Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our Gulls at Our Cove

We have a pair of gulls stay with us in Our Cove all summer long.  They arrive fairly early in the spring and stay all summer and into the fall.  The way they behave, we think it is the same pair of gulls that come back each year.  But they do not like any other gulls intruding into their territory in the cove.  One of our gulls will aggressively drive away any other gulls, which is quite fun to watch, especially when a young gull wanders in not knowing the rules!  But the two gulls themselves seem to have a strong bond between them.

From first light until dark, our gulls can be found around Our Cove, sometimes paddling and diving for food, sometime standing on a rock.  They seem very content with each other and with their lot in life.

Like any couple, we see one of the pair adjusting the appearance, while the other looks on with a bored expression: anyone want to guess which is the male and which is the female?

Spring time is especially a time for pairing, as along comes a pair of black ducks.

And while our two gulls will not tolerate other gulls intruding into their cove, they don't seem to mind a visit by the black ducks at all.

With the ever changing Fundy tide, Our Cove always has pleasant little stories to tell you if you want to watch for them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Behind the Art: Lumpfish

As I noted in my last blog, this week's feature is quite a departure for me in subject matter: a fish; and not a fish served on a plate, but a fish swimming in its natural habitat.  My subject in this painting is a "lumpfish", a fairly common visitor to our Grand Manan waters.

For someone who spent so much of his working life under the sea, you would think I would have done this sooner; but I didn't.  In fact, it wasn't even my idea.  The Hunstman Aquarium in St. Andrews approached me to do a painting of a sea creature for a calendar they will be publishing shortly.  They wanted different artists to feature different examples of sea life in our waters.  I opted to do a fish I didn't expect would be first choice for anyone else: a lumpfish, which is not a very nice name to hang on anything, especially the whimsical little fellows we share our ocean with.

I alsways enjoyed meeting up with lumpfish.  They are not very strong swimmers by any standards, and they are not endowed with the heavy dentures of wolffish or the poison spines of skates.  The male takes on a tangerine colour in breeding season and he dilligently guards the eggs. As defenceless as he seems, he aggresively wards off intruders who may venture too close to his beloved eggs.

One of the aspects of painting an undersea scene is the accented atmospheric perspective; where the sharp contrasts of the foreground rapidly fade as you look only a few feet to the background.  This is because underwater visibility is limited to perhaps twenty feet, so things ten or fifteen feet away are very indistinct.  Furthermore, blue light is diffused in the water and green penetrates the best, so the water is a bluish green.  This can be seen in the area behind the fish's tail.

The tail and fins of the fish are made of spines, with a thin membrane between them.  Painting the membrane was a challenge, to make them almost transparent, but with a hint of the spine colour.

The lumpfish himself was a challenge, as his skin is discoloured with little lumps and spots.  His body is fairly heavily framed, and he doesn't have the flexibility of a herring or mackerel.  In fact his little tail moves back and forth slowly propelling a rather ungainly block of a body.  His eyes are big, dark and widely spaced on his forehead.

But I think the little fellow has lots of personality; don't you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Undersea "Lumpfish" print

This week's feature is something quite different: a print of a painting of life under the sea.  The colourful little fellow in the painting is a "lumpfish", depicted swimming over the shallow ocean floor.

The painting was commissioned by the Huntsman Aquarium in St. Andrews, to be featured in a calendar to be published soon.  When they asked what kind of sea life I would like to paint, I chose the lumpfish.  I spent many years diving and always enjoyed sharing my water with lumpfish.  They are not very strong swimmers, nor do they have big sharp teeth, but the males which take on the orange red colour in breeding season are very protective of the eggs under their supervision.  Perhaps down deep they know that humans like their roe for caviar!

This was my first attempt at painting fish under the sea; it was such fun, I may look at doing more undersea paintings.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Painting a Light Chop

This week I featured a print of my seascape painting of the shipwreck of the ocean going steam tug "Gypsum King".  This shipwreck occurred on St. Mary Ledge, the outer most of the dreaded Murr Ledges, off Grand Manan.  The ledge juts up abruptly out of the open sea, so waves around it are as they would be in the open water.  So "behind the art" today, we will look at painting a light chop, which is common when there is not a lot of wind, perhaps a light breeze.

If we look at the water in this painting, we can see that I purposely did not paint a heavy sea, but the sort of sea that would be common there any day.  Even though the waves are not large, they are quite different from the calm ripples of a river.  They are sharper and more irregular and multi-faceted.  If we look at the stern of the tug, which is sunk and resting on bottom, we see the water pouring over the stern as waves come and go.  There is also a lot of foam around the ship as the little waves hit the hull.

Looking at the bow, on the rocks, we can note that the waves form into little breakers on the rocky shore, creating surf where they come ashore.  These certainly look different from the chop just a short distance from the shore.  Because the bottom drops off steeply, breakers do not form until right next to shore.

Notice that with these little waves, there is some foam from their breaking, even though they are not large waves.  Certainly they are very sharp, very different from river ripples, featured last week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shipwreck "Gypsum King"

This week's feature is a print of one of my shipwreck paintings: the stranded ocean going steam tug "Gypsum King", wrecked on St. Mary Ledge, off Grand Manan Island, on January 22, 1906.

The painting depicts the tug stranded on the ledge before she broke up in a storm and sank.  The ledge drops off steeply into an underwater basin, into which most of the wreckage collected, when the tug broke and sank.  Many years ago, diving on the wreck, I found several interesting brass items in the wreckage, which are now in the Grand Manan Museum.

The "Gypsum King" was built and was owned in New York, and was used for towing barges of gypsum from the head of the Bay of Fundy to New York.  The gypsum was used for making plaster for the inside walls of houses throughout the US Northeast.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Paint me a River"

"Behind the Art" on my painting of the river steamer "Majestic", I want to touch briefly on painting a river scene.  This painting, featuring a steamer on the Saint John River, is a good illustration of river painting, which is really quite different to painting the sea.

The first thing to notice about river water is that it is much calmer than the sea.  That seems like a common sense statement, but it affects how you treat the waves, which on a calm river are really just ripples.  But more subtle than that is the realization that in a river there is no sea swell, so the ripples are more uniform, more balanced and don't have the harmonics in the waves that you see on the ocean.  This makes river water look more peaceful.  And river ripples generally have softer crests and troughs, especially on a calm day (on rivers you usually have less wind than on the ocean).

Even the bow wake curling away from the bow of the steamer is much more uniform than it would be out on the ocean.  Notice how I had to be very careful to ensure that colour changes in the reflection are exactly below the colour changes on the steamer that they are reflecting.  The stem of the steamer rakes back from the waterline up to the deck; this same angle appears in the reflection below.  This is especially important in calm river water, where the waves are more uniform.  Even on a calm sea, the wavelets are a little more random and so reflections are not as uniform and reflect the different facets of ocean wavelets.

The stern wake of the steamer is much more even and appears flatter in a river setting.  Notice how, as the ship has moved through the water, the wavelets are disturbed and less uniform and so the reflections at the stern are not as precise as they are in the undisturbed water by the bow.

While I enjoy painting rough sea, calm water can actually be just as challenging as calm ripples demand very close attention to detail.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Saint John River Steamer "Majestic"

The Saint John River has been called "the Rhine of North America".  As the major river running through the centre of New Brunswick, the river was the prime way of travelling through the Province until less than a hundred years ago.  The age of steam saw the heyday of river travel on the Saint John.

This week's feature print is a reproduction of my painting of the Steamer "Majestic"

Perhaps the best known Saint John River steamer was the "Majestic".  Built in Toronto in 1899, the "Majestic" plied the Saint John River from 1902 until she retired from service in 1942, making this one of the last steamboats in regular service on the river.  She was the first steel hull steamer to ply the Saint John.  A coal fired steam engine powered her screw propeller to give this ship great dependability on her trips about the Saint John River system.

The painting evokes a time when the pace of life was slower, and one truly did have the time when traveling the river to enjoy the magnificent view that every trun of the river presented.