Saturday, 18 August 2012

Summer and Fantastical Fictional Settings

Where have I been? Not here, that’s for sure. July and August without a post—shame on me! Blame summer.

Summer is too full of strawberries and cicadas, swimming and sunrises. Sitting at the computer simply doesn’t appeal. Summer is like adolescence, there’s no time to think and reflect; it’s a time for activity—for moving, running and dancing as fast as you possibly can.

This summer has been a summer of sunrises. The cottage we rented was ideally positioned to take in dawn in all its glory. I snapped pictures that I hope to use in watercolour practices as I try to learn technique.


The time at the cottage was the highlight of my summer. I hope I never forget it. It reminded me of what I love most about Ontario—water, trees, rock, sky. Softly rounded ancient shorelines. It reminded me of what feeds my soul.

We spent about four hours a day playing in the water!

We had time to share dinners with people we love.

I'd like to wake up by a quiet lake everyday, but for now I will study this sacred landscape in art and words. For now I will let its mysteries unfold internally and hopefully find expression in art.

Meanwhile I managed to find time to finish my first ever watercolour painting.

My crows. Not your typical watercolour, is it?

I could keep working on this piece but I must move on. There are a million things I would do differently. I am frustrated, as usual, by my lack of experience with technique and with my lack of skill/talent with composition. But despite all that, I'm proud of my daring. I’m proud I just did it, despite such ignorance. I'm proud, too, of the idea behind this piece. It is strange and personal and feels like a piece of my soul.

I've written before about how I don't like to appropriate First Nations' culture, yet, it seems to rise up in my subconscious and conscious alike. What can I do? It's powerful imagery, shared perhaps in a Jungian way through our collective unconscious. And as strange as this sounds, birds—crows, in particular—have been speaking to my soul since spring. I also had a very strange, archetypal dream about crows, which I'd forgotten about until cleaning up my desktop and finding a detailed note on the dream. It has inspired another crow painting that I hope to attempt this fall.

As far as this one is concerned, I feel it is, perhaps, my first real piece of art. The idea coalesced at a deep level, and now it is external, made real. I feel no need to give words to its meaning, to explain it in any way. It is enough that it exists. 

I know what the work means to me and that is enough. As for its meaning to others, I feel that if it appeals, if it speaks to someone else on a personal level, that's great, and if it doesn't, that's okay, too.

This is a breakthrough for me. Art for art's sake. And so, humble though my crow painting is, naive as it is, by Jove, I believe it is art!

I know this little guy enjoyed it. As soon as I took it outside to photograph, this beautiful creature alighted upon it, investigating thoroughly. I was honoured. And I don't believe he defecated on it or anything like that, so I guess that's a good sign.

The next exciting bit of creative news is that I have refined my idea of setting for the “little story” that I've been working on (or not working on!). Since I started the story, I've been equivocating on the fictional world that I needed to shape for my characters to live in and move through. Would it be modeled on the idealized English countryside that haunts my imagination thanks to the literature I love? I thought so, but elements of my own country kept creeping in. 

Then a visit to the Ontario towns of Fergus and Elora settled the issue. 

Elora is a sweet little town that, thanks to its preponderance of early 19th century stone architecture, reminds me a wee bit of St. Andrews in Scotland. Elora is younger, smaller and boasts no North Sea coastline (sigh), but its impressive gorge, where the Grand River rushes past 22-metre-high limestone cliffs, adds unexpected drama. 

Victoria Park in the centre of town offered a vantage point for a tired 11-year-old and his mom to quickly take in the exciting setting without actually hiking, which I would have loved to do had I been alone. 

The park was a surprise. You must walk through a lovely grove of cedars to get to the lookouts. As we entered, my son said, "I'm trying to feel them," and he put his hands out into the air in front of him. I was so happy because I once showed him how to do that and told him that sometimes I can feel the energy of trees. He didn't believe me then, but it stuck with him and he has remained open to the possibility, which is all I ask. 

Immediately upon entering their quiet space I was reminded that Ontario is a powerful setting that I know and it is as worthy of starring in fantastical fiction as is any copse or moor or rocky Welsh mountain. 

So this summer, I have recommitted to Ontario and feel more confident in setting my fictional world physically in rural Ontario (tweaked to include some massive mountains), but in a time that never existed. 

The truth is, I need to include the plants I know and love, like these cheeky cedars that insist on coupling in broad daylight and in public, too!

This landscape is witchy, sensual, soft, sad, romantic, mysterious, dramatic. Perfect for a work such as I'm trying to create.

I long to live closer to nature in a place much less paved than Toronto, but if I can't physically live a wilder life right now, if the city must be my home, then I shall let the wild live in my imagination and I will come to know it better through my art.