I’m laptopping you from an ancient log cabin on Edith Lake near Jasper, Alberta. The southern view across our mountain-shrouded lake is dominated by Mt. Edith Cavell, one of the highest in the Canadian Rockies. Deer, caribou and an occasional black bear forage in open spots in the pine and aspen forests. This time of year and this far north the days are long. For the past week my daughter, Sara, and I have been paying scant attention to the outside world. In this wilderness, we have been granted extra time, extra silence, extra peace.
Paintings can happen at any time — before breakfast at the cabin door or in the evening a hundred yards along the lake’s edge. This place is positively contemplative — one works to a measured muse.
A great deal of painting is noticing the occasional things that you do right. Time and contemplation allows this. Lucky happenstance can be expanded upon in the next painting or savoured in the present. In my case, early areas of casual impasto patiently await modification by glazing. “Take it easy,” and “take your time” hang easily in the alpenglow and the cool mountain air.
It’s not so much that the great ideas and motifs are at hand, which they are, but that present feelings are also here when you need them. Whispering treetops, a flashing hummingbird, a loon-ripple on the lake confirms the findings of many outdoor painters — plein air is an event.
With Zen-like indulgence, the practitioner calms out and lives within the easel. Strokes disclose themselves and give clues to the next disclosure. Self-study and self-evaluation contribute to the flow. Picking up and putting down aids in the process — recent, half-finished sketches dry by the fire or in the sunlight. I limit myself to several small sizes and pop them on and off. Stymied at times, it’s best to leave some of them alone to simply solve their own problems. It’s amazing what a little time can do.
Then there’s crit time. In the evening we set our paintings by the fire. Hot chocolate aids in the assessment. Faults not seen on the easel are spotted now, and some items begin to look better than they did before. Always, always, there is sleep — as Shakespeare wrote, “Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care.” And always there is the knowledge we will begin again tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow’s paintings will be better.
PS: “If you are looking down while you are walking, it is better to walk uphill because the ground is nearer.” (Gertrude Stein)
Esoterica: In 1908, Agnes Laut, author of the wildly successful novel Lords of the North, conceived an artist/writer colony alongside Edith Lake. Parks Canada granted limited leases to Agnes and her friends, and by 1923, when this cabin was built, a half dozen well-spaced ones were along here. Volumes of creative folks never materialized, and Laut, who died in 1936, never saw her dream fulfilled. Today, third and fourth generation leaseholders inhale their privacy, walk their energetic hounds and discuss the whereabouts of the resident elk.
Mountain retreat near Jasper, Alberta
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
I believe that all landscape painters must have a special place, an Eden where they go to restore and refresh their muse. I have such a place near me, a farm that I go back to over and over again. I have done hundreds of paintings there and with good fortune, I will do hundreds more.
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by Jeanette E. McClelland
Over some 40 years I too have painted Plein Air in many BC and Alberta Rocky Mountain locations. I usually go twice a year for a week. Jasper was one of my favorite places. This Friday my Spring Painting trip begins at the Stoney Nakoda Hotel and Casino, located at the Junction of Hwy 1 to Banff National Park and the Hwy 40 to the Kananaskis. Let’s hope the Weather clears for us. Painting outdoors has infinite benefits — it feeds the Soul, and puts us in tune with the Earth.
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Precious week of solitude
by Cindy Michaud, FL, USA
I am retreating to my own mountain spot and have a week before anybody else arrives. I dreamt of creating wonderful, magical stuff and find I need to remind myself to slow down, the pleasure should be in the working it out — the learning with no accountability. Though I get caught up in “how much do I have to show” for this precious week of solitude? So today I will literally hide those that do not meet my expectations and start afresh if I can make one rock jut into the shadow as the water rushes around it then I will claim the day a winner; never mind listening to the birds sans ipod and breathing fresh air!
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by Nicole Pletts, Durban, South Africa
Quote: “In my case, early areas of casual impasto patiently await modification by glazing.”
What happens if Robert’s areas of casual impasto are glazed over when touch dry by a mixture of paint and Liquin? What about the paint underneath drying properly? I have a similar problem as I work quite thick in areas 00 however the paint leaves the brush and looks good if left as is (almost like wet-on-wet watercolour) 00 then if I want to glaze thereafter?
(RG note) Thanks, Nicole. I’m working in Acrylic so the underlying paint is soon dry — including impasto passages. Oil, of course, requires longer periods between glazes, if indeed you need to glaze.
Glazing and scumbling over casual impasto adds mystery and sophistication to otherwise average work. I’ve been reading about the great wildlife painter Carl Rungius, who worked in oil. Limiting himself to six or so big works a year, he was able to modify and modify and yet keep his work fresh. It can be done.
Fishing Lake Edith
by Hazel Hart, Hinton, AB, Canada
Legal fishing begins on June 15th at Lake Edith. For fifty-five years my husband and I went on opening day to fish Lake Edith. Often we were on the lake by 4:00 a.m. and had our limit by 8:00. We would fish-fry on the shore and then hurry off to Hinton, our home in order to be at work by 9:00. These were memorable days and frequently I, too, painted the scenery. Such was our life and now that I am retired (and my husband gone for two years) I often recall these wonderful days on the lake.
by Teresa Maria Widawski, Longmont, CO, USA
All day the task-master in my head has been telling me that I should put down my brush and attend to those “more important matters.” The measly two hours I painted before phone and computer work engulfed me brought ridicule. Just think what could be accomplished if I would just give up the brush! Well, I won’t but it today, Robert’s letter made me realize how important boundaries are — in general and especially, for an artist.
Assuming you’ve not broached this subject in a while, would you please expand on the subject?
(RG note) Thanks, Teresa. I’m afraid you have to be selfish. The way to rationalize the situation is to give yourself “selfish zones.” After one of those you can be anything to anyone, and give yourself over to the regularities of life. Both situations are a privilege.
There are 4 comments for Boundaries by Teresa Maria Widawski
Summers at Edith Lake
by Shelagh Weatherill, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I spent every summer at Edith Lake while I was growing up. We stayed in the Walker cabin which looked directly across at Pyramid Mountain. I would love to be able to paint that beautiful mountain with the evening sun on it. I can still picture all the different rose colors glowing. At the same time, my cousins stayed in a cabin down the lake which looked out at Mount Edith Cavell; another majestic beauty.
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by Paul Alex Bennett, Victoria, BC, Canada
I spend summers on Lake Edith and find inspiration at every turn. In fact there is so much material to draw from that one finds making choices difficult. The cottage you’re at must be at the east end of the lake where the original log cabins have all been extended and added on to. Our place, #49, was built in 1925-27 and has been kept unmodified.
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Ain’t it the truth?
by Joe Murray, Jefferson, IA, USA
Few are the genuine Muses that artists can rely on for accurate information and great artistic conversations — you provide that regularly. I cling to your bi-weekly words of wisdom as well as the letters sent in by others! Your recent adventure sounds wonderful with Sara. Enjoy and savor the experiences as tomorrow might not show up!
I am fortunate to live in a secluded valley covered with wooded hills and wildlife. So, I can relate to some of your statements like, “A great deal of painting is noticing the occasional things you do right.” I think that is very important. Most artists live in solitude to produce their magic — but yet we have to crawl out once in awhile and show our subconscious revelations to others. “Living with the easel” – Yes the easel is the station of truth or failure. But it is all relative to our mindset at the time of creation. Lastly, strokes disclose themselves and give clues to the next disclosure.” Ain’t it the truth?
I cherish your wisdom — as you say it like it is — and it makes us feel mortal and “normal” when we are living in the artist’s skin and make mistakes etc. Keep on Keeping On Robert!
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