Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Behind the Art: Backlighting

This week, in keeping with the idea that the year 2010 is "outward bound", I featured a print of my marine painting "Outward Bound", which depicts a four-masted schooner sailing away into the picture.

Probably the most striking aspect of this painting is the backlighting which gives the calm sea a special sparkle.  Along the starboard side (right side) of the schooner, the hull is reflecting light along it, contrasting with the deep shade of the stern.

Having the stern in deep shade, really accentuates the highlighted reflection on the water seen past the schooner on port side (left)

In both illustrations, note the importance of considering how the light is striking the lightly rippled water.  The smoother water in the wake of the schooner is light, reflecting the backlighting, but not highlighted like the parts of the wavelets that act like little mirrors.  Backlighting gives more contrast in the parts of the wave, with the part sloped toward you that allows you to look into the wave being much darker.  Also, note that the wavelets between you and the schooner alternately reflect the dark colour of the stern and the canvas of the large sail.  Getting the reflections right on water is critical to the mood of a marine painting.  And backlighting gives great effects to work with in creating this mood.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Outward Bound

In the waning days of December, the year 2010 is, indeed, outward bound.  So it seemed reasonable this week to feature a print of a painting of the same title "Outward Bound".

Schooners were the workhorses of trade a hundred years ago.  With their sails aligned fore and aft, along the hull, schooners needed less crew than square rigged ships.  Four-masted schooners, with large wooden hulls, carried bulk cargoes cheaply to markets abroad, but delivery time depended on fair winds.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Behind Christmas 1885

This week I featured a print of a painting entitled “Christmas Morning 1885”.  At first glance, it would appear to have very little to do with Christmas: no snow, no fir trees, no coloured lights or ornaments, no Nativity scene, nothing that we would associate with Christmas. So why the title?

Jordan O’Brien approached me with an interesting commission: to paint the event experienced by an ancestor in 1885, Captain Thomas Russell O’Brien, of Pictou, Nova Scotia: a harrowing experience in a cyclone in the Indian Ocean in 1885.  Jordan had a photograph of a painting of his barque, the William H. McNeil, registered in Pictou.  He also had Captain O’Brien’s ship’s log.

I read through the log and the most vividly described entry was on the morning of December 25, Christmas morning.  All vital information was well documented: the wind direction, time, ship’s heading, and general sea and weather conditions.  This gave me a good idea of how the light should be in the painting, the direction of the waves and the heading of the ship in relation to these.  I wanted to capture the power of cyclone sea conditions: the high winds blow the tops off the heavy seas and throw windblown spray across the waves.  The sea is a wild place in a cyclone.

Captain O’Brien meticulously documented which sails his crew were able to furl before facing the worst of the wind, and which sails were blown to tatters in the cyclone.  These details I recorded in the painting of the ship’s rigging.

Certainly, the deck of the William H. McNeill would have been a wild place in that Indian Ocean cyclone, drenched with windblown spray, the storm force wind screaming through the rigging, the creaking and straining of the wooden hull inaudible in the roar of the sea.

As I painted the picture, thinking about the entries made in the log, I found myself wondering about the captain and crew, their thoughts on the Christmas morning, as they longed for the warmth and comfort of their snug homes half a world away, as they thought about Christmas and wondered how their wives and children and relatives were all doing.  Certainly Christmas at sea could never be like Christmas in your own home, especially in a cyclone in the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Morning 1885

Christmas morning, 1885, brought with it a severe cyclone in the Indian Ocean.  The Pictou barque William H. McNeil, Captain Thomas Russell O’Brien, with a cargo of sugar from the Philippines for New York, was caught in the storm. Some sails were in tatters, others the crew managed to furl, as Captain O’Brien kept his vessel into the wind to try to ride out the fierce cyclone.  After surviving the storm, she limped into Mauritius.

This week, as we lead up to Christmas, I feature a print of the painting of this event, a painting commissioned by an O’Brien of today related to the sea captain of 1885.  He had the ship’s log which he allowed me to read through to get a sense of what was happening to the ship to be able to render the events of 125 years ago as faithfully as possible.

Reading through the log, the descriptions of the morning of December 25, 1885, had sufficient detail regarding winds, ship’s course, which sails were successfully furled, and which sails were in tatters, so much information that one could really visualize what the scene might have looked like. It was an interesting project and this print shares the results with those who love the lore of the sea.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Behind the Art: Rocky Shore

In featuring a lighthouse in the snow, I would suppose that most would expect the snow to be featured "behind the art".  But I have talked about snow in an earlier blog, so I looked at the reproduction of this lighthouse painting to consider something different.  Here we have waves on a steep rocky shore, and I think there is something to be seen that many painters of seascapes might miss.

We are used to seeing waves come rolling in on beaches and shallow shores.  There we expect to see big breakers roll in, or even perhaps small waves.  As the wave rolls in and the depth of water becomes gradually shallower, the wave sharpens and eventually tumbles over itself in a breaker.  In this painting we have a very different situation.  The rocky shore rises up very abruptly from deep water.  If we look at the sea as it crashes against the shore, we note there is no rolling wave as you would see on a beach.

On a beach, the shallow water forces the wave to peak and break, in deep water, the wave can travel right in against the rock face without having to peak like a breaker on a beach.  The wave expends its energy against the rocky wall, piles up on the rock and tumbles back into the sea.  If you look closely, you can see the streamlets of water pouring back into the sea as the wave dropped away from the rock.  So there is a lot of foam and turbulence right against the rock, but without the clearly defined waves rolling in that you see on a beach.

So, if you are painting a seascape against a steep rocky shore, make sure your waves are planned and painted to be consistent with what happens in the real sea; the waves are not at all the same as waves rolling in on a beach, and I think  this painting helps to illustrate that.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Swallowtail Snow

Last week, when we had a light blanket of snow on the ground and things looked quite wintry, I debated featuring this print of one of my winter paintings of Swallowtail light.  But I thought I would wait another week, more into winter, to feature the snow scene.

Then we had yesterday’s massive rain, which took away every hint of snow from the Grand Manan ground.  So now I am featuring a snow scene when everything around me on the Island really looks more like October.  Ah well; here we are: Swallowtail Snow, a cold and wintry print to let you dream about snow, even when there is none to be seen.

Under a blanket of snow, Swallowtail Light, at the northeast end of Grand Manan Island, sends out its faithful beam of light to aid mariners on the icy Atlantic.  Braced against frigid winter winds, Swallowtail holds promise for cold and tired fishermen of a safe harbour and warm homes nearby while cold, windblown waves incessantly batter the aged rocks of the Swallowtail.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Behind the Art: Rough Sea

Quite often rough weather is a contributing factor in a ship coming to grief either on the rocks or out at sea.  So it is reasonable to depict shipwrecks in a setting of rough, windblown waves. Such is the painting of the wreck of the steamship “Kings County”.

In a boisterous sea, it goes without saying that there is a lot more foam blowing out on the tops of the waves.  So the blue in the water is paler, especially as you look out across it, with more whitish foam scudding across in the wind.

In the close-up of the area between the ship and the shore, you may notice that the waves look more irregular and frantic.  What we have here is the reflection of waves back and forth between the ship and shore.  So the waves do not have the regularity of breakers coming into shore from outside, nor the measured balance of waves offshore either.

Waves are both simple and complex. They are simple in that there is a balance between crests and troughs, if you were to flatten the crests and build up the troughs the resulting water would be level.  But on this simplicity we have the complex harmonics of wavelets on waves, which make the waves “rough”.  And to add further complexity, when a waves reaches too sharp a peak it falls over, giving us a “breaker”.  So when you add all this complexity to waves, you have a rough sea. Yet even in a rough sea, we need to feel that there is an overall balance to be believable.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Shipwreck "Kings County"

This week I am veering off in a different direction in the featured print.  What I have depicted here is the scene that would have greeted a person on the morning of December 11, 1936, looking over the cliffs a short distance up shore from Tiner’s Point, below Lorneville, west of Saint John (not far from where the Coleson Cove generating station was built a few years ago).

The steamship “Kings County” struck this rugged coast at 2 a.m. on December 11, 1936, in strong winds and a rough sea.  As soon as she struck the rocky bottom, a jagged hole was torn in the steel hull.  The crew quickly scrambled up on deck, but it was far too rough to launch a lifeboat.  The ship was settling deeper into the water; the situation looked hopeless.

Then, almost before anyone knew what was happening, a sturdy young man stripped to his seaman’s pants, tied a rope around his waist and plunged into the icy and turbulent Bay of Fundy. It was only a hundred feet to shore, but after five minutes he had covered barely half the distance.  With the light of the ship trained on his struggle and all sound drowned out by the roar of the heavy surf, all eyes were on the young seaman.  After ten minutes, they thought he couldn’t succeed, especially in the icy December Bay of Fundy.

He finally reached shore, was thrown back by a wave, caught the rocks and was flung back again.  As the waves lifted and dropped him, he was bumped and slammed against the rocks.  But he finally won and managed to scramble up beyond the reach of the breakers.  The ship’s searchlight showed him struggling up the rocks dragging his rope as he went.  They saw him tie the rope to a big boulder.  A collective cheer went up as he waved to tell them that the line was secure.

Settling deeper into the water, with surf and waves splashing across the deck, they quickly tightened the rope and secured it to the ship.  The more able of the crew set out hand over hand along the rope.  Then the rest came in a breeches buoy, made from a stool cradled in ropes suspended from the taut line.  Finally, with the captain being the last to leave the ship, all had made it safely to shore.

They were lost and soaked in the driving rain, but eventually found a woods road and made it to Lorneville where they were received by the hospitable folks there in their homes.

The young Norwegian was an instant hero.  Herold Hansen, whose brave swim had saved the lives of thirty-six men, was carried on the shoulders of the others when they arrived in Saint John.  They cheered him as he posed reluctantly for a cameraman. News of the wreck spread quickly and the curious by the score made their way through the woods to the cliff to see the wrecked ship.  And my painting from which this print is reproduced is my attempt to illustrate what they might have seen there.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Behind the Art: Black

At the top of the tower of West Quoddy Head lighthouse is the lantern and just below that is the “watch room” or “service room”, which houses the machinery for the light and is the room in which light servicing is done by the keeper.  This room is in a cylindrical iron structure, painted black.

All this brings me to the interesting challenge of painting “black”.  As I mentioned before, I do not use black paint to paint black.

This may sound ridiculous until you really look at things we suppose are “black”.  If you think about what black really is, then you realize that if you can see it, it is not really black.

Black is an absence of light.  Whenever we depict something, we have to be able to see it.  And to see it we need light.  And if it can reflect light, it is not totally black.

The colour of an object is the colour reflected from it.  The red paint on the lighthouse absorbs green, blue, yellow, all the colours of the spectrum except red, which it reflects, giving it the colour red.  What we have in black paint is a paint that absorbs all colours in the spectrum equally.

Therefore, I use all three primary colours to paint black.  Since we can see the black iron of the watch room on the lighthouse, it must be reflecting light.  So on the brighter, sunlit side of the tower, the “black” iron reflects more light, of the more predominantly orange-yellow part of bright sunlight. So the “black” is lighter, with a hint of orange-yellow.  On the shady side, the “black” iron still reflects light, but less light, and the shade is the absence of orange-yellow of sunlight and that is bluish-purple.  So the “black” there is shaded accordingly.

And so, as I have said, black isn’t really black; it is red, blue and yellow mixed together to reflect light according to the light striking the thing that we think of as “black”.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

West Quoddy Winter

Last week, I featured a Season’s Greetings from West Quoddy, USA.  These note cards are based on reproductions of a painting I did a few years ago of West Quoddy Light, with a blanket of snow in the foreground.  So this week, I am featuring a large print of this painting.

Located near Lubec, Maine, West Quoddy Head is the easternmost point of the United States.  I have visited the lighthouse a number of times, and it is indeed a very peaceful place.  From West Quoddy Head, you can look across at the Canadian islands of Campobello (depicted in the background in the painting) and farther out in the Bay of Fundy, Grand Manan.

The first lighthouse was built here in 1808, with the present brick tower being built in 1858.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, northern lighthouses used red marking to help mariners see them more clearly against a backdrop of winter snow.

I chose a slate blue-grey frame for this print; the cold frame colour adds to the chill in the winter scene.  But if your decor won’t handle the blue-grey, a mahogany frame works well too.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Behind the Art: Lighthouse Red

This week I featured a “Season’s Greetings” from West Quoddy Light in winter.  West Quoddy is the easternmost point of the United States.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of West Quoddy Light is the bright red colouring of the bands on the light tower and the roof of the lantern.  This is accented by the black iron work mounted atop the red and white brick tower, a base for the lantern assembly.

The red on the roof of the lantern and also in the stripes on the light tower give us an opportunity to look at light and shade on a brilliant colour.  In the bright sunlight, the red is highlighted by adding some white to it with a touch of yellow.  In the shade, the bright red is darkened by adding green, or more correctly blue and yellow mixed together, with probably more blue than yellow.

One of the fundamental rules of colour is that a colour is shaded with its opposite; so red is shaded with green.  The green neutralizes the brilliance of the red and, therefore, shades it.  The red ball at the top is a perfect example of using the various shades of the brilliant red colour to give shape to an object.  While much of the red ball is in shaded from the sun, a small patch of it, facing the sun, is bright red, with a highlight of yellow and white tinting to the red.  Handling the colour, highlight and shade gives shape to the lantern roof too.

While the same rules apply to painting any objects, the bright colour of the red in this lighthouse lends itself very well to illustrate these principles of light and shade

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Season's Greetings from West Quoddy, USA

The tower of West Quoddy Lighthouse, with its red and white stripes, suggests Christmas greetings and festivities.  Add a blanket of snow on the ground, and the scene evokes the warmth of a heartfelt down east Christmas card.
So I am featuring a pack of 20 cards on Etsy, based on my painting entitled “West Quoddy Winter”.


As I put this together, it occurred to me that the timing was coincidental with the lead up American Thanksgiving on Thursday.  So perhaps it is fitting to feature the easternmost point of the United States as a way of saying “Happy Thanksgiving” to my American friends, and Seasons Greetings to you all too.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Red Sky in the Morning. . .

"Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning".

This is a little piece of weather lore that actually works, in our mid latitudes, North American context.  Generally our weather systems move roughly west to east, so we see a rising sun in the east in clear skies, with light coming in at a low angle, so having to pass through a lot of atmosphere to reach us.  Having to come through so much air, the shorter wavelengths of light are scattered out and longer wavelength red is the predominant colour of the spectrum to reach us.  Hence red sunrises and sunsets.

Now a moisture laden sky gives more stuff for this red light to bounce off.  So coming from a clear sky in the east into moisture laden sky coming from the west, we get the "red sky in the morning".  So we can look for some damp weather today, as a low pressure system moves in from the west, bringing some rain, or at least a good chance of rain with it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Behind the Art: Yellowlegs

In working on my series of paintings of birds that are seen along our North Atlantic seashore, I decided to try painting aspects of the sea that I find quite challenging. For my painting “Yellowlegs”, I decided to set up my subject with calm sea in early morning light, the backlit yellow-orange glow of early morning sunlight.  The composition is quite unusual, in that the picture seems as though it should be off balance with the solid mass of rock on the right side.  But the bird is looking toward the left side, and the heavy right side helps to give contrast to promote the light shimmering effect of the water on the left. So, in a different sort of way, this unusual composition seems to work.

The water in the painting reflects the early morning sun and so the sea is predominantly the pale yellow-orange of this reflection.  If we look closer at the water, we can see that the gentle ripples change colour in a subtle way, reflecting on the near side of the ripple the pale blue sky overhead.  And as we come toward the foreground, parts of the ripple will actually give you a slim glimpse into the water, which you see as the slightly darker greenish-blue.

On the bird itself, note the glow of the rising sun on the side of the bird facing the sun.  The shaded side of the bird is a hue that is, of course, opposite.

Rocks also reflect the yellow-orange glow of early morning light and because of the low angle of the sun, the shade on the near side of the rock is much deeper.

Reflection in the water in front of the rock is interesting.  The water reflects the colour of the rock and in the foreground you see into the water more, which in the shade of the rock is very dark.  And there are slivers of reflection of the pale blue sky overhead.

All in all, this painting “Yellowlegs” challenged me to think a lot about how this very clearly directional light would behave on water and off rocks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Recently I decided to start a series of paintings of birds that are seen along our North Atlantic seashore. For the first of this series, I decided on a painting of a greater yellowlegs, a painting which I just recently finished.  So this week I decided to feature a print of my painting “Yellowlegs”.

Yellowlegs often stop in Our Cove for a few days in the spring and their way north.  We look forward to their arrival in late April or early May, as a sure sign that spring really is in the air.  They scurry about in the intertidal shore, busily feeding in the seaweed and muddy bottom from half tide down to low water.  We see them again in August and into September and even October, as they stop by to visit the sheltered shores of Grand Manan Island on their way south.

When the tide is high, there is not much for a yellowlegs to do but wait for it to recede to expose more interesting intertidal sea floor where a yellowlegs meal might be found.

I have depicted “Yellowlegs” standing on a rock just above high tide in the early morning, with the rising sun reflecting yellow-orange off the calm sea and giving the rock itself an orange glow.  Yellowlegs is patiently waiting, wishing the tide would hurry up and ebb, because breakfast is waiting, just as soon as some of that delicious seaweed and mud bottom is exposed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Behind the Art: "Gannet Rock Afternoon"

This painting is one that I really enjoyed doing.  I am fond of this particular lighthouse for a number of reasons. First, it is a picturesque structure, the very essence of a lonely sentinel at sea. But I also feel attachment to Gannet Rock, because my great-great grandfather spent some thirty years there as a light keeper during the mid nineteenth century.

Walter McLaughlin’s daily log is now in the Grand Manan Museum.  Several books make up his record of time spent at the lonely lighthouse.  In it he dutifully recorded the lighthouse chores that were his responsibility, but he also noted the weather and the comings and goings of sailing ships and the shipping casualties that occurred with alarming regularity on the reefs and ledges he could see around his light.  Through reading his log, I felt I got to know him a little, and I certainly was inspired by him.

So, painting Gannet Rock Light gave me an especially good feeling.  But not only do I like the lighthouse, I enjoy painting the ocean as I feel it: wind-blown waves with an invigorating breeze whipping up a touch of salt spray.

Anyway, let’s look at a few pointers that this painting can illustrate.

Perhaps the first pointer is a lesson on the horizon.  Always remember that your eye is at the level of the horizon, or at least above the horizon as much as your eye is above sea level, which at the far distance of horizon, is pretty much sea level.

This painting depicts the lighthouse as it would be seen from the deck of a fishing boat, so most of the rock rises up above the horizon. If you were looking at it from a large cruise ship, you might be looking down on most, if not all of the light, and the perspective would be quite different, with the horizon then being above the light.  But looking at the lighthouse from close to sea level gives the lighthouse a more towering sense of presence and strength.

The other point about the horizon is that the height of the crest of the waves relates to the horizon the same way.  If your eye is six or seven feet above the water and the waves are five feet high, the wave crests will be fairly consistently close to the horizon.  Furthermore, the closer your eye moves to the horizon, the less you can see of wave troughs, so you just see bands of white wave crests breaking.

Looking at the lighthouse itself, you can see what I noted in a previous “Behind the Art”, the way that light plays on a white building and on rocks.  The white is never just white: it could be a warm white in the sun, with a hint of yellow and red to warm it, or it could have touches of blue or mauve added to depict the shaded white of the structure.

Because the lighthouse is in the distance, the red is not as bright as it would be if it were near.  This is what is called “atmospheric perspective”. Colours are much less vibrant and distinct in the far distance than they are close up.  So perspective is not just about drawing, but also deals with the intensity of hues you use in your painting.

And I enjoyed painting the close-up sea here.  I like the sparkle of the sun on the foam of a spent breaker, and the pale blue of shaded foam, and the dark mystery of looking down into a wave, into the depths of the ocean.  Painting the sea is great fun, and for me, quite exhilarating.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Trap Settin' Day

The second Tuesday in November is the biggest day of the year on Grand Manan Island: Trap Settin’ Day.  This is the start of lobster season, the day when people can put their lobster traps in the water for the fall fishery.  I suppose that, strictly speaking, lobster season actually starts the next day when fishermen are allowed to haul their traps and sell lobsters.

But it is the 7:00 a.m. roar of all the diesel engines pulling full loads of lobster traps away from the various Island wharves on this second Tuesday that gets the adrenaline pumping for those who follow this livelihood on the sea.  Each fisherman has his own idea of just where he wants to set traps to catch lobsters, so as soon as 7:00 a.m. is proclaimed, it is a race to the favourite spots for that first chance at that special piece of ocean floor.

I can remember many years ago when I was doing a lot of diving, one of the wily old fishermen from the Island port of Ingalls Head would quiz me up intensely on where I had seen lobsters and what were they doing?  He tried to be coy and nonchalant about his enquiries, but he wasn’t fooling anybody.  I wasn’t a lobster fisherman, so I had no problem giving him all the information I could.  Nevertheless, I had to chuckle at his intensely competitive effort to try to be the high-line fisherman for his port.

Of course in the many years of diving, I did happen to make some observations, and passed along a tip to a fisherman who mentioned to me just last year that he has followed that tip for years and it has proved to be solid advice and given him good results.  But to allow him to continue with that edge, I won’t share the tip in this blog.  And anyway, each fisherman has his own theory on lobster habits and movements gained from years of experience and observation, so let's just watch the season unfold and play out as it has for generations.

This year a friend of mine found himself shorthanded for the labour-intensive first week of fishing, so he asked me if I would come fishing with him for the first week.  I really hadn’t planned on it, but thought “Why not?”  So here I am fishing for a week.  And I am savouring the very essence of Island life, the working life on the water.  And speaking of essence, I really don’t mind the smell of lobster bait, but I have been given strict orders at the home front that any clothing article smelling of lobster bait cannot come past the garage.

Today would have been "Trap Settin' Day", but due to forecasts of strong northeast winds, the fishermen met together yesterday and with consensus among them decided to postpone the start of the season, to await more favouable weather.  This collective wisdom and cooperation is refreshing and cause for hope; it wasn't many years ago when fierce independence and competitive ambition would have prevailed and some fishermen would take unnecessary risks to get traps in the water, forcing the rest to participate in the race, whether they wanted to or not.

So, kudos to the fishermen for being willing to cooperate, to postpone their own rewards for a few days so that all might participate in a safer fishery.

Even at Our Cove, which is sheltered by islands all around, the easterly had whipped up little breakers on our rocks, so the conditions are probably quite nasty out in the open sea.

For this “trap settin’ day”, I have chosen to feature the print “Gannet Rock Afternoon”.  The view depicted here would have been quite familiar to scores of Grand Manan lobstermen, who would fish these waters that look upon Gannet Rockand its lighthouse.  I say “would have been”, because the painting depicts the lighthouse before it was fully automated; now, with no one living on the rock, some of the buildings have been removed.

This year, the wind today and forecast for the next few days is strong northeast, exactly the opposite of the wind direction depicted in the painting.  Nevertheless, the painting “Gannet Rock Afternoon” does give a feel for the life and work of lobster fishing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Out Wind Today

The marine forecast for today noted a gale warning in effect, with wind south 35 to 45 knots.  Looking out at sea at Our Cove this morning, that seems just about right.

With an "out wind" the temperature of course, is mild.  For those who are not familiar with Grand Manan lingo, an "out wind" is a wind from outer part of the Bay, typically from southeast around to southwest.  So, with today's wind coming from the south, this is certainly an "out wind".  With an out wind, we get wet, mild weather.

An "in wind", wind from north or northwest, typically brings us cooler dryer weather.  When out in the Bay, an out wind will bring with it the heavier sea swell from the outer Bay, while an in wind, off the land with much less "fetch", or room to build up a sea, usually has a shorter chop, which is not nearly as rough for larger vessels.

All this talk of wind brings up a beef I have with most weather forecasts, which generally have little to say about wind direction when, in fact, the direction of the wind is all important in what the weather is doing.  But then, when I look at the marine forecast, it is all about wind direction and pays little attention to temperature (unless to talk about freezng spray warnings in winter).  I guess what's important to you in weather is all about context.

Our Cove faces roughly easterly, actually a little north of easterly.  This means that a southerly wind blows up by our cove. But in blowing up by, it hits the point on the northern side of the cove.  That makes for some interest when a southerly is blowing, especially on the high tide.

The waves from a southerly come into the corner of the cove and throw a little seaweed on the ground above the beach.  But the waves actually hit the point harder than the cove itself.  But we are fortunate in Our Cove, as we are very sheltered and don't get the heavy seas of other more exposed parts of the coast.

After the tide has gone down, we'll have a chance to see how the beach has been changed by the waves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Behind the Art: Swallowtail Welcome

Painting the sea is all about understanding how light and water interact.  In many respects, painting calm water can be quite challenging.  The interaction between light and water is much more subtle, and this subtlety is really less forgiving when you don’t do it justice.

Water allows light to pass through it, but the surface of water also acts like a mirror, reflecting light.  How much is light you see from within the water and how much is reflected depends on the angle at which you are looking at the water.

My painting “Swallowtail Welcome” illustrates painting a very calm sea.

If you look at the painting, you will see that the water in the distance more closely resembles the colour of the distant sky.  That is because the water is very calm and, like a sheet of glass, it reflects the sky of the distance.  The closer you get to the horizon in the water, the closer to the horizon is the sky reflected.

As you come toward the foreground (if you can call it “ground” in a seascape) the water becomes darker.  If you look at the sky, you will notice that the sky becomes darker overhead, and is paler near the horizon.  Just as the water near the horizon reflects sky near the horizon, water nearer to you reflects the sky more overhead.  So in the middle distance the water reflects the darker overhead sky.

As you come close, it gets more complicated: here in the very slight wave in the water, on the back side of the wave you have a reflection of the sky; on the near side you look into the water and see the greenish colour of looking down into the water.  If anyone remembers their high school physics, you can remember that water acts like a prism and “bends” the light at the surface, bending it so you are looking more directly down into the water.  It is because of this refraction that you see the green colour of looking down into the water even if your angle is not that directly down.

The sketch above crudely illustrates this.  Relating the sketch to the painting, light from within the water is depicted greenish-blue on the near side of a ripple, the very light parts of a ripple are reflections of the horizon sky on the far side, and the blue parts of the ripples are reflections of the overhead sky on the near side of shallow wavelets in the middle distance.

Now, you may also notice that the water in front of the rocky point shows reflections of both sky and rocks, as bands of sky colour and bands of rock colour.  In that case, the reflections on the ripples nearer to the horizon would be the rocky point and the reflections on the ripple with sky colour would be on a part of the ripple that would reflect more directly overhead. The white of the lighthouse would be reflected directly under it, in place of the rocks, with whie and sky being interspersed.

Note the thin light line where water and shore meet; a light ripple occurs there.  Also note the dark seaweed covered rocks near the water.  It is important to note that the band of seaweed should never vary too much in level from the water, as seaweed always grows in well defined tidal zones.

We’ll take a look at how light and water interact in other sea and light conditions in future blogs, but this calm sea helped illustrate some basics.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Swallowtail Welcome

I am a “Grand Mananer”; I was born on Grand Manan Island and I live here. And for reasons that defy logic I am ridiculously tied to the place.  Sure, I enjoy visiting other places, but I have often commented that my favourite part of any trip is seeing Swallowtail Light on my return.  And others who live here have echoed the same sentiment.

Swallowtail Welcome” is aimed at all ex-pat Grand Mananers who, as they approach our special Island, feel that same sense of belonging when the ferry rounds Swallowtail Light, signalling that the ferry crossing is almost complete, the journey is almost done, they are almost “home” (even if “home” on Grand Manan has not been reality for forty or fifty years).

“Swallowtail Welcome” depicts the lighthouse and its distinctive promontory as it would be seen from the ferry approaching Grand Manan on a calm sunny day.  (As an aside, the person for whom I did this painting was particularly averse to ferry crossings in rough weather, so I tried to depict as calm as possible a sea in the painting)

And what would a welcome to Grand Manan be without a couple of seagulls to make it complete.  If Grand Manan were to adopt its “national bird”, I think it would have to be the seagull, or “herring gull” to be more specific.  Powerful, independent and graceful, gulls are beautiful to watch as they soar with little apparent effort and relish gale force winds so strong that other birds are grounded or forced to seek shelter in the trees.

And so, to all ex-pat Grand Mananers, who still harbour an illogical craving for this austere rock at the outer fringes of the Bay of Fundy, here is the perfect gift from one ex-pat to another, a gift that shows that you share this special understanding of a “Swallowtail Welcome”, a sentiment that the less privileged world without a tie to Grand Manan would never understand.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Behind the Art: Rocks

People sometimes ask me “what colour do you use to paint rocks?” My response is “red, blue, yellow and white”. If they comment, “so surf is white, right?”  My response is “surf is red, blue, yellow and white, and never only white”

Whether it’s rocks or surf, I paint with red, blue, yellow and white, and never only white.  To be more specific, the red is “Cadmium Red Medium”, the yellow is “Cadmium Yellow Medium” and the blue is “Phthalo Blue”.  Everything I paint is done with those colours, along with white. And I never, ever use black.

Yesterday, I featured the print of my painting “Swallowtail Surf”, which is mostly rocks and surf

If we zero in on the foreground in the print, we can illustrate these colours in rocks and surf.

First of all, let’s look at the surf.  The “white” part of the surf is made to look a little brighter by adding just a tiniest hint of red and/or yellow to it, depending on the kind of day being depicted.  It actually looks brighter with a hint of warmth than if left plain white.  On the lighthouse itself, the white on the sunny side is not white, but has a hint of warmth to it. And the shaded parts of the surf we have the white darkened with blue with a hint of red to give it a little mauve tint.  The shade in the surf is bluer as it reflects the shade from the nearby rocks, but the shady side of the lighthouse has a redder mauve tint as it is reflecting the sky away from the sun.

The colour that we see in rocks is actually the light reflected from them.  Now a rock is pretty dull in surface, so light reflected is generally low, and that is why they usually look sort of greyish or neutral.  But if you look closely at these rocks, you will see that the lighter areas have a mauvish (my spell checker would say that is not a word) tint to them.  And the shaded areas of the rocks have a blueish shade. To approach very deep shade, mix all three colours together: red, blue and yellow, a bit heavier on the blue.  If you mix all three together with emphasis on the red or yellow, you can get various shades of brown.

The colour of the rocks depends on the colour of light shining on them.  The rocks of “Swallowtail Surf” reflect the light of an early afternoon sky.  But early morning light is very different, as can be seen from this rock which is part from my most recently completed painting.

Here the early morning light is much more orange from the colour of the rising sun, and so the rocks look more orange, or orange-brown in colour.  This is calm water lapping up against a rock, so the water reflects the early morning sky too.  Also, note that the wet rocks (wet next to the water’s edge) reflect the light much more brightly than dry rocks.

Colour is one of the gifts to life that we often take too much for granted.  But the full beauty of coulour is there for us to enjoy, so let’s enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Swallowtail: Iconic Lighthouse

Swallowtail Light is one of those icons of the Maritime Provinces that never ceases to attract photographers to snap their own personal image of the commanding structure on a bleak promontory.

For those of us who live on Grand Manan, the name "Swallowtail" is something we just take for granted without thinking about it much.  But when you stop to ponder the name, it does seem rather odd for a lighthouse.

The name actually referred originally to the point of land on which the light was built.  It fans out from a narrow isthmus to look, if you have a flexible enough imagination, like the tail of a swallow; or the "swallow's tail".  Whatever your imagination might fancy it to resemble, it is the bold and rugged promontory that really sets this lighthouse apart as being so striking. And so the rugged rocks of Swallowtail are important and must be integral to any image of this lighthouse.

This painting of Swallowtail Light, which I call "Swallowtail Surf" was one of my earlier lighthouse paintings, and the prints from this painting have proved to be a perenial favourite among those who love images of our rugged Atlantic coast.

"Swallowtail Surf" is my feature print today in From Our Cove's Etsy shop.  This print really resonates with those who have loved scrambling over the rocky coves and points along our Atlantic coast, pausing from time to time to be invigorated by the tang of cold salt spray.  The actual lighthouse plays a distant second fiddle to the rocks and surf in the foreground.

I had a lot of fun painting the rocks and surf and many people have told me that they enjoy the power of the sea conveyed in the print.  I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy it too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Marco Polo: Behind the Art

We have all heard the term "artistic licence", which says that artists can express what they see with a lot of latitude. While visual artists are by virtue of being artists expected to interpret things as they themselves see them, sometimes I think artistic licence can be a cop out for not wanting to give the extra work and planning and thought to the project being created.

This can show up in landscape and seascape painting, where some artists do not take the time to think through what is going on in the scene they choose to depict.  Certainly an artist is expected to take some latitude with colours, to create a mood, to evoke feelings. But there are some things that should be consistent with nature, or the painting loses credibility big time.


Sailing ships like the clipper ship "Marco Polo" (depicted in my painting above) are by nature very much dependent on wind.  If you are painting a sailing ship, whatever you do, make sure that the wind and the ship in your painting maintain that vital relationship.  And of course the sea and the wind have a similar relationship that must be respected.  Those who have lived by the ocean and especially those who have worked on the water have a keener sense of this.

If we take a closer look at the forward end of the ship, we can see a little of what I am saying.  In planning this painting, I first of all decided on where I want the light to come from, and then where I wanted the wind to come from.  The light is pretty much from overhead and shining a little from right to left. The wind is blowing on the port (left) side of the ship, causing it to heel a little to starboard (right).  The sails are set at an angle to the ship to allow them to pick up an unfavourable wind and use it to advantage.

In the close-up above, we see the jib sails demonstrating the light and wind on the ship.  But also note that the waves are formed by that same wind, and so must be consistent with it.  Furthermore, painting waves is really painting how light interacts with waves.  So, the waves, formed and blown by the wind, reflect the light according to where it is coming from.  Quite a lot to think about when painting the sea, isn't there?

If you want to paint a sailing ship, it is important to pay attention to how it is rigged, to make sure that the standing and running rigging are faithful to their function on the ship.  Artistic licence does not allow you to render a ship that would blow itself apart in the first breeze! In the close-up above, note the wave formed by the ship's bow cutting throught the water.  Blown spray occurs here, and in painting this wave careful attention to light and shadow give shape to the wave.

Just for a little human touch, note the seaman on the bow waving at us.  It is funny how his hand waving at us, as small and insignificant as it is, really jumps out at you.  Points out how a little human interest in a painting, even if it is very small in scale, really does help you relate to the painting.

I could go on and on, but enough for this blog.  Watch for more tips on marine painting in my "Behind the Art" blogs.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebrating Sail: "Marco Polo"

In the heyday of square sail, clipper ships were the finest vessels afloat. With billowing clouds of canvas straining their spars and rigging, they were a beautiful tribute to man's ingenuity in harnassing the power of wind.  I have always admired beautiful square rig sailing ships, and so it is reasonable that I should have painted one. Of course, if you are from southern New Brunswick, a square rig ship means "Marco Polo"

My first encounter with the "Marco Polo" was in research for a book I wrote, published in 1970 by Ginn & Co., entitled "Shipbuilding in the Maritimes".  The following paragraphs are quoted from the book.

At the time of her maiden voyage, the Marco Polo was a timber drogher, a cargo carrying vessel.  But in Liverpool she took the eye of James Baines, who bought her to make passenger runs to Australia.

Into drydock went the Saint John timber ship. She was reinforced with copper fastenings and sheathed with metal. Her interior was rebuilt into comfortable staterooms. On her deck was built a richly ornamented dining saloon, picturesquely lighted and finished with the finest of materials. The doors were panelled in stain glass and the upholstery was crimson velvet. She could hardly be recognized as the same ship that left Saint John.  At that time, the only decoration of the Marco Polo had been the full length figure head of the explorer, Marco Polo, reaching forward from the stemhead.

(This has been preserved and is now found in the New Brunswick Museum)

As captain, Baines engaged James Nicol Forbes.  He was known as "Bully" Forbes, as tough a man as ever hauled himself hand over hand across the rigging of the flying jib boom.  A captain of experience and nerve, he boasted that he would go to Melbourne and back within six months.  Though this boast was discounted with amusement, Forbes had sailed in British North American ships and knew that he could do some traveling under full sail in the latitude of the Roaring Forties.  An American navigator had recommended a route to Australia and back that made use of these strong winds both ways.  Forbes planned to follow this route.

On July 14, 1852, the Marco Polo left Liverpool for Melbourne with nine hundred and thirty emigrants on board.  He had a crew of sixty men, half of whom were working their way to Australia.  Forbes made the trip in sixty-eight days, an impressive achievement.  In four days in teh south latitudes he covered 1,343 miles, an average of 336 miles each day.

Because of the gold strike in Australia, captains had problems obtaining seamen in Melbourne.  Sometimes whole crews left their ships to go to the gold fields.  Forbes solved the problem by having all his crew jailed in Melbourne on a trumped up charge as soon as the Marco Polo docked.  When he had loaded all his suppliles and cargo, Forbes withdrew the charges against the crew and had the men returned to the ship.

The Marco Polo went back to Liverpool by way of Cape Horn and arrived there five months and twenty-one days after she had left Liverpool.  Forbes had lived up to his bopast.  The shipping world was astounded.  None were more excited than James Smith and his men when they learned of the achievement of the ship they had built. Thousands of people came to see the Marco Polo at Liverpool. They admired the banner that hung between her foremast and mainmast proclaiming "THE FASTEST SHIP IN THE WORLD"

The Marco Polo made many more journeys to Australia and back under a succession of different captains. A fast passenger ship, she continued in the Australian service for fifteen years. By the end of this period her hull was becoming water-soaked, her timbers were strained, and she was getting too heavy in the water to be a fast passenger ship. She could no longer stand the full sail of her early days when she covered the long distance between England and Australia in record times.

She was cut down in rigging to become a barque.  The proud Marco Polo was reduced to a tramp, slowly luggin consignments of heavy cargo.  In 1880 she was sold to a Norwegain company.  Once more she engaged in the timber trade. She limped across the ocean laden with timber, her tired hull wrapped in great lengths of enormous chain to hold her together.  A wind-powered pump operated full time to discharge the water that trickled through her sodden seams.

Finally, in August of 1883, while struggling along in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a load of timber, she was caught in a gale and smashed on the shores of Cape Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. After thirty-two years of making history throughout the world, she had bravely staggered home to the shores of her native country to die.