The Log Book
Tales of an Artist Afloat
Prism and I are safely moored in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. With plenty of time on my hands, I’ve been busy painting and have been going through last year’s sketchbooks and photos to find inspiration for a new series of watercolours. At a time when sailing out to the Gulf Islands or remote West Coast communities feels irresponsible, my sketches let me travel and revisit some favourite haunts.
I’ve also been experimenting with making videos of my process as I paint, including narration! I’m excited to share the first of them below. Please leave me a comment if there’s a particular concept or technique you’d like me to focus on in future videos, as I’d like to create some tutorials too.
Being an artist feels like a constant learning experience. Every time I chat to another artist, I pick up a tip or idea. Then there are the discoveries I make myself as I play with my materials and become more mindful of why some things work whilst others don’t.⠀
My biggest lessons learned tend to be the mental ones though. Art can require quite a bit of resilience- outer and inner critics can be vocal and sometimes I feel like I’m being a fraud- who gave me permission to be an artist anyway? It feels odd that something I love so much can leave me feeling drained and sad sometimes. The biggest thing I’ve learned to help combat art-induced negativity is to remember why I paint in the first place. To hold on to the moments when I’m in the zone, hypnotized by the way the paint flows across the paper, the gorgeous granulation of jadeite and the magical colours I can mix from phthalo blue and green. I need to remember the feeling of joy as a school of fish emerge from my blues or when I add the shadows that will make a tree pop.⠀
The more process-focused I become, the less it matters if a piece went wrong- it becomes a learning experience to help me with my next painting. If I enjoyed creating a piece of work, it doesn’t matter so much if someone else doesn’t like it- and I can concentrate on the fact that something that brings me joy can make other people happy too. I don’t think I’ve silenced my inner critic forever, but making the most of the process rather than obsessing about the product is helping to take away part of her power and makes it easier to figure out when she’s right- and when she isn’t. ⠀
I’d love to hear what your biggest creative lesson learned is, whether it’s for your head or for your medium!⠀
Sketching Saturna's Sunrise
Saturna was a wonderfully sleepy, timeless island. It ticks along at its own pace, inhabited by retirees, holiday makers and the odd artist. This made it a wonderful place for cycling, as the roads were all but empty. We saw more deer than cars.
Jim and his mountain bike conquered the big hills without me, but my little fold up bike and I were up for the ride to East Point. Jim described the route as 'flat', which was a bit misleading- 'gently rolling' would be more accurate. I got a bit more exercise than I'd expected, but bike and I made it intact to the little museum looking out over the Juan de Fuca Straight.
There used to be a lighthouse here once, but when it was decommissioned it was decided that the best course of action was to blow it up. The lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's cottage were soon demolished, despite the protests of locals. However, the instructions for explosion did not include a termination sentence for the little building that housed the fog horn. Some forgetful soul had missed it off the hit list, so the demolition crew left it standing. This sole survivor is now a tiny museum, packed full of interesting information about the history and nature of Saturna and the Gulf Islands. I read about the Pig War between the British and the US, sparked off by the shooting of an unruly British hog who had invaded an American's garden. The pig was the only casualty in the war, but the greater debate was who the islands belonged to- should the US or British be ruling on the pig's demise? After a period of military posturing by both sides, an arbitrator was brought in. It was decided that the Juan de Fuca Straight was the deepest of the channels that ran through the islands, and was therefore most navigable and the most suitable boundary. The islands south of the Straight would belong to the US and became the Juan de Fuca Islands, those to the north would be the Canadian Gulf Islands. This border confused my phone, which spent most of our visit determined that we were in the USA.
Looking round the museum was interesting. Looking at the museum was beautiful. Bright white against the golden grass and blue sky, it stood above the swirling waters of the aptly named 'Boiling Reef. To the south were the blues and purples of the Juan de Fucas. To the north we had a beautiful view of Tumbo Island. Beyond it, the Gulf Islands studded the sea off to the horizon.
We had anchored Prism in Winter Harbour. When we arrived it was a busy mooring field but after Labour Day the call of work and school summoned the other boats home. Island Prism sat in the perfect spot to enjoy the wonderful sunrises visible through the harbour entrance, and with the shortening days I was often up early enough to see them. Evenings were spent ashore, enjoying the golden light and catching up with sailing friends.
Inevitably, laundry time was creeping round. We sailed up to Ganges, on Salt Spring Island, and were most surprised to find out that there was not a laundrette on the island. The dry cleaners would wash clothes at the princely sum of $21 a load and one of the marinas had facilities we could use- but we had to take a berth with them, and their moorage rates were budget-blowing. So I had to resort to good old-fashioned hand washing.
Salt Spring is known for its arts community, and there were plenty of galleries for me to explore. Gallery 8 was full of incredible work by masters in their media- Carol Evans' watercolours were particularly mind-blowing. I succumbed to the lure of a teal blue dress from Priestess and Deer and oggled cards at Inspiration. We thoroughly enjoyed the busy town but after a couple of days we were ready to move on from the bustling anchorage and steady stream of float planes.
Russell Island was a gem. It's not big, but it's peaceful and very pretty. The little anchorage would get busy in the late afternoon with boats popping out from Sidney for a beer with a view, but they'd up anchor around seven to get home before dark. The little homestead on the island used to belong to a Hawaiian settler. The apple trees which she and her husband planted were heavy with fruit, and Jim picked a few to enjoy on the porch. The fruit of one tree was rather tart, but they'd go perfectly with the ripening blackberries. If only Island Prism had a decent oven for pie baking!
The trees were filled with birds, filling the air with music. I recognised chestnut-backed chickadees and the squeaky red-breasted nuthatches, but the little plain brown birds that darted between the bushes and hid amongst the leaves defied identification. The sandy beaches invited me to paddle as I searched for signs of the terraces once built here for clams. I couldn't see the submerged rock walls, and our dinghy explorations were equally fruitless, but it was fun to hunt.
Shifting to Fulford Harbour, Jim dropped me off at the ferry to lug three framed paintings to Sidney for jurying for a fine art show. Thankfully Bill and his car came to our aid, and we left them in a hall with a thousand other paintings. Sadly I was unsuccessful and my ego felt a little bruised. Ultimately all I could do was remember that it wasn't personal, there was plenty of competition and as I have no way of knowing why my work didn't get in, there's no point dwelling on it. My best course of action was to pick up the brush and get back to painting. After all, creating is the main thing, practice makes improvements- and there's always next year!
Inspiration flows when life slows down. I feel at my most creative when I have time to sit and watch the world, to paddle along in the dinghy, to poke around tide pools, search amongst the driftwood or hike through a forest. I stop to sketch or pause to take a photo that will refresh my memory later.
As we cruised the Broughton Archipelago, the pace of life was perfect for creating. We had no time deadlines and the highly sporadic internet removed a distraction. Peaceful, secluded anchorages added to this sense of tranquility. Foggy mornings gave me time to paint on Prism each day, and when the fog lifted I'd pack up my art supplies and go exploring with Jimmie.
The fog had almost prevented us visiting Tuesday Cove, between Mars and Tracey Islands. In her book 'The Curve of Time', M. Wylie Blanchett gave a beautiful description of this idyllic little anchorage which she discovered when inclement weather forced her to move from nearby Monday Harbour. Despite the fact it isn't marked on any map, Blanchett describes the cove so well Jim was sure he could find it. But thick shrouds of fog meant we didn't dare enter the labyrinthine channels that would lead us there. Even with GPS, the narrow entrances, shallow patches, fast-flowing currents and numerous kelp beds would be hazardous if we didn't have a decent view. Ah well, the plans of sailors are written on the wind and tide. This wouldn't be the first time we've had to edit or rewrite because of meteorology. We were busy redrafting when the wind finally read our initial memo, sending a stiff breeze which gave us a beautiful downwind sail through Fife Sound as the fog cleared before us. The entrance we wanted was revealed and I helmed us through the narrow pass. Our route was clear, with wonderful views of steep-sided islands and kelp-fringed shallows.
Entering Monday Harbour, we found the little nook between islets which formed Tuesday Cove. The thickly forested shore had a white shell beach, revealed at low tide, and the islets and the narrow drying inlet between Tracey and Mars Islands gave us plenty to explore. There was always something to watch. Hunting harbour porpoises chased their prey into the cove, herons landed in the fir trees (always a slightly ungainly sight) and cantankerous kingfishers defended their favoured twigs with noisy aerobatic antics.
After a few days there it was hard to persuade ourselves to up anchor, but we were glad we did. Our next day of sailing took us through the Burdwood Group. These little islands are currently uninhabited and unnamed. This wasn't always the case; the numerous white shell beaches and village sites indicate that a thriving First Nations community once lived amongst these islands. Perhaps the old names live on, and the map makers just never bothered to ask the right people.
There is a small camp ground in the Burdwood Group, but no secure overnight anchorage for a sailboat. With a little poking around we were able to find a couple of reasonable day anchorages to drop the hook whilst we explored using the dinghy. The island with the campsite was a particular gem. In the sunlight, its long white shell beach looked almost tropical, and as the temperature finally rose above twenty degrees I began to seriously contemplate swimming. Trails through the forest invited exploration. No traces of long houses remained, but cedar trees with patches of stripped bark showed that visitors had brought some of the old traditions back with them. Red cedar is known as 'the tree of life' and its bark has many uses, from weaving baskets and ceremonial clothing to creating fishing line. It also smells wonderful.
I didn't brave a swim as my togs were back on the boat and the afternoon was pushing on. Even on warm days the temperature tends to drop at about 6pm. Being cold and wet as we moved to a more secure anchorage wasn't going to be fun. So I sat on the shell beach, painting the summer blues and hoped that we'd make it back another day. We did return, and the Burdwoods were still beautiful even though it was cold and cloudy. On our second visit we returned to our idyllic white shell beach and also explored some of the surrounding islands. Most of them were pretty impenetrable and we couldn't leave the foreshore, but it was always a pleasure to just enjoy, breathe and be. Sometimes life doesn't need to be complicated!
Making our way up Tribune Channel, we passed Lacey Falls which pours down a steep face of patterned granite. Branches and tree trunks in the water indicated that there were logging operations in the area. The logs found favour with seagulls, who jauntily bobbed along on their mobile perches.
We ducked into Watson Cove, which the cruising guide said was surrounded by waterfalls and was the access point to see a thousand year old cedar tree. This sounded wonderful and the cove was lovely but the anchorage was fairly deep, there wasn't much swinging room and little shelter from the forecast wind. The next option, Kwatsi Bay, was also deep but very well protected. We anchored beneath a low hill. The towering mountains to the east of the bay were breathtaking, but the scars on their steep sides spoke of landslides. We felt safer keeping our distance, and dropped the anchor in thirty metres with plenty of swinging room.
I'd embarked on a series of three 16” x 20” watercolours. The first was of Harlequin Cove (which you can read about in a previous blog post), and for the second I'd decided to paint my favourite group in the Burdwoods. A painting of that size takes me a few days including planning and drafting, and I managed to make a good start during the wet and foggy morning. When the weather cleared, a group of Pacific white-sided dolphins entered the cove. They proved to be very distracting as they hunted fish around the anchored boats. The pod would split into groups, with one group driving the fish towards the shore and their waiting friends. In the shallow water the fish were easier to herd and pick off. After the feast, the dolphins stayed in the shallows, swimming slowly as if they were resting and digesting. Then came play time, with spectacular jumps and twists. When the calves tried to join in, the adults would show them how it was done. I'm sure the little one improved as we watched! We hopped in the dinghy and rowed a little closer to see if I could get some better photos. The dolphins decided to make us part of the fun, swimming towards us, diving under the dinghy and surfacing in unison. The acrobatics resumed, including some spectacular synchronised jumps as the dolphins showed off for their uncoordinated audience. We dragged ourselves back to the boat so I could wash my hair in the late afternoon sun. At sunset the dolphins headed off to do dolphin things, returning the following day. I managed to be a little more focussed on my artwork but still took regular dolphin breaks. It would have been rude not to!
We saw our dolphin friends briefly when we moved to Bond Sound. I like to think that they were checking up on us. We anchored just inside the entrance to the Sound, tucked inside where we hoped to be out of the swell. The waves had a habit of curving round to find us and the current sometimes pulled us broadside to the breeze, so it was a rather rolly spot and not one I'd choose in bad weather! Jim wanted to explore the Ahta River, which was reported to be pristine. We waited until just before high tide when we could get the dinghy over the bar at the river mouth, then went on an adventure. At this time of year the river was salmon-free, but in Autumn I can imagine the clear water being full of fish- and the banks being lined with grizzlies. The late afternoon summer sun filtered through the trees and sparkled on the water. Back out in the bay seals swam, waiting for the tide to drop so they could haul out onto the fallen tree trunks.
Our need for supplies and laundry was calling us back to Alert Bay. I could have spent weeks more poking around, but instead we called in at the Burdwood Group one final time before spending a night at Shoal Harbour on Gilford Island. The harbour is well protected and a wonderful place to watch wildlife. A well-fed mother black bear and her two glossy cubs were padding along the foreshore. Mother was turning over rocks with a huge thud, slurping and gobbling up whatever molluscs and crustaceans she uncovered. The little ones carried out their own explorations, played and squabbled. Eating didn't seem to be too high on their agenda. We hopped in the dinghy and watched them until they reached a berry patch. Dessert! Much to the delight of the cubs, there were plenty of fruits and they spent a while munching. After they headed into the bush, we heard a wailing sound from the other side of the bay. Another cub was alone on the beach, crying for his mum. She took some time to find him, but eventually the sobbing stopped and we saw them walking together on the foreshore, much to the consternation of the dog in a nearby float home. All in all, it was a pretty happy ending.
Spacious and inspirational, Blunden Harbour was a great anchorage. Most people stay there whilst waiting for a weather window to venture further up the BC coast, but we chose it as a destination in its own right. It was a secure anchorage with plenty of potential for art and exploration, including waterfalls, creeks and the remains of a First Nations village. As usual, my watercolour sketchbook was my companion on our dinghy adventures.
After our week of solitude it was a little strange to have to share our anchorage, but Blunden Harbour was still peaceful, with plenty of room. Even if they were only staying for the night, most people ventured ashore to wander along the midden beach. The village was inhabited until relatively recently, so some wooden house posts still remain. Huge logs protruding over the beach would once have supported a boardwalk, and bits of oxidised metal and colourful shards of glass and pottery are scattered amongst the shells on the beach. Middens are regarded as archaeological sites so digging amongst the shells is forbidden, but I find it fascinating to wander along and see what has risen to the top. I think I've written before about the way the colourful pottery fragments and bits of irridescent glass create a feeling of connection to the past, and Blunden Harbour was no exception.
The fog continued to come and go, not always behaving as forecast. Some days there would be glorious blue skies and sunshine above us, whilst the world outside the harbour remained cloaked in grey. We used the sunnny spells for our dinghy expeditions, venturing as far as we dared into the rapids at the entrance to the lagoon and paddling up river mouths which lead into the forest. Of course, my sketchbook was never far away and we'd often turn off the engine and drift as I drew. By the time I finished painting a sketch we'd inevitably be a fair distance from where I started, but I could still get the colours of the trees and water. Occasionally I used sea water to paint with, adding a little bit of the locale to the art.
Eventually we managed to drag ourselves away with promises of more beautiful anchorages and places to paint. It was a typical bipolar day- clear in the harbour, thick fog outside. I was helming us towards the entrance when Jim commented on an uncharted rock up ahead. I looked- and a plume of steam spouted up from the rock. It wasn't a strange geological phenomenon, but a humpback whale. I slowed down and we watched until she dived, then headed out into the Straights and turned South.
Paradise in God's Pocket
One of the joys of sailing is finding a spot so magical that you just want to stay as long as possible. God's Pocket Marine Park was one of those places. It contained beautiful anchorages, plenty of islets and bays to explore with the dinghy, the perfect place for a beach fire, white shell beaches and a population of wolves, sea lions, eagles, whales and resident sea otters. There was plenty for me to sketch and paint, and we'd still be there now if we hadn't run out of veggies!
Our first anchorage was in front of the Gods Pocket Resort. It was a decent spot in a South Easterly wind, though we knew we'd need to move when the wind swung round to the North West as the entrance would be totally exposed. Sailing up to the resort, we'd seen humpbacks and sea otters, and we shared the anchorage with a heron and a community of very vocal ravens. We sat in the cockpit until the rain began to fall and we retreated inside, leaving the wildlife in peace. However, not all of the wildlife was peaceful. In the night I was awoken by the howling of wolves, a primal sound which made me glad I was safe and secure on the boat.
The following day we ventured ashore. The weather was still drizzly and we were hoping we'd be allowed to pop into the resort restaurant for coffee and a biscuit. Kelly the chef invited us to join them for lunch, with toasted sandwiches and delicious soup- just what the rainy day called for. By the time we'd finished, the rain had slackened off and was good enough for me to try the walk up the hill behind the resort. I hoped that the wolves were napping elsewhere as I scrambled up the trail, rewarded by beautiful views of the clouds swirling over the neighbouring islands. It didn't take too long before the clouds swirled my way, and I descended again, muddy, damp and only munched by mozzies.
The wind was due to change, so we shifted our anchorage around the island. Our new spot, Harlequin Cove, was sheltered between two islands, with plenty of bays and islets to explore. For five nights we had the anchorage all to ourselves, with occassional fishing boats and passing the cruise ships the only sign that there was still a world outside.
Although we found the cove to be perfectly calm and settled, the huge quantities of driftwood tossed up on the beaches gave a hint of the ferocity of winter storms. One evening we took the dinghy onto a pebble beach and built a fire to cook sausages and sweet potatoes. We watched the sun set and kept warm in the glow of the embers as the sky turned peach and dusky violet.
One of the beaches was pure white, formed of bleached shells. This was a midden site, a sign that there was once a thriving First Nations community here. The totems and long houses are long gone, and these days the only permanent resident seems to be a sea otter.
Our sea otter friend was an endless source of fascination. He spent most of his time in the bay, sleeping amongst the fronds of kelp, hunting for clams and shellfish and frolicking around the anchorage to keep warm in the chilly waters. His mealtimes seemed to coincide with ours, and we often ate dinner with the percussion sounds of clams being hammered open in the background. The otter's feeding technique is to dive for molluscs or crustaceans then bring them to the surface. Crabs get wrenched apart, but shellfish present a tougher challenge and need to be smashed open. The otter places a stone on his stomach and strikes the shell until it shatters and he can get into the delicacy inside. I don't know if the otter collects a new stone each time or if he has a firm favourite that he carries around- if so, he seems like an animal in need of pockets.
After dinner was grooming time, followed by sleep, wrapped up in fronds of kelp to anchor and camoflage him. Two other otters often visited the bay during the day, but only one seemed to spend the night.
The many passes and bays invited dinghy adventures. We poked around stony beaches surrounded by cuboid rock formations and fringed with towering cedars, dripping with mosssy fronds. Crows wheeled above us and we often saw eagles, rhinoceros auks with their curious horns and enormous turkey vultures.
Exploring the Johnstone Straight
After a day in Port McNeill to do laundry and reprovision, we welcomed Jim's brother Bill and his girlfriend Kati onto Island Prism. They brought two extra guests with them- sea kayaks! Island Prism was going to be the mother ship on a week long sailing and paddling adventure.
August is known as the foggy month in these parts but nobody had told the fog, which was quite happy to turn up in July. It greeted us in pea-soupy fashion most mornings, before clearing away to become sunshine or drizzle. The bonus was we didn't have to feel guilty if we had a lie-in, though it did play havok with my habit of getting up early to paint!
It's been a while since I've sea kayaked. Getting into the kayaks from Prism was a bit of a learning curve, but with Kati's guidance I soon got more confident at using the paddle to stabilise the craft as I slid in from the dinghy. An unexpected swim in these parts would be chilly! The kayaks were a wonderful way to explore Village Island and its surrounding islets. The quiet paddles don't disturb wildlife, so we were able to get relatively close to harlequin ducks and wading birds, whilst seals popped up nearby undisturbed by our presence.
From Village Island we cruised to Lagoon Cove. A family friend of Kati's once owned the marina here, so we visited ashore for an afternoon, and ventured through the narrow pass of the Blowhole to see the nearby Minstrel's Cove. The marina here had seen better days and the buildings were quietly collapsing, but Kati made it round to the beautifully-kept houses on the shore and managed to get some stories of days gone by. Moored up in front of us was a fish boat, currently being hired by the government to research populations of marbled murrelets. These unpreposessing little birds are suffering a population decline. They nest in old growth forests and only lay one egg a year. Clear cutting, pollution and fishing net entanglement are taking their toll on numbers, prompting a survey of their current distribution. As fish populations are also facing collapse with many fisheries currently closed, using fish boats for research gives the fishermen an alternative source of employment.
We gave up fishing on Prism about five years ago, when we saw the intensive fishing industry in South East Asia. I rarely eat fish apart from as an occasional treat, and I feel a bit hippocritical when I do tuck in to a bit of halibut or smoked salmon. We made an exception for Kati's prawn trap as we were told that the prawn population in the area was healthy, and as novices we figured we wouldn't have an effect on the general populace. At Lagoon Cove we were given some tips on prawn fishing. We set the trap on a muddy bottom and left it overnight before our curiosity got the better of us. Our first haul gave us five prawns, our second four. By the end of our second day we had a collection of sixteen, who were a delicious appetiser when fried in butter.
Chatham Channel provided us with another wonderful adventure. Little islets scattered along the way harboured the kinds of old growth trees that we thought murrelets might love, and there were plenty of the little birds around. We anchored for lunch and dispatched Jim and Kati on the kayaks, whilst Bill and I birdwatched and made chocolate drop scones for Kati's birthday. When it was time to leave we found that the anchor chain had been attacked by a seaweed monster, so we all worked to dislodge the kelpy flotilla before it could cause more chaos. Kati and Jim then entered the main channel in the kayaks whilst Bill and I followed behind, carried along on the swiftly flowing current. Bill helmed us most of the way home where we cracked open a bottle of birthday prosecco.
Returning to Potts Lagoon, we set the prawn trap before finding a decent spot to anchor. Kati and I decided to explore the inner lagoon by kayak. Timing meant we had to do this at low tide, when the outflowing water from the lagoon flows over a set of boulders to create a small series of rapids. I didn't think it was passable until Kati proved me wrong, so I followed her up. Making the climb involved paddling hard, chosing a route that was relatively straight and not letting rocks or boulders snatch my paddle. Once over the rapids, the going was much easier. The current slackened and we watched kingfishers and numerous small fish, until the water became too shallow and we had to head back. Sliding back down the rapids was a lot of fun, as an incredulous and slightly nervous Jimmie watched us from the bottom.
We attempted a second kayak before we left the anchorage. We were the only craft on the little inlet we chose to explore, and we soaked up the tranquility as we chatted to ravens, watched huge schools of small fish and bright red crabs in the waters beneath us and kept our eyes open for the multitudes of darting kingfishers and occasional seal. We returned to Prism to find we had a visitor. Bill and Jim had met Terry from Australia on his boat Lonely Bird, and he'd stopped over for coffee. Our prawn trap was woefully empty, but he gifted us a bucketful, which became a delicious lunch and dinner!
On our way back to Port McNeill we stopped in the Plumper Group. This gorgeous set of islands are a marine park, and a wonderful place to kayak. The currents gave us a good work out but Kati and I saw plenty of seals, a buck on a small islet, eagles, noisy stellar sea lions, purple starfish and colourful orange anemones and sea cucmbers. We poked around between the islands before finally returning to Prism just before the heavens opened. Kati was a trooper and helmed Prism to Port McNeill, ready for their departure the next day.
Floating Round Cowichan Bay
It was wonderful to be back on the water again. Farewell beverages had been supped with cruising friends, Jim's family had joined us for happy hour at the Delta hotel, my exhibition had been packed away and we were ready to cast off the mooring lines.
Our first day of sailing had blue skies and the current was in our favour. Brightly coloured whale watching boats zoomed past us as we left Victoria's inner harbour and made a port turn into the Juan de Fuca Straight. We didn't see any whales, though the watchers remained a featured for most of our journey. The tourist boats are supposed to keep away from the stressed and struggling resident pods, instead concentrating their tours on the plentiful population transient orcas which regularly pass through. Lucky boats have also started seeing humpback whales, returning from their winter holidays to Hawaii. Hopefully they'll be up in the Broughton Archipelago by the time we get there at the end of the month!
Wind and tide carried us past Trial Island at over 8 knots; it felt like Prism was as excited to be sailing as we were. Other sailboats were making the most of the Saturday sunshine as we turned North through the Discovery Islands. As the wind died off, we gave the motor some exercise on the last part of our journey to Tsehum Harbour. We tied to a mooring buoy and settled in to the laid-back ambience. Eagles flew above us, calling in their tittering voices, and seals lounged on the rocks near the boat. We did our best to enjoy the golden evenings out in the cockpit, until the chill of the Canadian evenings drove us inside.
Tsehum Harbour was well-served by buses, so Jim popped back to Victoria to get some last things done whilst I spent a day volunteering at Coast Collective. Then the toilet needed some work, so whilst I got things done on my computer, Jim made the necessary repairs. You can imagine the four letter words he chose to describe the job...
Our journey north then took us to Cowichan Bay. We moored at the Fisherman's Wharf then set off to explore. The little village was easy to fall in love with. It's worth a visit for the bakery alone, which bakes fresh bread and pastries from organic ancient grains, locally grown where possible. Their cinnamon rolls were amazing, and became part of our daily routine along with a cup of the excellent coffee. I sent Jim on a bike ride to give myself some time to investigate the pottery, boutique and perfumery, and drew some of the numerous wharves which stretched out into the bay. At low tide, the head of the bay would fill with dozens of herons, stalking the mud flats and snagging passing fish.
There were plenty of things to sketch, and I was glad I'd made a new sketchbook out of Bee cotton rag paper and some leather I'd picked up at Thrift Craft Victoria. My 'perfect sketchbook' requirements change quite often, and I think I'll always end up back with my travellers' sketchbook and homemade inserts, but after months of wrestling with a too-large Stilman and Birn Beta, I was ready for something new to kick start my summer sketching. My little hand-bound book has 48 pages, each 6” x 4.5”. Right now, these feel like a great size for sketching on the go. The Bee paper is 100% cotton and is a pretty smooth cold press, so my Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen works perfectly. Noodlers Lexington Grey ink dries quickly enough on it that it doesn't transfer between pages (the major down side of some other cotton papers I've tried to use in sketchbooks), and it handles washes beautifully. Some of my granulating mineral colours look a little strange on the smooth surface, so Serpentine and Green Apatite might be taking a holiday from my paint box for a little while in favour of the less romantic but more biddable Sap Green.
The area around Cowhichan Bay cried out to be explored, so we pedalled out to Maple Grove. I was surprised to learn that the eponymous trees are tapped for their sap, which is then boiled down to create syrup. I'd always assumed that sugar maples were confined to the east coast of North America but I'm sure the sugary stuff of the west is just as good.
The trail took us through the grove of mature maples, festooned with trailing mosses, and along a river to a lookout with wonderful views of the bay. I soon wished I'd taken my bird book to identify the various species of swallows, blackbirds and colourful small darty things that we came across. Back on Prism, I looked up iridescent tree swallows, American blackbirds with their gaudy red flashes and little tufted titmice, whose blue-grey, buff and russet colour scheme feels very on-trend. The vegetation took me back to England, with briar roses, blackberry bushes and ox eye daisies (or their Canadian cousins) growing amongst tall grasses and thimbleberries.
The village made a great base whilst I worked on a commission for a local couple. I'd been asked to paint their house, which is up on a hillside and commands stunning views over the bay and surrounding mountains. They wanted something big, so I splashed out on a full sheet of 600 gsm watercolour paper. Sometimes it surprises me how much of a difference paper can make. I love my usual 300 gsm Fabriano Artistico, but doubling the weight of the paper makes a world of difference. It can handle heavy washes without a ripple, giving even more control over how the paper behaves, and was stiff enough that I could still rotate it when painting. This was handy because the sheet was the same size as Prism's table! If I couldn't turn the sheet to reach different areas, I would need to paint standing up, which would get pretty uncomfortable as the table is quite low.
With the art finished to everyone's satisfaction, we had time to grab one last loaf of bread before turning towards Vancouver. The sun decided to shine upon us, though the north wind brought chilly air and the faint scent of narwhal. We'd timed the tides right through Samsun Straight and were swept through Portlier Pass. We pitied the other poor sailboat going nowhere fast as it tried to fight against the current. Whirl pools, tide rips, currents and upwellings kept me busy on the helm until I pleaded beautiful scenery and put Jim on the wheel so I could sketch. Afternoon light gave a golden glow to the rocks and illuminated the greens and reddish bark on the arbutus trees, whilst the mainland and the Olympic peninsula were shifting shades of snow-capped blue. My hand-sized sketchbook let me get multiple sketches finished throughout the afternoon, exploring the colours and how to capture the swirling currents and billowing clouds.
It was midnight by the time we picked our way amongst the anchored freighters of Englishman Bay and found a spot to drop the anchor in False Creek. Being early in the season, finding an anchorage was straightforward. We set the hook, turned on the anchor light and put the engine to sleep. It didn't take long for us to follow it, and I fell asleep dreaming of how to mix mountain blues.
May passed by in a blur of watercolour. Plein air events and an Etsy market kept me busy at weekends, and my artist residency at the Delta Ocean Pointe gave me more motivation to keep creating. I had a wonderful spot in the hotel's well-lit, airy lobby where I could display a selection of my paintings and demonstrate the art of watercolours.
Painting in front of people can be a little intimidating, though the people I met were incredibly positive. I knew I needed to try to engage people, as many guests assumed that they'd be disturbing me if they talked to me whilst I was painting. However, hotel guests have many other things on their minds apart from looking at art, and not everyone passing by was going to be interested in or even like what I was creating. The purposeful walk of busy people was easy to recognise, but it was a little harder to get used to the up-turned noses of people who slowed to look at my art and were clearly unimpressed. I tried to smile anyway, and my artist's skin grew a little tougher.
After a couple of days I had more of a feel for how long to let people look before I started to talk to them, and had to try hard not to get so lost in the flow that I forgot to register the people around me! I met some wonderful people during my month at the hotel. The staff were all very welcoming, and some were artists themselves. Plenty of locals stopped to say hello on their way to get coffee in the restaurant. I met business people from across Canada, spoke to students and educators visiting for conferences and chatted to travellers from all over the world. It was always lovely when other artists stopped by, whether they were looking for advice, had their own wealth of knowledge to share or just wanted to discuss the joys of Daniel Smith paints and Opus Allegro brushes. I was particularly amazed by the skills of Pat, a paper maker/ book binder who could name the paper I was using by looking at its colour and texture. I was also lucky enough to meet Roy Henry Vickers, whose art I really admire. He complimented me on my technique for painting currents pouring through a pass, and kindly overlooked the fact I was a bit star-struck.
The trickiest part of the residency was keeping a stream of inspiration, especially when I finished a piece part way through a session. Sometimes the subject of my next painting would be ready in my mind, just needing my brush and some paint to carry it onto the paper. Other times, a quick flick through a sketchbook would present an idea begging to grow on watercolour paper. The hardest times were when the flicker of inspiration didn't come, and when I was aware of people flowing by wondering why I was doing nothing. I needed an 'I Am Thinking' badge, or maybe a flashing neon sign proclaiming 'Awaiting Inspiration'. I learnt to allow myself a little time out between paintings if I needed it. A fifteen minute walk along the inner harbour would often be enough to get my mind focused and back in gear, or relocated to the coffee shop to scroll through photos over a cuppa until I found something that clicked. Changing up my palette choices also helped to add some zap to my creativity, and a series in blue and yellow was a great refresher.
Mental stutters aside, I was very happy with most of the paintings I'd created by the end of the month. The intense practise helped me hone my skill levels and made me more aware of why most of the paintings worked whilst a few didn't. Some of the art made it into frames as part of my display at the hotel, but I'd have liked to share them all. If I'm invited back next year, I want to figure out a way to display more of the paintings created during the residency, even if I can't frame them all, and I'll definitely rotate the art on display more to keep it fresh.
Now we're in to June, I've had time to get decent photographs of most of the art I created (apart from a couple of pieces which sold too fast to make it near my big camera)! Most of the paintings are listed on Etsy- the links are connected to each photo- and four of my West Coast paintings will be featured in Coast Collective's upcoming show, 'Oceans'. Scroll on to see the rest of the paintings- and I'd love to know which is your favourite!
West Coast Dreaming
It's been a busy few months for Island Prism's crew. We've been tied up at Causeway Marina, opposite the historic Empress Hotel. Prism's engine has been being difficult and cantankerous, requiring hoisting out and extensive repairs. Jim's replaced the leaky seals that were causing all the problems, and given an extensive overhaul that will hopefully (maybe? perhaps?) give us a summer of smooth operation.
My painting has been far steadier than my blogging over the last few months. The static boat, frigid weather and state of busyness led to a bit of a wordifying block. I have been creating regularly, especially with my watercolours, but my sketching has been pretty sketchy. Thank goodness for the local Urban Sketchers group, whose regular meetings stopped me from getting too rusty! The details of my creative flow over the last few months could (and probably should) be a blog post of its own, but my recent paintings have been a huge reminder of how important sketching is to my creativity. I've been pulling out my sketch books and revisiting my favourite West Coast spots by turning them into full sized watercolours. Some of them are on display at the Delta Ocean Pointe hotel in downtown Victoria, where I'm the resident artist for the month of May. I'm demonstrating watercolour painting every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this month, so please pop in and say hi if you're in the area! I'll be joining in the Hatley Castle Paint-In on Mother's Day too.
We'll be in Victoria until the end of the month, when we'll untie the dock lines and embark on a summer of sailing! The sail plan is to make our way up to Telegraph Cove for adventures with friends and family, and then to explore the secluded nooks of the Broughton Archipelago. I'm sure there will be plenty to paint!
Whether it's spring or autumn where you are, I hope you're enjoying balmy days that are just the right temperature. I'll be back very soon with more details of boat repairs and arty life, and I'll leave you with a few more paintings to enjoy!
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.