Constructing a Landscape in Acrylics

Taking a Leap in Constructing a Landscape

I had been thinking of creating this painting for a couple of years before committing this image to a  24″ x 36″ canvas. For me, this really was taking a leap in constructing a landscape in acrylics! It was inspired by a short photo shooting day trip through parts of Sturgeon County Alberta. Standing on the bridge that over looks this scene, I knew right then that it was going to be something worth exploring in paint.

 summer river photo

Above: Here is the original photo that I used for my main reference.

What drew me to paint this image in the first place was the the atmospheric depth, the stillness of the water and the diversity of greens in the vegetation. I also saw potential in the ways in which I could change some elements and alter the mood, thereby adding more of myself into the painting. It’s all about the myriad of choices made along the way.

Red, Yellow, Blue, Purple and White

Completing this piece required several steps taken over a period of about five weeks. Because of the size of this canvas, there was room to include a lot of detail that just can’t happen in a miniature painting. There were no tubes of green paint used. Only two sets of primary colors (warm and cool), plus dioxazine purple and titanium white. These tubes were all that was needed to create all of the colors in this painting. A challenge which I never seem to tire of.

white canvas with some dull blue paint

The very beginning of this landscape construction.

It is helpful when working on a water scene, to paint the sky and the water at the same time because the color mixes are usually similar. Even though the hue closely matches the photos I was referencing, it became disappointingly obvious later in progression, that the water was not saturated enough to create the depth that I was looking for. I was a little nervous about correcting this while not wrecking it completely.

large canvas with tree line painted near the top

Once I was happy with the sky and sun, the horizon line was added next.

Mapping it Out

I made marks to delineate the center point, halves and thirds on the canvas. I then set to decide where to place some of the landmark points. A watercolor pencil was used to draw out the river banks. Corrections are very easily made by wiping out offending areas with a damp cloth. After that, the trees and hills on the high horizon line were next. You may notice that the horizon line slopes differently from that in the original reference photo. Already, it was exciting to see the atmospheric depth that was beginning to become apparent. 

construction of a landscape in acrylics

More detail is added to the stand of trees beyond the river.

Making Changes

Many changes were made to the scene in order to improve the composition. I moved the focal points, simplified the background behind the river and changed the horizon line. I was enjoying the depth apparent in the background. Adding the warmth of the sun in the sky, which did not appear in the photo, seemed to be a great choice. Because the light was flat in the photograph, a lot of thought would have to be put into creating more light and shadow in the painting.

landscape river scene progress

More progress is made on the further bank of the river.

Easy to Get Lost

Getting lost in the detail was becoming a problem. Too many of the shapes were too much the same and had the same level of picky detail.  That’s what happens when I zero in on observing the photograph to closely instead of trusting my instincts around the ability to create believable patterns found in nature. This would be corrected by softening some of the edges and colors once more area was covered.

river scene landscape painting in progress

Now to work on the river bank and block in the major shapes and colors.

Fast and Loose!

The bottom two thirds of constructing a landscape in this example happens very quickly and is one of the exciting parts! Using larger brushes and incomplete color mixes make for quick work and a better understanding of the how the composition is or is not working in the matter of an hour or so. Here, I am concentrating more on the larger shapes in this landscape and how the river banks might like to meander. I have begun to add the sun’s reflection and deepen the color of the river. It is tricky to achieve a seamless gradation from light to darker and took quite a bit of time testing color mixes. What adds to the challenge is that acrylics tend to have a color and value shift when they dry. Quite a bit of time is spent watching paint dry!

painting a river scene in progress

Now to the right hand side of the river. Constructing this landscape is well on its way!

Quick and Dirty Stage

It’s a lot of fun to watch this come together quickly! Once more of the canvas was covered, I could see that the river water should contain more saturated color. I repainted most of the river again and took note of how the banks would need to become more irregular. It was unnatural looking at this point (photo above).

landscape painting in progress

You can see I have deepened the color of the water here and added more detail to the bank’s vegetation.

Painting this scene was quite meditative and even looking at it now, it is soothing to my eyes.  The detail was hard to decipher in the photo and I had to make up a lot of it, which is a good brain exercise. The reflections of the banks in the water really made this landscape under construction come to life as you can see!

brushes used to create a landscape painting

These tools were very handy in creating the shrubs and grasses.

Several sizes of brushes and other tools were used in constructing this landscape in acrylics. Many of them were smaller and well-worn and were especially handy to create grasses and tree shapes. It always takes a period of trial and error to decide on just the right brushes for the job at hand.

landscape under construction nearing completion

More details and refinements are created everywhere in the scene.

A Tricky Part

The lone spruce tree is the main focal point of the painting. The reflection of the tree in the water must be created as well as other refinements. The color of the water still did not seem right, and so I proceeded to work on that. It was really tricky to get a seamless gradation without wrecking the work I had done previously. To make it a bit easier, I allowed what appear to be gentle ripples at the bottom right remain and work with them instead of insisting on a perfect gradation. In the end, I think the ripples added to the appeal of the scene.

summer river landscape painting

Getting very close to complete!

The photo above was taken with a different camera and in a different location which accounts again for some of the differences in color over all. There are a few minor details that are still bugging me here, as well as the desire to add some small birds and dead branches. Oh, and maybe the tiniest beaver swimming near the riverbank (center of the canvas), just for my own entertainment.

summer river scene painting

Calling it complete! Here is the final version of “Teaming with Life”.

Constructing a Landscape Complete!

So there it is. The level of detail is hard to see in these photographs, but I am very happy with how it turned out looking at it in person. The actual painting is different than what I had first envisioned. Part of the process is to learn to let go of preconceived ideas and allow the work to develop in it’s own way. I am extremely excited to report that this painting now resides in a lovely art collector’s home in my area!

person holding a painting

The framed painting! Getting ready to package and deliver to the client. The photo makes the painting appear a lot darker than it actually is…

Make Room For Dirt

Move Over Art

Here I go again, on another side show as something else has come along to take time away from the easel for at least a few years. But this is an important side show! It’s time for art to move over and make some room for dirt. To make room for dirt is going to take up lots of time and energy.

hand holding black dirt

A sample of soil (dirt) that will be sent to the lab for analysis.

Changing Course

You may have already heard something about what I have chosen to tackle. Currently, I am taking an online soil biology course which teaches how to build healthy soil using natural processes. If done correctly, the theory goes, we will be able to discontinue the use of inorganic fertilizers and toxic herbicides as well as pesticides to grow our crops. This will make us and the land healthier and save us a lot of money, hopefully sooner rather than later.
We are really hoping this works, because the path we are on now is pretty destructive with the use of so many chemicals. There seems to be more of it used every year as each year goes by. And the pattern appearing is that the results promised from all of these costly inputs are not being realized on our land.

Make Room For Dirt

Our farm and the general health of those who apply the chemicals, those who are exposed to the spray drift as well as the environment depends to some extent, on this experiment turning out well. But focusing on a new subject complete with microscope and test tubes, turners, tanks and apple corers means that my art has to take a bit of a back seat for a little while. It’s going to take a fair bit of time to make the necessary changes and do the testing to make sure we’re on the right track. The results will tell the truth in the end.

This lovely landscape may not look unhealthy, but it is actually quite degraded and chemically dependent. It is beginning to show the effects in the lack of yield and input costs which keep rising.

Good Drama?

I was not looking for another distraction when this fell into my lap. Being a sensitive type of person, I would feel badly whenever the sprayer was put to use and even called it our ‘weapon of mass destruction’. Whether or not this is an over dramatization depends on where you stand. But I could not say too much to my farmers against their methods because I had no alternative way of doing things. All of a sudden this course showed up. I couldn’t even tell you how that happened. So far, what has increased is my vocabulary and understanding of natural systems, at least according to Dr. Elaine Ingham, who is the instructor. Since being exposed to this different way of thinking, I am also delving into books, podcasts and youtube videos from a variety of researchers and experienced presenters.

Artist as Soil Geek

I have done better at the course than I thought possible, passing each module with distinction. Especially since it has been 39 years since I was in school! Who’d a thought I was such a geek? Some of it is quite technical but I am really enjoying it. I will keep you posted on how the experiment goes. Wish us/me luck! It may take an awful lot of work to implement in the beginning, but it sounds promising. All we can do is give our best shot.

Iris Painting in Progress

It might be fun, for a change, to share a painting in progress. I chose to paint these irises  because I am in love with the light captured in the photo and purple is one of my favorite colors to work with. I had spent a few hours the day the photo was taken enjoying all of the flowers in my country garden. The fresh air, warm sunshine and the peace and quiet on that late spring day was quite lovely. This is a nice way to remember a magical moment.

This first photo is actually at the second stage of the painting process on this piece. Here, I am beginning to work on it outdoors at the St. Albert ArtWalk in front of St. Albert Place.

A Few Technical Details

The canvas was sanded, prepared with 2 layers of GAC 100 before hand. It was then coated with a thin layer of quinacridone magenta mixed with gloss glazing medium. After allowing it to dry for a few hours, I drew the shapes on the canvas fairly accurately with a watercolor pencil. This worked well because corrections can be made easily with a moistened cloth. At the ArtWalk event, I began to block in the background so that I could view the overall design more easily.

painting in progress, pink background, loose shapes

Here we are at approximately the third stage.

Blocking In

This is one of the easy stages and the image progresses quite quickly. After this initial block-in, I began to focus on creating some of the background colors and shapes. Later, I tackled blocking in some of the highlights and shadows in the flowers themselves. It was also helpful to introduce some of the more intense purple color to help me compare the strength of the other colors.

purple and white irises, flowers, painting in progress

Quite a bit has been filled in since the previous photo.

Coming Together

The quality of the iris painting in progress still appears pretty rough to me and will need several more layers. It does look like it’s coming together quite nicely already. The most fun will be refining all of the details, especially the subtleties of color that will make these irises interesting to look at.  Deciding which areas of the image to emphasize and which to push back is part of my thought process.

purple and white flowers, close up iris flowers, realistic painting

This seems to be really coming along nicely. Handling the lines in the petals takes a bit more focus to get the patterns right.

Concentrated Effort

Having had very little painting time this summer and fall means that it takes a bit more energy to focus on the intricacies of this iris painting. Sometimes the details in the grey tones and the stripes on the petals took more concentration than they would had I painted more often. Stay tuned as more photos are posted during the journey to completion.

painting of white and purple iris flower

Here we are at about 85% complete!

The Home Stretch

Since the weather has become wintry and a few other tasks in the house and office have been taken care of, I feel there is more room and energy available for me to re- focus on this painting in progress. It seems to take a while to switch gears sometimes and re-arrange my routine to paint more during the day instead of just after supper. Making the refinements at this stage is pretty satisfying. The next question is what should be done with the background?

three white and purple irises painted realistically

This is pretty close to complete.

Painting in Progress Nearly Complete

There was a lot of back and forth as I worked on the background. Adding shapes, then taking them out; rearranging shapes and colors, pushing them back again. The stripes on the purple petals took a bit more concentration in order to get the patterns right and were so much fun to paint! These hues are achieved not through mixing paint colors, but by a careful layering process. At this stage, it feels as though the painting is complete or very near. I will let it rest for a few days, maybe turn it to the wall and re-examine it later to see if anything needs to be adjusted.

Road of Life

The road of life is a well known metaphor for good reason.

painting of rural gravel road with blue sky, white clouds

“Roadside Roses”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, circa 2009, sold

Much like the rural gravel roads, life in my experience,  is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, a few puddles, ruts and bridges. Roads as a metaphor makes it easy to describe some of our challenges and our ultimate destination because life is a type of journey, a trip through a maze of sorts. Without roads, any journey would be more difficult to navigate.

Wondering and Wandering

Exploring these rather isolated byways on or near the family farm as a child, often lead to fascinating nature discoveries or some sort of rural relic. I remember finding abandoned homesteads, scrap metal graveyards and piles of cool looking rocks. There was often a feeling of wonder, excitement or mystery that came with those discoveries. To find a patch of wild strawberries in the ditch or groups of brightly colored wildflowers along the way always felt like a special gift. Not to mention the joy of cycling to a friend’s house on such a road. 

road of life, painting of muddy road in an autumn grain field

“And So It Begins”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 5″ x 17, circa 2010, sold

Searching for a Masterpiece

There is something meditative about a sojourn down a lonely country road or a peaceful woodland path. The sights, sounds and smells can give one a new perspective and temporarily melt away life’s stresses. As an adult, I regularly take day trips along similar trails and forest pathways shooting copious amounts of digital photographs. Those country paths, well worn or not, often inform my work. I get excited about the thought of finding my next great painting just around the corner. What will I find if I take this route, or should I go the opposite direction instead and what lies on the other side of that hill? How can I possibly see all there is to see? What am I missing? 

road of life, rural gravel road in winter with stormy sky and spruce tree

“Just Over the Hill”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 11″ x 22″, circa 2011, sold

A Tank Full of Gas

These quiet lanes bring me a sense of intrigue and excitement and I seldom worry about getting lost as long as there is enough gas in the tank and hours of daylight. I often neglect to tell my family where to look for me because even I don’t know which area will be explored next. Someday, this might not work out too well.  Being unsure of which road would lead me back home has happened on occasion for short periods of time. A modern day GPS helps!

rural gravel road in autumn at sunset, flanked by dense forest

“When Serendipity Smiles”. original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 12″ x 20″, available, $650

We All Get a Bit Lost on the Road of Life

Sometimes it feels as though I am lost and I think this is true for everyone at some point. We can’t see over the next hill if we are currently standing in a deep valley. It sometimes feels like we may not find our way. The road has never let me down and eventually, somehow it always brings me home. As long and winding as it might seem, it has earned my trust. I believe it is for these reasons that the less traveled byways find their way into my paintings as a reoccurring theme. As I paint them, I explore them anew and contemplate the journey along the road of life.

“The Road Less Gravelled”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 16″ x 12″ , circa 2010, sold

Nose to the Ground

Sometimes it’s the tiniest things that grab my attention. It is not uncommon to find me in the yard or elsewhere, nose to the ground, butt in the air, searching for unusual things to paint.  I always find something down there. Not all of it is inspiring or canvas worthy even if it seems so in that particular moment. This is also the zone where I have found some of the most stimulating ideas for painting.

Purple Inspirations

close up view of a single purple viola flower, nose to the ground surprises

Above: “Little Johnny”, original acrylic by Judy Leila Schafers, 20″ x 16″, circa 2003, sold

I have always been drawn to all things purple, and often have the desire to explore this color and it’s variations again and again.  One spring morning when the light was perfect, I grabbed my camera and headed out to the garden. Stimulating compositions were begging for my camera to capture them. The opportunities for unique inspiration were everywhere! 

Nose to the Ground, Face to Face

As I turned from photographing some gorgeous lichen covered rocks, there he was; a tiny deep purple fellow glowing mightily in the morning sun. I remember having to kneel on the dewy, mulch covered ground with the camera only a couple of inches from his sweet little face. Barely noticing that my knees and elbows were being annoyed by prickly things, I photographed him from every manageable angle. Once the possibilities had been exhausted, it was time to move on with my day. 

Love at Second Sight

The final photos that inspired the painting above, definitely raised my heartbeat as soon as I viewed them. This was during the 35mm film days when you had to wait until the roll was full and had been developed. I remember the moment that this little fellow showed up. There he was, in my stack of newly processed photos. It was love at second sight and he demanded to be portrayed in paint as soon as possible!

Honoring a Tradition

Both my grandmothers grew these little gems in their gardens and they hold a special place in my flower loving heart. Painting this flower might honor them in a small way and at the same time fulfill my ‘purple’ fix. These viola are called ‘Johnny Jump Ups” and have been included in quite a few paintings. 

back-lit deep purple viola and bud with leaves, found while nose to the ground

Above: “Here’s Johnny!” , original acrylic by Judy Leila Schafers, 36″ x 15″, circa 2011, sold

Wow Factor

You may find me shooting copious photos from different angles in quest of the “Wow Factor”. I can often find a few moments to satisfy my quest for something special, no matter the weather and length of my task list. My nose to the ground position can be a bit comical at times but this ongoing search has expanded my mind as to the possibilities of what might constitute a great painting.  Being receptive and curious about what nature will show me has resulted in some fantastic perspectives and nurtured my art evolution. I will keep my nose to the ground occasionally, with the expectation of finding many surprises going forward.

The more you are open to seeing, the more you will notice!

Drawn to Sketch Local

Early in 2018, I was asked by a Sturgeon Country representative to participate in an event that would commemorate the 100 Anniversary of Sturgeon County’s incorporation. She asked if I would be willing to display my area inspired artwork at this outdoor party. There was no charge and it sounded good to me because I already had a decent amount of inventory prepared. This was long before I was drawn to sketch in the way described below.

A Novel Idea

One of the spots where I was drawn to sketch what was in front of me. During these occasions, I was often asked by passers by if I was ok and if I needed help. When they saw my camera and sketchbook, they would wave and continue on their way.

At the county’s main office, I came across posters encouraging residents to take on certain challenges to celebrate the milestone. Ideas ranging from reading 100 books to taking 100 photos were suggested. That was a novel idea. What could I do that wasn’t already on the list?

The idea came quickly. 100 sketches was right up my alley and would be cool to do! But I was a bit apprehensive about it because of concerns about time constraints. Still, I was drawn to sketch local!

Second Guessing

Have you ever had the experience before you make the decision to take on a project when your mind says.. “It shouldn’t really take that much time…”? Plus, I could learn something and enhance my skills all at once. The thought had frequently occurred to me that I should do more drawing as it was. Before telling anyone what had begun brewing in my brain, I looked carefully at the responsibilities that needed to be taken care of during the year. I decided to just go for it; not that big a deal.A

Can we really plan for life’s anomalies, the agendas of others and how everything might affect our time and energy in the future? In March I really felt that it would be no problem to complete 100 sketches of Sturgeon County before the main centennial celebration event on September 8. And so, I began the project with a couple of drawings from photos already residing in my huge stash of references. Soon after, I began sharing my project with others which solidified my commitment to the project. 

Finding a Few Moments

I stole away down the road in my little old van as often as possible searching for interesting places that I was drawn to sketch on the spot or gather photos to use whenever life drawing from life was not going to be possible.

Spring and summer was extra busy with a lot of farm projects and other family concerns. As a result, only 40 pages out of 100 were completed by September 8. A little disappointed, but determined, I kept at it and declared December 31 as the new deadline. Periods of intense focus on the project made it happen! Time and undivided attention always seems to get the job done.

Realizing the Logistics of an Old Idea

Even though I had lived in this area for 40 years, the thought of actively exploring the county itself, never occurred to me. On the other hand, I have regularly gone on reference gathering missions through out the years. For quite some time, I thought that it would be wonderful to scout out many of the back roads of Alberta. Now I understand just a little more clearly the magnitude of such an undertaking! Sturgeon County, a small part of Alberta, is actually huge when you drive the grid at a stop and go pace, taking copious photos! The idea of seeing Alberta this way is still intriguing so we’ll see where the road of life takes me.

Diversity Discovered

I was impressed by the diversity in industry, flora and fauna, landscapes from flat to almost mountainous hills, rivers, valleys and dusty hilltops. Heavily mined acres (which were totally uninspiring to me) and heavily treed areas that I never wanted to leave; it was amazing to experience all of that variety in a confined area. Among all of this, ruins and relics of various flavors were quite common, which I found drew me in many ways. I wanted to hear all of their stories. There were also a surprising number of  mansion style residences with fancy gates and gardens and tiny farmhouses, still sheltering active farm families.

I was disappointed that I left the north eastern part of the County unexplored and unrepresented in the book. It would take another year for me to tour all of it. Through this little journey, I have come to appreciate the beauty of where I live even more. I would urge everyone to explore the areas near to where they live and develop a deeper love and appreciation for what is right in front of them. Flying to exotic locations is a wonderful thing to do, but it is equally enriching to get intimate with one’s own surroundings. I plan to do more of this.

Online Sketchbook Sharing

Here is a link to a three minute video showcasing all 100 of the sketches that commemorate Sturgeon County’s Centennial year.
Talking and thinking about this for almost a year, I almost can’t believe 100 drawings were completed!. Since the book was not ready for the September main event, I wondered if there was a way to share all of the work and the results of this project. Why not an online, flip through the book video? 
That way, you can all get a close up look and I can more easily share it with a wider audience.  (video editing thanks to Devin Schafers)

My Drawn to Sketch Top 8

It was a lot of fun to do this project and through this process, my drawing skills were improved upon. As I moved closer to the 100th mark, it felt like it was high time to get it completed.

There you have it! Here is a link to my newsletter that contains more photos and a video about this project. If any of these sketch locations seem familiar, let me know! I would love to hear from you.

A Prolonged Harvest

The 2018 farming season was another challenging one.
 A prolonged harvest wears workers out. Even though it was a productive season, it was quite tiring and more stressful than usual.  Farmers tend to live in next year country and we are already looking forward to a better growing season in 2019.

blue sky, steel grain bins and augers
The current set up for the grain handling yard. It will no doubt evolve and become more efficient. Somewhere in this photo our son, Devin and helping hand, Jerry are unloading grain.

In the Nick of Time

We got off to cool start in the spring and once it decided to warm up, it sure did! Throughout the spring and summer there were prolonged periods of drought-like conditions, followed by just enough rain in just the nick of time. Because it was decided that we needed a few upgrades in our grain handling system and main workshop, we weren’t quite set up and ready for harvest. A few details got derailed such as the later than promised arrival of our new bins, which caused a delay in completing the proper set up of our grain dryer. But, like most business owners in a bind, interim solutions were found.

combine in a field at sunset during a prolonged harvest
I caught a ride in the tractor with Jilene after delivering supper one evening. Here you see Shane dumping the grain into the cart.

Would we Finish?

The nasty weather in September allowed Devin and Shane some time to get the grain dryer operating well enough to get through the season. That was something to be thankful for. But at times it looked and felt like we would never finish combining and have to get what was left of the crop off the field in the spring. This happens to many farmers, but so far, has not happened to us. Knock on wood…. We seriously wondered if this year would be the first!

red case tractor and red grain cart
Jilene on the tractor waiting for more grain.

A Further Prolonged Harvest

There were lots of late hours and lots of time off due to rain and buckets of snow and winter-like cold that just did not want to loosen its grip. Shane was finally able to get the canola finished on October 24 which is two to three weeks later than most years.

Even after all of that, we still did not know if the harvest was complete. There were still 130 acres of fava beans left in the field. They were just not ready to combine even after a hard frost, which usually does the trick. Now in December, they are still in the field and will remain there until spring. One of our neighbors may be able to use them for feed, but it is more likely that they will be worked into the soil.

country kitchen full of household items
This is what the kitchen looks like during harvest. This is after I had delivered meals to the field and was just about to do the dishes.

Even though we did not get all of the crop off of the field, we are beginning to recover and have since moved on to other things. We are sure hoping that next year we will not have to face another prolonged harvest!

Putting on a Show

Despite the very late and stressful harvest, all the parts and pieces of putting on a show came together. A shout out goes to my kids and some friends, who played a big part in making it happen!

 putting on a show, large room with paintings placed on the floor around the perimeter

My daughter Jilene and her boyfriend Oso, hung the paintings for me while I went to the salon for a much needed haircut and other errands.

Hands  Off!

They did a fabulous job, and I requested a couple of small changes when they were almost finished. We laughed about that because I had mentioned to them earlier that I was taking a hands off approach. They were in charge of arranging the display and I was not going to get involved. Came really close, but couldn’t totally help myself!

ready for putting on a show, large room containing artwork and furniture and a person seated on a chair

Time to Celebrate

The night before the opening, I sat down and took in the scene before me. It felt good to acknowledge all of the accomplishments that had taken place in the two years previous. It’s always a satisfying feeling to view the studio once most of the work of putting on a show has been done; a good point to sit back and celebrate all of my team’s and my efforts before guests come through the door.

room filled with people and artwork on the walls

Good Neighbors Help in Putting on a Show

The weather cleared up just enough and just in time for guests to feel fairly comfortable navigating the winter-y roads. The area had been hit with freezing rain and cold temps the day before. A concerned neighbor had brought us a large bag of ice melt to spread around on Saturday morning. Thanks so much for your thoughtfulness, Glen! Other neighbors and friends, Yolande, Alice, Hedy and Pascha, brought goodies for the table. More friends, Julie, Karen, Oso, Devin and Jilene, helped with handling sales, refreshments, greeting guests and various other tasks. All of the help I received made a huge difference in my being able to enjoy the weekend and focus on my guests.

room filled with people and furniture

New and Long Time Friends

Seeing everyone who came through my door was fun and heartwarming.  It was such a pleasure to connect and visit at least a little bit with each person and I am grateful for all of the support they gave me by attending and also purchasing artworks. I was surprised by the number of new people who dropped by because of friends who had shared the invitation!

grandmother and grandson smiling
My mother-in-law, Marian and our goofy son, Devin.

Many memories were made and even better, all sorts of surprise reunions took place during the weekend! In some cases it had been over 20 years since we and some friends had seen each other. A few relatives on both sides of my family   were also able to re-connect.  I have come to understand that this is what it’s all about. Making connections with others through the sharing of art and hosting or attending these kinds of events is good for the souls of all who participate.

a woman standing beside several paintings hanging on the wall
After the first day was over. Photo thanks to Oso Steen.

After All is Said and Done

Over one hundred and ten people attended my show and twenty one original pieces (mostly miniatures) found new homes. Even though this tally is quite a bit less than in previous years, I am glad we made the effort of putting on a show. I am planning to do another summer event in 2020 with many new paintings and items to show you. I am also looking forward to all of the stories that will be created through the process.  It’s time to get painting!

Playing with Creativity

I learned early in life that creativity comes in many forms, not just with painting and drawing. My Aunt Gisela was one of the creative people that influenced me as a child. We were neighbors in the Highridge area; a tiny blink and you’ll miss it, quiet sort of rural community in the rolling, rocky hills of north central Alberta. Living in the same neighborhood made it easy to participate in the many activities that she facilitated. 

This is during one of the dance classes inside the Highridge Hall that my Aunt organized. Here I am pictured with my Aunt’s son, Gary. I was a little older in this photo than when the play took place.

A Creativity Mentor

Gisela would often be the one to organize activities for the small community which would usually take place in the Highridge Hall. Among a few of the activities offered were sewing classes, powder puff mechanics (taught by my Dad) driver education courses, cake decorating and dance classes. If my Aunt didn’t come up with the idea and make it happen, she and her family were at least participating in the event and often signed my family up, even if we resisted.

Comfort in Community

As far as I was concerned, my Aunt had a creative imagination and always had something fun going on. She and my Mom were best friends and would often talk my mom into getting involved in pursuits outside her comfort zone. It was good for my mom and it was good for me. I learned a lot from her way of looking at life, her keen interest in learning and trying new things.

Taking part in those activities formed some of my best memories growing up and helped to give me a sense of community.

 A Little Ambition Goes in a Fun Direction

I also remember her love for composing rhyming poetry, and how she would ask my family for an audience to test out some of her drafts. We’d be either rolling our eyes or rolling on the floor with laughter!

One of the projects that she initiated and one I remember quite clearly, was a little more ambitious than usual. It involved, not only composing a poem, but creating a play from it. It was entitled “A Day Well Spent in the Highridge Hospital. I must have been about 9 or 11 years old at the time and was already exhibiting some artistic skill. She encouraged the development of my abilities by asking me to help with making the signage for the play and some of the props. I got an acting part as well.  

Riotous Laughter

We had a few practice runs which didn’t seem like a lot of work to me, but I am sure it actually was for the adults. The rehearsals were a riot with all of the little mishaps that took place and we received a lot of laughs from the audience during our presentation. A hospital room is suppose to be a quiet space, but you wouldn’t get that impression form the animated performance. It is a shame that there is no video of this little play as I am sure that it would bring as many laughs now as it did then.

 A Historic Find

I stumbled across this handwritten poem when I was cleaning out the basement a few months ago.  It took me a while to figure out what I had found and I was pretty excited to see it again after so many years.  Reading it brought a smile, a few tears and a flood of great memories! 

As you read her poem shown below, try to imagine youngsters from ages 6 or so to about 12 or 13, acting out the scene, dressed in makeshift costumes using old cots as hospital beds, trays on squeaky wheels and all kinds of sound effects. There might have been a ‘patient’ (my cousin?) with a thickly bandaged leg that was some how suspended in the air? It is interesting to note the way a hospital stay is described and how much has changed or stayed the same, since almost 5 decades ago.

A Day Well Spent in the Highridge Hospital
poem written by Gisela Hansen

                 Late at night when we are sleeping
                 In our room they come a creeping
                 With a flashlight shining bright
                 Did you take your pills tonight?
                  In the morning, bright and early,
                 In they come, their hair all curly
                 Pulse is taken, temps are shaken
                 One would think the earth is quaking
                 Next come all the breakfast trays.
                 “Sorry, none for you today”.
                 Then our beds are pulled apart.
                 Off we are to an early start. 
                “Did you take your bath today?
                 In you go and don’t delay!”
                 When you’re in pain,  a shot comes handy.
                “Boy some doctors give a dandy!”
                  For a while, all is so still.
                 Then comes a nurse, “Here’s another pill”.
                  Then they watch you while you swallow it.
                  And Down it goes into the pit.
                  “Now our aches and pains are gone.”
                   Doctor comes, the curtain’s drawn;
                  Here an “Ouch” and there a “Squeal”.
                 “It makes you feel like such a heel.” 
                  Sobbing slowly dies away,
                  And we wish for a peaceful day.
                  Then the dinner trays appear.
                 “Oh, my goodness, look what’s here!”
                   Ice cream, milk and soup galore,
                  There’s no use to ask for more.
                 After dinner, while we rest,
                 In they come to dust our nest.
                 Visitors come and visitors go,
                  Hours drag by oh so slow.
                  Now I hear a wagon clatter.
                 “Juice is early, what’s the matter?
                   I’ll take grape, cause it’s the best.
                   Never mind about the rest.”
                Pill again, then supper time.
                Another shot, “Glad it’s not mine!”
                  Once more the visitors appear;
                  Some walk fast and some in slow gear.
                 “The time flies by, the loved ones leave.
                  And we’re left here in bed to grieve.”
                  The juice comes slowly rolling by.
                 “Like a cookie?” comes the cry.
                  Then wait for old Doc one more time.
                   He’d better come or it’s a crime.
                  The beds are made, the backs are rubbed.
                 “Once more real quick, get in the tub.”
                  We’ve said good night to one another.
                  We’re off to sleep, no one to bother.
                  But all in all, we like the staff,
                  We’ve had some tears and some good laughs.
                   So we say thanks to all you gals,
                   And think you’re all a bunch of pals.
                   A staff more wonderful than you
                   Cannot be found and that is true.

           The End

In Gratitude

 It’s an interesting, tiny snippet of the culture of that era. I am really grateful for the experiences Aunt Gisela gave us and for using her form of creativity to help strengthen a community . It must have taken a bit of courage, lots of energy and hard work to fit these extra activities into the busy family and farming life that she had at the time.

Kidnapping Some Time

When would be a good time for me to sneak away? Kidnapping some time for myself had been on my mind for quite a while. There is always so much happening on the farm during spring and summer that it felt like a break was long overdue. Where could I go that would be quiet and comfortable enough for me to accomplish a few things of my own and also get in some R&R? After some focused thought on the question, a sweet little plan emerged!

The kind of solo getaway that I dream about. Just me and nature!

It’s about kidnapping some time!

At least 20 years had passed since I had gone away for some solo time. Being somewhat of an introvert, this type of kidnapping some time is something I often dream about. My daughter, Jilene, encouraged me to take the idea seriously and not just let it slide as I tend to do. Since Shane (my husband) had recently gone on a four day fishing trip with his buddies and a couple of out of province auction sales, my thinking was, “Fair is Fair”. I made a deal with him and he didn’t seem to mind the idea of me leaving everything behind for a little while. Besides, what could he really say? Our daughter would look after meals and our son would be working on the farm with his dad. He’d be fine.

What is an Artist in Residence?

Throughout the years, I had heard about artist in residence programs. but had never applied for one. I knew many artists who had taken advantage of such opportunities and they reported coming away from the experience with more confidence and growth in their art practice. This is kidnapping some time with a defined purpose. These Artist -in-residence programs exist to invite artists, and all types of creative people for space away from their usual environment and obligations. They provide time for reflection, research, presentation and/or production. For some reason, I always felt like the whole concept was too much of a commitment for me.

“So why not set  up an ‘artist in residence’ of sorts, for myself?”, I thought. A kind of informal one, but where there are no forms to fill out, no competition with other artists for the opportunity, or the need to travel a significant distance?

This is my makeshift studio in the living room of the park model trailer that I stayed in during my solo getaway.

For eight magical days at the end of August and beginning of September, I stayed at a beautiful,  private campground. This little piece of paradise on the Pembina River was owned by a long time family friend. She offered me her cozy park model trailer to stay in and all I needed to bring was my own food, bedding, and art supplies. Perfect!


Adding some purpose to my proposal

In order to make the most of my time there, I set certain goals for myself. One of them was to climb the approximately 1/2 mile, 30% grade road that led down to the river at least once a day. After all, sitting and painting for hours on end was not good for my mind or body. It was pretty tough, but I managed to make this trek twice a day on every day but one. Having no reliable cell phone signal down by the river was enough motivation to get me up that hill and do the promised daily check in with my family.

The light has changed drastically since beginning this painting. I will have to rely on memory to finish it. It took me 2 hours painting time to get to this point in the process.                    

Another goal was to attempt a ‘plein aire’ painting of the river.(Photo above) This is a good skill to practice but for which there seems to be no time at home. I also wanted to paint as many paintings as possible, get some reading and writing done and immerse myself in nature. As usual, I had much too long of a to-do list…..

Wasting no time

Shortly after arriving on Sunday evening, I set up my makeshift studio. There was plenty of room to spread out and start organizing painting possibilities. So many ideas, so little time; not a new problem. But how exciting! A couple of small paintings were started before leaving home so that it would be easier to get back into the creative flow. I worked on these the next day. What a treat it was to think and paint without interruption! Later that first day, I began to peruse all of the possibilities and became rather overwhelmed until I focused on the concepts that sparked the greatest amount of excitement for me in that moment.

In need of power

A large diesel generator provided the electricity a distance away from the trailer. For the first half of my stay, I ran the generator in the late afternoon and evening to charge my phone, keep the fridge cool enough and have the lights on for painting at night. But it was rather unsettling to go out into the bush in the dark to shut down the generator, so I decided to have it run earlier in the day. Living so near the city and the airport, I am no longer used to such dark nights. It was eerie and I was surprised by my reaction. Instead, I read by candle light and solar lantern after dark. One night, I began a miniature painting using only an led headlamp for light. It was interesting experiment that I would not recommend. It’s a good thing acrylic is a forgiving medium!

new paintings in progress, Judy Leila Schafers fine Art

What was accomplished?

Every morning, I could not wait to go and see what the river was up to. Such a scene does not exist near my home, so it was rather special and seemed to change daily. Then off I would go, on a little trek in my rubber boots down some of the many bush trails with camera in hand. I ended up taking just about 200 photos! I ate very little, did no cooking nor tidying up until the very last day there, when I did a thorough cleaning. Most days, the owner would come for a pleasant but short visit to check on what was new. In the late mornings and afternoons, I would paint my heart out. 

Three miniatures and a small painting were completed and 4 others had a good start. Of course, it would have been more satisfying to have completed more paintings. Every night, I would read by candle light, in complete silence, except for the sounds of nature and cattle bawling occasionally. No tv, no news all week! It was heaven!

Showing some gratitude

Part of the obligation that often comes with Artist Residencies is that the artist is asked to give something in return for their stay. Often the participant will create an art related community outreach project, put together an art show and invite the public or create a public art piece etc.. In this case, I offered to give the owner a painting as a Thank you gift for the use of the space and she was pleased with the prospect.

Should I go home?

At the end of seven days, going home was a mildly interesting idea. I began to miss my family. The weather was cooling down so much that I could see my breath in the air before getting out of bed in the morning! I was also running out of food…

It would be nice to try kidnapping some time again, but possibly for longer. I was rather surprised to be feeling a bit tired at the end of my stay.  Maybe expecting so much from myself is not that wise. Can I ever learn to relax? That remains to be seen.

I met a neighbor, directly across the river from where I was staying. Glad we did not meet up on one of the trails. The owner suggested I carry a bell, just to be safe.