Moss, Rocks and Sumac
October, 2014; I drove up north on highway 400 towards Parry Sound. Before I got that far I took the exit to Bala, through Wahta native territory. On the drive I stopped to get some ‘Cheap Smokes’. As I enjoyed a break while in the parking lot, I looked across the road and was impressed by some brilliant sumac trees in full sunlight, with the mossy, multi-coloured rocks of the road cut behind them.
I took a number of photographs and did a couple of quick sketches; then I just sat and soaked it all in! The painting was ‘worked up’ in the studio from this reference material, and bears very little resemblance to the actual scene, but instead is a representation of many such scenes readily available by roadsides in this area.
The objective for this painting was to convey the strong colour of the sumacs and the variety in the layers behind, without modelling actual leaves or rocks – just the colourful impact. The large size (36” by 48”) was a challenge, but I wanted an ‘in your face’ result. This one looks great in a room where a ‘splash’ of colour is needed, and where you can step back a bit to take it in all at once.
Point Grondine is a Native Canadian reserve near Killarney, Ontario. I have spent much time over the years canoeing, hiking and exploring the Killarney area, starting in 1964 when A.Y. Jackson and his supporters were successful in having Killarney Park created.
The weather and light in this area is dramatic; brilliant sunshine on gem-like lakes one day, gloom and rain the next. Autumn is golden, but the weather can change fast. November Grondine was inspired by a scene near the Bell Lake Road, on the way in to Killarney. Sloping rocks, some dead trees and golden marsh grasses all combined with the fog that had set in.
The management for this parcel of land have some great ideas and plans for the region. I suggest you check out the website at:
One autumn a number of years ago my daughter and I drove out to Lake Huron to see a meteor shower. The weather in Erin was overcast, but the forecast for Southampton was for clearing skies, so we took the chance and away we went.
We arrived in the area in the late afternoon. There was some daylight left so we stopped by the side of the road in the country outside town, and I did a drawing of this little creek and marshy area. After dinner and checking in to our motel, I looked over the drawing I had done and thought that it would make a good painting; the scene was fresh in my mind, and with my drawing as reference I got to work and completed this painting that night in my room. As you can see from the painting the skies did not clear enough for star gazing or meteor showers!
It worked out well though because I have a nice memory of the day preserved in paint.
Six Mile Lake in Muskoka has been a cottage destination for many years. It is a large enough lake to provide good boating and all the requirements of cottage life. Many years ago I used to spend occasional weekends at a cottage there owned by the parents of a high school friend of mine. It was a long drive then without 4-lane highways, and we had to take a dirt road for some distance to get to a small marina where we loaded the boat to get to the cottage – only about a 500 m boat ride, but the road did not go there!
A few years ago I went on a drive to the lower Georgian Bay area to do dome sketching and painting; I took a paved road at random and came across a pond near Six Mile Lake, which conveniently had a rock to park on and room to set up. I completed this painting and did some sketches of other scenes.
As I slowly drove out afterwards I had a view of a marina on the lake; not quite what I remember, but the geography looked familiar. Sure enough, off to my right, was a cottage on a point of land that I remember very well! It was my friends old property, but with a newer cottage on it. I couldn’t have found the place if I was trying!
180 degrees around from the Muskoka Pond view above was a stand of oak trees hanging on to their late October leaves. The sky had cleared with a very slight hint of moisture in the air. The silhouettes of the trees reminded me of a hot dog cook out when I was a child in Gimli, north of Winnipeg. I did quite a few versions of the scene in pastels and paints before I settled on this one.
Inlet – Killarney
A pleasant and very scenic hike can be taken along the Chikinishing Creek from the main park office (George Lake) in Killarney Provincial Park. At the end of the trail you are treated to beautiful views of Georgian Bay and Collins Inlet. The pink rocky outcrops are iconic for this region and are dramatic contrasted with the deep blue of Georgian Bay. I have picnicked and sketched here many times, alone or with friends and family.
When I first visited this inlet it was full of water, but receding lake levels over a few years allowed grasses to grow. They turn a warm yellow-brown in the fall. I love the rock formations of this area, and the painting is primarily a rock study with a flavour of the wilderness behind.
On the way back one can take a different loop trail that takes you up on higher ground with great vistas of the surrounding park area and Georgian Bay. As this is being written I am nearing completion of an oil painting inspired by a section of this trail.
Into the Woods
If you have a boat you can leave the Honey Harbour area and get to Frying Pan Bay in less than ½ hour. The bay is on the northern part of Beausoleil Island; there are boat docks there and well marked hiking trails. Taking the trail a little north one comes to Honeymoon Bay – a great anchorage and camping spot.
My wife and I have had pleasant picnics on our boat at Frying Pan, and my friend John and I have had a few hikes and cookouts here. This particular scene was inspired while John and I roasted some hot dogs on a fragrant pine campfire one September afternoon at Honeymoon Bay. The view is of the trail back to Frying Pan Bay.
Frying Pan Bay is a popular boating destination on Beausoleil Island (part of Georgian Bay Islands National Park in Georgian Bay), just a short trip north of Honey Harbour. My friend John and I docked up there and took the hiking trail to the north end of the island to enjoy the scenic views of Georgian Bay, as well as some hot dogs cooked on the campfire. This painting is the view of the trail leading back into the forest. We both have fond memories of the outing; this painting is a gift to John on the occasion of his 65th Birthday!
North and west of the town of Milton is a conservation area called Hilton Falls, and adjacent to that to the north is an agreement forest with beautiful trails. I have enjoyed many days of hiking, biking, dog walking and sketching in this area. This painting is inspired by a view of the marsh just under 1 km in from the north 6th Line parking lot.
The marsh drains under the trail through a culvert here, which has frequently been damned up by beavers. The conservation folks have installed newer drain systems and so the water moves more freely now. The changing water flow may explain the changing ecosystem; I have seen this marsh with a lot of open water with stands of cattails, no cattails and lots of marsh grass, no open water but many small rivulets, etc.
The dead, drowned trees are a legacy of drier times; you can see similar occurrences in other areas of this forest reserve, and Kingfishers often roost in them, with ducks and geese frequently seen in the water.
Terra Cotta Vista
Between Georgetown and Erin, depending on the route one takes, you can pass by or through Terra Cotta. Southbound on 10th Line, to the west of the village, you come around a bend and over a hill, and are presented with a pastoral view of the surrounding countryside.
I was running some errands and not particularly looking for anything when this scene presented itself. After a moment I moved on and continued into Georgetown, but on my way home to Erin I decided to take the same route back and stopped to take some pictures and do a sketch.
My results for the day sat in storage for a while, but after a few months I came across my photos while organizing my computer files. I remembered my drive and found my drawing. Computer work stopped as I got out my oil paints and completed this one that same day. This painting is a gift to John Hicks to commemorate his retirement in 2019!
Shadows by the Trail
It was the same day that I was inspired by Jokey’s Pond that I came across this scene on the snowmobile trail on my way back to Killarney. By now it was late in the afternoon, approaching dusk, with long slanting shadows where the sun could reach through the pine and spruce forest.
I had just rounded a sharp bend in the trail and fortunately was moving slowly; as I came around a rock outcropping there was a large moose on the trail with his back toward me, not 10 m ahead! The first thought was which way will he go – no time or space to turn around if he came my way. As it turned out he moved off the trail and wandered in a leisurely fashion off into the woods.
As the adrenaline died down I began to enjoy that particular place. With the light failing quickly I opted for taking some photos rather than sketching (it was also getting close to -20C). Later I interpreted the scene in oils in my studio.
Jokey's Pond – Killarney
The snowmobile trail leaves Killarney to the east beside the small airfield for a while. Just past the end of the runway the trail crosses a small creek that empties into a marshy pond (somewhat seasonal). There is (or was) a small sign on a tree that reads ‘Jokey’s Pond’. I stopped to enjoy the early morning, and thought the view was interesting, especially the long shadows.
Several sketches later and with a number of photos I continued on. I began working on the painting in my room at the Killarney Bay Inn later that evening and finished the painting at home.
I can never get enough of this area, and wish I had photos of all the paintings I have done that record my experiences here, but here at least is one of them!
The Mahzenazing River empties into the eastern end of Mill Lake (part of Collins Inlet). A short distance upriver brings you to many scenic views of the rugged Georgian Bay area landscape. I spent the better part of a beautiful October day here some years ago while staying in Killarney. Bill Pitfield owns the Mahzenazing Lodge located at the mouth of the river, which is a favourite spot for hunters and fishermen. It is boat access only - I got a ride in from Bill's son Jamie as he was delivering some supplies to the camp. The boat trip to the lodge is a postcard slide show in itself!.
Bill also owns the Killarney Bay Inn in Killarney, as well as the general store. If you stay at the inn you are only a 10 minute drive from the main entrance to Killarney Provincial Park where you can take several terrific day hikes. Another option from the inn itself is a walk down to the lighthouse - great for a short easy walk or take a lunch and have a picnic on the shore.
Active farms, where farming families actually worked the land and made a living, are rapidly disappearing in southern Ontario. Often the land is purchased by a developer or investor but left 'as is' for many years. The owners, having been paid, leave or otherwise cease to maintain the house and property. This farm was located northeast of Georgetown and is long gone, buried somewhere in the development of Brampton.
This painting is a study of the rocks I did before doing 'Inlet - Killarney'.
Pointe au Baril Shoreline
North of Parry Sound along the Georgian Bay coast is the small town of Pointe au Baril, which you will pass through on highway 69/400 on your way north. My wife and I rented a cottage on the water there some years ago, and having a whole week to soak in the sun and water I found plenty of time to sketch the shoreline and local scenery. If you have use of a boat, the trip out of the inlet to the lighthouse is gorgeous, with plenty of rocky islets to pull up on for a 'shore lunch'!
Across from Mullabuoy
In the summer of 2009 we rented a cottage on Mullabuoy Island for a week. The wind never stopped that week, and we spent much of our time on the leeward side where the boat was docked. We still refer to our vacation at 'the windswept cottage'! One morning, after a stormy night, with the wind still high, I watched the ragged and torn clouds blow across the channel between Mullabuoy and Eshpabekong Island. It was too windy to even do a sketch at that time, but I took many photos and later did some drawings and this painting.
Rock Cut - Killarney
In 1964, when I made my first trip to the Killarney area, the road in from highway 69 was only gravel, and very winding and twisting; it took well over and hour to get to town from the highway. It has since been 'paved' and many of the twists and turns straightened out (more or less). It's a terrific, beautiful drive, and I often do it just for the enjoyment of the scenery and frequent wildlife sightings, which have included moose, wolves, raccoons, bears, coyotes, foxes, fishers and deer, plus one lost Husky dog that I almost brought home with me!
There are many places where the rock was blasted when they improved the highway (now highway 637), and this winter scene caught my eye. I did several sketches on site from my car, and started this acrylic painting back in my room at the KBI that evening. If you are interested in geology and geography the rock cuts along the highway offer a course in themselves.
Much of the rural land around Erin is open, with occasional patches of small woods. The wind sweeps across unobstructed and the bitter cold can find every bit of exposed skin immediately. Often the snow has been smoothed and sculpted, and when the the wind dies down and the temperature drops you can find such quiet scenes, with no one venturing out yet.
Before Shelley and I were married we sat down to work out budgets. On her list, along with mortgage, heat and hydro, etc., was a line for candy: $150. 'Do you actually budget $150 a month for candy?' I asked in surprise. 'That's 'Candy', my horse, and the $150 is her monthly board' she said!
I did this oil painting from several photographs as a surprise birthday present for Shelley. I am very glad I did this since Candy passed away a year later at the age of 31, pretty good for a horse. Candy left a legacy of three horses, one of which, Chancey, we still have. He is now approaching 24 (as of July 2019).
I love the fall, and the grasses and plants that seed at that time. There is something about the earthy browns, yellows and ochres that create a special mood. Milkweeds are not as numerous as I remember from childhood (and neither are the monarch butterflies that rely on them), but there are still some around. This watercolour used wax as a semi-masking agent, and I could load the paper with huge washes of colour.
North of Georgetown is a property called Scotsdale Farm, owned by the Ontario Heritage Foundation. Access is either from Trafalgar Road or 8th Line. A side trail of the Bruce Trail runs through the property and the area is a popular place for short walks at all times of the year.
The houses and farm buildings are well maintained, and the locale has been used for several major movie shoots. One day I drove by and noticed that the 8th Line entrance had large barbed wire fencing and gates. I thought that they must have had problems and were going to restrict access. The next day the fencing was explained - a couple of helicopters were parked in the field and the road was lined with trailers and movie crew vehicles. A week later all was back to normal. I later learned that it was movie featuring Tom Cruise, but I never got to see any of the actors, and I do not know what movie it was.
At the back of the main barn there are some outbuildings and the silo. I spent quite some time there in my portable lawn chair enjoying the mood and sketching. This semi-closeup reflects my fascination with the textures and mood of the locale.