Friday, 31 October 2014

Toronto, Kingston, reunions

I went to my 30th high school reunion in Toronto last week - only a couple years, it seems, after my 25th.  It's very congenial hanging out with people you've known basically forever, especially the interesting group that I went to school with.  The next day, I met up with some Toronto UrbanSketchers at a tea shop and it was also remarkably agreeable, even though I'd never met any of them before.  There's something immediately bonding about the struggle to make meaningful marks on a little piece of paper in a public place.  That and my summer visit to the Portland sketchers is inspiring me to travel more far flung urbansketching locales.

I also went to Kingston to visit my sister and family, and attend a concert by the renowned reverberationalist Liam Fenton.  Before the big event, I went with my brother-in-law to Fort Henry, on a grey late-autumn late afternoon with a bitter wind blowing off the lake.  He ran around like a maniac - a graceful one - in shorts and bare feet, while I sketched frantically to ward off hypothermia.  The water-soluble black ink helped capture the feel of the day.

On the way back to Toronto the next day - a reversion to warm sunny early autumn - I stopped at Lake on the Mountain, which is just that (if you make allowances for what qualifies as a "mountain" in Ontario).  It's a bit baffling how a big lake found its way to the top of a substantial hill.  I drew the view of Lake Ontario, the Glenora ferry and as-far-as-the-eye-can-see of autumn colours.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

New Mexico: Georgia on my mind

We spent a weekend in and around Abiquiu, long-time home of Georgia O'Keefe.  It was wonderful to stay at the Old Abiquiu B&B on the Rio Chama, with the entertaining hostess and a well-known Taos artist as the other guest.  Both had one-step removed stories about their famous compatriot, told by people who worked for her when they were young.  She was, perhaps, not the most easy-going person.  It was equally wonderful to be able to paint, in my limited way, in the same places she painted, including the White Place (Plaza Blanca) and Ghost Ranch.  Her legacy continues, not just in the way that people see landscapes (and skulls, and flowers, and views from planes), but also more directly: Abiquiu has a population of almost nobody, 39 of whom are artists who had their studios open that weekend.  A place you don't have to feel the least bit self-conscious pulling out a sketchbook.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Mexico: Churches and earth ships

The adobe church at Ranchos de Taos is one of the most photographed and painted buildings in the US.  At least, that's what the sign outside says.  The big blocky rear end of the church is the most common subject, for the abstract geometry of light and shade.  But it also backs right onto a parking lot for an adjacent very good and very popular New Mexican restaurant, so you have to ignore all the pickup trucks.  I drew the front instead, with the traditional double bell towers and huge bulging walls.

The church in Chamayo on the Taos high road is a smaller, charming building and a major pilgrimage site.  The soil in the chapel cures all ills - so much so that they have to truck in new dirt as the original gets depleted (fortunately the effect is contagious and transfers from the old soil to the new).  Sadly, our main pilgrimage site in Chimayo, Leona's tamale restaurant next door to the church, was closed that day.  It must have been punishment for some sin we committed.

And lastly, a secular church for the environmentally conscious - an earth ship, part of a growing community of these near Taos.  Despite the new-agey name, earth ships are well thought-out super-efficient houses.  The main structure has tires packed with dirt and covered in a mound on the north side, with large windows on the south.  Sun shines in in the winter and warms the big thermal mass of dirt and tires keeping the house warm, while the higher summer sun stays out allowing the mound to keep the building cool.  Power is generated by solar cells and wind, while rain is collected from the roofs.  The community in the high desert is completely off-grid, with no need for electrical wires, water pipes or heating.  The adobe-style building allows all kinds of funky shapes, highlighted by bottles that are embedded in the walls to provide coloured daylight throughout the building.  In other parts of the region, we saw earth ships in everything from high-end neighbourhoods to otherwise derelict trailer parks.

Monday, 20 October 2014

New Mexico: Landscapes I

Four landscape views from northern New Mexico.  1) From Los Poblanos, a guest house on a lavender farm along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque.  We also stayed there 8 years ago, and a white peacock (the same one?) roosted in the same cottonwood, as the moon (the same one) rose behind him.  2) A patch of golden aspens on Mount Baldy, above Santa Fe.  We were there at the peak of fall colour, a very popular event, but managed to find a trail on the edge of the Pecos wilderness area with no other people (and not quite as much oxygen as a coastal-dweller might like).  3) A quick sketch of the view on the Turquoise Trail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  4) The Rio Grande rift valley near Taos, drawn after soaking in a hot spring along the edge of the river. 


Sunday, 19 October 2014

New Mexico: old houses

There is an adobe house in Santa Fe with a plaque reading "Oldest House in the USA circa 1646 A.D."  However, not far up the hill from Santa Fe is Bandelier National Monument, which is the remains of a large settlement of ancestral Pueblo people occupied from 1150 to 1600, with adobe brick houses in the valley and cave houses carved into the soft volcanic-ash cliffs.  So I think that "Oldest House" claim may be in some dispute.

I drew in Bandelier and Santa Fe on the same day - a stormy one as a cold front passed through.  At Bandelier, we had just climbed up (140 feet) to a kiva (ceremonial underground house) in a big cave on the cliff when a thunderstorm arrived.  It was pouring rain outside, but bone dry inside.  Unfortunately, that "bone dry" included centuries of dust, which became a blinding dust storm with the storm gusts swirling around the cave.  It made for a rushed drawing, because as soon as I mixed up watercolour paint, it filled with dust and became plaster.  Later in the day, I was sitting on a wall of an old church drawing the Santa Fe house when the same winds came by, pulled a big green tarp off part of the church that was being renovated and wrapped it completely around me.  It was definitely an extreme plein air drawing day!

The third old house is in the village of Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid, not ma-DRID).  The village has become a centre of galleries and studios on the scenic route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, with a lot of brightly painted old houses - except for this one on the main street, which has kept its original decor.  I was talking to an old local character as I drew, and he said "I useta draw, but I quit drinkin', so now I don't draw no more."  I hadn't realized that was such a strong prerequisite.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

New Mexico: To, fro, and vehicles not taken

We just got back from 10 days in New Mexico.  It certainly lives up to its licence-plate motto "Land of Enchantment". (Idaho might truly have "Famous Potatoes", but BC's humble "Best Place on Earth" is presumably a matter of personal taste.)  A great thing about time off from work and cabin-building was that I got back to drawing at least once a day.  So, lots of pictures coming soon...

I love to watch the changing environment on the flight from the green mountains of the west coast to the brown mesas and canyons of the Southwestern deserts.  Except for those wings that they inconveniently add to planes...

A main reason for the trip was to go for a hot-air balloon ride at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta - the biggest hot-air balloon event in the world.  Unfortunately, the wind gods had other ideas, as the breezes were too strong to go up on the morning we had booked.  This is our second weather-canceled balloon ride, so we'll be third-time-lucky next time.  But they did inflate some of the balloons on the ground, which was an impressive site for us, and the tens of thousands of other people who showed up well before dawn (usually the best time to fly, with cold and still air).

Another thing we didn't do was go on the Cumbres and Toltec railway, a 100+ year-old narrow-gauge steam railway that now runs day-long tourist trips from Chama in northern New Mexico into Colorado.  But we did stop to see the trains, including one that was smoking and steaming away in the rail yard.  It's beautiful countryside in the mountains and canyons, especially at this time of year with fall colours, so it will be on the agenda next time we go.

To finish the transportation theme: the inevitable airport picture.  United Airlines and Air Canada generously provided us with an extra 8 hours of travel time on the way home, so lots of opportunity to study the details out the window of the Albuquerque airport.