Every day for much of June and July felt like a new journey. My new website was up and running and I looked forward to leading a series of summer art workshops I developed at the beautiful, historic Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage near Nanton, Alberta. Along with a number of other Alberta plein-air artists I was invited to participate in an upcoming exhibition In the Open Air at the Leighton Art Centre. And, with a box of pastels, a painting chair and roadmaps I headed east across the Canadian Prairies, through northwestern Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River and down to southeastern New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy.
I’ve always liked to say “you learn something new every five minutes”. While that may not literally be the case I believe that, if you choose a path less travelled, chances are good that down those roads you will make all sorts of interesting discoveries. Crossing Canada by car it is tempting to just trace the bold lines of the TransCanada Highway, thinking in terms of getting from point A to point B. I prefer to study roadmaps to look for alternatives, steering clear of the larger cities and instead winding my way through a large country dotted with small towns. When you stop for a few minutes in those small towns along the way the whole country seems friendlier.
Budgeting time to stop and paint during a long distance trip takes a bit of doing, but I find that less stressful driving goes hand in hand with finding a good spot to stop, walk around, engage the senses and perhaps get out the sketchbook or pastels. It helps that midsummer light remains well into the evening, extending the time available to explore. In the space of three days in early July I experienced three unforgettable moments during short walks, quite by chance: a turtle by a lake covering a nest of freshly-laid eggs with sand, two sandhill cranes walking along a trail in a forest, and a common merganser guarding its nest in a hollow of a large tree.
Sitting quietly and observing, I feel that the painter becomes part of a moving world in which all of nature is in motion. Clouds drift overhead, waves ripple to shore and shift sand and stones, trees sway, grasses bend in the wind. All of these are experienced, captured by my eyes and laid down on paper with pigment.
On this journey I began to understand much more about the landscapes I encountered. I felt I made deeper connections with the lakes and forests I experienced in northwestern Ontario and Algonquin Park. With practice I began to recognize the subtle shifts of colour and reflected light out over the Atlantic by the New Brunswick shore.
And along the way I met some kind, wonderful people and discovered that our journeys are shared in friendship going forward.