A respite from the wind came at four in the afternoon and we are finally free and on our way again. We have moved forward in the long twilight under a dramatic sky. Tributary river-mouths invite exploration, a closer vista and in the weedy pools there are easy pickerel. We dine ashore at midnight with light enough to paint.
I’m laptopping this in the boat’s cabin some distance up the Rabbitskin river. In this majesty one might conclude that the world was hardly populated. All is silent except for the hermit thrushes.
Looking around for paintable material one could agree with Constable that the sky is the principal actor. The long days’ changes dominate and provide the mood for other elements. Then there’s the overwhelming horizontality of the place. In the upper reaches of the river there is little topography. Views spread in demand of a diorama — a thin gray line modified into a hard viridian as it nears the eye — the jagged tree line, the rulered shore; an unscrolling tapestry. Here there is more geology; mountains circle the forward horizon and disappear behind.
There’s potential in this river landscape. I’ve found that the best mindset is to be open to nature and not always reaching for the camera and its convenient viewfinder. The idea is to incline the mind to a holistic spin. An opening and a receptiveness to design and pattern for it’s own sake seems to free the painting hand. An early flourish of confidence is useful. Then there’s the small crudities — the slubs and bumps that come with outdoor work — the odd charm of imprecision.
PS: “The most decisive actions of our life are most often the unconsidered actions.” (Andre Gide)
Esoterica: Tom Thomson, a Canadian icon of outdoor work who was drowned in 1917 in a canoe accident, was known to have painted while afloat. His small wooden panels seem to me to inhale the air of northern Ontario-impressionistic color, emphasis on pattern, juicy directness; a vast landscape reduced to its essentials.
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
by Yvette, Montreal, QC, Canada
“Simplicity is cosmic, because it places our life on the same scale as all life, of innocent Nature herself, who is all-powereful.” (Deepak Chopra)
by Paula, Folsom, California, USA
Although the camera is a wonderous TOOL it should never take the place of painting plein air. When one has the camera to the eye, restriction is not only in vision, it applies to colors of the earth, foliage and sky. I miss the colors swirling around the earth and the mood of the scenery painting from a photo. To convey the feel and message you want on your canvas, paint without walls.
I too am a student of photography and very excellent with it, but I have realized that just as the Berlin Wall restricted growth and adventure to the people, so shall your camera affect the outcome of your paintings as well.
by Warren Criswell, Benton, Arkansas, USA
As chance would have there’s a Rockwell Kent exhibition now showing in New York, organized by the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary. I thought of you when I read this quote from Kent in a review in the New York Times today: “There is discomfort, even misery in being cold,” he wrote, “and yet do you know I love this misery and court it.”
Bringing back memories
by Kristine Leonard Asuncion, in the woods near Sonora, California, USA
Once I realized you had embarked on your boat trip, I found a copy of the National Geographic “Making of Canada” maps for The North and have been following your route as best I can.
I grew up as a pilot’s daughter learning to fly a plane before driving a car. Learned to navigate really well on a trip from Miami to Anchorage where we had to fly at only 8,000 ft. above the mountains near you – the Mackenzie and Selwyn Mtns. We were in a small 6 seater Grumman Widgeon seaplane with no pressurization. We learned that Air Canada wanted us to get out of their airspace and told us to go up to 10,000. We could not go any higher, it was already only 29 degrees F. in the cabin and my job aside from navigating was to watch the cowling for signs of icing up. Thus my impressions of the Northwest and Yukon Territories are from up above the snow-capped mountains with a few images of wooden sidewalks in muddy towns. Think I might have spent lots of time in the air and therefore the images gleaned while visiting on the ground were impressed on my mind. Over the years I have lived in many unusual spots around the globe and now find myself quite stuck but finally settled enough to have my very own painting studio. It’s beyond any of my dreams to be so fortunate so I’m trying to bring back the memories of previous travel and odd places and put them onto canvas.
Tears of joy
by Mary Ann Mountain
I have travelled on the Alcan, and have worked in Alaska. I know the magnitude that you must be meeting. It is almost overwhelming to the human spirit — when eagles and murres fill the skies, bears fill the land, and daylight is everlasting. I could never paint on site as the tears in my eyes would blur the colors.
Art of the road
by Beth Lee, somewhere
i had a memory about some k-tell album commercial i had seen probably in the late 70’s early 80’s, can’t remember, but it was a compilation that included fats domino singing “im walkin to new orleans”. so when i was in my second year at Emily Carr School of Art and Design, i thought, perfect, I’ve allready thought of my grad project, i’ll walk to new orleans. so I bounced the idea off a few people at the institute, and one guy thought I was insane. seriously insane, maybe i should talk to someone, i mean how the hell was i going to get past the rockies? i have been to new orleans, and I started to think about some of the unsafe areas, i’d definitely need a van with gear and spotters for safety. but as far as the rockies are concerned, i hadnt seen this as an obstacle, people drive through the rockies every day right? in the end, i decided i wanted to stick to canada, where i felt i new the rules so to speak, i also wanted to do the project solo, with no sponsors, and no-one who would be able to have any bearing over any decisions or the outcome…it took one year to proccess the idea in my head, then a year to prepare, i read a dozen or so hiking, bear safety, biking the highway etc. type books from the library. i borrowed moms dehydrating machines and made my own travel food (lentils, pasta..) started trial walks at 5 hour practices to find out what my km/hr would be, studied maps, worked out estmated time frames, saved for gear. in the last few days i was stuffing baggies with carefully measured out lentils, spices, dried veggies. i packed just what i could fit on my back, it came to 35 lbs. i had prepacked food and had given mom general delivery addresses so she could mail supplies as i needed them. i headed off at 5a.m. and walked along e.10th to Nanaimo, down to Hastings, connected with the Lougheed hwy, then the #3 hwy. i camped off the beach at the barnett Marine park the first night, made it to the second or third day then stopped into a Canadian Tire to buy a granny shopping cart because the little bit of moisture my gear had absorbed was killing my back. i dragged this to dad’s in Agassiz, i was getting bummed out because it was too hard to pull the damn cart over gravel, and the cart kept getting caught on my ankle. Dad drove me to Canadian Tire in Chilliwack, and i bought a baby jogger for about $200. everything fit perfectly and i could make really good time with the new wheels. i didnt really feel like i was on my way until i got to Hope, after that i got the rythym. i stayed in Hope two days, i paid for a camp site. I heard there were a few bears spotted on the hi-way between Hope and Princeton, and i had just started my period. Tree planters have told me that the smell can attract bears. i had just spent 3 days at dad’s with dad hoping i’d come to my senses and not go through with the trip, i had left mom behind who wanted me to call her every day. so i decided to bus from Hope to Princeton instead of camping in Hope for a week. i felt soooooo guilty while i was looking out the window, and i didn’t see a single bear. I ended up walking an average of 30km/day. i would get up between 5-6 a.m. and would walk until about 5 p.m. i got sick of trail mix really quick, when I got to osoyoos, my chocolate covered raisins melted into a sort of salty chocolatey misc. goo that didnt seem too rewarding. i was offered food and lodging in Hedley, Keremeos, Elko, and Osoyoos, by really awesome families. i took aprox. 25 rolls of 36exp. black & white film, half of which have been processed. my final destination was the last town before the first major fork in the road past the Rockies. this turned out to be Burmis. all Burmis has besides maybe three buildings is a dead tree. This tree has been bolted to the ground, and some of the branches have been bolted to the trunk. I recently found out from someone that it’s a really old tree, but i dont know how old yet. So now i have a bunch of photos, and a journal, and I’m planning to process it all once i get to Toronto and get set up. My boyfriend Jamie has been accepted into school for theatre production and i want to start working on my ideas, and show a combination of the photos and the story in some format that i will decide on once I’m settled. I love the freedom of just blasting down the hyway and not really caring where im going to crash out for the night.
Liberated from fear
Contributed by Disa Marie Hale
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be — brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Mssrs. Panichelli, Madela and Flintstone)
by Bev Willis, Fresno, CA, USA
No matter where we are, there are things to draw, paintings to paint, or, if not for the moment, inspiration to be hoarded for the next opportunity to draw, paint, write or sing! No matter where we are we can still reflect and enjoy life. We only have to use these gifts. Perhaps even in the worst of circumstances we can be allowed to dream and for a while at least forget the worst of things.
Contributed by Philip Carroll
“Enough has been said about art already.” (Gregori Gillespi)
You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes Gandee Vasan who wrote to say, “It’s great to hear where you are in my attic in London.”
And from Cassandra James who wrote, “Just returned from 4 1/2 weeks on the road out west and worked only one day in the field. Couldn’t battle constant interruptions of making/breaking camp, bugs, and dirt.” Sounds familiar.