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.