Evidence from our Past 12x16 #220961
Early November 2020
At this moment, we are experiencing a week of beautiful warm sunny weather: not unknown for this time of year but so very welcome, knowing that winter is eminent. For plein air artists its an opportunity to be outside luxuriating in the winter sunshine, enjoying the last remnants of fall. The atmosphere is heavy with the poignancy of passing years and anticipation of renewal.
On this day, when I am in Carleton Place down by the Mississippi River, armed with easel and paintbox. When I came across this scene of rusting mill machinery by an ancient woolen mill juxtaposed with the stone wall, I was immediately taken. Later, I learned that the mill buildings are in the process of preservation and reconstruction for a major planned living development. The concept was, pleasantly, not lost on me.
I was recently invited to paint on a friend’s 100-acre property situated on the Carp Ridge. The drive along the Carp Road going west from Carp reveals fascinating topography where you find granite outcrops meeting farmland and woodlots of pine. There are evidences of renewal wherever you look. On this fall day, the ancient hardwood maples are ablaze with colour, mixed with stands of white pine many of which are entering the final phase of their life cycle. The sumac reds are turning to rust while new growth is everywhere with bright yellow and green foliage punctuated with young maple leaves.
I too, feel part of the larger plan. Watching my grand kids growing and experiencing life. So grateful to be part of it on this Thanksgiving weekend.
Cycle of Life 30x24 was painted from two sketches: the first done near Algonquin Park two years ago, the second one, last week on the Carp Ridge.
Cycle of Life Thanksgiving 30x24
My friend, Eileen Hennemann, and I arranged to meet at the Mill of Kintail, home to the Dr. James Naismith Museum, near Almonte one August Friday morning. Eileen is a wonderful artist, photographer and professional graphic designer who with her husband Allen, operate Hennemann/Stanley Design.
We set up our easels down among the pines where the Indian River flows past the historic grist mill that served as Dr. R. Tait Mackenzie’s studio, just in time to experience the light effects as the stone walls changed, dramatically, from deep shadow to full direct light.
When we finished up, Eileen snapped a picture of me with my work. I knew my painting needed some studio time, but I was excited about the progress I had made even in a couple of hours.
The Last Stop 16x20 acrylic #220949 SOLD
Artists harbour a need to get things right – truthful even. And yet we are constantly on the lookout for fresh approaches: influenced by what we observe, hear, read in books and on-line. I see it all the time. It’s why plein air convention events are so popular these days – until Covid-19 came along any way. I once knew an art teacher that requested that her students put down their paint brushes and walk all the way around a barn building, so that they could better understand the structure, experience the effects of years of wear and tear and imagined history. I read about another instructor who asked his students to study a model and then leave the room to create a drawing based on their recollections.
Before I can put paint to a blank canvas, I need to have a sense of place, a memory perhaps from somewhere deep that compels me to paint. The appeal of painting plein air is especially strong to me because the countryside is where I spent much of my youth. It’s part of the process and memories run deep. I get the impression that the process of abstraction has similarities without a mold to follow.
So when I visited Ayles Boat Yard at Merrickville, recently, on a search for subject matter, I held no preconceived ideas. After checking and getting permission, I strolled through the boatyard and came across Pocahontas standing on blocks alone, looking proud and forlorn. One of the workers looked up from across the yard and pointed out that the boat had been built in Germany after the Second World War. Because there was a shortage of brass at the time, he explained, the builder substituted iron nails which can rust. She made her way to America and after many years of service ended up here. As the workman spoke, I began to appreciate the beautiful lines of the hull and upper deck. I tried to imagine where she had been over the years. And I shuddered to imagine what it would have been like to stand at those windows in a North Atlantic gale.
I waved a thank you and grabbed my paints and canvas. I had a story to tell.
Old Quebec 16x20 acrylic #213776 $1200
Plein Air Ensemble has been hosting painting trips for serious - minded artists for 30 years. I should know – I am proud of the fact that I had a hand in organizing it with two friends back in 1990 and running it for the first 13 years until others took over the reins. And I will always cherish the many friendships and adventures we shared along the way
The other day, in my studio, I came across Old Quebec 16x20, painted in 2013, on the last of three trips to Quebec City. I dusted the canvas off, sat down, and let memories of those adventures come pouring back. I clearly remember searching out a protected spot for my easel, out of the way from pedestrian and vehicle traffic, then striving to capture the exhilarating feeling of the day as I painted Old Quebec. Absolute magic!
But let’s go back a bit: many will recall the trips to Quebec City and the wonderful boutique hotel where we stayed, with the grand piano in the dining room, only a few city blocks from the Old City Gates. On our first visit the hotel manager met us at the entrance on Rue Charest, then arranged for a bus tour of the city - and sat up front to give us a running commentary! Each morning we would leave the hotel to go out and sketch and paint and photograph, discovering winding cobblestone streets, ancient alleyways and 400 year- old historic buildings; we also picked out intimate restaurants for extended lunch breaks, making sure that we were back in time for le tableau d’hôtel and music into the night. On our last evening that same manager arranged for a reception in the foyer so that his invited guests could view our work. Several pieces were purchased on the spot! The following morning, after breakfast and bidding everyone goodbye, we set off for the long drive home, savoring the memories and our treasured creations stored carefully in the trunks of our vehicles.
Anyone that has been on one of these PLE adventures knows how they work: The five-day trips (including travel time) are organized every spring and fall without a break - until this spring, that is, when the fully subscribed trip had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Over the years we have traveled to destinations as far away as Charlevoix and the Eastern Townships of Quebec and closer to home in the Laurentians and Ottawa Valley. While there is never a shortage of camaraderie and sharing among the artists, no formal instruction is offered – everyone is expected to work independently.
I look forward to more Plein Air Ensemble adventures under the capable hands of artists, Mary Moore and Tom Lillico. Until we can finally get back to painting without all the Covid 19 restrictions, I will rely on my memories to accompany me at my studio easel.
Note: Sadly, the unique Royal William Hotel on Rue Charest no longer exists: a casualty to progress.
Mirror Mirror 24x20 acrylic #220947
One of my favourite locations to paint is Spencerville, Ontario, an hour’s drive south of Ottawa. Our MAA Plein Air group has been there numerous times. The first thing that strikes you as you enter the Village is the South Nation River, flowing over the dam at the historic Spencerville Mill.
I was there a couple of weeks ago.
Before getting my paints and easel out of the back of my beloved van, I spent some time walking around the Mill, just getting the feeling of the day. First, I checked out the river flowing lazily past my feet, feeling the power there that has energized the Mill for generations. Soon, my attention is drawn to the mirrored effects in the water. The more I look, the more I am engrossed with the depth of the colourful dark tones in the water glazed over with sky blues and slashes of reflected warm sunlight. I see myself standing before my easel, brush in hand, wondering how I can do justice to this experience. Then I know it’s time to setup and paint.
Later in my studio, I exchange distractions of changing light and shadow outdoors for the steady light and peace of my studio. I pick out a larger canvas and using the design from my plein-air sketch and fresh images in my head, I begin, influenced as well by years of observation. I paint, content knowing that what I am painting is my work and trusting that it will be the best that I can do.
Finally, I sign it.
Brigadoon Entrance 11x14 #220546 SOLD
We were painting in the village of Oxford Mills last week. I drove passed the well-known Brigadoon Restaurant. I have great memories of meeting friends there to enjoy the wonderful food and ambiance, including my wife and I sharing a memorable New Year’s Eve dinner.
The Brigadoon looked like it was just waiting to welcome guests, with colourful flowerpots hanging from every post on the long verandah; the beckoning entrance bathed in noon-day sunshine contrasting with the doors and bay windows in shade.
We hope it will be alive with conversation and laughter again soon.
Spring Comes to Blakeney 30x30 acrylic #220945
Spring Comes to Blakeney is a 30x30 canvas just finished in my studio from a second sketch painted at Blakeney, ON on the Mississippi River. ( Not to be confused with the mighty Mississippi in the USA). Sadly our Manotick Art Association group outdoor painting trips have had to be postponed until some later date when the coast is clear from the Corona-19 virus threat. I have now painted several times outside always driving by myself and observing the required social distancing.
The large canvas format gives me the opportunity to use larger brushes and make improvements to the original composition. This painting has the feeling of early morning sun lighting the rushing rapids. I wish I could paint the sounds too.
Just before the new leaves lose their diaphanous spring greens and before the bugs arrive' is a wonderful time to be out painting.
Spring at Blakeney, 11x14 acrylic. This Plein Air caught the feeling, I think.
Photo courtesy Eileen Hennemann
The Art of Charles Spratt