Sunday, March 31, 2019

#0377 "Solitary Sunflower"

This is another sunflower from our Watershed Farm garden in early August 1995 as painted by the Group of One. This variety of sunflower grew at least six feet tall. The birds and the bees loved them.

Van Gogh began painting sunflowers after he left Holland for France in pursuit of creating an artistic community. The first sunflower paintings were created to decorate his friend Paul Gauguin's bedroom. He painted a total of twelve of these sunflower canvases. Seven of these were painted while in Arles in 1888 and 1889. The other five he had painted previously while in Paris in 1887. The Paris series show blossoms are laid casually on a surface in groups of two or four while in the Arles series, they are arranged in a large group in a case.

Vincent in a letter to his sister dated 21 August 1888 describes his friend Gauguin coming to live with him in his yellow house in Arles and that he intended to decorate the whole studio with nothing but sunflowers. Vincent took the sunflower as his own personal artistic signature, telling his brother Theo in a 1889 letter that "the sunflower is mine."

Gauguin's The Painter of Sunflowers'
In November 1888, Paul Gauguin painted Vincent van Gogh in The Painter of Sunflowers'. The two had been living together in a yellow house in the small town of Arles in southern France. When Gauguin did arrive, he did indeed enjoy the paintings. After the two had parted ways, Gauguin wrote to Vincent requesting that he may keep one of the paintings, calling them a "perfect page of an essential 'Vincent' style."

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

#0379 "Barnyard Sunflowers"

This is a group of nine sunflowers in front of the northeast window of the Watershed Farm barn in early August, 1995. The flowers were all focused on the morning sun to the southeast as is their nature. We planted theses towering sunflowers for the birds and the bees. I enjoy painting flowers.

The sunflower had a special significance for Van Gogh. Vincent wrote that they communicate 'gratitude'. Vincent painted several sunflower paintings to welcome his artist friend Paul Gaugin to Arles. He hung the first two in the room of his friend in the Yellow House.

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Friday, March 29, 2019

#0320 "The Tree"

Very few people have seen this painting. It tells a sad story of imposing city values on rural land. This was Peter Gzowski's white pine on the front northeast corner of his cottage on "The Hedge Road" as it appeared in the fall of 1991. His place was near the Briar's Resort on Jackson's Point. John Sibbald was the owner of the Briar's and had collected a few pieces of my art so I kind of knew John a bit. John was called the Squire by his friend Peter and he was the one who first noticed that the tree planted by his ancestor Frank Sibbald in the 1870s was sick - very sick.

On the first weekend in October my son Keith and I went for a drive after writing to Peter Gzowski to get permission to visit and photograph "The Tree". Peter had written a feature on that tree entitled "If a tree falls in a forest..". The article claimed that "someday we'll run out of nature to ruin". The essay touched a cord in me and this painting is the result. Peter and I corresponded but we never met in person. He was a busy guy and I worked long shifts and every overtime that came my way. Peter was warm and generous and "touched by (my) your interest in The Tree, which still stands as I write this, though it looks more forlorn each week." Note the power pole appearing between the branches in the upper right. The power goes underground from the base of the pole along and under the drive into Peter's getaway cottage to the left.

I felt like making the art a bit more personal as I was painting in the Watershed Farm Studio. I included the picture of Peter that was attached to his Macleans column. His visage was crafted into the bark of the huge white pine. The portrait kind of just grew there..

Peter John Gzowski was known colloquially as "Mr. Canada" or "Captain Canada" which would be a title that would bring honour to almost everyone. Peter was most famous for his work on the CBC radio shows This Country in the Morning and Morningside. His first biographer argued that Gzowski's contribution to Canadian media must be considered in the context of efforts by a generation of Canadian nationalists to understand and express Canada's cultural identity. This parallels the work more than fifty years previously by the Group of Seven. Peter passed away about a decade after The Tree was painted. I am unsure whether the white pine itself still stands.

Peter John Gzowski July 13, 1934 – January 24, 2002.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

#0394 "A Corn Stalk"

This is an interesting story written in the snow. A raptor strike leaves a characteristic signature. The wings sweep a distinctive pattern in the soft snow and the talons imprints are buried much deeper. When this mark is on top of a well used mouse trail in a corn field, one wonders who might have won the close encounter. Did Mickey live to eat another kernel? Did the raptor find a morsel meal? No one knows. There was no blood trail and "CSI: The Corn Field" wasn't much interested. I was the only one around.
One of my employees took a close look at the painting. 

Honey bees buzzed around me while I painted. Maybe she was looking for corn pollen or maybe she hadn't seen snow before...

The raptor was stalking the mouse in the midst of corn stalks. English can be an odd language.

Used as the cover on Tapestry, Fall 2006.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

#0302 "Spooner"

A portrait of a friendly and energetic dog that I called "Spooner". I titled the yellow labrador after the old hound dog previously owned by "The Unpopular Poet" who died before his time like many true artists - Tom and Vincent top that list. The name can be found in the Jimmy Buffett song by an identical title. The dog's name is actually "Hike" and was owned by the people who also own painting number 303 "Picton".

I was studying the the handling of muscle, fur and light and having quite a lot of fun in the process.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

#0419 "On Watch"

This was our lean and muscular Chesapeake Bay Retriever watching for the green tennis ball to be pitched into the pond. She was dripping wet and shivering with excitement or anticipation and perhaps the chill in the spring air. This was her favourite game. She would break ice in order to play in the water. When the pond froze solid she would play hockey with the kids. She lost a couple of teeth catching the pucks. Her grin was missing some teeth and she looked like a National Hockey League player. We spend a lot of time playing. Life was very good.

She was a wonderful family member and a close buddy of the Maine Coon cat. In fact she was more cat than dog and would clean and lick her face and paws like any cat. In return the cat was more like a dog and wanted to go for family walks.

This view was looking northeast across the large pond immediately north of the home of Watershed Farm and visible from the family room windows.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

#0389 "Tobey!"

One of the Watershed Farm barn cats was the alpha male of the area until the Maine Coon entered the scene as the Queen. However Tobey embraced the many improvements to the facilities including the cat sauna.

Note the fleece cat bed inside the cat sauna
Tobey also enjoyed reclining on the braided front door mat of the addition in the summer of 1995. Tobey and Jo-Boo never really got along and would have loud discussions about who owned the new porch. For this particular afternoon in March of 1996, the mat on the front porch belonged to Tobey. The sweet contentment of basking in the spring sun was written everywhere in the expression of the feline.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

#0363 "The Kitten and the Tiger"

Shortly after moving into the Watershed farm house in 1993, one of the farm cats that came with the property strolled along the fence line. She cast a very long shadow on the barn wall in the setting sun of the early day in spring. The scene caught my eye. The painting that resulted has Jo-Boo cast in the role of the farm cat. The Maine Coon cat was one of the most loving and intelligent creatures I was ever fortunate to know.

She went plein air painting and was my most understanding art critic. She went of family walks in the fields. She pinned me prone for extended naps.

The hole in the barn wall was where the raccoon entered and I had not yet sealed it up. The cat used the same hole. My Dad built a cat door for the barn door that was just right for cats but too small for raccoons.

I also built a cat sauna out of a broken clothes drier. All of the cats loved it. There was a pressure switch so the cats could turn the heat lamp on themselves. The cats no longer dreaded the coldest day in the winter.

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

#0475 "Barbie Gal"

This is a miniature portrait of Barbie Gal, the last surviving mare out of the three retired horses that were living on the farm when we purchased it back in January 1993. Her right front leg was very sore from an injury sustained when she fell during a race but at 25 years of age or so, she was still doing rather well. Barbie Gal was the destruction horse in the herd. She would push over and break cedar posts and be the first to barge in for the sweet grain. As Sheena and Royal Barb got older, Barbie Gal would tend to control what they did as the alpha mare.

It was late afternoon on a rather chilly day winter with a low sun angle.

The geriatric horses that came with Watershed Farm included: Barbie Gal with the white blaze and white socks; Sheena with the sway back; and Royal Barb, the mother of Barbie Gal. The kids and I would brush them and spoil them with extra sweet grain. My only problem was that they were hard on the fencing. Sometimes we boarded others horses as long as they fit into the group of three. They were entertaining to watch like big outside cats.

#0418 "Sheena's Sky"
#0467 "Royal Barb"
#0475 "Barbie Gal"

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Friday, March 22, 2019

#0418 "Sheena's Sky"

This dramatic sky was looking out the west window of the family room of Watershed Farm on the 12th Concession of King Township. It was late afternoon and crepuscular rays were beginning to play in the light. The convective clouds were beginning to fizzle. Sheena was about 30 years old and starting to look the part. This is really a skyscape with a horse.

Sheena was one of the three geriatric horses that came with the farm. Barbie Gal with the white blaze and white socks; Sheena with the sway back as painted against the afternoon sky; and Royal Barb, the mother of Barbie Gal. The kids and I would brush them and spoil them with extra sweet grain. My only problem was that they were hard on the fencing. Sometimes we boarded others horses as long as they fit into the group of three. They were entertaining to watch like big outside cats.

The thin forest on the King-Caledon Town Line in the lower right was a favourite subject of mine. Caledon was developed while King Township still preserved the agricultural land. The smallest lot size was 25 acres which was too large for the developers to make a lot of money back then. The remains of the once expansive deciduous forest were on the King side of the Township line.

I really like this little painting. Sometimes the paint just flows.

#0418 "Sheena's Sky"
#0467 "Royal Barb"
#0475 "Barbie Gal"

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

#0467 "Royal Barb"

This is a miniature portrait of "Royal Barb" who died in the early spring of 1999. Royal Barb was posed outside the southwest corner of the barn waiting to go in for sweet grain and some fresh hay. The afternoon sun of late winter makes for a fiery moment of intense light. She was a nice old horse.

This is one of the three geriatric horses that came with the farm - Barbie Gal with the white blaze and white socks; Sheena with the sway back; and Royal Barb, the mother of Barbie Gal. The kids and I would brush them and spoil them with extra sweet grain. My only problem was that they were hard on the fencing. Sometimes we boarded others horses as long as they fit into the group of three. They were entertaining to watch like big outside cats.

#0418 "Sheena's Sky"
#0467 "Royal Barb"
#0475 "Barbie Gal"

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

#0430 "Distant Pastures"

This group is just part of the O'Hara herd of Holstein heifers that come to the Watershed Farm for summer holidays before they enter the milk production work force. They were looking over the fence immediately west of the house. I think they were watching me to see if I was going to head over to the feed trough and give them some grain. It was almost time for their treat.

The title is because an unattainable pasture always looks better than what they have and that might have been going through their bovine brains as well. I always thought that the cows were much smarter than we give them credit for.

Supposedly this distant pasture looks pretty good although the horses do a fair job of keeping it trimmed. I did not put the horses in the painting...

The heifers would go painting with me. I carried my plein aire gear in the bucket of the 1969 Massey Tractor.

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Be happy with what you have... it is all you really need. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

#0433 "Hill Side Blues"

This is another look out the double glazed west window of the new family room of Watershed Farm on the 12th Concession of King Township just a kilometre north of Hammertown. I guess we lived in a suburb of Hammertown. Those hills were great for tobogganing.

It was a cold and very windy day and this was the closest that I could comfortably get to something which I wanted to paint. Streets of turbulent stratocumulus off Georgian Bay hurried along with the northwesterly winds. The sun and the wind sculpted the snow and the ice on the hills of the Oak Ridges Moraine. The southward facing slopes were warm and starting to melt their snow cover. The northward facing slopes would hold on to the snow and ice for another week or so.

It took six years of effort to get the farm house from the way we found it in 1993 (#0431 "The Homestead"). It was worth all of the effort. I did not paint much in those years but I sure did a lot of carpentry and earth moving.

The title is a bit of a play on the title of a popular cop show which I never had time to watch - "Hill Street Blues". It also sounds like a work of music. The play on the title works for me because I used most of my palette of various shades of blue to get the effect I was hoping for. I have lots and lots of blue hues available for my palette. An artist friend of mine will not touch a pigment with "phalo" in the name and calls them stains. I see them as another tool to be carefully used.

I was very pleased with the piece in spite of the speed I had to work at. It really captured the colours and the sky.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

#0431 "The Homestead"

This picture was taken at the exact moment that Linda decided she wanted to buy the farm. It was early January 1993 and the owner was giving my wife Linda and I a closer look at the place. We had always wanted land ... and a barn ... and the kids wanted pets ... a cat and a dog and maybe some barn cats as well. Three horses came with the deal for as long as they should live - which was turning out to be a ripe old age.

The place had been vacant for a while. The house was very, very rough with a stream running across the mud floor basement with dead mice and frogs and toads as well. I watched a garter snake crawl through a crack in the foundation. The furnace ran almost all of the time except when if conked out and needed to be primed to be restarted at which time it belched black, sooty smoke. The heat exchanger in that furnace was cracked. The water pump was in the basement and was rather noisy after the lone toilet was flushed. There was no insulation in the walls and many things did not work - if they ever did. The chimneys were unsafe and needed to be removed or replaced. We would need to put another lane into the property but I knew a local genius for that kind of work - George Craib. Linda loved it and by the middle of March, it was home.

A raccoon also lived in the barn and had a routine of coming up the path behind the house at sunset to go to bed in the loft. I would not have minded too much except he ate the cats food and shit all over the place. I evicted buddy raccoon by boarding up his entrance and he moved on although we saw a raccoon at least a couple of times each year, sleeping in the huge black willow tree.

The picture used as a basis for the painting was taken from the south side of the ramp to the barn. This ramp has since been removed since it was pushing in the wall of the barn with each frost ... not good.

I would paint this home several times. Here is perhaps one of my favourite paintings of the home before it was completely fixed. I called this one "The West Wind".

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

#0434 "Sunset on My Hill"

This is the view from the middle of the pond looking south toward the completed house and the paddocks. It was sunset and the colours were very vivid - maybe I didn't even do them enough justice. I was very pleased the way it turned out on this small piece of panel left over from the construction. I used the remaining construction pieces to built bird houses.
I built hundred of Peterson Blue Bird houses as well as many wood duck houses - a few owl boxes as well. The birds which had been absent were soon everywhere. Everything needs a place to live.

I liked the different colours of the snow and the ice and how those contrasted with the sunset on the winter grasses. The hockey ice I was standing on was almost done for the season.

A very unusual size but I had already made a frame to fit that size using the scrap trim left over from the construction. I made new corner blocks at Jack Brydon's shop and used biscuits to glue and put the pieces together. The frame probably took more time than the painting.

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

#0388 "Home TO BE!"

This was our farm as it appeared in the spring of 1989. At the time I had no idea that we would actually be living there and what life was going to be like starting in 1993 - wonderful is the answer. We were simply assisting a friend by taking her black Labrador for a walk in the fields.

The fields and the forests of the Oak Ridges Moraine are special beyond belief. My son and I walked for hours with that big, black dog named "Clay". This hilly land was just west of Schomberg on the 12th Concession of King Township and a kilometer north of Hammertown and the 17th Sideroad. There was always something interesting to see.

We bought the farm (so to speak as we did not die) in March 1993. What an adventure. The farm house had been empty for a few years. Vandals had broken windows and doors. Frogs and snakes lived in the mud-floored basement and crawled through cracks in the stone foundation. The heat exchanger on the furnace was cracked. Cluster flies swarmed everywhere. The balloon framing of wood-house used long, vertical 2" x 4"s for the exterior walls. These long "studs" extended uninterrupted from the sill on top of the foundation, all the way up to the roof. There was no insulation in those walls. The home needed some attention. We loved it.
Looking east at Watershed Farm from a couple of hills back..

The front yard drained to Lake Simcoe and this pond drained to Lake Ontario. I named this special place Watershed Farm and started keeping bees and looking after the land and planting forests. I put up a few hundred bird houses. Nature returned to those rolling hills.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

#0364 "Chesapeake"

The family Chesapeake as a puppy during the summer of 1993 when we were busy renovating the abandoned farm house on the 12th Concession of King Township. The tunes were on KISS radio and played loud when it was still a country format. The Chesapeake would have the free run of Watershed Farm. The big paws on the puppy revealed that she would grow into a much larger adult.

She was smart and learned fast. The Chesapeake could tell where I was headed by the clothes I was wearing. She would go painting with me and was eager to go along any walk in the woods. She never went to the Weather Centre with me though and she could tell if I was not wearing my play clothes. She protected me from skunks, possums and all sorts of other critters. Like every NHL player, she lost some front teeth playing hockey on the pond.

I used to save cardboard boxes for projects - waste not... want not. The Chesapeake had a special dislike of cardboard boxes perhaps relating to her living quarters during her first week or so with us. I would often find these boxes shredded to bits on the front hill - her revenge I guess.
Only green tennis balls would do...
The Chesapeake was a gift from my Brother to his only Nephew. She grew into a cherished member of the family and provided hours of entertainment. We will always miss her as pets cannot live for ever except in your memory.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

#0357 "It's A Sunny Day!"

This is a colourful pumpkinseed sunfish painted on a slab of black walnut.

The pumpkinseed sunfish are not yet endangered. They look a lot like the northern sunfish which have been added as a specie of "Special Concern" like the canary in the coal mine. At one time pumpkinseed sunfish were thought to be the same as longear sunfish. There are several varieties of sunfish in Ontario and it is good to know the differences.
Longear Sunfish
Bluegill Sunfish
Northern Sunfish
During the breeding season, males guard their nests which are made by digging saucer like depressions in gravel or cobble substrates. It eats mostly aquatic insect larvae and algae, but is known for feeding at the water's surface more frequently than other sunfish.

The main threat to Northern Sunfish in the Great Lakes and Upper St. Lawrence populations is declining habitat quality. This species likes slow-moving, clean water with plenty of aquatic vegetation and is not tolerant of muddy or polluted waters. This species is also sensitive to the removal of aquatic vegetation. In many places where the Northern Sunfish is found in the Great Lakes region, the water is becoming polluted due to soil running into waterways from nearby agricultural areas and development activities.

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#2292 "Canine Cove Sumacs"

The hummingbird kept me company as I studied the patterns in the sumac leaves. The tiny bird would buzz in like a little jet and take a f...