Wednesday, 30 May 2012


When I exhibited on a regular basis I worked hard at producing new paintings and prints to exhibit and sell. It was seen as pushing it to attend an exhibition without new paintings, or new prints. It could actually jeopardize your chance of being invited back the following year. Art festivals, and the like, are held with the sole purpose of the organizers making money. After all, there are expenses involved, such as space rental and advertising, not all of which is covered by fees paid by the exhibiting artists. As a consequence artists are juried, accepted, into a show as much based upon the salability of their work as its quality.

I had little use for the so called limited edition print, or painting reproduction, viewing it as nothing much more than a calendar of questionable value. So, unlike many that I exhibited alongside I found myself working my butt off to produce original, salable work. Hand colored, open edition, etchings were my bread and butter. However, as few knew what an etching, or original print was, I found myself producing small watercolour paintings. Working this way, however, doesn’t satisfy the need to grow creatively, so from time to time I’d challenge myself with a large, complicated, original print or painting. A painting entitled, “Forest Floor”, was one such painting.

Late autumn is my favorite time of the year. The trees stand naked, and the forest floor is covered in fallen leaves. I’ve always been amazed regarding the complex eco system that turns the fallen leaves into compost, food for new growth, and one day while walking in the woods and looking down at my boots and the fallen leaves, I hit upon an idea for a painting. I prepared a full sheet of watercolour paper and drew an outline of my boots and began to paint. The boots were easy, but what came next took much longer than I thought that it would. You see, I’m a bit of a purest when it comes to watercolour refusing to use white or black pigments, and tend to paint in a painstaking dry brush method, or style.  I’d foolishly thought that I could finish the painting in a couple of weeks. Instead, at the end of two weeks I had less than a third of the painting finished. Another exhibition was on the horizon so the forest floor painting had to be set aside. Long story short, as every leaf, or two, took almost a day to paint, it was almost two years going back and forth before the painting was framed and ready for exhibition.

“Forest Floor” was a great experiment, or exercise. While painting there was quite a lot of time for thought resulting in ideas for future paintings involving fallen leaves, as well as the odd poem about my favorite time of the year.


The leaves fall silently
To the forest floor
And swirl together
Like long lost friends

In the autumn of their time
Their colors linger
Long past prime

Comes the frost that withers
And they are buried
Beneath the softly falling snow
In silence.

In the silence
They join together
On their final journey

Forest Floor   Watercolour Painting

Eastern Chipmunk   Watercolour Painting

Black-capped Chickadee     Graphite Drawing

Thursday, 24 May 2012


I may have mentioned in a previous post that I no longer exhibit my sketches and paintings. I’m no longer excited by the prospect of continually producing new work for questionable sales opportunities. My romance with art has grown cold, the business side that is. I still enjoy, love in fact, making art, but now I’d rather donate it, with the hope that it might serve to raise funds to help to promote and protect Canada’s natural heritage.

Being an artist- naturalist I tend to use my art to support charities that favor art and nature, which at the moment, as it has for many years, is the Friends of Killarney Provincial Park.

Situated on the north shore of Georgian Bay, in the municipality of Killarney, Killarney Provincial Park straddles the La Cloche, an ancient mountain range now reduced to large rounded white quartzite hills, that dominate the landscape. The white peaks and cliffs contrast with the pine and hardwood forests and the boggy lowlands that surround the parks many lakes.
For those of you who may not have heard of it, Killarney is one of Ontario's most popular wilderness destinations. It is considered one of the crown jewels of the Ontario Park system. It’s primarily a wilderness park, with but one campground and few facilities, allowing visitors a chance to experience the solitude and beauty of its undisturbed natural setting. It has spectacular hiking trails and canoe-in backcountry camping.
Killarney Provincial Park has been a source of inspiration for countless artists including members of Canada’s famous Group of Seven painters. Killarney is the artist’s idea of paradise with inspiration around every corner. Taking advantage of this fact the Friends of Killarney Park offer summer campers free art programs provided by Artists in Residence.
In 2008, with assistance from the Friends of Killarney Park, I published a book entitled, “ IMPRESSIONS – An Artist’s Introduction to Killarney Provincial Park” featuring approximately 100 of my sketches and paintings of the park. All proceeds from the sale of the book go towards supporting park programs. Copies can be obtained by visiting the Friends of Killarney Park website and accessing the gift shop.
I continue to sketch and paint Killarney, and at the moment am putting together a portfolio of  sketches, drawings, and small watercolour paintings  to assist the Friends with ongoing fundraising. Time well spent.

George Lake  Watercolour Painting

Georgian Bay Pine  Watercolour Painting

Little Shinguidah Lake  Watercolour Painting

Wolf Creek   Watercolour Painting

Wolf Creek II   Watercolour Painting

Lumsden Lake   Watercolour Painting 2012

View North From Silver Peak    Watercolour Painting 2012

Friday, 18 May 2012

Wildlife Art Is Not “Art”.

For many years I made wildlife art, or more to the point, I made watercolour paintings, drawings and original prints of mainly songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey. It was a decision that I came to easily as I am a bit of a naturalist, and an ardent bird watcher. However, all through this period of my art career I found myself, at times, almost apologetic for doing so.

We’d get together, other wildlife artists and myself, and talk throughout the night about our experiences, and about art. Most often the conversation would end with our debating the subject of wildlife art and the fact that, if it was the art of the people drawing larger crowds than almost every other art form, why then was it excluded from exhibition in our provincial and national galleries? I more often, than not, played devil’s advocate. Having friends and acquaintances that had studied, and now practiced, so called “fine art “, I thought that I knew the reason. A hard pill to swallow my wildlife artist friends refused to buy in to my reasoning, and our discussions usually ended on a bit of a sour note.

In 1990 my reasoning behind the refusal of provincial and national galleries to exhibit wildlife art was published in Wildlife Art News an American publication, and pretty much the voice for wildlife art back in the 1980s and 1990s. I’ll quote a bit of the article and you can decide whether my reasoning has validity: -

Wildlife Art: What Place In Our Society?

“……Traditional art galleries are museums, nothing more, nothing less, devoted to preserving man’s history through art. Dominated by Judeo-Christian beliefs, the traditional gallery holds that as animals have no souls they have no place in man’s history unless depicted domesticated, dominated, or dead.

Understanding that what we call “art galleries” are really nothing more than museums devoted to the humanities, we can then begin to accept that wildlife art in its purest form does not belong in the traditional art gallery.

The fact that wildlife art (except sporting art) has no place in the so-called traditional art gallery is no slight to the talent producing wildlife art. Wildlife art belongs not in museums that celebrate the destruction of nature, but rather in our natural history museums which promote and celebrate our natural heritage……….”

It is a hard pill for some wildlife artists to swallow, the fact that their art, no matter how good will never be exhibited, nor sought after to be archived, in our National galleries. But then, when all is said and done, who really cares? I personally have just been happy to have had the opportunity to work for many years at becoming an artist, and consider the time well spent.

From time to time I'd attempt to include some bits of human history in my paintings. Perhaps, it was my way of  attempting to gain acceptance of my art from a broader audience, my "fine art" friends. It never really worked. Here, I've depicted Borrowing Owls standing atop their burrow, an abandoned Prairie Dog burrow, with Anasazi pottery shells scattered. The watercolour painting is huge and the owls are life size. I still have it to enjoy.

We were, and continue to be, quite taken by the history of the Anasazi people who at one time populated much of New Mexico, then rather abruptly, some 1,200 years ago, simply disappeared, or  more probably were assimilated, by the Hopi and Navajo Indians. Here, in another oversize watercolour painting I've depicted a Broad-tailed Hummingbird feeding from Paintbrush, with Anasazi petroglyphs in the background.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast

Some years ago I became interested in hummingbirds. I’d read that, although we up here in Canada were visited by only two, or three, species, down Mexico way there were many more, perhaps as many as 58 species. I’d read that in Arizona close to the Mexican border it was possible to see as many as seventeen species. So, one day in August we headed off on a long drive to a place called Madera Canyon Park located in the Santa Rita Mountains in Southeast Arizona near to the Mexican border.

We discovered Madera Canyon and the surrounding area to be a birders paradise, quite worth the long, very long, drive, and in addition to studying many different species of hummingbirds we were able to add many new bird species to our life lists.

This trip was the beginning of a love affair with the American Southwest. We simply fell in love with its history, culture and wild places, and over the years we would make several visits to this enchanted land.

On one of these trips, early in May, we stopped off at Taos, New Mexico, for a few days. We spent the first day visiting art galleries and being amazed at the quality of the art before heading out to do some birding.  Taos is located at an elevation of close to 8,000 feet, so it should have been no surprise that spring sometimes arrives a bit late. It was quite cool with the temperature hovering at a high of only around sixty degrees Fahrenheit. There were few spring flowers in bloom with only the occasional cherry tree brave enough to open its flowers.

We’d completed an early morning hike down into the Rio Grande Gorge. Returning from our hike at around noon we decided to eat our lunch while sitting in our lawn chairs at the sheltered side of our van. Despite a cool breeze it was a wonderful day with barely a cloud in the sky. At the far end of the parking lot was a cherry tree partially in bloom. I observed a lone hummingbird investigating the blooms. “Poor hummingbird”, I thought to myself considering just how cold that it was with seemingly slim pickings food-wise. I observed that it was a Rufous Hummingbird, and then returned my attention to lunch.

Suddenly, there was a hum in front of my face and looking up I was surprised to see the same hummingbird hovering forward, then backward, in front of my face. I remained still. It hovered for a moment, and then it was gone. Amazing! But then I began to think, why would it investigate me?

It took awhile, but then I understood. I removed my hat and there was the reason. I’d stuck a Canadian Red Maple Leaf insignia pin on the side of my hat. The hummingbird had seen the flash of red and an ancient memory had come in to play telling it to investigate all things red as a possible source of food.

This incident stuck with me and upon returning home I wrote a little poem and over the next year worked on a large self-portrait entitled, “Beauty & The Beast”. I’ll let you decide just who is Beauty, and who is the Beast.

Beauty & The Beast

It hovered, and hummed in front of my face.
I stood very still and held firmly in place.
Forward, then backward, inspection complete
It flashed its red throat and finding nothing to eat,
It tilted its wing and was gone with a squeak.

Rufous Hummingbird  Hand-coloured Etching

Beauty & The Beast     Pencil Drawing 22" X 30"

Thursday, 10 May 2012

A Superior Adventure

Much of my time spent as a professional artist was producing product. Mind you, that product was art, paintings, drawings, and original prints, and I enjoyed making it. But, it was not the art that I had dreamed of making when I first studied to become an artist. I had learned early on in my career as an artist that if you wished to survive you had to earn a living, and if you weren’t going into teaching, you had to produce something for which there was a market. Being a naturalist, and having a passion for bird watching, I painted and made etchings of birds and waterfowl. Weekends and holidays, to satisfy the need to grow as an artist, we’d head off to Superior, Algonquin, or Killarney Provincial Park to canoe, hike, and to sketch. We had many adventures and I produced many sketches that I promised to share and write about in my old age. Perhaps, now is a good time to begin.
A Superior Adventure
Vacationing in mid October up on the north shores of Lake Superior is an invitation to a bag of mixed weather. Dawn breaks and the showers that plagued us the previous day begin to give way to overcast conditions and a cold north wind. Our room at Superior Adventures Lodge near to Wawa, although comfortable, was never designed to accommodate clients late into the season, and this morning it feels cold and damp. There's no hurrying to meet the day. We linger in bed enjoying the warmth of the down filled duvet until we were certain that the woodstove in the kitchen had been stoked and coffee is ready.
 Our plan for the day is to hike the trail from Old Woman Bay up into the hills where, hopefully, I can sit for awhile and complete a few sketches. Following morning coffee and a breakfast consisting of second helpings of gorp we set about preparing for our hike. It's hard to know just what to wear at this time of the year. Often times, despite the cold of the morning, afternoons can become quite warm. Water, energy bars, painting equipment, and rain jackets stored in our knapsacks we grabbed our walking sticks, jump in the car, and take off down the road for Old Woman Bay.
There's no one in the parking lot at Old Woman Bay. You can't blame anyone for delaying their trip into the park early this morning. The wind off the lake is numbing cold. A streak of blue sky on the horizon, however, holds promise that the weather might break and provide favourable sketching conditions. We head out on the trail.
The first half mile, or so, leads through a second growth forest beside a rushing river. I'm tempted to go back and get the fishing rod and give it a try. "Perhaps next time," I think to myself. The trail is wet and muddy. Water drips off the overhanging branches as we brush by and soon the cold is compounded by dampness, which seeps into our clothing. The muddy trail turns into an ancient riverbed strewn with boulders and rocks forcing us to calculate every step and slowing our pace. Another quarter mile, the trail narrows and we head up. The trail up to the ridge is well worn and made slippery by the previous day's rain. We're quickly winded, and stop often to catch our breath. We push on to the top. It seems like forever, but we make it. The view is awesome.
 Northern Ontario with its rocks and trees, small hills and mountains stretch off into the horizon. Canada's Group of Seven painters referred to this country as Algoma. Some of their best works came from this area. We hike the ridge and look for a place to make some sketches. The trail meanders up and down the ridge. We're bushed when, a half-hour or so later, we come upon a rocky outcropping with a suitable place to sit and sketch for awhile. Sandy, an avid birder, pulls out her binoculars ready for whatever bird specie that might happen by. I pull out my sketchpad and watercolours and search for a comfortable rock, if there is such a thing. As I begin to sketch the sky begins to clear and the all but leafless forest far below lights up. The few Aspens that still have leaves are lit up like blotches of gold. A lone raven soars high above. Its gronks and cackles break the silence of this place of quiet solitude.

I've gone away to my private place. It's quiet here, ever so quiet. In this place there are no troubles, nor worldly concerns. Scientists debate about the existence of alternate universes and some even go so far as to suggest that we live multiple lives in different dimensions. This must be true for in this moment I've become a witness to the world that exists before me. Unconsciously I mix paint and make marks on a piece of paper creating a memory of my being here.

Sandy rooting through the knapsack distracts me. I've been in my far away place for almost two hours. It's lunchtime. My butt is numb. My legs are cramped and I can hardly stand proving that there exists no such thing as a comfortable rock. I've managed several sketches. It's time for a break. We sit on the rocky ledge high above the forest floor eating our lunch and enjoying the warmth of the late autumn afternoon sun. I'm fascinated by the light and shadow show being played out on the forest floor caused by clouds scurrying through the sky, hurried along by a stiff northern breeze. I'm reminded of a book dealing with the life and times of Franklin Carmichael, the Group of Seven artist, entitled "Light and Shadow". Carmichael was fascinated by the shifting shadows on the La Cloche Hills. For the plein air artist the shifting shadows can be a nightmare as the landscape that they're attempting to capture is constantly changing.

Lunch finished we pack up and begin the long trek back to the trailhead. We continue along the ridge and come out on a lookout over Old Woman Bay. It's quite spectacular and although the afternoon is racing along I have to stop and make a sketch.

Sketch made we carefully pick our way down the trail clutching at trees as we stumble through washed out and wet areas. An hour later a bit bruised and tired we reach the trailhead. It's been a good day. Several sketches and no bears encountered. Yes, it's been a very good day, one to remember. Perhaps, I think to myself, I'll write about it in my oId age.