At the CNE

My daughter and I grabbed our cameras and headed down to the CNE. Weather was mixed, with the sun popping out from behind the clouds from now and again. Frustrating at times, but also making for some fleeting moments of dramatic lighting.

The silhouette of the lady in the sari caught my eye.  And the image of the Slush Puppy – a God-like idol lording it over his minions – was irresistible………..

Slush Puppy small

Foster Island – August 2014

This was intended to be a 5-day kayaking trip from Byng Inlet down to Foster Island and potentially down to the Naiscoot River. We put in just west of Britt village on the  northern side of the inlet. We had set out from this put-in once before. On that occasion the intended destination was the  Churchill and Champlain Islands to the north but strong winds conspired to confine us to the much closer Cunningham islands for the weekend. We had also been to the Naiscoot River a several years ago, but starting from Bayfield inlet. This was the first time exploring the coast in between.


We followed the channel markers down the 4km trip from the put-in to Clarke Island.  Cottages along the way are an eclectic mix. The last time I came down this stretch I saw one whose owner seemed to think that a door from an Ontario Provincial Police cruiser made a fine lawn ornament. Two years later, it is still there…..

11-OPP door

The wind was from the South for most of the trip – a change from usual Georgian Bay gale from the West.  So we were sheltered in the inlet until we came out into the open bay to turn south at Gereaux lighthouse. There is an inside channel that provides a sheltered route south past Burritt’s Bay to Northgate Inlet but we missed the entrance (We found it on the way back). As a result, we faced a stiff breeze as we paddled along the shoals in open water. But at least the waves were not as high as they would have been had the winds been from the west.

There seems to be lots of great camping sites along this stretch. We pulled in opposite what I think was McHugh rock (in the distance below)

1-McHugh Rock

Next morning we continued south to Northgate Inlet and Foster Island. When you get to the south-west corner of Foster, a sharp right turn takes you down a beautiful narrow channel. Out of the wind, the silence and still water stood in marked contrast to the conditions we had experienced so far.

2-Foster channel

Later, –  as we checked out the real estate at the bottom of the channel, looking for the perfect spot to pitch tent for the evening – the heavens opened –

3-Denise Thunderstorm

I had seldom seen anything like it. Tucked into our kayaks, the rain was of no particular concern, but a few flashes of lightening added a new sense of urgency to the real estate hunting and convinced us it was time to get off the water asap.

As it turned out, our quickly-chosenhome for the evening was a magnificent site.  Lots of flat rock and a wonderful view. The take-out was gruesome however, and the process of getting our gear out of the kayaks and up the slippery rocks in the rain incorporated more than a sprinkling of colourful language.

4-Big Site

Once upon a time, we lost a canoe. One of those super ultra-light things. Blown away overnight. Now, you would think that would instil a certain caution when it comes to securing small water craft overnight, wouldn’t you ? Well, not so apparently. Perhaps the absence of a tide induces a false sense of security.  Anyway, on this occasion, I failed to pull the boats far enough from the waters edge and next morning, we found both kayaks and paddles afloat!  In an eddy, lucky us.  Seems the torrential rain and run-off raised the level of the lake.  Not by much, but  I could see that a particular stone I had stepped on (and cursed) many times the evening before as I unloaded the boats, was now submerged.

5-kayaks Afloat

That morning, we decided to cut out the last day of the trip. The forecast  was miserable and I had mutiny on my hands with Denise declaring that she was up for travel in any direction but south.  That meant the Naiscoot would have to wait for another time. It also meant a bit more time for R&R.

We always each bring a book with us on these adventures, but more often than not, they serve as ballast rather than reading material.  This time I actually got to do some reading. I also shared some quality time with this grasshopper. He shared a keen interest in my book on navigation, even though his interest was more nutritional than educational. (Look carefully- you can see where he has nibbled his way along the edge of the page)


Next morning we started back up the channel between Foster Island and the mainland. There are some picturesque wetlands and the far end of Prisque bay. We set about exploring them …. twice!

7-Prisque Bay

On the way back we decided to try a shortcut through the maze of islands leading back to Northgate inlet. They say a short cut is the longest distance between two points and as if to prove out the adage, our meanderings took us right back to Prisque Bay. Interesting too that my first reaction was to question the compass and not the operator.

Once into Nortgate, it was clear that the wind had shifted and was now coming in hard from the West. This gave us a tricky crossing in very confused waters. Once in the shelter of the islands on the other side, we picked our site for the final night. Exact location unknown but somewhere to the south of Marjorie Island. Denise set about “organizing” the kitchen……

8-Kitchen explosion

And then, finally, a ray of sunshine

9-Last light

On the way back next day, we found the inside channel leading back to Burritt’s Bay. (Or one of them. From the chart it looks like there may be another one to the west of the one we took.) The passage was narrow and very shallow in spots, but navigable.  Coming out of the channel, we saw a beat-up white triangle that marked the channel’s entrance. We saw the same marker on the way down but paddled right past it.

Back at Gereaux Island, we scouted around for a lunch spot.  We spotted a narrow gap that lead into a small lagoon – a hidden gem that seemed to belong to one small duck.  The forecast called for Armageddon to occur around 6pm. With only about an hour’s paddle left to the take out, that gave us some time  to stretch out on the rocks, go for a swim and, -ironically given the weather so far- get sunburned.


Shortly after we packed up and started back up the inlet heavy black clouds gathered behind us and the omnipresent wind was now replaced with an eerie stillness. We sprinted the last couple of kilometers and hurried to get the boats unloaded and into the car before the deluge. Mother Nature graciously obliged this time and held off until we were safely packed up. Once the rain started, the windshield wipers remained on full speed all the way back to Toronto.

Canadian Hydrographic Service Chart number 2203  3of3






The Bench

No doubt about it. One thing leads to another.

When it comes to picture frames, I prefer something  fairly substantial  in a floater-style (e.g 3″ X 1/5″) stained dark – almost black. Hard to find – so I began making my own years ago.

But making them seems to entail a lot of sanding. And I hate sanding. And so do my neighbours I’m sure.

So I decided it was time to give the power tools a rest and explore the quiet swish of hand tools. After playing with a little Stanley block plane for a while I decided to make the leap and invest in a nice Veritas 5 1/4 hand plane.

The first thing that was immediately apparent (aside from my skill deficiency) was the flimsiness of my existing workbench. Hand planing is tricky enough without having to to do so while following you workbench around the workshop at the same time. So, if hand tools it was going to be, the first order of business was going to have to be a solid workbench.

I thought about buying, and might have been sorely tempted if Lee Valley had the model I fancied in stock.  They didn’t, and wouldn’t have until September. Now, when I started this little adventure,  September was a long way off, so I decided to bit the bullet and build. I convinced myself that building one’s own workbench was every serious woodworkers right of passage. Not something to be bought off with a mere swipe of a Visa card.

I’ve been swiping that Visa card pretty good ever since.  Not just the wood.  Hardware, dado blade, Fostner bits of every dimension, and so on.

The wood is poplar, which is about the least expensive hard wood available. But there is a lot of it in this piece. The trestles are made of doubled-up 2x4s with 6X1 stretchers. The top is laminated 2x2s with doubled-up 2×4 skirting and end-caps. This beast must top the scales in the 350lb range.

TAILVISE Workbench w models

But, I’m happy to say this thing does not flex one millimeter. There are six 1/2″ threaded steel trusses running through the stretchers.  Once cinched together, these create an immensely strong connection (They also mean that, unlike glued mortise-and-tenon joints, the bench can be readily disassembled).Workbench in Place

I have two Lee Valley bench vises. A “regular” sized one at the front and a large one as a tail vise with jaws running the full width of the bench.  I used spar varnish for the trestles and a linseed-oil-beeswax mixture for the top. The latter provides a working surface that is less slick than the varnish and easier to renew after it gets banged up a bit

…Which may be some time off.  After the hours I put into this, I expect I will be handling it with kid gloves for a while yet.


Selfies – Everybody’s doin’ it!

Selfies. Yes, they can be frivolous and narcissistic. But when you’re the wrong side of fifty? Eh, not so much.  And a few hours at the easel is a bit different from a couple of happy-snaps clicked at arm’s-length with an iphone.  Forces you to recognize a few things. Things from which a sporty red running jacket can only serve as so much of a distraction.


Project Inkwell

Just spent a very interesting afternoon in the auditorium of the Mississauga Central Library.  Project Inkwell is a one-day conference aimed at developing creativity in youth. It is focused on creative writing in particular, but I was one of a number of people with backgrounds in visual arts and music that were asked asked to facilitate workshops to explore themes across different media.

What I didn’t know at the time i agreed to take this on, was that my time allotment was just 30 minutes! Now, I paint pretty fast as it is, but doing a credible demo in half an hour while trying to keep a class of 16-year-olds engaged in conversation was going certainly going to be a new challenge.

I was the last of three presenters in the Auditorium in the afternoon. (There were concurrent sessions going on at the Art Gallery and the Glass Pavilion) I arrived early, so I was lucky enough to catch two interesting sessions beforehand. One facilitated by Christopher Doda. The other by David Leask.  Christopher talked about ‘Found Poetry’. This is the literary equivalent of using ‘found objects’ in the visual arts world. After introducing the topic and quoting some examples, he handed out sections of newspapers to the audience and asked them to go exploring. I would have loved to have heard more of what the kids came up with, but time, unfortunately ran out.

It seemed to me the concept would have been of particular interest to the facilitator that followed. David is a singer-songwriter, and the ‘found poetry’ idea sounded like it would be a great way to bust out of a bout of writer’s block. I know Bowie, and perhaps others, used similar methods years ago, although I think Christopher would have described these attempts as “dirty” found poetry. The idea of true found poetry is not to modify or embellish the source material. The only thing that changes is the context. David talked about his craft and performed some of his own material (Which is excellent, by the way. Check it out at It was a tough act to follow, but some of the things he said set me up nicely to explore with the group, some of the visual equivalents (looking vs listening; hook lines and focal points etc.)

….. but it all had to get done in 30 minutes!

I chose a street scene – well inside my ‘comfort zone’. I used acrylics throughout. (No time for re-tooling to oils). And I went slightly smaller than usual (20″ x 24″). I couldn’t go much smaller if everyone in the audience was to see what was happening.  Stuck with the approach of using an under-painting – with ample use of a hairdryer to quick-dry the under-painting . Not best practice perhaps, but a bit of a necessity in the circumstances.


Inkwell Demo

No time to fuss with details of course. The area around  the two pedestrians framed between the tail lights of the car behind them , I tried to keep reasonably resolved. Other areas, particularly far left, are “barely there”.

An interesting project. I would certainly recommend it as an exercise. Compare a 30-minute sketch with a similar piece executed in 2 hours, vs an 8-hour vs a multi-day effort. How much “value” does the additional time add in each case? The answer will vary with each person of course, but I think many of us would be surprised just how quickly the law of diminishing returns sets in and when in fact the additional labour becomes as net negative.

Denise with Chickadee


Denise with Chickadee

This painting is from a shot I took and posted in an earlier blog entry on an afternoon hike along the credit river.

I don’t often do portraits, and even less often attempt to paint “catch-the-moment” scenes. I find such motifs more suited to photography than they are to the medium of oil paint. In this case however, Denise’s face, caught in profile, the strong design of her dark coat and the branches behind, and the improbable balancing of Denise on the left against the chickadee perched on her outstretched hand (yes, there is a chickadee there), seemed to hold some promise.

The underpainting was dominated by a muted green, intended to balance nicely against flesh tones. The skin colours are much cooler than you might think. They just look warm against that cool green background.

The bush in the background offered lots of design opportunities (I re-arranged the larger branches to optimize the overall composition) but on first attempt the overall effect produced an excessively distracting filigree. I dry-brushed over certain  portions to calm down things down.

Note – only the lowermost branch is actually painted. All the rest are back-painted- using the snow to delineate the forms. This helped keep things from looking too ponderous and overworked. In fact, before starting with oils, I gave the whole background a very light sanding with fine (P320) sandpaper. This was sufficient to cut back to the gesso ground, but not so much as to abrade the canvas itself

Forest Avenue, Winter


Forest Ave Winter

We’re into March and folks round here have had just about enough of snow to last a lifetime – this year especially. But not to paint it seems like avoidance somehow. Like landscape painters who expunge all traces  of modernity (like road signs for instance) from their scenes to try to create some sort of timeless pastoral illusion.

The camera often struggles to balance exposure when shooting snow in a flat light –  reducing everything to black-and-white as a result. I encourage students to see the colours in snow and to play with hues like viridian and alizarin in the underpainting to bring out warm and cool passages. In recent attempts of my own however, I’ve felt the colour was somewhat forced- as if I was over-responding to the camera’s limitations. As I browsed other people’s work on the net, it seemed to me that this was a common affliction. Painters who have been told all their lives that “snow isn’t white”  were just trying too hard  to infuse colour into their winter scenes and ending up with garish results.

On the other hand, I really liked a some pieces by a couple of impressionists  – Gustave Caillebotte (Roofs Under Snow, and Snow Covered Rooftops) and Maurice Utrillo (Winter Scene, Montmartre). The colours were more muted, but rich nonetheless, and the overall tone was, paradoxically warm. Perhaps we have a tendency too, to think that because the of the subject matter, we are confined to working  minty blues and greens and candy-floss pinks.

Even with these thoughts in mind, I struggled with this scene. My ‘white-avoidance’ instincts caused me to initially paint the snow too dark and too blue. It did not belong under the warmer tones in the sky. It took a couple of goes to get it up to the values you see above. In the end, the attempt was moderately successful although as often is the case, not quite what I had in my mind’s eye.

Winter on the Credit

Minus 17 C on the thermometer. Denise and I bundled up for a chilly hike in Erindale Park. Denise brings nuts and seeds for the chickadees. When we get there, we see lots of people braving the cold to goof around on the toboggan hill. Others shuffling along on xc skiis. Even a few hardy souls fishing.

A very fine snow is falling. There are ducks gathering by the remaining open leads on the river.

The chickadees are accustomed to people feeding them and have become quite bold. Denise grabs a handful of seed,  and within seconds, several of them are taking turns grabbing a snack from her outstretched hand.

There is evidence of a lot of damage from the recent ice storm. The tangled masses of roots and branches and snow formations are intriguing. Not much in the way of colour, though.  Going through the photos this evening,  Not sure yet if there is material for a painting here or not.

Rapids on the Credit Denise w Chickadee Denise w Chickadee 2

The Red Satchel

This is a similar motif to the Monday night demonstration (in fact the source material came from the same evening’s photo shoot), but taking a little more time for a more finished piece.  The painting was completed in two sessions- the under-painting completed on the Saturday and the piece then finished on the Sunday. A total of perhaps 8 hours.

I tried using alkyds for the under-painting this time instead of acrylics. They remain open for longer than the acrylics, leaving you some time to work wet-on-wet but at the same time they are generally dry enough next day to carry on with over-layer as long as you don’t allow the paint build up.

I work quite quickly anyway, so I am not sure yet if there is much to be gained from the alkyd-based under-painting, but it certainly gives you an opportunity to do things – like lifting or scraping (“scraffito”) – that would not generally be possible with the acrylics. I will work with them for a while to see if anything develops.

The painting was completed using my regular oils.

The Red Satchel, Queen & University

“The Red Satchel, Queen & University”

Oil on Canvas, 30 X 30