With the many technical advances these days maybe we need to set aside or identify tracts of land where we research ideal mapping practices — maps that readily and fully inform and seamlessly engage us, citizens.
“There’s nothing there!” scolded Joan, my plein air artist friend. “You’re sending us to a place next week, to a crossroads, where there is absolutely nothing to paint”. Joan was referring to the intersection of Black Rock Road and Brooklyn Street , Kings County, Nova Scotia — our fifth paint-out site of the season (we have 21 more to paint). “I go by there almost every week. Why are we going THERE?”
That’s part of the problem. Through familiarity Joan has become numbed to the nuances of this rural setting — the details many would miss just driving past. Along with six other artist friends we rhymed off to her the many scenes that can be captured there. “You can do the graveyard or the decaying house across the road from the Grafton Community Hall. What about the cows or the rows of corn in the farmer’s fields? Have you ever looked up the road, towards North Mountain, to see the thick fog hanging in the air from the Bay of Fundy? If you drive up the mountain you can look back at the patchwork quilt of farmer’s fields and see the sunlit silos across the Valley on the South Mountain. “
My wife, Anne, was trained in acrylic art by Floridian artist Joseph Melançon. He paints in the form of the Canadian Group of Seven artists and can create masterpieces from what look like banal landscape photos, devoid of details. He opens our artists’ eyes to the understated geography of rural settings. He creates something from what appears to be nothing.
In my travels across Canada it was the Prairies that struck me most as an artist. The smallest glimmer from a pond, the most subtle grouping of wild flowers, the flutter of startled ducks, the line of telephone pole after telephone pole, was magnified ten-fold in contrast to the expanse of fields and open sky. One notices more clearly the slightest shift in colour, line and form.
I have learned that, through artist’s eyes, when we focus we begin to see what may appear ordinary but in a new light. Bear River photographer and film maker, Tim Wilson, reminds me of that every time he posts another photo or video to his Facebook or website from rural Nova Scotia. Anyone see the film Maudie? Stricken with arthritis and almost stuck in a small house in rural Nova Scotia folk artist Maude Lewis managed to paint and paint and paint. There was always something to paint.
Look carefully and maybe stop awhile. There is always something to see (and do). To say that there’s “nothing there” is a rural myth.
Imagine if we could, through games, explore the preferences of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, North American and other visitors to our region and cater our tourist destinations (and direct our dollars) to meet those preferences.
We THINK we know what attracts tourists to our area, but how can we measure that objectively? How can we rank one destination over another? I propose we have tourists play games — online games. Apply game concepts to unearth the mindset of our potential visitors. Here I pilot a basic game called “ValleySeen”, the results of which can be used to evaluate what landscapes/streetscapes appeal to our visitors. Go ahead and play in my test area of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
ValleySeen applies the urban “StreetSeen” project, created by students at Ohio State University and used in the MOOC, Technicity, to explore gaming in a rural setting. StreetScene is based on the work of Open Plans Beautiful Street Project and MIT’s Media Lab Place Pulse Project .
This is how it works …
Display pairs of images that are randomly selected from a library of Google Street View images within an area. Pose a planning question. Have the player vote on the image that best suits the question. Tabulate and analyse the responses to rank users’ preferences and even generate ‘heat maps’.
I applied StreetSeen to look at Annapolis Royal through the eyes of a tourist. I wanted to know what tourists found attractive. I focused on Annapolis Royal as a test area. I randomly selected twenty Google Street View images and generated results in spreadsheet and map form. I ranked the preferred images based on the question asked, and analysed results.
My pilot was limited in scope: geography, number of images, analyses. In future, I propose adding the geographic source of respondents in the analyses.
Furthermore, I propose that gaming concepts be used to study our tourism and tourists to better develop destination plans for Nova Scotia.
Unlike photographers, geographers or geologists, landscape artists see their world as collections of lines, contours, shapes, colours, light and shadows. Identifying features is secondary.
A geographer tries to make sense of the landscape, looking at relationships between features to explain where things are, how they came to be, how they evolve and change over time, and how they interact with us. A geologist examines the makeup of landscape to understand how it formed over millennia and how it may change in future. They want to understand how the landscape works. A photographer captures the visual character of a landscape under different lighting and weather conditions at a particular point in time on photosensitive material.
The “en plein air artist” paints on location, mostly outdoors. Each artist pulls out their materials and tools and begins to work quickly. It’s like speed dating with light and shadow. The artist will look for one or two focal points. They will look at distant, mid-ground and foreground features to figure out what to highlight and what to suppress. Often they will add to or remove elements from the scene for aesthetic/design reasons. Their view of the landscape is an interpretation perhaps in oils, watercolours, acrylics, pastels, pen and ink, or graphite. The plein air artist also seeks to elicit an emotional response to the art of their immediate environment. I consider the geography of the plein air artist as the geography of perception.
The Annapolis Valley Plein Air Art group, to which I belong, paints landscapes throughout our area — towns, farmlands, and coastal waterways. Each week we assemble at a different “paint-out” site. At the one site, some will paint details of rocks in a stream bed. Some will paint tourists enjoying the sunshine on benches along a path. Some will paint distant hills framed by woodlots. The landscape becomes a collection of deeply personal, visual expressions and no two paintings or sketches are the same.
What can we learn from interpreting the landscape through artists’ eyes? One of my mentors, Vlad Yeliseyev, is often heard to “rant” to plein air artists, “Don’t paint a photograph. Paint a story.” Local Digby artist, Poppy Balser states in her profile “Watercolour is the perfect medium for me to capture the atmosphere and light of my local environment.” In his book “Interpreting the Landscape in Watercolor”, Don Andrews illustrates the magic of linking light, shadow and colour”. For me one artist may see a tree as blue, nestled in the cold shadows. Another may see the same tree as olive green, absorbing scant rays of sunshine peaking through breaks in the clouds.
Unlike the photographer, geographer, or geologist, the artist is the landscape’s chorister; composing a visual libretto.