It was a Mercury Retrograde sort of trip.
For those of you who do not follow astrology: when the planet Mercury, which governs the realm of communication and travel, and by inference all things technological, appears through an optical trick of the planets’ paths around the sun to go backwards in the sky, things can get weird.
Strangely, our trip from San Diego to Vancouver Island was as smooth as could be. Which, considering all the moving parts, was a relief. After a run of the mill connection in Salt Lake City, we cabbed it to the Vancouver ferry terminal and sailed across to Nanaimo. We had an extra suitcase with us, which contained my painting gear. Sometimes traveling with art supplies by air can be tricky, but I had printed out the Manufactures Safety Data Sheet for my colors (never call them paints!) and tucked into the plastic container along with a card stating that these were “vegetable based art supplies, NO hazardous materials”. Upon retrieving them at the baggage carousel, I opened the case, saw the TSA love letter, noted that the tubes had been pawed through but happily had emerged unscathed.
The ferry ride was beautiful. The boat was full of tourist families ready to enjoy the long Canada Day weekend. The sky was clearing and the inland waterway was calm. I sketched and shared a snack with Axel, and the two and a half hour crossing went quickly. We were picked up on the island side, and we and our copious luggage were wisked to the town of Parksville, to a hotel within walking distance of the beach.
The next day, Mercury, that trickster, giggled.
I had planned to go painting with a local group of plein air artists, but somehow I got the location wrong and never was able to connect with them. So I tried to improvise. At which point I discovered that the car rental place had nothing available until Monday. Then I mistakenly picked up smelly mineral spirits instead of odorless at the local hardware store. And when I finally set up my easel to paint at the dressage show, I realize that I really did need the second wet painting carrier that I’d jettisoned while packing.
By Monday morning, things had settled a bit. The Mid Island dressage folks are a friendly bunch, and I enjoyed hanging out with them for the weekend. And the scenery was not bad either – its not often that I get to include both a dressage horse and a snow capped mountain in the same painting!
Monday and Tuesday, Axel would be teaching, so I picked up my car, loaded my painting gear, and high tailed out of Parksville before they closed the local roads for the Canada Day parade. I headed for Englishman River Falls. They are impressive, alternately cascading over rocks, blasting through chasms, and meandering over sand bars and into deep still pools. The trails were narrow, and the places I most wanted to work were on the bridges over the river. With the amount of foot traffic already in the park early on Canada Day, I decided that perhaps setting up a tripod was not the most prudent thing to do, so I headed out with just my iPad.
When I paint on location in oils, I get looky loos. It’s just the nature of painting in public. I enjoy chatting while I paint, and by now I have ready answers to the standard questions: Are those oils? How long did that take you? But the iPad generated a whole different type of interest. People would nearly walk past me – after all, I was just a woman holding a gadget. But then they would stop short. “Are you drawing on your iPad?!?” Which would launch us into a conversation about apps and stylii. So very many people were inspired!
But the oddest question that I got – and from several people – was, “Did you take that picture with your iPad camera?” One woman was absolutely adamant. I simply couldn’t convince her that I was able to look at a scene and translate it to a painting with just my eyes and my hand. To others, I explained that it just wasn’t artistically pleasing to paint over a photo because our eyes see so differently than the tablet camera.
The next day I headed down to Necks Point Park in Nanaimo. It’s a small peninsula of gentle hills, trees and rocky shore that create several beaches popular with swimmers. It was the polar opposite of my location by the falls: instead of the constant roar of the cascading torrent, here the water was benign and soft spoken. The locals were all there on their daily dog walks, and I smiled when saw that the metal grating staircases on the trails had rubber covered walkways for tender puppy paws. It was quiet and delightful, and I set up my oil painting rig at the high tide line. People paused to watch. A pair of artists stopped to chat. The scenery, the light and the paints were all obliging…. A top ten sort of painting day!
On Wednesday we started out for Vernon, a town 7 hours east in the Okanagen Valley. Our host for the drive was Christine Jewell, who had been our show steward for the Island show. We ferried from Victoria, a longer drive but a spectacular boat ride, and then she piloted us across some of the stunning scenery of British Columbia. We stopped at a commanding vista, and I discovered that my big zoom lens, which had just returned from a maintenance check at Canon, was non-functional. Blame it on Mercury, why don’t you! But we arrived in good form at our hotel in Vernon.
Painting the first day, by Kalamalka Lake, seemed problematic. It was hot, and there were precious few places that weren’t right on the trail, right on a beach full of children, or in direct sun. So I reverted to my iPad, hiked about, drove about, scouted locations, and when I did stop to sketch, did my best to keep both myself and the iPad cool…. It has a tendency to overheat when the temperature climbs.
Sunday I found my sweet spot, in Ellison Park beside Okanagen Lake. Even though the two locations were visually similar, there was a softer energy there. Besides, I spied a perfect, shady paintings spot about 20 yards from my parking spot. It was our last day in Canada, and I was glad to be able to complete three oil studies before having to pack up.
Monday. Homeward bound. Delayed overnight in Seattle. Fortunately the airline took care of us with hotel and meal vouchers. Mercury, we’ll buy you a drink if you’ll just promise to sit up and fly straight again!