This piece started life as a study for a large commission and then became a painting that I liked in its own right. The feeling of this imagined landscape is of Ontario lake country in the fall. The leaves of the birches have turned gold while the occasional maple splashes red. A barred owl gazes out and the moon is full in the early evening sky.
I painted this one from a photo I took at my parents’ a couple of years ago. They have a few fruit trees and that particular year, the pear trees were obligingly full of fruit – plump and hanging low on the branches.
Perhaps I should change the title to “A Study in Green” from Tom’s playful poem.
A Study in Green
“It is a mystery!” said Holmes
examining a pear
and recollecting weighty tomes
to learn what might be there.
“You see, through looking-glass I see
these fruit so ripe upon their tree
yet when I gaze with mine own eye
I do see nothing! Just blue sky!”
“You have the glass most angled, Holmes,”
good Watson did reply.
They both were lying on the ground
beneath the summer sky
amidst the greenly ripening pears
ignoring all the farmer’s stares
who had hired them to discover
where his wife would meet her lover.
“Oh, I see!” said Holmes at last
and bounced up to his feet
inspecting carefully the grass
still green in summer heat.
“This is the place! I do declare
where the lovers made their lair!
Just look how olive drab the shade
has turned the turf where they have laid!”
“How could you know?” the farmer asked,
and Holmes gave his reply:
“The lover was myself, of course!
And now it’s time to fly!”
Tom added: “The greens of this piece made me immediately think, “A study in green”,
which jumped me to “A Study in Scarlett”, which was the first Sherlock
Holmes novel. :-)”
Everything at the market is so inspiring at this time of year! I deliberately chose the apples that still had some leaves attached – partly because then I can tell that the apples are really fresh …but mostly because I like to paint the leaves. The wooden bowl I put the apples in has an oval shape – the view is pretty much looking straight down. I painted this alla prima and had lots of fun playing with colour as usual.
Tom wrote a nostalgic feeling poem for this one.
Early mornings on the way to school
in crisp September under shifting skies
I’d pick an apple, hard and tart and cool:
a burst of flavour telling me no lies,
just flooding all my senses with its taste
and texture, scent, and colour, then the crack
of every bite in autumn silence. Haste
devoured it to the core. No looking back
upon a lonely childhood would be fair
without those moments pure and full, delight
in what the world might be, what’s waiting there
for anyone who reaches for a height.
Apples gave us knowledge, so it’s told
Apples gave me beauty, bright and bold.
Starting with a poppy in the centre of this mandala seemed in tune with this time of year. Poppies and remembering.
Life is rather unsettled at the moment so it may be a while before I watercolour this. I wanted to share the black and white version anyway – since black and white also seems in tune with November.
Tom’s stirring poem:
Storm winds blow the scattered leaves of autumn
through the empty air, across the fields,
into ditches, craters, holes, and trenches
where a sniper aims for lost ideals:
service, duty, glory, resolution,
patriotic feeling, good and right,
huddled in the rank’s malign confusion
readying to rise and charge and strike.
The minutes tick around the face of time
measuring the heartbeats of the dead
breathing in the shadows, asking why
the blood of men so innocent is shed
for empire and for nation and for fear,
when all who seem so far are truly near.
In memory of Private George Lawrence Price, the last Canadian to die in WWI, two minutes before the Armistice:
For the next few weeks there will be less (or no) oil paintings and more watercolour or ink pieces. We are moving soon and the idea of trying to move wet oil paintings makes me cringe. Anyway, it is great to have other, quicker drying media that are also fun!
Dancing patterns of leaves fascinate me at this time of year and the colour play can be subtle or bold making for potentially endless variety. It’s very freeing because basically, all decisions work out looking good!
I always love Tom’s poems but this one is especially wonderful, I think.
Stems of autumn, soft decay
permeates their fallen leaves
yet still some beauty, green and grey,
falls between their stalks and sleeves
as season’s cycle yearns and turns
autumnal colours flare and burn
to scent the air with voiceless smoke
that rises from the forest’s coke
within the loam’s dark furnace hot
where summer crumbles into coals
and for the days of warmth there tolls
a curfew’s bell of iron wrought.
Falling figures through still air
dance for all that may be there.
This one ended up with a strong somber tone. I’m not sure why since I started with a flower! It’s a mystery. Anyway, the title arose because it felt like etching or metal inlay by the time I was done. We’re nearing the end of summer with autumn starting to give a hint of its cool breath. Perhaps that was in the back of my mind. Someone recently asked me about the meanings of mandalas which I have not studied deeply at all. I imagine that any analysis of my mandalas would say more about my psyche than about the iconography of any particular tradition.
Etched upon the sky’s grey steel
the trees of autumn raise their arms
while burnished roots both hold and heal
warding all from hurt and harm
keeping something in the centre
open, free, a door to enter
from the wind-blown darkling plain
where armies clash in cloud and rain
into a world of peace and strength
that can’t forget the promised spring
where still, perhaps, a bird might sing
while in some burrow, giving thanks,
a woodland creature, small and rare,
dares look out to see what’s there.
I decided to paint a larger work using the earlier small koi pond paintings as inspiration. As the size of a painting increases, the challenges can become exponentially greater. When paint starts drying, my usual alla prima techniques won’t work and it can be a struggle to keep the brushwork loose and fresh. Still, I hope I captured the feeling of the cool autumn evening watching the drifting willow leaves and lazily swimming fish.
Next time, I will try for the same feeling with a greater economy of brushstrokes!
Here is Tom’s haiku – he always uses just the right number of words 🙂
crooked branches bend
koi following time’s long curve
down straight water paths
Another painting from my visit to the Sun Yat-sen Garden in Vancouver. This one focused on the lily pads and reflections from the shore and sky.
Tom’s haiku for this one is …just perfect.
another world waits
through the water’s weathered glass
koi pass bare branches
And if you have a taste to see what this garden looks like …and feels like, check out this short film commissioned by the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden Society of Vancouver. Tom wrote the screen play and it really captures the place in a special way.
This small (8″x 8″ oil on canvas) painting is based on a photo I took a couple of weeks ago at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden here in Vancouver. It was a cloudy day but bright so I took advantage of the afternoon to do a little sight-seeing in my still relatively newly adopted city. The koi quietly swimming by while the willow leaves drifted on the surface of the water was a beautiful moment. It is a very picturesque Chinese garden and so there will likely be more paintings to come from my visit.
Tom’s beautiful haiku also captures the moment.
sky falls on water
dry leaves burn in autumn sun
koi pass by below
This was a day when everything felt easy. Other times you need to struggle through the process but days like this are a joy.
…and here is a wonderful poem from Tom to go with this painting.
fractured crystal of the sky
scattering the evening light
as the darkness drawing nigh
ushers in the quiet night
to cloak world in winter cold
as lonely souls each other hold
and round the fire a tale is told
of bygone heroes, brave and bold
until the teller silent falls
and voices rise in ancient song
praying winter won’t be long
as the restless crows each call
while the stars come out in pairs
between the angled branches bare