This painting series was a bit unique for me. It had a common theme in terms of the subject matter – all of the images were drawn from what I saw (and captured with photos) during the night while on a train between Edmonton and Vancouver in November of 2007. What was unique for me was the use of oil pastel on a number of the works, and oil paint on a couple of larger ones.
The first day of my November 2007 adventure to Salt Spring Island was the train journey from Edmonton to Vancouver (as described in an earlier blog post). I arrived at Vancouver’s Pacific Central station around 0830 on a Sunday. On this, day 2, I continued on towards my destination of Salt Spring Island. I would need to catch a ferry but first I would need a bus to Tsawwassen. Fortunately the bus terminal is co-located with the train station and the bus travels via the ferry to Victoria, so I buy one ticket that will cover my transportation from the Vancouver train station all the way to the Fulford Harbour ferry terminal on Salt Spring Island.
Fortunately I had an hour or two between train arrival and bus departure so after I had bought my ticket, I had breakfast and then strolled around, enjoying the coastal humidity and greenery, before finding a bench upon which to sit and wait for the bus loading time. The next part of the journey went very smooth – I got my luggage onto the bus, got a seat and rode until we were on the ferry at Tsawwassen, an hour or so later. Once on the ferry it was off the bus and time to wander around the big boat. I headed up to the deck and back to the stern as the ferry began it’s trip across the Georgia Strait, through the Gulf Islands and to Swartz Bay ferry terminal north of Victoria.
As it was November 11th, Remembrance Day in Canada, so I paused at 11:00 to remember. With the overcast skies, cool sea breeze and very few other people around, it was a solemn and memorable moment.
I always enjoy the ferry trip between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, especially as we move through Active Pass, the narrow channel between the Gulf Islands of Mayne and Galiano. After an hour and a half the ferry arrived at Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. Shortly before arrival I made my way down to the vehicle deck to pick up my luggage from the bus. Then I made my way back up top to join the pedestrians walking off of the ferry.
At the Swartz Bay terminal I found my way to another, much smaller, ferry that would take me on a 35 minute journey back over to Salt Spring Island .
As we approached the Salt Spring I was reminded why I love it there. I could see natural beauty of the mountains, veiled by low clouds and there was a touch of autumn color on the shore too. Then of course there were reminders of the quirky and creative nature of this place exemplified by the floating domicile in the bay as the ferry approached the Fulford Harbour dock.
I was met at the ferry terminal by Tracy Harrison and Carl Borgstrom, proprietors of Fridas Villa and given a ride to their home. Attached to their home is Fridas Villa, a self-contained one bedroom suite that I had reserved for my stay. It is located on Beddis Road just a short walk from Beddis Beach and (as I would discover) a number of other wonderful locales
After a day and a half on the rails, waves and roads I was ready to stay put. By the time I got settled in to my home for the next week, it was already mid-to-late afternoon (I was on holidays and not paying much attention to the exact time). There was however a little time (i.e. daylight) left for exploring the “neighborhood”. I headed down the road towards the ocean, past a friendly looking community orchard and down a little trail to the beach. Being late afternoon it was already cooling off and there was a bit of a wind but the beach was very refreshing and comforting. I spent some time strolling up and down the gravel beach soaking in the atmosphere and scouting out possible painting locations. I would return to Beddis Beach everyday over the coming week and come to see it in a variety of conditions.
After this brief walkabout it was starting to get dark so I headed “home”, finished getting settled in and spent the evening resting in front of the fireplace. The next day I wanted to get down to work!
It was November 10, 2007 that I set off on a solo artistic adventure. I might have called it a holiday but I would get some strange looks. Summer holidays in Canada – sure. Winter Holidays (especially to play in snow ) okay, but November, to the west coast, at the start of the wet season? Well maybe I’ll just call it a work trip.
The plan was to spend a week painting on Salt Spring Island on Canada’s west coast. I expected to do plein air painting so my pochade box was a key piece of the equipment that I had to bring with me – along with a tripod to hold the pochade, a small stool to sit on and a canvas backpack to lug it all around. In order to transport this stuff (and a wooden case for my painting panels) to the coast I needed a big case. I thought about purchasing a commercial shipping case but in the end I shopped around and bought a suitcase big enough( but not too big) to be dedicated to these art supplies. Along with this large (and heavy) case I had a smaller backpack to carry my clothes and personal effects.
The first day was a travel day – getting from Edmonton to the coast. My preferred mode of transportation is the train so I boarded “The Canadian” in Edmonton on a Saturday morning for the trip. The journey would take nearly 24 hours crossing half of Alberta, through the mountains and across British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. The train was a couple of hours late leaving Edmonton but we were on the rails by mid-morning on our way to Jasper. There is not a whole lot to see on this first leg as the November landscape in Alberta is pretty bleak – dried grasses and leafless trees. It was however a pleasant enough day and I just relaxed by settling into my coach seat, taking a deep breath and watching the world go by.
By later in the afternoon as the train approached Jasper National Park, bits of snow could be seen at the sides of the track and once into the Park, snow could be seen at the higher elevations of the mountains.
We arrived in Jasper and had an opportunity to de-train and wander around the town a bit but because we were already running late, the stop was not as long as normal.
The departure from Jasper was late afternoon ( little after 4PM) and it was already getting darkish with the sun having dipped below the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately this meant I wouldn’t be seeing much of the scenery and I certainly wouldn’t be having any photo ops (or so I thought). Within an hour it was dark but still I kept my eyes and little Pentax camera pointed out the window looking for light and interesting sights.
Throughout the evening and into the night I would take photos from the window of the moving (or occasionally stopped) train. The long exposure and movement did not make for very good traditional photographs but I loved the abstraction, the effect of the mysterious, blurred motions.
Many of the photos I took that night served as inspiration for my Night Train series of paintings. I did not sleep very deeply that night – between trying to get comfortable on the train seat, the distractions and just the excitement of being on a journey – but I didn’t care. I recall waking up many times through the night as the train passed through a town or a small station. I would wake up briefly, snap a photo or two then drift off again. As night became early morning The Canadian was rolling through the Fraser Valley, back towards civilization. Between the lightening sky and man-made structures and lights a number of photo ops were presented. Again a number of these photos (still not much on their own) served as inspiration/references for some abstract paintings.
This leg of the journey ended around 0830 in the morning as The Canadian (which I had been on for nearly a day but which had departed Toronto four and a half days earlier) pulled into Vancouver Pacific Central station . Stepping onto the platform I was struck by that unmistakable west coast humidity and the relative warmth (compared to Edmonton in November).
The next leg of my journey would be a bus to the ferry but I had a bit of time to grab a bit of breakfast and stroll out to the front of the station. A treat it was to see green grass and even some shrubs with leaves (us prairie folk are easily impressed by this time of year)
Next: a bus, a couple of ferries and a car ride to get to my destination on Salt Spring Island – for the real start of my adventure.