Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thin Ice

For those of you who don't already know. I live three houses plus one general store up from a small 'kettle' lake called Musselman's Lake (or Musselman Lake--the 's' remains undecided). It's not as rural as you might think; the houses, renovated cottages, are close and crowded, in the summer the traffic is bad, and if you teleported the traffic to another planet, you could drive to downtown Toronto in less than 35 minutes (this never happens). The town of Stouffville (my official address) likes to bill itself as "country close to the city" but it is being rapidly swallowed up by the suburbs of Markham, which is itself a suburb of Toronto. Yes, we do have a Walmart. That said, we do live just a few steps away from a lake wherein fish and ducks and geese and sometimes people (not me) swim.
Swimming season is over--the lake is slowly freezing over. A few days ago the soft ice held lovely patterns that absolutely fascinated me. My camera said, 'nothing here' (actual I got a 'manual focus' message) but I snapped a picture anyway. Assuming I had filmed nothing but a vast white expanse, I had to try to reproduce it as a watercolour. Originally this was intended to be a background for some printing, but as soon as the pigments hit the paper I was so mesmerized by its spread and flow that I got completely carried away. The result you see here, but it lacked both composition and story. While there's not much I can do about the composition, the story made its appearance in the form of Stouffville's finest coming out to perform cold water rescue maneuvers.
I'd already been planning to write a post titled 'thin ice' to go along with my latest salty watercolour wash, so the sheer coincidence was amazing. Normally I do my walks in a public forest but my husband just happened to want to stroll around the lake instead. Of course, being familiar territory, I left my camera behind.
So here's what we saw. Two firetrucks idling on the side of the street across from Musselman's Lake only public beach. Six guys on the shore. One guy in a special waterproof float suit walks out onto the ice. There was less than 50 metres of ice before it thinned into open water, but he walked and he walked, and jumped up and down and he walked some more and nothing at all happened. I'm assuming everyone's expecting it to break at some point. Finally, when he reached the absolute edge of the ice, he threw his hands up in the air in despair and sat down on the edge and slipped into the water, swimming pool style. (On a second try, he did a nice splashy jump). Two guys, also aquatically dressed, step into what looks like an inflatable kayak but it has a hole in front and back that allows them to hold the contraption at waist level. And they walked and they walked all the way up to the thin edge of the ice and it didn't crack under them either. They had to push the kayak into the water just like you would in summer time off a fine sand beach and paddled over to 'rescue' their buddy. This seemed to consist of gently running the guy over with their kayak until his head was in the hole (and if anyone doesn't get this sequence, I'll try to do a cartoon) and then the forward man grabs the 'victim' by the shoulder and hauls backwards to pull him in (with lots of encouraging yells) and then the remainder of the crew waiting on land hauls them all back across the ice with a tow line. This was repeated for plenty of practice; splashing and laughter rang across the lake as we walked away. When my walk was finished I grabbed my camera and returned just in time to see them stowing their gear into the trucks. One kind gentleman offered to send me some photos when I told him about forgetting my camera. If they do, and if I get their express permission, I'll post them here. In the meantime, you'll have to make do with my 'missed the boat' photos.
Moral of the story should be don't walk out on thin ice but that was perversely untrue this time around, so it'll have to be never leave your camera behind.

Image: watercolour on 11" x 14" strathmore bristol. Salt in the wash. Paynes gray & cadmium red. Photo of the swirly ice at the bottom.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sleeping Beauty

When I was a child I read the tale of a princess laid to slumber, to be awakened by a kiss. Now that I'm older, I know the magic to be true. Under the snow, the forest sleeps, waiting for the summer sun.

Image: 11" x 14" Strathmore 300 series bristol, watercolour, coloured pencil. Yet another salty wash. One pass, prussian blue, paynes gray, and some viridian sprinkled (literally) in. I think I used a toothbrush. Alcohol too (and, no, I don't mean I was sipping a martini). This is another tortured piece of bristol. Soaked, stretch, scraped (ps. if you try this at home, do not swipe with a cloth if you want a smooth finish) and, after laying down the wash, sandpaper, not kidding. After that, it was just a matter of remembering what I saw a few days ago and picking out the details with pencil crayon. This took much longer than I expected. Much time spent closing my eyes. Much time spent staring out the window, much time spent squinching up my eyes trying to figure out where the branches and trees should be, etc.. It was night, so no photo reference! It was one of those beautiful nights with thick heavy snow weighing down every horizontal surface that you want to remember forever.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trout Run

This is not the first iteration. I've been fascinated by the yearly trout run since I first noticed them. They gather late in the autumn, in a clear cold creek that runs through the Hollidge Tract. The water rises barely above the knees but even on the hottest summer days it remains chill. Sometime after Thanksgiving, if you lean over the culvert, you are sure to see them holding their place in the fast running water. Your shadow and footsteps will frighten them into dark places; you need to be stealthy to see them. You need to observe. The river bottom is clean rough sand and rounded pebbles and stones. The trout blend in. It takes time to recognize what you see, but once you do, welcome to another world. With a little foresight, you'll bring binoculars and you see they are beautiful. Their fins are fox red marked with white blazes and black lines. Their backs are dark and contain the patterns of the stones they glide across. These are brook trout.
I'm not sure what exactly it is that holds me in such fascination. Perhaps it is their yearly return in time with the rhythm of the season. Or maybe its the way they act and react in unison, all of one mind, and yet each is led by its own thoughts and desires. But what I think fascinates me most of all is that to them I am but a quivering shadow, and though they are but metres away, they are worlds apart.

Image: ACEO, 2.5" x 3.5" Strathmore 300 series bristol, watercolour, printers ink, hand-pulled print. This is not the first the first version. The first version is a letterbox slumbering in the woods (google letterboxing if you really want to know). The second version was the same scene, done on holiday after seeing brook trout in Chickanishing Creek. That one was done in crayola marker and sent as a postcard to a friend. I keep doing the same scene over again in a variety of ways. I don't think I'll stop. Here I'm showing you the full sheet of paper. It's the first time I've soaked and stretched bristol. It wasn't happy with the process. It pilled. It streaked. I layered two salty washes of watercolour on top. The first being cadmium yellow and cadmium red. The second being mostly prussian blue, with just about anything else flicked in. Basically this was a kitchen sink process, as I just did a bunch of things to the paper. Also, literally, I did this over the kitchen sink. My wet work is usually done in the basement, but it was sunny and I didn't want to miss a single ray of it, so put my board across the sink and went at it. I almost didn't want to print on the result. I've decided I like using bristol very much for watercolour. The pills dissappeared when dry, and the paper is in good shape. Yes it complains when wet, but it gets over it. It holds patterns very nicely.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Don't Eat These..

My best guess as to the identity of these shrivelled and cob-web bedecked fungi is Sphagnum-bog Galerina (galerina tibicystis) [cortinariaceae, Agaricales]
. While they were well past their prime, they match the description in colour, size, spore-print (all that rusty stuff on the cobwebs and generally all over), and location (the middle of a lush patch of sphagnum).
However, such mushrooms are incredibly difficult to positively identify. Mycologists (those who study fungi) have a name for them. LBM's. If that brings to mind some obscure but deadly military application you're on the right track. LBM is short for Little Brown Mushroom. There are lots of them. Some of the deadliest mushrooms are LBM's; also a few of the hallucinogens (so called magic mushrooms) fall into this category. There are even a few edible LBMs. In all honesty, I haven't a clue what it actually is/was excepting that it is definitely an LBM. That said, I've enjoyed it's aesthetic possibilities thoroughly, but I won't be tasting such things anytime soon (okay, never, I hope). I'll take the expert advice and leave the LBMs in the ground. It's fun to guess on paper, but better left off the plate.

Image: Coloured Pencil on 10" x 7" Strathmore Bristol. This one was dense and a bit of a struggle. Okay, a lot of a struggle. Last Friday, I was ready to give up on it, then I went for a walk and thought, more Blue! Electric Blue (that's a specific Prismacolor pencil). It's brilliant but extremely translucent and it's great for burnishing darks. I had to go into the background with tape to lighten the mess I'd made, which destroys the tooth of the paper, but I determined to finish it. Flawed or not, I'm glad I pursued this thing in the end. Someday, I may even gain control of my obsessively squiggly lines.

Tip of the Day: You don't learn a thing by giving up.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Back to Back Stickleback

I have become, finally, a proud owner of art. Not my own art, and let's not quibble about definitions here, but other peoples art. Maybe this surprises you, or not, but I'm not in the market to be a buyer, nor do I expect to be. I don't even hang my own art, avoiding the expense of matting and framing. I'm that cheap, or lets say frugal (sounds better). But on Thursday I went to an ATC Trading Event at the local gallery (Latcham
Gallery in Stouffville). For those not yet in the know, ATC stands for Art Trading Card and by definition are sized 2.5 x 3.5 inches. We trade them (if you sell them, and I have, they are ACEO's, another story). I should feel especially priveleged that my small town has a gallery of its own--the curator told me so. I tend to agree with her, especially being admissions are free. See what I mean by cheap, erm....frugal.
It was, for me, a pretty nervy thing to do, putting my art out there, in front of real people who might actually think my art sucks. The internet doesn't count, because I won't see you grimace. But I did it, and then stepped back into the shadows to do a pretty good imitation of being a turtle while the trading commenced. I had back-up (hi Cyd), but she abandoned me for the bathroom (and yes I am that insecure that it felt that way) but it worked out well in the end. People asked me to trade with them. Oh wow! The fish prints went over quite well, and some other things.
I was afraid there would be dickering, like you can't have that card unless I get this one, etc. but it was basically you pick yours, I pick mine, this is fun and then on to the next person. So now I have 13 original art cards. I'm so proud to have art to hang that I bought myself a cork board for their display and gently pinned some of my favourites (to be changed and rearranged at anytime). I've pinned around the cards, not into the cards. My only disappointment is that I didn't get any contact information. As I couldn't get permission to post their artwork, I smudged the actual artwork as I'm a stickler for copyright rules.
For those of you interested in printmaking, the trio of stamped impressions shows the progression an almost finished stamp. I test it out, and see how much more carving I need to do. You can always carve more, but you can never put back, so making test prints along the way is super important. I got this one finished with only 4 tests, the 4th being final. I've used material whose name escapes me. People call it "the soft stuff", possibly 'softoleum'. I'm not sure as I buy it by feel--as in I walk over to the printmaking section, pull out the materials, decide which piece feels good and buy it. It's gritty like linoleum but thick and carves like butter. It's heavy and feels good in the hands. I love this stuff and would gladly carve nothing else. I've scanned the block too so you can see how I get carried away in the negative spaces. This can be a problem (I'm struggling with a coloured pencil piece due to this impulse) but I just love doing those swirly lines even if they end up invisible in the final production. For the actual ATC's, I did salty watercolour washes over a failed painting to use as background. It felt very good to reclaim the paper (also, fits in with being phenomenally cheap, erm...frugal). I used black & gold water-based printers ink and a small roller. I rolled the ink onto a piece of acrylic, and then rolled the ink onto the stamp. I cut the ATC's out with a knife when all was dry.
The stickleback is a small fish that inhabits all sorts of lakes, streams and ponds. There are a multitude of species and researchers love to study their genetics. This carving doesn't represent any particular one as it is rather stylized. They are, however, that spiny and their eyes are that enormous.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brilliant Blogger Award

Thank you so much Michelle Hendrey for this award (and the other one that I failed to pick up, so sorry, as I really really appreciated getting it). You are such a great artist that an award from you is an immense honour. And thank you for making this award obligation free, so that I can freely pass it on.
This is my FIRST time to pick-up an award, so please forgive any rookie mistakes.
In no particular order, I would like to thank and pass this award to:
Chrissy Marie: she runs a fun and busy blog, and has always made me feel welcome there. You can see all her beautiful cards, watercolours and more at her blog. Her positive energy just sparkles across the internet. (ps. thanks, and apologies for not picking up the blog award you gave me: the sentiment was hugely appreciated!)
Jennifer Rose: who keeps my blog feeling much loved with a comment about everything. She does great coloured pencil work (and more) and blogs about her life as a Canadian in Scotland.
Visioneer Windows: (who will probably remain silent on the matter) for creating and maintaining a blog that is always intensely thought-provoking in words and pictures.
Cyd: a fellow blogger who gets to make comments in person over coffee and donuts. She does crafty/knitty things, and we get to see each others works in real time. I am privileged to get to touch and feel the things she's blogging about.
This award is obligation free: so enjoy and pass it on only if you wish. Thank you Brilliant Bloggers!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November Evening -- Hollidge Tract

Autumn, when days dwindle, and night grows. Nowhere is this more apparent than a sunset walk through the woods. On a summers eve, the hot sun still pierces the canopy from high above. But daily, angles sharpen, careening into the horizon, tumbling into Autumn, and racing towards Winter.
It is the dark time of the year before the snow falls to light the way. Rain clouds spill across the landscape darkening the day. Even on clear days, my walks will end in darkness as the sun sinks ever earlier into the west.
But there is poetry in the fast dimming light. Amber sparkles through the edges of autumn leaves, rays of ruby pierce the shadowy lace of barren trees, a sliver moon of alabaster peaks through a pearl pink sky. And finally, sun sunken into the depths of the west, the aqua gleam of the near night sky brims full with the portent of starlight, and the boles of the trees glow with slow and secret life.

Image: ACEO's, 2.5" x 3.5" each, coloured pencil on 140lb watercolour paper. And nope, I won't be parting with these for love or money. Hopefully, I will get around to doing 4 larger pieces (8x10 or so), based on these minis.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's a Girl!

Just an update on Swan #787: sorry no pics today. I'm posting from the local library today taking full advantage of their high speed internet access.

I just got a surprise phone-call: it was from the guy who tagged the swan and he gave me the following info.
#787 was tagged at the Stouffville Reservoir (about 15km south of the lake) in June 2003. Its a GIRL! Apparently she's sticking close to home. She was hatched in the wild, mated but failed to hatch anything that year. So, congratulations #787 on your 5 strapping teenagers and your handsome mate.
For those of you who wonder why swans are getting tagged in the first place: large tags are visible to the general public, which means that busy-bodies like me get on-line, google "swan tagging ontario" and find reporting forms and help the researchers track their movements and activities. Nifty, eh? So if you see a tagged anything, and can read it, take some notes and report. Someone will thank you.

And more from the swan-guy. If you see trumpeter swans in Ontario, tagged or not, readable or not, they would very much like you to report your siting. They would like to know the location, date, the number of adult swans (white) and the number of signets (beige) or new babies, and the number of tagged (even unreadable tags) versus untagged. All of this information helps them gather information and estimate population expansion and range.
You can report or get more information at The Wye Marsh Centre.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Swan #787

It isn't often that we hear good news about the environment. If you're paying attention, most of the world is undergoing large-scale man-made disaster. Swan #787 is an exception. Trumpeter Swans are making a comeback in its eastern range. My own Eastern region field guide doesn't even list the Trumpeter Swan, but they really are here. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with this magnificent creature while walking my dog Dynamo around Musselmans Lake. Lest you think I live in some natural paradise, let me describe the scene. The road is narrow and winding, the traffic is scary, the houses are close and crowded about every scrap of land. There is one parkette with lake access and every other inch of shoreline belongs to someone and gets regularly mown and trampled. It was just such a lawn where I came across Swan #787. I didn't know it at the time as I lack perfect 20/20 vision. Squinting as hard as could, I couldn't make out much beyond a blur of yellow and black plastic attached to one wing. Still, I knew this had to be important information. I knew I couldn't pursue the swans with speed, and, considering I had a dog in tow, I knew stealth was not an option. I tried patience instead. I walked at a leisurely pace along the shoreline ahead of their chosen path, and found a spot on steep embankment where I could sit and wait for them to float by. Dynamo was gloriously co-operative and flopped onto the grass in a casual pose. Patience was rewarded by curiosity from these large graceful avians as Swan #787 floated in giving me a picture perfect view of the entire family. I got some lovely pictures, a beautiful experience, and after having made an official on-line report I have now had a small part to play in the research and tracking of the Trumpeter Swan. Not to mention, I am now on a first name basis with a beautiful swan. I hope to see Swan #787 again.

Image: ACEO 2.5 x 3.5 inch watercolour, watercolour, gouache. This is a good size for a quick illustration while I'm trying to get other things done.


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