now joined my other oils and watercolours in the “Aleta Karstad collection” of the New Brunswick Museum, painted over the past 10 years at its annual biological survey camps in NB's "Natural Protected Areas".

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Winter Creek With Cedars

Winter Creek With Cedars (oil on birch panel 6 x 6 in.)

26 December 2018 finds me doing my "Birthday painting" on the ice of the creek that Cooks' lane runs along, while Fred helps Joyce to cut our firewood from standing dead Elms and Ashes. We are at the southeastern corner of Wolford Township, 4 km southwest of our home in Bishops Mills. About 100 metres upstream of Land of Nod Road, the creek is narrow, its current maintaining a stretch of open water. 

As I sit quietly painting, I can hear the water make a deep swallowing noice from beneath the ice just across from me. The slowly rising water must have pushed some air from an under-ice pocket as it creeps infinitesimally up over the softening edges. As I paint, the 'coastline' subtly changes. The weather has been warming, and the snow that is falling now will turn to rain this evening.

In a pause between bouts of sawing I hear scritchy, grating sounds from somewhere behind me as the sharp teeth of a Red Squirrel cut through the hard shell of one of the nuts they have gathered and stored from the row of Black Walnut trees in the Cooks' yard. We have not seen the squirrels themselves, (there are fewer as this is the second winter since the bird feeders were taken down) but there are some biggish tracks that may even be Gray Squirrel in the shallow snow, and a couple of nests ('drays') made of leaves in the tops of trees.

The woodcutting has finished, and Fred comes to rest on the snowy ice beside me. A Red Squirrel chirrs from the edge of the field across the creek, and after a while, we hear the soft "Ank, ank, ank" call of a Nuthatch from the direction of the house. My umbrella, its pole held between my knees as I sit on my painting caddy, is now covered with snow, and it's a good thing that the air is calm. There have been times when breezes have driven snow flakes up under the umbrella to stick to my palette and brushes and even the paintings!
Fred mentions that he's noticed a fair number of Hypsizygus ulmarius (Manitoba Maple Knothole Oyster) frozen, drooping, on Manitoba Maple knotholes. 

Joyce uses her chainsaw to cut the wood, but only does this when someone is with her, so Fred and I  play a big role in forest sanitation in the woods along the creek. This creekside was rough pasture when Cooks bought the place in 1972, but it grew up in Elm and some Manitoba Maple. The Manitoba Maples have been overtopped by Ashes, and the the young Elms have now been mostly killed by Dutch Elm Disease (Elms being most of the trees we cut). The Elm canopy spaces have been filled up by rapidly growing Ashes, which are now threatened by Emerald Ash Borer. When this tiny slim metallic green bark beetle shows up here, the woods will soon be dominated by Black Walnuts from squirrel-borne nuts, a second generation of resistant Elms, and whatever else can germinate among the ground cover of young Frangulus Buckthorn. 

There are a few Sugar Maples, a planted Red Oak, a large Black Cherry very dear to Joyce, and planted Black Locusts (along the edge of the field), so we'll have to see if all of these produce progeny when the Ashes die. Older stems of Cathartic Buckthorn which Joyce has spared because the Bohemian Waxwings eat the fruit in late winter, are scattered through the woods. They are now stunted by the overshadowing Ashes, and today one was cut which had died, astonishing Joyce's saw by how hard the wood was. One big tree/shrub in the centre of the stand, with more berries than most, retained a full crown of green leaves. Most Buckthorn everywhere have very few berries this year. 

As the painting was winding up (16h49), after a lull from the snow when there was no precipitation, a breeze began, and a bit of drizzle began to fall in the barely-below-freezing air. As I folded my umbrella, it dumped its load of snow - partly onto my palette! We are back at home now, getting my paints out to touch up the edges of ice and fill in a bit of Cedar... and I need to get out to help Fred do something about the way the woodshed is now completely filled with uncut lengths of logs. . .


Monday, September 17, 2018

La Grande Chute From the Bridge

La Grande Chute From the Bridge (oil on birch panel, 5 x 7 in.)

5 August 2018 found me painting from the bridge, looking at the west bank of the Dumoine River as it rushes down La Grande Chute, on the last painting day of the DRAW artists retreat.

The day began in fog, and I was out early to see the river in a different light. I investigated the shore upstream of the bridge on the west side, where the rising sun was burning through the mist above the glassy surface of a slower part of the river as it passes a small treed island. No painting, just photos for a potential painting... Then I took some photos looking upstream from the bridge on the east side, where a majestic Cedar sweeps its branches over whitewater beginning its rush to the Chute... then turned to look downstream as the pearly light of early morning tinted the river and the sky in subtle pinks and blues - a subject more suited to a larger painting, and I had only a few small panels to choose from.

Phil Chadwick was already on his second painting, standing at the east end of the bridge, and Mark Patton was happily situated among the rocks where the bridge meets the west shore,on the downstream side, starting a painting of rocks and water.

There was still a little morning mist bluing the distance downriver when I finally chose my scene from near the centre of the bridge span. I set up my stool, umbrella, and paint box close against the bridge railing, so as not to take up too much room, as the occasional vehicle picked its way past me between holes and weak spots in the wooden deck of the bridge.

I love the way the river spills in sheets over edges, catching the light like clear yellow glass. The repeating patterns of foam-streaked waves, and the churning and leaping of whitewater perform a dance that I could watch forever.

I painted quickly and steadily until around noon, not thinking much, or writing any observations, as the day was quickly turning hotter than yesterday - and there was no shade on the bridge except for my umbrella.

Here is what the painting looked like when I stopped around noon. Except for the untended underpainting left in the centre of the treed riverbank, it is an acceptable plein air sketch. But when I got it home I finished it with more detail than would have been possible onsite.

When I carried my gear back to the car, I stopped to visit with Phil and Mark in the shade, where Phil was working on his third painting of the morning. Some of us are faster than others!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

La Grande Chute Gorge

La Grande Chute Gorge (oil on birch panel, 4x4 in.)

4 August 2018 finds me looking down into the gorge, part way down La Grande Chute on the Dumoine Rive in Quebec. I have hiked the east side trail downriver with Jennifer, one of the DRAW retreat artists, until it ends at a lookout, just at the narrowest part of the gorge. 

Here all of the leaping churning water of the Dumoine, frothing white and twisting golden like pulled taffy, plunges deep and black into the gorge. The cliffs on either side are swallowing the river - and far to my left, I see were it emerges, broad, blue, and gleaming in the sun. 

I’m sitting on the springy trunk of a recently broken young Pine, the rest of which extends out over the chasm. The view I've chosen, straight down into the gorge, noisy with the Chute’s millions of watery voices, includes a gnarly dwarf cedar, perched on the brink just beyond a puffy mat of Cladonia lichen bristly with Pine needles. 

Clinging to the rocks of the other side are a couple of slender White Birches, which I can see with my binoculars, as well as some Polypody ferns. A pair of dead White Cedars sweep their ghostly gray branches toward the bare rocks, and in contrast, my artist's eye appreciates the foliage of the living Cedars beside it as neat and rounded - green flakes feathering out of darkness. Higher on the cliffs, White Pines emerge from the Cedars to plume against the sky. 

I choose a dark red oxide, "Indian red" for underpainting, and work steadily, determined to make the most of the time before the light changes. The day has been hazy and hot wih a light breeze, and after four hours of painting, the sun has come around to glare under the edge of my umbrella and reflects off my palette, blinding me to the tones in my painting. 

So although for the past hour I’ve been “not quitting yet” in order to fill in one more feature of the cliff face or one more standing wave or blue reflection on slick black water - even holding my painting up inside the umbrella to see it better away from the glare - it’s finally time to give in and pack up. My palette knife and empty thermos which have long ago lost their shade are too hot to touch.  This is as far as I've gotten - I will finish it from my reference photos. 

Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

The 6 x 6 inch original oil painting, "La Grande Chute Gorge" will be exhibited at Coronation Hall in Bristol, Quebec, from Oct 5 - 8, and then offered for sale in a fundraising art auction by the Ottawa Valley Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. If you would like to be notified about either of these venues, please contact Aleta