Cedars With New Snow (oil on canvas 12 x 16 in.) Sold

26 December finds me climbing over the paigewire fence into our woodlot. This is easier than going in where the Ash and icestorm-broken Trembling Aspen grow by the gate. Here the trees are taller, shading open spaces where I can walk - the paths made by Fred and Jennifer as they salvaged wood after the 1998 ice storm. I follow Hare tracks until they join another Hare track where the snow is trampled beneath a low-hanging Cedar branch. Young Cedars are filling in an old opening, their leafy boughs cloaked with new snow, right to the ground. This will be my painting.

Having established my woodsy studio with ground sheet, cushion and blanket, I lean against the springy dead trunk that serves for a back rest, looking up at the lively shapes in my chosen composition, and begin to plan how to paint it. This takes several minutes of motionless contemplation. My breathing is the only noise in the still cold forest space, muffled by snowy branches.
Finally a decision... burnt sienna will support the bright snow of the background treetops, while contrasting nicely with a pale violet base coat for the shadowed, heavily laden boughs in the foreground.

The upper part of the painting, behind the darkly shadowed tops of the near Cedars, is taller Cedars, their brownish olive foliage dappled with snow, and glowing in the early morning sunshine. I lean back against my tree, squint my eyes, and exaggerate all the colours in my mind. . . . they are there! It's really impressive how different the painting would be if I'd begun with a violet underpainting rather than the contrasting colour. It would be much cooler and more sombre - almost colourless, as all the twigs and branches that show, are blackish, or brownish or greyish, and with the foliage being nearly grey itself, the only colour would be the snow - and without the warm contrast, it wouldn't be very exciting. I did a couple of paintings like that in my early days of winter painting - not far from the location of this one. Lets just say that my snow paintings became more exciting when I began to use warm colours for  underpainting!

After an hour or so of coaxing thick paint from brush to canvas, I hear Fred's coat, brushing past dead branches as he finally arrives with the turpentine I'd failed to find before setting out. He sits and watches as I apply warm white paint to the treetops, but neither of us has a vial in our pockets or gear, so he heads back to the house to get a vial from which the turps can be used. . . 

FWS: 102h0 -3, sunny, calm; back home on the quest of a vial for the turpentine. I came back along a path through the interior of the stand, past the pasture-grown Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple) that died around 1989, and is now a standing rotten stub. Then out to where there was a path paralleling the road, but the gaps we cut, years ago, between the clumps of Cedars are all filled in, and snow on foliage makes it hard to trace or refind paths back along the edge, and even the site we cleared for the Museum building is grown up; this whole end of our land has been neglected since we were given the Store. 

FWS: 10h41, WAYPT/123, back with a vial . This is a painting of regrowth in what we take to be the lane cut into the area in the centre of the bush that the Weirs told us had been clear-cut in 1960. Lots of Thuja are bent down into the lane a bit west of here by the 1998 ice storm. Here, on the south side of the lane, the woods were wracked by the 1998 ice storm, and 14 years later there's both bent-over and tipped trees, some struggling and some dead, and with the tipped ones at all angles from nearly vertical to 15 degrees with the ground. There's also broken tops at all degrees of descent from the canopy, dangling, leaning or flat on the ground. They're breaking up now with algae and lichens and internal fungi. 

Just off to the side of the painting, along the old lane, there's 15-25 cm DBH trees that were too small to cut in 1960, and off on the other (north) side of the lane the pruned and thinned "timber management" area from the 1990's an open interior with little icestorm damage, though the cut logs still crisscross the floor, since we never managed to figure out how to haul them out, nor decided what we'd use them for. There's a little Quercus rubra (Red Oak) in here, which we tried to subsidize, but we can't see that it has thrived. There's a few spindly 1 m Rhamnus cathartica (Common Buckthorn) and more Rhamnus frangula (Shining (Frangulous) Buckthorn) bushes forming the undergrowth, other than that all we can see is at least 3 species of Sedge and Grass: What a crime against nature to not know the names of Graminoids! 

AKS: Our Cedars are not in the best of health! Every year now, the leaf miners (tiny moths that are native species) spend the winter snug inside the Cedar leaves as larvae, and emerge as adults in the summer. In former years, they went in cycles, but for the past 5 years or so they seem to be more consistent, and it's hard to find nice green Cedar foliage for Christmas decorations. 

FWS: This stand has struggled with spring greying, at least in 2004, 2009, 2011 (we weren't recording this before 2004), and there's a fair number of dead trees up among the canopy - does poor nutrient status make them susceptible to the Argyresthia Cedar Leafminers which are the cause of the greying?

AKS: It's almost 11:00. My toes are getting cold. Snow begins to filter down onto my canvas from the branches above. I should have brought my umbrella. The sun and blue sky have been covered by cloud and now the snow is only shades of grey, and my toes are getting cold.  "Dee-dee" comments from a pair of Chickadees who have come to investigate. We "pish"for them and they flit closer, resulting in further snow showers -

FWS: 10h52 2 Parus atricapillus (Blackcap Chickadee) - a pair, not a flock, coming in within 2.5 m, and knocking snow down onto the canvas. A few Cyanocitta cristata (Blue Jay) calls - maybe a response to the Chickadees' calls announcing that they'd found us?

TIME: 1103. AIR TEMP: -2, cloudy, calm. FWS11Dec261103/a, Branta canadensis (Canada Goose) (Bird). 42 adult, call, seen, heard. HEADING:SW fairly low overhead & with little honking.

AKS: My toes really are cold and the light has definitely changed so I decide to finish the painting indoors, leaving Fred to continue his notes. One Crow calls, and also a Blue Jay as I lift my gear over the fence.

FWS: There's a modest number of Hare tracks, and I took a photo of a small frosty pellet cluster at the painting site, but there's nothing for Lepus to eat in the interior of the stand, so they must be eating the skirts of the stand around the edges, and non-Cedar plants around the outside. Tracks & auditions through the visit include NO:Bonasa, NO:Tamiasciurus, NO:Meleagris

(same location) TIME: 1109. AIR TEMP: -2, cloudy, calm. FWS11Dec261109/a, Corvus corax (Raven) (Bird). 1 adult, call, heard. "gurk, gurk, gurk" calls to the NW.

(same location) TIME: 1118. AIR TEMP: -2, cloudy, calm. FWS11Dec261118/a, (not listed) (lichen). 1/common thallus, specimen. pale greenish paint-like splotches on the bark of Thuja. . . . larger trees up to 3 m height.



  1. I think that this painting compares admirably with ALL of your paintings. FABULOUS!!!
    I especially enjoy reading your and Fred's notes. What a treat! Your explanation about "choices for the foundation of the painting" is very instructive and interesting. The comments you both provide regarding species et al demonstrate your shared knowledge and passion for nature.
    I am thrilled to know you personally. You set a high standard for art and commitment that very few are or will be able to attain.

  2. Of course it's a "Page" wire fence. I'm not sure where I got the extra "i" to insert in Mr Page's name, a couple of decades ago, but it has infested our lexicography since then, and I've now purged it from the database. Googling about, I find that "This is the usual farm fencing used in Canada," though we've never explicitly noted its absence south of the border.

  3. ...websites say one shouldn't install Page wire where it's going to be climbed over by People, but Aleta is an Ontario girl, so she's very expert at climbing over Page wire without damaging either it or her skirt, foot-in-the-panel by foot-in-the-panel on either side of the post. This is the fence the Counties installed in the mid-1970s in exchange for the widened road allowance as they upgraded the roadbed of County Road 18 preparatory to paving it in 1987.

  4. Aleta, I love the combination of snow and sun in this piece, really nice!

  5. Just look at those colours!

  6. Yes, the burnt sienna and the violet are really opposites, which although they are very lively against each other, together they would mix to grey, which is the colour of the woods without the influence of blue sky or sunlight. I feel really lucky to have 'divined' those colours from the subtlety of the changing light that day... painting outdoors teaches me lessons that I would never learn otherwise!

  7. Beautiful complimentary colour combinations that really capture the light Aleta. Divine is a pretty good word to describe it! Your paintings are gorgeous and they capture the Ontario landscape wonderfully.

    1. Thank you, Stephen! This is one of my favourites. A compliment from another artist/naturalist is special!


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