Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Temagami and Me

(An Artist Should I Learn To Be)
Part II

Forest Breathing
Acrylic paint on canvas
24” x 36”

I was spending a bit of time at a local book store, searching for books that would explain why our environment was in such peril, when I spotted a small folded flyer that told the story of Temagami.

The Temagami brochure was filled with lots of information that peeked my desire to learn more. There was a phone number available for those who wanted to attend an upcoming meeting. After a few phone calls I found myself on a train bound for Toronto.

I was glad to attend a gathering of wonderful people, curious to find ways to become involved. I listened as slides were shown, to tales that explained the uniqueness of this forest. I learned about ‘species of environments’ and that Temagami was an OLD GROWTH RED AND WHITE PINE species of forest. I was shocked to learn that only 1% of this species remains on our Earth.

Temagami is the largest of the last few remaining stands. I had a difficult time understanding how this situation came to this critical point. It seemed obvious, to me, that under such conditions all actions should focus on the preservation and expansion of such life reservoirs. I learned that once an area has been clear-cut and the roots dug up and burned in lines of fire that stretch across the horizon that heavy rains wash much soil away leaving exposed rock where nothing will grow.

The moment when I became hooked by desire to find positive ways to protect this ancient history was when I learned how a forest breathes. The speaker began talking about all the animals, birds and insects that work in unison within a natural environment. She told how old decaying trees feed the roots of new saplings as they reach for the sky through the hole in the forest canopy that was created by the fallen tree from over twenty years previous. I thought about the forests that I’ve hiked through in Southern Ontario and then I understood the vast differences between a naturally balanced habitat and a managed tree plantation.

I still had a lot more to learn, but now I felt that it was time to do something… before it was too late!

To be continued…..

+ + +

‘Forest Breathing’ was inspired by a photo that I took while adventuring through the Temagami region. The photo was a bit overexposed and that gave it a washed out look – making it look almost monochromatic (one colour). When I turned the photo on its side, my imagination saw a variety of animal faces – almost like a totem pole. I found this inspiring and soon my paintbrushes became rather busy.

I decided to make the painting monochromatic, using only two tones of one hue. Those of you with a sharp eye will notice that a blue and a magenta hue also grace this canvas. These colours were added, in small doses, to make the painting just a little more interesting.

I painted ‘Forest Breathing’ in a style that I have called ‘contour’ painting – referring to contour lines that you can find on any topographical map. First I apply one strip of paint around a shape that I’ve traced onto the canvas – as my guidelines. Once that wiggley line of paint has dried I paint another line right beside it… and so on, until the entire shape has been filled it.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Temagami and Me

(An Artist Should I Learn To Be)
Part I

Reflections of Temagami I: Fallen Comrade
Black ink on drawing board
36” x 24”

I am not a gambling man, and, even so, I would wager that there exists no person over the age of twelve who has not heard of, or seen on T.V. a disastrous environmental story. At age twenty-five I had, indeed, heard my fair share of frightening events and yet my growing concerns only confused me.

I became curious to understand the history of these problems…

I read books about the rise of our Industrial culture and global populations. I watched a television show about rising sea levels and the spread of disease and wondered about a picture of a baby whale dying in a fisherman's net. I heard about rivers on fire caused by water pollution. I flipped through a book with pictures of garbage trucks loading ocean barges with thousands of tones of North American waste to be exported to poorer countries. I sighed as I read an essay that explained the reasons for world hunger. I cried as I rode my bike home from work past another subdivision that had recently been a small wood lot and farmer's field. I felt a sense of desperation as I saw a photograph depicting 'Adam and Eve' in the year 2047...realizing that the image was (at that time) already five years old.

I picked up a pamphlet that told the story of TEMAGAMI.

I smiled to my girlfriend and whispered that everything was going to be all right. I learned that many people were taking action to raise awareness about a sacred forestland on the brink of extinction caused by clear cutting and I wanted to learn more.

To be continued…

+ + + +

You may notice that this first of a seven-part story is rather short! Actually, all seven parts are about this length. I didn’t want my story to take away from the artworks that were on display during my ‘Reflections of Temagami’ art tour, so I did a lot of editing to make sure that my story fit neatly onto just seven pages – one page was displayed beneath each of the seven artworks.

I have always considered ‘Fallen Comrade’ to be my first ever artwork. Yes – many of my school friends remind me that my youth was filled with lots of drawings and sketches and Yes – I spent my years in college creating many drawings and sketches for my architectural and interior design programs…. but all of that was schoolwork or just a bit of fun.

‘Fallen Comrade’ represents to me, the first time that I had focussed and bent my creativity towards an inspirational cause.

While in the Temagami region – this seven-part story will soon take us there – I took a lot of photographs. I really wanted to capture the variety of landscapes that unfolded and revealed themselves during my journey to this very special place.

Upon my return, I waited very impatiently as my slides were developed. Yes – I was shooting with colour slide film! Joanne and I packed a small lunch into a knapsack and took the developed slides to a park area, here in London, Ontario, to see the final results. We made an afternoon of it realizing that each photo would start a long conversation.

I was very happy with most of them… and a bit devastated that a few of my hopeful favourites didn’t turn out at all – oops! Wrong setting on the camera!!

When we got to the photo of the image that inspired ‘Fallen Comrade’ my breath was taken away. I felt tingles crawling down my spine. I heard a whispering voice from within the photo telling me to draw! And, so, I did!

One month later, I wondered what I would do with this completed ink drawing. I thought about making copies, selling them and using part of the profits to benefit other groups who were also involved in raising awareness about the Temagami forestland. But I didn’t know how to do this.

I ended up speaking with Diny O’Dell at Artisans Alley (she is still there and I still visit her about twice a year) and I showed her my drawing. A more encouraging person I have never met!! I still believe that had I not met Diny that I may not have continued to pursue my newfound talents!

Her advice was that I shouldn’t think about making prints and trying to sell them at this point. It would be best if I just continued drawing…“and don’t ever stop!” And, so, I did!

The next decade and a half, presented many unique and life-changing adventures for my wife and myself. As ‘Fallen Comrade’ was so large and I didn’t want to see it damaged during our many moves, I decided to give it to my parents. Soon, this drawing was delicately matted and put behind glass and hung in my parents’ living room, where I am still able to enjoy it when I go to visit.

I’m sure that this drawing will be a part of my family for many generations to come.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Temagami and Me

(An Artist Should I Learn To Be)

The Introduction…

For the last several years, I have been enjoying sharing stories about my art adventures, gardening experiences and thoughts designed to inspire a world to realize our responsibility to act in positive ways to ensure a peaceful future for all life forms that inhabit this Earth. The one thing that I have yet to do, though, is share the story about how I became the artist, the gardener, the teacher, the musician… the activist and architect for peace. This story dates back to 1996, but before I get into that I want to briefly describe how this story first came into being, so that you’ll understand my reasons for writing it in seven small parts…

So… it should be obvious that this story revolves around a thing called Temagami – after all, this word is in the title – eh! Temagami is the name of a place where a unique species of forest exists.

This forest species was (and still is…) threatened with extinction and I decided to do something about it.

After this adventure, I discovered that I had been blessed with a gift for expression… I was becoming an artist. I had thoughts about creating a series of artworks to share the beauty of this region so that more people would become involved in the efforts to preserve these lands.

The artworks created by Canada’s most noted talents ‘The Group of Seven’ were my inspiration. I wanted to create a series of seven Temagami landscapes and I was going to call it ‘A Group of Seven’. I thought a bit more deeply and came up with the idea that each landscape would have a reflection in it. The concept of reflections (thoughts reproduced to the eye of the mind) is very important as this allows one the ability to regard the past so as to improve the future.

Soon, the first artwork in this series was completed. I had named it ‘Reflections of Temagami I: Fallen Comrade’. You’ll see this artwork in my next blog.

Although I was very pleased with this art peace – it still graces the walls in my parents’ living room – I found that my mind could not gather the strength to continue with this series…

I became rather depressed. Although my adventures in the Temagami forestland were filled with many enlightening experiences – in one instance my body became a tuning fork and I vibrated with the energies of ten thousand years of life – I felt that this series of artworks would be seen as Temagami’s epitaph instead of its resurrection.

How could I bring inspiration to the world if the subject matter delved into the ‘Fallen’? Was Temagami to die so that I may live?

To battle this depression, I focussed my mind on new and different thoughts… shedding the past to rebuild my future. Temagami had become the most important chapter in my life (to this date), but a chapter that I had to put back onto my shelf – not to be forgotten, but not to be trapped within.

Two years later, I was embracing a new art project that would fill the next five years of my life. “Canada: Glorious To Be” took my wife and I across our great nation – from Manitoba to British Columbia to Nova Scotia and way up north to Nunavut.

During these adventures I expanded my art training to a variety of different mediums – needlepoint, paper collage, acrylic paints, even rocks! Many community organizations were thrilled to have me create workshops for the local youths and soon I was learning how to be a teacher.

I shared ideals about how important it is for individuals to act in positive ways to benefit their community - “Think globally… Act locally!” - and after five years I began to find it ironic that I was not living according to these ideals for I had no community to call my own. Joanne and I moved back to Ontario to create a life for ourselves.

Soon, I had established myself as a freelance environmental art teacher and life was moving along smoothly.

The topic for most of my classes was… you guessed it… Temagami!!! To help in my teaching, I had to revisit many of my early photos, drawings and books on the subject. Since most of this material was over a decade old, I did a little investigating to see how this forest was doing now.

I was elated to learn that although many problems still exist – the pressures by the large logging corporations – many new laws and programs had been created to set the foundation for the preservation of these old growth forest stands!!! I was filled with a renewed sense of hope!

The story of Temagami was not over. In fact, I felt that it was just beginning. My doubts and hesitations from a decade before were eroding and my fires of inspiration began to smolder until a new flame awoke within me. A new audience had evolved during this time and I felt the urge to create a new chapter in the world book of Temagami.

Yes – Temagami was my ‘Fallen Comrade’, but ‘Fallen’ implies that it can be picked up again.

As I continued with this ‘A Group of Seven’ titles like ‘Three Soldiers Standing’, ‘Earthangel’ and ‘Forest Breathing’ began to emerge at the ends of my nimble fingertips – filling the viewer with a sense of great struggle and the will to overcome adversary. I used this opportunity to showcase both the beauty of the Temagami forestland as well as the evolution of my artistic abilities. Each of the seven artworks were created using the artforms that I had been experimenting with over the last decade.

While I was completing these artworks – which took me a little over two years – I was organizing my first art tour. Yes – I had had many art displays here and there throughout London (and the rest of Canada) - but this was to be my first tour showcasing a completed body of work. The tour went through many libraries and it also expanded to many of the communities that were involved in my initial adventures a decade before.

The launch of ‘Reflections of Temagami: A Group of Seven’ was mere weeks away and I was making my final preparations when I had a gut feeling that I was missing something. The artworks were finished and framed. I had built the easels that would be needed for a few of the venues. My accompanying photos were mounted and ready. And then it dawned on me… I had created this new chapter filled with images but I had no words. It was then when I realized that I had to share the intimate details about how I heard of Temagami, what this meant to me, how it inspired me, what I did and what the results were.

Since I had seven artworks to showcase, I thought that it would be a great idea to share my story in seven equal parts. One part of the story would hang beside each of the artworks. Simple!

This is the story that I am going to share with you over the next few weeks. Each story will be accompanied by one of the artworks in this series as well as some additional photos and sketches that were created during this time.

Please enjoy!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Peacebus Valentine’s Gift…

… To Planet Earth!

The last fun art competition that we had on the Peacebus was way back in October – when the students created a kazillion peaceful drawings inspired by thoughts of turtles.

With Valentine’s Day soon approaching, I thought that it would be fun to have another art competition inspired by thoughts like “I Love My Planet”. The students also thought that this was a great idea and soon pencil crayons and markers were put to work.

I found this really cool image on the internet and I thought that it would help to inspire the students. I added a few words to the image and after visiting my local print shop I had made a series of stickers to give to every student who created an artwork for this competition.

The next morning, three students handed in their creative artworks! I was very impressed with their use of colours and I complimented the students for their designs.

Jade’s design really blew me away! I could tell that she had used a few tools to help her with her drawing and that shows that a lot of thought went into her creation. Think about how much planning went into laying out the words ‘Happy Valentine’s’ as the letters circle the sun – with the word ‘Day’ finding a nice home in the middle.

I found Ava’s drawing to be a true delight and inspiration! Notice how the continents on her planet are shaped like hearts. The letters are brilliantly constructed – see all the textures that are used in each letter…blue and purple flowers in the ‘E’ and Valentine’s hearts in the ‘C’.

I really love Jane’s colourful design! It’s like a ‘love’ party!!!! There’s a huge heart filling the background, with an Earth near the middle surrounded by hearts and peace symbols while streamers cascade throughout the rest of the space. I followed the length of one of these streamers and was very impressed to witness that it changed colours as it wiggled around the page. Very nice!

It wasn’t just Peacebus students who participated in this competition. Word quickly spread through the school about what we were doing on the Peacebus and on several occasions friends of the Peacebus would visit me to hand in their drawings!!!! This made Mr. Jim (that’s me) very happy indeed!!!!

When we were getting near the end of the competition, I had to think of what I was going to create as a special gift for the winners.

In the past, I had taken one of the many designs and created additional stickers or posters to give away as prizes. This time I wanted to do something a bit different.

I did decide to create a poster as the final prize, but instead of using just one of the artworks I decided to use as many as I could fit onto a page. This worked out to be 24 images – a good number for sure! That’s a lot of art!!!

As the poster neared completion I realized that I needed just a few more artworks to fill the final spaces. I told the students about the poster. I told them that I had only three spaces left. I told them that if I received more artwork than would fit on the poster that the students shouldn’t be upset if their artwork wasn’t used, “There are only three spaces left, so the next three artworks will make it on the poster and after that I just won’t have any more room.”

Well, this worked like a super charm… later that afternoon when I arrived at the school to take the students home there was a line of students waiting for me. In the next three minutes 10 drawings were handed in!!!! Now I had more than enough to finish the poster prize!

I love it when I can say to the students, “Ya know… I had a really hard time choosing just a few winners for this art competition so I’ve decided to give a special prize to every single person who participated.” The Peacebus rocked with joyous cheers!!!!!

This is the poster that I created for the students. I didn’t want to wait until Valentine’s Day (next week) to hand out the prizes. I figured the students would be having a lot of other events happening on that day already, so I started handing out the posters last night. An early Valentine’s Day present for the students…

… and this blog entry is my early Valentine’s Day present to you – my readers!!!

May this Valentine’s Day fill your hearts with love, your minds with joy and your souls with peace.

Mr. Jim