Spring has officially sprung on the West Coast, and I’m starting to feel a sense of renewal and rejuvenation. The days are getting longer, the flowers are starting to bloom, and the air is filled with excitement and possibility. The arrival of sunshine and warmth is a welcome change, an invitation to embrace the lighter, brighter side of life.
You can feel the energy growing in the forest and beaches around Qathet. The recent herring run has brought a lot of noisy Sea Lions to the Salish Sea. Birds are starting to look for mates and the trees and plants are ready to blossom, bud or sprout. The potential is palatible and once Spring gets started on the West Coast, there’s no holding it back.
As much as I’d like to be in full gardening mode, I have to resist the temptation. The yard in front of the house looks like a construction zone and I’m bursting with landscaping ideas, but I have to focus on getting our lives sorted and moved up to Twin Eagles. It’s no small feat to sort through twenty-seven years of memories and decide what needs to migrate up the coast and what can be gotten rid of. I’ve been at it for several weeks and it will take several more, but it’s going to be worth all the work and I’m aching to get back to that little slice of paradise.
It’s been a stressful winter and I have to remind myself to take a moment to appreciate the beauty and wonder of this magical season.
“I will wait.” Painted March 2023. 12”x12”. Acrylic on Stretched Canvas.
I’ve been ruminating on the idea of patience lately. Entanglements have been slow to untangle. Expectations that seemed realistic, lie crumpled on the ground, trampled by missed deadlines. Problems that should have been resolved weeks ago, have remained stubbornly unresolved. I’m learning to find new levels of patience inside myself.
Growing up on a cattle ranch, horses were integral to the overall functioning of the place. This was before the days of ATV’s and accessing cattle in the bush or moving the herd from one pasture to another was always done on horseback. Horses also provided us kids with endless entertainment. We spent hours with our horses; exploring the far reaches of the ranch, using them for transportation when it was too far to walk, or practicing in the corral prior to a horse show. Like people, horses have very distinct personalities, and one came to mind while I was considering the importance of patience in life.
Smokey was a Kentucky Walking horse that we owned growing up. He was the largest horse on the ranch but was also extremely kid friendly. He would let kids scramble up, over and under him without moving a muscle. He would wait patiently by the corral fence while we climbed up onto his back – he was too tall for little kids to have any hope of leaping onto his back. With nothing more than a piece of binder twine around his nose, he’d take us anywhere we wanted to go. He was such a calm horse that I don’t remember him ever getting spooked, kicking anyone, or bucking a rider off. Still, it was a rite of passage to fall off old Smokey. Once you started to slide off his broad back, there was little you could do to stop the inevitable. It was a long way to fall, but when you hit the ground Smokey would immediately stop and just wait for you to get up. He seemed unbothered by either poor riding skills or colourful language.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of Smokey, so in preparation for this painting, I had to look for some reference photos of old grey horses that had seen better years. Smokey seemed to be one of the few horses that would hang his head over the fence and wait for you, so I incorporated the kind of wire fences that we would often have at the corner of a pasture into the painting. I like the pattern the wire fence makes, but shading the horse through these wire rectangles was a challenge. I dedicate this painting to Smokey, a most beautiful and patient soul.
One of my favourite things to do in the morning is sit at the breakfast table with a big cup of steaming coffee, plan out my day and do a scan of the Salish Sea to see if I can see any Orcas, Humpbacks or Sea Lions from our perch at the top of the bluff. Sometimes I’m lucky, but more often it’s a text from one of the neighbours alerting me to the fact. There’s also a Facebook group that is devoted solely to the movement of whales and dolphins along this stretch of the coast. If a post says that whales are swimming South past Myrtle Rocks, then I have about 30 minutes before they are in front of our place. It may be a regular occurrence, but my prairie-born heart will always leap when I see these beautiful creatures. It simply never gets old.
Even if there is no sea-life activity on the strait, I love to use the binoculars to observe the ever-changing light on Texada Island, watch the water whipped up by a storm blowing up the Malaspina or spy on the various boats and ships making their way past our place. Yesterday, I spent about an hour watching a 30 foot sailboat fight it’s way Westward. I wouldn’t want to be on that boat being tossed around by whitecaps, but it was fascinating to watch from the safety of our kitchen.
Today’s plan was to get started on the grouting on the ground floor of the house. We’ve spent several days checking out YouTube videos, talking to neighbours and getting the necessary tools ready to do the job. Today was the day that the rubber hit the road. So far, so good!
After twenty long months, we were able to move into the Art Studio part of our new house on Twin Eagles Bluff – finally! It’s 900 square feet of coziness looking out over the Salish Sea. It will be our new home while we finish off the main part of the house over the coming months. Mitch has set up his office in the living room and I’ve set up my drafting table in the big room, so we can kind of keep out of each other’s hair while we’re working. The studio has a good sized sleeping loft and a fully functioning kitchen so I don’t have to worry about a summer of cooking outside.
I’m especially excited about getting back to the paints as my last painting was finished in December. The next three months are going to be busy while we get ourselves settled up here. I’ll need to find a balance between working on the house, landscaping the front and back of the property and fitting in as much painting as possible. It’s going to a bit hectic, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I also find that physical work enhances my creativity. At any rate, I’ll sleep well at night.
Throughout my busy day, I’m finding that there are many opportunities to find little moments of zen here on the Bluff. It may be the fog draping itself on Texada Island or the sun creating patterns on the Salish Sea. Even storms chasing up the Malaspina make me stop and breath. There is something about this place that refills my soul constantly.
“I have one thing to say.” Painted December 2022. 12”x12”. Acrylic on stretched Canvas.
I’ve been wanting to tackle a cow painting for a while and the opportunity came up the other day, so I grabbed it. I probably didn’t spend as much time observing cows as I should have growing up, considering that they were the main reason for the ranch. On reflection, I have come to appreciate their gentle nature and what great subjects they make for painting. I just wish I’d taken some photographs of my milk cow. I spent more time with that cow on a daily basis than any other animal on the farm and now I’ve got nothing but rapidly fading memories to fall back on. Actually, I wish I’d taken a lot of pictures of farm animals growing up. It would have been a treasure trove of reference photos.
In some ways, my milk cow was the bane of my existence growing up. She had a habit of going out to the farthest corner of the pasture at the end of the day, so that I would have to walk kilometers to bring her back to the barn for the evening. If you didn’t finish milking before she had eaten all the grain in the trough, she was capable of whipping her tail across your face or stepping on your toes to tell you to “hurry up”.
On the other hand, there was something deeply zen about milking a cow in the early morning, with the sun dancing across the motes of dust floating in the nearly still air of the barn. Nothing but the rhythmic sound of milk hitting the pail or the cow chewing her cud to break the silence. In many ways, it was the perfect start to a day. A moment of tranquility with time to reflect on life before chaos took over.
This painting is based on some pictures a friend took while travelling in Quebec. I’m not exactly sure of the breed of cow, probably a Limousin or Red Angus, but it was a beautiful animal. I loved how the light reflected off the swirling pattern of hair, which was also my main challenge in this little painting. The fact that the cow in the reference photo was calling for its calf was a bonus that gave the painting a little extra narrative. I’m pretty sure this won’t be my last cow painting.
The inexorable march of a king tide this past Boxing Day is worth a blog entry. On normal tides there will always be at least ten or twenty feet of dry ground above the high water mark, before you hit the edge of the blackberry bushes, the scrub alder and the wild rose tangles. Over time a pathway has been tread into the sea grass and between drift logs, making for a gentle amble up and down the beach. On this day, however, the tide cleared hundred foot logs off the shoreline, flooded the beach pathway and made an easy walk down the shoreline impossible. It’s a strange site to see no beach in either direction and it deepens my appreciation for the power of the Salish Sea.
It also makes me consider the many things in life that we push and pull trying to move them out of our way or into a more advantageous position. At the time it feels like the battle is the most important thing in your life, but in fact it is no more practical than trying to change the slow and steady progress of the tide. There is an important lesson in these immotile objects that pock mark our life. With experience we learn which objects will budge and whether they are worth the energy required to move them. We also learn that it may be easier to simply travel around the obstacle rather than try and push through it. It may require more time or extra effort to travel around the obstacle, but it might also create a more fulfilling and enjoyable journey that saves you from the blood and bruises that accompany bashing away at an immovable object. I wish I had learned this lesson in my thirties.
Nothing works quite like hosting an enchanted Christmas forest walk for the neighbourhood to fast track into the festive season. Mitch with some help from neighbours, did a great job clearing new paths and getting everything set up. It’s amazing that an entire forest can be lit with only three plug-ins available. Without LED lights, this would simply not be possible.
Below is a view from Mitch’s drone, showing the trails lit up through the forest. The walk involved two loops that met in the middle where we had Santa’s Cottage, a fire pit and hot chocolate before you ventured onto the second loop. The total of these two loops was somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of a kilometre. There were a couple of four year olds that insisted on running through the entire forest walk four or five times, usually followed by a increasingly exhausted looking father.
For nine nights in a row we opened up the forest to visitors to experience a half kilometre of trails that were lit up with Christmas lights, a garden train weaving its way between fir trees, enflateable Santas and Grinches, sparkling deer and snowmen, an elf house for the wee ones to play in, and an outdoor movie for the kids. In front of Santa’s cottage we offered a fire to warm your hands and a cup of hot chocolate to warm your belly. It gave the neighbours a chance to visit while kids and dogs ran circles around their parents. Although the names and faces blurred at times, it was a great opportunity to meet and reconnect with people that live up and down the upper Sunshine Coast.
We also had one of those rare dumps of snow on the coast. About six inches of snow fell, making the forest walk even more magical. While the temperature was around minus 5 degrees for most of the week before Christmas, on the last night of the forest walk, the temperature rose to plus eight and the next day the rain began. By Christmas Day, there wasn’t any snow to be seen. Typical West Coast winter weather!
A quick update on the house they are building on the bluff. We had expected to be living in the Art Studio part of the house by Christmas, but unfortunately, the builders weren’t able to make that deadline. Although there is no working kitchen, the bathroom tiling isn’t yet done and the fireplace hasn’t been installed, we were able to setup the bed in the sleeping loft of the Art Studio and spend one night sleeping in part of our new home. Milestone achieved. As Mitch noted, this will be the most expensive BnB we’ve ever stayed in.
“Storms a brewin’.” Painted December 2022. 20”x30”. Acrylic on stretched Canvas.
A couple of months ago, I did a painting based on an overnight stay on Powell lake at a friend’s beautiful floating house across from Goat Island. There was something not sitting right about my previous painting of this range of mountains. The painting didn’t express either the sense of summer heat, the nearly ripple less lake, nor the delicious three dimensionality of the mountains in all their curvy glory. The fact that an afternoon summer storm was just starting to manifest was simply icing on the cake, so I decided to redo the painting using a very different approach. It amazes me how a painting can be reworked to the point where the original is almost unrecognizable. My motto is “No painting is left behind.”.
This painting is less stylized and more reflective of the moment I experienced, than the previous version. Normally I find the coastal mountains rather underwhelming, but this particular range is powerful, dynamic and much craggier than most. The sharp peak on the left is Beartooth, the one on the right is Rain Tooth. In my painting, a storm cloud is forming overtop of Rain Tooth mountain. This added more depth to the painting and also just a touch of drama to what was an otherwise hot and still summer day.
Another less apparent feature of this painting is that there is a narrowing of the lake at the half-way point of Powell Lake. In this painting the narrows are just left of center between the gold/green mountain and the blue/green mountain. Knowing that there are still kilometers of Powell Lake to be explored around that corner added a real sense of mystery while I was applying layers of colour. It’s not apparent to anyone in this painting, but it was front and center in my mind while I was painting. As a fun side-note, I’ve included a recipe for a summer drink “Storms a Brewin’”, that would be perfect to sip on while sitting on the Karen’s floating deck looking out across the lake at Beartooth and Rain Tooth while a summer storm fomented.
“You lookin’ at me?” Painted November 2022. 16”x12”. Acrylic on stretched Canvas.
Growing up on a ranch you are aware that animals aren’t all fluffy pets and need to be treated with respect. Certain parts of our barnyard were particularly unnerving because of a couple of unholy roosters that got immense pleasure in terrorizing us children. They would lurk around barn corners and sneak up on you when your back was turned. With a strike that was both silent and deadly, they ruled their domain. It wasn’t until I was big enough that I could use my oversized gumboots to ward off their attacks that I was able to do my chores without a constant sense of dread.
Probably as a means of processing all this poultry induced childhood trauma, I really enjoy painting chickens and roosters. In this painting I wanted to capture that alert look that a free-range chicken gives you when you cross its path. I’m certain that they are doing a careful risk assessment and trying to determine if you are friend or foe. I love how the bright colours of the rooster standout from the muted colours of the barnyard. I think this painting will look great hanging on a kitchen wall!
“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.
“Pup”. 10″x10″. Acrylic on Cradled Wood Panel. Painted October 2022.
Seemed like time to do another dog painting. My usual approach is to do a graphite drawing first to work out composition and relative values. In this case I did two drawings ( faster sketch and a slower more accurate drawing of the dog). The fun part was doing the painting. Fortunately, the reference photo had an interesting composition, good contrast and the dog was very photogenic – looking alert and straight into the camera.
I also wanted to see what the effect of having a varnish would be to the painting. Because it is painted on wood and uses a lot of saturated colours, the final varnished piece really popped. I’m not sure that it is right for every acrylic painting, but in this case, I think it worked out well.
New Painting: Study for Early morning on Lake Powell
“Early Morning on Powell Lake – preliminary painting.” Painted October 2022. 20”x30”. Acrylic on Canvas. This painting is a study to explore some of the colour choices and consider textures/techniques for painting this particular landscape. The ultimate painting is going to be a a much bigger painting (3 feet x 5 feet). The view for this painting is from a friend’s floating home on Lake Powell. I found this landscape breath-taking and I took a lot of reference photos. I find the coastal mountains often feel less rugged than the Rockies, but two of these mountains standout and are named Beartooth and Rain Tooth. My challenge is to capture a sense of the grandeur and movement in this landscape, balanced against the early morning light and tranquility of the calm lake. It’s an interesting painting, but I don’t think I’m expressing the feeling I am hoping to achieve. I’ll have to explore a couple of other choices before I try to tackle the full size painting.
Painted September 2022. 48”x24”. Acrylic on Canvas.
About 50 feet above the shoreline, at the top of the bluff stands several stately Douglas Fir trees. One, standing particularly straight and tall, has great sweeping branches that reach out in all directions. This tree has been able to handle the full force of the South-Easterly winds that blow up the Malaspina Strait in the winter, so it has a real sense of permanence and stability. It also provides a spot for the eagles to roost while they survey the Salish Sea, looking for their next meal. I find there is a real visual poetry in the arc and sweep of the branches of the Douglas Fir. On windless days, when the branches are motionless, the tree seems to give off an energy or vibration that I’ve tried to express in this painting. I’ve never thought myself much of a tree-hugger, but after spending several days obsessing over this tree while I painted it, that may have changed.
“Water Lily”. Painted July 2022. 12” x 12”. Acrylic on Canvas.
I try to challenge myself with each new painting, either a new style, subject matter or technique. However, we’ve been so busy lately with the builders on the house, showing visitors around the coast, or simply travelling between Twin Eagles and Vancouver, that I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time working on my painting skills.
It was time to do a smaller painting, without any big challenge, just for the pleasure of painting. I looked through my reference photos and found a picture of a water lily that would make a nice simple little painting. Since there wasn’t anything particularly complicated about the composition, I had some fun with the negative space around the lily pads as well as the cast shadow from the Lily itself. I also enjoyed the rymthic nature of the water.
There’s nothing particularly exciting about this painting, but it will fulfill its mission to brighten up a little wall or nook.
Preparatory Drawings for “The Sentinel”. Drawn July 2022. Graphite on Paper
I’ve been planning a large painting that I want to complete in the next couple of months. This will be my largest painting to date – six feet tall and three feet wide. I plan to hang this painting at the end of the main hallway in the new house. The architect considers the walkway in front of the Art Studio that leads you to the front door and along the main hallway of the house to be the “spine” of building, so it needs a sizeable piece of art to be hung here. It will be the first thing you see as you come in the front door and if you look in the opposite direction you will see a Blue Spruce tree that we are planting just past where the walkway ends. The idea is that the painting and the Blue Spruce tree will act as visual bookends along this view corridor. Both the spruce tree and the painting will be well lit, so that the night effect will be even more pronounced.
My painting process always starts with one or more sketches. I usually start out with very general shapes and then focus in on a specific composition or subject matter. The three pictures above show that progression. This helps me get a handle on the overall proportions and I get a chance to resolve any structural problems before I even prime the canvas. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of West Coast trees to use as references for this painting, so I considered a wide range of options, but eventually settled on a tall Douglas Fir Tree that is situated at the top of the bluff facing the ocean. The tree stands alone and has weathered many winter storms blowing up the Malaspina Strait, so it felt like a strong subject that deserved a painting. It also has the added benefit of a view over to Texada Island in the background.
Now that I’ve worked out the basic composition of the painting, my next challenge is to consider what style of painting will be the most appropriate for a painting of this size. This is the kind of challenge that I really enjoy.
From the second floor deck or just in front of the house, we have a perfect view line for rising full moons. The last few months have been particularly beautiful, so I grabbed a collection of my pics to post here in my blog. I’ve already got some ideas for paintings based on these photos.