Saturday, 23 November 2013


Canoe Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park
Graphite Sketch November 2013

The other day we travelled up to Algonquin Provincial Park, another day trip to gather a bit of reference before the snow flies. The intent was to do a bit of sketching, but as it turned out the weather wasn’t all that great, snow showers and a temperature of minus 4C, made even colder by a nasty wind out of the north. I should have been disappointed, but Algonquin is not new to us as we’ve been going up there for going on thirty years, or more. And, I already have a lot of sketches, enough actually, to get me through many long cold winters. So, we parked the car at the canoe put-in at Canoe Lake, had our lunch, and enjoyed the ever changing vista while looking down the lake.

Light and shadows played with the scene before us. As the snow showers moved through the sun would peek out from behind a cloud, and light up the distant landscape. It was, you might say, a plein air painter’s nightmare. The scene before us constantly morphed from a flat treeless landscape to one filled with the shapes of a mixed forest, and a lake filled with dark swells and whitecaps. Shades of Tom Thomson’s small oil sketches came to life a we sat and watched the shifting light.

Canoe Lake is deceiving, appearing small and easily paddled, but beware. When the wind rises and blows out of the north calm water can become white-capped and a challenge to the novice.

As I watched I reflected back to the first times that I’d come up to Algonquin to sketch Canoe Lake. It was the beginning of my attempt to understand, and to follow in the steps of Canada’s iconic artists, Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven. I had this idea of writing and illustrating an art book about Algonquin Provincial Park. There would be no interest, of course, as I would learn that in the minds of the publishers Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven had “done it all”. Still, being stubborn and a bit pig headed at that time, not understanding that no one was about to upstage what had become a national treasure, I plowed ahead with my project.

Canoe Lake - Algonquin
Watercolour Sketch 1999
Spring comes late to the park compared with southern Ontario. Early in April of 1999 we went up to the park only to find that the lakes and trails were still snow and ice covered. I managed a few watercolour sketches, but as I needed to get on to the trails I was forced to continue to wait until the ice went off the lakes.

Come mid April I could wait no longer so I gathered my sketching gear and headed up to the park. I remember that it was sunny, and that it looked like the perfect day. Passing by Tea Lake I was excited to see that most of the ice was off of the lake. I drove into the parking lot at Canoe Lake, gathered up my sketching supplies and headed down to the lake.

The lake was clear of ice, but the wind, a north wind, was cold beyond believe. Still, I tried to sketch. It was only minutes before my hands and face were bordering on frost bite. Enough, I gathered everything up and headed for the shelter of my van.

 Tree Study - Canoe Lake 1999
Graphite Sketch

Tree Study - Canoe Lake 1999
Graphite Sketch

Canoe Lake - April 1999
Watercolour Sketch

Now, I suppose that for some this would have been the end of it, but as I mentioned I was at that time stubborn, and just a tad pigheaded, so I warmed myself and made several more attempts coming away with frozen fingers, a couple of sketches, and the beginning of what would become years of exploring and sketching in Algonquin. And, a digital book entitled,“WHERE RAVEN PLAYS, An Artist’s Guide to Algonquin Provincial Park”.

Saturday, 16 November 2013


Art is all about  personal interpretation and never was this made so clear when, with the publication of Jim and Sue Waddington’s book entitled “ IN THE FOOTSTEPS of the Group Of Seven, we were able to compare the actual landscape with the paintings of members of this famous Canadian group of landscape painters. It’s a marvelous book, probably one of the best written about the Group of Seven as it is written in language that everyone can understand, and reveals that the Group’s members simply enjoyed going out into wild places and sketching and painting.  I personally recommend that should you get a chance purchase a copy, or request that your local library obtain a copy.

Personal interpretation is so important when making art. When we try to make a painting look exactly like the subject we’re not making art ,we’re simply exhibiting technical skills. Unfortunately, should there be pressure to earn a living from your art, the artist is often forced to please the market, which for the most part is made up of persons void of art education and simply amazed by work that looks realistic. It’s a hard choice for young artists attempting to survive in a very competitive marketplace.

It’s interesting to note, referring back to the Group Of Seven, that the members were not terribly successful commercially during their lifetimes. It was only following the death of many of the members, and a push by private enterprise that they, and their art, became iconic. Save for Lawren Harris, who was born into wealth and never held a real employment, they all worked at one thing, or another.

Jim and Sue Waddington’s book holds special meaning to a good number of Canada’s contemporary artists. Many of us throughout our careers, having been exposed to the Group Of Seven’s works, have followed in their footsteps hoping to be inspired by the source of their inspiration. The Waddington’s book helps to demystify the Group, and challenges contemporary artists to go beyond the efforts of the Group and to introduce Canadians, the world for that matter, to our amazing natural heritage.

Graphite Field Sketch
Camp Site 77 Killarney Provincial Park

A couple of weeks ago we drove up to the park on a whim, had lunch, made a quick sketch from Camp Site 77, then drove back home. Over 300 miles, but it was worth it. I reiterate that the sketch was a quick sketch simply because the temperature was close to freezing and my fingers were quickly numbed by the intense cold. But, the mere fact that I sat there and experienced the moment, was enough to help to move the sketch to another level back in the studio.

Thumbnail Sketch

Back home a few days later I made a thumbnail sketch on a scrap piece of paper exploring a different interpretation of the scene than the field sketch. 

Detailed Graphite Drawing

I quite love drawing with graphite pencils. 
Here I've played with the landscape a bit taking some liberty with tree placement and  the foreground. 

Small Watercolour Study 5.5"X 8"

There's a lot of detail in this small study. Despite the fact that most of the leaves were off of the trees I've pedalled backwards a bit in time and turned the scene into an autumn landscape. Later, come the winter, I'll take a whack at doing a larger interpretation.

As I've mentioned it's all about personal interpretation!

Saturday, 9 November 2013


I enjoy writing just about as much as I do drawing and painting. Just as I draw and paint simply for  pleasure I write for pleasure, and, most often, as a means to wander down memory lane and revisit old friends and past experiences.

I grew up in Midland, Ontario, a sleepy town on the south shore of Georgian Bay. The town hasn't changed, or grown, much over the years. It's still dealing with the same old problem of just how to survive in an ever changing world with no resources to speak of except tourism, and the draw of Georgian Bay. Back when I was a boy, ever so many years ago, summers were long and boring. With few organized activities we had to use our imaginations to amuse ourselves.

The other day we went up to Awenda Provincial Park, which is situated on the shore of Georgian Bay and looks out on the island known as Giant's Tomb. Ojibwa legend has it that the deityKitchikewana, lies sleeping there, as the island bears the shape of a reclining figure. Looking out across the water at the island I was reminded of a special boyhood memory that Giant’s Tomb holds for me. It was near the Tomb, while crossing the Bay at what is known as the Gap, that Bill and me almost met our Maker..........

Who was Bill you might ask, well Bill and me, we  were buddies of a sort. We weren’t to remain buddies, for as the years passed we wandered down different paths, and in time our friendship became, like so many childhood friendships, simply a memory that I sometimes visit during  sleepless nights.

As I mentioned earlier, summers, when you’re young, can be long and become boring as you run out of things to do. We’d hang out and amuse ourselves doing crazy things. Once we built a rocket using a steel pipe and gunpowder pried from Bill’s Dad’s shotgun shells. It didn’t fly, but it made a heck of a bang when it exploded. We did crazy things like that.  Anyway, you get the idea.

One July afternoon Bill was inspired and suggested that we go on a canoe trip. I would have been 14 years old  at the time, and Bill would have been about a year older. Bill was a strange sort of guy, tall, lanky, with curly dark brown hair.  Part indian, Ojibwa, or so my parents said. He was a loner for the most part, except when he needed help to carry out some scheme or another, which was most of the time.

We were hanging out at the piers at the Canadian Steamship Lines winter berth when Bill suggested that we borrow his father’s canoe, and paddle up to Present Island and camp out. Now, I had no idea where Present Island was, just that if you stood on the pier and looked to the east up the Bay beyond Snake Island, that it was somewhere out there. I balked at the idea knowing that my mother would kill me if she found out. Besides, anything to do with Bill and me hanging out together was suspect to my mother. “Tell your mother that we’re going to camp out in my back yard”, Bill said, “She’ll go for that”. Not wanting to be seen as a “mother’s boy”, or as being “chicken”, I eventually succumbed. I went home, and after a lot of cajoling, my mother agreed that I could camp out at Bill’s place. Now, as Bill lived down on Fourth Street, and we lived on Sixth, and as my mother didn’t have a car, and as she was not on talking terms with Bill’s parents, I felt confident that I was safe in sneaking off with Bill and paddling up to Present Island.

At Bill’s place we stockpiled our supplies. We’d scrounged up a cooking pot, 2 cans of Libby’s Pork & Beans, a half a loaf of bread, and 2 war surplus army blankets. Bill brought along his knapsack that was always filled with bits and pieces of this and that. As Bill explained you can never know when you might need a piece of wire, a length of string, a pair of pliers, fish hooks, or an 8” hunting knife. I agreed that you’d never know. We also brought our diving fins and masks. Skin diving was our passion at the time after watching Jacques Cousteau’s movie “The Silent World”. Spear fishing with home made Hawaiian slings was also something that we were into despite warnings from the Conservation Officer that it was illegal. Bill was certain that the fishing would be good, so we threw our spear fishing gear into Bill’s Dad’s canoe with the rest of our stuff.

The plan was to wait until the coast was clear, then carry the canoe loaded with our gear from Bill’s place on Fourth Street, and dump it in the water near the train trestle beside the Townhouse grain elevator. Of course, Bill’s father knew nothing of our plans, and if he did he wouldn’t let us use the canoe, so we had to wait until it was dark. Around nine o’clock, even though it wasn’t yet dark, as Bill’s dad had driven off somewhere we grabbed the canoe, a 16 footer, canvas covered, in need of some work, heavy as hell canoe, together with a couple of old paddles, and hightailed it across the road, down into the cover of an overgrown path, and headed for the water.

We arrived at the water’s edge just as the light was fading. Bill’s a bit concerned that we don’t have any running lights and that we might get run down by a motor boat, or worse, a large grain freighter, so he ties a flashlight to the bow of the canoe. We set off. I’m in the bow seat and Bill’s in the stern. Our great adventure has begun. Ten minutes or so later, out in the middle of the harbour, the flashlight dims, flickers, and goes dead. We’re alone in the dark. It’s a cloudy night so we’re paddling blind except for shapes on the horizon. Fortunately the water is calm, like glass, so we make good time and before I know it Bill tells me that the large dark shape on my left is Snake Island. We paddle on and on, then paddle some more until there’s a very large dark shape in front of us, and we ground ourselves on a shore. “Present Island”, Bill announces. It’s well past midnight. We’re exhausted. We pull the canoe up on the shore, get out our blankets and curl up on the beach.

The sun rises early in July. We’re awake with the sun. It’s a beautiful sunrise. The sky on the horizon is a beautiful red to pink. It reminds me in many ways of a sunset.

We gather sticks and dead branches and start a fire. Bill opens the cans with his 8 inch hunting knife and we  cook up our Libby’s Pork & Beans. We failed to bring plates and utensils so we pass the pot back and forth scooping out beans with pieces of bread. It’s great, the beginning of a wonderful day.

Breakfast finished we put on our flippers and diving masks grab out fishing spears, and head out to try our luck. We have some near misses spearing bass and large carp before deciding to head back to shore. Hauling ourselves back up onto the shore we notice that there’s a bit of a wind causing a chop on the water, and that the sky is beginning to darken. Bill suggests that we head back. I’m a bit worried because if Bill, whose afraid of nothing is concerned, then, well, there’s reason to be afraid. We pile everything into the canoe and push off.

We’re not far from shore when the chop on the water grows into deep swells as the wind  out of the west picks up and the sky grows black. Bill’s confidence appears shaken as he screams over the howl of the wind to paddle like hell. It begins to really blow hard and the sky opens up and we’re pelted with huge drops of rain. The waves are hitting us almost broadside, and I beginning to think that there’s a good chance that we’re going to capsize and have to swim for it. I’m scared. Looking back at Bill I can see that he’s scared. A large wave almost rolls us over, and as we’re frantically paddling, rising with the wave, my paddle cracks and breaks. I’m left holding the handle. The blade disappears into the depths only to float to the surface beside Bill. It’s just out of his reach, but, for some unknown reason he stops paddling and reaches way out to try to catch it. With his weight outside the canoe and the large waves striking us broadside it’s enough to roll us over. The next thing I know I’m under the water fighting my way to the surface. I surface. It’s moments before I can orient myself. Looking around I see the canoe about twenty feet away drifting upside down in the direction of Port McNicoll.  There’s no sign of Bill. I try to swim to the canoe, but find that it’s a struggle to stay afloat what with the waves and my water-soaked clothes. I somehow kick off my shoes and ducking under the water I manage to undo my belt and push down my pants . I get one leg free, but the other is caught around my ankle. I’m growing weaker and am almost out of breath. Out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of Bill. He’s floating under the water, arms outstretched, eyes open and mouth wide open as if he’s shouting.I’m panicking. I try to shout back and then, nothing, just blackness........

“Ernie get up, I won’t call again.” My mother is at the foot of the stairs calling. “It’s 7:00 o’clock” she says. I’ve slept in. It’s been a strange night. I’m haunted by a dream that, although I struggle to try to remember, for the life of me I can’t remember a thing. I get out of bed, and as I’m pulling on my jeans and sweatshirt I look out my bedroom window. My bedroom window, in our house at the top of the hill at Sixth and Ottawa, and looks east out over the Bay up towards Snake Island. The eastern sky is overcast and the horizon is red to pink in colour, and reminds me a bit of what a sunset looks like. As I bound down the stairs I think how great it is to be 14 years old and remember that Bill, my buddy, and me, are going to paddle his father’s canoe up to Present Island today.

Every story has a bit of truth and in this case, Bill and me, we really did go on a canoe trip, the very trip that I wrote about. But, the canoe, although almost capsizing didn’t, and by sheer luck we made it to the shore where, exhausted we rested under the canoe to escape the pouring rain before heading home. We made it home safely, and no one was the wiser to our canoe adventure. Lesson learned, however, we never ventured across the Gap again, and to this day we choose quieter waters for our adventures.

Giant's Tomb viewed from Awenda Provincial Park
  Graphite Sketch

Giant's Tomb as viewed from Awenda Provincial Park
Watercolour Sketch

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


I was watching television the other day when the program was interrupted by seemingly unending commercials. One of the commercials did, however, peak my interest. It portrayed a yellow graphite pencil, much like the ones that we used to use in grammar school. The commercial extolled the benefits of what we're left to believe is the pencil, whereas at the end of the commercial the camera pans to the rear of the pencil and reveals a tablet computer. The message is that everything that we once did with a graphite pencil is now possible with the tablet computer. Whoa......just a minute now, are we to believe that all of the subtle nuances that can be achieved with a graphite pencil when it explores various weighted, or textured, drawing papers is achievable with a graphic art program on a tablet computer. I think not, and my advice to the tablet maker is to rethink what you're saying. Okay, so it's unlikely that the tablet maker would ever see, or for that matter address, my remark, but it's true, the computer is unlikely to ever replace the graphite pencil when it comes to drawing and sketching. It may come close, but, and I'll stand by this, it'll never replace the graphite pencil.

Anyone who has read my blog, and I suppose that there are a few of you out there , have come to know that I absolutely love to draw and sketch with a graphite pencil. It's my favourite sketching tool. Nothing else performs like a graphite pencil. It doesn't matter rain or shine, hot or cold, one can rely upon the performance of a graphite pencil to capture the moment then go on to provide detail back in the studio. As I related in my diary a few years ago there's nothing like a new pencil to fuel the creativity: -

SEPTEMBER 1, 2009: While walking home after having attended the Monday Afternoons With John writers session I found a pencil. I had just crossed Yonge Street with the lights and was walking up Eighth Street passed the Dairy Queen when, there it was, lying on the sidewalk. It was in perfect condition, black with a silver eraser holder. It was brand new. I knew that it was brand new because the lead was still sharp and the eraser was unused. I was beside myself. I realize that some would find this strange, but for me anything that can make marks be it a pencil, pen, brush, or crayon represents an opportunity for expression of one form or another. With a pencil I can write a poem, or an essay. It also enables me to make marks and to express the endless imagery that constantly runs through my mind. If I had found a used pencil I wouldn't have been as excited. You see a used pencil has been emptied of most of its possibility. A brand new pencil, however, is filled to brimming with possibility. It was a treasure to behold. I rushed home and with my brand new pencil began to write and sketch-

Attached are several pencil drawings of the Rocky Mountains, Lake Superior, Algonquin Provincial Park, Killarney Provincial Park, and Georgian Bay. Tell me that it's possible to do these drawings on a tablet  computer.