Thursday, January 27, 2011

Behind the Art: Merganser

This week I featured an original painting "Merganser and Ducklings" in my Etsy shop.  The painting depicts a mother Common Meganser watching over her ducklings as they learn to feed in tidal rockweed.  As I noted, the mother dock has a "bad hair" tuft on the back of her head.

Painting sea birds, or any birds for that matter, is quite challenging, as the colour gradients are really quite subtle, while the colours themselves are distinct and definite for different species of birds.  This close-up of the mother duck's head shows what I mean.

Another point of interest in this painting is the rock in the foreground.   While we might assume that a rock is just a rock, there are lots of different colours involved in conveying a natual looking rock.  And if it is a tidal rock, then we have the added complication of little white and grey barnacles and brassy coloured rockweed.  Then we have the water lapping against the rock and pebbles in the foreground.

A natural, tidal beach has a lot going on when we look at it closely, especially if we want to be faithful to getting it to look really authentic in the painting.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Merganser and Ducklings" original painting

This week I decided to feature an original painting in my Etsy shop.  This is my second in a new series I am painting of birds along our seashores.

The female Common Merganser looks like she is having a "bad hair day", with the springy tuft on the back of her head.  I have painted her looking after her brood of ducklings as the learn to forage in the tidal waters of a quiet sheltered seashore cove.  The rockweed floating up as the tide recedes shelters interesting things for a little duck to eat.

If you like the painting, but feel the price of an original is out of your range, you might be interested in a framed print of this painting to brighten up your wall.  Prints of the painting are available at the prices of other prints featured in my shop

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Behind the Art: Lord Ashburton

The barque Lord Ashburton set sail from Toulon, France, on November 17, 1856, bound for Saint John in ballast.  She sailed under the command of Captain Evan Clarke Crerar, a thirty-seven year old native of Pictou, Nova Scotia, a captain with an established reputation for skill and resourcefulness at sea.  Her crew was made up of twenty-eight others, men of a variety of nationalities.

The Lord Ashburton had been built in 1843, by Briggs & Co., at Brandy Cove, near St. Andrews, New Brunswick, a pleasant little cove where there is now an important biological research station, operated by the federal government of Canada. 
At one o'clock in the morning on Monday, January 19, 1857, the Lord Ashburton struck a rugged headland at the northern end of Grand Manan Island.  As the wave which carried her onto the rocks dropped back, the barque, caught aground forward, listed badly offshore and her three masts immediately snapped off. 
In short order the stern was breaking apart and as the breakers tore the ship open, water poured over the decks.  In the darkness men scrambled to cling to whatever they could find to hold themselves against the waves washing over the vessel.  Very soon the captain, his three officers and many of the crew were swept overboard and drowned.  Ten of the crew jumped over the side in the lee of the ship's fore quarter and, grasping pieces of flotsam adrift from the collapsing wooden hull, they supported themselves while they paddled and stroked for their lives to reach shore. 
One of the survivors was James Lawson, a native of Bornholm, Denmark.  Amid the howling confusion, the blackness, icy sea spray and driving snow, he paddled, stumbled and clawed his way ashore, swept back, struggled to shore again, and again.  He finally made it and fell exhausted to the beach. 
In desperation, Lawson made his way over the rocks and up the cliff in the dark and blinding snowstorm.  The wind howled over the crest of the cliff as he stumbled through the snowdrifts and into the woods searching for some sign, any sign, of civilization.  Unwittingly he had walked in the wrong direction, away from the village of North Head.  At first grey light, he came upon a lone hay barn and limped, half crawling, into it and lay down to die.
Meanwhile, a dog at the James Tatton home, near Eel Brook, and closer to the scene of the wreck, howled all night with such a sense of urgency that Tatton left his house at daybreak to investigate.  He found Lawson's tracks in the snowdrifts and followed the trail to the barn, discovered Lawson and moved the exhausted seaman as quickly as possible to the nearby home of Elijah Bennett.
Quickly men gathered to render what assistance they could to the survivors.  The once stalwart ship was a forlorn wreck, submerged aft, a gaping hole in her forward quarter, masts gone, tethered tatters of canvas heaving on the rolling seas.  Strewn along the beach were remnants of the ship and its voyage, boxes and pieces of the ship tumbled and windrowed, torn clothing limply clinging to rocks.

Of those who and managed to reach shore, four had made it up to the top of the cliff (including Lawson, and others were badly frozen too).  Six men were found huddled against the base of the cliff, but of these, two were dead.  Bodies were strewn along the beach, those drowned having been washed ashore and left by the tide.  Men carefully and respectfully gathered the cold and battered remains.  Shocked shipmates identified their dead comrades, and all were accounted for; the bodies of the captain, three mates and seventeen crewmen were all there.
The survivors were taken to Saint John.  James Lawson had to have part of both feet amputated as a result of frostbite and remained a patient at the marine hospital for over five years.  Being Danish, his command of English was poor, he was crippled and had no trade.  But during his stay in the hospital he learned to work with leather and learned harness and shoe making.
James Lawson returned to Grand Manan and settled there.  He set up shop and became the recognized boot and shoe maker of the community.  Indeed, his cobbler's bench is now part of the collection of the Grand Manan Museum.  He became a British subject, married an Island girl and raised a family there.  His oft retold story of the wreck of the Lord Ashburton became a well known piece of Island tradition. As years went by, wide-eyed school children listened enthralled by the old man's story told in their classroom, of the night of terror he suffered on bleak Ashburton Head.  James Lawson died in February, 1918, at the age of eighty-four.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Shipwreck Lord Ashburton

This week's featured print is a reproduction of a painting of the wreck of the barque "Lord Ashburton", which occurred at 2 a.m. on January 19, 1857, at the northern end of Grand Manan Island in a howling northeast snowstorm.  The painting depicts the scene as I envisioned it would appear the following morning when rescuers from the nearby village came to do what they could to help the eight survivors.  Twenty-one lives were lost in the shipwreck.  The headland where this occurred is now called "Ashburton Head".

I did the painting in late 2006, leading up the the 150th anniversary of the tragedy on January 19, 2007.  Prints of the painting are available in 5x7, 8x10 or 11x14, with three frame choices.

One of the survivors, James Lawson, scaled the cliffs in the snowstorm at night to try to find help.  He was kindly treated on Grand Manan and returned to the Island and settled here.  Every year he would go into the local school and retell his story to enthralled children.  As a result, the story of the "Wreck of the Lord Ashburton" is well known as part of Grand Manan heritage.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Perseverance, Behind the Art

This week I have featured a print of my painting "Perseverance".  As I have pointed out, the painting depicts the situation facing Captain McDonald, on his wrecked schooner "Perseverance", in which he had to summon enormous perseverance to survive the ordeal.

Of course there is the obvious comment about it likewise taking a lot of perseverance to capture in paint on a canvas all that is going on in a wild sea.  And that is true, it takes a lot of patience to paint a sea like that.

But I would like to take us behind the painting to the story that it illustrates.  The year 1819 closed with one of the most ferocious gales ever to hit the Bay of Fundy. Captain McDonald had set sail in his schooner "Perseverance" from St. Andrews, clearing Campobello on Wednesday evening, December 29.  Becalmed on Thursday, the winds arose in the evening buffeting the schooner with a southerly gale increasing in strength through the night.  The schooner started leaking more that the two pumps on board could handle.

The schooner carried a deck load of lumber, which the crew cut away, but in doing so, lost their boat.  So now there was no possibility of abandoning their vessel, if something went wrong. As the water rose in the hold, it rolled back and forth with the rolling of the vessel, making the schooner less stable.  The anchors and cables were cut away to lighten the deck. 

By Friday morning, December 31, they were in a full blown southerly storm.  With waves washing over the decks, the crew took to the mast heads for safety.  Full of water, the schooner rolled down on her side and stayed there.  Three of the crew were immediately washed off and drowned.  The others quickly cut away the rigging, which allowed the masts to break off, and the waterlogged hull returned upright.  The schooner was a little more stable, but with no masts, they were adrift and helpless.

Through the day, the schooner wallowed in heavy seas, was washed by icy spray and blown by bone chilling wind.  One by one the crew died, until Captain McDonald was the only one left alive.  The wind went around to the west and abated some, restoring his hope that he might save himself.  He found a small sail wrapped around a timber and rigged it as best he could to the stump of the foremast.  With compass washed away, he guessed at his location and steered as best he could judge for Nova Scotia.

Throughout the night he persevered.  On Saturday, January 1, 1820, the wind had changed direction, clearing the air, but heavy seas were still running.  This is the scene depicted in the painting.  Continuing before the wind, Captain McDonald saw the Nova Scotia coast and recopgnized the headlands near Yarmouth.  The "Perseverance" struck the rocks about seven miles up shore from Yarmouth.  People ashore saw the schooner approaching and gathered to try to help. With his vessel going to pieces, Captain McDonald grabbed a large plank and jumped into the surf and washed ashore where he was rescued and cared for.  And his detailed recounting of the story gave us a remarkable glimpse of just one of the tragic shipwrecks of the great New Year's Eve Gale.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The print featured this week is from my painting which I called "Perseverance". Rather coincidentally, that is both the name of the schooner depicted, and the quality demonstrated by its captain.

I probably should have featured it last week, as the event depicted in the painting occurred on a New Year's Day - in 1820.  In an absolutely tremendous gale the day before, the "Perseverance" was capsized.  One by one, the crew died, until only Captain McDonald was left. With no compass but great determination, he gathered up one of the sails that he still had and tied it to the stump of a foremast and made his way to the Nova Scotia shore where his schooner was wrecked on the rocks and he succeeded in making it ashore on a plank.

Certainly quite a story of perseverance, and an added touch to the story to know that "Perseverance" was the name of the schooner.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Behind the Art: Schooner Sails

This week I featured a print of my painting of the Grand Banks fishing schooner "Bluenose"

 In look at the water in this painting, one feature to note is the side lighting of the waves.  With light coming from the side, there is a special sparkle to the wave crests, and the troughs are darker in colour.

An interesting feature to note is a detail to be seen in the sails of the schooner.  You may have noticed in paintings of old sailing ships that there are little pieces of rope secured in the sails along reinforcing ribs at an equal distance from the boom.  These little ropes are called "reefing points" and are used for "reefing" the sails.

 "Reefing" sails was a way to take in some canvas when high winds would put too much strain on the the sails.  With the upper boom lowered slightly, canvas was gathered in and the reefing points on either side of the sail would be tied around the lower boom, and secured with a "reef knot" (also called a "square knot").  With the reef points secured all along the boom, the sail would present less area to the strong wind, which in turn put less strain on the ship's rigging.  You will notice that one of these sails has two sets of reefing points.  If sail is taken all the way to the second set of reefing points, the sail would be "double reefed".

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The schooner "Bluenose"

This week's featured print is the schooner "Bluenose", depicted in a stiff breeze on the open sea.

Grand Banks schooners are an icon of Maritime Canada.  Not only were they renowned for their speed at sea, but they were built for the job of seaworthy fishing offshore on the Grand Banks.  These schooners were the workhorses of the offshore fishery and had to pay good dividends in groundfish catches for their owners.

As fishing vessels, they are now, of course, obsolete.  Nevertheless, the reproduction of the "Bluenose" still attracts crowds of visitors who never fail to be inspired by this Nova Scotian icon.