Turtle Takes Art Lessons, Part iii

December 29, 2008

This third and final part in our Fun With Cont Ed series looks at watercolour.

Of the three water-based media — acrylic, gouache, and watercolour — watercolour is my favourite. Maybe I like the mystery of its transparency and translucence. Maybe I appreciate the idea of all that fun for $25. More can be spent — really good paper is the biggest expense, because a good brush will last years while the paper can’t be reused — but the excitement of slipping into the art supply store for a little three-dollar tube of luscious colour is hard to beat.

Below are three of my efforts, all combining techniques our instructor taught us with bits from my brain pan.

This first one is a nice little cottage-country lake. The main thing that I learned for this is that your picture will be a lot more interesting if you use three different colours to paint the shoreline. We were also shown how to make the dock pilons with their reflections. My imaginary addition is the little splishy fish, homage to E.g.’s fishy logo she created for a quarterly she used to produce.


The next one uses techniques we learned for making rock and tree textures, and rendering objects less colourful as they recede in the distance. The brain-pan part is a memory of a several-day canoe trip in Algonquin Park. The lakes aren’t this big, but the rockiness of the foreground and middle-ground island are the way I want them to look.


And finally… sorry to have to revert to a winter theme, but it’s my best piece, so I wanted to save it for last. It was for marks, and penciled on the back is the eight class-learned techniques that went into it. But first, the inspirational photo:

where's the ball?

And now the painting. Can anybody tell what it includes that’s missing from the photo? Something Turtle has been occasionally dreaming about? Give you three guesses.


(Wordless Wednesday) Turtle’s New Tee

July 16, 2008

When Dogs Go Camping

July 11, 2008




1. Always have your pet leashed or tethered.

2. Ensure that all tents and shelters are securely staked.

3. Never leave your pets unattended.

I Am Not At My Desk…

July 6, 2008

Groceries, bandages, cheap snorkel ensemble, propane tank… Give you three guesses.


All right! Turtle’s going camping!

Jack, E.g., and I are returning to Bon Echo Provincial Park, where we went camping two years ago. We are leaving this morning and will be away until Friday.

This time, we will have two doggies with us. Last year Cai accompanied us up the Bruce Peninsula. It was amusing to see him, at 8:30 pm, pawing at one or the other pup tent, asking to turn in for the night. We’ll try not to exhaust either him or Fergus on this trip, although rendering them happily tired would be good. “A tired dog is a good dog” is the expression, I think.

Unlike during our Paris vacation, I will be incommunicado on this trip. I have, however, scheduled a post for each day, so please continue to drop in and leave comments. I won’t be able to answer them until Saturday, but I look forward to reading them.

As a sneak peek, this is what I’ve prepared:

Monday: “Turtle’s Caption Contest”. Please come by and write a caption for the photo!

Tuesday: “Search Me”. Some search terms that have brought strangers to my blog, and why the terms make me smile.

Wordless Wednesday: Something came up that I wasn’t expecting.

Thursday: “Woof”. Wherein Turtle pretends to be a wolf.

We expect to be back mid-afternoon on Friday, and will be pretty busy, but hopefully I’ll have a moment to at least post a picture or two.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to read about my love for roasted marshmallows and how they make a great personal metaphor for blogging — I wrote this when my blog was just a little two-week-old baby — go see “Marshmallow Roast of the Vanities“.

If you haven’t yet read about my first trip to Bon Echo, and want to know a little more, you could read “Nanabush Chuckles“.

And if you haven’t seen what previous contest winners have won on this blog, I would humbly direct you to “A Few Lines on Striped Maples” and “Things are Crook in Tallarook“.

That oughta keep you out of trouble.

See you on the weekend!

Nanabush Chuckles

April 4, 2008

Mazinaw rock 2

Two summers ago, my partner — let’s call her e.g. — and I decided to take our almost-son, Jack, on his first camping trip. After researching the various Ontario Provincial Parks, we decided on Bon Echo. This beautiful park has everything we were looking for: a small swimming beach, a canoe rental and one-day loop route, a radio-free camping area, a history of visits from various Group of Seven painters, and Mazinaw Rock.

Mazinaw Rock is an escarpment that runs for just over a mile along one side of narrow-but-deep Mazinaw Lake. The cliff face towers 300 feet above the water’s surface (and maybe another 150 feet below it). On the rock at canoe level may be found over 250 red-ochre paintings. Because no foolproof scientific method has yet been devised for dating pictographs, no one is sure how old they are — anywhere from 200 to a thousand years or more — or exactly who made them.

Nevertheless, the pictures are definitely Aboriginal, and the Anishnaabek people recognize some familiar faces among them, the most popular being that of Nanabush.

Nanabush was the son of the West Wind and the grandson of the Moon. Some say Nanabush created the world, or recreated it after the Serpent People flooded it. His pictograph on Mazinaw Rock, the one that Bon Echo Provincial Park has adopted as its logo, shows him with canoe-paddle-sized ears, holding a stick as long as himself in his left hand. Is it a rifle? A spear? A tent pole? Jack thinks Nanabush is leaning against a tree, watching and waiting. I think he is hovering at his doorway, a crevice in the rock into which he will slip with a parting chuckle after playing a trick on someone.

For Nanabush is a trickster. He is a shape-shifter. He is a teacher, commissioned by the Great Spirit to help instill a little wisdom into humans.

On our canoeing day, we paddled the half-mile across the lake to view the pictographs more closely. E.g. took some photos.

tour boat

On our final morning, we boarded the 26-seat Wanderer Too’r boat to learn more. Our guide told us that Nanabush would sometimes put stumps or roots in front of children, to teach them to pay more attention to where they were going and what they were doing. I laughed, imagining those poor startled kids still lacking the adroitness of adults, literally running into Nanabush and his tricks.

The tour boat docked just below the gift shop. Jack and e.g. each found a souvenir they liked. I couldn’t resist a white coffee cup printed with the logo of Nanabush and the words, “Bon Echo” — the perfect souvenir! Smiling at my enthusiasm, the clerk wrapped the cup in tissue paper and placed it in a nice shiny bag.

On exiting the gift shop, we trooped over to the nearby comfort station. E.g. went first, while Jack and I took a seat on a bench outside. It was hot. I took off my bookbag, set it on the bench beside me, and placed the bag from the gift shop on my bookbag. Yes, the nice shiny plastic bag. Containing the coffee cup. Was resting on, not in, my sloping bookbag. But not for long, of course. Withing seconds, the plastic bag slipped off the bookbag, over the edge of the bench, and onto a pavement tile with the sickening crunch that lets you know that your brand-new souvenir china mug that hasn’t even come out of its shopping bag yet has broken and it’s all your fault because you put it on your bookbag instead of in it. I shrieked. Jack hovered solicitously, patient wisdom softly lighting his eyes.

Nanabush, pictograph on Mazinaw Rock; photo by G Barfoot, 2006

Unwrapping the tissue paper, I found the drinking part unharmed and the handle in three pieces. Perfectly intact pieces, mind you. Then I heard the laughter, and I laughed too. “Look at that, Jack! Nanabush has taught me a lesson! Do you think we’ll be able to glue the pieces back together?”

Jack was convinced we could. Once back in the city, I successfully repaired the cup, and it has held my morning brew ever since. I am honoured that Nanabush the trickster left me a unique souvenir of Bon Echo.

A Few Lines on Striped Maples

April 1, 2008

Livingisdetail, winner of the Name-and-genderize-the-baby-sea-turtle contest, has won 500 words on the topic of her choice.  She gave me two possibilities; I chose the topic, “If you were a tree, which tree would you be and why?”

striped maple
I couldn’t live without trees. While the woods are only one type of environ- ment, they are as much a part of me as my fingers. Trees have cooled me, comforted me, hidden me, held me ever since I can remember. I would rather hike a wooded trail than stroll a sandy beach or dine in a fancy restaurant. Don’t get me wrong: invite me and I will come. I’ve traveled to a number of places now, and marvelled at many landscapes, from Ireland’s Burren to Hawaii’s pahoehoe fields to New Zealand’s Franz Joseph Glacier; but I couldn’t live without trees.

Now I’m asked to imagine being a tree. Uh-oh. This is the sort of soul-baring exercise from which, if accidentally caught in one, I excuse myself for a potty break and run away from the conference centre for two hours until it’s over. Turtle pulls in her limbs, locks up her carapace, and rolls downhill into the pond. No arm-swaying while mouthing someone else’s homemade liturgy for me, nuh-uh, I’m outa here!

Not because it’s meaningless, but because it’s too personal. To me, a group of people pretending to be trees together is as wrongheaded as an orgy. Writing about it, though, is much less threatening. I can take my time, research, reflect, rewrite, until my response feels right.

If I were a tree, then, I think I would be a Striped Maple. In the photo above, you can see a nice example of one, about to be elbowed out of the scene by the Sugar Maple whose leaves, in the upper right hand corner, are the largest ones in the picture. The casual observer, in fact, would likely identify the main tree as a rather spindly Sugar Maple.

In comparison to its cousin, the little-known Striped Maple hasn’t much to offer. Its maximum height is a third of the other; it lives for a fraction of the other’s lifespan; much of that time is spent as a sapling or a shrub; it doesn’t provide syrup; its weak wood is good only for pulp; it doesn’t adorn any flag. It is regularly poisoned as a pest by forestry workers. It is overshadowed by Sugar Maples, American Beech, Red Oak, and the glorious White Pine. What good is it?

Maybe you’re asking the wrong creatures, whispers the Creator. Try asking the Snowshoe Hares, who chew its shoots. Or the Ruffed Grouse, Red Squirrels, and Chipmunks, who eat its seeds. Or the Moose, who browse on it so often that it is also called Moose Maple or Moosewood. Or the little birds, afraid to nest in the canopy, prefering its low branches. Or the burnt land, who welcomes it as one of the first trees to begin the forest anew. Or if you must ask humans, ask the artists and photographers who notice its beautiful striped bark, its leaves the width of two hand spans, its flowers strung like tiny bells, a dozen to a strand, its bright yellow autumn foliage set against its red twigs. Ask them. They’ll tell you.

One could do worse than be a Striped Maple.

Things Unseen

March 17, 2008

 The following story is true. I love to tell it, and finally wrote it up this summer. Can’t concentrate enough to write something fresh today, so here is…

Things Unseen

I have the distinction of being the only child in my family conceived in Saskatoon, where Dad spent his final two years of service in the Air Force. An extra two months would have seen me born there as well, but in late July my family hit the road. Dad bought a new Volkswagen Beetle and fitted out the back seat with a wooden platform so my three brothers would have space to play on during the day; at night the children slept while my father drove, Mum keeping him company, keeping him awake.

At first, the family headed for The Pas, Manitoba. Up in Thompson, the Inco nickel mine was hiring, and Dad figured he was a shoe-in. The little boys in the back seat crooned a conga chant of “Thompson, Manito-ba!”

There was no road to Thompson in 1961. The Transcanada Highway hadn’t even been finished yet, and to meet  18-wheelers in the pitch black, just one side or the other of skinny trestle bridges, filled my parents with awe. For his interview, my father would have to take a train and leave Mum and the boys overnight in The Pas. Although she looked forward to some repose free of tractor-trailers, my mother was still a little nervous about being left alone with three small boys and most of me. She chewed her lip as she pitched the tent beside Grace Lake, at the edge of town. That evening, a couple of Labrador Retrievers from a nearby resort came to romp and splash with my brothers. The following dawn, Mum found the dogs still there, sitting guard, one on either side of the tent.

Dad came back from his interview crestfallen. He had been turned down because he didn’t have 20-20 vision. He was worried now; the last of their savings had been spent on the new car, and he didn’t know where to go next. Mum asked Dad to make the fire. Then she cooked him the best camp-out meal she knew how. Then she said, “Let’s go home.”

Hometown for both my parents was Hamilton Ontario, still a ways from The Pas. On the last Friday night of July, my family was rolling through the Manitoba prairies under a full moon. The boys were slumbering on their platform, my parents were peering into the darkness, and the gas gauge was on E. In his despondency over not getting the mining job, my father had forgotten to fill the tank. The moon served only to light up the desolation: not a home to be seen, not a sideroad, nothing.

At three in the morning, my parents suddenly stared at each other. Yes, they had both seen the same thing: a hitch-hiker! He must have walked up from some sideroad, although they hadn’t seen any. He looked about 17.

“Well, we can’t leave him there!”

“No, of course not.” Dad stopped the car, Mum shuffled her bulk over the gearshift, and the lad squeezed in beside them.

“I hope you don’t have far to go,” my father apologized, “ because I’m almost out of gas.”

“No sir, I live just five miles down the road.”

Dad took those five miles slowly, getting every inch possible from his fuel, and considering whether he dare ask permission to park on the boy’s property until daylight. The hitch-hiker interrupted his thoughts. “That’s my house on the right. Just turn in for a sec, okay?”

My father pulled off the road. His mouth parted slightly, and my mother started giggling uncontrollably. The boy and his family ran a gas station.

“Just wait while I fill you up,” smiled the boy. He whistled as he threw a switch or two, topped up the tank, wiped the windshield, sang out, “No charge!” and skipped into his house.

The next night my family slept under a crazy quilt of stars on Manitoulin Island, having feasted on marshmallow-stuffed roasted apples. Two days later, my dad was hired on at Stelco.