When I made the trip from Edmonton to Salt Spring Island for the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) 2012 workshop, the primary purpose was the workshop, which was focused on plein air painting. My personal goal for the trip was a bit broader than just painting. For me, this was an opportunity to indulge my other artistic passion – photography. On this trip I carried three cameras with me: a Nikon DSLR with three lenses and accessories (all of the photos in this blog post came out of the Nikon), a Panasonic point-and-shoot camera and my Samsung Galaxy S III . Between these cameras I collected some 2500 images over the 10 days!
Within the realm of photography I had three distinct goals:
1. The first was to capture reference photos of the varied coastal and inland landscapes for use in landscape paintings.
2. My second goal was to take some good, clear quality photos that can stand on their own.
3. The third goal was to capture abstract photo images that might serve as references for abstract paintings.
With these abstract photos I do not look for details or necessarily recognizable elements. I am more interested in capturing colors and patterns and flowing lines. My basic technique for abstracting an image is through motion between the camera and subject, during the exposure. This often requires a slow shutter speed which may necessitate using a neutral density filter. I usually will move the camera (in one or more directions) but on this trip I was also traveling by train so I also made use of the train’s motion relative to the landscape outside. In this blog post I share a few of the abstract images I generated on this trip.
That first image was shot from the train on the way to Vancouver. When I got to Salt Spring Island I spent my first day (the day before the painting workshop began) hiking with my camera gear. I set off for a favorite place from my visit to the island 5 years earlier – the rain forest in the valley of Cusheon Creek . With the heavy, lush tree cover, it was not very bright (except for where the sun broke through the canopy). These conditions were however quite suitable for the long exposure shots that I was taking.
As beautiful and quiet as the Cusheon Creek area was, it was a bit unnerving – just as I entered the area I noticed a sign warning that a cougar had been spotted in the area! Fortunately I did not run into one (but it was always in the back of my mind).
After this day of photography, it was 5 days of painting (with a bit, okay quite a bit, of reference photography) before another free day to wander about with the cameras and then a couple of travel days. I returned to Edmonton from Vancouver via the train, so once again had an opportunity to see what type of abstractions I could capture while in motion.
Well here I was, Sunday November 18, 2007, the last full day of my vacation/painting excursion on Salt Spring Island. I wanted to make the most of it but I had so many thing that I wanted to do, places to discover and revisit, that I didn’t know where to start. I did start off leisurely though – sleeping in a bit more than was normal, then having some hot chocolate beside the fire and cooking up some scrambled eggs for breakfast.
It was not raining this morning so I was definitely heading outside but I was unsure what to do. On the one hand I would like to do some painting on the other hand I could go out with my camera, cover a lot more ground and collect reference photos to use later for paintings back in the studio.
Photo taking is what I did – with a vengeance. I finished off my second memory card (started a 3rd) and depleted all of my batteries (again). I followed what were becoming familiar paths – heading down to Beddis Beach and then continuing on to Cusheon Creek. Wanting to explore a bit of new territory, once down by the creek I took the trail to the right, east, towards the ocean rather than starting my trek upstream as I had been doing.
I never did reach the ocean outlet on this hike. The trail seemed to fizzle out but like they say “it’s not about the destination, its about the journey” and the journey this day was good – good for photos and good for the soul.
After the journey in the valley I was back to Beddis Beach (yet again):
It was at this point that I had filled my memory card so I headed back up Beddis Road to pick up a new one from “home” before continuing my photo gathering walk up Beddis Road.
Heading back to Fridas Villa , I couldn’t help but go right past it down to the beach again for one last visit. By this time it was getting dusky but that just lent yet another mood to this favorite place.
It seems I should end the story here and with that serene last photo but it was still only 5 pm on this last day. That evening I did take one more shot at painting (inside of course, at the kitchen table).
I worked on a variation of the abstracted piece I’d done the day before. I wasn’t too happy with it though – the light didn’t seem right. Finally I painted a quick little landscape, just to use of the remaining paint on my palette, then cleaned up my painting gear and packed it away. I spent the rest of my last evening with a soak in the hot tub and some time beside the fireplace – it doesn’t get much better than that.
Wednesday Nov 14, 2007, my third full day on Salt Spring Island. It is a cool, overcast day but painting in on my agenda. I load up my gear and head out to the Cusheon Creek area that I had scouted out the day before.
I painted a couple of small studies focusing on the creek, the orange leaf litter and the green trees but I was not happy with either one. Admittedly I had not been doing much plein air painting recently and I was feeling very rusty. Still I hoped that I had captured something of the feeling of the area that I could use, along with my reference photos, to create a decent painting back in the studio. By the time I had done the 2 sketches, the 5 degree temperature had made me feel quite chilled, so I was happy to head back to the villa for lunch (and to warm up by the fireplace).
After lunch, I headed back to the creek area but I didn’t take my painting gear, electing instead to hike with my camera and collect more reference photos. I want to explore a different portion of the valley this time so I walked up to the end of Creekside Road and then descended into the valley and hiked back along the creek – trying to follow it all the way to where the creek empties into the ocean. Unfortunately the trail seemed to fade away and I never did get all to way to the coast. Nonetheless I had a great walk and captured another 100 photos of the area.
That was pretty much the day. After dinner I started reading Emily Carr’s book Hundreds and Thousands. Emily Carr of course is from Victoria and painted coastal landscapes that inspire me and are reminiscent of some of the landscapes that I’ve been experiencing on the island.
As the rain came down during the evening I decided to fore-go a planned hot tub soak but I did do a bit of painting. Set-up on the kitchen table I reworked the “Trees” painting that I had done earlier in the day, down by the creek.
(Incidentally, I used only palette knives for all my painting on this trip)
November 13th (2007) – this very well may have been the best day of my trip. The morning was magical and the day was one of joyful discovery. I awoke around 6, just as it started to get light outside. As there was no storm this morning I decided to head down to the beach to catch the sunrise. I was out the door by 7 and at the beach 10 or 15 minutes later. The beach is, not surprisingly, deserted and it is much wider (perhaps 5 meters now) than when I visited the day before. I watch the eastern horizon glow and brighten for about 15 minutes before the intense sunlight slides above the distant mountains and clouds. The scene is beautiful and peaceful and I just close my yes and let the sun bathe me – ahhh.
With the sun shining on me I am warm – so warm that I take off my boots and wade into the water – just to say I did (the water was indeed breathtakingly cold).
I could have stayed there on the beach much longer but I had things I wanted to do, so just after 8, I headed back up to the Villa and had some breakfast (croissants with butter and strawberry jam and some hot chocolate).
As pleasant as my morning was, that was just the start. Tracy and Carl (owners of Fridas Villa) had mentioned that there was a nice rain forest not far away and paying a visit was my plan for the rest of the morning. Access to the Cusheon Creek rain forest is gained by following Beddis Road south to where it intersects with Creekside Drive. a little way along on the left (south) side of the road is an access trail.When planning out this trip I was aware of a little beach near by but had no knowledge of this little gem of a lush green wilderness area just a 15 minute walk away.
I started down the little trail from the road and was soon blown away by the beauty – lush green trees, moss and ferns and a vibrant orange carpet of fallen leaves; a charming little creek and wooden bridges crossing it. I started snapping photos and kept going until I had completely exhausted my camera batteries – over 200 photos in an hour and a half!
I had taken a number of decent photos and with many that could be used for painting references but for now I was done and headed back home for a bite to eat before my next adventure.
It was finally time to get to the whole point of this excursion – PAINTING! I loaded my plein air gear into my backpack and returned to Beddis Beach. I set up at the south end of the beach looking north at a scene that included beach, ocean distant land. I was working on an 8 by 10 inch (20×25 cm) panel using oil paints and a fairly natural palette of colors.
It was a nice sunny afternoon but I was disappointed that I was unable to capture that in my painting – it seemed very flat, in terms of values. Partly discouraged, I did not start another painting that afternoon – besides, I had another mission to complete before darkness.
The day before, on my walk to Ganges I had noticed a cheese farm just a short way up Beddis Road. After dropping off my paintings supplies I walked up to Moonstruck Cheese Farm where I bought a Camembert and a chunk of Tomme d’Or. I grated some of the Tomme d’Or on the pasta that I made for dinner and enjoyed the cheeses though the week.
In the evening, I did a bit of thinking about my painting, what worked and especially what didn’t. I thought a lot about value scales and the limitation of recreating the full scale of nature with paint pigments. I reminded myself that the absolute values on my painting will necessarily be different form the value of something exposed to direct sunlight. I also spent some time thinking about my use of white paint in my paintings – for a long time I had shunned it but now it was back in my palette (for better or worse?).
I had started my day catching the sunrise on Beddis Beach and dipping my feet in the ocean. Now, I ended off the day taking advantage of another of the great amenities at Fridas Villa – a hot tub in the back yard. A luxurious half hour soak under a wonderfully starry sky was a perfect ending to a great day!