Growing Back (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) Sold

7 September finds me perched atop a white granite boulder, near Crawford Bridge, Nova Scotia, my knees and paint box crowding a Chokeberry bush, to paint a little Spruce tree in the lee of another boulder. It has a mop-like crown of little branches each competing to be the new leader, and at its feet are several younger Spruces doing their best to grow straight and true with lots of light but very little nutrient.

I had at first thought that the clearcut was pretty recent, but the wood is very weathered, suggesting that it's a least a decade old. The exposed soil, barren wood, and trampled ground have not been re-covered by moss. In a rich soil the birch and Maple sprouts would be only a couple of years old, but here, with so much rock and so little soil, the forest was its own nutrient bank, and between the removal of nutrients in wood, and the massive effux of dissolution and erosion that accompanies logging (there is no original organic soil present) those nutrients are gone, and the plants are growing very slowly.

I expect that the butt of the log and the bare granite rock that are here in the foreground will enhance the impression of congestion and also provide a sense of tension and conflict.

This is a challenging painting, as there is so much happening - so much chaos and disorganization and shapes coming and going every which way. I underpainted it in burnt sienna to provide immediacy and contrast, to enhance the appearance of busyness and confusion... and now I have to pull the painting together in spite of it. That's partly what's challenging! I find that I'm often choosing the hardest route to completion of a painting by my choice of colour for underpainting, but if I can pull it off, I'm glad I did it that way. It would be boring for both me and you if I just did easy paintings.

There's so much grey and green here that if I just made the underpainting one of my purplish or blueish greys, with the other dominant colour being that undernourished-spruce green, I'd have to try to find all the bits of burnt sienna in the scene to give it some life. I've chosen instead to start with the burnt sienna. All the way through the process of painting this scene, the hot, lively colour of the underpainting is still here to provide excitement, and it's my job to cover it up with spruce and bark and wood and rock colours until the painting works.

When the sun comes out full, it's very hot out here on my rock. As the afternoon progresses most of the cloud that I first painted behind the main Spruce, lightens, and the day becomes "partly cloudy". This place is only about 3 kilometres from the woods at Brandy Spring, but it feels to me like a different world. The word for world WAS forest....

Fred notes: "Coming up from our old-bridge campsite is a track up the clay, gravel and rock slope into a clearcut with Black Chokeberry and Low-Bush Blueberry (both of which seem to have had their tops bitten off by Bears earlier in the year), and especially Kalmia angustifolia (Sheep Laurel), springing up around the white granite boulders. There's a scattering of bracken and various weedy herbs, as well. I later collected a tiny Alnus (Alder) just below the boulder from which the painting was done.  I had scouted this slope earlier, and been impressed by the pavements of crushed wood among the boulders, the sparseness of the shrub cover, and the upspringing Birches, with evident hybridization between Betula populifolia (Gray Birch) and Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch)". 


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