Saturday, 23 November 2013


Canoe Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park
Graphite Sketch November 2013

The other day we travelled up to Algonquin Provincial Park, another day trip to gather a bit of reference before the snow flies. The intent was to do a bit of sketching, but as it turned out the weather wasn’t all that great, snow showers and a temperature of minus 4C, made even colder by a nasty wind out of the north. I should have been disappointed, but Algonquin is not new to us as we’ve been going up there for going on thirty years, or more. And, I already have a lot of sketches, enough actually, to get me through many long cold winters. So, we parked the car at the canoe put-in at Canoe Lake, had our lunch, and enjoyed the ever changing vista while looking down the lake.

Light and shadows played with the scene before us. As the snow showers moved through the sun would peek out from behind a cloud, and light up the distant landscape. It was, you might say, a plein air painter’s nightmare. The scene before us constantly morphed from a flat treeless landscape to one filled with the shapes of a mixed forest, and a lake filled with dark swells and whitecaps. Shades of Tom Thomson’s small oil sketches came to life a we sat and watched the shifting light.

Canoe Lake is deceiving, appearing small and easily paddled, but beware. When the wind rises and blows out of the north calm water can become white-capped and a challenge to the novice.

As I watched I reflected back to the first times that I’d come up to Algonquin to sketch Canoe Lake. It was the beginning of my attempt to understand, and to follow in the steps of Canada’s iconic artists, Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven. I had this idea of writing and illustrating an art book about Algonquin Provincial Park. There would be no interest, of course, as I would learn that in the minds of the publishers Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven had “done it all”. Still, being stubborn and a bit pig headed at that time, not understanding that no one was about to upstage what had become a national treasure, I plowed ahead with my project.

Canoe Lake - Algonquin
Watercolour Sketch 1999
Spring comes late to the park compared with southern Ontario. Early in April of 1999 we went up to the park only to find that the lakes and trails were still snow and ice covered. I managed a few watercolour sketches, but as I needed to get on to the trails I was forced to continue to wait until the ice went off the lakes.

Come mid April I could wait no longer so I gathered my sketching gear and headed up to the park. I remember that it was sunny, and that it looked like the perfect day. Passing by Tea Lake I was excited to see that most of the ice was off of the lake. I drove into the parking lot at Canoe Lake, gathered up my sketching supplies and headed down to the lake.

The lake was clear of ice, but the wind, a north wind, was cold beyond believe. Still, I tried to sketch. It was only minutes before my hands and face were bordering on frost bite. Enough, I gathered everything up and headed for the shelter of my van.

 Tree Study - Canoe Lake 1999
Graphite Sketch

Tree Study - Canoe Lake 1999
Graphite Sketch

Canoe Lake - April 1999
Watercolour Sketch

Now, I suppose that for some this would have been the end of it, but as I mentioned I was at that time stubborn, and just a tad pigheaded, so I warmed myself and made several more attempts coming away with frozen fingers, a couple of sketches, and the beginning of what would become years of exploring and sketching in Algonquin. And, a digital book entitled,“WHERE RAVEN PLAYS, An Artist’s Guide to Algonquin Provincial Park”.

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