Monday, April 29, 2013

Singleton Snow

The snow that was foretold by the sunrise altocumulus had arrived. It was too snowy and cold to work outside overlooking Jim Day Rapids so I had to retreat to the studio. You can paint outside in light snow. The snow mixes a bit with the paint and changes it to a oatmeal consistency which isn't all that bad - it gives a lot of texture to the final work. I painted without my glasses in order to concentrate on shape and colour - and not fiddle with brush strokes and the finish of the oil on the canvas.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Birthplace of the National Flag of Canada Act, 2013

Bill 57 Recognizes Brockville, Ontario as the Birthplace of the Canadian Flag, A significant milestone was achieved yesterday for the “50 Years of Our Flag” project when Steve Clark, MPP Leeds-Grenville introduced Bill 57, a Private Member’s Bill to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario that recognizes Brockville, Ontario as the birthplace of the national flag of Canada. As we approach the 50th anniversary in 2015 of the birth of the Canadian flag, it is an appropriate time to understand and celebrate the events and people responsible for this milestone event in Canadian history.
“It was an honour to introduce Bill 57 in recognition of how integral the Honourable John Ross Matheson and the City of Brockville were to the birth of Canada’s National Flag,” said Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark. “This is a very important part of the city’s heritage and something unique for us to celebrate. I’m so proud of the work the 50 Years of our Flag Committee is doing to tell this story and it’s a privilege to be part of those efforts.”

The “50 Years of Our Flag” Committee is a local citizen’s committee formed to raise awareness of the history and significance of the birth of the Canadian flag and to commemorate the individuals who were instrumental in the process. The Committee has many projects and initiatives planned over the coming years including renaming of the former Jail Street South, to “John Ross Matheson Way” in recognition of Mr. Matheson’s significant contributions to the region and to Canada. A ceremony is planned on-site at 4:00 p.m. on May 13, 2013.
"We are delighted with the support that our initiative has received from so many levels of government and individuals.” said Bob Harper, Chairman of the “50 Years of Our Flag” Committee. “The introduction of Bill 57 by Mr. Clark is a tremendous boost to the efforts of our committee and is a fitting tribute to a great Canadian and former Brockville citizen. This new Bill is a tremendous accomplishment that will link the City of Brockville with the man and the events that led to the birth of our Canadian flag forever For more information about the “50 Years of Our Flag” commemorations visit

I am very proud to be a founding member of this committee with Bob Harper. The project's star is definitely rising and it looks like we are on track to succeed with all of the projects. I was painting on the laser lettering again today... give me another month or so...

The draft of my painting as approved by John Ross Matheson is included ... This has been published in the press so I am not giving anything away. The art work will be a bit different.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cold Front

This view is looking easterly across the open field beside the Singleton Studio. A cold front had just passed through and I wanted to catch the convective clouds along the front before they got too far to the east and before the temperatures dropped too much. Typically just behind a katabatic (inactive) cold front skies clear pretty rapidly. Low cold air mass stratocumulus will likely fill back in after an hour or two especially if aided by daytime heating and strong northwesterly winds. All of the very limited weather is ahead of the surface cold front - that is the wall of altostratus in the painting. The towering cumulus which gave a few drops of rain on the windows were going up right at the surface cold front well behind the altostratus deck aligned parallel to the cold front. There was almost no precipitation on the front - at least at Singleton Lake. The regions ahead of the front had more precipitation south of the St Lawrence probably aided by the warm Lake Ontario and the orographic effects of the Tug Hills. I always like the way the majestic white pines stand out alone against the sky. I managed to get the colours right on - it was a good afternoon.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring and the Oxtongue River

The winter snows are sometimes released in a torrent... kind of like now! That was also the case for this image of the Oxtonque River just west of Algonquin Park. Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven certainly painted and roamed these parts. I did as well. I plan to again but I have to finish the 50 Years of Our Flag painting first.
This portion of the 50 Years of Our Flag Painting represents “spring”. Spring is a time for rebirth and growing. In Algonquin Park it is also a time for black flies. The little rascals drew blood. Looking at his in a positive way, they stopped me from over-working the canvas. I was perched on a rock just off the shore of the Oxtongue River - "outstanding on a rock" you might say. The GPS showed me on the west bank but my easel and I were clearly on a rock surrounded by water. I continued to flinch and scratch after bugs for days even though there were no longer any biting insects around. I liked the sketch so much that I transformed it into a 3x4 foot canvas. John Ross Matheson and Bob Harper liked it when it was included in the draft for the 50 Years of Our Flag Painting. I had these paintings hanging in front of me when I worked on the spring portion of the canvas.
Although the bugs don’t appear explicitly in any portion of the final painting they are still a big part of Canada. Some are immortalized within the paint of the first sketch - they are little bumps smashed into the canvas with my brush.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Back-lit Cloud Transition in the 50 Years of Our Flag Painting

Clouds that are front lit have a brighter centre and darker edges (top image). Clouds that are back lit have a darker centre and brighter edges (second image). It may seem simple but many of us never take the time to enjoy this simple fact. The science of scattering requires that this is the case. Cloud illumination clearly reveals the location of the sun. You may not be able to see the sun, especially in a painting but there can be no doubt as to where it must be! These two images were taken seconds apart from the middle of Singleton Lake.
 I use this fact all the time in CSI - Creative Scene Investigation. I also used it in the 50 Years of Our Flag Painting. It is a useful device to transition from scene to scene. In fact I used back lit cloud in every transition except one. The sole exception is the deformation zone cloud approaching the white quartzite of Killarney from the southwest.
The example I will highlight is that of a very thick layer of back lit stratocumulus. These particular clouds were water droplet clouds with only the edges allowing any sunlight through at all. The same dark cloud mass is transformed into rocks and thus also provides the terra firma for the light house and associated buildings.
This is a bold transition. As I was painting this, I was thinking of Lawrence Nickle's reference to the Group of Seven's treatment of clouds as "boulders in the sky". In this case, I needed this option and I hope my Friend Lawrence would approve.
By the way that is Tom Thomson's dove gray canoe at the portage for Ragged Falls.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mackenzie Mountain

These snow shadows representing the winter season in the top centre of the” Flag Painting” could be from virtually anywhere in Canada. But these particular shadows are specific to Mackenzie Mountain and an important part of Canadian history. It is appropriate that they be included in the 50 Years of Our Flag mosaic.

This area used to be part of our extended back yard where we hiked and I painted. A close friend environmentally farmed and managed the land. These snow shadows were on the slope of Mackenzie Mountain. The “mountains” on the 12th Concession of King Township just north of Toronto are not really mountains at all. They are just higher than normal mounds of Schomberg clay. There is still evidence of the dug pit at the very top of Mackenzie Mountain where the rebel volunteers under William Lyon Mackenzie trained in preparation for the 1837 Rebellion.  Jesse Lloyd, James Bolton and others would have trained on those slopes while someone from the peak could watch for miles around should any British military or loyalists attempt to approach. The 400 rebels under Mackenzie that formed the “Toronto Rebellion” portion of the 1837 Rebellion were dispersed in less than 30 minutes on December 7th at the “Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern. A few people died, a few were hung and more were exhiled. It was a troubled time. The confrontation was probably necessary and it certainly helped pave the way to Canada’s Confederation thirty years later.
The names of the key rebels are those of the hamlets in the area. The small towns are not yet suburbs of Toronto. The “mountain” was christened after Mackenzie but maybe only the locals know it by that name.  In any event this is an important part of Canadian history and deserves a subtle mention within the 50 Years of Our Flag Project.
The accompanying images are just a few of the many plein air sketches that I completed when I trekked the trails in the area. Casson and other members of the Group of Seven also painted in the area. All of Canada is inspirational.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Move the artist when you can’t move the canvas…

The easel my Dad made will take a very large canvas but not a 4x6 footer like that for the 50 Years of Our Flag Project. When one prepares a large canvas, you don’t necessarily think “now just how am I going to paint on that monster?” The solution was to hang the canvas on a large mobile display rack that I had built years ago. The painting is stationary and I move myself up and down to work on various portions of the 3456 square inches. I used different chairs for different elevations ... from a lowly milk stool to a high bar chair with a booster seat. It worked. The image shows the three different chairs plus the booster seat borrowed from the Grand Kids.
There are an additional 720 square inches around the edge of this gallery style stretched canvas. I painted those by using ladders or laying on my back – not glamorous but it worked.

An 8 foot mahl stick kept my hand steady when I was doing precision work. The mahl stick is actually left over moulding from home construction. When I was breaking up excess wood to burn in the wood stove I knew I would find a use for the long piece of wood ... just couldn't imagine what that use might be at the time.
I display the originals of my subject matter and used construction work lights to augment the natural light in my studio.
With the wood stove burning the studio was a terrific place to paint this very long winter. Don't get me wrong, I loved the snowy and wintry weather that we had but I hear that some people are getting tired of it... and with another freezing rain storm on the way for tonight. I expect the freeezing rain to reach Singleton by midnight. Brace your selfs !

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Face the Demons Head On…

In the early Grades of Public School I stuttered terribly. My older Brother was my interpreter because no one else could understand a single word that I tried to say. My Grade One teacher thought that I was the proverbial “village idiot”. I do not need to go into the details but my family supported me and their efforts still inspire me. I won the Grade One Silver Dollar for academics. The learning trend continued. I even went to school with Jill Matheson in Grade Seven and had no idea that I would be working with her Dad on the 50 Years of Our Flag Project. My stuttering stayed with me through university but it mattered less and less overtime.

From early on I excelled at art and the subjects that I liked to draw the most aside from fire trucks, were the Canadian and British flags. This was pre-1965 and I had the flags memorized. I didn’t need the real flags to look at…  I knew them by heart. Who could have guessed that 50 some odd years later I would again be drawing the Canadian flag for this very special occasion in honour of John Ross Matheson. I certainly did not.
It would be nice to have some of those early drawings. They were certainly hung on the fridge for a while or sometimes included on the wall of honour in the classroom. It really is not that big of a step from coloured pencils and crayons to oil paint. The oil paint might be a lot more expensive but they are still just colours. I have some tubes of paint that cost more than $50 but you have to use the good stuff if you want it to last. It is only paint but you don’t want it all to be brown paint in 100 years. What would Great Great Great Uncle Austin Chadwick think if I “cheaped” out now? His 1860 poster featuring the Maple leaves still looks great.
Austin Chadwick, an Ontario Judge designed the Toronto Welcome Banner for the September 7th and 8th, 1860 visit of the Prince of Wales – Maple Leaves, Snow flakes and a Beaver branded with a large and very modern looking “Welcome”. What could be more Canadian? It is unknown how many of these exist but one is in Brockville!
This was the first royal visit to what was then the Province of the United Canadas. A United Canada and Confederation was just a dream that wouldn’t happen until 1867. Edward Albert, the son of Queen Victoria was the Prince of Wales and the future King Edward VII. He toured Canada West in 1860 and Brockville was one of his stops.

The Maple Leaf in the banner was adopted as the national emblem of the Province of the United Canadas. In 1896 Austin’s nephew Edward M. Chadwick concluded that "it would certainly seem that the Maple Leaf ... is pre-eminently the proper badge to appear on our flag."
Back to the Demons … My heart goes out to those who have ever stuttered. I have been there and I know what it is like. How do I survive the large group presentations that come along now? Maybe you face your demons and find they are not that scary after all. Our parents and John Ross Matheson faced a lot of demons including a world war or two and rose above them all. As MP for Leeds and Grenville John Ross Matheson quietly and humbly did a lot of good for Brockville and Canada. It would appear that a long line of Chadwicks helped to lay the foundation for John’s work. It is an honour to play a small part in honouring John. Of course the goal is to encourage others to face down the demons and make Canada even better…

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I had some time after looking after all of my commitments and decided that I had better paint.
It was a rare day. Singleton Lake was like glass and very inviting. I had paddled for a while earlier in the afternoon. The sunset colours where changing by the minute and it was even tougher when the sun dazzled my eyes when I tired to match the brilliance on the canvas. Cirrus was appearing on the western horizon as a harbinger of the approaching cold front which would snap us out of this summer-time illusion.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Using Trees to Transition from Sky to Water

A challenge in the 50 Years of Our Flag painting has been to transition from scene to scene without seams. Such transitions can be creatively accomplished with even a little bit of humour – even if it is meteorological humour.

Making the connection between the summer copse and the early fall sail boat was more of an accident than a carefully contrived plan. I was painting along one afternoon and I noticed that the reflection of the sailboat was tinted green due to the colour of the water. The shape of the shadow was already bowed by the current in the water. It was a short step from the green shape of the shadow to the bough of a tree. The words describing each even sound the same.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve I encourage everyone to take a look at what the work and dedication of a few involved individuals can accomplish. Their efforts benefit us all and most importantly the environment.

Here is the ad that will be coming out in the 2013 brochure.. you will find it on page 40. I think that they did a terrific job. Now I need to go for a paddle on this beautiful spring day.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Killarney, The Group of Seven and the 50 Years of Our Flag

The quartzite ridges of Killarney in fall are the inspiration for the upper left portion of the 50 Years of Our Flag Painting. This is the fall portion of the seasons portrayed in the project but more importantly this area owes its very existence to the conservation efforts of artists.  In 1931 A. Y. Jackson discovered that the area around Trout Lake was on the verge of being clear-cut. He and fellow artists successfully petitioned the Provincial government to rethink their short horizon plans. Trout Lake is now O.S.A. Lake named after the Ontario Society of Artists. A nearby lake was named after A.Y. and I have painted there a couple of times. Other members of the Group of Seven worked in Killarney including Franklin Carmichael, Arthur Lismer and A. J. Casson. The Group never returned to Algonquin after Tom Thomson died...  I devote an entire chapter to Killarney in my book “The Passion of Phil the Forecaster”.
The weather in this painting is another meteorological lesson. The short answer is that after a beautiful autumn day of painting, a strong rain storm was approaching from the southwest. The long answer follows if you dare.
Light southerly winds were about to intensify and veer to the southwest overnight as the deep low pressure area passed to the north of Killarney. The band of cloud in the upper left is a deformation zone heralding the low. Deformation zones (the double headed green lines) are my favourite prediction tool. The shape and orientation of this line of clouds tell a meteorologist everything needed to better understand the track of the low and the state of the atmosphere.  The warm front would pass north of Killarney on the following day bringing rain and overcast skies. A cold front with strong northwest winds and possibly even flurries would follow a day or so after. The sky is like a book but you need to learn the vocabulary. I will leave that for another day.
A.Y. Jackson and A.J. Casson from the Group of Seven both submitted designs for the Canadian flag… more on this later.
A.Y. Jackson's Lake

Deformation Zone Conceptual Model