Here are seven of my favorite photos taken in the last week – the end of January into the first few days of February. Over these days the weather in Edmonton has changed from wind chills below -30C to mild sunny days with temperatures of +5. On the cold days I had no choice but to take photos with my Nikon DSLR but on the warm days I was able to break out (and most importantly operate it with my bare hands) my iPhone.
Some photos of the cold but colorful mornings in Edmonton, the first week of winter, 2010:
Living in a northern climate with a healthy dose of winter (usually with snow on the ground for 4 or 5 months, each year), I have to ask myself why I have so few landscape paintings with snow. I do like to take photos of snowy landscapes, often with the good intent of using them for painting references but so far there are not a lot of paintings.
Last night I was reading Deviant Spirits by Ross King and ran across this passage (on page 166) that got me thinking:
Although Quebec painters such as Gagnon, Cullen and Suzor-Coté had tackled snow and ice before, landscapists in English Canada generally steered clear. They recognized , as one critic observed, that to paint a Canadian landscape under snow was “unpatriotic, untactful and unwise.” Canada’s cold climate and deep snow had been a sore point at least since Voltaire mocked the country as “a few acres of snow.” As Jefferys put it “Our climate, winter especially, was regarded as sort of a family skeleton.”
So that’s the story I’ll stick with for now – to paint snow would be to perpetuate an embarrassing Canadian stereotype. Seriously though, I love snowy landscapes and have spent some time studying the more successful ones. Particularly, I have paid attention to the value range of successful paintings – how the values of snow in shadows compares to that in sunlight. I will no doubt be tackling the Canadian landscape in snow in the months and years to come.
One of my few successful snowy landscapes to date was my 2009 oil painting Winter Sunrise on the Rails . This painting was inspired by a photo I took in December of 2008 as I traveled by train from Toronto, home to Edmonton. The scene was from the back of The Canadian somewhere around the Ontario-Manitoba border, probably about an our east of Winnipeg. The sun was just breaking over the horizon and glimmering along the rails behind us.
I recently had a print of this painting made at RedBubble and I’m pretty thrilled by the way it looks framed up with a black mat.
Prints of this image, Winter Sunrise on the Rails are available for purchase at RedBubble as cards and prints of various sizes, matted or framed, if desired. The original painting is also still available for purchase.
Here is one of my earlier winter landscapes done back in 1993. This scene depicts the Moose River in Northern Ontario
There is a bit of a story behind this painting, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Although sunrise photos can be rather cliche, I have encountered and photographed a number of striking skies in recent weeks. Here area few of them:
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!