March 2, 1917 Preparing The Ground

March 2, 1917
UrNBbm4I spent the day applying the ground to my canvas. I don’t recall how many layers I put on, but on some parts there were more layers than others. I didn’t mind the ground being rough because I want to have the same feel as a board. Although my eyes could only see the light brown umber on the canvas, my mind had already begun compose the picture. I had the luxury to changing my plan of composition several times, all without setting down a single brush stroke of colour.
As I was preparing the ground, recollections of last summer came flooding back. It was hot and dry last summer and I was a fire ranger on the eastern part of the Park keeping an eye on the log runs. In late August it was tinder-dry and we were all worried about another big fire like the Matheson Fire that burned down all the towns around Cochrane. That fire killed over 200 and the smoke lingered across the province and it made the sun look sick for weeks.
When I look at my sketches I recall not the images but the feelings and impressions I had at the time. I remember the lumbermen – they didn’t like us because it was our job to keep an eye on them and make sure that they didn’t start any fires. And they didn’t they take a liking to me sketching. “Queer,” they called it so I didn’t do much during the summer. Someone once asked me if making a sketch was the same as painting a canvas. I told them they were opposite processes. Sketching on a board is from the outside in; painting on a canvas in from the inside out. Harder for me.
I can remember sketching the log jam and its churning fury. The logs were jammed up on the lakeside. The men with their poles broke up the jam and guided the logs through the chutes into the channel below. On the Madawaska, near the Mazinaw, these logs would eventually make their way to Arnprior, to Ottawa and finally to the St. Lawrence and then on to wherever was their final destination.
I’m exhausted. After a day’s work I hardly have enough energy but I’m writing. It’s a good type of exhaustion because I didn’t spend any of the day thinking about anything else. Painting canvases may be a difficult thing, but it gives me the escape I need.

March 1, 1917 All Alone

March 1, 1917
UrNBbm4I’ve bought this journal to write in. I got the idea when I heard about the diaries given to the soldiers before they go overseas. I saw the journal when I bought more paints at the Art Supplies Store on King. I needed more paints and I was hoping the new tubes of colour will give me inspiration. It’s dark now. Past 10:30pm. Another day of frustration. I scraped off a week’s worth of effort. The background was all wrong and I redid the sky and worked on the pine in the foreground. I was making a fine mess of it and I decided enough was enough for the day. My inner voice is telling me, “Try something else, Tom.” I’ll do some writing instead.
So here I am writing at my table by kerosene lantern. The electrical’s gone out once again this week but with the lantern I have enough light to write. I can see around me barely. A dim glow is coming out through the cracks in the top of the wood stove and it’s near pitch black above, where my bunk is. The lantern is casting a sickly kerosene hue on my boards and canvases making them look anemic and pallid. A dozen of my boards lie on the floor. Hundreds more are stacked in piles against the other wall – SUMMER, WINTER, SPRING, FALL. Four years worth of boards and a winter’s worth of canvas, ready to be sold, given or tossed away.
The good chaps are gone. Alex Jackson is recuperating in England. Lawren Harris is in Barrie at Camp Borden. I am all alone.