“Time is on my side.” Painted November 2022. 16”x16”. Acrylic on stretched Canvas.
This is the third painting in my series about coastal birds. The Great Blue Heron is a common visitor to the Twin Eagles Bluff. They nest in a rookery, high in the trees only a few hundred meters away from the house. With a nest full of clacking and squawking chicks to feed, the adults spend a considerable amount of time fishing on the shore of the Salish Sea. Although they don’t let you get close, it is common to find several herons standing motionless on the shoreline rocks near the bottom of our ramp. If birds can attain a transcendental state, then the heron is a sensei master and the personification of patience.
As with the other paintings in this series, I’ve chosen to keep the background highly abstracted. There are few details to identify this part of the coast which allows the bird to hold the focus of the painting. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture the “shagginess” of the Great Blue Heron plumage.
“A Grand Entrance.” Painted November 2022. 20”x16”. Acrylic on stretched Canvas.
About a ten minute drive South of the family ranch is a small gem of a national park. Hugging the border with Montana and British Columbia, Waterton Lakes National Park is a beautiful slice of the Alberta Rocky Mountains and (until recently) a quieter, less touristy version of Banff.
I came across a beautiful photo by Alan Majchrowicz that encapsulated so many of my memories growing up. The smell of freshly bailed hay, a view of Vimy Mountain framing the park entrance and just across the border, soaring above all the other peaks, the top of Mount Cleveland. Alan was kind enough to grant me permission to use his photograph as a refence for this painting.
Summer is a busy time on a cattle ranch and most of August is spent haying. While I never enjoyed haying itself (an exhausting, itchy job made worse by constant hay fever), I do love the look of a field with the hay bales dotting the landscape. There is poetry in the placement of hay bales. What appears to be random at first glance is as regular as items dropping off a factory conveyor belt. The undulation of the field and the amount of hay needed to complete a large bale, places them in what appears a totally random pattern.
Not only does this painting hold some warm childhood memories for me, but I love the contrast between the linear nature of a hay field, up through grazing pastures into the ruggedness of the Rocky mountains. I like how the eye is led around and through this painting. I painted over one of my early, unsuccessful paintingts, which always gives me the freedom to experiment. I worked quickly on this painting, using large brushes and blocking in dark colors. I set the sky first and then worked from the bottom of the painting upwards, which is unusual for me as I tend to work top down. Using the dark layer as a background, I was able to define the hay field by leaving negative space to identify contours of the field and shadow lines from the hay bales. I’m still struggling with the palette a bit, but the painting has an overall light and summery feel that I was aiming for.
“Surfing the Sou-easter.” Painted November 2022. 16”x20”. Acrylic on stretched Canvas.
I’m working on a series about wild birds that frequent our home on Twin Eagles Bluff. For the second painting in this series, I chose the Bald Eagle. Not only do we have a nesting pair that live in the big fir tree behind the house, but the trees at the top of the bluff are a useful rest-stop for eagles that have been busy fishing in the Salish Sea. Earlier this year, I counted ten eagles flying over top of the property at once and was able to get eight of them in the same photo.
As the wind hits the bluff, it creates a perfect updraft. Eagles flying by in front of the house are about sixty feet above the ocean, but when you are sitting on the second-floor deck, they pass by at eye level. I can spend hours watching their slow progress into the wind, floating with almost no forward motion. Since they are no more than a hundred feet away, you have a lot of time to observe every detail as they fly past. Eagles engage the entire body in this feat of aeronautics, wings motionless but feathers and muscles responding to every current and eddy of the wind. And just as intently as I stare at them, they stare back.
As with the previous painting in the series, I chose to paint a highly blended background with no observable details which lets the image of the bird really stand out. As each painting in the series uses the same canvas size, but has a different coloured background, they work well as a set.
“Into Darkness Peering.” Painted November 2022. 16”x16”. Acrylic on stretched Canvas.
Ravens visit our stretch of the coast each year, usually when the Eagles are away fishing during the early Fall salmon runs. They roost in the tall Alder trees at the bottom of the ramp, so it’s easy to sit quietly and listen to them vocalize. There is something fascinating about the wide variety of clicks and whistles that ravens make when talking to each other and there is undisputable intelligence in those ink black eyes. I never planned to become a birder, but something about this coast and its abundant bird life made that happen anyway. I guess it’s just a matter of time before I buy myself a Tilley hat and start squatting down behind bushes for hours on end.
I’ve wanted to do a raven painting for a while but considering that they are a staple of west coast art, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Since I like a challenge, I chose a reference photo that featured the bird with plenty of feather’s askew and simplified the background so that it becomes more texture and colour, allowing the raven itself to stand out.
This painting is also painted on an old, repurposed canvas, so it has a lot of interesting base texture built into its foundation. I love how the golden, orange background sings and pushes the dark blues of the raven forward. The background involved layering many yellows, oranges and rust to build a hazy texture and then I glazed the painting with Nickel Azo Gold to make it glow.
Like many of my paintings, I went through a period where I didn’t think the painting would resolve itself. Fortunately, I didn’t give up on it and I like the results. It looks great hanging in the dining room where the afternoon light really makes it come alive.
Back in the winter of 2018, I spent several weeks in Southern Alberta with my Dad while he was in hospice. He would often wake up early and we’d talk while the sun rose. His hospice room had a beautiful view to the East and perfectly framed the late winter sunrise. I have a collection of beautiful photos from this time and intend to turn them into a series of paintings. I hope to express some aspect of those memories into these paintings. Turning a heartfelt memory into a tangible painting is whole new level of challenge for me.
I usually start a painting by toning my canvases with the left-over paint on my Staywet palette. I don’t feel like I’m wasting precious paint and yet each new painting starts with a fresh palette. It was different this time. I painted 90% of this painting with a mix of colours that were left on my palette, painting wet on wet (or as close as possible with acrylic paints), making creative choices quickly and doing none of the pre-planning that I normally do with my paintings. I also used a very old, scruffy brush for almost all the entire painting. This brush blends better than anything else I have in the studio. Lastly, I simplified and slightly changed the composition (I’ve included the reference photo for comparison).
This painting represents a struggle between happy and sad memories for me. The land in the foreground is a mix of browns that accurately reflects the wind-blown winter landscape of Southern Alberta and my own sense of melancholy. By contrast, the sky is full of energy, with bright colours where the sun is trying to fight its way through the morning clouds. If you look closely, the sky is made up of a very colourful mix of purples, blues, greens, yellows and off-whites. Overall, I look at this as an uplifting painting.