March 10, 1917
Canvas are tough work. I hope to do my last canvas before I go North. I was looking through my sketches in the Shack (over 300) and decided to use the one I made when I was a Ranger in the Park last fall. I painted this sketch at Grand Lake when I was with Ed Godin. What I like most about this sketch is the shape of the tree. This tree was alone on the rocks and it was a windy day.
This lone tree caught my eye from the shore and I moved in to take a closer look. I landed the canoe, pulled it up and walked behind the tree. I knew I had a scene when I walked inshore about 50 feet and because of the tree shelter it was calm where I stood. But when I looked back I could see the tree struggling against the wind while its inshore mates were calm as can be. I could see hills behind Carcajou Bay and it gave a feeling of distance to the tree. It was about 3 in the afternoon when I did the sketch. It was mid-fall, still warm in the day, but in the fall afternoons the winds would kick up and the cloud would be thickened puffs racing across the sky. The cloud weren’t threatening where I was, but I’m sure these clouds would gather down the Ottawa and set up for a big thunderstorm. It felt like a chapel where I set up to paint. Indeed, I imagined I was in a chapel (or a fancy department store) looking at Tiffany stained glass. I could see in overall scene elements of grand stained glass window and I imagined that the tree itself was John the Baptist at the ready to do his baptising. I got to work on the sketch. It didn’t take me long – about 30 to 40 minutes. I had gotten pretty good at throwing out a sketch. Even though I had time that afternoon, my habit was now to paint as quickly as possible. I liked to think of it as automatic sketching – like automatic writing. I let Nature do the sketching, I was just the instrument at the time.
Back at the Shack, canvases are a different story. If you ever wish to be paralysed by second-guessing and let your mind take over your work then painting canvases is just for you. I needed time to immerse myself into a new canvas. The tedious part I like to do for preparation. Building the frame, stretching the canvas and preparing the ground. I would do this over one or two days. I needed the ground to be fully dry before I got started. Already, I’m feeling that this canvas will be on two planes. The chapel in the foreground (unseen) and the windy expanse in the background. As I sketched, I recall being sheltered from the wind and light, but the tree was not. As I was on the Lake just moments before, I knew how rough and unforqiving it was out there. Clouds, water, tree as John the Baptist, I think I’ll have a good canvas here.