Posted in Art, Creative writing, Poetry

One, Two, Three

Sandra Barry from Middleton sent me a notice on the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia (EBSNS) Virtual Exhibit 2020 fundraiser.banner_EBS This year’s exhibit, Two Arts, is comprised of twelve Elizabeth Bishop inspired drawings by Natallia Pavaliayeva (NP) from Minsk, Belarus. Sandra curates the exhibition and also interviews the artist.

“Elizabeth Bishop is known as a poet of geography and place. How does your own sense of place influence your response to Bishop’s work ?”

“This is one aspect of Bishop’s poetry that resonates powerfully with me. I love travelling very much – and I fully understand Bishop’s keenness for changing places, along with the opposite keenness to have a ‘home’, a place where she belongs to.”

From Sandra Barry’s curatorial statement :

“It was a difficult task to select only twelve images, but the idea of ‘home’ and ‘journey’ anchor the selection. Bishop once said that the poet carries home inside, and her sense of home comprised in a large part from elements and memories of Great Village and her childhood.”

From One Art, Elizabeth Bishop Letters, I was interested in her final collection of poems (1976). “It is to be called Geography III and looks like an old fashioned school book.” p.602.

“The poems in this small volume are some of the most important of her life: In the Waiting Room, Crusoe in England, The Moose, 12 O’Clock News, Poem, One Art, The End of March. They are also some of her most directly autobiographical poems, contemplation of her life as an artist.” p.96 Sandra Barry.

From here you can join the dots to Harry Thurston, Keeping Watch at the End of the World.bookCover_ThurstonEndOfTheWorld He has a poem ‘Geography: on first discovering Elizabeth Bishop in a Used Bookstore in Manhattan’. Dedicated to Sandra Barry. It starts:

“Geography III
(So plain but for the oddity
of Roman numerals),
I lift it down and begin,
by chance, From narrow provinces … “.

Thurston lives in Tidnish, Nova Scotia.

Andrew Spacey (online) provides an analysis of the poem ‘One Art’

“Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art is in the form of a villanelle, a traditional repetitive poem of nineteen lines. In it she meditates on the art of losing, building up a small catalogue of losses which includes house keys and a mother’s watch, before climaxing in the loss of houses, land and a loved one.”

Cypripedium acaule (Lady Slipper Orchid)

This week with the rain showers we are seeing more flowers. On my walks with Siqsiq along the Annapolis River, I found the Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule).


One Art, Two Arts, Geography III


Sandra Barry for her curatorial work on the EBSNS web site and blog. Edward Wedler for his artwork. Heather Stewart for her love and support.

Robert Giroux (Ed.), 1994. One Art, Elizabeth Bishop Letters. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.
Sandra Barry, 2011. Elizabeth Bishop: Nova Scotia’s Home-made poet. Nimbus Publishing.
Harry Thurston, 2015. Keeping Watch at the End of the World. Gaspereau Press.

Posted in Art, New thinking, Opinion

Robert Waddell Art Awards

I propose creating an annual Robert Waddell Art Awards Event for excellence in art — something that can be launched jointly by the Municipality of Annapolis County and the Town of Annapolis Royal.

Robert Waddell was an art master at the Gordonstoun School in Scotland.gordonstounSchoolScotland Waddell inspired Prince Charles, then a student at Gordonstoun School, to paint in the 1970s. As a result of that inspiration, Prince Charles has become one of the UK’s most successful living artists, where he paints en plein air (outdoors) and exclusively in watercolours, according to Insider.

With the announced expansion of the Gordonstoun School into North America, and into Nova Scotia, in particular, a fitting tribute to Robert Waddell could excite our Maritime visual art movement. Could Annapolis County and the Town of Annapolis Royal help host/showcase such an event in collaboration with the Gordonstoun School, to celebrate the school’s Nova Scotia roots?

banner_2019_paint-outSEASON The Plein Air Artists Annapolis Valley group, now in its fifth year painting at outdoor locations throughout the Valley, could help organize the launch of such an event alongside ARTsPLACE, Paint The Town, and NSCAD.

Thinking even more inclusively,banner_KingsTheatre  connections could be made with performing arts, considering … the rich arts culture in the region, Annapolis Royal’s historical link to “L’Ordre de Bon Temps“, storytelling/plays/music at King’s Theatre, talk of a Liberal Arts University, and workshop/conference facilities such as those at Cornwallis Park. You see, “English master, Eric Anderson—like the art teacher Waddell, also in his 20s … encouraged Charles to act in several of Shakespeare’s dramas” (Vanity Fair).

Maybe this is where our Valley’s cultural history and environment can fuse with the traditions of the Gordonstoun School to make for exciting times.


Zoë Ettinger, Insider. Prince Charles is one of the UK’s most successful living artists. Here are 15 of his works, 30 March 2020.
Lawrence Powell, Spectator/Chronicle Herald, Gordonstoun a Go, 17 March 2020.
Plein Air Artists Annapolis Valley. 2020 Paint-out schedule.
Sally Bedell Smith in Vanity Fair. The Lonely Heir. April 2017.


It would be excellent if Prince Charles joined Tom Forrestall and Geoff Butler on the inaugural judging panel. (Bob Maher)

Posted in Art, Event Review

From Snowshoes to Snowdrops

bookCover_healingWalksAnne and I arrived in Halifax by plane in the wee hours of last Saturday and were instructed by border officials to self-isolate for 14 days. We had returned from our stay in Bradenton, Florida. I read the interesting article Bob’s brother, Peter Maher, sent on confinement from “The Book of Life”. This got me thinking. Where and what is your geography when you are confined?

Bob and Heather, I thought, were fortunate to freely survey their property on snowshoes during this call to self-isolate and to physically distance ourselves. I suggested he take a camera with him when he goes on his outings alone or with Heather. Check out this free Shambala title, “Healing Walks for Hard Times” … “Walking awakens the profound healing power of the human spirit“.

I used to carry a (Zoom H4) field audio recorder with me on my walks and travels. I noticed how different the experience was to replay a walk/trip captured in audio versus captured in images — the clickity-clack of the narrow-gauge Skagway train; the sound of a 1890s replica gold-rush saloon; the passing of a Prairie train in the wee early morning hours outside our motel room; the soothing lapping of water on a lake’s shoreline near Petit-Saguenay; announcements at an airport waiting-area in Halifax; the crunch of soldiers’ footsteps on gravel at the Fortress of Louisburg or our own footsteps on our walks.


How many of us truly listen to our geography? I once thought about how exciting it would be to explore a “sonic map” of Canada or Nova Scotia and then I discovered Sound Maps, as in the Montreal Sound Map. “The Montréal Sound Map is a web-based soundscape project that allows users to upload field recordings to a Google Map of Montréal“.

My wife, Anne, created some spontaneous “sound art” during a walking tour last October 2019, inside the Halifax Central Library, headed by a Dalhousie University architecture student as part of a Sketching Tours event with the Nova Scotia Association of Architects.

banner_PoppyBalserNewsletterIn these turbulent times, I notice how people are, lately, appreciating the little things in life. One of my favourite artists, Poppy Balser from Digby, for example, has been busy in her backyard garden, preparing for spring. She writes in her latest email newsletter, “Hope Springs Eternal“,

I found these snowdrops buried deep within a blackberry bramble in a neglected part of my garden.  I’m making an effort to get outside every day as we wait all this out. One of the projects I’ve undertaken is to clean up that portion of my garden and that is how I found the snowdrops“.

Anne and I are doing well. We exercise, dance, paint, illustrate, solve puzzles, read, write and think while being grounded. Today, I bake rustic bread and continue to illustrate Marshall Ennis‘ upcoming book, “The Legend of Great Uncle Arthur”, about a strong fisherman who once lived in a small outport on the northeast coast of Newfoundland.


Bob Maher for continuing to fire my imagination and motivating me to connect the dots. To my field recorder taken with me on my sonic-travels across Canada. To the many diversions on the internet, books and art that keeps us occupied during periods of self-isolation. Poppy Balser for bringing her outstanding watercolour paintings into my life. Marshall Ennis for helping me be strong in body and mind.


Healing Walks for Hard Times. Carolyn Scott Kortge. Shambala Publications.
Canadian Geographic. 8 July 2011. Surround Sound. by Samia Madwar.
Montreal Sound Map.
Poppy Balser Newsletter. Hope Springs Eternal. Rustic Bread.
Marshall Ennis Website.



My rustic bread turned out well and was delicious — crunchy crust and the chewy centre. Next time I’ll add more whole grain flour and flaxseed for an even heartier bread.rusticBread



Posted in Art, Event Review, New thinking

AI in Plein Air Art

My goal at the recent Art Impact AI workshop held in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was to see how AI (Artificial Intelligence) might play a role in plein air art. The workshop was headed by Valentine Goddard and Jerrold McGrath.

The participant numbers were of a convenient size that we could delve into the subject matter at some depth. What struck me first was the diversity of backgrounds in attendance — from wood sculptor to theatre-savvy software developer, from cellular biologist to explorers of biologic/geologic forms, from filmmaker to former art director. But we all had the creative artistic mind and AI interest in common.

I learned all sorts of AI concepts such as Neural Networks, Machine Learning, CV, and Deep Learning, and dominant AI values such as transparency, fairness, accountability, and more. We were shown a book entitled Neural Networks for Babies by Fernie and Kaiser. We played games to immerse ourselves in the mechanism of AI thinking. “Finding the Criminal” game taught us about the significance of algorithm development, application, confidence, bias, and use/abuse. That type of game, upon later discussions with filmmaker Kimberly Smith from Canning, could have implications in his Movie Games project.

So, how does AI apply to my plein air art world? In the short term, I do not see AI having immediate impact. I do see where AI has the potential for the visual artist; playing a role in my art, down the road, as mentor, coach, teacher and critic. I do not see AI in art as something to be feared. I see AI as something to augment the creative learning process and development of the human artist — where AI and human collaborate.

In plein air art that AI augmentation also includes the process of seeing and interpreting the geography that surrounds us as an artist.

Participants in the Art Impact AI Dartmouth workshop, for their lively and insightful discussions.
Valentine Goddard and Jerrold McGrath for heading the Art Impact AI workshop.


Neural Networks for Babies, by Chris Ferrie and Dr Sarah Kaiser,  Sourcebooks, March 2019
Movie Games, by Kimberly Smith

Posted in Art, Nature, Opinion

Behold Cape Breton

Anne and I recently spent a week travelling through picturesque Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, taking in the popular sites, such as the Fortress of Louisbourg, and discovering some underrated nooks and crannies.

Fish Hatchery on the  Northeast Margaree River, watercolour by Edward Wedler

We couldn’t help but notice the various ways people move through and note the landscape. As artists, we spent several hours documenting specific sites en plein air — Anne with her oils and me with my watercolours. Spending time at each location lets us absorb the landscape with all our senses. Our recall for detail is heightened.

20190919_110952_2While painting Pillar Rock from Presqu-île, near the southern part of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, we noted dozens of visitors come for a few minutes to snap photos then move on. Did they see the otters swim the nearby pond? Did they note how the sun lit up the rocky shoreline as it rose above Jerome mountain? Did they hear the high-pitched piping notes of the eagle?

appleMapVehicleAt the other extreme, we were greeted several times by the “Apple Map vehicle” taking rapid-fire snapshots of the landscape as it motored throughout the Cape Breton Highlands. We were surprised to see it in the small northern community of White Point. It had a different purpose — to engorge its databanks with a future, retrievable, online, photo and map record of the region.

Whether painting, hiking, photographing, video-recording or “apple-mapping” we all move through the landscape at different rates and with different pursuits in mind. How do you move through the landscape? How much do you absorb from your travels? What record do you log and keep?

Anne Wedler for being my supportive, painting buddy. All those Cape Breton visitors we met attached to their iPhones and smartphones.



Posted in Art, New thinking

Mapping Plein Air Paint-outs

As an artist, I experimented with Google mapping tools to view the geographic distribution of paint-out sites for the Plain Air Artists Annapolis Valley (PAAAV) and Plein Air Artists HRM (PAAHRM) 2019 season. Members of PAAAV and PAAHRM are artists of all levels, from beginner to professional; painting in oils, acrylics, watercolours, pastels, ink, graphite, and other media. Fifty-two sites are mapped.

Your feedback is welcome. (Click on the map’s top left icon to activate ALL sites — PAAAV and PAAHRM  )icon_PAAmap Click on any numbered site to see details of when paint-out is/was scheduled.

Posted in Art, Nature, New thinking

Viewing vs Interpreting the Landscape

Last fall, I drove through New Brunswick on my way to/from Québec and Ontario with my wife, Anne. The roads have improved immeasurably from a couple of decades ago, so we actually had time to savour the landscape and talk about what we saw. As we travelled, I noticed something strange about our conversation.

We increasingly saw the landscape as artists.

mixPaintsThe sky wasn’t just overcast or sunny. The sky was a mix of Burnt Sienna with a touch of French Ultramarine Blue or was a variegated wash from Cerulean Blue to Cadmium Yellow. We were not just engulfed in fall foliage of colours. Hills became brushstrokes of Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Gold (I love that colour) and Prussian Blue.

foreMidBackgroundWe divided the landscape into zones (foregrounds, mid-grounds, and backgrounds) and described how we would paint aerial perspective, “treat edges” and change tonal contrasts, to give a sense of distance.

POIMany times we would identify a focal point in the landscape (almost with “eye-spy-with-my-little-eye enthusiasm) and would suggest ways to direct viewers’ eyes to that point. Would it be the slope of the hills, the line of our winding road, edges of forest stands or the illumination of light breaking through the clouds? How would our favourite artists, or The Group Of Seven treat that focal point?

IMG_6235pairAs we drove, we unpacked our landscape NOT in terms of “things” (such as houses, fence rows, barns, silos or cows) but in terms of shape, line, colour, patterns, gradation and composition. We became exhilarated, as artists, to not only view the landscape but to offer ways to interpret the landscape — whether it be as a realist, impressionist or abstract artist — in oils, acrylics, watercolours or inks.

Anne and I enjoyed kilometres (miles) of child-like revelations and “aha” moments on what could have been just an ordinary road trip through New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario (although the scenery was spectacular). We did not just see the landscape. We interpreted the landscape.047_BlueBarnsBaieStPaul_Sep17_90dpi

Great to be an artist!

Edward Wedler website:
Anne Wedler website:


Bob Maher brought to my attention an article where art and science meet to bring the issue of rising sea levels to the public’s attention in dramatic fashion (that helps connect my left brain and right brain).

Posted in Art

Artists’ view of the landscape.

Unlike photographers, geographers or geologists, landscape artists see their world as collections of lines, contours, shapes, colours, light and shadows. Identifying features is secondary.

“Annapolis River at Tupperville, Nova Scotia” (watercolour by Edward Wedler)

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.