Blog

Summerlong

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.

A Walk in the Woods

Forest trail

18 June 2019

Pink Lady’s Slipper

Spring usually arrives late in southeastern New Brunswick. Cool nights and days persisted well into June this year, slowing the seasonal shift. After a scenic drive across Canada I arrived in New Brunswick ready to spend time at our family’s home in the woods and walk the network of trails blazed by my parents years ago.

On the morning of the 18th of June the humid air was scented with balsam fir. A constant breeze promised to provide some relief from the hordes of mosquitoes and blackflies while the sun filtered through a forest canopy of new green leaves overhead. Ahead lay trails that penetrate the woods over mossy paths on higher ground, under leafy forests of birch, maple and spruce, through tall grasses and ferns in the hollows, and onward to verdent slopes by a seemingly timeless brook.

Along the way the trails twinkle with white flowers: profusions of bunchberries, seven-petalled Starflowers and occasional Canada Mayflowers. Away from the trails in light shade are large numbers of blue-beaded lilies with their upfacing yellow bell flowers. These woods are also home to Pink Lady’s Slippers, among the largest members of the Orchid family native to the region. I stopped to photograph several Lady’s Slippers as dappled light filtered through the canopy above. Mosquitoes rose to the occasion at every opportunity.

In the heart of these woods the path descends a slope to a brook that carves along through brown sandstone on its way to the Atlantic eight miles away. Fern-covered banks rise steeply under a gallery of trees that includes old gnarled maples and paper birches, occasional beeches, and a number of towering white pines, one of which is centuries old.

Until the next major rainfall the clear water in the brook makes little sound as it pushes past pebbles and rocks and over snagged branches. High overhead among the branches a vireo sings, accompanied by others in the distance.

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Victoria Trail Revisited

During a February 2019 cold spell in Central Alberta I travelled east of Edmonton, Alberta to paint along the historic Victoria Trail, one of my favourite painting areas during the 1980s and 1990s .

The founding of Victoria Settlement in the early 1860s and the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort Victoria (now Pakan) soon after, resulted in a significant amount of travel on the trail between these locations and Fort Edmonton. Along this historic path, which became known as the Victoria Trail, numerous stopping houses were established. Operated mainly by farmers to generate supplementary income, these facilities offered travellers shelter for the night and occasionally provided meals and other goods and services needed on long overland journeys. Stopping houses often became important local commercial and social centres. source: Alberta Register of Historic Places, Alberta Culture and Tourism, Historic Resources Management Branch

Victoria Trail in midwinter, pastel by D.T. Reeves
Victoria Trail in midwinter, pastel on paper, D.T. Reeves
North Saskatchewan River at Waskatenau Creek, pastel on paper, D.T. Reeves